A Letter (or two) from Dave Sim 6
Below are two letters from Dave Sim where Dave addresses comments from The Pulse and Comiccon.com threads. Dave's first letter was snail-mailed to me, but was corrupted and I was unable to read the document. Hence, the two letters are posted here back to back. -Al Nickerson
29 June 05
Thanks for the batch for June 19.
Yes, I hope that we hear from Erik Larsen again, but I won’t be too surprised if we don’t. Creators’ rights is one of those funny issues—like religion, politics and feminism—that has a way of reaching a disconnect point very suddenly and inexplicably. Don’t be too surprised if two months from now you and I are the only ones still discussing these things. The way I look at it, there is at least a venue this time—your website—independent of all other venues so that the disconnect will be more readily apparent when it takes place. And then I guess we’ll just have to wait and see if some sort of reconnect follows and how long it takes and who reconnects and who doesn’t.
I was very, very glad to see the plug from Mark Evanier, a gentleman I have always considered to be one of the brighter lights on the comic-book Christmas tree and definitely one sorely missed columnist in the pages of the Comics Buyers’ Guide. I confessed to being a little disappointed in the vagueness of his criticism of the "methodology" of the Creator’s Bill of Rights. It seems to me that this inherent vagueness is one of the things that tends to keep us from arriving at any useful conclusions. Does he mean the limited number of participants? Does he mean the series of flat declarations? If that is the case, I share some of those concerns, as well, which is why I’ve been leaning back in the direction of the Manifesto, and am now favouring starting with an exhaustive list of every possible right/implication that exists, potentially, in any finished creative Work prior to the Work being dealt with contractually (and arguably even before the Work itself is completed—you could have a movie on your hands just from the two-line sound byte description which is definitely Pre-Work). Certainly Mr. Evanier comes from a different tradition in Hollywood and in his freelance comic-book work where there’s a certain built-in "form follows function" "hired gun" quality. His work with Sergio on Groo seems a good example of this, to me. It’s a very nebulous job description (which was grounds for a lot of the humour on the Groo letters pages over the book’s impressive run with a variety of publishers) but a very necessary one that was implied by Sergio attempting to do a comic-book narrative and not being confident enough of his English to do so. Mark essentially fit himself into the available space and tailored his own job description to what was required which is something that he and Sergio both figured out as they went along with, clearly, the key point of the job description being that it not interfere with the intention of the finished Work so it would be as close to Sergio’s original intent with as little "Mark Evanier" grafted onto it as possible while still allowing for all creative contributions within those parameters. The reason I think his input would be invaluable to the discussion is because I see this as a good example of overlapping jurisdiction where there are no clearly defined roles. If the comic-book field were to adopt the strict guidelines of definition which exist in the world of Hollywood screenwriting I think I’m safe in saying that a hypothetical Comic Book Writers Guild would have no doubt that Sergio and Mark are both writing Groo and would have their hands full dictating shared and individual credits (and fee-splitting if it ever advanced that far). Given that Mark has experience both with the wide open "hired gun" world of comics ("Guidelines? We don’t need no stinking guidelines") and the meticulously prescribed world of screenwriting, I’d think he might have a major contribution to make in advancing a pro and con argument on sticking with one, switching to the other or finding someplace in between. Sergio and Mark have been successful at collaboration where no clear lines of demarcation exist, whereas, to cite another example along the same lines, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko eventually weren’t. And I suspect in that case it was because jurisdiction foundered on whose Spider-man they were doing and ultimately they wanted to do two different Spider-men. With Groo it’s clearly Sergio Aragones’ Groo with the irreplaceable contribution of Mark Evanier whereas with Spider-man it was never settled if it was Stan Lee’s Spider-man with the irreplaceable contribution of Steve Ditko or Steve Ditko’s Spider-man with the irreplaceable contribution of Stan Lee. The net result, as far as I can see, was to bypass the discussion with a transformation of the character into Stan Lee’s Spider-man with the irreplaceable contribution of John Romita (a very different Work) and from there into Stan Lee’s Spider-man with the contributions of various artists and then no-one’s-Spider-man-in-particular with the contributions of various artists.
I guess I see value in developing a methodology or, at least, a lexicon for discussing these issues so that we can have more happy net results like Sergio’s Groo with Mark’s contribution and fewer unhappy net results like Whose Spider-man Are We Doing Here (even as I grant that that’s going to be offensive and counter-productive to those people who think it’s better that Spider-man is just an iconic idea that everyone can take a try at)? I think that backs us up from the Work to a Pre-Work framework where intent needs to be defined at the outset. Hey, I’m working on a book—you want to pencil it? Seems innocuous enough until it turns into a hit and the penciller who thought of himself as a full participant suddenly finds out that he was just hired to be a pair of hands. This gets into the Freff and Foglio D’arc Tangent Syndrome which was the example that I always cited when these discussions came up where a Lee/Ditko complete collaboration meltdown took place. In my view, since the comic-book field is composed of whole spectrum from full to partial collaborations that we don’t even have words for, it would’ve been useful to have an initial agreement that—if meltdown occurred as it later did, both creators would be able to do their own version of D’arc Tangent with their own collaborators, which is the agreement that Ger and I had: if we reached collaboration meltdown he could do his own trade paperbacks and do the last forty or however many issues with whomever he wanted and I would do the same. The only alternative that I saw was to have an implicit dictatorship situation where having worked on the book for twenty years Ger would have no recourse but to keep working no matter how untenable the collaboration became for him. He had to stay and do Dave Sim’s Cerebus or walk away with nothing to show for his twenty years of back-breaking work (and I think just flipping through any of the last fourteen trades would tell you just how back-breaking that work had been) if he chose to walk away. This is my equivalent of Gary Groth’s question about Kitchen Sink—"So what does Gerhard own? Nothing?" To work at that demanding and relentless a level for ten years, fifteen years, twenty years and actually own nothing at the end of the day would be completely legal (if Ger had challenged it in a court of law, I’m sure he would have lost) and completely unethical. Of course the problem in that case of "cell division collaboration" is that it definitely limits the scope of what either party can do with the intellectual property. You can’t make a Cerebus movie because both creators own the rights to the core property and so you can’t sign that agreement that Hollywood demands specifying that there are no competing claims to sole ownership. That wasn’t a problem for us, because we had no intention of doing a Cerebus movie. If you’re one of the majority of the cartoonists in the field for whom the hypothetical movie adaptation is always in the back of your mind (even if you won’t consciously admit it even to yourself), then you could have a "first signed" agreement. Each collaborator gets a prescribed piece of the movie pie and the first deal that gets signed decides the issue. That’s going to be pretty awkward and difficult but all I’m saying is that the time to address these issues is at the point where the collaboration is put in place. Whose project is this? I don’t think the best way to deal with it is contractually since, as we’ve all pretty much agreed, there are a lot of things that happen contractually that are entirely unethical but completely legal. What I am talking about is having a clear idea set out of what the inherent overlapping jurisdictions are and where collaborators decide between them to draw the lines. And, yes, I think these are Creators’ rights issues. In the Groo collaboration, Sergio has his rights as a creator at stake and Mark has his rights as a creator at stake and my own view is that discussion of where you draw the lines and what you think is fair and ethical are of far greater value than what is legal and typical, particularly as the volume of material produced by the collaboration begins to mount up (and Groo is certainly well past the 1500-page mark at this point—a phenomenal volume of work for both Sergio and Mark with an attendant large stake in a life and career sense). I certainly had no intention of giving Gerhard 40% ownership of the book after he had done five issues: it seemed sufficiently ethical at the time to pay him on a per-page basis. But once you have the volume of material that intellectual properties like Cerebus and Groo consist of, I think you start entering into different areas of ethical consideration. I don’t think Steve Ditko and Stan Lee had any ill will towards each other but it certainly got to a very destructive point and I suspect it got there because there weren’t clear lines demarcated at the outset in the Pre-Work stage as to "what it is that we are doing here".
And, like Mark, I have my own strong reservations about ACTOR even though I’ve contributed to it. My biggest concern is that it is dispensing haphazard largesse on a proud generation of men who were always self-reliant and who took pride in that self-reliance in a manner unfamiliar to less prideful subsequent generations. The ones who need the most help are apt to be the least forthcoming about it and the most humiliated by being treated as "charity cases". I think ACTOR has ignored this implicit slap in the face from the git-go with the youthful conceit and patronizing insensitivity that maculine pride past a certain age should always take second place to free money. I think you’d have to come up with a structure which allowed our field’s senior cartoonists to make their own creative contribution—autographing prints reproduced from their original artwork for a subscriber base or a formal information network along the lines of the Comicshop Locator Service indicating which cartoonists are doing cover recreations and panel recreations. I’ve also pushed for more auctions on eBay rather than auctioning most of the artwork at MegaCon in Florida. Ger and I donated a cover that went for about a quarter of what covers are going for because MegaCon is just not a Cerebus environment and I suspect we’re not alone in that.
And this is, definitely (to me, anyway) a creators’ rights issue—that there should be some mechanism in place where a creator would be deemed to have the right to have access to his or her original artwork owned by others for reproduction purposes and to profit from prints of those originals. I’m thinking of a Ramona Fradon cover for Metamorpho that was reproduced in the recent book The Silver Age from Hermes Press. I’d certainly like to own a full-sized copy of that cover reproduced as beautifully as it had been in the book and autographed by Ramona Fradon and, at least technically, it is do-able. Ramona Fradon is still around and the original art to the cover obviously exists. The missing part of the equation is the actual legwork and facilitating that would need to be done to hook artists up with their long-lost originals and compensate the present owners for the inconvenience of getting the artwork scanned and made available to the artist (having the artwork "de-matted and framed" transported to a flat-bed scanner and operator capable of picking up all of the nuances of the original and then transported back to the owner and "re-matted and framed". And, of course, the trademark and copyright holder, DC, would have to sign off on each specific use or just give a blanket authorization for anything like that limited to 250 impressions or fewer, say). Those problems of logistics and legwork and discussion, to me, are the sorts of things ACTOR should be doing instead of just waiting to hear about an anecdotal hard-luck story and swooping in like a fairy godmother with a magic money wand.
In answer to Don Simpson’s perhaps/perhaps not rhetorical query "Does Dave Sim have these problems?" vis-à-vis the disproportionate popularity of what I see as my early inferior work versus my later (hopefully) more accomplished work?
Hell, yeah, Dandy Don.
The Cerebus trade paperback outsells all of the other fifteen trades by a very wide margin. I think that’s just one of those areas where you have to learn to accept the popular consensus on your work. In the comic-book field the earlier stuff is always going to be more widely popular. Remember this is an environment where "No.1 Rules". Your first issue, however atrocious, is going to be worth four to five times on the open market what your second issue is. Your most devoted readers are going to be the ones who bought your first issue off of the stands. There is a Source Nature (to coin a term) to the comic-book field which, it seems to me, is peculiar to it. Everything branches off from Action No.1 and there are few comic books as badly drawn as the first issue of Action Comics. But there’s an energy there, a sense of having tapped into the wellspring and gotten back to a seminal human source. In my own experience you do a disservice to your own on-going commercial viability by attempting to divorce yourself from your early work or to champion your later work over your earlier work. As Don says, it’s not as if he’s ignorant of the effect as a fan himself. There are a number of guys whose early work he likes more than their later work. What would Don’s reaction be to hearing Jaime Hernandez being asked on a panel about his early Mechanics stories and responding "Frankly, I think of that stuff as complete crap."? You’re sort of definitively insulting your core audience in saying something like that, which you’re certainly entitled to do—it just doesn’t seem very wise to me. I just get used to mentally revisiting my life and attitudes as they were while I was producing the pre-High Society Cerebus and dredging up what I remember of my enthusiasm at the time, where I thought I had made an artistic breakthrough, what was going on while I was working on a given issue, what artists were influencing me—particularly if someone has brought up an early issue to be autographed. I’m the only custodian of all the memories associated with those early books and that’s what the people want to hear about. It would be more honest for me to say while autographing someone’s cherished copy of issue 2 that just set them back $75 or $100 "Frankly, I think of that stuff as complete crap" but for the small effort it takes to go back to being twenty-two again for three minutes or five minutes and seeing the world through those eyes again, it just seems like common courtesy to me, burnishing—rather than spitting on—the vote of confidence that that reader has exhibited in shelling out that amount of money and putting his own tastes and interests on the line in bringing it to me personally to be signed. My basic rule of thumb is to be the best and most charitable custodian of your own material that you would want another creator to be for their material that you have an enthusiasm for. The Cerebus volume pays a good chunk of my rent and for a lot of my food. Show what respect you can (through clenched teeth if necessary as I have to do with, say, How’s Your Beaver?) and send away happy the people who are paying your living expenses.
Relative to his post for 05-18-05. Yes, thank you. That’s exactly the point that I’m trying to make is to establish what it is that a work-made-for-hire contract takes away from you. I’d certainly like to see work-made-for-hire eliminated over the long term, but there’s no doubt that creators getting ground to powder in the work-made-for-hire wheels is what has kept and what keeps the engine of the comic-book field going. If Jim Lee consents to draw Batman for a year—even though his participation is going to be limited to his advance and his royalties, no ownership or control—then all of us in the direct market benefit directly and financially when it turns into a mega-hit. Stores are more likely to restock their missing Cerebus trades after a week where they’ve blown through two hundred copies of Batman/Superman than they are after a shipment that included five copies of Palookaville and four Vertigo titles and three marginal Fantagraphics titles and you’re still more likely to have a hit with a hot creator on an established iconic book than any other way. Jim Lee doing a guy who’s "like Batman" for Dark Horse, say, is never going to get the numbers that he will if the guy "is Batman" for DC, even though "is Batman" has become a very nebulous and multi-faceted icon. The worst thing that could happen is that I would actually talk everyone out of writing or drawing Batman or Superman, even if that were possible, which it clearly isn’t. I do think it’s only right to be up-front about what is involved and what a lottery ticket win it is when one of these books does become a mega-hit rather than just a mid-chart also-ran but I derive too much benefit as a self-publisher from the mega-hits to disingenuously suggest that if work-made-for-hire was eliminated we would have reached the comic-book Promised Land. Maybe someday, but that day is a long way off. It is one of my core-level disappointments with Image that they embraced work-made-for-hire so thoroughly and so early when—given their revenues—it was so completely unnecessary. They had the chance to be seven creators doing seven books and to set up a situation where everyone working on those seven books had a piece of the action and to set a template as to what fair compensation is. Steve Oliff could have been given 2% or 4% or 8% of Spawn and, with sales in the hundred of thousands, have become the best-compensated letterer in the history of the field and that fact, in my view, would have then challenged Marvel and DC to match that level of compensation and to steer in the direction of creators taking a long-term interest in their own books and rewarding comparable long-term interest in assisting to bring those books to market. Eclipse had to develop into a mish-mosh mixture of creator-controlled books and work-made-for-hire because there weren’t sufficient revenues to maintain the company only with creator-controlled books. Image was the first (and I suspect will probably prove to be the last) One Brief Shining Moment where that wasn’t the case. They were awash in more cash than they knew what to do with and could have stayed completely and scrupulously on the ethical side of the ledger and completely away from the legal-but-unethical side of the ledger. I hope I’m wrong. It would be nice to see seven of the Wizard Top Ten guys this month split away and do the same thing but keep it more tightly confined but I suspect if it happens that that day as well is a long way off.
It is one of the key points that I try to make over and over that no corporation will ever pay you enough to sue them successfully. In the case of Marvel selling foreign reprints of Rick Veitch’s material—if it hadn’t turned out to be as innocuous and resolvable as it seems to have turned out to be—the biggest thing Rick had going in his favour is the potential for bad publicity. Marvel is competing for the same guys in the same limited talent pool and has expended a lot of time and money and effort trying to change their (ahem) Image so the intangibles of trust are playing in their favour as they are now and not playing against them as they were for much of the 1980s and 1990s. Foreign licensing fees are not a "hill to die on" though unless they’ve multiplied exponentially since I was aware of them. With his share of the reprint fees that are pretty much standard in the field, Rick might have enough to buy him and Cindy a nice meal in an average but not exceptional New York restaurant.
Yes there is a great deal to be said for the freelance life. So much so that Julie Schwartz used to say that the artists should pay him to work on the books and it’s not uncommon for creators to admit that they would still be drawing comic books even if they weren’t getting paid for it—and many of them do and they aren’t. But I think it’s worth bearing in mind that those considerations shouldn’t enter—even indirectly—into the negotiation stage. The fact that you sincerely love your job is a "Hey, good for me" thing, not a "I really should limit my demands here because I get so much job satisfaction out of doing the work" thing. Speaking as a self-publisher I like the directness of self-publishing. We just got a purchase order from Diamond this morning for many thousands of dollars worth of trade paperbacks which is a much larger order than we’ve had in a while. Last night I could’ve asked myself, "So how are we doing?" and I would’ve said, "So-so". Today I can ask myself the same question and say, "Great!" Working for a publisher I’d have to be guessing on both fronts. Likewise with foreign licensing, royalties and so on. There’s no danger of my running across an unauthorized use of Cerebus from somewhere that I wasn’t informed about. Unless I authorize it, it doesn’t happen.
Yes, not only "not commuting" as a benefit of the freelance life but not having to be artificially cheerful as a means of greasing the human relationship machinery. Particularly when I’m in comic-book stores and see the owner and the staff having what is obviously an excruciating conversation with someone about something of absolutely no interest to them and having to pretend to be fully engaged and interested and not being able to run away screaming—those are the times when I multiply that by 4700 stores and realize that all of these folks are labouring hours a day and days a week in just that context so I can sit in blissful isolation and write and draw what I want without having to hear a peep out of anyone. I really wish at those times that I was capable of writing and drawing a hit book that would make their lives a little easier instead of just being a guy who can write a draw a book they could order three of and sell two of (one of them to themselves). Oh, well. There’s Following Cerebus which, so far anyway, is holding its own in the "publications about comics" category.
I think affordable healthcare is something of an oxymoron. Canada is perceived to have affordable health care but you get what you pay for: the Liberal government keeps "topping up" its Marxist healthcare system with $45-billion-dollar "one time" infusions of cash pretty much on an annual basis at taxpayer expense which means you pay for it through much higher than normal taxes and in a Marxist context virtually all of that money gets eaten up by government administration and nurses’ unions and only a small fraction goes to the actual cutting edge of improved technology. The disparity between our medical technology and that in the US is widening to about the same extent as the disparity between our military and the US military. That "cutting edge" of MRI and other technologies doesn’t come cheap. As someone said, paying $2,000 for a state of the art MRI scan only seems excessive if you aren’t suffering from a debilitating ailment that only a state of the art MRI scan can detect. And the only place that has state of the art MRI is the US for the exact reason that only the US doesn’t have a primarily Soviet-era style Marxist medical system. If you get $2,000 a pop for your scans in hard currency and you can do fifty scans in a day, a couple of years later you can afford to buy the next level of state-of-the-art MRI scanner that makes the previous one look like something from the Paleolithic era. In a Marxist country where the government dictates what is paid for an MRI scan because they’re the ones paying for it and they decide to cap it at $500 per, then you just keep using the same Paleolithic MRI until it stops working and have to pretend that it can detect all the things that the real ones that they have in the United States can, which it can’t.
Maybe I can get away with this because this is Al’s site but I think healthcare has more to do with maintaining a good relationship with God and common sense. I know how unpopular a view that is but evidence seems to suggest that religious people overall have fewer health problems than atheists.
Of course, even in the atheistic world, if you’re fifty pounds overweight and get most of your nutrition in the form of fats and sugars and take your car to go to the corner store, your problem isn’t affordable healthcare, your problem is bad lifestyle choices. In my opinion there are far weightier physical consequences of finding yourself in a ball-busting relationship or a nightmare of a job than there are from so-called natural causes. Your mind is perfectly capable of destroying your body and I think a lot of minds do so when they find themselves trapped in a nightmare context that they aren’t allowed to lash out at.
Stephen R. Bissette
I’m still working eight-to-ten hour days a year and half after finishing Cerebus. Shuffleboard and bingo sounds pretty good to me.
If you want Ben Oda lettering—and I agree he was amazing—can’t you just sort of build your own out of a single Ben Oda alphabet? What’s the policy in the Brave New Computer World about that: scanning in someone’s lettering style and making a basic computer program out of it? Not Starkings Comicraft where it’s his own lettering, but classic lettering. Is that considered to be in the public domain? This seems like a creator’s rights issue as well where it would be worth researching the top letterers and building a data base of how to contact them to pay them if you use their lettering. When Gian Carlo contacted me with his recent adaptation of White Fang which is in the classic Raymond/Foster tradition of narrative illustration with captions, I suggested scanning an alphabet from Flash Gordon or Prince Valiant. It would’ve been nice to say "Here’s the address for the estate of Raymond’s letterer, here’s the address for the estate of Foster’s letterer—you can get either typeface for a flat fee of $75 for personal use or $3 a page for publication rights per printing."
6-15 08:49 - I’m certainly in favour of the "round table" on copyright from Following Cerebus No.3 being posted here since I think it gives a good snapshot of the spectrum of viewpoints that people have on their…tenacity?...of ownership. Certainly in any resulting Manifesto centering on the Work that spectrum of viewpoints could be a basis for identifying all early-stage fragmentation of belief systems which take place after the Work has been created. I hope that we could all agree that if the Work is created in splendid isolation and not contractually- or collaboratively-generated and that no outside guidance has been solicited that irrespective of whatever the creator’s viewpoint on trademark and copyright may be, at that point the creator has 100% ownership of the intellectual property and the surrendering of any part of that ownership is a conscious decision that needs to be explicitly and specifically designated. Again, this is why I’m interested in an exhaustive list of everything that the Work can become so that creators are specifically designating the apportionment of specific rights and not signing off on vague and all-encompassing blanket categories. I mean, I’m not asking the companies to surrender a whole spectrum of vague and all-encompassing categories under blanket category clauses so it seems only fair that we arrive at a general basis for agreements that avoids those situations on both sides of the fence, not just one of them. And, to reiterate, the general basis that I’m pointing towards is just an exhaustive description of what the Work is/potentially can be, what rights implicitly exist at the point where the work is created. I have no problem with anyone signing away 687 rights (if that’s what the final total turns out to be) but I think it’s better for them to see all 687 rights written out in front of them before doing so. What I’m hoping to do is to update the present perception of creator’s rights that holds that the Work isn’t worth anything until someone offers you money for it which has really been the basis of all negotiations in the comic-book field to date.
6-15 09:44 On the subject of the Spirit/Cerebus Jam, as Will used to say, "I’m GLAD you asked me that question." My assumption is the same as it was from the time the jam was done. Will’s work is on there so Will has the right to reproduce the story. Whomever he entrusted that right to as part of his estate—I assume his wife Ann and that Ann has transferred that decision-making to Denis Kitchen—that’s where it rests. If DC wants to do a complete Spirit, that would include the jam story and I would expect that it would just appear in some omnibus volume alongside the Spirit Jam since Denis has clear films of it. If DC was reprinting it because it was part of the Spirit Archives then the fact that it had Cerebus in it would be a minor and irrelevant concern by my lights. They’re not selling it as Cerebus, they’re selling it as the Spirit. The same as we ran the story in Following Cerebus No.4 without asking permission. We weren’t selling it as the Spirit, we were selling it as Cerebus and the point where the life of Will Eisner and the Spirit intersected most closely with Cerebus. Of course because of DC’s context of corporate vulnerability (at least as perceived by the vested self-interests of their legal department) I would assume that they would want something in writing giving them permission to reprint my work which I would probably answer with a ‘To Whom It May Concern’ letter addressed to Will Eisner’s estate outlining my viewpoint that they can keep on file any time they want to reprint the story. That might be enough for them or it might not. I’d be willing to discuss it, but it would have to be in the context of overlapping jurisdiction and with the understanding of my own concerns. If I just sign a contract giving them the right to reprint the Cerebus/Spirit Jam the inference would be there that I thought that was necessary which I don’t. I’d like them to be aware of my viewpoint and find a way to accommodate that—that a creator, any creator, has the right to reproduce his or her own work—and not just try to force their own viewpoint on me that I have to explicitly give them permission to reprint Will Eisner’s work even though I don’t think I have—or want—that jurisdiction. If they want to blame me for there being a resultant three-page gap in the Complete Spirit because I wouldn’t capitulate to their interpretation of creator’s rights, that’s their right but it’s not going to make me capitulate. To me, a core point is at stake that I wouldn’t surrender on.
In reference to the Turtles crossover, the issue did come up, indirectly, when Kevin and Peter signed with First Comics for the colour Turtle trade paperbacks and when it came time to do volume three, First wanted me to sign a contract giving them permission to have the Cerebus crossover in there which I declined to do. I had done the crossover on a handshake basis with Kevin and Peter and that was the way I wanted it left. I had no intention of signing a contract with First which was a work-made-for-hire shop as far as I could see even though they had this image in the field as being a creator-friendly publisher of creator-owned properties. They were the ones who were the most vocal about holding the creator’s trademark in trust because they could do more to protect it as a corporation than the creator could as an individual. This was as nonsensical at bottom as it is at first glance, but a lot of good guys went for it and actually believed that First was just holding their trademarks in trust instead of owning them lock, stock and barrel (as became obvious during First’s bankruptcy proceedings). I did, however, request a signed letter from First specifying that they laid no claim to Cerebus which, much to my and my lawyer’s surprise, I got. I couldn’t do much with it even though technically it left First hanging out to dry having a book on the market featuring a character that they had no claim to and had even signed a letter saying they had no claim to. My purpose was to protect my own interests, not to overrule First’s interests and I knew if I tried taking action against them it would only legally rebound onto Kevin and Peter as the individuals who had signed with them. And my principled stand against work-made-for-hire fell a little flat when Kevin and Peter started operating Mirage Studios on the same basis. The fact that I declined to accept royalties on the First Comics paperbacks then created another pressure where I’m sure the Mirage lawyers indicated the vulnerable position this put Kevin and Peter in. I hadn’t signed a contract and had refused royalties on the First books (which totalled about $30,000 at that point) which meant I could sue Kevin and Peter for using my character without permission and they wouldn’t have a legal leg to stand on. At this point Kevin and Peter—as HUGE big-time mainstream success stories were being sued by everyone and his brother (from the creator of Howdy Doody over the misappropriation of the term "Cowabunga" on down) and they were having to settle these disputes out of court for six-figure amounts (their lawyers having explained that they could either settle for a six-figure amount or pay the lawyers a six-figure amount to contest it with no guarantee that it wouldn’t become a seven-figure amount), so of course their lawyers were busy plugging every leak they could find that might prove troublesome and I assume that I was deemed to be one of them. At one point Kevin was begging me on the phone to take the $30,000 which I finally agreed to do. But that seems to me a good example of how these things actually hatch out when you decided to conduct yourself in what you see as an ethical fashion and that runs afoul of reality in the land of legalism.
"Under Pressure" is a good example of overlapping jurisdictions and it will be interesting to see what happens with it over the years. Rob Liefeld "ripping off" a multiple-page spread from Ronin is an interesting one because Ronin was creator-owned to the max by Frank Miller. There’s an instance where the DC lawyers wouldn’t enter into it. It’s Frank’s. If Frank wants to sue Rob Liefeld that’s up to him. There was already the precedent of the Turtles No.1 cover which was a line-for-line homage to the cover of the first Ronin. Presumably Frank just takes a philosophical view of these things which is certainly a step in the right direction, in my view.
I would tend to disagree on the issue of the colorists who worked on Storyteller with Barry—and, no, Chris I don’t think you’re, as you claim, "just making up problems"—you’re probing the argument for weaknesses which is a key element in examining a subject which quickly becomes this finely-tuned (and is, at least on my part, enthusiastically welcomed: probe away). Presumably the fact that their work is very much "all over the place" would mean that there would be no harm in their retaining their rights. Remember, my view is that if you worked on the page, you have the right to reprint that page. That would rule out, in most cases, a complete story but it might mean that you could do an attractive print of one of your panels in a limited edition of 25 or 100 impressions. The fact that it is signed by John No Name instead of BWS is going to limit its dollar value, but I still think it’s the ethical basis on which to decide these things, particularly if those ten or twenty pages or panels represent the sum total of that colorist’s career in the comic-book field and I can’t see where BWS would be the poorer for it. Of course, that’s up to BWS.
I wasn’t aware of the Brian Eno/David Bowie collaboration where he didn’t get song-writing credits because in his view David Bowie, as the one paying for the studio time, was the legitimate owner. I’d tend to disagree with the basis of his thinking—it underrates a long-term creative contribution in favour of a "hard real world" interpretation of thousands of dollars of studio time taking precedence. But, again, I think that would be an "established at the outset" thing. If David Bowie says, "I’d like to work on a song with you, but I’d have to own it" then you have the clear-cut choice going in. If you really want to work with David Bowie, that leaves you only one choice. Same as Al Nickerson REALLY wanting to ink an E-man story by Joe Staton. The extent of that REALLY and Joe Staton’s willingness or unwillingness to let Al have part of the action is what is going to decide the issue. Harvey Pekar evidently asked his editor, Diana Schutz, at one point when she and I were dating if she thought I’d be interested in doing an American Splendor story and she said, No, she didn’t think so because Harvey insists on owning everything. Which was exactly right. I’d love to do an American Splendor story but not if I’m just going to be considered a hired hand and certainly not for what people get paid to do an American Splendor story.
I think I must’ve misspoken on the Kevin Eastman Tundra thing. I don’t think he was ever really looking to me for advice about Tundra. I mean, he presented it that way. He flew all the way up here and sat and explained everything that he intended to do and showed me a list of about twenty or thirty projects and then, in the gathering silence, said with no small measure of affection, "Well, say something, y’son of a bitch." I think what he was looking for was to keep me from criticizing him before his experiment had a chance to work. In that way it was a lot like Larry Marder signing on as the public face of Image and asking me to give him the benefit of the doubt. He may have asked what I thought about his decision but if he did I doubt he was any more sincere in asking for an honest assessment than Kevin had been. In both cases I could see that they really wanted their decisions to be the right ones both for themselves as individuals and as shapers of comic-book history in the 1980s and 90s. In both cases I was hamstrung because they were presenting it to me as an "either/or" proposition. EITHER I had to leave them alone and give them time to make things work OR it would be my fault that they failed because I didn’t give them enough time. In both cases I just left them alone completely, didn’t say a critical word publicly and waited to see what Tundra and Image would bring to the table of creator’s rights. There was no way I was going to criticize and get left holding the bag as "the guy who ruined Kevin Eastman’s Tundra concept" or "the guy who wrecked Larry Marder’s transformation of Image" —even though, as Steve Bissette points out, that left me as an indirect Image apologist and backed into a corner of tacitly accepting Image as another form of self-publishing even as they were sprouting work-made-for-hire from every corner. Those are just the pressures that are brought to bear in those kinds of contexts when there’s something new on the scene—Image—and everyone has a different idea of how to take maximum advantage of this unique circumstance and the narrow window of opportunity accompanying it. I think Larry and I knew that Image was not going to stay as huge as it was so there was only so much time on the clock to try to steer it in some feasible ethical direction that would allow it to retain as much of its commercial lustre as possible while keeping it from repeating all the old industry mistakes. The key point was that the Image partners picked Larry as their guy. He applied for the job and he got it. He sacrificed Beanworld in a lot of ways for what he saw as the greater good of the comic-book field. The hard decision that he made was that the comic-book field needed a steady hand on the Image tiller more than it needed Beanworld. It’s certainly not a sacrifice I was prepared to make i.e. I’ll postpone the end of Cerebus for five years and devote those five years by applying for the job of trying to make Image Central work. Image was quantum levels of potential larger than Cerebus at the time. I either had to get out of Larry’s way and pay lip-service to the Image partners as self-publishers or become just another minefield that Larry had to tiptoe through. I think Image has made a valuable contribution in the fact that you can bring your book there and then take your book with you when you go without consequence. Was that important enough to get out of Larry’s way for a critical period of five years where other experiments might have been attempted? There’s no control group, but there’s no question that it made my job a lot tougher of trying to argue the case for self-publishing when all anyone wanted to talk about was Image which created this dichotomy of Big Important Self-Publishing—Larry Marder’s Image—and small unimportant self-publishing, Dave Sim’s Cerebus.
You’re rambling to a degree here Chris, but, yes I think there needs to be contributions from the guys with the track records of what works and what doesn’t and who have proven themselves (wherever they ultimately ended up) to being the "marathon men and workhorses" of the field. Unfortunately (unfortunately from my standpoint) most people in the comic book field put a much higher premium on being liked than they do on speaking out on things that need changing and looking at your list of names, I see more in the former camp than in the latter camp based on past track record. Which I completely understand. I can tell you from long and bitter experience that the surest way to get universally and venomously hated in the comic-book field—or the real world for that matter—is to suggest specific improvements for specific problems. Despite differing self-portrayals and widely believed mythologies, the comic book world and the real world are really, when you get down to brass tacks, not that different from high school. Most interaction centers on fitting in and finding the group that thinks the way you do so you can sneer at and feel superior to the people who don’t think the way you do while keeping your opinions vague enough and general enough that they can be adjusted to fit the group whichever way that group tends to drift. In my experience, not a lot of problems get solved that way and a lot of problems get created that way, so I tend to stick to what I see as problems and to keep offering what I see as solutions or at least a basis for beginning to discuss solutions or a basis for beginning to discuss discussing solutions. It never gets much further than that because that’s when people tend to start calling me names and dredging things up from twenty years ago that will make sure everyone knows that I’m one of the ones that is supposed to be sneered at and felt superior to. As I say, that’s no different now than it was when I was in high school. No one thought they were sneering at me as a means of evading discussion then any more than they do now. This is my latest attempt in the last twenty years to see if we can move past that point. So far, so good, but it’s early yet.
On the subject of BWS’ "Cerebus Dreams" story, I can’t imagine that he would object to my reprinting it and I certainly wouldn’t object to his reprinting it, or reprinting his covers from Swords of Cerebus in an Opus volume, nor would I object if he wrote to me and said, "Really, I’d rather that you didn’t reprint that story again" and I certainly wouldn’t press him for an explanation or try to argue him out of it. I may just be projecting my views onto him but I really don’t think BWS is in the category of people who think that way or that he would think that way about the story. I tend to think that because he sent me the original front cover from Swords a couple of years back. "Here, this is yours. I’ve been meaning to send it to you." I’m not sure I agree, but it wasn’t my call to make. If BWS thinks the original to that cover is mine, then I guess it’s mine—who better than BWS to judge? I just counted myself lucky that I got to print the story and the covers on a one-time basis. Anything past that point would be "pushing it" to me. Likewise the Sienkiewicz cover to Cerebus Jam which Kevin gave me as a present when he bought a lot of Bill’s work. It’s not something I would think of printing on my own just because it has Cerebus on it. It’s Bill’s picture. If he called me up and said, "Let’s do a poster," I’d say, "Great". If he called me up and said, "Never under any circumstances reprint that painting," I’d say "No problem." If I opened a coffee table book of Bill’s paintings and it was in there, I wouldn’t bat an eyelash even if it didn’t mention Cerebus, me or have a copyright notice attached. If Bill called me up and said, "Listen I want you to give me back that painting," I’m pretty sure I would. It’s Bill’s picture. I just ended up with it because Kevin gave it to me. I love it. I’m glad I have it but I don’t particularly feel any more ethically entitled to it than Bill thinks I am, so it’s entirely up to Bill.
Steve Bissette June 13
"Helloooo, Steverino!". Let me say that I really appreciate that you’re sticking it out with us here. There’s a nice invulnerability you have to the way you’re presenting your views this time around. A kind of "What are you going to do? Fire me?" Followed by a hearty belly laugh. Good show. We certainly need more of that in the field even if we have to get it from someone who left.
Returning to the issue of the "self-publishing movement," I think it’s worth pointing out that the first time I read the term was in Jeff Smith’s interview where he was expressing his reservations about being part of any self-publishing movement which is, evidently, what he was being led to believe was going on, but I concede willingly that we have no way of knowing if that had come out of his conversations with you, with Larry Marder, with James Owen, with Colleen Doran or if it was just a conclusion that he had come to on his own based on the evidence that he saw. I was certainly pushing self-publishing largely because that was what had the greatest level of interest behind it when I went back out in 1992 to do the 26-city promotional tour and then Campaign ’93. There just wasn’t any great level of interest in Cerebus either on the part of the stores or the customers. What I was seeing was a lot of self-publishers who all wanted me to help them, who seemed to believe that I was capable of helping them, so much of ’93, ’94 and ’95 was just capitulation to that. I can’t generate interest in Cerebus, so let’s move sideways a bit and generate interest in some of these self-publishers if that’s possible (which, in retrospect, I think they had more confidence I was capable of accomplishing than I did). I started doing the Previews in the back of Cerebus, cherry-picking—ratio of probably 1 out of every 50 books I was given—the books that were coming in the mail and that I was being given at conventions and trade shows. In retrospect, I should’ve stopped with that, made note of the advice I was dispensing over and over and over again and done the Guide to Self-Publishing. The Spirits stops were a "bridge too far" even though I still think that they were a good idea if for nothing else than reinforcing the awareness that "here’s what comics can be like without the super-heroes as the focus". It’s the reason that I go back to SPACE every year even though I could mount a persuasive argument that everyone there—including me and Ger—and the comic-book field in general would be better served if we all just stayed home and turned out a usable page on Friday and Saturday. There is something reinforcing about a roomful of people doing pure self-expression comic books. It was certainly something everyone remarked on, including yourself at the ACE incarnation in Manchester—how good it felt to know that all of these different individuals could be part of an event without losing any of their individuality while still being a part of something. Which I don’t think anyone does or ever has. No one has ever left SPX saying "Wow, I felt just like an interchangeable cog in the machine in there." So for Jeff to suggest that he was being made to be a part of some self-publishing "movement" just came as a total shock to me because the whole experience had been completely different from that for me and, so far as I knew, for everyone else. It started with Martin Wagner and I splitting a booth at the Capital City trade show in ‘93 and I never once thought at the time or since that either Martin or I lost our individuality in doing so. Our books were just too different. Likewise when I did later trade shows with Martin and Jeff and Colleen and James. You couldn’t find five more different comic books with five more different audiences. It would be ludicrous to think of it as a movement and I’d certainly be interested in hearing from some of the retailers who lined up for an hour to get our autographs and head sketches on our jam prints that we did if any of them thought that way. The impression that I got was that they each just thought it was cool to get an autograph and a head sketch on a specialty piece of artwork from five cartoonists all in one go. It was worth standing in line to get that. I certainly remember all of them treating us as individuals and not as a movement or a collective.
It’s certainly true that we don’t choose our historical contexts—your whole career is seen as sidenote to Alan’s and mine is as a marginal precursor to the Turtles and Bone but I think that sort of undermines the point that you seem to be trying to make that I should have expected the reaction that I got given Cerebus’ and my eminence in the field. So far as I know we didn’t have any eminence in the field then nor do we have any eminence in the field now and I think I have a pretty thorough paper trail of 1977 to 2004 to substantiate that view. It interests me that there is this recurrent syndrome in the field of everyone scrupulously maintaining my marginal "also-ran" status as a fitting punishment for my unpopular viewpoints until it becomes convenient in any given argument to make me into a legendary mega-celebrity, whereupon I get elevated to that and then just as rapidly demoted to marginal "also ran" status immediately after the point is made. The good news is that after eleven years I’m starting to get used to it.
I didn’t think you were getting off-track by describing Jeff’s Trilogy Tour and Image experiments—in fact, speaking as a marginalised precursor to Bone, I think that was very much the point. I did the Spirits stops and stayed independent and Jeff did the Trilogy Tour and went with Image and the impression that I got universally in the field was that Jeff’s choice was viewed as the right way to do things. That it was time—with Capital going out of business—for all of the self-publishers to sign up with somebody, to pick a real-world publishing dance partner. Jeff had picked Image so it was up to Dave to pick who he was going with. When I didn’t I was just dismissed as "yesterday’s man with yesterday’s viewpoints" my viewpoint that self-publishing was a valid choice and the work I had put into helping people in that context over the course of several years was basically thrown out the window (again) and declared completely invalid and a choice only for the marginalised "also-ran". Just as with the experience with Kevin with Tundra and with Larry with Image, it was time to put Dave’s "pie in the sky" opinions on the back-burner while we deal in a practical and hard-nosed and pragmatic fashion with where things are actually going. So Dave sits quietly on his back burner and eventually Terry and Jeff leave Image and go back to self-publishing and by that time years have gone by and Dave’s still sitting on his back burner waiting to find out how going to Image and then going back to self-publishing is something that we can all, you know, really learn something from and no one wants to discuss anything I’m suggesting because "that’s so early 90s" and all of my opinions are so obviously those of a marginalized also-ran and everyone knows that everything’s all better now that Image is here to stay. Fortunately I have a great sense of humour so I was always able to look on the funny side of being declared a marginalised also-ran and a pariah by an environment composed largely of people who in high school were considered pariahs. I mean how low can you get in the societal pecking order when you’re rejected and snubbed by comic-book geeks? I didn’t think at the time that the field could make it stick. They could marginalize me and make me into an also-ran, but they couldn’t marginalize self-publishing and make self-publishing into an also-ran choice for creators. So when Jeff and Terry left Image and went back to self-publishing, I was pretty confident that that had validated my viewpoint even though no one said anything and I was pretty confident that in another few years we might very well get back to the point where it might be time to discuss what I had been discussing before Jeff and Terry came along. And here we are, barely seven years later.
I don’t think I was "playing leader" in the Spirits editorials. I was just one guy labouring in self-publishing and trying to figure out how I could help all of these people who thought that I could help them and hoping that guys like Jeff and Terry would do the same kinds of things—pick young guys to preview in the back of their books and to do signings with at conventions and trade shows. Not a movement, just "here’s how I helped you—why don’t you help someone else the same way?" The only real militaristic editorial was the one where I depicted Larry Marder as a general because that was the closest that I could get to illustrating my objection to his theory that Image was self-publishing—in self-publishing you don’t have a hub that coordinates the differing viewpoints as Larry was doing at Image because the point of self-publishing is the development of the individual viewpoint by the individual and for the individual—without being seen as undermining Larry or being an impediment to the Grand Image Experiment. I didn’t think a general was a good idea and I didn’t think it fit self-publishing and I was waiting for Larry to either admit that Image had nothing to do with self-publishing so we could get back to discussing self-publishing or to explain how Image was self-publishing and why the Image model should either supersede individual self-publishing or be given equal credence. Which of course he never did, any more than Kevin ever enunciated what the point of Tundra was supposed to be. I got out of the way and waited for however long it was going to take for both Tundra and Image to revolutionize the comic-book field and said nary a discouraging word about either of them either privately (outside of our little cohort) or publicly. I mean, reading between the lines of your current posting, I think you knew a very different Larry Marder from the one that I knew. My Larry Marder was the one who phoned up horrified to tell me that Jeff Smith had chosen to take Bone to Image and who thought I would be devastated by the news (and which I always thought was more than a little disingenuous since he was talking to Jeff on an on-going basis and had been made the head of Image Central—even if he had convinced himself that he was only discussing Dave self-publishing versus Image self-publishing with Jeff in a purely hypothetical way…well, as I say, the term that leaps to mind is "disingenuous"). The Larry Marder you knew was apparently not quite such an innocent bystander/die-hard champion of self-publishing but was instead presenting Image as a sensible alternative to self-publishing. I certainly never saw any of that from Larry. What I got from Larry was that Image was self-publishing, just another permutation of it and that it could be made into something really, really good for cartoonists if he just had time to get all of the Image partners coordinated and familiar with all the creator’s rights issues on the table.
All that having been said, I would still have to give Larry very, very, very high marks for being the Creator’s Bill of Rights participant who most thoroughly instituted through individual effort and individual sacrifice a pure experimental form of one of the clauses, Clause 4, "The right of free movement of ourselves and our creative property to and from publishers" even though he had to knock me out of the game for a number of years in order to do so.
I would have to say that Larry’s experimental form, having presumably hatched out thoroughly over the intervening years, has resulted in Image becoming an avant garde/work-made-for-hire hodge-podge differing only from Eclipse or Dark Horse in the "free movement" policy (which to be fair, even Eclipse subscribed to to a degree—certainly cat and Dean didn’t get in the way of Terry and Max bringing Ms. Tree to Aardvark-Vanaheim). Not that there’s anything wrong with those hodge-podges, but I think individual self-publishing has at least as valid a claim to legitimacy as they do. We both have our anecdotal successes and our anecdotal failures.
Back to you, Mr. Bissette.
Eddie Campbell & his TCJ message board posts
Eddie and I are back on speaking terms and what a relief it is. And I certainly appreciate his taking the time and trouble to point out that I have never pointed anyone in the direction of mainstream book distribution. Also very nice of him to credit me with pointing him in the direction of self-publishing and to say that it was "Best thing I ever did was publish my own work. Not because it gave me more creative control but because I made more money." Am I the only one who thinks that Bloody Eddie Campbell is the only one who could get away with such an observation in the bowels of the Comics Journal’s message boards, The Land that Money Scrupulously Forgot? Also good was his eight-minutes-later afterthought to point out that distributors will ultimately try to make good on as much of what they owe you as they can while publishers tend to just vanish quietly in the night. Rest easy, Milton Griepp and have a nice day, John Davis. (Milton and John were the co-owners of Capital City Distribution and both stand-up guys).
I appreciate your views relative to the core of what comic books should be and I quite agree that the point is the telling of the stories and the audience that pays to read them. There is no question that the lion’s share of my time on Cerebus was spent trying to figure out how to draw better and how to write better, how to be more innovative and just plain "staying the course". The biggest pressure that I experienced originated from accidentally achieving a state of near-complete creative freedom and then realizing the level of obligation that that implied for me since there was no way to tell if I was only going to be one of a handful of people to experience it—or even more daunting, that I might do something so fundamentally wrong that it would cause the possibility to vanish as a potential choice for succeeding generations. No way that I wanted to Carry That Weight. It’s something you have to live up to every day, particularly when you’re one of the first to experience it and you realize that other people are going to be following in your footsteps. Ger and I did the drunken rock star phase to the hilt, but we also kept a monthly comic book on schedule and I’ll flatter us by saying that we kept the quality up over the course of it. The fact that there are still websites devoted to Cerebus a year and a half after it finished and a magazine devoted to it, I think, is a good testimony that the work itself and our direct connection with the audience never came second with us. In fact that’s one of the things that people tend to overlook when they try to portray Cerebus as a fluke. It was the only genuinely monthly comic that came out more or less on time with the same creative team from the early eighties to 2004 and I can say that as much as we were always a marginal presence in the field, the actual audience was always very, very hardcore. If Cerebus wasn’t their favourite thing in the world, it was easily in their top 5. I still advocate that as a recipe for success—don’t be craning your neck wondering where your next two thousand readers are coming from. Pay attention to the ones who are crowded around month-in and month-out and you’ll get the security from them that you’re always worried about losing.
All of what we are discussing here are the things that stand between you and your audience—at least potentially—and how we think they should be dealt with so the Work and the audience can always come first. My own view is that if you dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s way back at the beginning when the Work is all that exists and it hasn’t been reproduced yet and get the structure in place and tightened up then you can largely forget about it apart from day-to-day business rather than always having to deal with things that AREN’T the Work and that AREN’T the audience.
I learned very early that it’s always better to know than to not know. Knowing ahead of time can scare the pants off you, but it also helps you to make better decisions. Remaining ignorant of the issues that we all have to either confront or fall victim to (either/or, I’m afraid) will turn your hair white overnight at some point and leave you a doddering wreck. Suck it up and face it square on.
Hope that your French fry making hand is coming along nicely.
I really don’t think that paying employees in used cars makes Fantagraphics sound as f**ked up and unprofessional as you seem to be afraid that it does. It just sounds resourceful to me. I live at the back of the studio and offices and pay rent to Aardvark-Vanaheim which may sound unprofessional but to me just seems to make sense, rather than paying $500 a month or so to someone else for the same-sized premises. I went through my Presidential Suite at the Waldorf Towers period when that was what I needed to do. Now I’m in my "pennies a day" period when that sounds a lot better. There are a lot of good comic-book stores that wouldn’t be here today if they hadn’t gotten most of their employees at 50% off (that is, paid them most of their wages in comic books). We’re a very small environment that traffics in very small amounts of money for the most part. I think that’s a lot better than what you get when the civilians start to smell money (or think they do). I always try to remind myself that the last time civilians smelled real money in the comic book field, we had Techno Comics with their giant papier mache mailed fist with the lightning bolt and the dry ice and comic books written by Mickey Spillane and Leonard Nimoy and a wall full of plasma television screens with their images on them. I don’t think you can have a more persuasive argument that small is good than the fact that we don’t have things like that anymore—except next door in the (GAH!) video game industry.
I also agree that it’s hard to discuss a lot of this intelligently with everyone’s reluctance to discuss getting f**ked over with any specifics attached. But to me that makes it more worthwhile to continue to make the attempt. No, I don’t think Kevin Eastman would’ve discussed all the creators who did him dirt if you hadn’t provoked him into it. I can’t even imagine the level of disappointment/betrayal at trying to help that many people that generously and to have the vast majority just turn their backs on you. I hope that doing the interview was at least a little cathartic for Kevin. And certainly there’s no other magazine that would’ve devoted that much time and space to "what went wrong" which the Journal deserves major marks for. It’s not something that the CBG or Wizard would even have a frame of reference for, let alone seeing a reason to confront the failure of Tundra head-on. That idea that a failure like Tundra isn’t worth examining is certainly a scary proposition that bodes ill for the comic-book field and I am glad that we have one outlet that understands that sweeping all these things under the carpet and papering over all the cracks only postpones a monumental disaster, it does nothing towards averting it.
The Bill was drafted in its final form November 17, 1988 (since you asked). Reviewing it seventeen years later, I would have to say that simplistic and one-sided is a pretty cruel but pretty fair assessment. Just doing a quick run-through of the 13 clauses:
I would still go along with the "Right to full ownership of what we fully create" as an irrefutable factual observation of immediate post-creation reality of the Work when it hasn’t been assisted through collaboration or consultation. At the moment the auteur creates the Work, he or she owns it 100%, no question about it.
My own view at this point is that the natural second clause following on logically from the first clause would be "the right to reproduce the Work if it contains our work." Again, this could be signed away but I think it needs to be addressed in the pre-Work stage. Before you collaborate, establish whether each collaborator has the right to reproduce his or her own work and accept the fact that the one who has the right to reproduce the work—if only one of you does—is the Creator of Record. If you don’t specify then, you both have the right to reproduce the Work. It’s a right that you can opt out of by specifying that you opt out of it, but if you don’t specify then you have automatically opted in to the view that everyone that worked on the Work has the right of reproduction. If Chester Brown phones me tomorrow and says he wants to publish our jam story from the World Tour Book through Drawn & Quarterly, I’d just find out what format he wants it in and get Preney to provide it. If he wants to pay me, that’s fine. If he doesn’t want to pay me, that’s fine. I wouldn’t even ask. Same as I can phone Chet and say Aardvark-Vanaheim is going to publish our jam strip, I can pay Chet or not pay Chet as I choose. It’s not my story and it’s not Chet’s story, it’s both of ours, both of our work is on every page.
Clause 3, "The right to full control of the execution of that which we fully own". That’s the other side of the fence. That’s the Creator of Record clause, to me. That’s a Pete Laird/Richard Pini amendment. "I own it, so I get to tell you how to ink it if you’re inking it." Nothing wrong with that as long as it’s understood at the outset. I want you to work on MY book, but I’m paying you to do it MY way. If you don’t want to work that way (and I sure wouldn’t) then don’t work with someone like that. All that I’m suggesting here is that that be an opt-out that needs to be specified. If you work on "The Turtles Strike at Midnight" it is under Pete Laird’s direction and whatever rights you have are at Pete discretion, so you should make sure that you have a list of all the things that you are going to be giving up to weigh against the page rate and/or royalty that he’s offering. And, of course, the unspoken fringe benefits that go along with it. He’s more apt to fly you to a convention and put you up in a hotel room or buy you a great Christmas present than, say, DC is. But largesse is usually not something that you can get down on paper with any degree of specificity.
Clause 4 "The right to full control of the reproduction and format of our creative property." That one always seemed skewed to me. The right of approval, I could see but I don’t think you’re going to find too many publishers who are going to let you pick the size of your print run or substitute 80 lb. Kelmscott coated stock interiors for newsprint if they usually print on newsprint or decide that if you want your book printed two feet by three feet and hand-stitched in Italian leather that they’ll just have to bite the bullet and do it. But approval, I can see as a right. The publisher shows you what format your comic book is going to be printed in and if you want it different that should be negotiated before you get too much further along if you think it could be a deal breaker. But "control" I think is too one-sided. And it’s something that can be negotiated away. This is the format, take it or leave it.
If the format isn’t a big deal to you and that’s all that’s standing between you and the publisher signing an agreement then you might consider it a sensible trade-off. But it is worth having it specified as a right, I think, particularly today when there are adherents of the traditional format and adherents of the Manga format. If you really hate the Manga format, you better have the discussion with your publisher before you actually agree to publish through them and have a clear understanding that you don’t want your work done in the Manga format or any small paperback format. If the publisher isn’t willing to rule out either one, and you’re really opposed to them, then you’re probably negotiating with the wrong publisher and that’s worth knowing before negotiations get too far along.
Clause 5 - "The right to employ legal counsel in any and all business transactions."
The Miranda Right, I always thought of this one as. Scott—they haven’t committed a crime, they’ve written and drawn a comic book. All kidding aside, from personal experience, I really don’t think that a lawyer is going to be a great deal of help in terms of advice. Lawyers deal exclusively in currency so they tend to see contracts for artists as being a straightforward proposition of trading something useless and frivolous for actual dollars—as I say, the basis that the field has been structured on from the beginning. The Work isn’t worth anything until someone offers you money for it and then that’s what it’s worth. My own lawyer when I was negotiating with DC and asked him his opinion of their offer said, ‘They’re offering you $100,000. Have you got $100,000?" I allowed that I didn’t. "Do you want $100,000?" Implicit in this, to me, was that it would be foolish for me not to sign. The plain fact of the matter, however, is that no artist knows what the Work is worth and no amount of legal advice or advice from friends or family is going to tell him. I’m sure you could have bought the Turtles from Kevin and Peter for $50,000 back in 1985 or, anyway, for substantially less than what they went on to earn. It would only have seemed like a cagey deal for them until the Turtles started taking off and then they would have looked like world class putzes. Creators have to be aware of that. That’s why I keep holding out for an exhaustive list of everything that any comic book has ever been turned into. There. Potentially that’s what you’re selling, so be aware of it—and beware of it—that your contracts take that into account. IF this intellectual property turns out to be the next Peanuts or Superman or Turtles, I want upper-end thresholds commensurate with that intrinsic value. If the property grosses $100 million in a year, I get 50%. If the property grosses $8,000 I get substantially less. But it is unfair and unbalanced, to me, to just assume that if a property earns $100 million that the only beneficiary should be the publisher who paid $10,000 for it. I think we have to move beyond that. And then, maybe, in the eyes of God, we’ll deserve to get the next Peanuts or Superman or Turtles because we’ve made an effort to strike a fairer balance between the creator and the publisher based on what we have learned from our experiences to date. If we haven’t learned anything—and demonstrate that by negotiating in the same old-fashioned way publisher skewed way—then I don’t think we deserve any greater prosperity than we have and we are unlikely to become any more prosperous until we learn to behave better in a general way.
The Larry Marder/Image amendment, as I now think of it. This is one that I think needs to be substantially fleshed out around Gary’s core question: "So what did Kitchen Sink own? Nothing?" The "ourselves" I think needs to be deleted. No publisher is claiming to own a cartoonist in this day and age. You want to walk into the Marvel offices, you walk into the Marvel offices. You want to leave Marvel and go to DC, you grab a cab and head across town. You’re a human being so this is entirely legal, at least as far as the reception area. The issue isn’t the cartoonist, it’s the intellectual property and (I would venture to say) the negatives or the means of reproducing the work and the inventory of reproduced work. The Work in original form is a raw material and the container of the intellectual property and at some point—post-negotiation, post-contract (hopefully post-contract, although I think it is still one of comics’ dirty little secrets that a lot of contracts don’t actually show up until the Work is already well underway and that I think this is deliberately coercive on the part of the companies to make cartoonists more amenable to agreeing with things they might not actually agree with. "Oh, well, I’m not happy about it, but I’m already ten pages into drawing the story so I might as well sign it.") The Work multiplies into thousands or tens of thousands of small replicas of itself—which have a floating dollar value. At the point of replication, there’s the cover price which is the highest value, the retailer wholesale price which is the next highest value, the distributor wholesale price which is the next highest value, the cost per unit to the publisher which is the next highest value and the printer’s cost which is the lowest value. $3.00 at the high end and 30 cents at the low end. What happens to that dollar value depends on the response of the market over time. If the book is a hit a lot of stores are going to be selling the $3.00 book for $5.00 inside of a couple of weeks. If the book is a flop, the $3.00 book could be in "quarter bins" everywhere by the end of the month. Or it could be autographed and slabbed as a CGC Signature series edition and be selling for $50. It’s a pretty dramatic scale of dollar amounts with very wide fluctuations which resembles commodities stocks and unrated stocks a lot more than they do treasury bills, let’s say. And it’s one of the reasons that I think inventory is a core element of creator’s rights in the comic-book field. Part of my contract with Star*Reach way, way back when was the right to purchase copies of books featuring my own work either at cost or not much above it. I didn’t buy a lot of them, but I think I bought fifteen or twenty just to autograph and sell on my own. Buy a book for 25 cents and sell it for $1.25. Relative to what Mike Friedrich could afford to pay at the time in royalties, every little bit helped. As Ralph DiBernardo, an early Turtles patron, wrote recently in a commemorative edition of Turtles No.1 "There was a time that you could walk into any shop in Somersworth/Dover, NH and find a copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1. It was everywhere. The Hallmark store, the magazine store, the bookstore…everyone had them on consignment. Peter and Kevin just wanted to show people what they had done and repay the money they had borrowed. We all knew the story and liked these guys enough to help." Those are self-publishers who are working hard to get their work out there and get it noticed. The Turtles didn’t just happen on its own. It took a lot of hard work to get it to where it could happen. And that’s a good example of the power of inventory—being able to offer small bundles of copies on consignment and that’s something that even a non-self-publishing creator can do if he’s inclined to and interested enough to get it covered contractually: I have to be able to buy x number of copies of my own work at cost. The cards have to be on the table on this one because if, as an example, the quantities you can buy are left open-ended you can end up competing with your own publisher and beating his own wholesale price by having virtually no overhead and no middleman distributor and selling direct to stores. Short of that lunatic extreme, you can put your own work in on your own title, stocking all of the stores within driving distance and restocking them as needed. The average publisher isn’t going to do that because there are too many stores and he publishes too many titles. He makes his money off a small margin on each copy sold that makes labour-intensive sales-route restocking not cost effective for him. But as the creator of the Work, you have a larger vested interest in that specific title, your own issue no.1. If it flops for the publisher, he just throws five more intellectual properties at the wall and sees which ones stick this time. If it flops for you, you’re back to square one. And as I said in one of my earlier contributions that’s where inventory becomes a key factor. If the book flops, then there are 1,000 or 2,000 copies just sitting there gathering dust. If you haven’t specified your own stake in the inventory, you have no claim to it. Reading between the lines of Gary’s stand on inventory, Fantagraphics paid for it, so Fantagraphics owns it. But a lot of the Fantagraphics cash flow is tied up in that inventory, the cash flow which, by Gary’s own admission, is so constricted that that means by this point that they just take it as a given that they aren’t going to be able to pay their creators on time. Fair enough. If you’re a fatalistic artiste-type who just wants to leave all of the business to your publisher, then you’re well within your rights to just have all of your inventory sitting gathering dust and waiting for your publisher’s cash flow situation to improve so that he pays you (or, in the case of Tom Devlin, IF he pays you, as in EVER). What I am saying is that there’s no reason that you can’t negotiate ahead of time on the inventory in a way that allows you access to it so that you can (just to cite one example) autograph copies and sell them for a premium price at conventions. It really depends on how hungry you get. I’m not, to reiterate, talking about Neil Gaiman and Frank Miller here. But if you’re a creator and your last quarterly royalty statement amounted to $480.13 and all your publisher could afford to pay you was $100 of that amount, eight months after publication and owe you the rest, then you are leaving money sitting on the table. Or if you aren’t a sullen, pale-skinned misanthrope who never gets out of the basement but instead a go-getter ambitious kind of cartoonist (unlikely you’d be working at Fantagraphics, but still…) who isn’t content to just sit and watch your book hit the wall and stick…a bit…and then slid down but decide that you’re going to promote your book to all of the stores in your area. Well, if you’ve negotiated an "at cost" deal like I had at Star*Reach that puts the inventory in your hands as you need it. You can give all the copies away and just call it a 30 cent loss on each one or you can sell them at a better discount or sell them on consignment or (let’s not rule this one out) use them as part of a sample package to solicit job offers and contracts from other publishers. I repeat: How hungry are you? If you’re hungry but you’ve just given up, well, you’re hungry but you’ve just given up. There’s really not much to be done but sit by the mailbox and wait to see if you get another royalty check someday.
So that wasn’t even addressed in Northampton in 1988, but I think when you are talking about free movement, you’re going to have to accept the fact that with most publishers you’re going to have to try for something more along the lines of "low-cost movement". "How do I ensure that I have the means of reproducing the Work if I decide to take it elsewhere?" coupled with "How do I ensure that I have access to the inventory of my books for promotion and to supplement my income and to make sure that I salvage something if the book flops miserably for my publisher?" The time to think about these things seriously is pre-Contract, not when you get your contributor’s copies in the mail or when you find out that issue 4 isn’t actually coming out because issue 3 sold so badly. The mechanism should be in place at that point to say, "Okay, this is a disaster, but I still have confidence in the book and what I need to do is to get enough copies of 1, 2 and 3 so I can get out there and promote them—and me—on my own." If you have it in your contract, that can just get triggered by the publisher choosing not to publish issue 4. "Failure to publish all four parts of the Work will trigger a reversion to the cartoonist of x percent of current inventory on all parts published to date with shipping costs to be split between the cartoonist and publisher." If it’s not in there, you are going to be very, very, very low on your publisher’s list of priorities. He will be busily throwing other book at the wall where your book failed to stick and how thick the dust is getting on your back issues is not something he’s going to be lying awake worrying about.
So, yes, believe it or not, I see all of those things as being "of a piece" with free movement of an intellectual property and a key element of creator’s rights in the comic-book field.
Clause 7- "The right to offer a proposal to more than one publisher at a time."
I would be interested to know what the state of play is on this one today because I was somewhat gob-smacked to find out back in 1988 that this was verboten at the time and that publishers got genuinely offended if you had the temerity to shop something to Marvel and to DC and to Eclipse and to First at the same time. This just seems like common sense. If I’ve got a four-issue mini-series I want to get started on, I’m going to want to have as many publishers looking at it at the same time as possible so that I can, you know, get started on it. When I was negotiating with DC for the rights to Cerebus, I got the impression that they kept waiting for me to panic and call them because I hadn’t heard back from them whereas I just saw that as a sophomoric stalling tactic to undermine my opinion of my own bargaining position. A year would go by and then I’d suddenly get a letter "Oh, hey. We’re not really sure who dropped the ball on this one, but we’re still interested." Well, excuse me if that doesn’t fill me with confidence. You’re supposed to be courting me and it takes you a year to answer my counter-proposal? The only way to eliminate that is competition and that means offering the same package to as many different people as possible and then wait to see who you hear back from. I’d really like to know if that sends shivers of apprehension through the freelance community ("Oh, NO, Dave—you can NEVER, NEVER offer a package to one publisher until another publisher has definitely turned it down") or not.
Clause 8 - "The right to prompt payment of a fair and equitable share of the profits derived from all of our creative work."
So nebulous as to be non-existent. Define "prompt" in specific calendar terms, "fair" and "equitable," in terms of specific dollar amounts and "profits" with specifics in terms of net and gross and what constitute both and you might actually be saying something. As it stands it depends on who you are asking as to what is fair and equitable and what is prompt. Gary Groth has frankly admitted that as far as second-string publishers like Fantagraphics are concerned "prompt" is a creator delusion. You’ll get paid when the money is there and there’s no telling when that will be. To me, this dovetails with
Clause 9 - "The right to decide how our creative property is distributed."
As a personal sidenote to Clauses 8 and 9, the extended payment terms that you find in mainstream bookstores is the third biggest reason that Ger and I stick with the direct market and have no interest in pursuing ‘pie in the sky’ in the mainstream book market. The main two reasons tied for first place are a) the comic book stores are what have gotten us to the level of success we have now and it seems incredibly disloyal to thank them by essentially throwing in our lot with their biggest deep-pockets competition who intend to steamroll them and b) it’s better to have a small reliable environment to call your own as we do in the comic-book field than to participate in the larger environment where you’re little more than a pimple on someone’s backside. We certainly don’t get gargantuan orders from the Diamond Star System, but we can rely on the fact that Diamond will pay for the books pretty close to 30 days later. Occasionally 60, but usually closer to 30. The same can’t be said of mainstream book distribution where—not only are you not likely to get paid in the narrow time frame of 30 days—90 to 120 days are more common, you are also going to have to "eat" a lot of solid returns that are apt to be ‘un-sellable’ in the direct market when you get them back. In terms of creator’s rights, this is another thing I think creators should be aware of. If your publisher has to print twice as many copies of your book as he has orders for in order to be able to fulfill his mainstream bookstore distribution commitments and have enough of an overage to throw away when they are returned in a scuffed and battered form, those are fixed costs that come out of your share of the revenues as much as they do your publisher’s. If you’re throwing away a big chunk of your print run—which is a given in the mainstream book market—the cost per unit of each book goes up which means there is less profit per book and consequently a smaller royalty for you. So the next time you get a charge out of seeing a copy of your graphic novel in Barnes & Noble just remember that if that book doesn’t sell in the narrow window Barnes & Noble is going to give it, it’s basically just garbage at that point and the cost of producing it is going to be coming out of your royalties with no "back end" revenue to offset the loss. So, at the very least, in terms of creator’s rights, you should be aware of what you don’t know. You don’t know what your publisher’s agreement is with his mainstream bookstore distributor, you don’t know how economically viable your mainstream bookstore distributor is (nor does your publisher). You can sign with a publisher and the next week he can jump to another mainstream book distributor so even if you had some information on the set-up you were buying into that can all change without notice. I’m still convinced that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. I’d rather sell fewer books through Diamond reliably than sell five times as many books and find out four months later that my distributor can’t afford to pay me or that I have to eat solid returns equal to the number of books that I sold, thus effectively doubling my printing bills and halving my revenues on the offhand chance that one or two of the Cerebus trades is going to become a minor hit at Barnes & Noble. Even if it does, mainstream bookstores change their "product mix" more often than normal people change their underwear. Even if High Society is still flying off their shelves, if their buyer who has a fixed amount of graphic novel space decides that Manga Girl Go! is the next hot thing, Manga Girl Go! is going to take over your slot. Does the same thing happen in comic book stores? Sure, but instead of 1 buyer there are 4700 buyers. Each comic-book store decides on its own product mix. If 4600 stores all decide never to carry Cerebus again, we can make a very good living with the remaining 100 stores who will essentially get all of the business that everyone else has passed on and we’ll actually end up getting more attention by being a big seller in 100 stores instead of selling a handful of copies in 4700 stores. Those just seem to me like much better odds than counting on one buyer to keep our sales figures up in thousands of stores. Even Stephen King doesn’t get 100% support. Check and see how many of King’s titles are stocked in your local Barnes & Noble the next time you’re in and then compare that to the number of books that he’s written that are technically still in print. That’s what happens when you have one buyer making decisions for thousands of stores. Out of twenty books King might have in print, only four of them are in stock in Barnes & Noble.
This also seems to me one of the more persuasive arguments in favour of self-publishing. If you’re a self-publisher, you can choose to sell exclusively through Diamond, FM and Cold Cut with hopes for other distributors coming on the scene somewhere up ahead and basically reject any and all offers from mainstream book publishers. If you’re just a cartoonist under contract that is not apt to happen even if I’ve persuaded you with my argument that the direct market is a more reliable bet. Whatever publisher you’ve signed with, the odds are he will be either dabbling or up to his eyeballs in the mainstream book market. He might even be dabbling before you sign and then up to his eyeballs shortly after you sign which means you’ve basically bought a pig in a poke and have no share in the decision-making of how your work is distributed.
Clause 10 - "The right to prompt and complete return of our artwork in its original condition."
I’d probably include "…and compensation for any lost or damaged artwork at current market value as determined by a third party specializing in original art sales selected jointly by the artist and publisher". I don’t think you’d ever find a publisher to sign that, but I still think it is fair particularly given that even with a minor hit of a book the market value of the original art is always going to outstrip the market value of the reproduced work. We have to sell a few dozen copies of Church & State to generate the same revenues we can generate through the sale of a single page from Church & State.
Clause 11 - "The right to full control over the licensing of our creative property."
Again, I think the only way to bring home just how important this is, is to develop an exhaustive list of everything that a comic book has been turned into over the years. Unless you have a complete checklist, I don’t think any creator is actually going to have an idea of what is involved in full control over the licensing of their creative property or how many rights you can retain and how many rights you can share with your publisher if you have what amounts to a "line item veto". If you just have a blanket agreement that specifies a 10% royalty on each item sold, you can be giving up 90% of the revenues on something that you care passionately about and retaining 10% on others you really couldn’t care less about. The only way to know which of your hundreds and hundreds of potential licenses are important to you is to have a complete list of them in front of you, in my view.
Clause 12 - "The rights to full and accurate accounting of any and all income and disbursements relative to our work."
This is another instance where I think the argument for self-publishing is persuasive. The only way you are going to have full and accurate accounting is if you have all the financial records. A royalty statement does not amount to a full and accurate accounting. A royalty statement is what a publisher says is a full and accurate accounting. On the rare occasions that I negotiated for foreign reprints of Cerebus, I always specified that a separate corporation would have to be set up which I would jointly own with the foreign publisher so I could be sure that I was getting an accurate accounting because only the legal owner of a business gets an accurate accounting of that business. Otherwise how do I know how many copies of Cerebus Das Aardvarkenfrugen No.1 were printed? How do I know if there was a second or third printing? How do I know what they paid to print them, what discount they sold them at and how much, as a result, I was owed? I don’t think it will astonish anyone to find out that no one agreed to this but it just seemed to me ridiculous to accept a cheque for $100 US just so I could say that Cerebus was "hot in Helsinki."
Clause 13 - "The right to promote and the right of approval over any and all promotion of ourselves and our creative property."
The right to promote is one thing, the right of approval of promotion is another. The idea of buying up your own inventory and getting out there and hustling those books to anyone who’ll give you a fair hearing, that’s going to be a big plus, as is using your autograph and your website and network of contacts to get the word out seems to me not only a right but an obligation on the part of creators if they sincerely want their books to happen.
The right of approval over promotion, to me, is one of those rights that sound good on paper but—apart from self-publishing—you just aren’t going to find happening. A publishing company is a belief system as much as it is anything else—a very incestuous belief system that consists of equal parts navel-gazing and self-adoration ("Publishers of the World’s Greatest Cartoonists" gives you some idea of the lunatic core of this reality). If the company has a promotion department or a publicist, that promotion department and/or publicist are only going to exert any kind of promotional elbow grease on behalf of you and your work if you share completely and unthinkingly in their navel-gazing and self-adoration. You go to their church, they don’t go to yours. If they are left to decide how to promote you and your work and if your adoration of their choices and approaches matches their own, they will give it the old college try, Pink Floyd’s "It could really be a monster, if we all pull together as a team." If you try to dictate to them how you think you should be promoted and how your work should be promoted, you upset the navel-gazing and self-adoration applecart. They can’t give full effort on your behalf if they’re bummed and if you prefer your own ideas to theirs, you can pretty much count on the fact that they will be bummed about you and your work. And a lot of times they’re going to be right. If they have any kind of track record in promotion (which, presumably they do or they wouldn’t still have the job) it’s usually because they have the same capacity for Lowest Common Denominator thinking that is the foundational core of Family Feud. That sort of thinking is usually not an attribute of your average artist and it really runs on the fossil fuel of collectivist exuberance. I’d say you’re going to get a lot further in collaborating and consulting and coordinating with the company on your promotion: Here’s what you’re going to do and here’s what the company is going to do. But I think you have to be aware going in of the fragility of the egos involved. I mean, you have your creative chips all riding on twenty pages of art and story. They have all of their creative chips riding on a single five-word slogan and accompanying image. Get in there and influence their choices early in the proceedings and then bite your tongue and be enthusiastic about whatever they come up with.
Clause 13 - "The right to control advisory labels on our creative property."
That was an interesting one to watch evolve. I mean all of the high-profile freelancers drew a line in the sand back in the 80s—no labels, no negotiation. And then late in the 90s the idea got fashionable again and a number of publishers started labelling their books and no one said boo. And then most of the labels just disappeared shortly after that.
Interesting business. Personally I am opposed to advisories and I would never put any on my own books. Except maybe NFNF:CE—"Neither Fish Nor Fowl: Caveat Emptor."
Gary & Steve
Hate to be the lone dissenter, but I think we might be the ideal people to be discussing these issues. If Gary doesn’t actually have an undisputed reputation as the ne plus ultra of Publishers of Integrity, he at least has his own website which helps to create the illusion/reality that that’s what he is and he certainly has a very vocal constituency to help support that illusion/reality. I mean who else would you pick to epitomize the publisher viewpoint if you are, as most in the comic-book field are, inclined to favour the idea of publishers over self-publishers? It would be nice to see Chris Staros or Chris Oliveiros—Gary’s nearest competitors in the Publishers of Integrity category (at least for those whose awareness of the comic-book field transcends MarvelDCDarkHorseImage)—participating here, but that doesn’t seem to be happening so why not just take it as a given that Gary Groth represents the Best Essence of What a Publisher Can Be and is consequently well-positioned to finally deal a death blow to the ludicrous pretensions of self-publishing that any self-publisher is worthy to so much as bask in the shadow of the Publisher of Integrity?
And, let’s face it, Gary and Kim’s magazine and website have been eminently successful in sneeringly labelling me as the "guru of self-publishers" and getting the comic-book field to sneer along with them—as Steve has suggested I think there’s a persuasive argument to be made that the destruction of my reputation came about in no small part because of my portrayal in the Comics Journal and more perniciously on the Comics Journal message boards which, although I’ve never read them myself, seem to fall along the high school template—the best way to be "in" is to join the vilification and ostracism of whomever is "out" and in that context there is no one further "out" than yours truly. So, failing any participation from Terry Moore or Batton Lash or Carla McNeil, maybe for the sake of argument here in this venue, I should just accept in this exceptional circumstance that I Represent self-publishing and that I am the Best Essence of What a Self-Publisher can be. I don’t believe that, but purely for the sake of argument let’s let it stand.
And then I think Steve’s presence is distinctly beneficial, again, because he has nothing to lose in the comic book field. He’s already lost everything and left—to sustain the metaphor, he doesn’t go to our high school anymore—so there aren’t many ways that you could successfully level the accusation at him of hedging his bets or pulling his punches because of a hidden agenda or unenlightened self-interest. And, perhaps more importantly for the sake of honest discussion of the issues, no one in the comic book field at this point can damage him in his life in the retail video field. No one in the retail video field could give a rat’s ass what anyone in the comic-book field—fan or professional—thinks (relatively speaking our high school is just too pathetically small and too far away from town to worry about who is considered top dog around here) and I can’t think of any healthier presence to have in a discussion than someone whose ox simply can’t be gored. As Old Joe said in A Christmas Carol, "We’re all well met."
I think one of the things that I’d like to see happen is to stop this disingenuous appeal for hard information as a tactical means of bypassing rather than refuting the accuracy of general observations. As Gary himself has pointed out, no publisher is going to go public with being f**ked over because he doesn’t want to burn any bridges and no creator is going to go public with being f**ked over because he doesn’t want to burn any bridges.
I completely agree.
I think that’s irrefutable.
Even if you suggest that people post anonymously, the odds are too great that Publisher X is going to recognize the anecdote being recounted and Creator Y is going to take it in the neck for breaking the code of silence. This is the reason that I’ve suggested the approach that I’ve suggested—given that we can’t get any specifics on the table, I think it makes sense to back up from the specific to the general. I mean, it’s certainly very funny when Gary makes his allusion to Jack Lemmon in The Out-of-Towners about taking down names of who these publishers are (I laughed when I read it, anyway), but I think it worth pointing out that it’s a rhetorical tactic of misdirection which leads the reader to misconstrue what he’s laughing at. The inference Gary intends to be drawn is that—because we can’t give him a list of names—that that means we’re just so many paranoid Chicken Littles anguishing about the sky falling or that we’re blowing a single anecdotal example of an idiotic—rather than unscrupulous—publisher into an industry-wide crisis which, in turn, makes it very easy to give up on the discussion because the fact that the information is hidden from view can be construed as meaning that there probably isn’t a problem. And turn those who consider that there might be a problem into a joke definitely hits the high school hot button. Everyone laughed about Gary’s s**t list joke, so people who think that way are the "outs" so I better not think that way if I want to be one of the "ins". Whereas what I’m advocating is to take it as a given that we have no idea of the extent of the problem and to formulate a template agreement/Manifesto agreement for creators that covers every imaginable eventuality so that when each individual enters into negotiation with a publisher or with another creator, now or in the future, he or she is armed with a checklist of his or her inherent rights as a creator or co-creator of a given Work and, therefore, has a basis for negotiation. It could very well be that Gary Groth would say of a final document that Fantagraphics doesn’t believe in Clauses 9 through 15. It doesn’t matter who you are, short of Neil Gaiman or Frank Miller, you’re not going to get Clauses 9 through 15 in your contract at Fantagraphics. So, if the hypothetical clauses 9 through 15 are important to you—deal-breakers as far as you’re concerned—then you shouldn’t consider signing with Fantagraphics. Likewise Dan Vado could say, "Slave Labor is the only company that agrees with Clause 22." If Clause 22 is a deal-breaker for you, then your choices are going to be limited to signing with Slave Labor or self-publishing.
I think—I hope—this strikes a balance. It isn’t collective bargaining which I, personally, find abhorrent and counter-productive. The companies aren’t being given a list of union demands that are being portrayed as non-negotiable even though the membership might be sharply divided on whether they should be non-negotiable. It’s just providing a checklist of inherent rights and taking it as a given that all of them are negotiable by each individual cartoonist in each individual negotiation. You make up your own mind about which are a hill to die on and which aren’t.