A Letter from Steve Bissette 4
Morning, Dave and Erik and Al and all --
Just back from a great trip; catching up, and will cobble together this reply to your most recent exchange (Erik/Dave) as time permits. I find this latest exchange fascinating, as it reflects in writing the kind of 'back room' conversations that really shape how deals go down in business; a privileged peek, if you will, at two peers who are addressing each other on equitable footing, and in doing so revealing many apparently shared presumptions and prejudices that drive the 'business' in the business of comics (and all other media, BTW).
If you'll indulge me, I'll respond on the points raised or under discussion, point-by-point:
(1) Neil/Todd, Spawn/Angela, and the "sharing of ideas":
"The creator or right to reprint chat is all fine and dandy. It starts a dialogue and that's the important thing. We could debate specifics until the end of time, however. I generally err on the side of generosity. I give out ideas and suggestions freely and expect nothing in return. I figure that-I've got more and that if they're ideas for a character that don't apply to what I'm doing and my book-why NOT give them away? I sure as heck can't use 'em! [etc.]..."
First off, Erik, good to 'meet' you again. I recall you were one of the few Image partners to make it clear to Rick Veitch and I could contact you anytime when the '1963' Annual was still a possibility, and I always appreciated that. If only -- ah, let's not go there. In any case, please understand the following is not a personalized attack on you or anyone. I'm only interested in the issues here, specifically the creator rights issues at hand.
So, appreciating the fact that you, Erik, do have a personal relationship with Todd, and that you do not have one with Neil, and that the reverse is true for me, and that Dave knows both Neil and Todd and has some kind of relationship with both, I'm going to have to take both you and Dave to task on the positioning of Neil's work under scrutiny here as somehow the equivalent of 'shared ideas,' which is quite another matter.
As I said from the outset, this most recent exchange was fascinating as a glimpse of 'back room' banter between two peers, talking business. In this case, the rather stunning accepted presumption is that of course Neil was in the wrong, is in the wrong, and what a right petty bastard he is, too, for not just sharing his insights with Todd like we all do.
Understand I write here as a comics pro of 25+ years who did plenty of idea-sharing from fore to aft of those years, as all my peers can testify. It's the part of the community I miss the most, really, as it was often the most fun. As you wrote, Erik, "Artists have, over the years, pitched in to help others in a pinch--I've inked pages in Spawn, Youngblood and given away tons of art and drawn numerous pieces for no compensation whatsoever. If somebody decides to sell those pieces-well, there you go-somebody profited from my efforts. Oh, well." Indeed. I can even point to the page in Spawn I inked, too (heck, Todd didn't even share his M&Ms with me or give me the time of day while I did so in his own studio). Oh, well. In most cases over the decades, I shared as a friend; I shared as a creator who loves playing (and I do mean playing) with ideas and visuals and all; I shared as an artist working with writers; I shared as a writer working with artists; I shared as an editor, as a publisher, as a co-publisher; I shared as a fan. I shared ideas quite openly, and still do, when situations invite that process. It's one of the most pleasurable aspects of the creative life, no doubt about it. And I don't expect anything for any of it. Hell, my own work benefited constantly from it -- ideas, critiques, concepts, brainstorming with the likes of Rick Veitch (all my life, it seems!), John Totleben, Tim Truman, Dave Sim, Scott McCloud, etc. Some of them I can and have identified over the years, when it seemed important to do so (Totleben came up with the Swamp Thing 'tubers' at a party at Tim Truman's house, and Veitch instantly added, 'what if they're hallucinogenic?' -- all over brews and smoke in a rundown Lake Hopatcong kitchen, now part of comics history; while pacing his living room floor in Northampton, England, Alan blurted out an entire orientation to the character of Tyrant that was brilliant and which I adopted, with his permission, wholesale; I could go on and on, but you get the idea). By and large this stuff is lost in time, and we all appreciate that aspect of the creative life and creative exchanges. It's what we do, like breathing. We all "generally err on the side of generosity" in such exchanges, Erik. No strings attached, when it's shared in the spirit of camaraderie and companionship, as part of the fun of making comics.
But when it's a JOB, a GIG, it's a different matter, and that is the fact of it.
Neil wasn't a chum of Todd's. Todd didn't invite Neil and Alan and Frank and Dave over for drinks and a brainstorming session. This wasn't what happened -- it's not what you're talking about at all. Todd wasn't just kicking around ideas with his ol' pal Neil. For whatever reasons (measurable not in issue sales, I dare say, but in credibility and enriching the mix on Spawn, I would say; Todd didn't need a sales boost, I would guess that he was craving respect and/or a higher profile for Spawn), Todd invited FOUR of his peers, pros he hadn't worked with before -- Neil, Dave, Frank, and Alan -- to create FOUR new issues of Spawn. Whatever the 'deal' -- and that's what remains the point of contention, publicly and privately, over a decade later, as it was apparently verbal and there was no piece of paper or contract or written agreement -- Todd promised an equitable share of each respective issues profits to each of the participants. Neil's SHARE (not payment for ideas, not script fee, Neil's SHARE OF PROFITS) was in the vicinity of Dave's SHARE of his issue -- $100,000 being the figure bandied about here.
This was a JOB, a GIG, a BUSINESS TRANSACTION, Erik, and in no way the equivalent of the kind of informal sharing of ideas you've brought into the discussion. Nor is Neil somehow the lesser creator, less of a 'chum,' less of a partner, or in any way a 'bad guy' for bringing Todd to task for breaking his word. Todd fucked up, period. He broke his word, his agreement. Neil isn't in the wrong here, he never was.
I find this disingenuous at best, Erik; you're skirting the issue, claiming that what Neil did in his scripts for Spawn was somehow the equivalent of the idea-sharing you're describing. When you conclude by saying contracts are required because "you never know beforehand whether you'll end up dealing with an Erik Larsen or a Neil Gaiman," you are framing the issue in a completely unfair, dualistic, and deceptively askew manner that presents yourself (and, by proxy, poor ol' Todd) as 'the good guy' and Neil as 'the bad guy.'
This is utter, utter bullshit, Erik, and I'm further taken aback that Dave's reply plays along with this. It's shameful, really, though shame seems to have no further gravity in the public arena.
Neil has done plenty of idea sharing over the years I've known him, with almost everyone in his circle I've ever been aware of. He's incredibly generous and what he shares is usually incredibly invaluable. He shared and shares his perceptions and ideas and critiques openly, and all of our work benefited from that aspect of our relationship one time or another. Neil sometimes did so with surprising scope and intensity (case in point: Neil drafted, sans payment or expectation of payment, a written 'philosophy of the Green' eons ago to try to bring some coherence to the loose-knit universe of Swamp Thing and shared that with editor Karen Berger and then writer/artist on the series Rick Veitch, and Rick incorporated many of the ideas -- it was all part of the mix, part of the free-flow of ideas, that Swamp Thing benefited from over the years). Neil gave/gives freely time and time again in such a manner, he is among the most generous of creators in this regard. Your suggestion that Neil does not -- that he is either above that sort of thing, or too petty in indulge that aspect of the creative life, or expects money on the barrel head on any such occasion -- is offensive in the extreme.
But THAT isn't what was going down with Spawn, was it? The ongoing hubbub over Angela and Medieval Spawn and Miracleman and the Todd/Neil 'deal' has nothing to do with what you're talking about.
Neil was employed by invitation of the creator/publisher of Spawn, Todd, someone he did not chum around with, to contribute to the series.
It was a job. A fun, ultimately lucrative job, but a job.
Re: Your comment, Erik: "The Neil Gaiman issue continues to be a sticking point for a lot of people. Neil got $100,000 to script a funnybook. That he'd feel shortchanged boggles my mind. Spawn was selling gangbuster before Neil wrote an issue-how much hid his name drive sales? How much did yours? As I recall, ALL of the guest-written issues sold about as well as each other. So-what was REALLY brought to the table there?"
At the time, Neil's name, his good work, and reputation were what Todd seemed attracted. He invited Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore and Frank Miller and Dave Sim to do an issue of Spawn, not just four freelancers of modest repute. They brought PLENTY to the table, circa 1993, which Image as well as Spawn benefited from.
Neil, via his efforts, brought more to the table, including Angela -- enough to feed more Spawn spinoffs in various media. Sales of the individual issues are beside the point. The argument, if one cared to make it, could be that the participation of the 'Elite Four' Todd approached sustained Spawn's solid sales numbers at precisely the point the market began its fateful decline. But that's neither here nor there, save as a response to your statement, quoted above.
Neil wrote a script, under terms none of us are really privy to, that we can only extrapolate from what was said in the press at the time (by Todd, by Neil, by Alan and Dave and Frank). On the public record, in a HERO ILLUSTRATED interview published concurrent with the appearance of those issues of Spawn, Alan Moore described his understanding of the deal -- including the presumption that Todd would cut Alan in for a share from any new concepts/characters he might have brought to the table -- and it jived completely with the deal as Neil described it then and described it in court, and describes it now. So, oddly enough, did Todd's, at the time. We only know/estimate the sums involved because Dave donated his SHARE OF THE PROFITS (not payment, not an advance, not a 'here, this is yours, but everything you did in that issue is mine' stamped-on-the-back-of-the-check all-inclusive payment for service rendered) to the CBLDF.
Todd extended an invitation, framed in business terms. Neil et al accepted. Neil ended up writing a script that introduced new concepts and characters to the Spawn universe, whereas Dave did not.
The further obfuscation of the issue both of you continue to wave in the air as if it were at all relevant is the amount of money Todd paid to Neil after the issue's sales were in, per their agreement. This is growing increasingly infuriating, implying that Neil was paid SO MUCH MONEY he should just shut the fuck up, as if the dollar amount is somehow relevant to the rights issue.
Whatever the profit share paid afterwards totaled, that is entirely beside the point -- it was a PROFIT SHARE. Dave got the same profit share for an issue co-starring his own legally-defined creation, Cerebus, that Neil got -- and, I presume, that Alan and Frank and for that matter Todd did, too, for their respective issues. "Neil got $100,000 to script a funnybook. That he'd feel shortchanged boggles my mind" -- Neil wasn't short-changed, he got what everyone got. That is NOT the point, nor the issue, Erik, and you know that.
Whether it was a $5 or $500,000 share matters not the least in this discussion of the rights to the characters under scrutiny. It was a one-time-only SHARE based on a definable volume of comics sold. It was not a buyout, implicit or explicit; there was apparently no predetermined threshold outlined in the 'deal' at which Todd could, retroactively, claim every conceptual property in the respective issue as his and his alone.
That Todd presumed he could retroactively, claim every conceptual property in the respective issue as his and his alone "boggles my mind," Erik. That you and so many others, including Dave, continue to make insinuations about Neil's character and integrity while defending Todd's "boggles my mind." Neil wasn't short-changed -- the deal, as it was represented to Neil, was broken as soon as characters and concepts Neil introduced in his work for Todd began to surface in other comics and media (of course, once Todd dragged Miracleman into the fray as some aspect of the proposed legal settlement, he only further complicated matters, using a character that was never his, that he never had any claim to or creatively contributed a damned thing to, as a bargaining chip). That was NOT the deal, apparently, was it?
The one portion of your letter that does bear further discussion, however, is the following:
"When Todd redesigned Spawn's costume some years back-I offered some suggestions, which were used-and that was fine by me. If helped out a pal and it ultimately made for a stronger visual. There were toys based on the costume and it never even occurred to me that I should get toys or credit or money-my brain just doesn't work that way. If a fan suggested that Captain Cockroach ought to dress as Wolverine next time out (a fairly obvious suggestion given Wolverine's popularity) would you have felt obligated to cut that fan a check for his "idea?" Fans suggest battles and ideas all the time-sometimes accurately predicting plans already set in motion-where do you draw the line? Is a backwards baseball cap on Franklin Richards "creating "something?"
You're again framing the discussion unfairly. In my own experience, I've done everything from helping friends with character designs and revisions on their own creations -- sans any compensation -- to walking subsequent Swamp Thing artists through the particulars of the character's design and physiology -- again, sans any compensation, and I don't owe DC squat. I did it cuz they asked, and cuz they are friends of mine.
This has NOTHING to do with the Neil/Todd conundrum.
As you say, for you, Todd is a friend -- "if [it] helped out a pal," you gave/give ideas freely. We all do, don't we? And that fact there "were toys based on the costume and it never even occurred to me that I should get toys or credit or money-my brain just doesn't work that way." Oh, but Neil's DOES? C'mon, Erik, this is the critical juncture where your letter begins to demonize Neil.
This isn't just apples and oranges, it's teacups and spiral galaxies. You were playing with your pal Todd in his sandbox; Neil was a fellow pro invited into 'the sandbox' under a verbal business agreement that, in the broader context of the entire four issues we're discussing, meant Todd cut checks cumulatively totaling over $400,000. There is a BIG fucking difference here.
Nor was Neil 'a fan,' offering ideas to Todd. Neil was a professional freelancer contracted, verbally, under terms Todd honored in the short-term, and broke in the long term. Neil didn't just put a "backwards baseball cap" on Spawn; with a single script (and subsequent mini-series), Neil expanded and redefined the Spawn universe in a meaningful way, and in doing so introduced new characters and concepts (more on this, below).
Again, nothing personal, Erik. I love your work, have nothing but warm feelings toward you from our brief exchange over the '1963 Annual' twelve years ago. Nor is it a matter of Todd's your pal, and Neil's my pal; in the context of this open public forum, you're talking shit, plain and simple, and I'm calling you on it.
Now, Dave, YOU are talking plenty of shit, too, and I am most definitely calling you on it.
Again, framed as it is with discussion of a possible/likely future Image/Cerebus collection, your response to Erik's letter echoes the kind of 'back room' dealings I was privy to and sometimes part of in the good ol' days. This is how we carried on most of our conversations for decades, wasn't it? Touch on business a bit, get into ongoing debate over some point or other, dance back around to the business on the table, make sure we all know we're on the same page here. It's how many of us do business, isn't it?
That said, what I find most compelling here are the apparently shared presumptions/prejudices, and it's important to point them out pronto so the larger discussion of creator rights doesn't suffer.
First off, as I've already said above, the obfuscation of the Neil/Todd affair over the money Neil was paid is increasingly infuriating, now bordering on criminally diversionary or idiotic -- you decide. If it's a ploy rather than a misunderstanding, please, say so.
Dave, you were apparently paid an equitable SHARE in your respective Spawn/Cerebus issue as Alan was for his, and Frank was for his, and Neil was for his, and it seems fair to suggest that Todd also earned an equitable share from each issue, too.
Let's be blunt and acknowledge (if we can't agree) that Neil brought and left far more to the table of long-term value to Todd and Spawn than the rest of you did.
Can we acknowledge, and agree upon, that?
Can we acknowledge, and agree upon, the FACT that the payments made were a SHARE of definable, recorded, measurable SALES OF THE RESPECTIVE INDIVIDUAL ISSUES -- a royalty, if you will -- and NOTHING ELSE??
I mean, did you get proportionally LESS for your respective issue than Neil did for his because his single issue brought more of (definable, recorded, measurable) future value to Todd than your one-shot co-starring Cerebus? Because Neil played with Todd's characters and universe more than you did? Did Alan and Frank get different shares, based on some unarticulated degree of measurement determining what intrinsic value each issue held for the Todd/Spawn universe as a whole? I've heard, seen, read nothing to imply anything other than the fair assumption you each received an equitable share from the real, measurable sales of your respective issues, period.
Now, also relevant to this dance around the issue is the relative merit or worth of whatever it was Neil brought to the table that Todd subsequently appropriated for Spawn and the Spawn universe of comics, toys, TV shows, movies, et al. We all seem loathe to define what that was or might be, and I for one would welcome a list we could acknowledge, if only for the purposes of this discussion. It's not a matter even of conceding Angela is measurably unique, relevant, and of value, and Medieval Spawn is not -- I mean, there are ample analogies in comics history one could cite for the latter's definable market value (Medieval Spawn/Superboy, Medieval Spawn/Sandman of the 1940s, '50s, and now '90s, etc.). Neil didn't just slap a new costume and name on Spawn: he redefined the character completely by giving Spawn a mythic scope, chronology, and context Todd never brought to the character. Neil redefined Spawn in a manner similar to how Alan, John, Rick, and I redefined Swamp Thing -- fair comparison? I don't know, let's dance it around. But let's DANCE, damn it. I'm decidedly not in synch with this chummy shared set of presumptions you and Erik seem complicit in, and I think those presumptions are muddying and confusing, not clarifying or furthering, the discussion.
Let's get into particulars in your reply to Erik's letter:
"I tend to be the same way about contributing wherever I can see a need and where I have an interest. I certainly didn't make sure that I had a rock-solid contract with Howard Shum before volunteering to jam on an issue of Gun Fu and I never asked Todd if I was going to get paid for the issue of Spawn, let alone what I was going to get paid. Kevin presented the Turtles crossover as a complete package with minimal work on my part and big bucks on the back end. Looks like fun. Let's do it."
OK, but that's NOT what's under discussion, here. I'm happy to engage and offer further examples of my own experience with that sort of creative sharing, particularly if we can arrive at definable terms on such no-strings-attached creative play, if only to stake them out as exceptions to the proposed 'template contract.' But Neil wasn't doing that, Todd wasn't asking for that, and the manner in which you and Erik have introduced the concept is serving only to demonize Neil for expecting Todd to fulfill and honor whatever the agreement was they believed they were working under.
"But I think one of the problems with the two of us discussing this is that we are-and can be-very productive guys and we are reasonably far along in our respective careers. That means that we've really got our own needs more than looked after with our own creativity so we can afford to take a philosophical attitude towards working with other people, offering suggestions, etc. where and when the opportunity presents itself. In fact, I'm pretty sure that you're like me in the fact that that's one of the major job perks. I like sticking my head under the hood and dinking around on someone else's car. I'd never let someone else do it to my car, but there you go, that's a fundamental difference. But I do like making suggestions whether someone uses them or not."
True -- Cerebus is your car, Savage Dragon is Erik's -- but the introduction of productivity brings a fresh obfuscation to the matter apparently under discussion.
The broad implication -- those who are younger, or 'less productive,' need protecting -- is bullshit. The unstated presumption is, "Erik, you and I, we're pretty far along, and we've got ours, and we're productive and hence needn't concern ourselves," and as such implies a shared elitism that is smug at best. Hey, I'm glad you guys have got your cars and everything -- I've got a few, too -- but a principle is a principle, and if the desired end product at hand is a 'template contract' applying the Creator Bill of Rights, the same proprietary issues are applicable to Joe Smugmo who has only one character up his sleeve at age 16 and to Joe Kubert, whose been in the game longer than any of us (putting a little perspective on the chumminess of your reply to Erik), who has worked on countless characters but owns, by and large, only one with any recognizable (however modest) long-term, measurable market value (Tor).
The specific implication, given the context of your and Erik's exchange, is even more unsettling -- what, Neil is less productive than you, Erik, or Todd? What are you saying, Dave?
"The guys that I have in mind are a) the sloooowww guys who are lucky to do an issue of something in a good year. That's a very different kind of creativity so that every page represents a week's work or so. For someone like that, he can work five or six years on one short 100-page graphic novel and, if he has no idea how the game is played, he can lose that five or six years worth of work in an eyeblink. When Cerebus was on schedule, Ger and I were producing 100 pages in five months. Even if we had been taking it to market we could afford to be a lot more philosophical about getting ripped off for those 100 pages. It was "only" five months."
Productivity is worth discussing, but besides the point. I am less productive than you or Ger by a long shot, but I arguably own or have a financial stake in more characters and concepts (as the market defines them) than either of you. More to the point, Dave, compare and contrast Bob Kane's claim on Batman and Jack Kirby's monolithic, legendary productivity, which spawned, enriched, and sustains entire comics corporations. Kane lived comfortably on the earnings from a single character and attendant universe. Kirby introduced more concepts/characters to the Marvel line in five years than most creators do in their entire lifetimes. Yet, Kirby and his heirs get squat -- nor, for that matter, does Jerry Robinson, Bill Finger, et al, who sustained and enriched the Batman character and universe Kane so comfortably profited from.
In terms of individual careers and income, productivity can be an issue -- but who earned more for less sweat over the drawing board, Kane or Kirby? Extreme productivity without the rewards to a share (however large or small) in one's work informs most Golden Age and Silver Age cartooning careers, with the terrain redefined for more than the savvy or lucky few only after the underground comix era (the beachhead for all who followed regarding comics creator rights, after all), the revised Copyright Act of 1976/78, and the Direct Sales Market. You and others often cite (properly) the polar extremes of your creating Cerebus vs. Steve Gerber (and Val Mayerik) introducing Howard the Duck; that the latter unexpectedly waddled onto the stage during one of Gerber's most productive stints at Marvel while Cerebus was introduced as the center of his own title from his debut isn't relevant, any more than the quantity of pages of Cerebus vs. quantity of pages of Howard is relevant; all that mattered then or now is that you, Dave, created Cerebus under terms protecting your rights, and Gerber and Mayerik created Howard under an umbrella of corporate proprietorship that forever cut them off from all the benefits you (and Ger) subsequently nurtured and harvested. However you cast it, productivity isn't a rights issue. For instance, in the comics field, I was never, ever as productive as you and Ger, or Rick Veitch, or Tim Truman, and my rep and personal income suffered for that during my comics years. However, my attention to proprietary rights and/or share of rights has yielded considerable benefits and income over the years (as it has you and Ger, Rick, and Tim). Before Frank Miller created Sin City, during the WAP period, we had a phone conversation in which Frank bemoaned the fact that, despite his incredible productivity and stellar boxoffice marketability, all he owned of his published work was a single story published in Bizarre Adventures, while I owned or co-owned almost everything I'd done since 1975, with the notable exception of Swamp Thing, which, nevertheless, continues to earn me income every quarter of every year. Many cartoonists much, much more productive than I cranked out many, many more pages than I did between 1983-87, but mine are still in print around the world -- what determines these kinds of things? Quality of work, luck of the draw, longevity of work? All of the above -- but it's the rights and/or shares one retains, earns, negotiates, or is granted (whatever the case may be) that determines long-term value.
Clearly, productivity is NOT the issue here. Creator Rights is the issue. Those rights, once defined, whether in the context of the existing Bill or your current goal of a 'template contract,' apply across the board, whether a creator is "sloooowww" or a human dynamo, producing one character and comic in their lifetime (shall we discuss MEN IN BLACK?) or a pantheon in a fraction of their time on this Earth.
"I also think of b) the publishers who have been losing the stake in their companies as work-made-for-hire has been collapsing as a viable alternative. As Gary Groth said elsewhere in this discussion, "What did Kitchen Sink own? Nothing?" It wasn't too far from the truth. I was certainly one of the guys who was pushing hard for more creators to become publishers and I couldn't be happier that Image still exists as a residue of what it started as-and that Larry's "free movement" clause is firmly entrenched at Image Central-but it does become a tough template for non-creative publishers to match. The Image partners are able to make their money from their creativity so that publishing is really something of a sideline rather than the do-or-die proposition it is for smaller publishers. It does make it tough to get non-creator publishers into the game along the lines of Fantagraphics and Top Shelf, let's say. Giving editors/publishers small percentages of books they help to shape, to me, would help bring back a balance that has, possibly, skewed too far in favour of the creators."
This is an interesting issue we keep returning to, but until a publisher or two weighs in along with Gary, and is forthcoming in engaging with the stickier aspects of the issues at hand, I can't see where we can really determine much. After all, publishers have, by and large, taken damn good care of themselves over the years, and still do. I still recall Kevin Eastman stammering during one of the first real Tundra dilemmas, "What about the Publisher's Bill of Right?" Well, publishers do have to take care of themselves, and you can bet your ass they've discussed their rights for far more years than creators have. I can't work up many crocodile tears, fearing "a balance that has, possibly, skewed too far in favour of the creators," not when I see the contracts I do of late.
At this point in comics history, publishers have proven as short-lived and fickle as creators, so the point Will Eisner would raise during such discussions -- that it takes a corporate entity like DC or Marvel to nurture characters over the long haul -- now carries about as much weight as the old "comics are better than movies because we can visualize anything and they can't" argument does now that computer graphics imagery (CGI) and the like has indeed made anything possible on the big screen. Without recall of Jim Starlin's free movement of Dreadstar the 1980s, we can all now cite key works that outlived various publishers and venues -- Maus, From Hell, Cages, etc. -- before reaching completion and full fruition, not to mention the multiple publishers and imprints affixed to various editions of classic works over the years. Cutting to the chase: Did I deserve a share of From Hell, or did Kevin, or Denis? I think not. From Hell might not have existed without me (it was created FOR Taboo, and I was the one who suggested to Alan he work with Eddie on it, and in fact made the 'ice-breaker' phone call before Alan and Eddie talked), it certainly wouldn't have been published as it was, with no creative or page-length restrictions imposed; nor would they have gravitated toward Tundra and Kitchen Sink in the wake of leaving SpiderBaby, an orbit determined initially by my relations with Kevin Eastman and Tundra. Alan and Eddie did just what they should have, every step of the way, tending to From Hell and their own needs, and more power to them. In an earlier letter in this discussion, I cited Jeff Nicholson's respectful, reciprocal arrangement with me on his collected Through the Habitrails editions (for my introduction, Jeff pays me the same per-page advance I did for his serialized graphic novel's appearance in Taboo). It's a gesture, and as such a welcome and meaningful one, but I honestly don't believe I deserve a monetary share of anything I mid-wived any more than the real-life midwife who delivered Maia and Daniel into the world deserve a percentage of their annual incomes in perpetuity.
Arguably, this can be approached from myriad perspectives, few of which back a methodology that would contractually reward editors/publishers beyond the tenure of their lifespan with a given creator/creative property. Hell, Dave, Karen Berger has benefited enormously from her stewardship of Swamp Thing; sometimes, the editors are amply rewarded with lifelong careers that span more titles and properties than any one creator will ever approach. Be that as it may, throughout the history of the industry, editors took home paychecks every Friday and enjoyed employment benefits (health insurance, for instance) where freelancers did and do not; publishers took home even greater rewards. Yes, there are risks, shared across the board, sometimes equitably, usually not. The risks for the freelancer remained higher than those of staff, with nothing tying an editor to a publisher save that paycheck (and whatever 'golden handcuffs' -- benefits -- were attached). When creators owned nothing, freelancers had no say or stake in any case; when creators did and do own a stake, they have a stake in a publisher's survival or fate greater than that of an editor or staff employee. I'm being brief and a bit glib here, I know -- still, this is a matter worthy of discussion and analysis.
"And I'm also thinking of c) fans and retailers. [etc.]...When you're in a privileged (blessed by God as I would see it) position like we are, I think you have to have an awareness and bring the same level of helpfulness to the table in considering just how much of the world-and in this case our world, our collective worldwide ever-diminishing Comic-Book Nation has a very fixed income and that 1% of Cerebus or Savage Dragon would be like winning the lottery for these folks. Better from their standpoint because it would give them a sense of having contributed something besides all of their disposable income to the comic-book field. It's not something I would have done-I never asked for help, advice or suggestions. I did my work and Ger did his work. But in a field where most of the work is already done by collaboration I don't see anything wrong with acknowledging valuable contributions with a piece of the action."
Interesting, but retail works on determined percentages -- a certain piece of each issue sold goes to the publisher, to the distributor, to the retailer -- and everyone earns their respective income from their respective piece of that pie. If we're getting into retail issues, I can address those full bore, now having been on that side of the fence in the video industry for a number of years. The fan issue is, to my mind, relevant only when a fan becomes a creator, or creative contributor, hence 'covered' by our discussion of/and the Bill. You've engaged with Erik's reference squarely, though it was presented initially simply as a means of belittling Neil's measurable and real contribution to Spawn, and hence the larger attendant issues, hence I think this is a bit of a diversion.
"Not coming from the super-hero end of things, you're right. Such a program does cause a lot of problems when a lot of the content is perceived to be made up of "What if Iron Man and Thor had a big fight?" And, no, I can't really see cutting someone in for a share of the action on that. But I'm more talking about the point of creation, or the period between the creation and the signing of the contract. Remember, I conceded your point on Medieval Spawn."
Well, I haven't. I still think it's avoiding the key issues to concede that point -- Superboy is to Superman as Medieval Spawn is to Spawn, or the pre-1983 Swamp Thing to the post-1983 Swamp Thing, for instance, and we can measure the cumulative 'value' of Superboy and Swamp Thing through all sorts of case histories. Continuing:
"Even though a court of law said Neil had a case, I don't think it serves the comic-book field's best interests to see that as a precedent-or, perhaps, more accurately-that it proves that those things need to be established by the publishing creator. "I don't go in for that. If you want to take back Medieval Spawn, go ahead, but I don't see variations as innovations and I can't concede ownership of something that's just a modification of my own intellectual property". I think it was a very badly-reasoned verdict in the Neil vs. Todd trial that would make very bad case law-all you have to do is reverse it to see that: what if Neil had created Medieval Spawn and sold it to Vertigo? Would anyone in their right mind think he was entitled to do so?"
Well, I am not prepared, off the top of my head, to argue over the verdict -- if we're going there, I'll need to brush up on the verdict and the case for the sake of this discussion.
The bottom line is, Medieval Spawn does have some value, to someone, if only Todd. If that value is measurable, it is nonetheless inarguable that Neil first presented that concept in print, and we have that to work through in the context of the broader discussion of rights. We have seen, for instance, that a pre-Miller Daredevil, a pre-Miller Batman, a pre-Moore Swamp Thing is different than a post-Miller Daredevil, a post-Miller Batman, and a post-Moore Swamp Thing in ways the market and corporate environment responds to and hence attaches some sort of real value to.
Angela, Cagliostro, etc. are also inextricably part of this legal rat king, and far easier to discuss, too (particularly Angela), as they are not per se derivative of Spawn in the way that Medieval Spawn clearly is. In any case, being chummy and glib about Medieval Spawn does no one a service, except those eager to get Todd off the hook and malign Neil to that end.
"-and just between you me and the lamppost I think it had more to do with the all-female jury at the trial. It wouldn't matter what Todd and Neil were disagreeing about, an all-female jury was going to find Todd in the wrong and Neil in the right just because Todd is Todd and Neil is Neil. Had the judge asked them, I'm sure the all-female jury would have been happy to give Neil the rights to Spawn, Todd's house and cars, Madonna's uniform from A League of Their Own and the Mark McGwire baseball and anything else Neil expressed an interest in."
Oh, great. Now it's a gender issue. So it's all about charm, now, is it?
"Angela, I would maintain was a different matter entirely and I would think that all of these "well after the point of creation" items could be better handled on an issue-by-issue basis. It would seem to me that Neil was entitled to a royalty on each appearance of Angela and on the action figure and if that seemed unreasonable to Todd-and, as I've said, I can certainly see Todd thinking that $100,000 should be [do you mean 'buy'?] you some consideration-then the easy answer, it seems to me, is to write Angela out of the book and discontinue the action figure."
Angela is another matter entirely -- what is consistent, though, is the lack of a coherent 'deal' Todd adheres to. It's become difficult to ascertain what is or isn't "unreasonable to Todd" -- a reasonable Todd might have indeed simply written Angela out of the book, settled accounts, and put it all behind him and everyone, but that's not what happened. I don't think the share Neil received from his issue of Spawn "buys" anything beyond Todd's short-term honoring the same deal he had with you, Dave, and Alan and Frank. What's at stake here is the long-term repercussions, and the fact that Neil brought/left more to/on the table than anyone else in the exchange with Todd -- which should not have created endless headaches for Neil as it enriched Todd.
"And I quite agree with you on who was driving the Spawn bus. As far as I know the sales on Spawn 9 were probably higher than on Sandman to a factor of ten. Just as the sales of Spawn 10 were higher than on Cerebus to a factor of 100."
Again, this means nothing -- comparative sales of the Spawn issue vs. whatever you, Neil, Frank, and Alan were doing at the time is of historical interest, but NOT relevant to this discussion. Todd indeed drives the Spawn bus, and it's on his head to determine, define, spell out IN WRITING, and adhere to whatever terms/agreement necessary to Todd driving the bus. This is all beside the point, which brings us to your quoting Erik's most sensible statement:
"Ultimately, this comes down to people needing to get stuff in print-to create contracts-because you never know beforehand whether you'll end up dealing with an Erik Larsen or a Neil Gaiman."
To which you initially respond, "Well put."
To which I reply, "Fuck that." Erik elevating himself as 'good' vs. Neil's implied 'bad' hardly deserves a "well put" to my mind. "You never know beforehand whether you'll end up dealing with a Todd McFarlane or a Neil Gaiman" is more to the point, to which I will forever say, bring on Neil, who has proven honorable in every transaction I've ever had with him, or seen others have with him.
"Ultimately, this comes down to people needing to get stuff in print -- to create contracts --" is the only 'well put' portion of the sentence, and the only sentiment I for one will concur with.
"I guess the only place that I differ on that is in my seeing that what is needed is not contracts in general which requires each creator to reinvent the wheel each time out, but a template contract or, put another way, an absolute contract. "If you sign this contract, you won't lose a thing." Something that gives recommended guidelines on royalties, covers all forms of licensing and merchandising, control issues, decision-making and from there you can frame any contract you want out of that raw material. Not to protect Neil. As I said before I don't think any of these discussions apply to Neil or Frank Miller or Todd McFarlane or Dave Sim or any well-established guy (apart from giving me an idea if I'm underpaying or overpaying Rick Veitch and Bob Burden on royalties). But I do think it would be very useful if future generations had a template contract, an absolute contract that they could measure against whatever contract they were offered and particularly for those guys who have a lot of trouble "racking up pages" and consequently have a higher-than-usual stake in a given page, a given issue and a given graphic novel."
Well, I've said my piece -- I think excluding Dave, Neil, Frank, Todd, "or any other well-established guy" is elitist, exclusionary, and myopic as hell, especially after two letters focused in part upon an ongoing rights dispute between two of the parties you named as "well-established guy[s]." Let's add Stan Lee and Alan Moore to the list, shall we? Oh, wait, no, sorry -- ah, I won't go on.
Dave, if this is indicative of where the discussion leads once someone you REALLY perceive as a 'true peer' enters the debate, I'm wasting my time. The tenor, tone, and specifics of this most recent exchange is uncomfortably elitist, and in any case, if we're going to begin setting up template contracts with specific strata of "haves" and "have nots" in mind, this will all come to naught. Fortunes come and go in comics, and even the most prominent of perceived superstars have at one time or another agreed to contracts or terms they came to regret, or suffered at the hands of an 'elite' who was at the moment 'more elite' than they were.
Agreed the coin of the realm is creative properties, and it's great that you (and Ger) have yours and Erik has his, and both still have active market value -- bully for you, fellas! Go get 'em! -- but that doesn't give cause for the condescending rhetoric and demeaning snobbery, the 'back room' sensibility on display for all to read.
As for your advice to Erik: Listen to Dave, now, Erik -- delegate, delegate! (or, in the immortal words of Dr. Bonner's Peppermint Soap, "Dilute! Dilute!")
Now, if you cigar-toking gents will excuse me, I have to haul my oh-so-precious-creative ass out of this chair to dispose of some non-creative garbage.
- Steve B, 8/05
Next: Al's Letter to Dave Sim 3 Al Nickerson's letter written to Dave Sim addressing the continuing discussions of creator's rights.