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The Creator's Bill of Rights:
A Letter from Denis Kitchen




Following is an e-mail exchange that I had with Denis Kitchen. I had asked Denis Kitchen for his insights on a comment made by Will Eisner concerning the Creatorís Bill of Rights. The e-mails occurred on May 5, 2005 and May 6, 2005. -Al Nickerson

"I never subscribed to this Creators' Bill of Rights because I believed that there was no reality to it. In the marketplace, moral rights are often disregarded." -Will Eisner (Eisner/Miller page 290)


Hi Denis,

Have you ever discussed the Creatorís Bill of Rights with Will Eisner? I was curious to see why he would have made the above statement.

I knew Will Eisner. He was a teacher of mine. I am a little shocked that Will would say something like that. I donít know if itís because he had always been aware of his rights (and wouldnít be in need of a bill of rights for himself) or because he had owned his own shop and had hired artists to work for him.

Well, the topic of creatorís rights, work-made-for-hire, reprint rights, and such are certainly quite controversial. Not all creators are going to have the same opinion on these subjects.

My site, Arggh.com, now features some reflections on the Creatorís Bill of Rights. Here, we will feature new conversations and interviews with Scott McCloud, Dave Sim, Steve Bissette, and Rick Veitch about the Bill.

It all starts with here...

http://albert.nickerson.tripod.com/creatorsbillofrights.html

Many thanks. I hope all is well.

best,
Al Nickerson



Al,

I'm in a crunch period right now, so I don't have the time this evening or this week to view your web site or to re-read the Creators' Bill of Rights (CBR). So these are off-the-cuff comments...

We spoke of it briefly on a couple of occasions. It was not something that, frankly, we took very seriously, though we understood and appreciated the sincerity and idealism behind its creation. There was a point in my early career when I would have unhesitatingly signed it. Will's autobiography of getting onto the business is appropriately called "The Dreamer." Most of us have been dreamers, but at some point you have to face the realities of art, life and commerce. I was so anxious to be fair to other creators when I started Kitchen Sink Press in 1969-70 that I literally gave all my profits to other artists and was unable to draw a penny in salary for the first couple of years. So I know very well what it's like to be both a starving artist and a starving publisher.

I think Will's quote below comes from pragmatism; from being on both sides of the equation (being a creator, running a packaging house, and being a publisher) and from a long life of observing human nature, particularly with respect to employees, free-lancers, partners and competitors. Of course he believed in creators' rights. No one was fiercer in demanding them for himself, way before almost anyone else in the field. But he understood that there has to be a balance of rights. The C.B.R. was a political statement without a real effort at balance.

In the "old days" of the industry, publishers had all the power and often used it ruthlessly. If the Creators' Bill of Rights was actually enforced, you'd have a very tough time finding anyone who would want to be a publisher. Will and I both saw the original (has it been updated?) CBR as generally naive and unrealistic.

You earlier asked me a question about Will's religion or lack of. It is my experience and observation that there are both moral people who go to church and moral atheists. There are hypocritical Christians, Muslims and Jews and there are amoral non-believers. My point is that mere titles are often meaningless. Creators (look at Todd McFarlane) are just as capable of mistreating other creators and there are many publishers (William Gaines, for example, or, I dare say, Kitchen Sink Press) who were fair and equitable with creators. There are publishers who are creative and creators who are uncreative. There are creators who rip off publishers just as there will be retailers who rip off distributors. I believe that creators will gravitate toward publishers who give them fair deals, pay them properly, provide a creative environment, respect their innate rights, give marketing support. and other tangible benefits in what ideally is a partnership to bring ideas to the marketplace. Supporting such publishers and avoiding whenever possible bad publishers is a realistic strategy for creators; and, likewise, smart publishers will find it in their best interests to nurture, support and reward good creators. It doesn't have to resemble class warfare.

The Creators' Bill of Rights is an interesting concept, and one worth healthy philosophical debate, but at the end of the day it is pie-in-the-sky. Pragmatists like Will and myself, who have seen all sides of the business, assiduously protected our own rights, and understood that both creators and publishers need rights and incentives. It's all about balance.


Denis,

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my e-mail. Thank you also for sharing your insights on Will.

You make some interesting points. I figured that that was what Will had meant in his comment on the Creators Bill of Rights.

May I use your comments for the record, to share with others, and also post on the Web? Dave Sim and I are trying to have an ongoing discussion on creatorís rights, and I think some of the things you brought up would be very useful. If not, I understand, and Iíll keep this chat just between us.

Again, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

I hope all is well.

best,
Al Nickerson



I have no objection to your sharing this, but ask that you put it in context: I responded immediately to your question but confess I haven't read the Creators' Bill of Rights in quite a few years. My comments were based on my memory of my reaction at the time, and of my brief discussions with Will. The comments were not influenced by any re-reading of the CBR and I'm oblivious to anything you and your colleagues may be discussing online.
---Denis


Next: A Letter, or two, from Dave Sim Dave shares some of his views on the online talks concerning The Creatorís Bill of Rights.


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