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The Creator's Bill of Rights:
A Letter(s) from Steve Bissette 4







The following July 3, 2005 e-mail letters are Steve Bissetteís responses to Dave Sim and Gary Groth's letters and online posts concerning creator's rights. -Al Nickerson




Dave:

I've yet to comment on the rest of your previous letter, but will jump in on the current one nonetheless.

But first, let me get this out of the way:

In the case of both Gary's unnecessary resurrection of a past perceived slight he assigned to me, and Dave's belief that I was the source of a statement that he formed and demolished coalitions, I replied by citing possible, traceable sources (in the former, a Comics Journal article/new piece; in the latter, an archived comicon.com posting by myself concerning the Chicago con incident that I thought might have prompted Dave's assumption I was the source of the statement he was assigning to me). In both cases, I simply provoked further indignation, with Dave testily accusing me of the same pernicious ad hominem tactics Gary had initiated.

Why bristle over old perceived Bissettian indiscretions when you can foment new Bissette indiscretions?

Briefly: Gary, YOU brought it up, I didn't (and I warned you about making french fries, too, but did you listen? No. Do you EVER listen?). Dave, if you believe I said in print that you blithely formed and destroyed coalitions (my paraphrasing here), though I don't believe I ever did, it's possible your misconception stemmed from that four-year-old comicon.com post.

This is all beside the point in any case, and one of the reasons these conversations are so easily derailed. It's a tedious game, and one of the reasons I avoid most comics industry discussions, particularly online discussions.

[Gary, in response to one of your recent posts, the miserly low pay most video retailers offer IS (by their own statements/admissions to potential employees and in industry trade sessions with other retailers, both of which I was privvy to over my years in video) offset in part by free rentals and discounts on purchases of DVDs and videos -- thus, arguably, a portion or at least means of payment -- so, there ya go. Cars sold to TCJ employees, free video rentals to justify video retailers paying minimum wage; it's all the same to an employee who can't bank or pay the rent with either. 'Nuff said. It was your and your employee's concern alone, in any case, save for the context of the TCJ article/new item that made it public information.]

But there's other ways to beat up one another. Case in point, in Dave's latest letter, I read the following:

"Steve Bissette drew a lot of comic book pages in his career, but the amounts being paid for his Swamp Thing work with John Totelben are, again, several orders of magnitude above what is being paid for his non-Swamp Thing work, the work he did as a near-rookie in the comic-book field. The earliest Cerebus pages go for a lot more than the later Cerebus pages in most cases. It's not a matter of which are the better pages in any objective artistic sense, it's the pages that posterity focused in on. When Steve sold the last of his Swamp Thing artwork that he still owned it was to a famous Hollywood director who was about the only person at the time in a position to offer the dollar amounts that he was offering. It's one of those things that we don't brag about as the years go by for obvious reasons. When you sell something for $10 that later sells for $10,000 it does tend to make you look like something of an idiot."

Well, yes, it would, if it were true.

It isn't.

Please check your facts, Dave. It could "tend to make you look like something of an idiot" if you continue to profer misinformation as fact with such casual authority. I'm sure I'll be reading this statement from you restated as fact from some other venue soon enough. If I sound a bit annoyed, it's because the base assumption fueling your making an example of me once again seems founded upon my being either stupid or short-sighted enough to constantly undervalue my own work and/or relative worth.

The fact is:

(1) I never "sold the last of [my] Swamp Thing artwork." I have a lot of it still here, in my possession. I retained a fairly sizable and (by my tastes) choice selection of Swamp Thing original art, which I have rarely tapped for selling since 1993. The specific sale you refer to was, in fact, the last and most recent transaction of my Swamp Thing art to date, though not for lack of pages to sell if I wished to. For the record, any original art sold over the years was preserved via photocopies (of black-and-white pages) and/or transparencies or color reproductions. I kept a select stash of originals for myself, deciding early on (1985) that I didn't want to sell everything, not so much because the relative high market value of our Swamp Thing work in the 1980s original art market promised a higher market value and yield later in life, but because it is a finite resource and I treasured the work itself. The Swamp Thing art is almost by "a third person" -- the work of a specific creative chemistry I savored with Alan, Rick, and John which I could not, cannot replicate if I tried -- and as such of great personal value to me. I also saved this body of original art for my kids, to ensure they'd end up with some of dear ol' Dad's original art from his Swamp Thing salad days, to keep or sell as they saw fit long after I'm gone.

I've no idea where you got the notion I'd sold all my originals (though I'll try to address that issue below). It's fairly well known among some circles I retained the cream, judging by the still-surfacing inquiries from fans, collectors, and dealers. DC Comics tapped me in the late '90s for access to one of the original covers (they wanted to borrow the painting for the then-current ST reprint series; given the theft of ST art from their offices in 1985, including one of our painted covers, I declined loaning them the original, though I did arrange for a transparency to be shot for their needs at their expense), implying that in some cases I've kept better care of source materials than the publisher has.

If anyone reading this needs public verification of my statements here, some of the Swamp Thing originals in my personal collection will be exhibited in the Brattleboro Museum from August 2005 to February 2006, alongside original art by fellow Vermont comics artists Frank Miller, Rick Veitch, and James Kochalka.

(2) I believe I have been far more diligent and far-sighted than my peers in preserving my collection of originals, and various documents and artifacts of that fertile period. I have done so for my own reasons, and in the interests of my children, my heirs, and the greater comics community. This includes (a) original copies of the Alan Moore scripts I worked from; (b) original letters from Alan Moore and John Totleben from those years of collaboration; (c) a complete set of photocopies of my original pencils, pre-Totleben inks; (d) a complete set of photocopies of John's inks, including full-size photocopies of the originals I did sell over the years; (e) all relevent personal and business documents, including invoices, contracts, etc.; and (f) a modest collection of samples of original art by all the Swamp Thing artists who preceded our run on the character. Again, this seems to be known in some circles, as I'm tapped from time to time to provide reproducable photocopies of some of this material (most recently for the Delcourt French editions of Swamp Thing, and by Jon Cooke for his upcoming Muckmen book).

In time, all of this material will reside with either my now-adult children and/or with the Henderson State University/HUIE Library Stephen R. Bissette Special Collection. The latter will preserve the archives while providing ongoing public access I cannot or would not indulge. A duplicate set of photocopies will also reside with the Center for Cartoon Studies, for student access and use.

(3) The original art I did sell in the 1980s and early '90s always sold for relatively high prices. I couldn't have asked for a better initial guide into the selling of my/our original art than John Totleben, and we extending our conscientious collaborative relationship into coordinating the pricing and availability of our Swamp Thing originals, never undercutting one another or the market value of our work. I never, ever sold a Swamp Thing page for as little as $10, to cite the figure you offered in context. John and I were getting hundreds of dollars per page fairly early into our run, fully understanding that in the supply-and-demand of our work, we were in the driver's seat. This, no doubt, precipitated the theft of the artwork to Swamp Thing #34 (along with three covers and a handful of pinup page originals) from the DC Comics offices, as we were already commanding fair prices for our work. Some low-life ass-sucking motherfucker sonuvabitch wanted our first painted cover for DC without paying either John or I what it was already worth (BTW, John and I have been pretty vigilante about that cache of stolen originals: if that work has been trafficked, it has been well under the radar), which gives you some indication of how desirable our work was at that time and the marekt pricing we had already achieved and benefitted from (which coincidentally subsized our ongoing work on the series, offsetting DC's low page rates, so before anyone ridicules us for selling our originals at all, bear in mind there might never have been later Bissette & Totleben collaborative issues had we not been able to feed our families via select and regulated sales of our originals). Since 1983, I consistently held on to and refused to sell my favorite pages and covers.

(4) I did in fact sell one page of Swamp Thing art in 1998 to the head story editor of the TV series Seinfeld -- not "a famous Hollywood director," Dave, but whatever the source of your information, either your memory or theirs hadn't mangled that info too badly. It was a solid sale (about $5000) of a single page of original art to a very interested party, who graciously gifted me with one of his own scripts for a Seinfeld episode generously signed and personalized to me by himself and the entire cast of that episode (which, I might add, will accrue its own considerable market value over the years, since your reference to the sale of art was presented in market terms). In any case, it was hardly "the last of [my] Swamp Thing art," it sold for a handsome sum, both seller and buyer were happy with the transaction, and I didn't feel like an idiot either then or now. I'm glad it's in his collection, just as I'm happy with most of the private collectors I've sold work to over the years, many of whom have maintained contact/. relations with me. If that Hollywood fellow ever parts with it, by God, I hope it does net him $10,000 or more -- thereby increasing the relative value of the Swamp Thing original art still in my and/or my kids' collection.

(5) Possible sources of your misstatement: (a) The late Alfredo Alcala did in fact sell his respective portion of his Swamp Thing original art (including his share of three issues I pencilled for Alfredo's inks) for a pittance. I have heard from some sources Alfredo sold his art by the pound, but that's just what I've heard, not a statement of fact. The only personal anecdote I can offer to verify these claims is my single phone conversation with Alfredo sometime after I'd left Swamp Thing about the possibility of my bartering or buying a couple pages from our issues together (John and I always had the opportunity to split up our originals between us, ensuring we both ended up with pages we desired; in the case of the Alcala-inked issues I did, I received my share via DC's scattershot selection process, and there were a few pages Alfredo inked I'd have dearly loved to have had). Alfredo seemed confused: why would I want them? I convinced him I was sincere, at which point he said I could have them if I would buy ALL his Swamp Thing pages at a ridiculously low rate per page -- an expenditure I wasn't prepared to make for the four or five pages I would like to buy. It's possible Alfredo's pages were at some point going for $10 per page (making some sense of your reference to that sum), and I do recall Rick Veitch bemoaning the relative low market of his Swamp Thing work due to Alfredo's transactions, though I don't recall any particulars and would defer to Rick on that point. Is it possible you've confused Rick for me? (b) John Totleben made a handsome income off his sales of Miracleman pages over the years, and I recall John telling me that body of original art was now all sold. Are you confusing John for me, Miracleman original art for Swamp Thing original art? The Miracleman case history is far more relevent to the point you're making, and I'm sure you could check with John to verify the facts in the matter -- and note, by the way, that John et al are not only not benefitting from the higher-ticket resales of originals, but suffering further from the lack of ANY income from the still-in-demand Miracleman body of work sans any reprints, royalties, etc. (damn Todd McFarlane's eyes).

For the record, I've never sold any of my Tyrant pages, though I've fielded constant inquiries over the years (from comics, art, and dino collectors), nor have I sold much of the original art to work I retain solo or shared copyright to. This is most relevent to the wider conversation on creator rights and ownership in that my advice to up-and-coming pros over the years has been to hold onto originals for work you own reproduction rights to -- for obvious reasons.

As the print technology has shifted over the years, the relative value of originals as source material for any reproduction process outstrips that of negatives, film, scans, etc., though there are exceptions in some cases where excellent transparencies and/or photocopies are more valuable than original art. After all, some color dyes and all duo-shade originals fade in time; zip-a-tone shrinks, cracks, etc., and pasteups (including word balloons) can and do drop off. Thus, though you are correct when you cite the market value of my Swamp Thing originals as being of greater yield over time than the originals to "the work [I] did as a near-rookie in the comic-book field" and all that followed, including 1963 and Tyrant, I would also argue that the greater long-time value is also in the original art to the work I own. That, at least, I can periodically use to bring work I own or co-own copyright to back into print, a value and choice rarely relevent to the "more desirable" Swamp Thing work.

[Again, I think Miracleman is more to the point -- those now out-of-reach originals may be invaluable if and when collected editions, "The Art of Miracleman" tomes, etc. become viable. Who know what shape the Eclipse film is in today? That the entire legacy might be dependent on film that has been trafficked overseas, shifted via estate auctions, sheltered in the McFarlane sprawl, and now resides somewhere in the Gaiman archives (under a bed, I believe was Neil's statement at one point) should be sobering. In the case of the pre-Totleben era, Eclipse's reproductions were already working from poor reproductions of the Dez Skinn/Warrior installments. It would be a real pity if the only reprints of all that exquisite Leach, Totleben, et al art is via damaged goods or 'restored' printed pages from Warrior and the Eclipse comics, diminishing the often mind-boggling clarity of the art that graced the series from its beginnings in Warrior.]

I also urge other pros to clarify the legal ownership of their respective shared ownership properties sooner than later. I've touched upon this elsewhere, including my earlier letters via this venue. Trust me, it becomes more difficult, not easier, as time passes to tie up these sorts of loose ends, and once a collaborative partnership goes sour or a partner dies, it grows immeasurably more complicated.

In any case, Dave, I've been pretty responsible and even far-sighted in these matters over the years, hence my disappointment with your misstatements. Why profer me as an example of sorry short-sightedness over something I have tended to properly? There's plenty of other things you can deservedly rake me over the coals for, Dave, without misstatement. In this matter, you've demeaned me unnecessarily and ultimately discredited yourself via a proferred factoid that is demonstratably false (feel free to call me anytime you wish to check anything relevent to myself before it's offered as fact).

___

Now, briefly, on to your other points:

Re: Fantagraphics, journalism, and conflicts of interest:

"I think the conflict of interest that Steve is referring to is more along the lines of a publisher of comic books also publishing a magazine about comic books which purports to set the standards for comics criticism in the field."

Agreed -- but I also find the conflict of interest self-evident regarding news and journalism. Fantagraphics the publisher and Fantagraphics the journalist are necessarily in consultation with one another -- meaning competitors under scrutiny see less reason to talk to Fantagraphics the journalist because they also are Fantagraphics the publisher, prompting them to be cagier or more reluctant to engage at all than they would with a "mere journalist" per se. We all know most publishers are loathe to talk to journalists, period, if the news in question is not inherently geared toward ballyhoo and promotion of the current name-brand product. Gary's refusal to see this as self-evident over the years has become comical rather than the irritant it once was to me. The rest of your analysis on this point is sufficient. If Variety produced motion pictures, plays, or TV series, it would compromise its position as a source of news and criticism; if the NY Times were serving a government post, it couldn't report on the government.

But this is all pretty minor stuff, really -- I mean, compared to Time's recent capitulation to the current Administration over maintaining the confidentiality of sources, it's really of no consequence to anyone but the three of us yammering. No slight meant, Gary, it's just, well, self-evident to some of us there's a conflict of interests here. You don't see it that way, but those with inherent conflicts of interests usually don't.

___

Re: "I think it's more valuable to actually discuss the underlying issues-the small margin that all comic-book publishers are operating on and the cash flow problems which result... The problem comes in when you are paying yourself on a "real world" basis-no matter what, I get paid my salary-and paying your creators on a "comic book" basis-we'll pay you what we can after we've gotten our salaries and the printer has been paid and only after the distributors' cheques have come in. This is hidden from view but it does seem to me a key point of creators' rights..."

THIS extensive portion of your letter is the most insightful and worthwhile, and most relevent to the Bill and creator issues in general. It's the key reason I removed myself from publishing comics: the inherent contradiction between either working for free to subsidize publishing the work of others, or having those others -- "my" (that possessive speaks volumes) creators -- work for free or precious little to subsidize "my" publishing, is what it really came down to in the end. I couldn't afford the former, and couldn't live with the latter. It was clear to me once we dispersed the Taboo 1 royalties we were a kamikaze publishing venture in any case. There was no way to sustain the kind of cushion you've noted, Dave, and worth within the ethical guidelines I'd subscribed to. I would love to know how independent, non-corporate publishers from Fantagraphics to Drawn & Quarterly and Top Shelf manage to remain solvent.

The fact that, in most publishing operations, publishing staff take home checks every Friday while creators scrape and/or wait cuts directly to the point. The withholding of payment isn't always duplitious or manipulative in nature, but there's a rich legacy of just that in comics publishing, and one can hopefully forgive freelancers who assume the worst (since assuming the worst was often a survival tactic necessary to any longevity in the business; I won't presume it still is, since I'm no longer in the game). That Fantagraphics has nurtured long-term relations with many of its key creators speaks volumes about said creators' ongoing faith, tolerance, and patience, and upon that Fantagraphics has built a rather monolithic pantheon. However, since the birth of Eros, that pantheon has been sustained in some manner in part upon the efforts of less-respected practices and freelancers, laboring in relative obscurity. I would welcome discussion of this matter.

[For myself, the couple of times I was faced with a comparable situation, I couldn't make the necessary deal with the devil, so to speak. For instance, I ultimately balked when my genuine interest in reprinting the complete (or near-complete) "Hookjaw" series from the long-defunct UK weekly Action as a Taboo one-shot special led to the revelation that (a) the work could be reprinted for a song (literally, about $5 US per page, circa 1991), but (b) not a penny would be going to the creators, nor would I be permitted to contact the creators directly to implement a side-deal to ensure something went to them. Had we suffered shoddy sales it would have been by far the most profitable Taboo ever, but even my archival zeal to preserve the series in some permanent form withered when it was clear there was no way to do so without utterly cheating those responsible for the work I'd be reprinting. I shunned Josep Toutain's overtures from Spain for similar reasons, the quality of the material offered notwithstanding, only to be 'rewarded' with Toutain's outright theft of some published Taboo material -- reprinted in Toutain's Spanish Creepy zine sans permission, payment, or much more than a letter of remorse.]
The disconnect between Gary insisting on the one hand that Fantagraphics pays fair wages to its TCJ journalists and staff while the royalties situation partially made public in the wake of the indy book distribution implosions is relevent, though as you've stated quite nicely, none of us really has a stake in beating up Fantagraphics -- we just want to know how, in fact, these apparent discrepancies and gaps are sustainable, and Gary, you're still the only publisher speaking up. These matters are necessarily case-by-case sensitive, from self-publishers to small publishers who starve to support their imprints to publishers of variable sizes and situations to the corporate entities like DC and Marvel. I have no idea how Fantagraphics has survived so long, Eros or no Eros, on the thin margins possible if Fantagraphics is practicing what it preaches. Eros (and the short-lived Monster) were life-support exploitation, pure and simple, and I agree the ethics of the imprints were and are troubling, to say the least -- points I have raised directy with Gary, in private phone and public (panel) conversation when I was still in the game. I applaud Fantagraphics' longevity and the quality of most of their line, but good will and badges of integrity do not sustain publishers for decades on end. I look forward to Gary's reply. Could you address the Alberto Brecchia situation, please, as well?

I can't really add much to your detailed analysis of the financial matters at this juncture, Dave. I will note that neither Marlene or I ever drew salary from SpiderBaby; I too often diverted income from my freelance to keep SpiderBaby afloat and ensure payment to TABOO contributors; and that Rick Veitch and I (stupidly) did not give ourselves a royalty share of '1963' for our editorial duties. Backlist is key in the case of publishers and self-publishers, but getting to the critical threshold is arguably the first step to any sustainable publishing or self-publishing venture, though it's of value only in its ability to generate/sustain cash flow and cash cushion. Thus, cash flow/cushion is primary, not assets (I have a second-floor garage storage space full of taxable assets I should have pulped long ago, as it's a tax-burden, not a backlist I have built anything of value upon).

______

Dave, in your previous letter, I can't abide your glib dismissal of Neil Gaiman's claim to intellectual properties he created for Todd in an unspecified (that is, non-contractual) transaction -- while you elevate, in that letter's final paragraph, George Lucas's belief in the potential of Star Wars as an example to aspire to.

There's a disconnect there I find somewhat astounding in context -- not to mention the complications of studio issues relevent to Lucas and Star Wars (I mean, how many of those characters/ concepts originated with George and how many merchandizable elements were subsequently created and/or refined by nameless creative participants under Lucas studio rules?). I don't want to detour into that matter -- the relevence of that galaxy far, far away is arguably that, like George, Todd should have legally locked-down whatever was of value to him, and pronto. He should have done so with clear contracts and agreements rather than with -- well, whatever he did or didn't do, which seems to have been not worth the paper it wasn't written on. Give George credit for legally crossing the t's and dotting the i's on each and every Star Wars related transaction for a quarter-century; Todd wasn't much more than a year out of the gate with Spawn before he was setting bear traps for himself and anyone who took him up on his overtures.

Neil's contributions to Spawn are clearly definable. They clearly enhanced the Spawn universe in a manner that Todd's own scripts had not, and elements and characters Neil introduced were subsequently adopted by Todd as part-and-parcel of the Spawn in multiple media, hence of obvious value to Todd and his Spawn empire. These definable concepts and characters spawned (pun intended) definable spin-off and merchandizing activity, none of which was apparently willingly shared with Neil, per either their verbal agreement or lack of any written agreement to the contrary. This was clearly Todd's responsibility, not yours or Alan's or Frank's or Neil's, if only to himself and Spawn, though one could reasonably argue anyone who would contribute fresh concepts and characters to something not-their-own sans a written agreement is asking for trouble every time.

For the purposes of my next (or a near-future) reply, I WILL excavate the Wizard interview in which Alan's perceptions of his deal with Todd jives completely with the perception Neil stated to me then, personally, and later, publicly. Neil and Alan believed, or were led to believe, that whatever new they contributed to the Spawn universe would benefit them, that Todd would be honorable in that regard.

Dave, you were canny enough to feature only Cerebus in your one-shot collaboration with Todd amid that run of Spawn collaborative issues. There was nothing therein transferable to the Spawn universe. Smart cookie you. As you and Todd both stated, definitively, at the conclusion of that issue: Cerebus is yours (and Ger's), and Spawn is Todd's. Easy pie. Todd would be a complete dolt to assume otherwise. Frank Miller took a different approach with his respective collaboration, but nevertheless in the end didn't set himself up for what Neil and Alan did in their respective Todd collaborations: the creation of new concepts/characters, enhancing the Spawn universe just as they enhanced the DC universe (Frank's subsequent Toddster collaborative venture was even more clearcut: Spawn vs. Batman -- again, nothing for Frank to gain or lose, save the paychecks and, in some circles, perceived integrity/credibility for participating in such a venture in the first place).

Your case history with Todd simply isn't applicable to Neil's and Alan's. By addressing it as you continue to, you're side-stepping the core issue -- that is, the matter of post-1978 copyright law creator contributions to a publisher's universe sans contracts explicitly detailing the nature of the business transaction and rights transferred. I don't give a stomped-on rat's ass HOW much money Todd paid YOU in the end -- your issue featured YOUR character, Cerebus, period. It had no relevence to the Spawn universe outside the context of that single, self-standing issue. Again, smart cookie you. Todd had, has no claim on Cerebus. Todd has assumed no claim to Cerebus.

However, the creator rights issue I initially raised here concerns Neil's claim to his material, derivative of Spawn's previously prescribed universe, and Todd's behavior, SANS CONTRACT, since Neil's leap of faith that Todd would honor whatever the fuck it was they each thought they were agreeing to.

If you're going to even tangentially drag the inspirational example of George Lucas into all this, can you acknowledge the difference between, say, a Star Wars/Star Trek analogy (for Spawn/Cerebus), in which a legally-defined and protected property appeared in a licensed manner (explicit or implicit, re: Spawn/Cerebus) in the context of another legally-defined and protected property, as opposed to the situation in which someone inserting a new and original character/concept into the context of a legally-defined and protected property SANS A LEGALLY EXPLICIT OR IMPLICIT AGREEMENT TO TERMS -- as Neil did with Angela in Spawn?

In fact, it's worth discussing the difference between, say, Angela, Cagliostro, and Medieval Spawn -- is a derivative concept inherently transferable, as opposed to an entirely original character, particularly in the context of a legally-defined property?

Apart from the monies paid, Todd's assumption of ANYTHING is bogus. If anything, the lucrative potential you evoke of George Lucas's Star Wars and the manner in which that 1977 shift in creative and corporate winds only enhances Neil's claims -- and shames Todd all the more for not seeing to the legalities, particularly given his assumption of ownership sans contract. Who has committed the greater error?

[The fact that this mess spills into a wholly different arena via Miracleman and Todd's muddying of that already-contorted proprietary chain only damns Todd further. How dare he behave in this manner?]

____

Re: lack of archiving materials in the internet realm:

Nor can I abide the claim/accusation implicit/explicit in your most recent letter, citing both Rick's and Dave's comments, re: "I think Rick Veitch's is the more telling point-that a "thread" where he and Gary had crossed swords over Newswatch's "gutless (Rick's term: I never saw wit) coverage of the 'Save Fantagraphics Fundraiser' Story'" has been deleted seems to cut closer to the bone. There is no question that it's admirable to have a certain level of public self-criticism when you think your integrity has been compromised as the Journal did with the Amazing Caper of the Missing Rolodex but it's quite another, I think, to delete outside criticism and does, to me, point to a conflict of interest."

Perceiving the deletion of threads, boards, or portions of discussion boards as per se censorship is, by my experience, a tough accusation to make stick. The loss of material from online sites, including threads or posts one wishes one could refer back to, can be due to many things. Material is habitually dumped for reasons of site capacity; archiving isn't always possible; crashes, fire storms (in which angry parties deliberately and maliciously target and overload discussion boards, emails, sites, etc. thus crashing them in retaliation for some perceived slight), et al can suddenly delete entire irretreivable caches of posts, threads, etc.

We can bemoan the loss, and adjust our time/attention/practices accordingly. If you are participating in threads of value or interest, save them in some form -- print outs, cut-and-paste saves, whatever -- because they could indeed be gone in the blink of an eye.

I have witnessed first-hand rare maliciousness in this regard, and found it utterly reprehensible (e.g., Warren Ellis's board, in which I witnessed over a few hours in a single evening posts by other parties inexplicably vanish, followed by emails to me from the posters to say they hadn't deleted their own posts -- the relevent posts were apparently not to the liking of the board supervisor and/or Mr. Ellis). Again, one proceeds accordingly.

But this is another matter entirely: the deletion of older threads from many sites is a common practice, an automatic means of clearing space for current and future board material. Comicon.com is unusual in that it does (or did; I have no idea if it still does) archive old threads, and as such its value is (was?) greatly enhanced. The TCJ board is, like most online boards or venues, ephemeral due in part to its lack of archiving.

But this is not per se evidence of conflict of interest.

The Kingdom and Swamp boards vanished twice, through no fault of myself or the sponsor, all the lost material never to be recovered; for me, three strikes and you're out applied, and I never again invested time and effort into such a venue. When I next do, it will be to launch my own site and board or blog. I will archive accordingly and regularly.

I no longer post at TCJ boards for my own reasons -- in my first month or two of posting, my ID was three times deleted, requiring my re-registering and securing new passwords, and it just wasn't worth the hassle to me -- but don't see it as Gary or Kim personally deep-sixing me. I no longer post at the comicon boards because it ceased to be of interest or value to me, period.

The cumulative result of these kinds of frustrations lead to my eventual disconnect from online exchanges, by and large, as simply not worth the effort and investment (in time or emotion). Until I have my own venue I can moderate and archive to my personal satisfaction, I'm back to writing for print media by and large -- that, at least, has some permanence once ink hits the page.

Had I been involved in a conversation online like Rick with Gary, I'd have kept some record. But hey, that's me; Rick is not an archivist by nature, and never has been, save for his creative work.

____

On another matter entirely, though, I also take some exception to Dave's statement, "...There is no question that it's admirable to have a certain level of public self-criticism when you think your integrity has been compromised as the Journal did with the Amazing Caper of the Missing Rolodex...."

I found and find nothing admirable about it, as it applied in the published article. The fact of the matter for me is 'the car issue' was the least cringe-inducing component of that particular TCJ slice of self-analysis and exposure (remember, Gary, not I, cited that component); it was the treatment of staff in general explicit and implicit in the coverage I found most disturbing. I've now worked in enough office situations to recognize abusive employee/employer relations. The public humiliation the entire affair represented was a sorry spectacle -- for employees and employers -- and if we're going to get into a journalist/publisher entities' past record of self-analysis, let's find a better example, please.

_______

I think Dave summed it all up when he wrote:

"The problem comes in when you are paying yourself on a "real world" basis-no matter what, I get paid my salary-and paying your creators on a "comic book" basis-we'll pay you what we can after we've gotten our salaries and the printer has been paid and only after the distributors' cheques have come in. This is hidden from view but it does seem to me a key point of creators' rights. If a company is having trouble meeting its payroll and other financial obligations, I don't see anything wrong with contacting the creators and saying, "Look, we're sorry, but we're going to miss your next royalty payment and the one after that. We owe you $20,000 on paper, but all we can afford to send you is $800 right now and that's probably all you're going to get until at least November" as long as the publisher in question is willing to share the pain. That is, the printer has to get paid-that's real-world stuff again-but I think the publisher and office staff should take a pay cut if the creators aren't getting paid their royalties on time. There's no way to check that, obviously, but I do think it's an example of ethical conduct. Cash flow is always a core problem in any operation smaller than Time Warner."

Real world vs. creator world -- and your conclusion and citations to that conclusion, "Real-world business advantages do not translate into success automatically in the comic-book field" -- THAT's the issue worthy of discussion here, I believe.

More later, including sample text from CURRENT contracts involving electronic rights to propel this conversation -- but that's all I have time for just now --

Steve B

_________________________



Dave (and Al and Gary),

Continuing:

Dave, your whole analysis of cost and cash issues is spot-on, and I hope it elevates this (as you put it) "beyond just scoring cheap brownie points off of Gary" or you or me et al. Youíve addressed some of the key ways in which creators and publishers disconnect over the real world issues of publishing -- with your publicity/ad example perfectly articulated.

Some of us saw first-hand how this played out with Tundra, when vast quantities were squandered Ďsupporting booksí via support/buying into the (then-viable-and-bloated) distributor trade shows, trade ads, etc. Iíd never grasped before that period how monstrously the entire convention scene squandered resources -- money, manpower, creator time, etc.

John Totleben and I had previously benefited from the real-world investment of so many retailers and select convention organizers during our Swamp Thing tenure, wherein they (retailers and organizers) paid our way to support DCís book to elevate their shop/show, and thus built readership for Swamp Thing. For DC, it was a free ride; for John and I, a lifeline to ancillary income (sketches, original art sales) that subsidized our ability to work for DC at such low page rates. Our first recognition of the dynamics at play came via our conversations with you at Mid-Ohio Con and at UKAK, concurrent with DCís blatant investment in Alan Moore as a property vs. their shit treatment of John, myself, and (during his first Watchman-related trip to NYC) Dave Gibbons. Sorting the core issues out from the more immediate personalized gut-reactions took a bit of doing, and the clumsiness with which publisher employees and staff deal with such matters was telling and educational, too (i.e., a Warner Books staff luring John and I to visit their floor in the Warner tower to see how much better "they" were handling our work vs. DCís handling, only to be greeted with promotional t-shirts with our art that were simply emblazoned, "Read Alan Moore"). The fact is, publisher reps/staff/employees are usually as pig-ignorant of these matters and core issues as most creators, the better to cash those weekly paychecks in bliss. Thereís no malice in it; the machines just run better if all concerned are so disconnected from the reality of the situation that they tend only to their respective piece of the production line, and not worry their little furrowed brows over ethics of any sort beyond the demands of the deadline.
As a publisher (with Taboo) and self-publisher (with Tyrant), it became impossible to justify such expenditures. Doing trade shows and handing out hundreds of free copies of the Tyrant ashcan (remember ashcans?) ate up a lot of 1963 income in short order, though it was an effective springboard I could measure with initial sales. Sustaining that kind of promotional effort became untenable in short order, and ill-advised in any case. Ditto with the catalog ads or zine ads, wherein ad purchases with distributors became ways to crowbar for better placement in the catalogue sans promises -- a form of extortion, really, or paid protection, if you will. Zine ads were either expensive and useless or simply prohibitively expensive (Wizard). In short order, it became readily apparent to me that the expensive advertising & promotion scene was fucked: I mean, when exactly should you advertise a given work in the direct sales market, and to whom? Via expensive ads in distributor catalogues, targeting the retailers? Via venues concurrent with a workís actual street date, targeting the potential end buyer-reader? Both? Via which venues? If you did the former but not the latter, you were failing to follow through to the end consumer; if you could only afford the latter, bypassing promotion to the retailer, your ads fell into the hands of potential end consumers denied access to product retailers hadnít ordered since it hadnít been properly promoted to them months earlier. Multiply those distributor catalogues by anywhere from two (Diamond and Capital) to a dozen (in the direct sales marketís heyday), and you can see how expensive this dubious proposition once was. I reckon itís all become reductively simple with a sole prominent distributor (Diamond) and a narrow buying public now trained to preorder specifically from the Diamond catalogue, but thatís nothing to celebrate.

The only effective targeted promotion in all my years in comics were the result of regionally-focused and retailer-centric efforts, with your publicists and Cerebus tour of the early-1990s the best example. Having publicists to take, say, Chicago by storm and promote the hell out of Dave Sim and Cerebus with target signing/appearance dates at the Moondogís chain was the most effectively mobilized bang-for-buck comics promotion Iíd seen up to that time; some of Neil Gaimanís and the Sandman promotions that followed were similarly well-conceived and executed.

Thatís all well and good, but youíre also right in targeting the REAL crux of the matter:

"...the more rights that your creators have, the less that you actually own....The intellectual property generates x amount of dollars a year in a good year and y amount of dollars in a bad year....The sad truth is that when you need cash and you only have an intellectual property with a profitable track record as your primary asset, no one is going to lend you money unless theyíre reasonably certain that theyíll be able to acquire the intellectual property when you default on your loan payments. That is, no one is going to lend you enough money to actually get out from under your debts and walk away with your golden goose."

I canít address contemporary indy comics contracts with any particular insight, as the only ones Iíve been privy to arenít mine to discuss, but it is interesting to note that your statement "...when creators essentially started getting absolute rights and leaving the publishers with no rights or few rights and certainly few venues by which to profit from being publishers" is already being aggressively addressed in other markets. Note, for instance, that your suggestion for some sort of industry standard for terms by which a publisher might be rewarded long-term for offering beneficial advice is already precluded by existing agreements that must be signed before submissions are even considered, in which the freelancer acknowledges other work just like it might already be under consideration -- effectively signing away any proprietary rights to oneís work just to have it considered for publication. In the vernacular of the Roy Rogers westerns, "Cut Ďem off at the pass!"

Intellectual property is the coin of the 21st Century, and weíre seeing how this is playing out in multiple fields. Itís been interesting to see how some of the recent contracts Iíve been offered address this situation. In all venues -- comics, magazines, newspapers -- the coin of the realm is clearly that which can be translated to other media. In many such agreements, language providing the illusion of creator ownership (and illusion of negotiation, when they are almost always take-it-or-leave-it fait accompli agreements) while assuring the publisher gets the real goods has become as tortured as the U.S. Attorney Generalís justification for the current administrationís treatment of detainees (howís that for hyperbole?).

The most inventive of these basically spell out all the rights the publisher is acquiring (often for a song), while acknowledging somewhere along the line something called copyright stills belongs to the author/creator -- after the contract has effectively stripped away anything of value from such ownership.

Case in point: after completing a trio of articles for a local newspaper for which Iíve written off and on since 1998 (including over a year as a regular weekly columnist), and which is now owned by a larger media corporation, my standard pay invoice procedure was interrupted by an apologetic letter from the editor and the following contract. This is not the first time Iíve seen this kind of retroactive "your pay for THIS job now grants us THESE rights going back to 19--" contracts; the first time I saw it was, of course, Marvelís "blanket work-for-hire" contract in 1978, the first and last time I ever signed this kind of reprehensible document; the first time I saw it in the magazine market was Starlog Communicationsí retroactive work-for-hire contract in the early 1990s, after Iíd caught them reprinting my copyrighted Gorezone column "With My Eyes Peeled" in their Italian editions without negotiation, permission, or payment. Itís too bad, as it means one simply refuses payment, refuses to sign, and loses another venue for work -- but they lose another creator/author in turn. All of this cumulatively marginalizes all but those freelancers with either the clout to insist upon genuine negotiations and mutually beneficial contracts, or those willing to sign anything for any level of work for any level of payment.

I am presenting the contract as it was received, mere days ago, and offer it as a current legal document circulating in the journalism and newspaper field, with parenthetical numbers to footnote my comments, which follow.

___

Dear Contributor to [the Publisher],

This letter is an agreement between you and [the Publisher] concerning materials you submit for publication ("Materials"). You will be paid fees for these Materials as negotiated between us on a per-piece basis (1). You agree that any such Materials will be your own work in which [the Publisher] will enjoy non-exclusive "publication rights." (2) [the Publisher]ís "publication rights" shall include the right to publish and republish the Materials; the right not to publish the work, despite having paid for publication; to create derivative works; to use, adapt, modify, perform, transmit or reproduce such Materials and derivatives therefrom in any form or medium, whether now or hereafter, throughout the world, including, without limitation, compilation, microfilm, electronic or other databases, and any digital format in any medium, and to transfer or sublicense any of the publication rights to any entity controlled by or acting for the benefit of [the Publisher] or with whom [the Publisher] contracts.

Notwithstanding this grant of right, three days after first publication of your work in [the Publisherís venue], you may republish the Materials in any form or medium without geographical restrictions. (3)

You agree that you will be the sole author of the material, which will be original work by you, free of plagiarism, that all facts and statements in the Materials are true and that the Materials do not infringe upon any copyright, right of privacy, proprietary right, right of publicity or any other right of a third party.

You agree that [the Publisher] has the right to edit the Materials as it deems appropriate for publication, and that you will cooperate with [the Publisher] in editing and otherwise reviewing the material prior to publication. You will cooperate with [the Publisher] if any complaints, claims or litigation should arise against [the Publisher] regarding your Materials, and if you comply with the terms of this agreement, you will be entitled to any applicable coverage arising from any applicable [Publisher] policies respecting your Materials. You agree that the Materials include any works by you published by [the Publisher] since September 1, 1995 (4). You retain copyright to all Materials covered by this contract (5).

You are responsible for the payment of all federal, state and/or local taxes with respect to the services you perform for [the Publisher] (6) as an independent contractor. [The Publisher] will not treat you as an employee for any purpose (7).

The submission of Materials by you as a freelancer, as well as the receipt of payment for such Materials is a binding acknowledgement of the grant of these rights to [the Publisher], which will be relied upon by [the Publisher] and other entities with which [the Publisher] may contract (8). In addition, your endorsement of any check issued to you shall constitute your confirmation of the continued existence of this agreement (9). If this is acceptable, please sign and date the enclosed copy of this letter, provide your Social Security number, and return the signed copy to me.

We look forward to working with you (10).

__

(1) Note: Nothing was negotiated -- this contract was for work already published last month, which was invoiced per usual sans any such document or signing required. Negotiation has been actively discouraged, leaving me in the position to explicitly state what they cannot do with my work, insist upon payment or be willing to lose that earned income, and go. I have, in fact, been until now paid by this Publisher the same per-piece rate I was first paid in 1998, with the understanding per verbal agreement in 1999 that they are purchasing one-time, first-time rights only with no electronic media or online publication rights. Whenever a per-piece rate increase has been inquired about, it has resulted in nothing being renegotiated -- and, in the case of my weekly column, mutual termination of relations -- hence the increasing infrequency of my writing for this publisher.

(2) These are their quotations marks, not mine.

(3) However, oneís rights to said material are so compromised by this contract that one could not, for instance, do so via an agreement with a subsequent publisher or venue that required the very next paragraph of this contract be observed: that oneís rights to the Material does "...not infringe upon any copyright... proprietary right... or any right of a third party," in which case this Publisher would be an infringed-upon third party. This is the Catch-22 of the contract, implying the author has rights left to sell or traffic after signing this document. The author does not.

(4) Ah, the zinger, neatly buried in paragraph four. For all intents and purposes, this means if I accept the $75 due me for the three articles being invoiced -- a pittance -- I have retroactively revised my prior agreement with the Publisher, and signed away all rights to almost two years worth of weekly columns I am about to anthologize in book form, and all other articles, some of which I have already resold to other publishers over the past seven years.

(5) Another beaut, buried at the end of paragraph four -- after, of course, having stripped away all rights relevant to oneís ownership of copyright. Beware this kind of language in all contracts; I have seen this sort of language and placement rendering copyright ownership moot in two comics publishers contracts since 1997.

(6) Note the shift from Materials -- a finite, defined quantity -- to "services." I am not a lawyer, and cannot articulate what this means.

(7) This is standard work-for-hire language, BTW. Signing this agreement gives one none of the benefits of an employee, none of the benefits of a freelancer, as far as I can see.

(8) Note that, with signing, the author has already implicitly agreed to multiple contracts with entities other than the Publisher. This statement here means one has done more than explicitly agreed to the Materials as a transferable property, but indeed has agreed to unknown/undefined contracts with unknown/unspecified entities.

(9) The 2005 corporate media variant on the old Marvel Ďback of checkí agreement: "endorsement of ANY check issued to you" (my emphasis) explicitly extending the terms and "continued existence of this agreement" -- hence, it is both retroactive, per the penultimate sentence in paragraph four, but also covers all future Materials once checks are endorsed.

(10) Not bloody likely in whatís left of this lifetime.

______

Having now offered you the complete contents of a contract submitted to this freelance writer as recently as June of 2005, may I humbly suggest we all agree the Creator Bill of Rights is still relevant, and to more media than just comics?

_____

Re: Distribution.

Let me handily quote Daveís most recent reply, which conveniently quotes the relevant passage of Garyís response to me:

"I think Gary is on dramatically less solid ground when he attempts to discuss distribution intelligently in the context of creatorís rights. "Steve argues as if someone had argued that distribution wasnít important. Of course itís important. Thatís why every publisher looks to be distributed by the best distributor he can find. The proposition that an author can Ďcontrolí his distribution is absurd, prima facie, though. No one can Ďcontrolí his distribution: youíre at the mercy of so many forces that you can only do the best you can do and pray." On the contrary, this is a key element of creatorsí rights, in my view. At the point where you have created the Work, there are many means of distribution available to you...."

Control per se is one issue; passive vs. active engagement with distribution is another matter entirely. As Dave says, there is the immediate choice of distribution means implicit in the initial decision to self-publish or be published: I can do it all myself, or "sign with Fantagraphics and opt for removing [myself] from the distribution decision-making." Simply choosing to either self-publish or seek a publisher embodies a world of possibilities, including in part conceding oneís interest or lack of interest in controlling as best one can the distribution of oneís work. On the warehouse level, Gary is right; no creator can truly control the logistics and pragmatic realities of distribution per se. We arenít loading or unloading the palettes, loading and driving and unloading the trucks, racking the racks, etc. -- but then again, neither is the publisher. Simply opting for either returnable or non-returnable venues is a major distribution decision, mightily impacting on oneís income and future -- and that is in every way relevant to a creatorís choices of markets and publishers. Thanks for detailing your current Diamond discussions on the Cerebus trade paperbacks and the returnable market, which is utterly relevant.

I would take this a step further, and say that my choice of possible publisher is inherently tied to my choice of possible means of distribution. Implicit in the option of signing with either a direct-sales/mail-order publisher (like Fantagraphics) or a larger book publisher Pantheon is my goal for distribution of my work: the former may afford absolute creative control with minimum interference in exchange for less distribution and far less or no advance monies, while a Pantheon involves far more editorial control to be dealt with in exchange for an advance (or much higher advance) and guaranteed book market distribution. Going with a smaller publisher affords more freedom of movement to publicize, purchase (for resale), and self-distribute my work on a regional basis. I may choose a market-specific publisher, wherein distribution is so prescribed that the selection of publisher is very specific to distribution means. This is relevant in the case of a specialty publisher (like Cemetery Dance, doing high-price, Ďfinite dealí signed & limited editions in markets so narrow that mainstream publishers will still publish oneís novel before, after, or in tandem, recognizing the limited edition market as a non-competitive one they neither court nor care to court) or a regional publisher (as Joe Citro and I did for one of our projects, The Vermont Ghost Guide) for purposes of distribution (in this case, tailoring & targeting a very specific regional and tourist market -- to long-term benefits to both publisher and creator, now in our third printing).

Having a clear concept of such distribution matters is key to the contract one wishes to negotiate, and either fighting for or conceding those points tied to those issues. If I want to be sure my book isnít remaindered, I had best engineer a contract that includes language guaranteeing my ability to buy publisherís backstock before it is remaindered, at the best price possible, with clear language spelling out procedure; by buying up potential remaindered stock of my work, I become in effect my self-distributor after publication, protecting my work from devaluation and the markets/venues I personally nurture. If I want to be able to buy copies of my books at cost or deep discount for resale, I make sure thatís in my contract. With this freedom of movement, creators/authors can (and do) nurture lecture and speaking circuits, in effect forging other business relations (with booking agents and/or indy bookshops, universities, libraries, historical societies, what-have-you) that create self-distribution streams that can prove quite rewarding, directly (monies earned from each venue for speaking fees and books sales) and indirectly (ongoing regional promotion of oneís work, yielding ongoing sales of oneís work in more traditional venues outside of oneís direct control). That, I daresay, is an aspect of distribution, tied to my own investment in a given book or confidence in my own ability to huckster and sell a given project.

When retailers and convention organizers bankrolled John Totleben and I appearing in shops and at cons throughout 1984-86, they were in effect bankrolling the promotion of Swamp Thing for DC Comics. DC had a single house ad in their books during this period; it was the retailers, the convention organizers, and John and I (we were, for almost two years, at a new venue every other weekend) who were hustling on behalf of Swamp Thing. That was a mighty sales force that DC in fact discouraged (it cut into our board time, of course); but it moved Swamp Thing from sales of 16,000 to over 60,000 without DC spending a dime outside of their in-house ads. On a regional level, my friend Joe Citro books regular speaking tours throughout New England, and on that has sustained sales on all his New England folklore books for over a decade that outstrips the meager-to-nonexistent promotional effort the publishers make; that Joe also sustains his own backstock of books he signs and sells at every venue means he is self-distributing on a certain level, and by doing so sustaining sales for his publishers as well.

When you expand that kind of speaking tour to the level of, say, Art Spiegelmanís public appearances, you have the kind of potential comics creators can work with, especially if thereís a Ďhookí they can attach a speaking tour to (as I suggested to Joe Sacco back in 1993 and Ď94 during our conversations at either a trade show or my visit to Portland OR and the Seattle area). This leads into Gary and Daveís statements:

"[Gary wrote:] "Iím sure Tom Clancy is able to negotiate [a] better split with ancillary licensing than Joe Schmoe, and the same is true in comics: Iím sure Neil Gaiman is able to negotiate a better split and more rights generally than Joe Novice. That ainít gonna change. We have now achieved equilibrium between the respective clouts of authors and publishers." [Dave replied:] Again, I would consider this a leap of faith. I think itís always hazardous to look at the high-end success story in any field and draw inferences of how the entire field conducts its business from the exalted example...."

I agree with Dave, and in fact would argue that the perception that one is either an 80-ton gorilla with clout or one isnít is short-sighted. Neil became Neil via hard work, lots of exposure, and his own orchestration of his career; when I met him in the mid-80s, he was a shaggy teen Joe Schmoe in Clive Barkerís orbit. Tom Clancy wasnít a given; all begin as novices. One can build oneís rep and boxoffice, given hard work, dedication, and some luck. Building upon both my previous line of discussion and the Gary/Dave quote about, I would argue that dramatic regional success even in the most rural venues is possible. The most dramatic regional self-distribution success story I am currently aware of is that of actor Rusty DeWees, who mounted a touring stage show entitled "The Logger" in 1998. The Logger soon evolved into a two-volume video set, filmed at the Vergennes Opera House in Vergennes, Vermont, accommodating the complete two-act show as two videos. The Logger (1999) became a regional hit, self-produced, packaged, and distributed to the tune of over 18,000 copies sold in its first year. Thanks to hard work, the support network of friends and family, the constant tie-in with his ongoing annual touring stage show, and an avid and ever-growing audience, The Logger has become a one-man cottage industry. "Believe it or not, counting the DVDs, I've sold to date around 40,000 logger #1's and about 25,000 Logger #2's," Rusty told me in August of 2004. He more recently amended that number (including sales of his Logger calenders and audio cassettes and CDs) to a total of 95,000 units sold -- all distributed by Rustyís network directly (via retail and wholesale to mom & pop stores and available regional venues) within Vermont and bordering New England communities, all without corporate clout, promotions, TV commercials, or chain stores. No video label or distributor would have nurtured that level of exposure, sales or success. Rusty believed in himself and his product just as Dave believed in himself and Cerebus; how many people who know of Tom Clancy or Neil Gaiman have heard of either Dave Sim or Rusty DeWees?

When Warner negotiated acquisition of my friend Stefan Avalosís most recent feature film The Ghosts of Edendale for national distribution in October of 2004, they did not support and actually hampered Stefan and his producer partner Marianne Connorís attempts to aggressively self-promote the film to retailers at the few video trade show venues open to them; whether they ultimately sold more units on DVD and vhs than they otherwise would have will forever be open to question, as the only support Warner extended was the same they extend to all their indy acquisitions: trade ads, the labelís market presence, period. Though it was an uphill battle, Stefan and his creative partner Lance Weiler had greater long-term success with their self-produced, self-manufactured, self-distributed feature The Last Broadcast, and together they still reap the benefits and control that filmís worldwide availability.

Moving back to comics and publishing, my experience in comics and mainstream venues (magazines and books) has been that larger publishers discourage any such initiative, by and large, except on very specific case-by-case situations. In comics, for instance, I could never have negotiated the Ďsigned & limitedí deal I cut with Heroes World and Diamond on specific issues of Ď1963í that so handsomely benefited all involved -- a case in which my own good standing and prior relations with two direct-market distributors provided revenue the publisher alone might not have pursued or been able to bring to fruition. But even non-majors can turn a blind eye: when Dave Dorman and I proposed a tour for Aliens: Tribes back in the early 1990s, Dark Horse made discouraging sounds and let it evaporate completely, though we had rallied some interested retailers; given the success John Totleben and I had enjoyed with Swamp Thing, and Daveís visibility as a premiere Star Wars cover artist at the time, I was sure we could have mounted a successful tour and promoted Aliens: Tribes to greater sales, but Dark Horse was invested elsewhere (they soon let the planned sequel novella evaporate, too, despite initial strong sales and a writing award -- a Bram Stoker for Outstanding Novella -- for Tribes). In the end, we soon became yesterdayís potatoes, as Dave puts it.

That said, creators can be either passive or active parties in their relations with their chosen publishers in matters of distribution. I am speculating at the time of this writing (Iíll ask Frank when I have the opportunity), but I suspect Frank Miller must have campaigned Dark Horse and worked to some degree behind the scenes to ensure the new editions of the Sin City trades were in multiple distribution streams to reach retail venues with the correct timing necessary to coinciding with the feature filmís release. Frank had much to gain or lose with his respective level of engagement, as did Dark Horse; weíve all seen the results of passive creator and publisher engagement with such matters. I for one didnít take the Sin City graphic novelsí prominent visibility as a given. Telling, wasnít it, that every other Frank Miller work wasnít in easy reach at the same time -- missed opportunities across the board for Marvel and DC, over whom Frank could never have fruitfully exerted the same energies that yielded Dark Horseís Sin City exposure in tandem with the filmís theatrical release. No, Frank didnít load the palettes, drive the trucks, rack the books -- but had he not cared at all, I suspect interested fans would have been reduced to combing back issue racks and bins in out-of-the-way comic shops and potential new readers wouldnít have had the opportunity to pick up the real McCoy. [Again, this is all supposition on my part -- I will verify/revise when opportunity and first-person contact either confirms, adjusts, or corrects what Iíve extrapolated here.]

If I simply do not care about distribution, I would aim to score the largest mass-market publisher I could find willing to agree to my retaining the rights I wish to retain, and that would be that -- but itís rarely been that simple since I wrapped up my Swamp Thing tenure. Thus, I am making my publisher selection based in part upon factors other than just money-in-my-pocket-now advances or similar issues -- including selection of distribution options, and my respective long-term investment in my publishers distribution options and relations.

Domestic rights vs. international rights also involve distribution issues, particularly if you are selling North American rights and happen to live outside the US (like Eddie Campbell) -- those case histories explicitly place choice-of-publisher into choice-of-distribution realms that are region specific.

I see no upside to a publisher like Gary arguing that a creator has no stake in distribution. It is, instead, a capitulation to a belief that both parties are "at the mercy of so many forces that you can only do the best you can do and pray." This is bad business, period, and cuts off many revenue streams and windows of opportunity that cumulatively can yield and sustain a great deal.

_______

Re: Daveís statement:

"Itís very easyóand accurateóto say that we have moved in the direction of mainstream publishing but I think itís worth pointing out that very little in mainstream publishing would be considered beneficent towards creative talent. Ask any novelist how many of his or her works are in print and available."

Agreed, heartily. I have been working off-and-on in the book field since the early 1990s, and the grass is no greener, believe you me. I would rather have the meager income backstock sales of Tyrant earn me every month than the non-royalties I am not paid for the hundreds of thousands of copies of The Monster Book: Buffy the Vampire Slayer sold in multiple languages around the world. And donít even get me going on agents: theyíre all looking for rowboats they can kick that will instantly turn into Danielle Steele/Stephen King yachts without effort.

Itís good to know some comics creators are benefiting from the new interest of the mainstream book publishers, and God bless Ďem. Theyíre a rarefied few, though, and exceptions rather than the rule.

_______

OK, Iíve had my say, back to work...








Next: A Letter (or two) from Dave Sim 6. Dave Sim addresses issues by Stephen Bissette, Gary Groth, Mark Evanier, and Don Simpson.