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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.
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.
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.
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
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.):
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
Alan 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.
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.)
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.
…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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
§ 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.
“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.
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.
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.”:
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.
Nat Gertler has made a chart, and even though his name is no Clarissa, it might just explain it all for you.
Gertler’s chart shows all the movies based on comics properties since 1982 (chosen as a significant benchmark in the “creator ownership era”) and shows that creator ownership did change the equation.
What can be seen is that once creator ownership was on the table, the moviable properties were largely works that creators maintained ownership of. Of the large mainstream publishers that preexisted the change, Marvel and Archie have published no new company-owned properties that have reached the big screen. DC has published four over those 30 years. In contrast, in just the 10 years preceding 1982, Marvel launched 6 purely-Marvel-owned properties that would later become movies, including a couple that were made into movies within 15 years after creation (so it’s not merely a matter that company-owned concepts take longer to reach the screen – although they seem to – that prevents post-1982 Marvel material from showing up.)
Now why this should be…another significant date on this timeline is 1989 when the first Tim Burton Batman film because the fastest grossing film of all time. It was the pre-dawn of the “pre-awareness” model, and although nerd pre-awareness wouldn’t come about until the Internet took control, that loomed even larger in 2002 when the first Raimi Spider-Man movie replicated the effect and became one of the fastest grossing movies of all times. Of course, since then here have been lots of comic-based movies—but exploiting that company-owned back catalog is either all they can, or all they WANT to do.
In all the hubbub of the last few weeks I haven’t been able to write about the passing of Robert L. Washington III, a comics writer who was a key part of Milestone comics. He co-created Static and helped write Blood Syndicate and other comics for DC and Valiant. And then, things got slow. And Washington had troubles, years of them. And on June 7th at the age of 47, he died of multiple heart attacks.
Just before his death, he’d been helped out by the Hero Initiative, as shown in the above comic which he wrote for a Hero Initiative anthology. Washington had ben living marginally on part time jobs…and when he died, as you may have read, there wasn’t enough money left to bury him. Some folks have been collecting fund to give him a proper funeral; I’ve given and I would hope some of you reading this will follow that link and make a donation.
I remember Robert Washington. To be honest, he was pretty unforgettable, with a booming voice and an easy laugh. He also wore hats quite a bit, which always stood out. When Milestone was riding high, we were convention pals, of the casual sort you make, making jokes at BarCon, saying hello in artist alley. It was apparent to me that Washington was a “character”, like many of the people in creative businesses, but all the same, I didn’t expect him to die in a pauper’s grave.
Just a few weeks before his death, Ashley Soley-Cerro
interviewed Washington for CBR. It’s painful reading, for what was and what could have been.
What was a day in your life like when you had steady comic book work?
Phenomenal — I woke up when I wanted, did what I wanted, stopped by the office one week to drop off a script and a week later for the check. It was really great lifestyle. As long as you turn in the work, your lifestyle is completely your own. I will beat you up to get back to it. That was the early 90s until about 1998.
What was a typical day like before reaching out to the Hero Initiative?
Going on the Internet, which I could barely afford to — I don’t have a computer, so I use one at an Internet café. I’d collect cans for money for bus or train fare.
This is the part that we all need to write in big letters on our walls however:
Looking back at your career and life, what would you stress to young writers and artists?
Have a backup plan. That goes for everyone that wants to go into media. Being really talented isn’t enough. Do something that’ll bring you a regular income in any other industry, you can work your way back into media. The people I know in my situation have no fall-back
We’re still in deadline hell and have a plane to catch so this topic should be a 3000 word essay, but we’ll just note it quickly. Two recent comics essays look at Paolo Rivera’s announcement that he’s giving up his Marvel exclusive in terms of a creator migration away from Marvel and DC. At MTV Geek Valerie Gallaher asks How Will Mainstream Comics Hold On To Their Talent?
Well, the issue is that having a regular gig at Marvel or DC has traditionally been a relatively cushy deal for artists and writers, especially if they have an exclusive (like the one Rivera walked away from at Marvel). Think about it: guaranteed work, royalties, maybe even health insurance. Whereas with a creator-owned comic — unless you have a progressive publisher willing to provide you with a deal where you keep some or all of your rights — you have to essentially set up your own business.
But, as in the case with Rivera, it boils down to owning your own characters and having enough equity to be able to survive the years when publishers aren’t knocking on your door (an issue made more urgent and timely since the tragic case of Static co-creator Robert Washington III).
has an even longer essay, Something in the air tonight
which looks at a similar tide shift:
Whether it’s been Before Watchmen, the Avengers movie, the success of Saga and The Walking Dead (the fact that #100 is being estimated to be the top-selling book of the year, in a year when both Marvel and DC are desperately trying to outdo each other, makes me happy to an extent it’s difficult to describe and hard to explain the reasons for, I shamefacedly admit) or the tragic, truly heartbreaking news of the death of Robert L. Washington III, 2012 has been the year of … what? Creator rights? Not exactly, but perhaps people actually really thinking about creator rights and talking about it seriously again for the first time in … a decade? Longer?
Like I said, this should be a 3000 word article, but I’ll just briefly note this: Paolo Rivera is clearly one of the top talents of this generation as far as mainstream comics go. And all the stuff he did at Marvel was great but I always felt a little bad that we had never seen him bust out into his own thing. And now he has, posting some cryptic hints
of his next project on Twitter:
Rivera’s moving on is clearly a very friendly one, but to be blunt, Marvel’s publishing infrastructure simply doesn’t support a new project by a creator—even one of Rivera’s stature. Icon is just for the chosen few (all writers). Other than that? What and how?
I’ll be even more blunt: you are simply not going to grow as a creator sticking with company-owned legacy projects all the time. The two hottest writers of the moment
DC has been rolling out a new ad campaign featuring their creators…or Makers as they’re called. (As we pointed out, the official word at both Marvel and DC is “Talent.”) This is noteworthy, because Image already rolled out a very similar campaign, as Image publisher Eric Stephenson pointed out briefly and sharply.
The campaign has led to a lot of commentary, such as this from Graeme McMillan, who zeroes in on the term “Makers”:
It’s the opposite tack from Marvel, which promotes its creators as “Architects,” positioning them as being responsible for a “House of Ideas,” although that branding also removes the “creator” term — again, with good reason — and portrays what the creators do as a job, instead of something more romantic and idealistic.
Perhaps this is the best way for both Marvel and DC to take advantage of increasing awareness on the part of the audience about who is writing and drawing their favorite books, and the cult of personality that promotes, while also downplaying the issue of authorial ownership. Of course, it’s also possible that DC simply chose the term “makers” for its alliterative qualities when paired with the word “Meet,” and are pushing creators because there’s no big publishing news coming from them this year. I guess we’ll see in a couple of weeks when SDCC begins…
So far DC has rolled out Scott Snyder and Geoff Johns
, but you can see the whole talent gallery here
. With the long-time focus on characters, not creators, this is a nice switch from DC, and also a reality-facing moment: readers follow creators just as much as characters these days.
For the sake of comparison here’s a few of the Image ads:
CBR has a nice roundtable on creator-owned comics that rounds up Robert Kirkman, Mark Millar and Steve Niles. Since they are all “strongly for” the piece doesn’t really ignite any banter, but it does allow many long, entertaining manifestos. For instance, how Millar terrorized Alan Moore when he was a teen.
Millar: And then I met Alan Moore when I was 13. It was around the same time, and there was a small comic convention in Glasgow where Alan showed up. He was still a new superstar then. He hadn’t really made his name in American comics except for a couple of issues of “Swamp Thing.” So he introduced me to “Warrior” where his early worked appeared. I’d never heard of him, but he was a really nice man and stood with me for an hour, which must have been torture for him, but for me it was fascinating because I got to talk to a comic book writer. And Alan was explaining to me about “Marvelman” and “V For Vendetta” and that he was starting on “Swamp Thing.” I remember I didn’t have enough money on me, so he bought me an issue of “Swamp Thing” and one of “Warrior,” which was the British independent comic that made me realize there was more going on beyond Superman and Batman.
Niles makes a few veiled allusions, first on the subject of those “movie pitch comics”:
Niles: I think content wins out in the end. In the end, you can sniff out those companies and those comics. You can tell when a comic is just a movie pitch or when it’s made with a genuine love of the medium. And I’ve been accused myself of just doing stuff to make movies, but everything I’ve done at its core is about loving comics and putting out good comics. There’s always that pile on where if something good happens for comics, EVERYBODY starts trying to do it, but we’re starting to see a lot of those companies that you’re referring to…well, I haven’t heard from a lot of them in a while. So I think the good stuff is floating to the top now.
And then on some…other events.
Niles: On top of the fact that you’re not told what to do – which is amazing since every time I’ve done DC and Marvel stuff, the things I’ve been criticized for are the things I was pushed into doing – I am totally ready to get shredded for anything I chose to do in a creator-owned book. I can take that criticism. But when you do something with a character that’s against your better judgement because it’s the order, that’s not very smart publishing – to hire a creator because you think they’re talented and then you don’t allow them to do what they want to do.
I found myself nodding, pounding my fist and yelling “Yeah!” most at Kirkman’s comments though. Kirkman is still pretty young—even his Wikipedia page doesn’t give his age but he’s still in his early 30s—and was raised in a world where creator owned comics were the norm. Hence his insights that bust some old timer notions:
Kirkman: But I do think there’s one t
By Steve Morris
After reading Bon Alimagno’s excellent interview/evaluation with colorist Erick Arciniega on iFanboy, I decided that it was time for more of us to start jumping on the coloring bandwagon. Getting the right colorist on a comic can be crucial to the success of the book, and yet there’s really very little coverage of this side of the industry available. With that in mind I contacted colorist-whizz (and nicest man alive) Val Staples, whose recent credits include books like Swamp Thing, New Mutants, Deadpool and Hulk, to get a basic insight into his life as a colorist.
Val’s answers bring up some interesting points about coloring as a day-to-day job, and you can see a lot of correlation between his responses and the points made previously in Alimagno’s article.
Steve: How did you make your start in comics? Were you first looking to come in as a colourist, or did you start as an inker, writer, penciller?
Val Staples: My friend Matt Tyree and I had been comic book fans since we were kids, and we both wanted to make a comic together. Both of us are artists but he is a MUCH better artist than me. As I had done creative writing all my life, eventually I focused on writing and he on pencilling. Then, for whatever reason, we split the remaining chores of making a comic and decided to learn them. Matt took inking and I took coloring and lettering.
I then became a self-taught colorist. After honing my craft for a couple years I started attending conventions. Jonboy Meyers and I use to tag team together hunting out work. Plus, Jonboy had already gotten to know a few people in toys and comics, so it wasn’t long before I had some opportunities come my way. Then it was onwards and upwards!
Steve: Is it a difficult business to stay in? You see some pencillers unable to continue in the industry because there can be such quick turnaround in demand. How do you keep yourself working?
Staples: I’d say most businesses, especially any freelance work, is one part talent, one part punctuality and one part professionalism. A lot of people who work in this industry say you can often get two of those things, but rarely all three, so hold onto the people who do all three.
I’ve been coloring now for over 10 years, and I still fear what next month is going to be like. I’d love to be Exclusive to a publisher JUST for the dependability so I can relax at night knowing I have work for a while.
I think of myself as a B-List colorist. I’m not the first person people think of when they think of a colorist, but they often eventually recall my name. I’ve been able to stay employed because I do believe I’m fairly talented. I also think a lot of people find me enjoyable to work with. I know the only thing my editors sweat on a bit is I’m very much a “by the deadline” kind of guy. I map out a schedule and work very linearly. I have a hard time jumping from project to project. I find that it disrupts my creative flow and focus on mood, story telling and harmony. So I tend to work week-to-week on my projects.
Some editors get a bit edgy
In a follow-up to his hit post on the economics of print comics, Jim Zub is back with a look at digital comics metrics, including the percentages taken by each step in the pipeline complete with PIE…charts.
A lot of people have talked about the need for cheaper digital comic prices to drive impulse buying in casual/new readers. Right now most of the digital comics available are selling at a similar price to their print counterparts. Outside of sales and special promotions, a $2.99 print comic is selling for $2.99 digitally. People assume that digital content should be much cheaper because it has no physical component, but there are development and infrastructure costs that go into creating and maintaining a digital platform. It’s hard to say whether they’re equivalent, but right now the pricing is relatively equal.
After running through the equivalence, Zub even mentions the unmentionable, his digital sales…as a percentage of print.
The only remotely solid numbers I have are my own. I’ve done quite a bit of promotion about my comic Skullkickers being available on comiXology, iVerse and Graphicly. We have a free zero issue and we’ve had a couple 99¢ sales, so some of our early issues have sold quite well digitally but, if you count 99¢ copies as a 1/3 sale money-wise, we’re selling at about the 15% range of our print sales on early issues. Later issues are sitting at around 8-10% of print sales right now. Admittedly, the 99¢ pricing has expanded our audience much faster and that’s nothing to sneeze at. They’re not blockbuster sales numbers but at least I know that as our exposure increases back issues will keep selling without any fear of ever being out of stock.
Meanwhile, here’s another equally seismic piece by Dawn Griffin of Zorphbert and Fred called Open For Debate: Ditching the Webcomic Business Model
I followed the rules. Where’s my success?
Instead, I see a plateau. I have kept the readers I have made over the years. I have a handful of very passionate readers whom I deeply appreciate. I want more of those, but just can’t seem to find where they are hiding. They certainly don’t seem to be the general “webcomic readers” demographic: men & women(to a lesser degree) in their late teens, 20′s and early 30′s. My demographic seems to be mainly.. well… everyone else. Preteen boys, men 30-50 years and men and women 50+. Whu-oh.
It’s a pretty thorough rundown of why the webcomic model hasn’t worked for this particular comic.
To her credit, Griffin also addresses the fact that maybe webcomic readers just aren’t that into her. She goes on to propose a new model based on boosting print sales, and opens it up for debate.
I haven’t read the strip in question, but at a quick glance we field it under a certain demographic on our brain. As we’ve mentioned here many times, comics are the most inclusive industry on earth, and the bar to entry is unbelievably low. Put up a tumblr and get a table at a con and you’re in the club. But not everyone is a superstar, a star or even a “veteran creator.” Sometimes it isn’t just the business model.
If you’re a Comics Reader of a Certain Age, the name Jerry Ordway will definitely ring a bell as one of the founding creators of a Certain Age of Comics with accomplishments he lays out very well in a blog post called Life over fifty: a long run on Superman, work on Zero Hour, Infinite Crisis and other foundations of the lore of the DC Universe. Once, there was no one more respected, established or go to. But in recent times, things have been bumpy — an exclusive that meant he barely got any work, and now a dry spell:
I am thrilled to be well remembered, and respected in the comic book community, and to have fans willing to pay me to draw commissions, but I got into comics in order to tell stories, not to draw custom art. I still feel vital, and still want to be at that table. Do I think DC comics owes me anything? Yes and no. I understand that no company owes anything that isn’t contractually stipulated, but in my heart, I think I deserve better than being marginalized over the last 10 years. I’m not retired, I’m not financially independent. I’m a working guy with a family, working for a flat page rate that hasn’t changed substantially since 1995. I may have opportunities at smaller companies, companies that pay less per page than I made in 1988, with no royalties or ownership of any kind. I’m not at all looking down at that, but it is hard to reconcile, as I can’t work faster, and refuse to hack my work out to match the rate. I have pride in what I do, and always have. As to my part in the history of dc for the past 33 years, I was a highly visible and successful part of it, not a minor footnote.
As a comic reader and customer, the publishers use our older work in collected editions, for what they call first copy royalties, no reprint fees. They publish the All Star Squadron trade, for example and you buy it for whatever the cost. My royalty is maybe a couple hundred dollars, if I’m lucky, for 11 issues worth of work. On a recent Absolute Infinite Crisis hardcover, I had 30 odd pages reprinted in there, a book that retailed for over a hundred dollars– a book that DC never even gave me a copy of, and the royalty amounted to a few dollars, I couldn’t buy a pizza on that windfall. I want to work, I don’t want to be a nostalgia act, remembered only for what I did 20, 30 years ago.
Ordway’s tale is increasingly familiar, but not an unexpected one —in fact just read the comments under his post where a plethora of older, experienced comics creators sound off. Not to be harsh, but when Ordway started storming the barricades, Arnold Drake
wasn’t getting much work, and when Drake was in his prime, Mart Nodell
wasn’t the number 1 creator. And someday Scott Snyder and Matt Fraction
will be grey haired-eminences. Nobody promised you a 50-year-long career when you got into this thing.
There is no mystery to the career trajectory in any medium. We see it around us all the time. Or as Hollywood once put it the five career stages:
Who is Rock Gibralter?
Maybe we should try Rock Gibralter.
Get me Rock Gibralter.
Get me a young Rock Gibralter.
Who is Rock Gibralter?
Twitter and message boards are already afire with calls to hire Jerry Ordway, and I’m sure he already has some job offers rolling in. You haven’t seen the last of Rock Gibralter. In many creative fields, Ordway would be in the prime of his career—it’s not like comics are the music industry and a following is dependent on dancing around in tight pants. But still, Rob LIefeld — himself no stranger to ups and downs — draws a line under it:
With total respect to Ordway, who is a thorough professional with an enviable track record—he, like many others, has based his career thus far on the Corporate Comics model. And in that model when you fall out of fashion with the fans, for whatever reason, you don’t get hired any more. There’s a finite lifecycle to most careers unless you break out into superstar status, and even then no guarantees. In his post Ordway mentions older creators who were his role models, including Jack Kirby. I think there was a lesson there to be learned that Ordway did not entirely absorb.
But who can blame him? We all think we’re the one who’s going to stay on top, stay fresh and vital, buck the odds. Young people don’t buy health insurance or put money in their 401ks unless forced to do so.
It is easier than even to do your own thing. Matt Fraction and Scott Snyder have something that previous generations didn’t have as much access to: they were both established creators before they even wrote a line for Corporate Comics. Snyder was an author with rave reviews in Publishers Weekly, the New York Times and Booklist. Fraction had worked for an award winning interactive design firm and had a back catalog of his own comics that already had a following. Should they fall out of savor tomorrow — or even in 10 years, I think they’d be fine.
The system Ordway was raised doesn’t exist anymore…and never really did, in terms of an industry that looked after its creators from art school graduation to memorial service. That he’ll be productive and successful for another couple of decades, I have no doubt—he’s smart, talented and creative. And adaptable.
But let his blog post stand as a warning to all: the gravy train usually has a very short ride.
It’s a Monday early in the month, you just paid the rent and you’re now wondering how you are going to live on celery for the next 27 days—that must be why so many posts on how to make a living at this here thing are coming out today. We’ve already seen Jerry Ordway plead to be taken seriously as a creator. But it’s not just the old paper and ink crowd that’s fretting this day. The webcomickers are at it too. John Allison is the creator of SCARY GO ROUND, seemingly a respectably successful webcomics creator. But even webcomickers are beginning to feel the pinch of new generations of cartoonists who don’t even have the structure of a website but just post everything on Tumblr, which Allison sees no payoff for:
Art isn’t democratic. It doesn’t take place in a caring, sharing environment. It is a huge “look at me”. We are the pre-schoolers who can still point at what we’ve done and get a sticker, and we want to keep getting those stickers forever.
I would never decry any service as worthless. There are people who have caught mass attention via Tumblr, and sold great piles of things as a result. There’s a use for everything, and an exception to every rule. The exceptions are the reasons that others try. But Tumblr sets the bar of success incredibly low. The payout will almost always be zero. Not beer money, nothing.
Matt Bors jumped in quickly, with a more whippersnapper-based response:
Yes, Tumblr is the new “Internet.”(Follow me here!) I’m old enough to remember–I am in my twenties here, folks–when only print cartoonists talked like this. Back then a few particular cartoonists who had blazed a trail for themselves online loved to laugh publicly at people who lost their jobs in print. The web was democratic, they said, and if you can’t make it work you should go die in a corner. If you followed that whole “debate,” you know what I’m referring to. If not, you didn’t miss out on anything that made you a smarter or better human being and I envy you.
I don’t bring this up to mock Allison’s financial troubles. If he’s struggling, that’s bad for all cartoonists and I’m in this boat with him. I have a sense of solidarity and constant dread about what is happening. But if your model can be completely undone by a new website you need to be more nimble. “The future’s uncertain and the end is always near,” a belligerent drug addict once sang before he abruptly died. People are raking it in on Kickstarter these days. No doubt that well will eventually dry up and we’ll move on to the next platform kids with their gizmos seem to grasp while the old and out-of-it Millennials struggle to keep up.
Frankly I think Bors is right, and Allison and Ordway are fretting about the unchangeable (even though I do the same kind of moaning and hand wringing for olden times here on a daily basis.) In fact:
“But if your model can be completely undone by a new website you need to be more nimble.”
Disruption is where it’s at, Matlock. Like ordering your movies every night on streaming Netflix? Good, because every minute of your entertainment is written in the blood of some video store/Blockbuster. Are you happy now?
This is a time for the nimble. You can bank on that.
Following yesterday’s much quoted post on wanting to be hired, artist Jerry Ordway responded to the outpouring of support with more on the perils of exclusives and the freelancers life:
DC chose 52 artists over me, and let me twiddle my thumbs for a full 3 months while they tried to find inventory work for me. I knew I wasn’t currently in anyone’s “top ten” artists, but to find that I wasn’t in the top 52 was a shock:). If any of you are ever asked to be exclusive to any company, make sure they will incur penalties if they can’t keep you busy:) I had that clause when I first signed, but the renewals did away with it because “it wasn’t really needed.” D’oh!
[snip] So anyhow, don’t feel sorry for me–I don’t want that. Don’t use this as an excuse to bash DC over their new books, but DO use this to understand the life of a freelance creator. We pay for our own healthcare, we pay an extra tax known as the self employment tax, and we all work strange long hours trying to make sure your comics ship on time. Support comics by the creators you like! Every sale helps. Support the independent publishers, and the small press comics, because they are putting their hearts and souls into their creations without any advance payments or page rates.
For whatever reason, the “exclusives wars” of the mid 00s seem to be over, and given out to only the most top creators at a company. For a mid-level creator, it isn’t really a career advantage any more.
Mark Evanier also had thougths on the subject of ageism and comics evolution:
Over the years, I became friendly with — or at least interviewed — most of the comic book writers and artists whose careers predated or coincided with mine. Some managed to remain “in demand” as long as they were able to write or draw or wanted to work. Others hit a wall they’d never expected — one they’d once been more-or-less promised would never be there. A number of very fine, experienced creators in the last decade or two have been told things like, “I’d love to give you work but they tell me here I have to look for the new, young ‘hot’ artist.”
Usually, it isn’t that nakedly admitted but sometimes it is. Not that long ago, a veteran artist came to me and asked if I could help him get work…which he needed the way anyone might need work. I knew of a comic that a major company was about to launch and phoned up its editor to suggest the older guy would be perfect for it. The editor replied, “You’re right. He would be. I wish I could use him.” I swear: “I wish I could use him” is a verbatim quote.
Normally I wouldn’t quote a post at such length but there is much truth in it so I’ll add this bit:
I’m not too worried about Jerry. He’s very good and some smart editor (there are such people) will snap him up one of these days. I am worried when the industry seems too quick to dispose of talented folks and it becomes impossible or even just difficult to make a long-term living in comics. I think that would be very bad for the business. When good people come along, you don’t want them to think of their time writing or drawing comics as temp work that will only last until someone younger comes along with impressive samples and no grey hair. If today I was considering a career in comics, I don’t think I’d expect it to be a very long, stable one.
The other night I spoke with Calvin Reid at an SVA course on the business of cartooning taught by Dan Nadel.
Calvin and I have been doing this every six months or so for four or five years, and every time I bring along a slideshow on different career outlets in comics. I find that I have to substantially update it every six months — and the current one has no relation to the one I started with. Syndicated comic strips aren’t even discussed, and even the “creator participation” model of comics seems to be dwindling away as companies like IDW and Boom! turn more and more to licensed books and creators chose more to participate with themselves at Image, Kickstarter or their own company. This was a large class — maybe 20 students — and when I asked who wanted to draw Thor not a single hand went up. When I asked who was on Tumblr probably half the class raised their hands. That’s a huge switch from even 5 years ago.
At the end of the day, comics, like most industries, is still a meritocracy. A talented hard worker like Jerry Ordway still has job skills that a kid on tumblr won’t develop for years and years. But I get the feeling that the career path of just wanting to grow up and draw superheroes is going to get more and more specialized.