Two days ago Comic Book Resources posted a video editorial from Image partner Robert Kirkman — “a call to arms for fellow creators to focus solely on their original stories, instead of the licensed work from the big 2 comic book companies, Marvel and DC,” according to John Siuntres of Word Balloons.
Since then, folks have been talking, which of course is always the point of something like this. Here’s where folks are speaking their minds …
The most active and probably most interesting discussion, which Stephanie Chan pointed out to me, is over at the Bendis Board. It’s over 40 pages of comments (probably more by now) and features comments from Randy Jarrell, B. Clay Moore, Patrick Zircher, Andy Kuhn, C.B. Cebulski, Ed Brubaker and Brian Michael Bendis, among many others.
From that thread, Cebulski — who writes for both Marvel and Image:
Robert makes a lot of good points and I find myself agreeing with so much of what he’s saying here. However, there is one place where I strongly disagree with him and that’s where he says “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.”
Creator-owned in no way has to be the only option. It should not be the only option. Today’s comic industry is not the same place it was all those years ago when the top-tier creators left Marvel and formed Image, and people should not be lead to believe so. The financial realities almost make it next to impossible in this day and age.
Instead, there’s a balance that each creator can find and maintain between work-for-hire and creator-owned comics in today’s market place. There are any number of creators who are currently successfully doing it (I love working for both Image and Marvel and wouldn’t want to sacrifice my love for either!) and many more creators who should be doing it. Robert is totally right in that regard; we need more big name writers and artists doing creator-owned comics, and I would love for them to join us at Image! But I also think that any creator who chooses to do so also needs to be openly and honestly informed about not just the benefits (higher royalties, merchandising, movie deals), but also the risks that are involved in creator-owned publishing (no upfront page rates, lower sales, decreased original art values). Not everyone makes money right off the bat from creator-owned books, especially the artists. And especially when original art sales have come to factor so heavily into the family incomes of comic book artists these days …
Bendis — who writes for Marvel and owns Powers:
coming soon from image comics: MASSIVE GENERALIZATIONS!!
Brubaker, who does licensed comics like Daredevil and original comics like Criminal:
It goes back to the pulps, too, and the way character ownership was done back then, the workshop/sweatshop systems people worked under… Comics grew out of that, and that company owns everything mindset came with it.
Let’s remember, too, that it only took the image founders about five minutes to start their own work-for-hire systems. So, it’s not like they didn’t see why the big two did it in the first place.
Jarrell, managing editor at Oni:
Like others have said, I don’t think this has to be an EITHER/OR argument.
But I think Robert was trying to open up a discussion about how to best serve and promote the industry and the craft.
Here is the best way that I would describe it in music terms:
Doing work for hire books is like playing covers in a cover band.
Doing creator-owned work (or original content) is writing and performing your own music.
There is a lot to be said about being a cover band. You can get regular gigs. You can hone your craft. People are instantly familiar with the songs you are performing. You can get invited to play all sorts of weddings, proms, etc. You can fill some pretty decent sized bars and clubs. Hell… you even get laid. It can be a good living. In fact, some of my favorite songs are brilliant covers.
Now if you write and perform your own music, there are plenty of obstacles. The gigs may not be as regular. People won’t instantly connect with the music because it will all be new to them. You may fail completely. But if you succeed, you won’t just be playing weddings, proms, and bars… you can fill theaters, arenas, and stadiums. When is the last time you heard of a cover band filling an arena? Creating original content has a much higher potential for an economic return.
The great thing is that you can often do both. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones started out as cover bands and continued to play covers throughout their careers. But if they had stuck to just covers, nobody would be talking about them, now would they?
The comics industry, like the music industry, is best served by new original content. Covers and new takes on old properties have their place. Nobody is arguing that we shouldn’t have superhero comics. But the industry as a whole is better served by fresh voices, fresh perspectives, and fresh content.
The thread on WhiteChapel isn’t quite as active, but former Walking Dead artist Tony Moore weighs in:
Kirkman and i have had our disagreements in the past, but i think his intent here is right. The industry is amazingly stagnant and the creator-owned market is taking huge hits and dying. The overall market is up, but the landscape is harsh and the sales figures are polarized. The lunchbox heroes are doing pretty good, but there are remarkably few out there striving to bring something new to the table.
And on the Comics Should Be Good blog at CBR, Jay Faerber, who writes (and owns) several Image titles, tries to add some clarity in the comment section of this post:
I can’t speak for Robert, but the way I understood his editorial was that it’s not enough to just “dabble” in creator-owned work. Why do three or four Marvel / DC books and one creator-owned book? Why not do the opposite, and put the emphasis on creator-owned work? Guys like Kirkman, Ellis, and Vaughan are able to do this, and make a fine living off of their creator-owned work.
And finally, in the comments section of The Beat’s post on the video, Lea Hernandez, who writes and owns her own comics, points out that this line of thinking isn’t exactly new:
Here’s hoping that Kirkman saying what I and others have been saying as long as I’ve been in comics (O HAI twenty-two years, three GNs, two series, two collections, and Comic Book Tattoo) is a push for people trying to make that decision.
We’ve had the tools in place (self-published w/o the hurdles of up-front cost and satisfying Diamond and convincing retailers to buy (Image and the web)) for at least ten years.
And finally Leigh Walton, who works at Top Shelf:
It just seems like this message is already out there. Mark Millar’s regular announcements of his enormous financial success are hard to miss. Ellis has made a career out of cursing the backwards thinking of the American comics market and (rightly) insisting on the moral superiority of creator-owned work. It kind of seems like at this point, people have made their decisions. Most creators who are interested in this sort of thing are already in the trenches trying to make it work; I suspect their answer to Kirkman’s question of “why aren’t there more Hellboys and Walking Deads?” is “I would very much like for my book to be a Hellboy or Walking Dead, thanks for asking.”
While there are plenty of folks on both sides of the debate, two themes unrelated to that debate that seem to keep coming up include:
1) The Marvel Adventures line isn’t talking down to kids.
2) The banjo music in the video was kind of odd and maybe scary, and the overall production value of the piece was kind of crappy.
Personally I thought the production was fine for what it was, as the message outweighed any flaws in how it was delivered. It certainly didn’t keep me from watching the whole thing. But I’ll agree about the Deliverance music.