In a three-part interview with ICv2.com, Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson talks in his typical straightforward fashion about a number of topics, ranging from the state of the market and the phenomenon of The Walking Dead collections to the early success of Saga and competing with “the DC and Marvel superhero stuff.” The entire Q&A is worthwhile reading, but here are some of the highlights:
On creators’ rights: “People talk to me about what’s going on with the Watchmen stuff. If Image Comics had been around when Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons wanted to do Watchmen, they would have had someplace else they could have gone to do that type of work. The situation that developed out of what did or didn’t happen with those contracts would have been irrelevant because they would have had a deal that offered them 100 percent creator ownership.”
On competing with long-established properties from Marvel and DC Comics: “If you look at the success stories over the last 20 years (start with Sandman, which is a weird deal between DC and Neil [Gaiman]), and moving up until now, you can’t point to anything new that has been created by Marvel and DC that’s had any lasting impact, but there are all these things, whether it’s Bone, Hellboy, Sin City, The Walking Dead or Y: The Last Man, that are all tremendously successful properties that have done especially well as trade paperback sales both in and outside the comics market. Those things support the fact that there’s an audience for new material. Is there an audience for superhero stuff? Of course, all of the DC and Marvel superhero stuff that goes back 50, 60, 70 years, those people are going to be there, but I think there’s an audience that craves something new. Once you’ve read a story about Spider-Man fighting the Green Goblin for the dozenth time, I think you get hungry for something else. I think there are publishers out there who provide that something else.”
Roger Langridge is the latest creator to say he is no longer going to work for Marvel or DC Comics because of concerns about the way they treat creators.
The subject came up last week, when Langridge, the writer of Thor: The Mighty Avenger, the Muppets comics (originally created for BOOM! Studios and now being republished by Marvel) and John Carter: A Princess of Mars, was interviewed on The Orbiting Pod podcast. After chatting about his newest comics Snarked! and Popeye (which IDW Publishing has just expanded from a four-issue miniseries to an ongoing series), he added this:
I’m very happy to be cultivating a working relationship with people like BOOM! and IDW at the moment when Marvel and DC are turning out to be quite problematic from an ethical point of view to continue working with.
I think it’s down to everybody’s individual conscience, but I think those of us who have options—and I do have options, I’ve got a working relationship with a couple of different publishers, I’ve got illustration to fall back on, I’m not beholden to Marvel and DC for my bread and butter, so it seems to me that if you do have the option you should maybe think hard about what you are doing and who you are doing it for. I was writing the last issue of John Carter when the news came that Marvel had won a lawsuit against the heirs of Jack Kirby, and Steve Bissette wrote a very impassioned post about the ethics of working for Marvel under those circumstances, and pretty much then I figured I should finish the script I was writing and move on, and it’s not like Marvel needs me. It’s no skin off their nose if I don’t accept anything else from them in the future.
On his blog, Langridge clarifies that he made the decision last summer, at a time when he wasn’t doing any Marvel or DC work, so he’s not so much quitting as deciding not to go back. His statements come less than a month after iZombie and Superman writer Chris Roberson made headlines with his announcement that he’s ending his relationship with DC because of its treatment of creators and their heirs.
“I’ve never been one of these people who worries about [that]. I should have been. I’d be wealthy now, if I had been. I always felt the publisher was the guy investing all his money, and I was working for the publisher, and whatever I did belonged to him. That was the way it was. And I was always treated well, I got a good salary. I was not a businessman. Now, a guy like Bob Kane, who did Batman — the minute he did Batman, he said, ‘I wanna own it,’ and signed a contract with DC. So he became reasonably wealthy. He was the only one who was smart enough to do that. [...] I haven’t had reason to think about it that much. I think, if somebody creates something, and it becomes highly successful, whoever is reaping the rewards should let the person [who] created it share in it, certainly. But so much of it is — it goes beyond creating. A lot of people put something together, and nobody really knows who created it, they’re just working on it, y’know? But little by little, the artists and the writers now are a different breed than they were, and most of them, if they create anything new, they insist that they be part owners of it. Because they know what happened to Siegel and Shuster, and to me, and to people like that. I don’t think it’s a problem anymore. They make much more money than they used to make, when I was there. Proportionately. Everybody thought that I was the only one that was getting paid off, but I never received any royalties from the characters. I made a good living, because I was the editor, the art director, and the head writer. So I got a nice salary. That was all I got. I was a salaried guy. But it was a good salary. And I was happy.”
– Stan Lee, in a wonderful profile at Grantland, responding to a question about character ownership
At the MoCCA Festival panel on running a comics shop, the topic of Before Watchmen came up as part of a discussion of pull lists. Tucker Stone, manager of Bergen Street Comics in Brooklyn, volunteered that his store wouldn’t be ordering the miniseries except for those customers who’ve already requested it.
ComiXology’s David Steinberger was in the audience and asked Stone to clarify why that was. “We’re gonna lose money,” Stone said. “We’ll probably lose customers. It was a decision that was made.”
I wasn’t there, and it’s difficult for me to interpret Stone’s additional comments without hearing his tone of voice or reading his body language, but based on the panel report, it sounds like this was a decision that wasn’t without controversy even among Bergen Street’s staff. Stone continued, “When I heard that decision, I said that’s a bad idea. That’s an explanation that I’ll have to give over and over again.” But, “as time has gone on, as I’ve seen online response to that project … This is just gross, and we don’t want to be part of this one. We’ll participate with the grossness they did to Kirby on the Avengers books, but this one …”
Heidi MacDonald attended the panel and reports that her tweets about it “got a vociferous response from pros and retailers alike who felt that Bergen Street was being irresponsible and leaving money on the table.” That raises some interesting questions about the role of retailers in creators’ rights issues. Should shop owners serve their own sense of right and wrong (not that all retailers agree about what that looks like in this situation) or does that not matter compared to the mandate to serve the customer? I don’t feel qualified to cast judgment either way until I have a comics shop and a family and employees that depend on how I run it, but it’s fascinating to think about.
Comics shops uniquely personify the struggle many comics fans are experiencing as they think about these things. Which matters more: creators’ rights or my right to read what I want?
(John Douglas’ Watchmen Too: The Squid cover from Relaunched!.)
Creators’ rights | Gerry Giovinco points out that the mega-studio that is Walt Disney got its start because Walt signed a bad contract and lost the rights to his creation Oswald the Rabbit. Giovinco calls on Disney, as the parent company of Marvel, to acknowledge and perhaps actually compensate the creators of the products it is marketing: “I can’t believe that a company as wealthy Disney cannot find a way to see the value of the good will that would be generated by establishing some sort of compensation or, at the very least, acknowledgement to the efforts put forth by these creators.” [CO2 Comics Blog]
Digital comics | John Rogers discusses working with Mark Waid on his Thrillbent digital comics initiative. “There are people who are selling enough books to make a living on Amazon, whom you’ve never heard of. Because Amazon made digital delivery cheap and easy. That is what you must do with comics. It’s not hard. The music business already solved this problem. Amazon already solved this problem. It’s not like we’re trying to build a rocketship to the moon out of cardboard boxes. Webcomics guys — and this is kind of the great heresy — solved this problem like ten years ago, using digital distribution then doing print collections and also doing advertising and stuff.” [ComicBook.com]
Many comics fans are struggling right now to find a workable position to take on the issue of creators’ rights. On one end of the spectrum are folks who have no problem boycotting everything Marvel and DC Comics do until past and present creators are treated fairly. On the other end are those who simply don’t give a crap and are all for corporations doing whatever they’re legally entitled to. Somewhere in between though are those of us who are torn between wanting to see creators treated fairly and being really super-excited to watch The Avengers. What are we to do about that?
My insistence on seeing a film seems really freaking petty when Chris Roberson is willing to give up work over these issues, but at the end of the day, I know I’m gonna go see that damned movie. My not seeing it won’t make a bit of difference to Jack Kirby’s family — and besides, what did Robert Downey Jr. ever do to me, anyway? And yet … Chris Roberson.
Fortunately, Jon Morris has an awesome solution. “So how about this?” he writes. “You’re probably going to go see The Avengers and, judging by the early reviews, you’ll probably enjoy it. How about — as a thank you to the creators who brought you these characters in the first place, who gave you something to enjoy so much — you match your ticket price as a donation to The Hero Initiative?”
Morris is a genius, and we should do what he says. I know I will, and not just my ticket price, but that of my wife and son, who are big fans of the Marvel movies. If you can afford to, maybe consider doubling your ticket price for a donation, just to cover someone else who doesn’t know about the creators’ rights issue or hasn’t heard of The Hero Initiative. The point is, if you care about creator rights, but don’t think that boycotting is the answer for you, donating however much you’re comfortable with to the support of those creators is an excellent idea.
Many [artists], in fact, are effectively entrepreneurs, but have little of the regard of the lavishly paid, mythically potent CEO. A working artist is seen neither as the salt of the earth by the left, nor as a “job creator” by the right — but as a kind of self-indulgent parasite by both sides. Why the disconnect?
– Scott Timberg, writing for The Salon about the lack of sympathy creators of art receive from society at large. His article is especially timely considering the current conversation about creators’ rights going on in the comics industry.
Timberg has a lot of thoughts on the subject. He asks what it means to be a successful artist in the U.S., and talks to freelance creators who are seeing less and less paying work as traditional patrons are going out of business or looking for cheaper artists. He talks about the popular ideas that the creation of art is a leisure activity (as opposed to actual work) and that artists are supposed to struggle. It’s an excellent, thought-provoking piece.
Part of what makes it thought-provoking from a comics standpoint is how it meshes with the attitudes of many comics fans toward the people who make these things we love so much. Or even the attitudes of some current creators about the treatment of creators in the past. It’s not industry-wide, of course, but there’s still a startling lack of respect or understanding, or something, for how tough the creative life can be. It’s a truism that “no one goes into comics to get rich,” but is that the same as saying that creators should expect to get screwed because that’s just the way it is?
A lot of the logic in this anonymous comment about creators’ rights doesn’t track, but he or she makes a point that caused me to stop and think. A large part of the creators’ rights conversation is about being paid appropriately for something you made. In other words, people should be compensated financially based on the merit of their work. I’ve always assumed that compensation should also apply to the creator’s family when the creator is no longer alive to collect it, but the commenter attempts to poke holes in that assumption.
He or she suggests that merit-based pay and inherited finances are diametrically opposed values. I disagree, mostly because of the way families work. Sharing wealth is one of the things that families do; if everyone in the family received only the money that she or he worked for, children would starve; to say nothing of husbands or wives whose full-time jobs are managing the household. That’s a ridiculous proposition because merit isn’t based solely on what one does for a living. My son merits being taken care of simply because he’s my son and my wife and I owe it to him. But, even though I reject that inheritance and merit are in opposition to each other, the commenter does have me thinking about the limits to which a creators’ heirs should be able to exert their rights.
As I was thinking aloud over the ERB Inc. vs. Dynamite case on my blog and Google+, I read several comments that were directed negatively toward the estate of Edgar Rice Burroughs. I still haven’t figured out how I feel about that whole deal, but what surprised me was that the comments weren’t directed at the odd and inconsistent tactics ERB Inc. has used, but simply at how the family is now several generations removed from the original creator. Setting the actual law aside for the purposes of this discussion, for how long should a creator’s family morally be able to profit off that creator’s work?
… given the shower of riches the industry has seen, the fact that the families of the primary creators have been reduced to seeking legal redress or making threats of same for four decades now is a total embarrassment for comics, and any company seeking a press high-five on their latest win in an ugly, pathetic spectacle like this one should be stared at as if they’re crazy rather than given one back.
It’s impressive that neither writer is calling for a massive boycott of anyone’s comics. That’s got to be tempting, but those kinds of calls can end up taking the conversation off the problem by putting it on the consumer. People on the fence about the issue can feel judged and resentful and even those who agree with the reasons for the hypothetical boycott often despair that it won’t do any good anyway, so what’s the point?
What Brothers and Spurgeon are doing is simply refusing to shut up about it. That gives the rest of us room to think and consider our own courses of action without shoving us into a corner and declaring that there’s only one appropriate way out of it. But it also doesn’t let us off the hook to pretend there’s not a huge problem.
We used to handle these things with short stories in the backs of our issues, but we weren’t satisfied with that model. The artists who drew those stories did so in their own free time. Call it fan art that just happened to be based on a Robo script they found. In their inbox. Sent by me.
We loved being able to pack a little more content in our issues, but we came to hate that it got there by exploiting our friends. Sure, they came to us, in some cases they begged. But if these guys are going to take the time to draw comics for us, they should get paid for the effort.
-Atomic Robo writer Brian Clevinger, explaining the ethical component of creating an anthology series about the dinosaur-slinging robot and his team of Action Scientists.
In a industry where so many creators are willing to work for “exposure” (and so many publishers are willing to exploit that), this is really damn cool. Those back-up stories have always added so much to the various Atomic Robo comics that Real Science Adventures was always an exciting idea for a series. This makes it even better.
The internet has been abuzz ever since the news broke that Marvel is demanding $17,000 from Ghost Rider creator Gary Friedrich in return for not countersuing him, after he lost his suit against them. And now someone is doing something about it: Comics writer Steve Niles has set up a donation fund to help Gary, and donations are pouring in. Niles told CBR that most were in the $20 range, so it will take a lot to make a difference, but Marvel’s action seems to have rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Jamie Gambell has pledged the proceeds from his February book sales to the fund, and other donors include Steve Lieber, David Gallaher, and Neil Gaiman, who gave the fund drive a huge boost by retweeting it to his large following.
The whole thing came together quickly over Twitter; after getting an e-mail from Friedrich, Niles appealed to friends to help him set up a PayPal page, then reached out to a number of prominent creators (not all of whom have answered the call). The goal is rather modest: “Looks like 6k will keep a roof over his head, so let’s shoot for 7,” Niles tweeted about an hour ago. The donations have been pouring in, but he will need a lot more to reach that goal, he told CBR.
Meanwhile, it’s a bit like the last scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” with creators hollering good wishes as they toss money into the till. “I just helped Gary. We might all need help some time. Good Karma, people!” tweeted Jill Thompson. “I am totally in,” said Gail Simone.
The $17,000 that Marvel Comics intends to extract from Ghost Rider creator Gary Friedrich may cost them more than it’s worth, at least in terms of goodwill.
Friedrich, who created the character under in 1968, sued Marvel, Columbia Pictures and other companies in 2007, shortly after the release of the first Ghost Rider movie, claiming the copyrights had reverted to him six years earlier. The court found in Marvel’s favor in late December, ruling that Friedrich had twice relinquished his rights to the property, once by endorsing a freelance check that included an assignment agreement, and again when he signed a contract granting all rights to previous work in exchange for the possibility of more freelance assignments (which he never actually received).
Marvel figures that Friedrich made $17,000 from “the distribution and sale of goods depicting the Ghost Rider character appearing in Marvel Spotlight, Vol. 1, No. 5,” and the company wants its money back; in return, Marvel won’t pursue its counterclaims against him. Friedrich, who is 69, says he doesn’t have it. Marvel also wants him to stop selling Ghost Rider merchandise or even calling himself the creator of Ghost Rider if there’s anything in it for him.
“Alan Moore has earned his frustration, his suspicions and his occasional flashes of anger. He should be listened to and learned from, not dismissed and certainly never mocked.” — Tom Spurgeon
When the comic book industry first coalesced in the late 1930s, it adopted a business model that, to put it lightly, did not put an emphasis on ethical behavior. These were publishing companies run by greedy, exploitive people who had questionable connections to gangsters or had been indicted for mail fraud. They cared little about the quality of their product, the well-being of their workers–sorry, freelancers–or seeing that anyone who contributed to their success was fairly and duly compensated.
Here we are, roughly 80 years later, and everything has changed. Whoops, I’m sorry. I mean nothing has changed. It’s still an ugly, cutthroat industry where publishers are all too happy to grab as many rights as they can to artists’ hard-won work whenever said artists are willing to take those sucker bets. It’s an industry dominated by cynical publishing ventures and easy cash grabs rather than an interest in creating long range, sustainable business models. Perhaps the worst thing about our current era is that those who have legitimate reason to complain about their mistreatment are the ones most frequently shouted down by a certain cross-section of their fans, a mercenary bunch who seem to care more for ensuring that they never, ever lose the chance to get more of the same in a timely fashion than if the people producing that same are treated with a certain amount of decency and respect.
Tom Spurgeon has been covering comics and the comics industry since the early ’90s, but really emerged as a prominent voice about comics in 2004 with the launch of his website The Comics Reporter. After years of steadily growing into online journalism, in 2010 Spurgeon won the Eisner Award for Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism. He’s authored, or co-authored, several books about comics, including Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book and the overlooked Romita Legacy. He also wrote a a syndicated comic strip from 1999 to 2002 called Wildwood.
I turned to Tom for this interview as a chance for readers to get another side of someone who’s seen and covered a lot in comics, and frankly to ask him from one journalist to another what I should pay attention to more. So whether you’re reader, reporter, creator or suit, I recommend you read on for Spurgeon’s take on where we stand, where we fall, and how we can pick ourselves up again.
Chris Arrant: When you meet people, what do you tell them you do for a living?
Tom Spurgeon: Astronaut!
I tell them I’m a writer. Is that a dumb answer? Everybody’s got to do something. The comics part only comes up if people ask me what I write about, at which point I tell them one of my areas of interest is comics. It was a lot harder in the mid-’90s trying to describe what I did for a living in that people were much less familiar with comics beyond newspaper strips and superhero books. We used to get calls at The Comics Journal from people pitching us stand-up comedian articles. My friends back home have an easier time wrapping their mind around what I do now, with multiple entry points and greater coverage of the field.
DC announced their digital publishing plan last Wednesday, but since then the conversation has focused nearly as much on what Marvel is or isn’t doing with regards to compensating creators for digital downloads of their work. DC announced incentive payments right there in the PR for their iPad app — did Marvel’s failure to do so mean they weren’t doing this, or (as stated or implied by various Marvel personnel) had they already done it on the down low?
In his latest Cup o’ Joe interview column, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada spoke to CBR’s Kiel Phegley all about this. According to Quesada, Marvel does have an “incentive program” in place, the first checks will go out after the San Diego Comic-Con, the plan applies to all creators (not just exclusive ones, as was rumored), and the reason Marvel didn’t announce it is because they figured they didn’t need to…