Creators | Newsday picks up the story of Al Plastino’s original art for the John F. Kennedy comic that was canceled when the president was assassinated, and then published a few months later at the request of the Johnson administration. Plastino, now 91, had been told the artwork would be donated to the Kennedy Library, but last month at New York Comic Con he learned that a private individual had the art and was planning to sell it through Heritage Auctions, which now says it won’t move forward until the ownership question is resolved. Copyright lawyer Dale Cendall, former DC Comics President Paul Levitz and artist Neal Adams weigh in on the case. [Newsday]
Kickstarter | In the wake of the successful Fantagraphics Kickstarter campaign, Rob Salkowitz looks at the evolution of the crowdfunding platform from a way for individual creators to connect with their audiences to a pre-sale mechanism that eliminates a lot of the risk for smaller publishers. [ICv2]
If you think that artists should work for free because your project will give them great exposure (and anyway, art isn’t really work, because people like to do it) then stay away from Ryan Estrada’s latest Twitter account, For Exposure, which mocks that attitude by posting real requests from the Internet. On the other hand, if you believe in paying people for their work and you need a good laugh, check it out. The tweeted material is presumably from aspiring comics writers, although they might think about paying an editor, as misspellings and grammatical errors are legion.
For good measure, he also presents a dramatic reading (below) of a letter requesting an artist work for free — actually, offering it as if it were a great opportunity.
Retailing | Diamond Comic Distributors runs the numbers on Free Comic Book Day: 1.2 million fans went to 2,000 participating comics shops and picked up 4.6 million free comics, generating $2.2 million worth of publicity along the way. And fans reported on their experience with more than 66,000 tweets with the FCBD hashtags. [ICv2]
Conventions | The Philadelphia Daily News previews this weekend’s Wizard World Philadelphia, which marks the return of Marvel after a several-year absence. [Philadelphia Daily News]
… to look at any successful geek as Manifest Destiny rather than a crew lucky enough to have found an escape hatch seems … unhealthy. It just all seems so unhealthy. Worse, it seems like sales. And — who do people think PAYS those guys? Who do they think runs those guys’s careers? Have you ever seen a movie executive? Have you ever been around AGENTS? (I don’t recommend it). Do people think that the creative personnel are really running the game and calling shots? That’s not true of nearly every creative enterprise I know, certainly not pre-internet at least. If you’re not a person who can say No in their life, then I don’t care who’s lined up to kiss your ass. Heck, it’s certainly not true now — this generation of nerds is churning out Star Wars movies and Marvel bullshit for corporations that keep nerds like pets.
– Abhay Khosla, poking holes in the popular notion that nerds and misfits will inherit the earth.
As he’s wont to do, Khosla pokes a lot more holes than just the part I’ve quoted there, but I pulled that section out because it directly mentions comics. The Big Dream for comics creators used to be working for either Marvel or DC, but that’s changed. It’s still a dream for many and I’m not putting down anyone who’s working for those companies or would like to, but it’s no longer the dominant goal that it once was. More and more creators are jumping ship at the corporations to pursue their own projects with their own characters, at least partly for the reason Khosla mentions: they want to be able to run the game.
It was jarring to me. I respected and loved the work of all of them. I also liked them all on a personal but individual basis. But when I saw what the comic book industry was doing to them, I think I liked it a little less. Those men all deserved better.
– Mark Evanier, commenting on the observation by Howard Chaykin that Gil Kane, Joe Kubert, Carmine Infantino and other DC artists “regarded each other with distaste, frequently bordering on genuine loathing.”
It’s stuff like this that brings home to me how screwed up the comics industry was for so many years. I understand on an intellectual level that things were bad, but hearing how it inspired jealousy and soured relationships puts it into an emotional context that I hadn’t felt before.
I’m not saying we have a utopia today, but creators do have more options if they want more than what they’re getting from work-for-hire. Creator-owned comics are not only more welcomed than ever by readers, but they’re also proving popular with people outside of comics, which can turn into real money. Again, I’m not saying we’ve reached the Promised Land yet, but I think it’s fair to say we’ve at least left Egypt.
I’m reading Glen Weldon‘s Superman: The Unauthorized Biography, and I’m still in the chapters on the Golden Age. What’s struck me was just how quickly Superman became a national phenomenon. Within a year of his first appearance in an anthology book (that he wouldn’t be on the cover of for another five issues after the first), there was a syndicated newspaper strip about him. According to Weldon, Time magazine called the character “the No. 1 juvenile vogue in the U.S.” Within two years, there was a radio show. Within three, Max Fleischer’s studio was making animated short films. And then there were all the dolls, games, puzzles, and coloring books. That was a stunning amount of success in a very short amount of time.
Chuck Austen’s advice to creators of lost OEL manga at the sorta-defunct Tokyopop is sound: Keep creating something new. That’s really a great rule for everyone of every profession. The other aspect of his advice was to abandon what was created and lost to Tokyopop. Heidi MacDonald endorsed the approach, observing, “If you can only create one successful property in 40 years, maybe this wasn’t the job choice for you.” While I appreciate the tough love, I don’t think that is necessarily a realistic position to take or a one-size-fits-all solution.
I prefer seeing new ideas, new concepts and new worlds from my favorite creators. However, I don’t think the quality of a creator, or the validity of his comics career, should be judged on the quantity, but rather on the quality.
The creative mind manifests itself in endless ways. Some creative people are restless, constantly searching for a new story to tell. Some have a dedicated, obsessive drive to explore one thing, one world, for as long as there’s something there that interests them. If publishers can crank out the same comics with the same characters year after year, why can’t creators do likewise if they want? Erik Larsen has been putting out crazy Savage Dragon comics for years. Sure, he’s done other stuff but at this point that will go down as his most significant work, and I don’t think that makes him any less of a creator. Is Dave Sim any less of a brilliant cartoonist for not having created something for the history books after Cerebus? Are Charles Schulz and Bill Watterson sub-par for each only creating one significant comic strip?
I touched base with Chuck Austen a few weeks ago, when Tokyopop put a selection of its original English language (OEL) manga up for sale on its revamped website. At that point I checked in with a couple of former Tokyopop creators, and I ended up having a fascinating e-mail exchange with Austen in which he said he made more money on one of his prose novels simply by selling it on Kindle than he would have made from a movie option. That caught my attention, and I asked him if he would write a guest post for Robot 6. Here’s what he had to say, and while all opinions are Chuck’s own, I think at the heart of it is some good advice for everyone who has ever done something they regretted later.
My name is Chuck Austen. Many of you have probably heard of me, and very rarely in a good way. But that’s one of the reasons I’m here.
Brigid asked me to address my fellow Tokyopop alums — people who created OEMs for that ill-fated company and, like me, watched their properties mistreated, ignored and ultimately thrown into ownership limbo, properties for which we will never retrieve our rights, worlds we imagined into being that we’ll never be able to create additional stories for.
The reason my past history is important is because I am probably the most extreme example of someone who “lost everything” and so am uniquely qualified to tell you this:
Don Rosa, who drew Disney’s Scrooge McDuck and Donald Duck comics for many years has written a lengthy and fascinating piece on why he gave up creating comics.
Rosa, who started working on the series in early middle age, gave up making comics entirely in 2012 for a variety of reasons, including vision problems caused by a detached retina, depression, and frustration that the studio pays no royalties on his comics — a situation that he says is unique to the comics, as other Disney creators do get royalties. (One possible reason for this is that the Disney comics are produced by freelancers working for third-party companies, not for Disney itself.) That became particularly galling once Rosa was well enough known that the collections featured his name in the title — but he still didn’t see a dime. His response was a clever one: He copyrighted his name so publishers would have to ask his permission to use it to promote the books.
Rosa also explains why he didn’t make the switch to creator-owned comics:
Publishing | As the smoke settles around the turmoil at Platinum Studios, it appears that company founder and CEO Scott Rosenberg remains in his position following an attempt by President Chris Beall to unseat him — and it’s Beall instead who’s been voted out. According to Deadline, Beall stands by his claims that Rosenberg has mismanaged Platinum and transferred controlling interest in the company to a shell entity called RIP Media without the approval of shareholders. Rosenberg denies the accusations, including that he controls RIP. The Beat has background on the whole mess. [Deadline]
Passings | Cartoonist Chris Cassatt, one of the contributors to the comic strip Shoe, has passed away following a short illness. He was 66. Cassatt started out in 1993 as the assistant to Shoe creator Jeff MacNelly and worked with him until MacNelly’s death in 2000. After that, he collaborated with Susie MacNelly and Gary Brookins on the strip. In earlier days he was a photographer for the Aspen Times in Colorado and also created a local comic featuring a character named Sal A. Mander whom he had run in actual local elections. “After candidate Sal A. Mander was thrown off the ballot in an Aspen mayoral election on the shaky (in Aspen, anyway) grounds that he was not a ‘real person,’ Cassatt legally changed his name to Sal A. Mander and ran for Colorado governor in 1978, finishing fifth in a six-candidate contest,” the newspaper writes. The following year, he mounted a write-in campaign for Sal against an unpopular district attorney who was running unopposed. He lost, but the ridicule Cassatt’s character heaped on the D.A. during the campaign took its toll, and he didn’t stay in office for long. [Aspen Times]
“It’s instructive to read something about a family wanting certain rights returned or better rewarded when most people really like what’s been done with those rights as opposed to their either not caring or actively hating the result. One of the reasons a lot of our comics-related issue discussions remain unsophisticated is that we frequently choose to fight our battles along fundamental “I like it”/”I hate it” lines and then kind of furiously stare at the other issues involved until we can find a way to make them comply to our initial impression. It’s no way to move forward.”
Spurgeon’s observation is helpful, because the first step in solving the problem is acknowledging the problem.
[Bane co-creator] Graham [Nolan] and I both signed participation agreements, which are good in perpetuity. So it’s not up to them whether they take care of us. We’re taken care of. We’ve seen money from Bane all along – the Lego games and the little Bane-shaped piece in the Spaghettios. We always get a piece of what Bane makes. We’ll see money from this movie. They have graphs and charts to figure out how much based on how many lines of dialogue he has and how much he’s in the movie and how much impact he has on the story. We were part of it the last time when Bane was in the last [Joel] Schumacher film really briefly. We participated in that.
– Chuck Dixon, on the benefits of creating Bane for DC Comics
Creators | In the wake of the FunnyJunk/The Oatmeal legal dispute, Ian Pike talks to San Diego-based webcomics creators David King and Phil McAndrew about the problem of having their work re-posted without credit. “If I were to sit there and try to hunt down all the websites that re-post my comics without my name on them,” McAndrew says, “I wouldn’t have any time to draw new stuff. So most of the time I just shrug my shoulders and keep on drawing.” One interesting sidelight is that Matthew Inman, the creator of The Oatmeal, has set up a site called BearFood where users can share their favorite webcomics with the appropriate links. [San Diego Reader]
Digital comics | Matt White surveys the digital-first landscape with a look at the strategies (or the lack thereof) from publishers ranging from DC Comics to Viz Media: “While the majority of digital comics are just digitized versions of print comics, available simultaneously (known as ‘day-and-date’) or after the physical version hits shelves, current digital-first offerings seem to represent an alternative, more specific market as publishers begin to treat digital more as a complement to print rather than a replacement.” [Publishers Weekly]
If you’re going to work for a big company, you’re going to be exploited. But we were lucky, because the work was so much fun.
– Elliot S! Maggin, on his experiences writing for DC Comics in the ’70s.
Creators’ rights was a big topic at the ’70s panel I attended a couple of weeks ago at Comic-Con International. Moderator Mark Evanier asked how Maggin and the other panelists had felt at the time about the previous generation of comics creators from a business standpoint. Steve Englehart shared that he’d come into the industry just as Jack Kirby was leaving Marvel for DC without any royalties. He said, “I remember saying, ‘I’m not going to end up in a situation like that where I’m not getting paid for the stuff that I created.’ As it turned out, I didn’t listen to myself.”
Englehart said it with a smile, though, and to my surprise, that was the most critical anyone on the panel ever got about their treatment by the big comics companies. Maggin’s comment above came shortly after.
“The logical goals of the lawsuit were accomplished,” Carreon told The Washington Post. “Inman aborted his ‘publicity stunt’ to photograph himself with the proceeds that were intended to go to charity, the court took cognizance of the issues and ordered Inman to deposit evidence of his disposition of the funds, and Inman deposited the evidence of payments made to the charities.”
Of course, Inman intended to give the money to the charities all along, so Carreon suing him to do so is a bit like me suing the sun to force it to rise in the morning. It’s worth noting that Carreon actually filed a motion that would have delayed turning over the money, presumably to prevent Inman from photographing it. In the end, Inman photographed himself with $200,000 of his own cash, which he could do because The Oatmeal pulled in about $500,000 last year.
Anyway, this story still has some legs. Carreon himself is now being sued (by a frivolous litigant, but hey, sauce for the goose), and his threats to sue a blogger who set up a parody site mocking him led the blogger to take the matter to court and ask for a declaratory judgment (basically, legalese for fish or cut bait). And read on for the strange parallel between the site he and his wife maintain and the busted pirate site HTMLComics.com.
Creators | Following the appearance of the Infinity Gauntlet in Thor and the cameo by Thanos in The Avengers, Marvel appears poised to expand the cosmic elements of its cinematic universe with The Guardians of the Galaxy. While some fans eagerly await a movie announcement next week at Comic-Con International, Thanos creator Jim Starlin (who had to buy his own tickets to Thor and The Avengers) may be laying the groundwork for a legal challenge: Heidi MacDonald points out that Starlin has posted an early drawing of the Mad Titan on his Facebook page, writing, “This is probably one of the first concept drawings of Thanos I ever did, long before I started working at Marvel. Jack Kirby’s Metron is clearly the more dominant influence in this character’s look. Not Darkseid. Both D and T started off much smaller than they eventually became. This was one of the drawings I had in my portfolio when I was hired by Marvel. It was later inked by Rich Buckler.” [The Beat]
Comics | Tim Marchman, author of that much-discussed Wall Street Journal article, is at it again, this time interviewing Watchmen editor Len Wein about his work on Before Watchmen, and including the interventions of DC Comics Publicity Manager Pamela Mullin as part of the story. Between the embargo on the comic and Mullin doing her job, it sounds like the most interesting parts of the interview never made it into the final product. [The Daily Beast]