A Chat with Steve Bissette
"Ironically, among the events that precipitated my retirement from comics in 1999 was my own stab at writing a 'State of Creator Rights' article for the Journal. I made a number of phone calls to the first parties on my 'wish list' -- and was so f---ing discouraged by the end of the first volley that I simply chucked the whole thing. Between the cowards who'd called me regularly to bitch about conditions in the bottle-necked, post-implosion market but REFUSED to go on record, and the high-echelon former allies in many hard-won battles who were placidly accepting contract terms that made 1983 work-for-hire terms look rosy (and for creator/publishers like Rob Liefeld, to boot!), I was so disgusted by the whole scene that I abandoned the article and gave further serious thought to the key question, "Should I stay or should I go?". With the Clash's voice ringing in my ears, I was out the damned door by December of that year, and nothing has prompted me to return since." -Steve Bissette (via e-mail March 8, 2005).
The following interview was conducted via phone on March 8, 2005…
Al Nickerson: So, you said you were there right from the start of The Creator’s Bill of Rights?
Steve Bissette: Yes. Dave Sim held a summit. He used the term, "summit". Dave loves terms like that.
Bissette: There was at least a couple preliminary meetings on these issues that were held between a group of us -- myself, Steve Murphy, Michael Zulli, Rick Veitch, Peter Laird -- just before Dave contacted us. We met once in Brattleboro, VT at a local outdoor fast-food place, and at least once in Northampton. These were prompted by the Puma Blues situation [in retaliation for Dave Sim’s mail-order only release of High Society, Diamond Distribution refused to carry Puma Blues]. After that, as I recall, there were three Dave Sim-sponsored summits in all; for those of us who had been involved in the prior meetings, these were of a piece, though I’m sure that wasn’t the case for those outside that immediate New England circle. Dave had his own agenda, which he can articulate just fine. As for the summits Dave organized, there was one that was held at a restaurant in an inn or restaurant around Springfield, Massachusetts. Dave subsequently invited a group up to Toronto for the second summit.
Nickerson: Right. And that’s where that Creative Manifesto was created?
Bissette: Exactly. Double check with Dave.
Nickerson: Yeah. I will.
Bissette: As I said, I believe the first meeting was in Springfield, Massachusetts at a restaurant. It was Dave, a group of the (Teenage Mutant Ninja) Turtle guys, Rick Veitch was there, Steve Murphy and Michael Zulli, the Puma Blues creators. I think that was the core group that met at the restaurant. Then, building on that, Dave organized the summit in Toronto. The was Peter Laird, Kevin Eastman, Steve Murphy, Michael Zulli, myself, and I’m not sure who else was there. There were a number of people who couldn’t make it to that trip or who hadn’t been invited up. It wasn’t a shut-out thing. As I recall, Dave was sponsoring all of this, and was working to keep this core group of activists and potential activists engaged. I know that core group was there. There was the Mirage Studio group, Puma Blues, and myself. That culminated in the final and decisive Northampton, Massachusetts summit.
Nickerson: Then, Scott McCloud got a hold of the Creative Manifesto. He sorta tweaked it and he came up The Creator’s Bill of Rights?
Bissette: Well, it was beyond tweaking. Scott really realized that the Manifesto… the Manifesto was a sprawl, ya know? It was well-intentioned, but all over the place. I’ll just give you one example of the presumptions we were tripping over. In some draft of the Manifesto, Dave wanted the statement that all creators have a right to sufficient health care.
Nickerson: Oh wow!
Bissette: Now, we Americans found that laughable. We were like, "Dave, we don’t have any health care". (Laughs)
Bissette: But to Dave, being a Canadian, it was a right of citizenship. We were stumbling over those kinds of things. Scott cut through all that, and went, "NO. What we need is a bill of rights." Ya know, a manifesto serves a different purpose. Dave, and all of us, got lost in the various detours and eddies that struggling through these issues kept pulling us toward -- we were groping for conclusions in matters we hadn’t even adequately defined. It was Scott who really went, "No. There are some core issues here we have to define". Scott presented that, along with Larry Marder, sort of fait accompli, at the major summit that was held in Northhampton.
Nickerson: That was how I heard about the Bill in the first place. Specifically, around the time of the interview you and Scott Mcloud had done for The Comics Journal #137 (September 1990).
Nickerson: This is actually what I really want to know… at the time you specifically, and Scott too, certainly, seemed quite passionate about The Creator’s Bill of Rights.
Nickerson: Do you feel the same way still?
Nickerson: So, you think that the Bill is still relevant today?
Bissette: The Bill is very relevant. I think that everything that has happened since, not just in comics, but in many other industries that are driven by the creative arts. I think it’s very relevant, perhaps more now in this era of continuing corporate consolidation than ever before. Understand that the publishing and media corporations have a multitude of simple, sometimes elegantly simple, documents that can take away an unwary creator’s rights in the blink of an eye. In 1997 or ‘98, for the first time ever, I saw one-page documents some publishers (including so-called ‘creator friendly’ publishers) were requiring signatures on before accepting proposals. These documents basically stated that they might have something like your proposal already in the works, and you were obliged to indemnify them before submitting your proposal. Voom -- there goes your property, should they choose. Other legal tripwires are buried in the fine print. Even much-ballyhooed contracts, like the Vertigo and ‘alternative’ DC Comics contracts, had and most likely still have some pretty outrageous claims -- for instance, the wording and practice of contracts I’ve seen basically tie completed work up indefinitely with the publisher, even if they choose -- they choose -- not to publish the work after completion and acceptance, and their window of opportunity to publish expires. Any creator wishing to then take the property elsewhere, or sell or adapt it to another media, is required to repay DC Comics in full for their investment in the property. I’m sorry, that’s bull----. They are purchasing an option from the creators; if they choose not to exercise that option, and the contract expires per their own terms of agreement, their claims to the material and reimbursement is no longer relevant, either. I found that clause reprehensible -- and, sorry to say, non-negotiable, by my limited experience. Their own business is based upon countless options to other media; you bet your ass DC isn’t required to reimburse Warner Brothers for investment monies paid on one of their properties when an option lapses or a property goes into turnaround. The same should be the case in their contracts with creators; instead, creators have cumulatively accepted this ‘unlimited option’ abuse as business-as-usual. As a result, who-knows-how-many completed but unpublished projects sit in the DC and Vertigo files, never to see print. It’s a form of extortion, really, holding the completed work hostage long after DC has decided not to publish -- and not to release the material unless its ‘investment’ is repaid in full (everything: writing advance, artist advance, lettering, production, etc.). Bull**** -- DC pays for an option, via advances; DC chooses not to publish; the rights to the work in full should revert to the creators. Period. It’s standard in the book industry, and has been for ages. There were times when ‘creator-friendly’ publishers like Eclipse and First Comics exercised similar abuses; it’s now been institutionalized. I could go on and on, but those two examples are sufficient for the purposes of conversation. It’s relevant in the internet era, too; we’re still in a relatively ‘free range’ period in the internet’s history, but corporations are scrambling to identify, consolidate, and claim control over elements of that landscape. As they do, creator rights will become critical: after all, information and intellectual property are the coin of the realm. We will be seeing ‘range wars’ down the road, I have no doubt, wherein implicit contracts arguably ‘agreed to’ via use of a server are presented, claiming proprietary rights to material distributed via that server. It’s inevitable. There have already been websites and servers who have tried to lay proprietary claims to work ‘distributed’ via their services. Just wait until the first legal case involving comics, something that becomes popular and is suddenly mired in litigation, emerges from that eventuality. Back to the Bill of Rights and it’s time period: however, you should not confuse the community that was part of the founding of that bill for the Bill. The community has dispersed, dismantled itself. Some of us have left, some have fallen by the wayside. That was part of my disillusionment that I had mentioned in my e-mail [quoted at the beginning of this interview]. The Bill of Rights, I still believe, is as relevant as it ever was. It’s what we all choose to do with those implicit rights that is decisive for us individually and, by proxy, for the community, but the Bill remains what it is. The Creator’s Bill of Rights, as stated, is still a very relevant document. The widest distribution that the Bill got outside of The Comics Journal is the complete annotated version of the Bill of Rights Stanley Wiater and I published as an appendix to our book, Comic Book Rebels. That was published in 1993 by Donald I. Fine, who was the last standing independent New York City-based book publisher. He died shortly after the book was published, and the firm was absorbed by Penguin Books, who promptly dumped the book from their list.
Bissette: Still, arguably, that book got wider circulation for The Creator’s Bill of Rights than anything since the Journal interview.
Nickerson: Oh. That’s interesting.
Bissette: Scott and I had to fight for that Comics Journal interview. Gary Groth was not interested.
Bissette: Scott was still living in Somerville, Massachusetts, a Boston suburb, at the time. We conducted that interview at Scott and Ivy’s apartment. I went down and visited Scott and Ivy, spent the night with them, and we did that interview tag-team in Scott’s apartment, via telephone. It was a long night!
Nickerson: I always assumed… well, I’m not a big fan of The Comics Journal, but I always thought that Gary Groth was a huge supporter of self-publishers and independent creators. So, why would it be so difficult for him to conduct such an interview with you guys?
Bissette: Well, you would have to ask Gary. My perception was, and is, that Gary and Kim Thomson… I get along fine with both of them. I haven’t seen them in years, but we’ve always had by-and-large very cordial relations. They are publishers. First and foremost. They are passionate advocates for the cartoonists they publish.
Nickerson: Well, that’s true.
Bissette: That, for me, is the inherent conflict of interest for Fantagraphics. They are publishers, by definition in competition with publishers and self-publishers; this inherently undermines their legitimacy as journalists. ‘Nuff said. I don’t know why it was that we had such an arm-twisting with Gary to arrange for that interview. I recall, at the time, that there was a great deal of indifference to the Bill, as if we were stating the obvious. However, that wasn’t the case at the time. I mean, my generation had dealt with those back-of-the-check Marvel faux-contracts, claiming all rights to work paid for once the check was endorsed; I had been coerced into signing one of Marvel’s retroactive ‘in perpetuity’ all-encompassing work-for-hire agreements; I had artwork kept by publishers, I had artwork returned damaged by Marvel (and only after signing a document acknowledging that, in exchange for the return of the art, Marvel was reasserting its ownership of all rights connected to that artwork); John Totleben and I suffered from artwork stolen from the DC offices; and so on. The publishers were actively spreading a great deal of misinformation throughout this period of transition, further confusing the issues. In fact, it was a two-part Comics Journal interview with Dick Giordano, who was then editor-in-chief at DC Comics, that prompted our insistence on being interviewed in the same magazine about the Bill of Rights. Nothing against Dick -- he has always been a gentleman with me, very supportive early in my career, and was among our best teachers at the Joe Kubert School -- but he said some completely absurd things about copyright, creator ownership, and so on. That kind of painful obfuscation of the issues was rampant at the time. First Comics (now long defunct, but a very active alternative publisher in the 1980s) had been telling creators outright lies about ‘protecting’ the creators’ ownership by having the creators sign all rights over to First; one of my closest amigos fell for that line. By this time, John Totleben and I had fallen for a few lies from DC’s legal department hook, line, and sinker. It was self-evident to many of us that we did NOT know our implicit rights as creators, and the need for such a document was urgent. But there was a curious reaction to the Bill once it was made public -- animosity from some who had not participated, feeling excluded; animosity from publishers, including creator-publishers, who saw this as problematic; and an odd indifference. So, I don’t want to read anything too ominous into Gary’s initial reluctance to engage with the document or the interview. Obviously, he was very pleased with the interview once it was completed and transcribed. It was an extensive interview. Scott and I were in the throes of the passions and outrage (well, from me, anyhoot) that fueled our participation in the process, and Scott taking the plunge and drafting the initial document. Now, it is important to understand that Scott and I were coming from two very different perspectives on the Bill.
Nickerson: Not so much different, I think, than from where Dave was coming from.
Bissette: Well, actually, we all were. Scott was someone who had worked on a journeyman level within the publishers in the production department. Scott worked for a time at DC Comics in production. He had struck out on his own as a creator, and had taken advantage of the deal that was available at the time through Eclipse Comics. Initially, Eclipse was essentially doing what Image Comics was doing in the late 1990’s: presenting themselves as a functionary for independent creators. If you wanted to do your own comic book, they would get it out there and they would be the functionary to get the book printed, distributed, so on and so forth. My understanding from Scott and from Larry Marder was that Eclipse claimed no proprietary rights; of course, the Miracleman situation (among others I could refer to) indicated Eclipse didn’t always observe such a hands-off legal position, but for Scott and his projects, Zot primary among them, Eclipse served honorably. Dave was coming from the very unique perspective of a completely autonomous creator. The only caveat that I would attach to that is that Dave had Gerhard. So, Dave had managed to pull together a nominal studio system that was very workable, but unlike any other person I had read about or certainly ever met, Dave and Gerhard really worked out all the ethical and legal issues associated with having a studio system.
Nickerson: Yeah, and it sounds like a very good, and very fair agreement that those two guys have with each other.
Bissette: Dave was -- this is going to sound funny -- Dave was the kindest and the most generous man I ever worked with in my entire twenty-five years in comics.
Nickerson: Yeah, Dave seems like a genuinely nice guy.
Bissette: He was. I mean, he’s a hardass. He’s an absolutist. He could be a crazy mother-f-----, especially in his drinking and hedonism days. (Laughs) But Dave, you know, took a number of us into the fold, so to speak, and really elevated our thinking, and by proxy our art. He instilled in us a sense of ethics, ethics he himself practiced rather than simply espousing. Dave lived by what he preached. I can not say that of any other person I knew working in comics, particularly anyone who affiliated themselves with the publishing end of comics. I was coming out of the plantation, so to speak. My greatest success was as a work-for-hire hand for DC Comics on Saga of the Swamp Thing. I was sort of the emancipated slave, if you will. (Laughs) I went through a very steep learning curve during this very period of time you’re asking about. Dave was the catalyst for profound and significant change in my life, all for the better. At my insistence, Rick Veitch was involved with the summits, though he was, at the time, still working with DC on Swamp Thing, which prompted some participants to say, "What the hell is he doing here?" I reminded them Rick’s first work was for the undergrounds, and that he owned most of his published work to date other than Swamp Thing -- his Epic stories and Epic Comics series The One, his Marvel Graphic Novels, etc. But at the time of the summits, Rick was at the plantation I’d just left. It seemed vital that he be involved. As it seemed vital Scott be involved, too.
Nickerson: You were talking about "working in the coalmines" during your Comics Journal interview. Is that one of the reasons you quit comics? Because… well, I don’t want to put words in your mouth…
Bissette: Well, I’ll tell you very simply. I worked very hard unconsciously and consciously for twenty-four years to get myself into a position of autonomy with my work. When the direct sales market collapsed, it was no longer feasible for me to self-publish. After the collapse of Capital City Distribution, it was all over but the tears, as they say.
Nickerson: So your leaving comics was no direct result of you becoming frustrated with print publishers?
Bissette: These were a number of factors, but the key factors were twofold. I can state them very distinctly… The collapse of the direct sales market. The implosion of Capital made Diamond Distributors, essentially, the only game in town.
Nickerson: This was the mid 1990’s?
Bissette: This would be 1996, 1997. Once Capital Distributors went under, the writing was on the wall. It was over. [Let me add, in hindsight, that I was one of those at the Northampton summit who argued aggressively about distribution, and its centrality to the Bill. I disagreed with Scott then, and I disagree with him now: distribution remains central to the exercise of one’s creative rights, and I have seen that confirmed in comics and in the video industry. Simply put, as long as the publishers/studios control the means of distribution, the creator’s ability to exercise his rights are inherently compromised. I can go into further detail if you wish, but this is a key point I cannot stress emphatically enough.] The second factor is I was going through a divorce. I had a family to feed. I had two households at that point to keep going. It was not going to be feasible for me to continue with Tyrant. Things might have gone very differently if that upheaval in my personal life had not happened when it did, but it did. If I have to choose between the wellbeing of my real children, Maia and Daniel, my daughter and son, and my imaginary child, Tyrant, my real-life kids win every time. Period.
Nickerson: Absolutely. I totally agree with you.
Bissette: Right, but for some people, that’s not an absolute. (Laughs) And at that point in the industry collapse, Tyrant was no longer a means of feeding or sheltering my family, nor was working in comics at all when it took nine months to be paid for work completed (again, by one of the celebrated ‘creator friendly’ publishers). Working at a video store was a means of feeding and sheltering my family. Anyhoot, those were the primary determining factors. There were other factors. You know, the fracturing of the (comics) community really effected me. I mean, by the end of 1999, I was heartsick at what had happened to that core community that had been part and parcel of The Creator’s Bill of Rights. It was sickening to me on a primal level: how the cards played out in some scenarios, the choices some people made. One of the primary lessons I learned from Dave was self-publishing is a lonely path. Ya, know, doing three hundred issues, Dave and Ger went through a lot of s---. It’s a very lonely path. At least they had one another -- I was completely alone, by choice. I had a family to feed and shelter. I couldn’t selfishly choose to stay on the self-publishing path. I had to make choices that were going to benefit a larger group of individuals, my family, rather than just serve my needs or my creative needs. It was a grueling period of transition, and none of those decisions were easy.
Nickerson: Are you also saying that a lot of the guys that were self-publishing, that spoke about creator’s rights, abandoned the ship?
Bissette: It wasn’t just that, it was also… I mean, one of the things that I found -- that the entire eruption of Image Comics in the wake of The Creator’s Bill of Rights was an incredible experience. It was initially intoxicating in a way, but it took some disastrous detours that some of us had articulated as possibilities. We were ignored and/or dismissed, even took some abuse, for stating our concerns. And damn it, we were right. I mean, the whole studio system is fraught with peril by its very nature. Unless you absolutely define the legal territory, it can be disastrous. Even the best-intentioned studios -- like Mirage Studios, or any of the Image studio situations -- become case histories of what can go wrong. Once retroactive work-for-hire is quietly introduced into a system that was presented and sold as not being work-for-hire, you might as well line up the participants for the firing squad.
Nickerson: But, the creation of Image Comics was a good thing.
Bissette: Well, it was good in some ways, but it was horrible in others. Larry Marder was at the core of that odd whirlwind. Out of the group that was at The Creator’s Bill of Rights, the only participant that plunged into Image from the get-go, and subsequently continued working at Image, was Larry Marder. When I found myself, in the late 1990s, hearing from Larry only when he was being an apologist or spin-doctor for Todd McFarlane, I knew we’d all wandered far, far from the path we’d once shared. Now, when Larry Marder was a part of The Creator’s Bill of Rights, the event, the final summit that lead to the ratification, if you will, of The Creator’s Bill of Rights, Larry was doing Beanworld. He was among the most articulate, introspective, well-grounded, and thoughtful of the community, bar none. Conversations with Dave Sim and Larry Marder were real mind-blowers; I’m still digesting some of those, to this day. Larry knew the history, he’d BEEN THERE, and seen it from more perspectives than anyone else in the comics community. He was doing Beanworld while working as a promotional director for the Chicago-based comic book chain Moondog. Gary Colabuono was the owner of Moondog. We all met Gary; we’ve stayed in touch, off and on, over the years -- I liked Gary a great deal, and learned a lot from Larry and Gary opening the doors for me from the retail side of the comics community. Now, regarding Larry and Beanworld and Larry’s position in this creative community, all of that changed once Image came into the picture. Image really embodied, in one way, the power of The Creator’s Bill of Rights, and the ease with which one could slide into ‘the Dark Side,’ so to speak. Here was the key moment in Marvel Comics history when their best-selling cartoonists walked. Terry Stewart, the CEO of Marvel at that time, was quoted in The New York Times as saying, "Oh, they’ll be back, it’s a revolving door." At that time, it was, by and large -- but THIS time, it wasn’t going to be. Certainly, Todd McFarlane has stuck by his guns in terms of not going back to Marvel, though one can’t say the same for others who were part of Image. Now, when those creators walked, that was pretty dramatic. It built upon what I had experienced firsthand during my years at DC Comics when a number of us, took a very public stand about DC’s attempt to impose ‘standards and practices’, a codification of what could and could not be done in a comic. A number of us signed a petition (December 1986), and Alan Moore used that event to walk away from DC. He no longer worked for them after that.
Nickerson: That was after Watchmen?
Bissette: That was after Watchmen. The public stand Alan took was that the attempt to codify ‘standards and practices’ at DC prompted his departure. It was also over the sour treatment Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons received from DC concerning Watchmen. DC Comics was doing things like claiming the sales of the Watchmen watches did not mean DC owed Alan and Dave money for royalties on sales. DC claimed these were promotional items.
Nickerson: I see.
Bissette: These forty-dollar watches.
Bissette: There were a number of contract breaches that had driven a wedge between Alan and DC at the time. The public stand Alan took, in a letter that was quoted and published in The Journal and The Comics Buyers Guide, was that Alan’s leaving DC Comics was over ‘standards and practices’. So, Alan took the ‘high road’ to make a public stand against DC. Now, back to Image -- the key Marvel creators were pulling away, and they announced that they were forming their own publishing company. This was an even more momentous event that had what happened with DC and Alan; far more momentous, and it registered across the board in the comics industry. What played out very quickly, though -- and a number of us had ongoing discussions in private and in public over the Image experiment -- is "What does ‘publishing’ mean with this coalition? What does ‘a studio’ mean?" "Who owns all that Rob Liefeld work if Rob is not the one writing and drawing all of it?" All of these core issues that were relevant to The Creators Bill of Rights were being glossed over. Some even claimed Image was SELF-publishing, which further confused the issues at hand. For me, as soon as I heard about Rob Liefeld visiting cities for conventions and leaving on the plane with teenage artists along for the ride to join his studio, I knew this wasn’t going to be a best-case scenario. When you had three of us as ringleaders on a mini-series like ‘1963’ wherein the pissing matches between Image partners lead to the demise of the Annual while the Image creators were all scrambling to divert Alan Moore’s energies to their own properties and projects, it was a cluster----, pure and simple. When I had Todd McFarlane calling me to see if I’d consider writing one of his planned horror titles, but ‘the deal’ could not be articulated beyond "if you’re good to Toddy, Toddy will be good to you," the bloom was off the rose. By 1999, the party was long over. I was completely disgusted with how things played out with the whole (America’s Best Comics) deal. It was a sorry cul-de-sac, the tragic endgame: Jim Lee installs himself as the publisher of other creators’ work, and those become transferable goods in the sale of Wildstorm to DC Comics.
Nickerson: Yeah, I did find that a little odd at the time, and I actually still do. I’m not real privy to the details of that deal.
Bissette: Well, I’m probably not the one to discuss it in public. I’ve taken enough personal abuse over my views on the matter.
Bissette: The problem is no one will discuss it in public. The details I was privy to -- and this leads back to the question that prompted this whole line of discussion -- were pretty discouraging. By the end of 1999, it did play a role in my decision to retire from comics. I could see that the very people I had fought alongside in the trenches over many of these battles concerning creator’s rights were now willingly embracing work-for-hire terms that were worse than the terms we worked under when we were doing Swamp Thing at DC Comics in the mid 80’s. I just had to question, "What’s the point of this?" Have we not only forgotten the lessons that we learned, but were now creating new templates for even worse practices to be perpetuated for the creators coming in the door? I feel we have a generational obligation to improve conditions for those who follow -- that was no longer the case.
Nickerson: Exactly. Also, this includes the example when a creator who leaves Marvel Comics or DC Comics because they make a stand for creator’s rights and they then impose their own stringent system of work-made-for-hire over people that are now working for them. Now, how ethical is that?
Nickerson: Right. The comic book market has shrunk so greatly in terms of comic book sales. Do you think that many creators that want to work in comics, but who are more concerned about feeding their families, may decide to go through the work-made-for-hire route and not be so concerned about creator’s rights any longer?
Bissette: Well… ok, those are all situational. Really, that is a decision that a creator, male or female, has to make based on feeding themselves or feeding their families. If you’re creative, motivated, and single, hey, go for it! Self-publishing remains an incredibly risky proposition, in business terms, but it is still viable if you can afford to make ends meet selling to the population equivalent of the town I live in. Heck, I was making a great living selling Tyrant to a reader base the equivalent of the population of Brattleboro, Vermont, really and truly. If you have no dependents other than yourself, go for it. If you have a family, it’s a risk you have to weigh carefully, maybe one you shouldn’t take, unless you can afford to. For me, the decisions became pressing and obvious after Capitol’s demise. I exercised my creator rights, and folded up shop. But that’s just me -- don’t let my case history discourage anyone, please! These are all case by case situations. However, I have been able to protect most of my properties over time. I see it as my responsibility, while I’m still alive and kicking, to assemble those works, put them into print again, and preserve them in a form that will make it easier for my heirs to work with. Though I’ve been out of comics since ‘99, I’ve protected them for my use, and for my children -- both Maia and Danny are very creative individuals; perhaps these creations will be of use to them after I’m gone, whatever I do or do not do with them in the meantime. Rick Veitch and I have a standing agreement that we can print each other’s collaborative stories, an option Rick is exercising soon for one of his King Hell book-format anthologies. Over the years, I’ve made the same arrangements on stories I wrote or drew with others. At the end of 1999, at my insistence, Rick and Alan and I legally severed ties on ‘1963,’ and I retain the rights to the three characters I co-created -- The Fury, N-Man, and The Hypernaut -- and Alan and Rick are free to do whatever they wish with the rest. Something may come of that one day. I still sell Tyrant regularly via mail order and internet sales; the trademark is still active, and that’s a registered trademark that I’ve carefully tended, kept active, and renewed as necessary. Thanks to John Totleben and I aggressively protecting our share of the creator ownership DC Comics extended to us relative to the character of John Constantine, we all got a nice share of the monies from the CONSTANTINE movie option, along with all related merchandizing and publishing, past, present, and future. Like all rights, it’s up to you to protect what’s yours. All this requires work along the way, the kind of nuts-and-bolts legal work most creative folks despise and tend to let slip away. F--- that! The Bill of Rights is the map, the cartography, if you will, charting the territory, defining the parameters. The rest is up to the individual creators. There are plenty of orphans out there -- I don’t intend to leave any in my wake, if I can help it. I have an obligation to protect them, if only to ensure my kids have something left for them to work with, to explore, exploit, sell or protect, however they see fit.
Nickerson: Thanks for the interview and insights, Steve. I appreciate it.
Next: An Interview with Rick Veitch Rick discusses The Creator's Bill of Rights.