Greg Rucka Gets Increasingly Candid About Work For Hire Conditions, Debunks Another Myth

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By Todd Allen

Rucka 199x300 Greg Rucka Gets Increasingly Candid About Work For Hire Conditions, Debunks Another MythIn a rare instance of a DC/Marvel creator being candid about how they perceive the environment, Greg Rucka has given something very close to an exit interview to Mark Millar’s CLiNT magazine.  The upshot, to paraphrase Popeye, he’s had enough and enough is too much.  His final straw at Marvel was The Punisher joining a team and finding out about it after the fact.  (I’d have to agree that seems out of character for Rucka’s take on the character.)A few quotes, courtesy of the Mighty Johnston Transcription Service:

 I’m sick to death of the way the Big Two treat people.

I gave seven very good years to DC and they took gross advantage of me.

Despite what the publishers say, their  interest in the talent is minimal now, the interest is only in promoting the financial worth of their properties. That was not the case as of two or three years ago, when there was an ‘Exclusives war’, but that’s all gone by the wayside now. Ultimately, they are saying, “We don’t need you,’ because they can get a million more just like you.

There’s more to the interview than those pull quotes.  Rucka is no martyr and fully acknowledges that the characters are owned by corporations and said companies have every right to try and maximize their revenues.  (Technically, they have a responsibility to their shareholders to maximize revenues.)  He’s just grown weary of the game and doesn’t like how he perceives it to be played right now.

And if you look at the recent influx of creators over at Image, he’s probably not the only one thinking it.  He may be the one saying it most bluntly, though.  Seems like an awful lot of people, particularly the writers are looking to spread their options around a little.

Now, in other threads the question of whether or not graphic novel collection / tpb sales can save a comic from cancellation.  Rucka takes that topic head on:

Dan DiDio has gone on record, and this is the same man that said Gotham Central would never be cancelled as long as he was there, telling people what a great book Gotham Central was, but it never made any money.

Well, take a look at your trade sales! That book has made nothing but money as a trade. What I’m now being told is, ”lt was never worth anything to us anyway.”So, you know what? They can stop selling the Batwoman: Elegy trade and stop selling the Wonder Woman trades and everything else I’ve done, because clearly I’ve not done anything of service and those guys aren’t making any money off me.

Now, that’s just one man’s experience, but this backs up the theory that long tail income from the book trade is of secondary importance at best.  Is reasoning based on the different cash flow of the book trade from the monthly serial?  Is it considered more of a risk to wait for the collected edition to push a series into the black?  IIRC, when they re-worked the Vertigo contracts a while back, they changed the royalty structure of the collected editions so they needed to finish earning out the page rates from the monthly comics.  There are different interpretations of this.

Still, that’s a check mark for titles at DC living and dying by their monthly (dare I say quarterly statement) sales.

Comments

  1. LobsterAfternoon says:

    More power to Rucka for doing what he wants AND speaking out about it. But I do have to say, finding out that your superhero is joining a superteam doesn’t seem like that big a deal. Spider-Man appears in a bunch of comics every month, sometimes he’s in NY, sometimes he’s with the FF in another dimension, sometimes he’s in Genosha fighting the X-Men. We suspend disbelief to accept that, so why not Punisher on a team? But as I said, Rucka is a talented dude who can likely sell stuff on his name alone, so he should write what he wants for who he wants.

  2. Thomas Wayne says:

    This should surprise no one. When the bottom falls out of the “super hero comic” movie boom…and believe me…it will…its only a matter of time..it might be 25 years from now but it will fall apart….when the bottom falls out and all they have is the “husk” of great characters who have been destroyed by shitty writers who are only employed because they follow strict editiorial orders this is when we might have great writers continually working on telling great stories with these characters…until then…corporate ass sucks like DiDio (and sadly, perhaps Johns and the rest of them) will make decisions based on what best sets up a potential movie and not what tells the best story. Shitty or not, the movie will make some money and in the end all that really suffers will be the die hard fans who want to read great monthly adventures…but sadly can’t because great writers like Rucka have been phased out for hacks who follow guidelines for storytelling based on action figure sales>
    SO SO SAD….

  3. Thomas Wayne says:

    And speaking of hack writers..lol…this is where I shamelessly plug my new comic project on Kickstarter.com…

    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/862578057/frank-miller-vs-occupy-wall-street-vs-zombies-hell

    That’s right…Frank Miller vs Occupy Wall Street vs Zombies…

    It will be as cool as the title sounds…I hope I can get you all to help back it and make it something big…

    And maybe I can get the Beat to do a story on it…we shall see…

    Thanks again for checking it out…

  4. faustino perez says:

    The Punisher has always been an odd character for the 616 Universe. He actually kills people. He’s not really appropriate for a team book. Sooner or later, someone is going to point at him and say “WHAT’S HE DOING HERE? He’s killed more men than Hell has souls.” I’d reckon he doesn’t even belong in the 616 Universe. Garth Ennis’ MAX series is the final word on Frank.

  5. So not comic book related (well, kinda, according to this story) but does anyone else think this sentence – “Technically, they have a responsibility to their shareholders to maximize revenues.” might be what’s wrong with 99.5% of all corporations/business today? I mean, customers? – A product to be proud of? – Loyalty? Nah, it’s ALL about the shareholders gettin’ richer.

    Someone just needs to shut Wall Street down. (I can’t believe I just had a Wall Street rant, but I so did.)

  6. Richard Watson says:

    So when Rucka speaks out he gets lauded for it but when Liefeld does the same he gets abused for it?

    Double-standards much?

  7. Rebecca Martin says:

    I don’t see where Rucka went after other creators or engaged in personal attacks on individuals, Richard, do you?

    Liefeld may feel vindicated, but what got him so much grief was getting personal with Snyder and other creators — that’s what made it look ugly as it did.

  8. jonboy says:

    For me, it wasn’t as much as Liefeld attacked Snyder (who can easily defend himself with his sales numbers), but how he attacked his editor and the other creative talent that were working on his books. Liefeld even had the audacity to call other artists’ hacks. That’s what made Liefeld’s exit so ugly and distasteful.

    As far as sales numbers:
    It’s simple numbers:
    Monthly comics sales still far outweigh the trade sales.
    A comic sells 50,000 issues a month. Do you know how long it takes to sell that many copies of the trade? Decades. If ever.
    Usually the trades sell between 2000 to 5000 copies and that’s it.

    It’s an extremely rare title that sells more in trade than in issue. Extremely rare. As in there’s probably less than 100 trades that have sold more copies in their lifetime than they sold in the 1 week that they were available as a floppy. (And 20 of those are Walking Dead volumes.)

    Floppies are still the predominant form.
    So of course “book trade is of secondary importance at best”.

    Don’t know why that’s so shocking.

  9. The angry fanboys are gonna love this. The more writers Marvel and DC lose, the better chance they have of finally getting their Spider-Man in Hell epic published!

  10. Annie says:

    Rucka says:
    “There was at least a period where I felt that the way they wanted to make money was by telling the best story they could; now the quality of the work matters less than that the book comes out. There is far less a desire to see good work be done.”

    I may be reading this wrong, but is he complaining that the company that hired him is putting a priority on punctuality?

    I would imagine both companies would love a great book that also comes out on time.

  11. Johnny Memeonic says:

    It’s good for a lot of these creators to go out on their own to tell the stories they want to tell. There will always be people out there that just want to write DC/Marvel super-heroes and that’s fine.

    Whatever everyone wants to do.

    I think it will be better that way because, quite frankly, some of the “mature” storytelling creators have applied to super-heroes were totally unsuited to the genre and kind of embarrassing.

  12. I wonder how his 52 writing collaborator Geoff Johns feels about how Rucka was treated by DC, considering Johns is now an executive at the company.

  13. @Nathan, don’t blame Wallstreet for DC and Marvel pissing off creators. Profit is not the problem. What most people don’t realize is profit is extremely important. Profit pays people’s salaries, keeps products you enjoy flowing and MOST importantly it pays for everything we enjoy via taxes schools, welfare, Medicare, etc. Sure capitalism has problems but at the end of the day Profits pay for everything. Don’t believe that anti-Wallstreet nonsense, you like your iPhone? Yeah, that’s right capitalism and profits built it. iPhone’s are especially handy when you are “tweeting” about your arrest and fighting the wallstreet machine in a beautifully American fit of self-promotion…..

  14. I’m surprised….erhm….at his surprise? I’d much.rather read a Rucka creator owned book and he.certainly has the name power to make that happen, if you dont like the way you’ re being treated on a corporate owned character then use your talent on something you own

  15. jaroslav hasek says:

    technically a company has a feduciary responsibility to maximize shareholder value, not revenues. as such, there are plenty of consumer obsessed public companies that trade at a premium based on traditional revenue multiples. amazon being a “prime” example of one.

    not to say that Marvel or DC are necessarily implementing the best strategy. i can only guess from the vantage of armchair executive.

  16. Chris Hero says:

    I own a bunch of stocks and do ok off of them. Not a single one of the companies I own stock in has any responsibility to make me money nor have any of them ever expressed themselves as having that responsibility. When they talk about responsibility to their “shareholders,” they mean the people who sit on the board of directors. As an outside investor, I’m just buying shares on the hope my investment will make me some money.

    And Liefeld had every right to go after everyone at DC. He’s sold more comics based on his own properties than anyone there save possibly Jim Lee. Liefeld’s also an extremely talented editor. I think the problem is he knew what he was talking about….

  17. Charles Knight says:

    “The Punisher has always been an odd character for the 616 Universe. He actually kills people. He’s not really appropriate for a team book.”

    It’s worse than that – The Punisher is a character who’s ‘superpower’ is that he kills people – and he lives in a universe where people don’t stay dead, so he’s a putz.

  18. Avari says:

    The implication of trades not being worth much is a real shame. I almost exclusively buy in trades nowadays because I hate trying to store single-issues safely. A lot of fans I know do the same.

  19. Mark Fuller says:

    I think there’s a fundamental industry problem which sees creators try to apply an authorial, creator-owned sensibility to work producing company owned product about brands. The result is often unsatisfying work – the sensibilities of people with pretensions of being great writers does not necessarily lend itself to stories about colourful characters engaging in battle.

    The answer? Big companies should stop employing people as ‘creators’ and start employing them as ‘craftspeople’ – working on order to develop product in accordance with corporate (not their own) priorities. The ‘creators’ can then apply their skills where they are best suited – creator owned original properties. Of course they will have to succeed without the profile generating powers of a corporate marketing machine, the benefits of which are sometimes forgotten in the sanctification of creator owned successes…

  20. Nick Spencer says:

    @jonboy

    Not picking on you here, as I see this kind of point made a lot, but… that’s not accurate. There are plenty of books that sell far more in trade than singles. Morning Glories is one of them. And it really doesn’t take decades to hit 50k on trades.

    This thinking comes from the over-emphasis on the monthly charts rather than an appreciation for the ‘slow and steady’ performance of many titles on the bookshelves rather than the rack. When you see a trades chart saying 5k orders, that’s just a beginning. From there, small incremental orders can carry for ages, until you’re 10x past that in a few years time. And this is at a higher price point using material that’s already been paid for at the single issue level in many regards.

    This is, I think, a really valuable point Greg makes here, and that Eric Stephenson makes a lot, that we need more sustainable books with longer lives on the shelf. I’d much, much rather have a trade that moved 50k in 3 years than a first issue that moved 50k but on a book with a short lifespan as a collection.

    Too much focus on first-week numbers is the bottom line. Many books that are considered weak or midlist sellers are actually the heavyweights in the big picture.

  21. John Shableski says:

    For Jonboy(and a few others) selling trades into the book market is a science unto itself. It requires marketing campaigns that most comics publishers dont understand. If your expectation as a publisher is to sell only a few thousand copies of a trade after the series has run, then there’s not a lot of effort involved. But in order to get a book some serious traction there is a lot effort required. Planning/developing the market for this should begin when the series is in production and comics are selling into the direct market. Publication dates of the trade really should coincide more with traditional elements. For instance, if you have a book about vampires, the best opportunity to sell that book begins September 1st-this is when the book needs to be on the displays. For Christmas time, the books need to hit displays right after Halloween.
    Publishers and creators also need to do more to market and promote their books. This is an equal effort program. Creators cant assume the publisher will do ALL the heavy lifting and publishers need to do more than hope someone will ask for a review copy.
    As a creator, this is your product and you should want to make sure everyone knows it exists.
    McDonald’s tells you every six weeks they have something to eat. Rolex tells you about their watches every November, Ford reminds you they have the best trucks on a quarterly basis.
    Your book should be no different. Dont wait for people to find it and dont believe for one single moment that success in the direct market means automatic success in book trade. Also, you cannot simply assume the success of a movie will mean success for your book. You have to TELL people everywhere about your book.

    Even if you are part of a team for one of the Big Two series, and you have some sort of stake in the story, promote it to and beyond the direct market.

    If you talk about and promote your book whenever and where ever you can, you will sell more than 2,000 copies.

    Then again, I just might be crazy…

  22. John Shableski says:

    As for creator branding on projects? That looks like it will be a different game for a while to come. For now, it feels like all the marketing efforts(by the publishers) will focus on characters while the creative teams become less of a selling point. So you have the option of the ‘work for hire’ programs or now go independent and sell your projects via places like deviantART, or Keenspot or crowd funding elements like Comics Accelerator or Kickstarter.

  23. Nikoli says:

    If all of this results in more “Queen and Country”, I’m cool with it.

  24. blacaucasian says:

    While it is a shame that it seems companies are valuing the properties over creators (Gail Simone has said somewhere that the reason she was taken off of Birds of Prey was because DC supposedly doesn’t want a book suffering because it is singularly being associated with one creator – I see pros and cons to this as far as both sides are concerned) from a business standpoint it makes sense. The more people associate a writer more then a character, the more that company gains to lose when that creator walks away from the company.

    Not saying whether I think this is right, because I don’t necessarily think it is. And Rucka is absolutely right, for every person like him who steps away, there will be thousands of people who will want to get their shot. It is simply the sad state of affairs today post the exclusive wars.

  25. Rucka is one of my favorite creators, good for him for speaking his mind.

    And yes, more Queen and Country please.

  26. Todd Allen says:

    @Nick I think the tpb’s are more a point of emphasis for the independent publishers. (I was reading a Walking Dead tpb last night, which is the ultimate argument for that.) DC does tend to keep a series in print, but they don’t appear to be focused on that as the primary income channel. Marvel historically has trouble keeping the book editions in print. Different companies have slightly different models and formulas.

  27. Cory!! Strode says:

    “Usually the trades sell between 2000 to 5000 copies and that’s it.”

    The first month, sure, but if you think that they haven’t sold “Death of the Phoenix”, “Weapon X”, “Killing Joke”, “Sandman” and so on, over YEARS, you don’t understand the market. Trades have been discussed by people here who know far more than me, but in books, it’s more about long-term sales than sales the first two weeks the book is out.

    If you get an evergreen like Watchmen or Marvels, you are making money for years, not weeks, and THAT is where the big money is. It’s why there is a huge fight to get Stephen King at a publisher, and the big hot political book of the moment hits and goes away.

  28. R. Maheras says:

    If one doesn’t own the character(s) one works on, then one should know when initially hired they are working for the owners of the character(s), and are thus only temporary custodians of the character(s).

    If one doesn’t like such an arrangement, then one should (a.) Find some other line of work, or (b.) Self-publish/find a publisher who will publish one’s work without demanding ownership.

    Thirty-five years ago I opted to do both the former and the latter (self-publish) of the “go your own way” route, and while my audience is miniscule compared to a typical “Big 2″ book, I’m happy as a frickin’ clam about my decision.

  29. John Warren says:

    @Cory!!Strode said: “The first month, sure, but if you think that they haven’t sold “Death of the Phoenix”, “Weapon X”, “Killing Joke”, “Sandman” and so on, over YEARS, you don’t understand the market.”

    Cory–You’re talking about the exceptions, not the rule.

    The original statement Jonboy made was, “As in there’s probably less than 100 trades that have sold more copies in their lifetime than they sold in the 1 week that they were available as a floppy.”

    Counting all the Sandman and Walking Dead volumes, plus the others you mention, you’re not anywhere near 100 trades yet.

    Before accusing someone of “not understanding the market,” you should at least make an effort to understand the point they were making.

  30. Todd Allen says:

    OK. Everybody calm down. There are probably a LOT of Image tpbs that have sold more than the highest single issue collected in them. You really do need to look at the various publishers individually to see how they fit the tpbs into the overall business priorities.

  31. Lately I’ve been reading some books about the early days of the Golden Age of comics. Interesting material (particularly the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby stuff); I think a future book about this period of comics will have some even juicier tales to tell when the time comes to put it all in writing.

  32. Ron Catapano says:

    The writing has been on the wall for some time now.

    As the link between publishing and licensing has gotten shorter more “talent” has moved to publishing through companies like Image that allow them to maximize their profits from licensing.

    Creators must decide between taking the set rate of pay that comes with working for a company like DC or Marvel and gambling on publishing your own books through a company like Image where your income is based on actual sales.

    The odds of getting a payoff from a self published book has gotten better in recent years making this more attractive to creators.

    The unfortunate thing is that while a small number of creators will make some cash from a good deal, the majority of creators that seek their fortunes in such a way will find that they were better off where they were.

    I give it 2 years before things get back to normal. I can wait.

  33. Jesse, I don’t own an iPhone, cause I can’t afford one. Not enough profit heading MY way, I suppose. :)

  34. Charles Knight says:

    “While it is a shame that it seems companies are valuing the properties over creators (Gail Simone has said somewhere that the reason she was taken off of Birds of Prey was because DC supposedly doesn’t want a book suffering because it is singularly being associated with one creator – I see pros and cons to this as far as both sides are concerned) from a business standpoint it makes sense. The more people associate a writer more then a character, the more that company gains to lose when that creator walks away from the company.”

    Right – which is why they also removed Johns from Green Lantern and rebooted it and Morrison from Batman… oh wait..*

    * And I say that as someone who isn’t fussed about Simone’s writing so I’m not coming at it from a fan angle.

  35. blacaucasian says:

    “Right – which is why they also removed Johns from Green Lantern and rebooted it and Morrison from Batman… oh wait..*”

    Birds of Prey was far from the sales success John’s Lantern book is or Morrison’s Batman books have been. The Green Lantern and Batman books were among the least affected by the reboot. If Birds of Prey or even Secret Six had been selling over even 75k a month, I doubt she would have had those books taken away from her. Comparing Green Lantern or Batman to Birds of Prey is a false equivalency.

  36. alistair says:

    Richard Watson said: “So when Rucka speaks out he gets lauded for it but when Liefeld does the same he gets abused for it?

    Double-standards much?”

    Well, ya see Richard, Greg has talent and Liefeld hasn’t. So it kinda goes widdout sayin’ dat his words carry more weight. If you get me meaning like?

  37. The Gibbler says:

    If editors know better then how about they write the stories them selves.

  38. One of the biggest points of Rucka’s comments is the push on making deadlines for the apps over quality. The editorial group slows down the writers who have to fit what they want with editorial demands. Then they pass the script to the artists, who have to make up the time loss. If it’s too quick to turnaround, they get a group effort or a cheaper foreign studio to crank out a job in 2 weeks. The whole project looks weaker and less personalized by then–and it’s hard to connect to comics where the art and scripts are so all-over -the place. This is especially bad at DC, but it happens with all the companies. The books are getting worse folks–let’s hope people with confidence in the talent can take over the editorial positions at the big companies!

  39. horatio Weisfeld says:

    Now, that’s just one man’s experience, but this backs up the theory that long tail income from the book trade is of
    >>

    @Todd Allen:

    And your “theory” ignores the concept that none of the stuff DC publishes makes money ever own (at least as they see it) and it’s really (at least for them) all about the licensing (to other divisions of WB – or whoever)

    I don’t think of what I say as a “theory” because it’s paraphrasing DC’s own executives, as I listened to them negotiate a deal some years back.

    I’ll take DC at it’s word.

  40. Todd Allen says:

    @Horatio There is a world of difference between not making money off something in long tail and not making it a primary consideration when considering the cancellation of the monthly title. That’s what we’re talking about here. I can’t claim the theory, since it’s been debated about Vertigo titles for YEARS. I suppose it’s a little more unusual for it be discussed in the DCU, though.

    “I listened to them negotiate a deal some years back.”

    I’m not sure how applicable pre-New 52 DC strategy is to the current climate. Particularly if that occurred when Levitz was still in charge. Seems like a lot of things have changed in the last couple years.

  41. Cerebro says:

    Richard Watson said:
    “So when Rucka speaks out he gets lauded for it but when Liefeld does the same he gets abused for it?

    Double-standards much?”
    __

    Well, the aired their grievances in wildly different ways. To me, Liefeld came off sounding like a spoiled 8 year old. At least Rucka has the decency to complain like an adult.

  42. I get where Rucka is coming from, but comics are a business and the responsibility IS to the shareholders. What about the fans?, some asked. If the fans don’t buy, the books are changed. But, the Punisher as a member of the Thunderbolts probably WILL sell, and very well. It wasn’t what Rucka wanted to do as the writer and I get that. But, like he said, he doesn’t own the characters. His choice was to do what his bosses wanted or to quit (the same choice every one of us has to make every day at out menial jobs).
    Now, having said all this, the idea that running off the “talent” is what will kill comics is wrong. The “talent” (and their editors) are already killing comics. Comics are dying. Kids don’t read them like they did, and young kids can’t. They are overpriced and their stories are targeted toward people in their 30s or older. A kid can’t go into a drug store and pick up a comic like they could when I was a kid. If they do, what kind of stories will they see? “Look, Wonder Woman broke that guys neck!” “Look, Batwoman is making out with that other woman!” “Look, a lady stuffed in a refrigerator!” “Look, superheroes cuss! A LOT!” As a grown man, I like a mature, well written story for my age range. But, if comics are going to survive they are going to have to make the average comic story both pleasing to adults AND kids, and consistently enough that parents will be comfortable letting their kids read them. That means abandoning all the over-the-top violence and the exploration of sexual themes and sexual orientations. If that stuff is going to be explored, it needs to me in adult-focused imprints, not the average comic. THAT’S how comics will be saved. If it doesn’t happen, they will continue to diminish.

  43. Jamie Cleaveland says:

    Unfortunately the corporate system is based on that very premise. A corporation has a LEGAL responsibility to their shareholders to do everything they can, within the confines of the law, to “maximize revenues”. Also unfortunate is the fact that most corporations think in the short term and focus on immediate profit potential rather than building a business, and through that an industry, that will thrive and grow consistently over time. And of course the shareholders don’t care as long as they’re getting paid.

  44. Jamie Cleaveland says:

    And what you don’t seem to realize is that it is possible to make a profit while still making a quality product that customers will enjoy and treating employees with the respect they deserve. Profit isn’t the problem, true. Greed and shortsighted business practices are the problem. That’s the main communication disconnect between the anti-Wallstreet crowd and the corporate apologists.

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