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1. 3AM Comics: Nate Simpson talks Creative Constipation, Artificial Intelligence, and ‘Nonplayer’

by Zachary Clemente

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On the questionably damp morning of the last day of ECCC ’15, I caught up with Image creator Nate Simpson in a small breakfast place called The Crumpet Shop in Downtown Seattle’s world famous Pike Place market to talk about the second issue of Nonplayer, close enough to taste. The conversation spans his interest in narrative art, AI, and a discussion on creating comics in an rapidly gestating environment. Simpson is known for his work on Nonplayer, the first issue of which was release April, 2011. He lives in Seattle with his wife and young child and while he’s not working on game art, he wakes up at 3AM daily to turn out comics pages.

Nonplayer #2 is out from Image Comics on June 3rd.

 

[You’re joining us after a brief introduction.]

 

Comics Beat: Well, how about you? How did you get into comics?

Nate Simpson: Well, it was the X-Men; the late Chris Claremont era – Jim Lee, Marc Silvestri, and all that. Actually, right when I started getting out of comics was when all those guys were jumping ship to Image. Then I went off the college in ’93 and I didn’t really have much of an exposure to independent comics until art school six or seven years later.

CB: So you went to college then attended art school years later?

NS: Yeah, I went to college and totally got out of touch with comics completely. I went to the University of Chicago for Paleontology; there were not people reading comics, it was just not happening. After three years studying I realized I didn’t want to be a paleontologist – I just liked drawing dinosaurs. So I switched over to the Art Institute of Chicago…and that was just after Chris Ware had left. There was an indie comics culture there and I got into stuff like John Porcellino’s King Kat – that sort of stuff. From there I slowly worked my way back into comics through the indie angle, but I never really took it seriously as a career path until many, many years later. I fell into game art pretty much right out of art school and if you’re looking at it from a purely utilitarian standpoint – for an artist – there’s really no better game in town. It pays way better and it’s way more forgiving from a scheduling standpoint.

CB: There may be less pitching involved?

NS: Yeah, not at my level. So yeah, game art was going to be life until I came across this book of storyboards for Miyazaki movies – have you seen his original storyboards for Nausicaä?

CB: Oh, yeah.

NS: Dude, that shit melted my brain. It just the one guy working by himself with such a comprehensive vision and the final product was so similar to what his original vision was like.

CB: Did you see the documentary about him – The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness? It was filmed during the production of The Wind Rises and showed a lot of his storyboarding process. He uses a stopwatch while boarding to set the time of shots from the outset, so as each scene was set – he knew how long it would be. What’s really crazy is that the studio launches into production when he’s only half-way done with the script.

NS: That’s how assured he is – there’s no way to go back!

CB: That’s a really interesting place to come from, in my mind. When you mentioned that it was the Claremont X-Men and Liefeld posse were your earlier comic interested – I was going to say I don’t necessarily see those influences in your current work.

NS: Well, the one thing we overlooked is that is that I also had a major Moebius fetish. I think stylistically that’s more of where I’m coming from.

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Panel from Nonplayer #1

CB: That makes sense. I remember when I first saw the promo art featuring Elloden I thought that it looked very [Geof] Darrow – who’s a contemporary of Moebius.

NS: Oh yeah. I bought all three of the Hard Boiled issue when they came out, and they released like every year and a half – and I was so angry at him!

[Both Laugh]

NS: It’s so ironic. I was saying “what kind of asshole takes a year and a half?”

CB: These names remind me of an interview with Paul Pope I did right when the first volume of Battling Boy had come out where I asked him what he was reading. He said he was staying in his “fortress of influence” which was essentially Moebius, Toth, and Miyazaki.

It really excites me that as Western comics really finds its footing with its Eastern – mainly manga – influences, Miyazaki is beyond that. People were looking to him long ago, even though he hasn’t made a new comic in some time.

Getting back to it – would you say the Miyazaki influence is one of production or also stylistic?

NS: I would definitely say both, but it’s so hard to parse what part of each person you’re taking because it’s a very organic process. However, I was inspired in the wrong way by those storyboards because what I wanted to do was exactly that: make storyboards for a movie.

So the first thing I did was quit my job, which required a huge amount of patience from my wife who didn’t have a job at the time. We were just living off of savings as I was saying “I’m gonna express myself!”

It was a weird six or seven months of writing this screenplay and doing some storyboards for this big, grand, epic sci-fi space opera called “Gordon and the Star-Eater” and it was…horrible. It was the worst.

CB: Sounds like something I’d read.

NS: So after those six or seven months, I stepped back from the screenplay, read it again and went “this is complete shit.” I had wasted more than half a year, we’re out of money, and I had to figure out how to salvage this – make it worth leaving my job. I got super despondent about it and wrote about it on my blog; about how I was feeling lost. Although only three friends really read my blog, one of whom was a co-worker named Ray – who’s gone on to do concept art on Skyrim – told me to just draw a comic.

At the time I naively thought it was the simpler thing to do, rather than a screenplay and storyboard for a movie.

CB: And in many ways, it is. You don’t need cameras or intensely expensive equipment and software or a crew or anything like that.

NB: Exactly. It was very self-contained. I didn’t have to pitch it to anybody; I just had to do it and either it’s good or it’s not – it is what it is. I don’t know if you have something like this, but the “Star-Eater” project is something I’d been thinking about for around 15 years prior. I knew all the scenes, I knew everything that had to happen. It was so set in stone that there was no way for anything to mutate or grow; it was not a creative enterprise at all.

CB: That sounds like a dangerous thing to enter into.

NS: It really is. There was nothing there with that project; it was dead…it was taxidermied.

So that moment when Ray told me to do a comic I got, for the first time in many years, a blank slate to ask myself what I should do – and the story for Nonplayer came on the same day, all at once. “Here’s the stuff I’m interested in now and here’s the stuff I would have been writing about it wasn’t creatively constipated because of this other project.”

Writing out the script for Nonplayer happened really fast; the first two issues were written out in two weeks…and then it’s taken fucking five years to draw them.

CB: Something I’m curious about is your editing process. Given that much time between original script and final product, how many iterations or changes or evolutions have they gone through?

NS: Oh you have no idea; so many revisions. I save every iteration of the book. Some of the individual pages have up to 40 or 50 different versions from the very roughest thumbnail all the way [to final touches]. I’ve even made animated gifs of the process and it’s really cool to see stuff shift around, but the dialogue in changing with the art is changing and in some cases, entire scenes are added or removed – it’s a pretty fluid process.

That’s the great freedom and the great pitfall of working digitally is that you can continue to edit all the way through the process and what’s what I do: just keep polishing and polishing. If I were working in analog media, I would have erased through the page nine times, but there’s not common sense stopping point and that’s a long road that can really eat up your time.

Nonplayer_1_003_timelapse-1

Process of Page from Nonplayer #1

CB: Would you say that the fact that you’re working digitally is enabling in that sense?

NS: Oh, absolutely. Here’s the thing though: without these tools […] I’ve been an adult for about 15 years before starting on Nonplayer and the thing that changed in my life that was enabling for Nonplayer to happen was the invention of the Cintiq.

I had tried to draw comics in pen and ink before and I found it so confining and difficult because I’d have second thoughts or would want to change something – it would drive me crazy. It was upsetting that I didn’t have the freedom to continuously modify. If I had been born 50 years earlier, I never would have attempted a comic, I would’ve lived and died having done some other thing.

CB: Proto game art?

NS: Yeah, maybe. I don’t know – I would’ve dug ditches or something. Maybe I would’ve been a paleontologist or a painter or something.

It’s sort of interesting, my training is in painting and drawing; there was a lot of oil painting. Once nice thing about that is that you keep working it – they even encourage you. I mean, some of those teachers work on one painting for 10-15 years; there’s not a time limit on a painting, you can build the paint out a foot deep if you want to. But that’s never really worked for comics, unless you’re doing painterly comics.

Comics as a pop medium is not an additive one; you need to have the idea and you need to get it out as cleanly and as quickly as you can; but these digital tools […] you have a clean end product but you work in a more painterly way, ironically. I sometimes redraw a line up to 50 times to get it just the way I want it!

CB: It’s so much easier to do that when you’re able to. It’s fascinating to think that we’ve hit a point technologically where it’s potentially as easy to edit the pages as it is to edit the script.

NS: That’s absolutely true. But here’s the other interesting thing: I think we’re in a weird time-gap where people who were trained to use analog materials, like me, have gotten access to these weird digital tools – so there’s a combination of ability and tools. But I notice that younger artists seem much more comfortable working quickly and iteratively – they just use the tools better than I do and they’re much faster than I am.

CB: While a bit reductive and not wholly true, something I do notice is a lot of artist I would consider your contemporaries only use digital for certain stages, like just for color and flatting or inking and up. But if you look at the “Tumblr generation” of artists, you see a swathe of amazing color sketches that were digital from the ground up and that’s all they work in. Sometimes you’ll see some of their analog work, but they’ve figured out how to fine tune the digital tools to fit their style that it becomes very cohesive.

NS: The end product is such a result of the tools, there’s no way to do what they do in any other way, whereas what I’m doing is kind of replicating what comics look like back when Moebius was doing them in the ‘70s. A better artist could do what I’m doing now digitally in an analog form. What I’m doing is “hacking my way” toward a finished product that has that level of polish, but I’m doing it sort of the hard way.

CB: Isn’t that the human condition?

NS: Yeah maybe – we’re all trying to rebuild what we saw when we were 13.

CB: That’s creation and memory. I’m fascinated by the idea of what it means to take something from here [motions to temple] and put it somewhere so other people can see it and how do your tools and the “you” of that time affect, muddle, or change the product. With digital, the opportunity is there to be as clear as possible is there, but it’s the tool could enable some distance or change from the original concept.

Reminds me of Nick Drogotta who, up until issue 15 of East of West was working exclusively digital, but people kept asking for original pages so he switched to penciling on paper to accommodate.

NS: Yeah, and there are guys who do the opposite too, right? There are guys who pencil digitally, then ink on printed out pages. I guess you could do it either way.

Do you know who William Stout is?

CB: No, I do not.

NS: He’s an artist who was predominate in the ’70s – I think he did a bunch of Conan stuff and also a bunch of dinosaur drawings that I got super obsessed with. But seeing his work in person, which I have a couple times, he’s the example the resonated the most for me. There’s something about seeing it on the page; the way that the inks and watercolor […] it was like looking at a jewel. I’d seen them in reproduction and thought they were beautiful but seeing them in real life I understood. It has to be made that way because the important thing is not the reproduction – the important thing is this real object.

And certainly the ethos behind Nonplayer from the very beginning was the only thing that’s important is the book at the end – everything is aimed in that direction and there’s no “object”. There’s a part of me that really wants to make the object; there’s a part of me that’d love to have the freedom to take a step away from the way I’m doing things with Nonplayer and try a different approach. Maybe on another book or whatever, because those are skills that I have.

That’s another thing that doesn’t get talked about very much; it’s that people see the way that Nonplayer gets made and they think it’s the way I draw – “this is the only way he draws”. They think I’m a slow, meticulous artist who works digitally and nothing else because they’ve never seen anything else that I’ve done. I think there’s a little bit of selection bias or something happening there where the only reason they’ve heard of me is because that was only book I made that caught peoples’ attention. For instance, as a game artist, I have to work very quickly, very iteratively, and very roughly sometimes.

nonplayer_2_004_blog-600x910

Panel from Nonplayer #2

CB: It’s a very small sample to base an opinion off of.

NS: Because that first comic was made at the level of polish it had, all of the others will be have equal to or better than the first one. The second one, by at least some measures, is better. So in a way, I’m locked into that and it’s a pretty rough thing to be locked into. I love working on it, but as an economic proposition, it doesn’t make any sense at all. It doesn’t come close to paying for itself which is why I work on it from the hours of 3AM to 6AM every morning; I have to have a job and a life outside of it.

Sometimes I ask myself if the first comic I had made had been rough, gestural, and quick, it theoretically could have been more financially sustainable, maybe. But would it have gotten anyone’s attention? I might not have, that might not be what people were picking up.

CB: It’s that weird strongly-held belief that artists can only do one style where whatever their working on the time is likely influencing how they draw it. I personally would hazard that most artists at DC and Marvel have the potential for artistic fluidity, but they are working towards specific, recognizable style. Take a look at one of my favorite cartoonists, Boulet – he is able to do so many different kinds of work.

NS: Oh yeah, Moebius was a master of that too, he was all over the place.

CB: Definitely, but his work is always recognizable – I feel he kind of transcended shifts in style.

NS: He was so prolific that if he made something people thought was shitty, the next day he’d make 10 other things.

CB: His speed definitely helped.

NS: This touches on the hot-button topic with issue two coming out; I think there’s a certain amount of…wariness. There’s a certain kind of person who feels like I’ve cheated them in some way and here’s a part of me – a voice inside – that agrees with them. There’s always that little voice inside of me that’s always frustrated with how long this is taking. “Who do I think I am? Who else gets to come out with a #2 four years later and have the temerity to ask people to pay attention to it?” I should be skulking in the darkness, meekly handing it out and scuttle away. But because I’ve put so much time into it, because I’ve been thinking about this for so long, I have no choice but to promote it as hard as I can.

But there are a lot of people who are telling me that everyone else does 12 of these a year and I do 1/48th of one.

CB: I would maybe say that’s a product of, realistically many things but, the oppressive nature of the direct market and the hilarious difference in “creation time” vs “read time”.

NS: We have such a “box office mojo” obsessed culture that we’re having trouble separating the question of comics as an economic engine and a question of comics as a creative pursuit. Making a comic this slowly is a completely losing proposition economically, both for me personally as a creator […] I guess Image makes a little money off of it but it’s barely worth their time. It really doesn’t do much for the retailers – it really doesn’t do much for anybody from a monetary standpoint.

But I’m still doing it in my spare time. It’s getting done. There are gonna be seven of them, two down, 5 to go. I would love to go faster and I would like to find a way to work on this full time and there are some discussion going on about that, but I doubt it’ll ever be financially self-sustaining. It’s just not how it’s gonna go. Does that make it less valid from an artistic standpoint? Assuming this all gets done, assuming I don’t get hit by an asteroid or something, it’ll get done eventually. And when it’s done, it’ll be collected in trade – that big, polished, finished thing – will people factor in the time it took to make it when they make a decision about whether or not they want to buy it? Or, more importantly, when they’re deciding whether or not it’s a good book?

I’m deep in the shit right now, so it’s hard for me to even think that far ahead. I have to remind myself of this every morning at 3AM. “This is worth it because it’s gonna be good in the end.”

CB: That raises an interesting question about the worth of artistic agency. How much is your project “worth” to somebody? I think you’re maybe missing the direction comics can go – for a long time they were driven by the big two, but as other publishers get more of that market share and pushing to have good comics available for every reader possible, you start seeing other shifts.

For instance, Brandon Graham works on a lot of stuff so his solo projects like Multiple Warheads are produced pretty slowly and he shrugs off people giving him flak for it. Of course, he seems to be in a situation where that works for him; having enough going on for it to be okay.

np-bgpimup

Pinup for Nonplayer #1 by Brandon Graham.

NS: He’s very self-contained, very charismatic, and doesn’t need anybody’s love.

CB: He doesn’t need anyone’s validation, he don’t need no man.

NS: Yeah, exactly. It just occurred to me […] I sometimes feel sorry for myself – as do others – over how I just can’t get all the time I need to be able to work on this all the time, and that would be great if that happened.  But, in a weird way, the fact that this comic is not my sole source of income gives me much less freedom on the time axis, but a huge amount of freedom on the quality axis that full-time comics artists don’t have because if next month’s rent depends on you getting this book out the door, that’s going to be controlling your artistic decisions. So in a weird way, I have maximum freedom. Especially with the advances in medicine, I don’t have to worry about dying of old age then, you know, I can just keep this going! So it’s both a blessing and a curse.

CB: Something I’m interested in with Nonplayer, from a storytelling perspective is this idea of the hyper-real where you have a possible near future version of our world but within it is still the need for fantasy. I’m curious about this idea of meta-escapism; do you think this kind of story could have been as easily discussed if not for online gaming?

NS: Yeah – it definitely wouldn’t be the same story if there weren’t MMOs. One thing you’ll see in issue two is some of the new characters are the developers that are building that virtual world. So the choice of doing an online game came at least partly from having worked in games; the personalities involved in that whole thing but I think if we somehow managed to skip online gaming and went straight to the metaverse or some sort of cyberpunk version of what the online world is supposed to look like – I think the story would not be the same. The core conceit of the story is that there are two worlds that are, from an atmospheric perspective, very different from one another, but equal.

Jarvath and near-future Los Angeles, in the structure of Nonplayer are completely equal – neither one is more real than the other. That’s just the core conceit of the story.

 

[Interviewer note: Nate and I discussed some concepts that crop up in parts of Nonplayer that aren’t out yet and have been omitted from the transcription.]

 

CB: It sounds like from this and for previous interviews that you have a huge interest in AI and it sounds like that makes its way into Nonplayer.

NS: Oh yeah, there’s this book called Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom that I recommend to everyone. It’s a little dry at the beginning, but then you get into the 100 pages and, well, my brain has exploded so many times reading this book. Broadly speaking, there are two “kinds” of AI that he thinks we may end up developing. One is essentially a human-equivalent AI that is probably developed as a result of us trying to model the way a real human brain works and then evolve it from there.

CB: That makes sense – it’s the only real sentient option we have to currently base off of as we know it.

NS: Right, there is one living template that we can attempt to replicate and yeah, that work is ongoing. We are scanning human brains and attempting to recreate them in a digital matrix: that will happen. However, there are all these other – to my mind more interesting but scarier – things happening where there are forms of essentially alien intelligence that may or may not be evolving and even improving themselves over time and their resemblance to our consciousness is as distant as ours is from an ant. So there’s the potential for these immense intelligences that have nothing in common with us that could be unfathomably dangerous to the existence of humankind. That’s what they [Bostrom] talk about when they talk about the “singularity” – that sort of intelligence having an efflorescence.

Nonplayer has both. In the second issue, I introduce another AI character which is working for this regulatory bureau which is one of the latter category – it’s an alien intelligence that is unbounded in its power, but it’s kept in a cage; a god in a cage whose entire function it to monitor the internet and catch other AIs that are loose. I also have the first kind running so I get to play around with both kinds and I don’t have to pick sides; I can just explore all of it.

To answer your question: AI is of interest to me, yes.

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Cover for Nonplayer #2

CB: I think this links back nicely to how you earlier said that you were “constipated” while trying to create. This looks like a great example of allowing your work to be dated to a specific set of interests and influences you are having during the process of the work; not to make work in a vacuum.

NS: Yeah, absolutely. Also, when people write AIs now, especially for movies, it’s always a monster. It’s always basically a mean human with some extra power. I feel like an honest depiction of a malevolent AI would be so much more deeply horrifying because it’s less like a human and more like a spider or something. I don’t even think it’d be capable of malevolence, specifically because I don’t think it’s going to care about us.

CB: Right, does our potentially limited palette of emotional or social queues even apply to an intelligence that is extremely not human in nature?

NS: I don’t even know if you get to use the work “nature” and that’s where it gets really interesting. We’ll find out if we’re even compatible in 20 to 30 years and I hope it works out for us.

I hope the AI likes Nonplayer. They very well may be the only things to read the final issue.

 

[Interviewer’s Note: I spend more time than is worth transcribing telling Nate about Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn’s Alex + Ada – another fantastic Image title involving AI sentience.]

 

NS: You know, one thing I like about Eric [Stephenson] is that he really has the patience to let a book unfold, even if some books don’t perform that well in issue format, but once they’re collected they can be great.

CB: Yeah, having that be an option in a system that demands certain things upon stories based on a very tight schedule is nice.

NS:  Woe betide the person who has a story that doesn’t fit neatly into the structures that are currently in place.

CB: And inside this structure, it looks like Nonplayer occupies this unique role of the Pariah almost, in certain circles of comics readership.

NS: It’s a target, for sure.

CB: Do you think with the changing climate of comics creation, would this sort of reaction happen again?

NS: I think people are looking at it and consciously or unconsciously, they’re recognizing that it’s economically stupid. Maybe we’re part of a culture that places a lot of emphasis on that, right? Why do we care so much about how much a movie makes on its opening weekend? How is that relevant to anything? I see how it’s relevant to the people who made it, but I don’t see how it should affect what I feel about the movie, but people like to crow over the dead bodies about a failed movie.

I feel there’s a similar impulse with Nonplayer where there’s a little bit of schadenfreude where people just like to see a ship go down. Yeah, I think some people decided that I was lazy; there’s definitely a narrative of laziness there, but I’ve never stopped working on it or maybe I don’t know what the definition of lazy is.

CB: It’s interesting how those narratives around creators get formed. I feel like it was different when it was only letters sections, conventions, and signings, but now everyone has a blog, mailing list, or twitter account to work with.

NS: That’s actually the one thing that saved my bacon; if my book came out in a vacuum – if it just hit the stands one day and no one had any idea who I was, I think it would have vanished immediately. There’s the narrative of the book, but there’s also the narrative of the creation of the book and if I’m being honest I think that most of the people who are supporting Nonplayer are, on some level, supporting the enterprise as much as they’re supporting the book itself. They understand how painful it was to make it and I find, in a lot of cases, that there are people with similar ambitions or projects who empathize with the difficulty of the project.

So, for everyone person who casually shits on the book in a comment thread on Newsarama, there are a lot of people out there who either read my blog or whatever that understand what it is that I’m trying to do and are much more forgiving.

nF4CE

Panel from Nonplayer #1

CB: Do you think we’re approaching an era more based around creative compassion?

NS: I hope we are! There is the existence of all these crowd-funding stuff so a lot of people keep coming to me to put Nonplayer on Kickstarter or Patreon since it’s not sustainable in the comics market. They ask me why I shouldn’t try to find a way for people to give me their money directly.

Well I have a little experience with Kickstarer through games; if there’s a target on me now, you cannot imagine the size of the target that would be on if I were running a Kickstarter. “Now look at this guy! This lazy ass is coming out, hat in hand, asking for your money directly.”

CB: Do you think that’s a good reason not to do one?

NS: I think it’s actually a bad reason not to do it, but I am definitely conscious of having a target on my back and to ignore that requires maybe more self-confidence than I personally have. Also I don’t know what it would be that I would offer through a Kickstarter – I already sell posters and whatnot. I’m not even sure that having a successful Kickstarter campaign would allow me to work on the book full-time anyway.

Either way, as weird a book as Nonplayer is, there’s no other place and no other time that it could have become a real comic. Eric…really rolled the dice on it.

CB: I’m curious how that happened, how did Nonplayer find its way to Image?

NS: Joe Keatinge. I was posting these pages to my blog that three people read and one day I sent a fan letter to Brandon Graham. I’ve always been a fan of his and sent him a link to some of the images on my blog to show what I was working on. He posted a couple of his images and the day after that Warren Ellis, who apparently read’s Graham’s blog, posted a couple images from it and all of a sudden I had three readers to 3,000 in a week. The internet really make this thing happen. I don’t really remember the whole mechanism, but then I began interacting more frequently with that group of Image creators including Brandon and Justin “Moritat” Norman. Joe was a part of that circle, he was working at Image and he was a big fan of the book and pitched it to Eric on multiple occasions and finally Eric said “well sure, let’s put it out.”

I’m certain he couldn’t have anticipated how long it would take me to get out the second issue, but he knew it wasn’t gonna be monthly. I’m sure he would prefer the book to come out a lot faster than it has because we have to climb a completely new promotional mountain for every one of these issues because there’s no momentum at all. But he stands by the book and he likes the book, I don’t know many other publishers who would be okay with that release cadence.

Even if Nonplayer is never successful financially, I think it’s successful because I’m proud of it. It could sell two copies and I’d still be proud of it.

CB: Yeah, Image is in a really unique gestating place where it’s trying out all kinds of new stuff and who knows where they’ll be in five years.

NS: I don’t know how true these things are because I didn’t hear them directly from the horse’s mouth, but some of the people who have been associated with some of the more recent big successes at Image like Saga or Shutter […] I’ve been hearing that they were “somewhat inspired” to do the projects that they decided to do because of Nonplayer. Obviously their books are coming out monthly so they’ve got something I don’t, but if it’s true, that’s very gratifying. Maybe it served that purpose; to shake something loose or open up a possibility just a little bit in a new direction.

I’ve talked to two or three pretty prominent female artists who weren’t active in 2011 or 2012 who are now a really big deal, and Nonplayer was very high on their list of things that got them excited about what comics could be.

CB: I find that a really great thing and sort of brings me to my last question that we didn’t touch on by accident. Many years from now, when you get your comps of the nice, assuming hardcover of the collected Nonplayer, do you have plans of what’s next?

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Spread from Nonplayer #1

NS: What’s a good intersection to commit seppuku?

I have another project that I’m writing that I expect someone else to draw and I’m very excited about it. That’s another strategy I’m exploring to make it so I can work on comics full-time. If I’m a writer on a book, that takes up two days a week and I can spend four days a week on Nonplayer, which will speed that up immensely. The question, of course, is there any universe where writing a book and drawing another slow book brings in an amount of money similar to what you make in games? The answer’s probably no, but we’ll see.

CB: That’ll be an interesting test of faith to see if people who feel burned on Nonplayer will be willing to pick up a book you’re on.

NS: Yeah, I’d have to have multiple issues in the can before we even pull the trigger and it would have to be a bunch of proven artists, probably multiple artists similar to the way Brandon did Prophet. Many people predict retailer gloom and doom saying no retailer will ever trust me again and all that, but my personal experience has been the opposite. Retailers have really liked Nonplayer, it’s an easy hand sell and they just want more of it, so that’s a good problem to have.

CB: As readership changes, so do the shops, it seems.

NS: Yeah! I love where comic shops are headed. They’re not these back-alley, heavy metal places anymore. They’re getting a lot friendlier, especially to female readers. I may be benefiting on some level from the shift in demographics, my comic is a little more accessible than what was being made when it first came out – now everything’s so much broader. Frankly, Image has been the biggest beneficiary, just look at their market share, it’s crazy.

CB: Thank you very much for your time, Nate.

NS: Thank you.

np - logoNonplayer #2 (APR150542) will be available on JUNE 3RD and can be pre-ordered now.

1 Comments on 3AM Comics: Nate Simpson talks Creative Constipation, Artificial Intelligence, and ‘Nonplayer’, last added: 4/28/2015
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2. MATT CHATS: Gabo Gabs about Writing and Drawing Micro-Fiction

Welcome to MATT CHATS, a weekly interview series in which I talk to a creator, consumer or seller of comics. This week I spoke with Gabriel “Gabo” Bautista, who is working on several projects right now including The Life After for Oni Press and Albert the Alien for Thrillbent. During that time he also managed to fit in Jupiter, a series of 100 micro-stories set on the largest planet made up of just one drawing and one page of text each. His Kickstarter campaign has been funded, but it’s still running so you can jump in and get an early copy of the hardcover and push it closer to its stretch goals. I spoke to Gabo about creating Jupiter, setting rewards for the campaign and more.

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I first encountered your work with The Life After, and what immediately struck me was the panel density. What was your reaction to a script that asks for a lot of panels per page?

I’ve always been a fan of using a lot of panels! The idea of slowing down time by shoving more panels on a page has always intrigued me, so when I first read Fialkov’s script I was elated. There is that 50 panel two-page spread that we had in the first issue. The monotony and slight repetition of each panel really drives home the idea that Jude does the same damn thing day in day out, like many of us have suffered or currently suffer in our day to day lives.  I’m all for a page full of panels as long as there is a good reason for it!

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Did working in that kind of style influence the creation or development of Jupiter?

Jupiter was mainly influenced by two things: a challenge by Kenneth Rocafort to do a daily drawing in a Moleskine daily planner, and constant dreams of futuristic settings that I feel intimately connected to. The rest sort of just ran its course on its own, I just sat back and let my hands do the work.

What’s the appeal of a story told in one image and a page or less of text?

I’ve always been intrigued by the synopsis’ you find on the back of books, especially sci-fi and fantasy novels with those amazing painted covers. Being able to squeeze a whole concept into just a paragraph is the idea I wanted to harness for this project.  The fact that you can open the book to any page and be immersed into that world for a brief moment is what I find appealing. That and it’s great for people like me who has short attention spans haha.

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Do you find micro-stories to be more or less challenging than longer-form projects? Why?

I’ve never taken on the task of writing something longer than a few pages, but I feel micro-stories are easier in that it doesn’t take a lot to belt one out, its almost like playing a quick game of poker vs a round of Magic the Gathering. While Magic is way more complicated and requires more time to complete, poker in itself is full of strategy and complications that take years to master, only its much faster to play.

For me, developing a story comes pretty easy. Sometimes I feel that perhaps my brain produces way too much of whatever chemical causes someone to make things up, but I sure as hell am grateful for it.

Is there any way you’d prefer Jupiter to be read? All at once/one at a time/some other way?

I’ve never really given that idea any thought. I suppose it could be read from beginning to end, but at the same time I love that Jupiter is like a sketchbook where you can flip to any page and be sucked into that scene in just a matter of seconds.

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Would you ever sell the Moleskin daily planner that contains all of the Jupiter drawings?

I’ve had a lot of friends suggest I put it up as one of the reward tiers, putting a price of a couple thousand on it, hoping maybe some crazy rich person would pledge for it. At the same time though I’ve had other friends who scold me for thinking about it, saying I should keep it as long as I can. I’ve never been big on keeping my art, hell sometimes I just give it away at conventions, but the idea of giving away or selling a book with over 100 drawings in it is a bit hard to process. To be honest my biggest fear would be that the pages would get separated and distributed, and at the same time I would love nothing more than for people to have a little piece of Jupiter to themselves. I’M TORN. WHAT DO I DO? It’s literally just collecting dust in my studio! [Laughs] Maybe in a few years I’ll start tearing out the pages and gifting them or selling them. WHO KNOWS. I have to keep reminding myself that we are simply guardians of art until a new owner is found.

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You offer high-level of backers a significant influence over the content of your book, particularly at the $250 level. Was that an easy decision to make, or did it feel more like a necessary evil in order to get funded?

It was 10% “necessary evil so I could get funded.”  I figured people would be clamoring at the chance to be in the book. “TO BE IMMORTALIZED,” I kept repeating in my head. Overtime though, I’ve realized that the people who becoming part of the book WILL be immortalized, in my heart.  Cheesy, ain’t it? I’m serious though! Those people who pledge at that level believe me and Jupiter enough to become a part of it, they trust in me to do a great job in taking their likeness and converting them into a legend of Jupiter. It’s super awesome, and they are super awesome. Ultimately though, I always wanted to have this be a THING in Jupiter, taking a few people and turning them into legends… It’s neat!

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After 100 drawings and 100 stories, how connected are you to this world?

There’s a lot of it that I don’t remember. I look at the images and fragments of the stories come to me. Sort of like when you’re looking at an old photo of yourself hanging with friends.  You might know when it was taken, what might have been going on in your life then, but you probably don’t remember it as well as you’d like. My connection to the world of Jupiter I’ve created is similar; I don’t try to force things into it. Instead I let those things come out when they want, and hope to hell they make sense and that I can jot them down before I forget them.

What’s the scariest part of the project for you?

The scariest thing for me was not being able to fund it. After Day 2 of the Kickstarter, the fear was completely obliterated.

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Now that the campaign is funded, are you thinking ahead about future stories?

I’ve been planning this for a while; the illustrations in Jupiter are actually from a 2013 Moleskine daily planner. I’ve got a 2014 thats nearly half full, and a 2015 that I’m currently filling. The next book will be slightly different, though; some of the stories will be written by guest writers (some of which will be some notable comics people!) I’m looking forward to seeing what people write to a piece of art that’s already been created.

Jupiter is just one of many projects you’re working on. How do you balance it all?

I have no damn idea. I can’t deny that I’m late on some projects and have had to pretty much cancel or put other projects on hold, but Jupiter has been done for several months, and I just needed to get it out of my system.

What keeps you cranking out pages, day after day after day?

BILLS, MAN. BILLS. I literally have no choice, if I slow down or slack off I will be sleeping on the streets. No greater motivator than the risk of going homeless if you goof off too much. Also the fact that I’m getting old. I see all these young cats in the comic game making power moves, and I’ve just barely reached the big leagues at 34? I don’t have time to mess around, I need to keep moving, keep drawing. Draw or Die.

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You can find Gabo on his website and on Twitter, and back his Kickstarter campaign for Jupiter for a few more days. Don’t wait.

0 Comments on MATT CHATS: Gabo Gabs about Writing and Drawing Micro-Fiction as of 4/22/2015 1:19:00 AM
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3. The Cover to Nonplayer #2 and how to make money as an artist

nonplayer 2 cover web The Cover to Nonplayer #2 and how to make money as an artist

Some rambling thoughts on various aspects of making comics and making money.

I alluded earlier to the sudden announcement that Nonplayer #2 by Nate Simpson was finished and would be presumably be coming out later this year. Simpson has written a much longer piece complete with a FAQ confirming that the issue will be in the May solicitations from Image; he’s contacted Image about reprinting issue #1 but no response yet, and Warners—which had optioned the comic—has let their rights lapse, so it’s there for the taking. And then he gets to why it took 3 1/2 years to draw the comic. It’s a long answer but I’ll lift a graph:

When Nonplayer #1 was released, a few things happened. As I have detailed here in the past, there was quite a bit of distracting hoopla (at least by my standards). Between promoting the book, fulfilling poster and comic orders, Googling myself, hanging out with all my new comics friends, talking to Hollywood big shot types, and trying to answer every comment on DeviantArt in a meaningful way (man, that was cray), the amount of time left in a day turned out to be quite small. So regret #1 is not having made more hay while the sun was out, because I had a finite window of full-time access to the comic, and a lot of that time was spent on things other than drawing.

Then came other things—the declining health of his mother was a particularly severe impediment, followed by a shoulder injury, a soul sucking job, a baby, and the other things that life throws at you in a three year period. In my earlier report I joked that he was “staying up every night until 4 am drawing one precious line a night” but it turns out I was pretty close:

Progress was excruciatingly slow for me. An hour or two every morning, just adding a few more lines, a little bit of color, and then off to work. With time at such a premium, my blogging stopped almost completely. Every once in a while, folks would poke at me or wonder where Nonplayer had gone, and there wasn’t really anything I could show or tell them. I was half-done with the book and was literally getting a face drawn one day, a hand the next day, a telephone the day after that. It was like crossing a desert on all fours with no oasis in sight.

Simpson’s guilt and discomfort over not being able to work on his passion project led to him crossing the street when he walked by his comic shop and other distressed behavior. Luckily, the issue is finished now—twitter tells is it looks good, no surprise given his obvious talent.

furry water poster The Cover to Nonplayer #2 and how to make money as an artist
I don’t mean to make Simpson feel any worse than he did, or to rain on his issue #2 parade, but perhaps there is no shame in admitting that, perhaps, maybe, possibly, a monthly comic is not for you. Or even a bi-monthly comic. Some artists are slow. Most procrastinate (myself included, though I am hardly an “artist”) and a deadline or a bill is often the surest encouragement to work. But some people just don’t have the ability to generate regular work—and that’s okay. They can be amazing talents and nice people. Discipline is another ability entirely. After all, Rafael Grampa is the total bomb, and I interviewed him in 2009 about Furry Water…and it still hasn’t come out.

And you know, just being the bomb doesn’t pay the bills. Although this is the true golden age of comics, TV and Cadbury Highlights, just being awesome is not enough. This link has been going around about how there are way too many comics being published in France and cartoonists are giving up and doing whatever people do in France to make a living. I was told about the French comics glut when I was there earlier in the year for Angouleme, and there was fretting and lip biting about it, but the subtleties of the situation weren’t able to penetrate my amazement at being in a place with so may glorious comics.

Zainab Akhtar has a longer think piece here spinning out of a recent Lizz Hickey comic (since removed but the internet is an elephant) that was expressing frustration over “give me money” campaigns people have for shoes, plane tickets and other stuff. Obviously this is a sore spot for many people, but crowdfunding for creative endeavors is well established by now. Akhtar shares a fundamental mistrust of asking for money but also pooh poohs the idea that art is a sacred calling and people don’t need to be practical:

At the same time,online funding has been freeing for many artists, allowing them to give up the jobs they had and make art full-time, untethered; I’d guess the majority of artists are making a little bit extra from donations that eases their living costs somewhat, or pays for printing and so forth. To return to Hickey, artists are making art in the first instance- there is no petulant, throwing toys out of the pram exercises -‘I’m going to stop making things if you don’t support me financially!’ but that is a reality that many artists are faced with- at some point making art in the spare time you find around jobs and commitments is simply no longer financially sustainable. How many artists has comics in particular lost to that road? If crowd-funding and donations is a way to temporarily supplant that, then why not? There shouldn’t be any shame in that choice. Wanting to be supported and paid for what you do is perfectly valid, and it’s kind of sad that we still have to justify that. Money isn’t required to make art, or even for validation, but as a tool for food and shelter and time and living, it works just fine. 

Obviously, I’m no stranger to crowdfunding. A year ago I had a (incredibly generous) donation campaign that helped pay off a lot of debts involving this website, and I launched a Patreon over the summer. The result has been more than I expected, and has absolutely helped keep this site going. At the same time, it’s more than the money raised by a lot of cartoonists who have more talent in their little finger than I have in my whole limbic system. I find that distressing.

And yet, as a mentioned when I launched my Patreon, I consider it analogous to subscribing to a magazine. If you would pay $4 for a magazine about comics every month, then maybe you can pay $1 a month for a barely passable, typo-riddled website about comics. Crowdfunding is the latest iteration of crowdsourcing in a world where we get everything for free that we used to pay for, entertainment wise. You can spend an hour un tumblr and be showered with more majestic art and comics than you would get in a MONTH before the internet. That access, unfortunately, also devalues the worth of all that majestic creativity, yadda yadda. Responsible people with consciences know, deep down, that it isn’t free, and that if you truly love a work of art, throwing a dollar into a hat is a small way to show your appreciation. And despite what we’d all like to think, that is kinda the way things work now.

All that access is also devaluing work that should be paid for. I’ve been seeing some grumbling on FB about artists being asked to work for nothing on spec or for development, and I’ve heard several recent examples of one of the most alarming business models of all: work for hire for a backend only. Even when there are page rates, unless it’s Marvel or DC, they aren’t what anyone in a metropolitan area could live on, or anyone with anything but an extremely spartan living style in a remote forest cabin. It was suggested that artists don’t dare speak out because they fear not getting work from publishers paying the low rates. As one artist told me “It’s SOP for established publishers who realize artists will keep taking worse and worse deals.” It’s also part of the general decline of artists at the Big Two—a decline which is useful for keeping art rates at “salary cap” levels. But, it’s also undeniable that there is a glut of excellent comics artists and and surpluses drive down prices.

I don’t think that publishers that pay low rates are socking away giant Scrooge McDuck like piles of money—in fact, I know they aren’t. Sales are up but it’s still a low margin business for most sectors.

Image Comics is obviously the biggest beneficiary of the current system—and when I say Image Comics I mean the creators at Image and the readers of Image. Image is a seine net for every other business model; it’s a perfect mix of salt-mine hardened veterans and first flush of inspiration newcomers. And readers seem to like it. But, in order to buy in, you still need to save up enough money for that three or four months of waiting for cash to flow in. And that takes a day job, or some big two work or a working spouse. Or a tiny cabin and a patch of kale to live on.

And with Image we circle around once more to Nate Simpson. Obviously, Image isn’t a good model for him. Neither is crowdfunding, whether Kickstarter or Patreon. there is really no model that supports a Nate Simpson, because his work habits are not geared to a self-starting model. Luckily he is a very talented artist (and a nice guy) and he has other work options. His passion project will remain that—and something that others can enjoy when it comes out. For many creators, comics will never be a full time job—but as an industry we need to make sure that there’s still a business model that makes it possible for those who CAN work full time to be able to get a job that pays a living wage,

15 Comments on The Cover to Nonplayer #2 and how to make money as an artist, last added: 12/17/2014
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4. Capcom Fighting Tribute book seeks submissions…unpaid submissions

content image up Capcom Fighting Tribute book seeks submissions...unpaid submissions
Video game giant Capcom is putting out a tribute book of art, called Capcom Fighting Tribute. And it’s open to artists fan and pro:

This collection will offer a chance for hundreds of professional and fan artists to show off their artistic skills and pay homage to their favorite characters, settings and moments from the fighting games of Capcom!

All styles of art are welcome – digital painting, traditional media, anime, cartoon, pixel-based, even sculptures – whatever best expresses the artist’s love for this timeless collection of beloved video game franchises.

Properties included in the project are Street Fighter™, Darkstalkers™, Rival Schools™, Red Earth™, Star Gladiator, Power Stone™, Cyberbots, Capcom Fighting Evolution™, Puzzle Fighter™, Pocket Fighter™, Final Fight™, Battle Circuit, Captain Commando, Armored Warriors, Knights of the Round, The King of Dragons, Avengers (Hissatsu no Buraiken), and Capcom original characters Ruby Heart, Son-Son, and Amingo!


Sounds cool right? Sort of. BUT on the submissions rules, it states:

There is no payment to artists for artwork used in the Capcom Fighting Tribute book. All selected artwork becomes the property of Capcom.


Accepted artists can however makes up to 200 prints of their piece and sell those, I suppose. But this is yet another example of the “no pay” model that seems to be getting more and more normal.
Artist Reilly Brown noticed this and sounded off on his Deviant Art page:

I’m a professional, I get treated like a professional, paid like a professional or I don’t do the job.
All this really is is an attempt to get free content (that they will own forever) for a high-priced product.
I know what you’re thinking– “but I love Capcom games!  Even though I’m a professional working on another property, I want to draw a Capcom character too!”
Well shit, bro, I love Capcom too, and I’ll tell you, nothing’s stopping me from drawing those characters all damn day if I wanted to.  But I’m not going to give those drawings– that time and labor– to a company who plans on making money off of them FOR FREE.  Until I give them that art, I still own that art and can do whatever I wish with it, or at least whatever I’m able to with characters that I don’t own the trademark for, such as put it on my website, which the rules for this “contest” bans.


A lot of us are so numb to the plethora of free content on the web that this seems almost normal—is this any different than what you see on Tumblr every day? but remember, Capcom is a PROFESSIONAL company and charge money for their games. I know that if they actually PAID for all the submissions the book would probably be too expensive to even put out, but…is that really where we are these days?

The continuing devaluation of art is going to be one of the big stories of 2015 and beyond. I’m not sure what the solution is, but as Brown suggests, artists should “have more respect for your profession.”

16 Comments on Capcom Fighting Tribute book seeks submissions…unpaid submissions, last added: 12/23/2014
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5. Bendis on working for Marvel

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On his Tumblr, Brian Micheal Bendis was asked about why he’s stayed with Marvel when so many others have gone 100% creator owned.

Seems like most of the guys from your generation (Fraction, Brubaker, Millar) made a name doing their own stuff, built up a name at one of the big 2, then left to do their own stuff but with a bigger following. What makes you stay on at Marvel? Do you think you always had different goals from the start?


and he pointed out some very good reasons to stay:

Everyone to their own path. 

but it’s weird that I keep being labeled, by some, as just marvel dude because I do produce as much if not more creator owned work as everybody else doing creator owned work. in fact with the powers TV show just a few weeks away I am as involved in the benefits of creator owned then just about anybody on the planet aside from Robert Kirkman. it just so happens that Marvel is also my home for creator owned work and have been publishing powers for over a decade

 but why Marvel? I absolutely love it. I feel an immense honor being  one of the caretakers of these characters that mean so much to so many. my kids are little and all of their friends love the guardians or the avengers and the thrill they feel when they find out I’m somewhat involved is very inspiring.  I am afforded a great deal of freedom to express myself in characters that mean the world to so many.

 so I get the best of both worlds.  why wouldn’t I do both?


You know, there’s nothing wrong with sticking with a job you love, especially when you have a “TV” show coming out that will potentially rewards the fruits of creator-owned labor over many years. Bendis has had one of the most successful careers in comics history, ad having choices is what helped make it so.

5 Comments on Bendis on working for Marvel, last added: 2/2/2015
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6. Comics pay HOW much?

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For some reason, this post from two years ago, Creator says creator-owned comics pay as little as $31.25 a page—if you’re lucky went mildly viral on FB over the last few days. It refers to THIS post by Jim Zub where he laid out the economics of an Image Comic:

Printing varies wildly, but let’s say 80 cents per issue holds true. With the remaining 30 cents per issue, the following has to be paid:
• Advertising/promotion.
• Publisher operation/office expenses.
• Money left over for the creative team to actually get paid anything.
• Profit?

On a print run of 5000 comics (and many, many creator-owned titles sell less than that in the current market), it means $1500 remains for those 4 important categories. Guess how that breaks down?

If the advertising cost was ZERO and publisher expenses were ZERO, then the writer and artist of a 20 page comic would each get $37.50 PER PAGE. Oops, no money in there for the cover art, sorry. Add in more people (inker, colorist, letterer, etc) and the amount gets split even further, but this is a BOGUS number. The publisher has expenses/staff to pay for.


While I have no doubt that the numbers are still relevant, I feel that two years later, the rise of Image Comics in general should be noted. The December sales chart shows the #300 book selling just a shade OVER 5000 copies. To pick a random book, The Wicked and the Divine #6 sold 22,159 copies or so. Of course, Gillen and McKelvie have come a long way since the single can of tuna days of Phonogram, but Image Comics are HOT. Readers check out the latest books as they would the latest Big Two titles, and a lot more are selling over the break even point than ever before. Skullkickers may have reached it’s “Standard attrition” level, but Zub’s new book, Wayward, sold  10,009 of issue #5.

I’m sure Jim Zub will be along in the comments with his own observations, and like I said, there’s still a lot of Kraft macaroni and cheese to be eaten before—IF—you get to add some pancetta to the dish, but the market has changed a LOT since that post was written, and I wanted to point that out.

6 Comments on Comics pay HOW much?, last added: 2/10/2015
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7. Media Royalties: Not so fast, Alan Brennert

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On Tuesday we posted writer Alan Brennert’s pique over not getting equity participation for the character Barbara Kent Gordon, who will appear as Jim Gordon’s wife on the Gotham TV show. Although we’re all sympathetic to creators getting their due, former DC editor Janelle Asselin pointed out that the character comes under the “derivative” heading, since spouses and kids are excluded from media participation:

As a former DC editor, I’m well aware of the equity process. In the course of my job at the company, I was involved with sending the equity paperwork to creators, letting them know the guidelines, and occasionally submitting related paperwork to the proper department within DC to ensure the creators were taken care of. There were some characters from comics I worked on where creators requested equity and were turned down based on the above criteria, and Brennert is one of many such creators. There are lots of creators who have been granted equity when their characters do meet those qualifications.

Based on my experience, my reading of the situation is this: Brennert’s creation of Barbara Kean Gordon is not only “close” to her sometimes-daughter in the DCU, Barbara Gordon; it fits all of DC’s stated criteria for being officially derivative. She looks the same, has the same name – she’s even at a library after hours, implying that she, like Barbara Not-Kean Gordon, is a librarian.


So…not this time? The winner here is clearly Jim Gordon, however, because he’s got a very foxy wife.

9 Comments on Media Royalties: Not so fast, Alan Brennert, last added: 7/11/2014
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8. Must read: Mike Dawson on being a mid-career cartoonist

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Mike Dawson is talented cartoonist, a witty raconteur and a fine podcaster— you can hear his work with Alex Robinson here at Ink Panthers. And as of yesterday he was a Tumblr king with a post calledAdvice to the mid-career cartoonist who has failed to build an audience. It’s honest and in some parts brutal.

My first “graphic novel”, my three hundred page debut memoir Freddie & Me, was published by BloomsburyUSA in 2008. The final sales tally (the book is now technically out of print) was 4,805 gross and 2,748 net. I think that means I sold 2,748 copies. Not great by Bloomsbury’s standards, but by my standards, that’s my bestseller.

My second book, Troop 142 was published in 2011 by Brooklyn based boutique publisher Secret Acres. I serialized the story online as I wrote. It was nominated for four Ignatz awards at the 2010 Small Press Expo, and won for Outstanding Online Comic. The book got nice attention from NPR and the American Library Association. It got another Ignatz nomination in 2012 for Outstanding Graphic Novel. To date, the book has sold 1,435 copies.

My third graphic novel, Angie Bongiolatti, was also published by Secret Acres. It debuted at the MoCCA Festival in NYC this past April. Last week I got my first quarterly sales report.

106 copies.

Holy fucking shit! One hundred and six copies??? How has this happened?

I’ll just send you to Dawson’s post for his conclusions from this, including his ambivalence about social media, his recent switch to shorter comics, and a frank confrontation with the “What am I doing here?” feeling that all of us have at some time.

Dawson’s graphic novel career hits a lot of spots that we have come to call typical of the indie cartoonist’s life. Freddie & Me was part of the early aughts rush to graphic novels by major publishers — a premature rush that resulted in mostly disappointing sales. Troop 142 was serialized on Live Journal and got quite a bit of attention during its run, resulting in the award nominations and notice; it could be considered an “establishing” work. Angie Bongiolatti is a more enigmatic work, from the fact that I have to look up how to spell the title every time, to a plot that defies summarization at all — it’s not an art show like many indie graphic novels, but rather a narrative about people who are confused about their own lives and look to someone who seems to be less confused via politics following 9/11. IT’s also an office drama, intermixed with the work of theorist Arthur Koestler. Like I said, there is no elevator pitch for it—it’s a heart felt, thought through work.

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All three maintain a high level of cartooning and narrative skill. Although he’s never been a critics darling, Dawson’s carved a respectable place for himself. He should be just entering a strong period of confident work. Instead, he’s wondering why he’s even here.

Dawson says what a lot of cartoonists are thinking these days. You can slave away at the drawing board every night after the day job ends, but is there even a career here for most people? What am I doing? Where am I going? Will there be a cheese plate when I get there? It’s the greatest time ever for comics but it’s still a mode of self expression not a way to make a living for many folks.

The post got recognition of another kind: a take down by Abhay Khosla:

Uh, if I can add insult to injury: who did you even think your audience was? Your graphic novels had a $20 list price, and you hadn’t really made a name for yourself before trying to charge people $20 to find out if you were any good at making comics.   Did you think there were a lot of people who take that kind of risk with their money, and if so, why?  Is that how you buy comics— you just see books and then spend $20 on them, regardless of if you’ve never heard of who made them, week after week?  What kind of comic-buying budget are you dealing with that allows you to do that?


I think some of Khosla’s point are a bit harsh—Daryl Ayo answers them here—but it’s true that finding an audience isn’t as easy as falling off a log or falling on a table at TCAF. I’m a fan of Dawson’s work, but not for reasons that readily translate to a steady audience.

In a private correspondence with Dawson, I suggested that Angie B. might have done better had it also been serialized online, the way Troop 142 was. It’s true that we have a ton of tools at our disposal to promote and disseminate all kinds of work now. It’s also true, as an agent told Dawson, that building an audience on social media is as necessary as knowing how to spell for authors these days. The rugged “self publisher” of the 80s and 90s has become the “self promoter” of the internet era. Dave Sim was right!

Dawson is a fine cartoonist with a distinctive style. His books aren’t for casual reading—he has a dense style that takes a while to read, just like a “real” novel. I haven’t seen the discussion of his essay beyond the two links above, but I suspect that a lot of cartoonists rolled it around in their heads as the day progressed.

Bonus reading: Tom Spurgeon interviews Dawson interviewed at The Comics Reporter

Whit Taylor interviews Dawson at Panel Patter

Hillary Brown reviews Angie Bongiolatti at Paste Magazine

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9. Thought for the day: Choose your own adventure

adventures-into-the-unknown-1-1.jpg
I totally stole this from the blog of Marie Javins, a long time editor (most recently at DC) and colorist and adventurer:

Choose Your Own Adventure:

If you can tolerate the desperation of returning to the place you just left to run around in a hamster wheel while looking forward to sleeping late on the weekend, go to work.

If you choose the pressure of never knowing if you’ll have cash for rent or food while you have a bit of dignity, go to freelance.

Both paths lead to obscurity, eventual illness, and death, so choose carefully.

Since I just stole this profound thought from Marie, here’s a more recent post of hers, reporting on her trip to the International Comics Expo in Birmingham, UK, to tech coloring workshops.

The common complaint people have is they don’t understand why their art prints so dark, and I’m pretty good at articulating the relationship between the software and printing ink. The one who attended both thanked me several times and then showed me his portfolio. I’m glad I didn’t know how good he was when I was teaching.


Life is a highway. As long as you keep traveling, you win.

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10. CCS offers the The Applied Cartooning Manifesto at SPX

001 Manifesto CCS offers the The Applied Cartooning Manifesto at SPX
I just arrived at SPX and the thrill of excitement over comics is a palpable thing, as the young and the young at heart (Saw Jules Feiffer walking around) gather to talk about what they love. but making a living at what you love remains a blithely ignored question mark (at best) or a looming storm cloud that colors everything (at worst.) Addressing this, James Sturm who runs the Center for Cartoon Studies, and Marek Bennett will have free copies of The World is Made of Cheese, The Applied Cartooning Manifesto at the show. The entire PDF will be available for download this Sunday,  but stop by the CCS booth to get your own copy. Sturm writes:
[T]his conversation about making ends meet as a cartoonist has always been around (and something that I’ve explored before, re: Market Day) and seems to be on the forefront of people’s minds. At SPX, with SO many cartoonists around, it will certainly be an undercurrent. So this pamphlet is a part of that conversation.
And here’s a preview of what everyone will be talking about. 003 Manifesto CCS offers the The Applied Cartooning Manifesto at SPX 004 Manifesto CCS offers the The Applied Cartooning Manifesto at SPX
005 Manifesto CCS offers the The Applied Cartooning Manifesto at SPX 006 Manifesto CCS offers the The Applied Cartooning Manifesto at SPX 007 Manifesto CCS offers the The Applied Cartooning Manifesto at SPX

10 Comments on CCS offers the The Applied Cartooning Manifesto at SPX, last added: 9/15/2014
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11. Brian K. Vaughan’s PRIVATE EYE announces a new issue, six-figures sales

 Brian K. Vaughans PRIVATE EYE announces a new issue, six figures salesThe good news is that a new issue of THE PRIVATE EYE is available. This webcomcis by Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin and Munsta Vicente posits a world where an eruption in the cloud has made privacy the most valued social element.

Oh did you say “torn from today’s headlines”? When this started running last year it seemed a little farfetechd but after the burst cloud hgas spilled all of our secrets, BKV looks prescient again.

THE PRIVATE EYE is run on a “pay what you want” DRM-free download scheme, and it seems that readers want to pay quite a bit. Vaughan announced that the book has already sold more than six figures in both issues and in dollars:

Even though readers can still pay whatever they want for our DRM-free files (including nothing!), artist Marcos Martin, colorist Muntsa Vicente and I are proud to reveal that The Private Eye is already well into the six figures for both issues downloaded AND dollars earned… and that’s without advertising, corporate backers, Comixology-like distributors, or even a Kickstarter campaign. It’s all because of small contributions from readers around the world, so sincere thanks again for your coverage of our ongoing experiment.

Given that there are NO MIDDLE men for The Private Eye, that’s six figures of pure profit for well deserving creators.

Vaughan has been teasing an expansion of the Panel Syndicate tem for a while, and in his email he nopted:

And we’re also excited to say that we’ve just received the first issue of our NEXT new series at Panel Syndicate, by a very surprising creator we’ll be announcing soon. Stay tuned.  

For now, please enjoy Marcos’ striking cover for #8, featuring Gramps, an elderly Millennial struggling to make sense of the year 2076…

 

4 Comments on Brian K. Vaughan’s PRIVATE EYE announces a new issue, six-figures sales, last added: 9/22/2014
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12. Jason Shiga’s Patreon for Demon reaches $1000 a month

4024339 01 Jason Shigas Patreon for Demon reaches $1000 a month

A lot of cartoonists—and many blogs, ahem—have taken to PAtreon as a means to finance the creation of comics. There are quite a few (a round up post is called for, maybe later this week) and Patreon doesn’t make it clear who makes the most, the way Kickstarter does, but Jason Shiga recently hit $1000 a month for his Ignatz winning webcomic Demon. Given his analytic background, there’s much of that in the post, but here’s an excerpt:

I know it’s an arbitrary number, but the $1000 mark is significant for a couple reasons. First, it amounts to the opportunity cost of not going with a larger publisher for this project. Second, someone could theoretically live on $1000. They’d have to be childless, live in a hovel in Detroit with 4 other dudes eating beans and rice 3 times a day. But man, if you were to describe that life to my 20 year old self, I’d tell you that sounds pretty nice. I know a lot of my readers here are cartoonists so maybe you can relate to that feeling of knowing so clearly in your bones that you were meant to do this one thing. But then there you are screwing in widgets all day, waiting for that whistle to blow so you can bike home and draw again. When I started out making comics, I didn’t want to be rich or famous. I just wanted to make more comics. I still do.

The lifestyle that $100 a month affords you is not a very appealing one, but, as he says, it makes the project officially a success. As he explains, he started out with usual business model of selling print editions, art and digital subs. This level of income for a regular webcomic would thrill many cartoonists, but given Shiga’s 15 year career, and the success of Meanwhile (which led me to coin the term The Shiga Index when analyzing sales charts.)

My own Patreon is nearing $700, which is a pretty good number all things considered. I’m very fortunate to have this level of success and appreciate each and every patron. Obviously it isn’t enough to live on, but it had taken care of paying for the backend, investing in the site more, and yes, paying some of those New York City bills. Patreon still doesn’t have the “excitement” level of Kickstarter, but it is beginning to afford a bunch of people at least some return on their work.

PS: Demon is totally dope. It’s a cross between Unbreakable, Groundhog Day and Shiga’s own classic Fleep. READ IT.

4 Comments on Jason Shiga’s Patreon for Demon reaches $1000 a month, last added: 10/23/2014
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13. Thurber: The internet is “pay to play” for young cartoonists

201411071234 Thurber: The internet is pay to play for young cartoonists
Cartoonist/multi media artist Matthew Thurber has a provocative piece called Letter to a Young Cartoonist about the use of the internet as a career approach, and he offers an idea that I had never really engaged with before but now that I’ve heard it, I can’t forget it. The internet is “pay to play” for so many of us, even given the free tools available.

For instance: Many people post their artwork online for free. (Or comics, movies, music, writing, etc.) But it’s not really free. The cost of your labor is absorbed. The value of the work goes to Big Tech. Everyone viewing your work has paid for whatever screen or computer through which they view your work, and also for their Internet access plan. But your audience doesn’t value you, Young Cartoonist, so much as the device that frames you. You are disposable.

In effect, Young Cartoonist, you become part of a package deal included with the monthly payment of Internet service. The artwork is consumed by the viewers online as part of their daily steroidal dose of information. For the consumer, it’s as though they subscribed to a newspaper with an infinite amount of funny pages! But for the artist…you get paid in “likes” and those don’t translate into dollars.

But in the end, this system is only financially rewarding to the corporations who provide the platforms you pimp yourself out to. Worse, the Social Media companies proceed to harvest your information — Metadata — which is then shared between corporations to advertise their products to you. Facebook, Tumblr, and YouTube are not giving you something for nothing.

Are we this desperate?


Thurber suggests that stepping away from free platforms and finding more paying outlets is a smart move, and calls on publishers to support that. Which would mean readers would have to want to pay for their entertainment again and…I think that cow is out of the barn and being served as a burger at Shake Shack right now. A provocative piece about which I expect to hear a lot this weekend.

5 Comments on Thurber: The internet is “pay to play” for young cartoonists, last added: 11/7/2014
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14. Ben Towle on the webcomic to print process

01 Ben Towle on the webcomic to print process

Web serialization of a comic intended for print is one of the standard models of comics production now (Although it still isn';t profitable but that’s a whole other post) and here’s avery insightful post by Ben Towle on the conclusion of his webcomic, Oyster War. I’ve been enjoying his account of local skirmishes between 19th century Chesapeake Bay oyster farmers since he started it in 2008, and much has changed in how he put the comics out in that period, including the rise of Tumblr and yet more social media. Towle offers some VERY practical advice including how running it on GoComics affected the comics, mistakes in character design and URLS (get a separate URL for your comic) and also preparing for print:

Assume that your comic will be printed, Part I. – You may just be planning on throwing some stuff up online and seeing what sticks, but you can make some serious trouble for yourself down the line if you wind up deciding that you want to print your comic if you haven’t been doing some basic “just in case” things. Thankfully, I did the most basic of these with Oyster War–more just out of habit than good planning. Work in CMYK. Exporting CMYK to RBG is a lot less prone to problems than vice versa. Also: work at print resolution. I keep my line art at 1200 dpi and my coloring at 300 dpi. Again, it’s easy to export all that down to 72 dpi for screens… but there’s no way to do it in reverse.

Assume that your comic will be printed, Part II. – Some print-prep things that I really should have done, I didn’t start doing until about half way through. I wish I’d done them from the get-go. First: coloring with a K-free palette. Despite Oyster War being my first long comic I’ve done in color, I knew good and well that it’s a best practice to do CMYK coloring with little if any black (K or “key”) values in your colors… but, I foolishly took a “I’ll figure it out later” attitude, and now I’m having to go back and color correct a lot of early pages. I felt especially dumb when I finally decided to remix the color palette I’d been using to get it K-free and it took all of about 45 minutes to do. Other things I should have done from the get-go that are now costing me time: digitally blacking in areas of spot blacks that didn’t scan as completely black, superblacking the color under the line art.


Some of this will be a “Duh!” for web veterans, but it’s always someone’s first time at the rodeo. There are many technical aspects to this model that keep being reinvented. But it did work for Towle: Oyster War will be coming out in print in 2015 from a yet unnamed publisher.

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15. Break into comics with Neal Adams, Kevin Smith and the million dollar UcreateComics — UPDATED

BigBreakTour Break into comics with Neal Adams, Kevin Smith and the million dollar UcreateComics    UPDATED
…and then take a long long time to finish them.

Just kidding. This new buddy pictures in the making will tour four cities as part of the UcreateComics Big Break Tour, starting in NYC on May 4th, 2013. (That’s also Free Comic Book Day.)

And who is UcreateComics, you ask? According to the PR “a new company with “a million dollar fund for comic book development” — which explains how they were able to hire Smith and Adams. UCreate is “is hoping to find the next Adams or Smith at the event.”

“UcreateComics is trying to enable people to move forward and to learn the things they need to be professional artists and storytellers and then to reward them for it. And, at the same time, give them the opportunity to see their work published.” Adams explains.

UcreateComics’ million dollar comic book development fund provides breakthrough opportunities for creators. Everyone can pitch concepts and vote at this online community of writers, artists, and fans. Winning concepts are turned into comic books, with writer and artist members competing for paid scripting and illustration contracts.


Crowd sourced movie pitches? That could work. The pitching portal is coming soon.

Who is behind UCreateComics? Developing.

UPDATE: Wow this is not a cheap date. The chepaest ticket is $170 with 40 $249 VIP packages available.

Also, the people behind UcreateComics are:

Doug Duncan, CEO, President, and fund manager.  Doug has a proven track record in software and entertainment industry startups. A serial entrepreneur, he has spent time as a merchant banker and as a successful restauranteur. On a charity climb to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, he met Donald Lanouette and became intrigued with the UcreateComics concept, ultimately leading to a dynamic partnership. He looks good in tights and a cape.

Donald Lanouette, founder, creative director, and fund manager. Donald’s love of comic books goes way back. He was part of the group of talented teens who founded Nightwynd Comics which, as Aircel Comics, became one of North America’s largest independent comic book publishers in the 1980’s. Donald then moved into TV and publishing, managing creative and production teams.

15 Comments on Break into comics with Neal Adams, Kevin Smith and the million dollar UcreateComics — UPDATED, last added: 3/7/2013
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16. Doing it their way: Cyanide & Happiness

201303060226 Doing it their way: Cyanide & Happiness
Since we’ve been talking about career paths and what not for the last few days, here’s another one: after turning down three TV development deals, including Comedy Central, the webcomic Cyanide & Happiness has decided to go DIY.

As some of you may know, we’ve been negotiating a Cyanide & Happiness TV show with a cable network for a while now. What you guys may not know is that this is actually the latest of three TV show talks we’ve been in. We walked away from the first two due to rights and creative control issues. We thought that we could settle those issues in the third deal, but things didn’t quite work out as we hoped.

Today, we are letting you all know that we’ve officially walked away from this TV deal as well, for similar reasons as the first two.

We’re starting to realize that TV as an industry just isn’t compatible with what we want to do with our animation: deliver it conveniently to a global audience, something we’ve been doing all along with our comics these past eight years. That’s just the nature of television versus the Internet, I suppose.


They’ve launched a Kickstarter for their efforts, and completely funded in days, six figures, blah blah. They’ve raised $455,984 on a $250,000 goal with 11 days to go. Since they already have a YouTube channel with millions of views, this isn’t really much of a leap.

For those who don’t know, C&H is a four person effort, variously drawn by Kris Wilson, Rob DenBleyker, Matt Melvin and Dave McElfatrick. The strip features webcomic staples stick figures and bleak humor — and they’ve been doing it daily since 2004. It’s a perfect example of the experience readers used to get from the daily nwspeper comics section transferred to the internet.

So, yet another example of the webcomic model in action and working. Do they all live in a giant house like Charles Schulz? Probably not. That revenue model is gone forever. but the C&H crew seems to be doing fine for now.

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17. Jerry Ordway again

jerry ordway Jerry Ordway again
The case of Jerry Ordway—a talented veteran artist who is not getting as much work as he should—continues to resonate. It isn’t really about Jerry Ordway. it’s about comics, and about the many, many aspirants and passers by and the few who are called. Mark Evanier addresses the odds:

And the other thought that’s important to keep in mind is the sheer numerical reality of applicants versus openings. If at a given time, DC Comics is publishing enough material to keep 50 writers and artists comfortably engaged, and they get 600 submissions…well, a lot of folks aren’t going to get work. Some of them would get hired if DC was publishing more books but that ain’t the reality right now. You may think it’s unfair and/or foolish of them to turn you down because you’re so talented but the sheer arithmetic tells us that a lot of talented people are going to be turned down. There’s no way to avoid it. In some ways, saying “That guy got to draw Superman…why can’t I draw Superman?” is like saying “That guy won the lottery…why can’t I win the lottery?”

Former DC editor and current Comics Alliance editor Joe Hughes has a must read that takes the editorial view into account:

When I edited comics, I was able to hire or work with several artists who are long-time veterans of the industry: Michael Kaluta, Jordi Bernet, Bryan Talbot, and Rick Geary, just to name a few. However, these artists aren’t associated exclusively, or in some cases even at all, with superhero books, nor were they hired to work on tales of capes and tights. Superhero stories, the realm in which Ordway has honed his craft for over 30 years, are a completely different animal and always have been. For good or ill, DC Comics have changed the style of their superhero books for the foreseeable future, as they have at various points in the past — including when Ordway himself was coming up, although the aesthetic divide wasn’t as great then as it is now. Personally, I find the very thought of Ordway drawing Superman with a high collar and excessive lines all over his costume to be borderline depressing (and that is in no way a commentary on Ordway). He’d certainly be a wonderful addition to DC as a teacher of sorts, demonstrating storytelling to younger editors and artists who could learn from his years of experience and expertise. But that is not what Ordway wants. He wants to be in on the action. He wants to tell stories. Even the quickest glance at some of the selections we’ve included in this post and that he displays on his blog demonstrate that he’s still as sharp as ever.


And here’s one that IS about Jerry Ordway, a post by a pseudononymous pro at Bleeding Cool named Jess Lemon Truman Sterling:

Picture, if you will, a deadline so hot it’s caught fire. A script, written on the fly in three days: a last ditch Hail Mary to get a book out the door. The words, “CAN’T MISS SHIPPING,” a repeated motif like Hurley’s numbers on Lost.

Panic rules the land. Hair is falling out or turning gray. Stock in Diet Coke and Antacid begins trading at an all-time high. Dogs and Cats begin sleeping together.

And then, in a moment of editorial lucidity, the call goes out to Jerry Ordway. He can make time to do the book!

Suddenly, everybody begins to breathe again.

Mr. Ordway simply waits for his kids to go to bed (if memory serves, he was experimenting with working overnight at this point), picks up his pencil, and begins to produce.

A few days pass and a steady stream of pages begins to arrive. Frankly, they’re spectacular. Suddenly, an iffy script is beginning to take form through Mr. Ordway’s storytelling choices. Equally importantly, the rest of the art team can finally get to work.

You know, I almost cried when I read that. Because when you hand the deadline to a veteran like that it is a feeling of relief like no other. Sadly what THEN happens (and I’ve seen it happen several times) is that the speedy vet is then put on standby status and instead of being rewarded with a regular gig for his or her hard work and meeting deadlines…remains the fireman. Few cartoonists like being Mariano Rivera, and fatigue and burnout usually ensue.

The topic of sustaining a career in comics will continue to be addressed, we’d imagine. In fact, we have a few upcoming features devoted to it. SO KEEP IT LOCKED TO THE BEAT YO.

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18. Must read: Chuck Austen’s advice to Tokyopop creators: ‘Move on’

201303190254 Must read: Chuck Austen’s advice to Tokyopop creators: ‘Move on’
With Toykopop hovering somewhere between somethingness and nothingness, one thing is certain: owner Stu Levy will never give the creators back their books as long as he might be able to leverage them in Hollywood. Fair enough; he paid the money and the creators signed those bad contracts.

In case you came in late, back in the day Toykopop signed up dozens of young (and a few not so young) creators to produce brand new original manga-styled graphic novels. The contracts gave more than 50% of the rights to TokyoPop and although many books came out—and a few even did well—when the manga giant imploded, many series were left unfinished.

One of them was The Boys of Summer by Chuck Austen. In the course of researching the Tpop story, Brigid Alverson wrote to Austen and he responded with an essay of surpassing clarity:

Tokyopop was a stupid, poorly run company that took our brilliance, and sincerity and passion and crapped on it. But they also gave us something important, something useful.

They gave us an opportunity to get our work out there, to develop fans. To display our creativity and professionalism. How many people can say they’ve created 200 pages of graphic novel? Or 400? Or eight? Not many. You should be damn proud of what you achieved. Don’t let Tokyopop’s stupidity take that accomplishment away from you the way they took your creation.

Instead use it. Use what you did, what you achieved, and build something for yourself. You’re not just a one-trick pony. You’re an amazing, energetic, imaginative creator who can do something even better. So get over it. Stop complaining and wishing for miracles, and let go. Take the good you got from the experience with the unctuous Stu Levy and make something else, something better, something fan-frickin-tastic for which you retain all rights, rights that Tokyopop, Marvel, DC, and every other corporate sphincter in the world will wish they could take from you, editorially digest into a flavorless pablum for the masses, and poop out to their audience.

Now, Chuck Austen has been many thing in comics, from his early days drawing Miracleman (our own Padraig will certainly mention him anon) to drawing porno for Aircel to writing Superman to writing the Avengers to creating cartoons. At many points he’s been an object of derision from fans and the butt of jokes but…I think he might be having the last laugh:

I’m now a successful producer at Cartoon Network, and in my spare time I write a popular and solidly selling series of novels based on a TV series I created many years ago but never sold — all made possible because of positive response and respect for my comics and manga work. Fans from that world followed me to my novels, and those have earned me more money than I even made off of a television series I co-created and saw become a number one hit.

There is much more in the piece, but basically, Austen is explaining how to Have A Career, Not A Project. You keep on going and keep producing and finding opportunities and you don’t look back.

I know a few people in this business who are still mourning a book that got stolen from them in the ’70s. No lie. If you can only create one successful property in 40 years, maybe this wasn’t the job choice for you. Of course, as I always say, this does NOT EXCUSE PUBLISHERS WHO RIP OFF CREATORS. No way, no how. But still…I can only think of two cases where, as it happens, a team of creators had only one idea and that was it. One is Siegel and Shuster—they had their big, world changing idea and sold it for $130.

The other is Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. With all respect to their further output, they hit bingo the first time out when they created the Turtles in 1984 as a self-published comic. Luckily, they had a great agent, held on to everything and made several fortunes along the way. (And one of them lost several fortunes as well.)

The best advice is DON’T GET RIPPED OFF. But if you do…you must move on and create something else. And don’t make the same mistakes again. Chuck Austen didn’t. Learn from him.

10 Comments on Must read: Chuck Austen’s advice to Tokyopop creators: ‘Move on’, last added: 3/20/2013
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19. Kibbles ‘n’ Bits 3/21/13: Spring Cleaning

Hooray for Spring! Now bring on the lamb of March.

§ Is the graphic novel-to movie deal option really slowing? Not for these guys.

When Stephen Stern and his business partner, Joseph Giovannetti, launched Storyboard Graphic Novelsin 2011, they knew they were offering a unique service to the Hollywood community but they had no idea how quickly it would catch on. Within weeks, they had clients that included screenwriters, producers and directors who wanted their screenplays adapted into graphic novels. And their client list quickly extended outside of Tinseltown, to such locations as the UK and India.

“We knew we were providing a service that didn’t exist, but was much needed by creators who wanted to separate their screenplays from the thousands of projects that make the rounds in Hollywood every day,” Stern said. “Not only is a graphic novel a veritable storyboard for a movie hence our company namebut films based on comic-books and GNs are among the surest bets for studios.”

§ Sometimes the creators actually get a break. When Random House introduced new digital only lines of SF and other genre novels — Hydra, Alibi, Loveswept and Flirt— writer John Scalzi noted that the contracts were terrible

* No advance.

* The author is charged “set-up costs” for editing, artwork, sale, marketing, publicity — i.e., all the costs a publisher is has been expected to bear. The “good news” is that the author is not charged up front for these; they’re taken out of the backend. If the book is ever published in paper, costs are deducted for those, too.

* The contract asks for primary and subsidiary rights for the term of copyright.


Here’s the craaaaaazy thing: After some outcry, Random house actually changed the contracts. Scalzi comments here.

Sidenote: the original contract that Scalzi decried isn’t totally dissimilar from what’s considered the best contract in comics at Image WITH THESE IMPORTANT DIFFERENCES: Image is not a billion dollar international conglomerate like Bertelsmann, Random House’s parent company. AND at Image there is no question that the creator owns copyright all the way down the line. Scalzi is dubious about the “profit-sharing” model Random house is offering—again somewhat analogous to the “creator participation” model common in comics:

3. The no-advance “profit-sharing” set-up still concerns me as a slippery slope for all sorts of reasons but if the advance-offering option is equitable and reasonable and every author is offered it as a matter of course and there is no discrimination between how the two classes of authors are generally treated and serviced by the imprint, then offering a second, riskier option does not strike me as wholly predatory, as the author can turn it down and still publish with the imprint if such is her choice.


I bring this up just to show how author expectations are way different in comics and traditional book publishing.

OTOH, as Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin proved yesterday, if you have enough of a fanbase you don’t need ay middlemen at all.

§ D&Q’s amazing fall list.

§ I love those guys at the Outhouse:DC Offices Host Wild Shindig After Young Justice Finale (SPOILERS)

Luckily, Johnston was able to think quickly. “I just yelled, ‘Oblivion for Cassandra Cain!’ and everyone went right back to celebrating the death of a beloved character, except Didio, who kept asking, ‘who?!’ It was a close one.”

§ Dara Naraghi speaks for many on the topic of the Veronica Mars Kickstarter

Are you kidding me? A major movie studio (Warner Bros.) basically asking their audience to fund their movie, to the tune of $2 million! Of course, fanboys/nerds/genre geeks (whatever you want to call them, and I do include myself in the group) being who they are, have gladly shelled over $3.5 million so far to fund a giant corporation’s movie. And there’s still 26 days to go, so who knows how many more millions they’ll fork over. OK, yes, I know it’s a democratic process and nobody is forcing these people to fund the project. They’re doing it because of their love of the property, and their desire to see more of it. I get that. But still, it feels very, very wrong to me. Crowd funding sites came about to help *CREATORS* fund their projects, not subsidize some multinational mega-corporation.

§ Indie book stores, like local comics shops, are not dying as quickly as expected:

While beloved bookstores still close down every year, sales at independent bookstores overall are rising, established independents are expanding, and new ones are popping up from Brooklyn to Big Stone Gap, Va. Bookstore owners credit the modest increases to everything from the shuttering of Borders to the rise of the “buy local” movement to a get-’er-done outlook among the indies that would shame Larry the Cable Guy. If they have to sell cheesecake or run a summer camp to survive, add it to the to-do list. “2012 was the year of the bookstore,” says Wendy Welch, co-owner of Tales of the Lonesome Pine in Virginia and author of the 2012 memoir “The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap.” In her memoir, she recounts how she and her husband, Jack Beck, created – sometimes despite themselves – a successful used-book store in a town that, by any business measure, is too small to support one.

§ Did you know St Patrick drove the lady comics creators out of Ireland?

la et cm paul conrad art to be sold to help sa 001 Kibbles n Bits 3/21/13: Spring Cleaning

§ Cartoonist Paul Conrad’s statue “Chain Reaction” is in the news again. The statue, which stands in front of the Santa Monica Civic Center, is much loved, but also unstable, as its fiberglass components have been deteriorating over the years. Now five former Santa Monica mayors have spoken out to save rather than move the statue:

Denny Zane, Michael Feinstein, Judy Abdo, Jim Conn, Paul Rosenstein and Nat Trives, whose careers collectively span more than three decades of Santa Monica politics, signed the letter to support efforts by the Conrad family to raise money to repair the sculpture which the City has said needs to be removed due to safety concerns. “We’re very appreciative,” said Dave Conrad, son of Paul Conrad. “It’s a huge vote of confidence from people who know how Santa Monica works and also know the history of Santa Monica and the valuable place in that history that Chain Reaction occupies.”

§ WNYC legend Leonard Lopate talks to comics legends Arnold Roth, Drew Friedman and Al Jaffee about Harvey Kurtzman. Go just to listen to the mellifluous tones of Al Jaffee. While you’re at it, listen to a look back at the Iraq War, one of the saddest darkest moments in US history. Never forget.

2 Comments on Kibbles ‘n’ Bits 3/21/13: Spring Cleaning, last added: 3/21/2013
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20. Quote of the day: Robert Kirkman on career planning

robert kirkman Quote of the day: Robert Kirkman on career planning

“As more people are able to make a living doing it, I think we’re moving into an atmosphere were creators are able to define their careers more than creators in the past have been able to,” he observes. “Relying on Marvel and DC is no longer becoming a viable option, because the contracts aren’t viable and the rates aren’t set. They make the rules. A lot of people have fooled themselves into thinking that’s stability but are now realizing that it’s the exact opposite. The real stability is controlling your own career and being in a position to hire yourself, generating ideas that are enough to make you a sustainable income, and also controlling those ideas and your own destiny. That’s the new stability and that’s something people are realizing. I’m very optimistic that it’ll be something that is here to stay.”


Via a Graphic NYC profile by Christopher Irving and Seth Kushner.

17 Comments on Quote of the day: Robert Kirkman on career planning, last added: 4/1/2013
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21. Breaking news: Cartoonist gets paying job!!!!

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The unthinkable has happened. A cartoonist has been hired for a job that pays a living wage. Instead of heating up old shoe leather to serve with his peanut butter, he’ll be able to invest in a George Foreman grill and serve grilled chicken on his top ramen, just like the serving suggestion on the package shows.

Matt Bors has announced he’s been hired by Medium to be their full-time political cartoonist:

This site will be updated with my comics in order to maintain a complete archive of my work, but not in a timely fashion. Medium is hiring me to bring in my readership and that will be the first place to see my work from now on. That comes with a real living wage and an incredible amount of freedom to work on any kind of comics I want–full time. The best way to find out when there’s a new posting is to follow me on Twitter or like my Facebook page. Some of you have been reading me here for close to a decade now. I really appreciate all the support, especially the help with the Kickstarter, which I feel helped lead me to get this gig. Okay, gotta deadline. Back to work.


While we’d feel Bors’ overall talent and cultural clarity helped him land the gig, I’m sure Kickstarter didn’t hurt,

What kind of crazy, money-burning media outlet hires a cartoonist anyway???? Medium.com was founded by Blogger/Twitter co-founder Ev Williams. It’s billed as a “content site” that runs longer pieces but has readers upvote the best. As you might guess, it’s a well-funded start-up.

Cartoons are certainly content. Sounds like a great deal for all parties. Let’s hope this is just the start of a wonderful new trend. Actually it already is; the illustration used to accompany the Bors announcement (shown above) was by cartoonist Jim Rugg. A cartoonist paid for an illustration. Age of miracles, I tell ya.

5 Comments on Breaking news: Cartoonist gets paying job!!!!, last added: 9/6/2013
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22. When creators complain: Jim Starlin and Joe Keatinge

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A couple of incidents this week of creators who spoke out, and editors who took offense at the speaking out.

First off, we’ve noted many times that Jim Starlin and Marvel seemed to have reached a happy place in terms of Starlin created characters Gamora and Thanos getting the big screen treatment in Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy. Starlin, whose various cosmic works such as The Infinity Gauntlet have been hugely influential in that end of the Marvel Universe, created a new Thanos graphic novel for Marvel and all seemed to be well. But then….things weren’t. Newsarama has a full rundown of the matter but The Beat first noticed something might be up when Starlin posted this on his FB page:

The kerfuffle stems from what Starlin described as “someone at Marvel anonymously put a corporation-wide-no-use restriction on the character, effectively putting the brakes on the ongoing plans I had for him and [Thanos].”

Marvel’s Tom Brevoort addressed this on his Tumblr:

No, there’s no truth to this. Thanos will be appearing as much as ever in our books.

This is all really about something else, something much smaller that Jim probably shouldn’t even have taken public on his Facebook page. But he did, so there you go.


Starlin elaborated to Newsarama, saying

According to Starlin, he finished penciling his four-issue arc of Savage Hulk last week but found the Adam Warlock situation had remained unchanged.
“The hold is still in place and, apparently, shows no signs of being lifted any time in the future,” Starlin told Newsarama Tuesday. “So I’m moving on.”


Starlin’s own Dreadstar was just optioned for a movie so he has plenty more to keep him busy. It is a little sad—while Marvel can’t give comics creators a starring role in movie promotion the way, say, Robert Kirkman and Mike Mignola do, they did give Ed Brubaker a cameo in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which was nice since Brubaker created the whole Winter Soldier character. It would be nice to see these relationships evolve, but in the social media era, things get played out much faster.

Case two involved writer Joe Keatinge who tumblrd on the occasion of the release of a story he write in CYAN, the new Vertigo anthology, that the story’s ending had been changed and he was disowning the story.

The quick gist is I was asked to contribute a story. I brought in Ken as INTERGALACTIC’s going to be a while and this would be a fun, quick way to get something by us out there. Vertigo via Editor Mark Doyle was very accommodating in allowing us to collaborate. Seemed like a good deal.

The story Ken and I conceived together, which I scripted, ended up coming back in a proof PDF where — despite Ken’s art looking even better than ever — our story and my dialog were drastically altered, specifically our ending. We were told by editorial that it was locked in and set for publication without further explanation as to what happened or why. 

I need to be clear — Ken did an astonishing job with the art and the whole book is worth the price of admission for what he did alone. It’s absolutely beautiful and it’s truly an honor to work with him. 

And the truth is maybe no one would ever notice. Maybe people will like the end result much more than what we wanted to do. Maybe it was the right call, but since it was contracted and solicited as an original work by the two of us I feel uncomfortable taking credit for it, despite how proud I am of everything Ken did and how great working with him is. 


This quickly went Twitter, with Vertigo editor Will Dennis stepping in:


You can read the whole exchange in the first link.

I think what struck me about both of these is Brevoort and Dennis mourning the public airing of, if not dirty, then laundry that maybe had been sitting in the hamper for a while. Obviously with all the platforms available to everyone now, it’s a wonder we don’t see MORE complaining. Of course, it’s doubtful that Keatinge will work at Vertigo again, and Starlin’s future work at Marvel (where he’s been working for 43 years!) seems to be on hold. Speaking out is still risky business. I’m not picking any sides here—Brevoort and Dennis are esteemed editors, but you can’t make every one happy, and fans (and bloggers) are eager to jump on any hint of behind the scenes turmoil. Brevoort addressed this in a later post, when a fan asked about “You , Axel and even now Joe seem to talk a lot of shit about the Sept Solicitations from DC but look at what you guys are doing to Jim Starlin and what you did with Greg Rucka , Matt Fractions Inhuman and George Martin and I can go on how you consort in the same type of actions.”:

Wait, what?

JIm Starlin came back and did an OGN, and then an Annual, and then an arc on a book that’s launching. While he’s frustrated because there’s something he wants to do that he can’t do at the moment, on a series that was never approved, that’s hardly a list of infractions.

Greg Rucka is so upset about his awful treatment that he’s writing CYCLOPS at the moment. Matt’s so upset hat he keeps coming to the Marvel summits to share his ideas freely and contribute to the process.

And George RR Martin? We haven’t even talked to the man!

So I have to say, this sort of thinking is beyond bogus. It’s ridiculous. It’s a by-product of the manner in which you fans sometimes confuse the creators and editors with the characters, and want eveybody’s trading card to either clearly say “super hero” or “super villain” on it.

it is always easier to side with the creator whose work you love, especially when you don’t really have but the slightest inking about what is actually going on—and, in fact, there is likely not 1/10th of the drama to the situation as you’re imagining. We don’t have fight scenes in our offices.

We work in a creative industry. In such an environment, not everybody can get everything that they want. Nor is anybody entitled to it. That applies to everybody on both sides of the desk, from Stan lee down to the newbie walking in the door for the first time.


While that seems like a fair assessment on Brevoort’s part, it’s also fair to say that publishers held a lot more cards than creators for a long time. If every editorial squabble got played out in social media, believe me, you’d get tired of it very quickly. However, it’s a healthier atmosphere for everyone when creators AND publishers have more options. Everyone is held to a higher standard when there are more places to play the game.

15 Comments on When creators complain: Jim Starlin and Joe Keatinge, last added: 5/1/2014
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23. Throwback Thursday: Revisiting the debate of our times Kirkman v. Bendis

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When thinking about the crazy world we live in today, where The Walking Dead is the most successful thing on TV and Marvel is the most successful thin in movies, I often think back to a seminal moment in the debate between creator-owned and company-driven: the 2008 debate between Robert Kirkman and Brian Bendis which took place at that year’s Baltimore Comicon. The think kicked off when a pre-Talking Dead sharpened Kirkman posted a video editorial calling for more creators to band together to make creator owned comics more of a thing, He even had an agenda for the process (emphasis mine.):

Step One:
Top creators who want to do creator-owned work band together and give it a shot. I’d certainly love for that to be at Image, but whatever, wherever — if you want to do it, step up and do it. The more people who do it, the easier it’ll be to do. Creators are very important to the current fan base, if it’s done right you could bring a large portion of your audience with you provided you take the plunge and only do creator-owned work. If you give people the option of Spider-Man or your creator-owned book… they’ll choose Spider-Man, that’s something time-tested versus something new. New has to be the only option.

Step Two:
If that results in a mass exodus of creators leaving Marvel and DC, don’t panic guys, I love their books as much as everyone else — nobody wants to hurt them in the process. Look at it like an opportunity, that’s the time for Marvel and DC to step up the plate and make their comics viable for a whole new generation. Less continuity, more accessible stories — not made for kids, but appropriate for kids. Books that would appeal to everyone still reading comics, but would also appeal to the average 13 year old too. There are a wealth of talented creators who haven’t yet reached a level where they can sell books on their own — they can do awesome work for the companies and be happy doing it.

What that could lead to:
A comic industry where there are more original comics, so there’s more new ideas, more creator-owned books by totally awesome guys that are selling a ton of books. Those books are mature and complex and appeal to our aging audience that I count myself among who are keeping this business alive. And we also have a revitalized Marvel and DC who are selling comics to a much wider audience than ever before. And that audience, as they age, may get turned on to some awesome creator-owned work eventually. So everyone is happy.


Well, turns out he had kind of the right idea about some things, didn’t he? The actual “debate” moderated by C.B.Cebulski consisted of Kirkman earnestly making his case, and Bendis sticking to the idea of having a regular paycheck being a good thing. It’s an idea he seemed pretty certain about, and I can’t say that he’s wrong. I remember Todd McFarlane once telling me that if you could live on macaroni and cheese for a month you could do an Image book. This is correct if “one month” means “years” as many people have found out. But as Kirkman showed, when you can hit it big, you REALLY hit it big. Also, as big a Hollywood shot as he is now, he’s always been very loyal to the idea of creator ownership.

iFanboy has a video of the debate still online, and I think it’s worth revisiting every once in a while just to see what changed and what didn’t. (Todd Allen took a look at it in 2012, in fact.) I think, as Todd suggested, the creators’ position looks a bit better now than it did in 2012 even.

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Aside: what I really liked about the panel at the time was that Kirkman showed a chart of the ICv2 sales figures and how close they are to the real sales figures. At the time I got constant grief from everyone about the sales charts I run here, and this is as close to anyone ever came to saying it wasn’t the end of the world.

Second aside: while I was looking for the above photos, I found this one from the 2008 show of Matt Kindt and Jeff Lemire sketching away at the Top Shelf booth, their then-steady employer. (I got a nice pirate sketch from Lemire!)

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Since between them Lemire and Kindt now write every mainstream book that Charles Soule doesn’t (While still doing the odd creator driven book like Kindt’s Mind MGMT), you can see that a page rate does have its charms. One thing that ‘s great about the world of 2014 is that more comics folks seem to be making a living at it than there were six years ago. At least I hope so.

10 Comments on Throwback Thursday: Revisiting the debate of our times Kirkman v. Bendis, last added: 5/11/2014
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24. DC resets royalty system; colorists and digital now eligible

I’ve been hearing a lot of conspiracy theories of late about DC, and some of them involve their participation/royalties system. In addition for quite a while, people have been complaining about the fact that colorists aren’t eligible for royalties—and neither are digital-first comics.

But that is changing. I understand a letter has just gone out to DC creative folks announcing a complete overhaul of the DC royalty system. For the first time colorists will be eligible for royalties and will get cover credit. And digital first will also be eligible for royalties. Little things like direct deposit and electronic vouchering will also be available.

However, as I understand it, the main feature of the new system is that all formats—digital, periodical, collected edition—will all go towards a common sales threshold. Royalties will be based on DC’s revenue on a project NOT sales in one format or another. When a comic goes over a sales threshold in any format, sales in other formats will go towards the royalty.

Some knowledgeable sources at DC told me this was all put in place because the old systems didn’t take the realities of modern distribution into account. They were developed when there was only a direct sales market, the source told me, not a world where people download ebooks from Kindle and choose whether to buy popular series in paper, deluxe, Omnibus or Absolute editions.

Here’s the text of the letter that went out to talent:


We have news to share regarding a project we have been working on for some time. We will be rolling out a new, modernized participations payment plan effective July 1, 2014. 
 
DCE’s current participation plan dates back over 30 years and was created for a simpler and very different marketplace.  The current plan no longer reflects today’s business landscape where comics are sold in a variety of formats and through a myriad of sales channels.  Ultimately we made the decision that the best path forward was to create an entirely new plan that covers new work going forward.  Great care and consideration went into building this new participations structure and we feel that it provides both us and all of you with a fair, competitive, and versatile plan for the future.
 
There are a few significant differences between this new plan and what DCE has offered in the past.  Perhaps the biggest difference is that all participations will now be calculated based upon DCE’s net revenue from a book’s sale rather than on the cover price.   This change gives us more flexibility to sell our material in new distribution channels that have different pricing models.
 
In addition, physical and digital sales will no longer be treated separately.  Digital sales will now be added to print sales and the sum will count towards achieving the sales threshold which triggers participation payments. 
 
We’ve also standardized sales thresholds for all periodicals.  There are no longer separate thresholds and percentages by channel (direct market vs. digital vs. newsstand).  We’ve also added a threshold for collected editions.  The new thresholds and percentages are designed to generously reward high sales performance. 
 
We are pleased to announce the very welcome addition of Color Artists to the participations pool.  Color Artists will receive moving forward cover credit for their work alongside Writers, Pencilers and Inkers.  In addition, Digital First talent will now be eligible to receive additional compensation and share financially in the success of their books. 
 
In addition, DCE is modernizing our systems for both reporting participations and making payments.  Beginning July 1st, all reporting under the new structure will be sent electronically.  Also, those of you who live in the United States will now be able to receive your payments via direct deposit. Information on how to sign up for direct deposit payments will be sent to you shortly from the Talent Relations department. International talent will continue to receive payment via wire.  We’re very happy to offer these upgrades, which will result in getting paid faster.
 
And last, beginning on July 1st, DCE will begin transitioning to the use of electronic service agreements.  The work-for-hire service agreements that historically have been transacted on paper will now be handled electronically and sent to and from your editor via email.  We are confident this will make the process quicker and more efficient for everyone.  
 
We recognize this is a lot of information to take in, and we anticipate you may have questions.  The DCE Talent Relations team is well-informed in the new participations plan and looks forward to discussing with you any inquiry you may have.  Feel free to reach out to the team at TalentRelations@dcentertainment.com.
 
DCE is committed to being the publisher of choice for top talent in the industry and to further strengthening our relationship with our talent ensuring that together we continue to create the comics we can all be proud of.  Thank you and we look forward to working with you throughout the year.
 
Sincerely,
Dan & Jim
DC Entertainment Co-Publishers


According to people with knowledge of the new system, it will give greater flexibility for creators to share revenue from every channel. For instance if a digital first book sells 20,000 copies, those will go towards the sales threshold, and when it is collected into a printed periodical, sales of that format will be included in the SAME threshold. (However digital first stories will count as 1/3rd of a “copy” since typically three of them make up one issue of a comic.) Digital copies that are purchased “on sale” will still count as a single copy.

Periodical, collected editions and original graphic novels will all be a different “channel” however, with their own thresholds. However, if that digital first Prez story is reprinted in a paperback, sales of that will be counted in different formats as long as there isn’t a significant amount of new content in the reprint.

While this announcement is sure to ignite some of the conspiracy theories going around, and set off a million questions among DC talent, it seems, at least for now, like a significant update on a system set up in a different era. As I’ve said many times here, although you can criticize DC Comics/Entertainment for many things, they have a very sizable investment in the participation/royalties system that’s been in place for about 30 years. While a lot of people who set the original royalties system are no longer at DC, it’s still an important part of the creative process. Hopefully this continues that tradition.

I’ve reached out to some talent to find out how they feel about the announcement, and soon will hear the other side.

5 Comments on DC resets royalty system; colorists and digital now eligible, last added: 6/26/2014
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25. Trouble in GOTHAM: Writer Alan Brennert says WB is stiffing him over $45 an episode

detective_500_brennert.jpgAlan Brennert is a well-established DC Bronze age writer who was one of the first to cross over between comics and TV in the 70s and 80s. And he’s made several contributions to DC’s permanent continuity. But in a Facebook post reproduced below, he says that he’s being denied his equity in a character he co-created because….reasons.

DC’s new royalty plan has already dealt a big setback to creator incomes. I’ve been hearing that equity deals—money given to creators of characters used in TV and film—are also on the endangered list. But this is the most vocal outcry yet.

WHY I WON’T BE WATCHING FOX’S “GOTHAM” THIS FALL


Back in 1981, in a story called “To Kill a Legend” in DETECTIVE COMICS #500, artist Dick Giordano and I created a character named Barbara Kean, the fiancée of Lt. James Gordon. (This was set on a parallel Earth where counterparts of the “real” Batman and his cast were twenty years younger.) A Golden Age “Mrs. James Gordon” (no first or maiden name) had appeared in 1951, mother of a son named Tony, but my character, later picked up by talented writers like Frank Miller and Barbara Randall Kesel, was clearly the prototype (with the same first name) for the “Post-Crisis” first wife of Lt. James Gordon, and—as Barbara Kean Gordon—became a supporting player in Batman continuity, and even made two movie appearances in BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KNIGHT.

And this fall on GOTHAM, Fox’s prequel to the Batman mythos, one of the supporting characters will be…Barbara Kean, fiancée of Lt. James Gordon.

Ironically enough, on the same day that DC’s online news site listed the results of a fan poll in which I was chosen one of “the 75 greatest Batman artists/writers,” an executive at DC Entertainment—let’s call him “Johnny DC”—dismissed my request for “equity” (a percentage of income received when a character you create is used in other media) in the character. The justification? Because I had given her the same name, profession, and appearance as her daughter (at the time, just a sly wink to the reader), she was “derivative” of her daughter Barbara (Batgirl) Gordon and equity “is not generally granted” in derivative characters like wives, husbands, daughters, sons, etc., of existing characters: “this is the criteria by which all equity requests are measured.”

I then pointed out to him that writer Mark Waid had been told by then-DC management that DC did, in fact, give equity in “derivative” characters, just a smaller percentage—and indeed Mark and artist/co-creator Mike Wieringo received equity in the “derivative” character of Bart Allen/Impulse (grandson of Barry Allen/Flash) and received payments when he was used on SMALLVILLE. I suggested DC grant a similar reduced percentage on Barbara Kean, and I was willing to limit this to her appearances on GOTHAM and forget the movies.

How did Johnny DC respond to this? Did he rebut my argument? Nope. When confronted with the, shall we say, lack of veracity of his statement, he simply stopped responding to my emails.

Classy, right?

Now, let me be clear: I’ve since learned that the amount of money involved here can be as little as $45 an episode for a full equity character. So clearly I’m not in this for the money, but the principle. This is small change compared to the fact that the estate of Jack Kirby receives no share of the billions in dollars that Marvel/Disney makes from movies based on characters he co-created. But I suspect DC counts on the fact that the money is low enough that hiring an attorney to pursue it would cost more than you’d ever receive in equity payments. They also count on the fact that their freelancers depend on DC for work and thus will not publicly call them out. (And sometimes these freelancers are the very ones for whom that little bit of extra money would mean a lot.)

But as a novelist I depend in no way on DC for my livelihood, and have no problem recounting the bad faith they have demonstrated to me. But I take little satisfaction in it. There was a time—under the management of Jenette Kahn, Paul Levitz, and Dick Giordano—when DC went to great lengths to credit and compensate creators. They felt it was money well spent, because it brought other creators to the company and everyone benefited. I was actually proud to be associated with a comics company with a conscience. I hope my experience with the “new” DC is not typical, and that they still have a conscience. But I sure don’t see it from where I sit.

(If you’re a fan of my comics work, feel free to share.)

 

15 Comments on Trouble in GOTHAM: Writer Alan Brennert says WB is stiffing him over $45 an episode, last added: 7/9/2014
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