The Big Two: Not the biggest opportunities in town any more as creators move on

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We’re still in deadline hell and have a plane to catch so this topic should be a 3000 word essay, but we’ll just note it quickly. Two recent comics essays look at Paolo Rivera’s announcement that he’s giving up his Marvel exclusive in terms of a creator migration away from Marvel and DC. At MTV Geek Valerie Gallaher asks How Will Mainstream Comics Hold On To Their Talent?

Well, the issue is that having a regular gig at Marvel or DC has traditionally been a relatively cushy deal for artists and writers, especially if they have an exclusive (like the one Rivera walked away from at Marvel). Think about it: guaranteed work, royalties, maybe even health insurance. Whereas with a creator-owned comic — unless you have a progressive publisher willing to provide you with a deal where you keep some or all of your rights — you have to essentially set up your own business.

But, as in the case with Rivera, it boils down to owning your own characters and having enough equity to be able to survive the years when publishers aren’t knocking on your door (an issue made more urgent and timely since the tragic case of Static co-creator Robert Washington III).


Graeme McMillan has an even longer essay, Something in the air tonight which looks at a similar tide shift:

Whether it’s been Before Watchmen, the Avengers movie, the success of Saga and The Walking Dead (the fact that #100 is being estimated to be the top-selling book of the year, in a year when both Marvel and DC are desperately trying to outdo each other, makes me happy to an extent it’s difficult to describe and hard to explain the reasons for, I shamefacedly admit) or the tragic, truly heartbreaking news of the death of Robert L. Washington III, 2012 has been the year of … what? Creator rights? Not exactly, but perhaps people actually really thinking about creator rights and talking about it seriously again for the first time in … a decade? Longer?


Like I said, this should be a 3000 word article, but I’ll just briefly note this: Paolo Rivera is clearly one of the top talents of this generation as far as mainstream comics go. And all the stuff he did at Marvel was great but I always felt a little bad that we had never seen him bust out into his own thing. And now he has, posting some cryptic hints of his next project on Twitter:
201206210323 The Big Two: Not the biggest opportunities in town any more as creators move on
Rivera’s moving on is clearly a very friendly one, but to be blunt, Marvel’s publishing infrastructure simply doesn’t support a new project by a creator—even one of Rivera’s stature. Icon is just for the chosen few (all writers). Other than that? What and how?

I’ll be even more blunt: you are simply not going to grow as a creator sticking with company-owned legacy projects all the time. The two hottest writers of the moment, Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire, both achieved great success with their own projects before taking on the DCU. And I suspect they’ll do more in the future when the New 52 is all in the rearview mirror. At Marvel, Kieron Gillen and Matt Fraction have similar resumes of books they created themselves. Just the other day, we were wondering about whatever happened to the superstar artist. Although it was batted about in the comments that you had to work on a top book before you became a superstar, I think you have to work on something that takes a total risk before you can be a superstar. Marvel and DC are not in the business of taking risks; they’re in the business of keeping their bottom lines from dropping, and they are in their office staring at those bottom lines right now with the intensity of that guy looking at the sonar screen in every submarine movie ever made.

In my post on Matt Groening ending Life in Hell, I noted that he had a great contract with Fox which, even though he doesn’t own the Simpsons, has made him very very rich many times over. Reading those old Life in Hell strips—and remembering the young journalist I used to see in LA riding the bus (the Angeleno equivalent of what leprosy is in every other city)—I became pretty amazed that he could wield that kind of clout with a studio like Fox. It’s not like he had a track record of much of anything except some cartoons, unlike, say, a Seth MacFarlane who had worked extensively in animation. James L Brooks knew Groening had something, though. Groening has proven he wasn’t just a flash in the pan, spearheading another successful show, a comic book company, and many other projects over the years. As I wrote yesterday, the Fox/Groening deal is a great example of how it should work: the company has the clout to make the Simpsons cartoon and to promote it all over the world, but the creator keeps a cut of EVERYTHING that happens and profits from it all. He’s kept happy and he does more great things for the company and everyone makes money. It’s all good.

Robert Kirkman is another example of this. I’d like to think that there will be more than two successful creators/entrepreneurs in the history of comics/media, so fingers crossed.

Okay I’m running out of time. But I’ll make it short and sweet: creators have to create. Marvel and DC no longer allow them to do that, except within rigidly proscribed guidelines. And the Paolo Riveras of the world are going to have to move on. It might not be too long before the Big Two are just steppingstones to get your name out there for even bigger things.

It’s beginning to dawn on the entire comics community that working for the Big Two isn’t really the only big opportunity in town; as you look at the grave of Robert Washington, you realize it might not even be a big opportunity at all.

Comments

  1. jonboy says:

    Oh look. Another article on The Beat about how bad Marvel and DC are… it must be Thursday.

  2. PAUL D HOUSTON says:

    Add the disgust over the Kirby and Siegel lawsuits too.

    Kirby and Siegel should have been the two wealthiest comics creators ever. If todays top talents aren’t paying attention to the disrespect given those two, they should be.

  3. MBunge says:

    “Okay I’m running out of time. But I’ll make it short and sweet: creators have to create.”

    No, they don’t. This fanboy idea that creators are fundamentally different from anyone else who does a job or that creators are people who are defined by this unstoppable drive to create is not just wrong it’s counterproductive.

    Yes, there are, for example, writers who talk about how they have to “write to live” and such. Well, guess what? There are salespeople exactly like that. And cops, physicians, veterinarians, engineers, athletes, politicians, journalists and…well, the list is almost endless. Creators aren’t the only people who love their jobs. They aren’t the only people who are driven to do them. And just as there are people who do their jobs because they’re just jobs, there are plenty of “creators” who do it because it’s a job and not an all-consuming, life-defining compulsion.

    To be sure, there are differences to working in the creative arts than in other fields. But creators only HAVE to do the same things everybody else does, like eat, sleep and go to the bathroom. They’re not gods or philosopher kings and romanicizing them in that way is probably not good for creators or their audience.

    Mike

  4. It also bears noting that Fox’s risk in giving Groening such a good deal was small. Fox was a tiny upstart network at the time and hadn’t had a hit yet — Tracey Ullman was probably its first, and was a hit partly because of Groening.

    I really doubt Fox would give a similar deal to a small-timer today — though who knows; it’s hired a former Adult Swim head and he seems to have some pretty interesting ideas. (Looking forward to the Axe Cop series!)

    But suggesting that Groening and Kirkman are the only two examples of successful creator-entrepeneurs in comics? Well, you’re forgetting Eastman and Laird and I think they’re pretty important. Sure, they eventually sold the rights to TMNT, but I hardly think that disqualifies them.

  5. “Success” shouldn’t be defined as getting a hit TV show and/or making millions.

    There are LOTS of people working outside of the direct market, and doing so in a manner that just about anyone would deem “successful.” And that’s been the case for nearly a decade now.

    While I occasionally get the odd person telling me, “you should be working for Marvel or DC!” I think the shift to creator-owned work done outside the direct market is largely old news.

  6. “creators have to create. Marvel and DC no longer allow them to do that, except within rigidly proscribed guidelines. ”

    Yeah, no creation going on at Marvel. Uncanny X-Force had one of the most celebrated storyarcs of the year, Daredevil won every conceivable comic award, Wolverine and the X-Men is hilariously fun and pleasing everyone who reads it.

    And DC? Damn them, what with Scott Snyder only penning one of the best received Batman arcs in recent memory, where he didn’t even use Bruce Wayne as Batman. And don’t get me started on Grant Morrison, coming up with an original concept like Batman Incorporated and a fan-favorite character like Damian.

    It’s simple, The Beat. Every entertainment company, be it comics, film, tv, etc, puts out a mix of crap, meh, and awesome. To say that a creator can’t create at a big company is asinine. Do I hope Rivera goes and does something awesome? Absolutely, I’m open to good comics regardless of who is doing them, and Rivera’s art is incredible. But who can say if it’ll actually be better than his output at Marvel, where he was working with an incredible writer like Waid, a talented editor like Wacker, etc.

  7. Martha Thomases says:

    I think you guys miss the point. The Beat isn’t saying that one can’t create at all at the Marvel and DC. She’s saying that some talented people would prefer to set their own limits on their work, rather than follow someone else’s. And even then, they may want to do both.

    And owning one’s own work is a wonderful thing. Ask Picasso.

  8. What Martha said. And said well.

  9. Like it or not Marvel & DC will remain a place where relatively obscure comic creators like Ed Brubaker can become huge. Even something like Walking Dead wasn’t huge until Kirkman did Marvel Zombies. If you want to attract a large amount of fans, you have to get involved with a big book instead of starting from scratch. I mean, the most recent thing that became a mega-hit without some kind of major pedigree is probably Bone.

  10. Apollo9000 says:

    Creators have to create, specifically creator creations of their own. Putting Damian into the Bat books, using the Age of Apocalypse world to craft a story arc, or adjusting the tone and look of character’s world is nice and note worthy but what will the creators will get from it? If Damian were to star in his own solo book or even in an animated series, what would Morrison and Kubert receive from that? If a new X Men game were to be based specially on Remender and Co.’s Dark Angel Saga, what would the see from it? If Marvel made a deal with a clothing company to produce polo shirts with the design of Daredevil’s radar sense, would Rivera, Martin, or the rest receive any royalties from that? Not likely.

    Part of comics irrelevance within the wider portion of the American audience is due to the poor compensation that creators in the field receive. It feels, more than ever, that creators at the Big 2 are following the Mark Millar pattern. Get a rep working on successful books at the Big 2 then, slowly move on to doing your (creator) owned thing.

    As far as where the superstar artist is, I think it’ll be a celebrated cartoonist in the mold of a Chris Ware/ Craig Thompson/ Kate Beaton who jumps in and around the many regions of the comics world. Thus, the artist’s greatest product to sell will be themselves.

  11. >> Although it was batted about in the comments that you had to work on a top book before you became a superstar, I think you have to work on something that takes a total risk before you can be a superstar.>>

    This.

    You don’t become a superstar by working on a hot book. You become a superstar by making a book hot.

    Working on a high-profile title can help, can bring you exposure. But if people are coming to that book because they’re loyal to the characters, not because the story or art is compelling, it won’t help you any, except financially. But when people are saying, “You gotta read XXXX,” because of what the talent on it is doing, that’s when the talent becomes a star.

    kdb

  12. Synsidar says:

    Then there are the economic considerations. If someone wants to write, he can set aside time to do that while working. Many a prose writer worked full time or part time while producing short stories, novelettes, novellas, etc., and kept working until the income from writing enabled him to make that his primary source of income. The time involved in producing publishable pages of artwork for a project makes setting aside time harder for an artist, I suppose.

    SRS

  13. Brian John Mitchell,

    Two words.

    “Scott Pilgrim”.

  14. @kurt busiek–totally agree. Look at the history of art/music etc. No one every achieved greatness by being part of a movement…the ones who started the movement are usually the one that gets remembered.

    Point being, you have to put yourself out there and take risks to become great, you can’t just punch the clock and stand on the shoulders of giants.

  15. I’ve been saying for years now that you don’t work at McDonalds to become a famous chef. You might start out there, and everybody knows about McDonalds. And a whole lot of people like McDonalds. But it’s a starting point in a career to be a chef, not the goal.

    Marvel and DC are the work for hire, burger slinging of comic art. Can you work there your whole life? Sure, you might even make crew chief or store manager. But you will never become a world famous chef. And you will always be making Big Macs.

  16. Chris Hero says:

    I dunno. I think Marvel and DC are just largely operating by minimizing risks and publishing the same homogenized books they’ve been publishing for quite a while now.

    I think any skilled person worth their salt ought to be creating something on the side not owned by a big company anyway. If you do all your work for a big corporation…and this goes for engineers, lawyers, any skilled profession….and you don’t find time to creatively apply your skills outside the needs of the corporation you work for? You’re wasting your life.

    Even if you’re just making a video game or comic strip only your spouse will enjoy, just do something you want to do. (In the case of a lawyer, do some pro bono work for a cause you care about.) Your work for any big company should simply be to acquire the financial means to fund what you’re passionate about.

    I’m happy the Internet has created a world where you don’t have to fund production of a media object to share your ideas. The world is a lot richer for all the ideas shared just because.

  17. Micah says:

    I follow creators, not characters. I look for innovation and not repetition. And creator-owned properties allow for all of this. I can’t wait for more to follow suit.

  18. Point of clarification: David Mack’s Kabuki was also put out through Marvel’s Icon imprint.

  19. Marvel and DC exist ONLY to cultivate, maintain, and promote their IP. This is the sole reason why they exist since both or owned by larger corporations, they don’t care about the artistic integrity of their books or the rest of the industry as long as they are making sales. And there is NOTHING wrong with that. They are businesses that exist to be profitable. Comic books are a small portion of their profits compared to video games, clothing, toys, movies, television, and whatever other medium their characters show up in.

    Working for the big two is a great way to get exposure. One of the new business models seems to be to work for Marvel or DC, get your name out there.
    Then when you have some clout built up you do your own creator owned book and put it on kickstarter asking for something like 20k+ and since you’re already well known every comic blog mentions it. Then you sell your comic at conventions and hope it gets optioned into a movie or something.

    But there are other business models too, like Scott said above, success shouldn’t just be measured by a movie deal. There is a lot of comic book money to be made outside of the standard production stream and outside of Diamond distribution. And by a lot, I mean enough to replace a day job, not just the million dollar success stories we hear about.

  20. I don’t know, one of the great things about comics is that it is an equalizer — in the old days (and somewhat now), a great writer or artist would move to another book or company and it would be a real treat to see what they would do with the same old, decades-old character. Comics are constant competition this way — in many ways, working for the Big 2 might make people *more* creative. It’s a constant contest of cover songs. Byrne rose with FF, as did Hickman. Morrison dominated every assignment he got. Marvel or DC did not create those memorable runs, they did.

    We see it a little bit with the Kuberts now and when Morrison moved back to DC, but this kind of ended when JMS finally moved to Superman. It’s a tough competition — as much as creators say they want to work on the big guns, there is risk there as well.

  21. Creator – Owned Heroes. I like the sound of that. ;]

  22. It’s pretty hard to get stuff published on your own and be supported for it without Rivira’s type of rep…Marketing and this superhero thing is a problem. Its unusual for one form of art to be so suffocated by one chapter of expression -men in costumed tights being shamelessly revamped every year so they hide their 1930’s-60’s roots. ( everybody happens to be the same the Han Solo type wiseguy too) or monster dudes with lots of fangs. Comics can be used in other ways too like maybe talking about whats happening in the real world via the dazzle of fantasy. It doesn’t have to be a depository of foul language and inane plots. Most of these heros are just corporate mannequins anyways- stuffed with the latest talent to keep making money for the Disney & various overlords in these ridiculous story arcs.

    Why can’t a comic have a beginning middle and end like Alan Moore said, instead of the seeds of 200 water- downed bad issues… Riviera gots beautiful visual and storytelling skills, he should move on. I just hope he’s got better plans than Romita Jr. The rest are in the right place at Marvel and DC.

  23. MBunge says:

    “Marvel and DC exist ONLY to cultivate, maintain, and promote their IP.”

    That’s completely true now and has been for a while. For most of their existence, Marvel and DC were publishers that just wanted to sell comics and were always putting out anything they thought might sell, occasionally resulting is some quality books. From DC’s Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis comics to Marvel’s Master of Kung-Fu and Rom, stuff like The War Lord from Mike Grell, Arak from Roy Thomas and Marvel’s Conan family of titles, they used to be places where creativity was relatively welcomed (and exploited).

    Now, DC at least has some real interest in their non-superhero IP but you can’t even say that for Marvel.

    Mike

  24. Thomas Wayne says:

    Zach,

    One quick side thought on your “fan favorite Damien Wayne” comment.

    I can assure you that there are just as many fans who dispise that little bastard as there are who consider him a favorite.

    I am one of them…I think he is the worst B.S. Batman character ever created. So on topic…creators creating with freedom inside the Marvel and DC offices isn’t always a good thing…especially when the end result is Damien Wayne.

  25. I think a lot of people will point out the indie superstars like Mouse Guard, Hark a Vagrant, or Scott Pilgrim before realizing just how RARE that level of success is for indie creators. It’s not the norm and there’s no paycheck like there is in work-for-hire. WFH isn’t always evil either — sometimes you just have weigh the pros & cons like every other job offer. Can you go X number of years sitting on your ideas while you work on a franchise? Maybe… if you want to pay the rent, feed your kid or god forbid buy the medicine you need.

    I applaud the creators that have done time in both worlds. I’m proud of creators like Jamal Igle who don’t speak ill of their many years of nice paychecks at a big publisher after choosing to go out into the world of smaller press or creator-owned. It’s not an easy decision for them.

    It’s a terrible shame that companies that evoke sensations of joy, fun, and entertainment are still corporations and still run without heart (if you believe the buzz).

  26. Synsidar says:

    Now, DC at least has some real interest in their non-superhero IP but you can’t even say that for Marvel.

    That’s something I agree with. Over on the Newsarama blog, Brevoort described continuity as a hindrance again, but continuity is a hindrance only to people who want visceral responses from their readers. If a writer wants people to appreciate what he did in an intellectual sense, he’ll choose to use situations and characters in ways that don’t violate continuity. How many people actually enjoy being manipulated, once they realize they are being manipulated? Brevoort wrote:

    Continuity is a wonderful thing, but continuity isn’t more important than the stories themselves–that’s a sure-fire way to get a lot of crummy stories that color within the lines but that few people are interested in. Continuity is a tricky beast as well, in that every reader’s “personal continuity” is different, depending on what they’ve read and what they’ve liked.

    Doing superhero stories for people who “like” or “dislike” things results in sexism, misogyny, stereotypes, formulas—a list of things that people find objectionable, but do get visceral responses. Working on your own material enables someone to define himself as a creator in ways that working at the Big Two apparently doesn’t allow.

    SRS

  27. DogFly says:

    Someone has got to take down the big two…Its the only way to save the medium. They are pretty artless these days, much like the films that reek profits off them. Give Batman, Spiderman, Hulk and Superman their due, great characters and so on but they’ve been milked dry and are annoying now.

  28. MBunge says:

    And completely off topic, but has no one noticed how COMEDIAN #1 apparently forgets or retcons a fairly specific allusion from WATCHMEN? I know the folks who hate the book on principle may not actually care, but is nobody going to bitch about it?

    Mike

  29. Johnathan Black says:

    The original post/article seems to present this as something new.

    From what I recall the ideas here represent the kind of thinking that Todd McFarlane and the other Image founders promoted as they launched the company. Meanwhile Dave Sim had been doing his own thing successfully for over a decade, Eastman and Laird had already crossed over into the mainstream mass market with a popular cartoon, a hit live-action movie and more, on a different track from Sim the Pinis had also achieved publishing success with Elfquest and Frank Miller had years earlier left Marvel and DC for the creative freedom offered by Dark Horse.

    ALL of this happened before the rise of Jeff Smith’s Bone.

    “The Beat” is absolutely correct that this should be a longer article. Preferably with some informed historical perspective. Like others here I’m excited by the recent creator owned success stories, but I also remember Dave Sim’s aggressive creator owned ‘campaigning’ and the self publishing surge of that era. That period gave us lots of enthusiasm and optimism, some great talents and unfortunately a fair amount of wreckage—fincancial and psychological.

    After the fact Dave Sim (and I do not hold him accountable for the recklessness demonstrated by some) publicly expressed a sense of regret for not being more balanced with his admonitions to creators to take their destiny in their own hands.

    There are too many issues involved here to properly address in this one comment. But I really do not want to see the contemporary equivalent of the 1990’s self publishing surge and subsequent crash. Even if your work is really great does not mean it will find a sustainable audience. (See post on the Lea Hernandez Kickstarter project, The Garlicks). If “we”, the community are going to have public discussion that agitates for a new wave of creator owned activity let’s include hard learned ugly truths alongside the hope and optimism.

    -JB

  30. DogFly says:

    Good points about Image. I think the main reason that petered out was the characters didn’t have the same hold over the comic imagination as the Big Two’s. At best, they were characters on the level of Dr Fate or Luke Cage even if they were made by Marvel/DC”s top talent then. Not Spiderman or Batman.

    That’s the ultimate golden fleece. A character or group of characters that cam hold the imagination for over 50 yrs, even 10 or 20…The most talented artists & writers always face that hurdle. Cool for a while but then goes out of style. You do that then you’ve got a real race.

  31. “Creators have to create. Marvel and DC no longer allow them to do that, except within rigidly proscribed guidelines.”

    First, lets all stop calling these companies by the names we grew up on…they have proven whom they are by their actions, and re-actions of late.

    They are TIME-WARNER and DISNEY.

    They are NOT the Warm and Fuzzy companies we remember anymore. Levitz’ DC Comics is gone, and with it is any sense of how misguided “Before Watchmen” is.
    Along with that we have DISNEY suing the dung out of an old man trying to get by on his actual claim to fame…Ghost Rider and Gary Friedrich. The Warm and Fuzzy images we remember for the Corporate Two are gone, so lets stop treating them as though they care about creators.

    They don’t.

    The “something” that is in the air, is rancid, and it’s no surprise that Creators are Creating ELSEWHERE. About durn time, peeps!

  32. That’s the ultimate golden fleece. A character or group of characters that cam hold the imagination for over 50 yrs, even 10 or 20…

    I think this is staring to be proven wrong. Why does the model have to be writing stories about the same characters over and over? (“Why do we have to go on forever writing about only gods and legends?!” as Mozart asked in Amadeus.)

    In fifty years, the original creators might not even be around to supervise other people working on their creations — that’s not what Heidi is writing about or what those who are leaving their exclusive contracts with DC and Marvel (or Time-Warner and Disney — I like that!) are aspiring for. They want to create something, own it, and do with it what they want.

    And characters that last ten or twenty years? Well, many of the original Image creations are still active titles. They’re not million-copy sellers like they were in the crazy ’90s, but they’re solid, consistent sellers.

  33. Darnit, that’s “STARTING to be proven wrong.”

  34. “Good points about Image. I think the main reason that petered out was the characters didn’t have the same hold over the comic imagination as the Big Two’s. At best, they were characters on the level of Dr Fate or Luke Cage even if they were made by Marvel/DC’’s top talent then. Not Spiderman or Batman.”

    The original Image superhero characters were interesting, but I think the reason they petered out was the talent was mainly artists not writers. Also the creators working on these characters lost interest themselves. They moved onto other things and didn’t keep them moving.

    Hellboy came out around the same time and Hellboy & BPRD are still going strong. Mike Mignola was mainly an artist, but he really grew into become a great writer as well. Even through he had pulled back to just doing the covers for a while, he was still very much involved with his characters.

  35. Jim C says:

    They are NOT the Warm and Fuzzy companies we remember anymore.

    They never were.

  36. Roberto Briceno says:

    I am GLAD for a lot for creator-own comics. They have kept me still interested in comic books.

  37. >> Now, DC at least has some real interest in their non-superhero IP but you can’t even say that for Marvel.>>

    Have they stopped publishing Stephen King, Oz books, Phineas and Ferb, Anita Blake, the Muppets, John Carter and such?

    I don’t recall if they’re still doing Jane Austen adaptations, but last I looked, they were doing non-superhero IP. Not the same stuff they were doing in the 70s, but it was there.

  38. @MBunge

    a creator got to create because that how he or she pays their bills. Just like everyone else working what at whatever they do.

    But with that said sometimes people who love with they do may find they have a better working for someone else (or even their self) and if that happens they should take it.

  39. Yes, Mignola & Hellboy. Definitely a success story and I love his style. He made it work. And Frank Miller and a few others. But the Big Two still keep their ways because they have that golden stable of characters people love. HellBoy & Spawn may be above Dr. Fate & Luke Cage but still no Wolverine or Spiderman to the buying fans. Hence my argument that talent alone can’t elevate certain-tier characters. Give props to DItko, Kane, Lee & Kirby, etc. Those are amazing creations that are hard to match. And people are trying.

    Something that should be addressed is how the industry stacks the deck towards the Big Two so the Independents have little chance of cracking the top 10
    Why can’t Comixology, which is beautifully designed, simply have an “Independents” tab just like they do “Marvel” & “DC”. Is that something pre-negotiated to keep the big two exclusive? I think you would see some jump in sales and interest in newer stuff simply because its easier to find and equally profiled. Maybe even bite into the top 10. Its all rigged so the comic lovers out there have to be in the know or hunt around for stuff thats not DC or Marvel, just like they do in the stores. Hence we get years of tired, inbred, contrived stories from the standardized mega-companies controlling the marketplace. It’s sad that comics are just a farm team for big movies to them.

    I’m not saying independents are utopian ideal but they should have a shot and the medium will better for it. This is the one field that we could shut the spigot off pretty easily on these corporate players (as simple as getting get 178,000 people to boycott in one month) and not buy their rehashed A vs X stuff or something as obscenely unethical to the creators as “Before Watchmen”.

  40. Shawn Kane says:

    A few years ago, I disagreed with Robert Kirkman’s manifesto about creator-owned comics but now I wholly agree with it. I have to admit that I love the characters of Marvel and DC but I don’t like what the creators at Marvel and DC are doing with those characters. I’ve often thought that people leaving a company is usually a bad thing but great writers and artists need to work on their own creations because they can do great things.

    I don’t think that there needs to be a Future Foundation, I don’t think that there needs to be two schools of X-Men or three teams of Avengers. In fact, the Bendis-ization of the Marvel Universe has turned me away but I like Powers. It’s only my opinion but things like Civil War and other things that have changed the makeup of the Marvel Universe the last few years felt forced and that any character could have been placed in those stories. And I would have enjoyed those stories more had they been the creator’s own stories, not with the Marvel characters. I think that the Big Two are sacrificing their characters or re-booting their characters to appease “architects” and whoever.

    Selfishly, I prefer to read the independent work of a Hickman or Brubaker than have them change characters that I enjoy to suit whatever story that they want to tell.

  41. Todd Allen says:

    The math on Kirkman’s manifesto only worked for Kirkman. He was the exception that proved the rule. Now, that said, sales are way up on the indie side of the catalog in the last year. Especially the last 6 months. Saga , Fatale and Manhattan Projects (to name 3) are doing good enough numbers at Image in recent months to make the math on that manifesto look a little better. Still, those are books from known creators, not beginners and that should be noted.

  42. Guys, my epiphany…on how we can changes things and get more Independents and better comics to the top..and the answer is Comixology!

    We should form a movement them to have have a tab & zone dedicated just for “Independents” with it own world and not just be in the grab bag mix of “New”. “Top Selling”, “Browse”, “Sales”, “Free Comics”. The independents get lost in the haystack of all that. Indepedents should have their own area in the best designed, primary app out there – a non Marvel/DC zone just like how Marvel & DC have a an exclusive non Independent zone. I used to be designer for homepages, this is definitely intentional. And my ex-boss who used to make my life miserable with his obsession over homepages and placements is now head of Marvel Digital ( that was a huge shock to me, and no, we didn’t work in comics) I don’t know if that pencil-necked scoundrel played a part in this, but do you suppose a condition for Marvel to sign on to Comixology was lose the non-DC competition in sales tabs and miscellaneous areas? Location and design is everything on the web/mobile and having an Indepedents tab would be HUGE. I can tell you from my Marvel subscription, Marvel & DC sucked at making apps, they need Comixology and Comixolgy needs us. We may have some pull. This may sound small but it could make a big change. Imagine independents eating Marvel & DC’s digital lunch each month. The industry could change for the better and no more A vs. X slop in a more level playing field.

  43. R. Maheras says:

    The Beat wrote: “I’ll be even more blunt: you are simply not going to grow as a creator sticking with company-owned legacy projects all the time.”

    The key part of the phrase here is “all the time.”

    Educators, journalists and other professionals routinely take sabbaticals from their “day jobs” to work on personal projects.

    Why can’t comics professionals have a similar arrangement without being criticized as “sellouts” or for “working for the man,” etc.?

    And anyone who says a creator can’t grow under a work-for-hire arrangement is full of it. I recently completed one work-for-hire project and am working on another, and not only has it sparked a surge in creativity, it has been both fun and personally rewarding. In fact, I’m having more fun than I’ve had in years!

  44. Shawn Kane says:

    Kirkman’s manifesto basically says if you’re a superstar, go do your own thing and let the Big Two give opportunities to guys that can’t go out and do their own thing yet. Like I said, at the time I disagreed with it because why shouldn’t the best writers and artists work at Marvel and DC? But those guys are allowed to break the toys in order to stay with the companies. Plus, if I want to read an Avengers comic, I want to read about the Avengers and not read a Bendis comic.

  45. It’s all relative. Yesterday, I watched Chris Claremont on a youtube video saying he was paid a quarter million dollars for scripts in the can that had yet to be drawn (before X-Treme X-Men launched) and it sounded like a dream to this creator who has his own book out and isn’t making squat.

  46. More and more publishers won’t even look at a book unless it’s packaged and ready for print, but the creative team still has to raise money for production costs? What purpose do the publishers even serve then, but to serve as a label to slap on the book after all is said and done? Screw all that noise. Self-publishing is increasingly the only way to fly.
    The comic book medium will live on, but I canNOT wait for the comic book industry to choke on its own vapidity and die.

  47. likefunbutnot says:

    The way I see it, there are multiple paths to success. Some guys toil in obscurity with their self-published titles until something catches on. Some guys enter the world of comic creation because they had some success in an allied art. Some creators want nothing more than to work with the the characters they grew up reading.

    Are creators really failing if they’re working with someone else’s property? If they “only” work in comics for five or ten years before they move on to commercial art or advertising or selling insurance or whatever practical thing people do when they realize how handy it is to have a steady paycheck and insurance?

    I might be off base here but I think the success is that those people are able to work as professional creators for whatever length of time they can get away with it. It’s a tough row to hoe and the realistic goal for any creative professional is probably closer to a comfortable and self-supporting middle-class life than the non-stop hookers and blow lifestyle of a Robert Kirkman or a Jim Lee or a Brian Bendis.

    The tone of this discussion seems to be “You’ll never be rich unless you create and capitalize a beloved comic character.” The truth is, barring extreme good fortune, you’re just never going to be rich. Realizing that is generally just part of growing up. If you happen to be able to support yourself as a professional comic creator for some period of time, count your blessings because there are hundreds of people who have tried and never made the cut in the first place.

  48. Why are most corporate writer’s and artist’s referred to as “creators” exactly? It seems to me that working on 50 year old advertising franchises just makes them copy writers and ad-“men”. No matter how “clever” they may appear, re-interpreting a pre-existing concept does not make one responsible for originating the idea. If the project is of their own devising then certainly they should be acknowledged as the creator. If we’re really talking about giving credit where it is due then shouldn’t the vocabulary be a little less aggrandizing?

  49. scott says:

    Selling insurance is a steady pay check? Copywriters don’t create copy? Have to take these comments with a grain of salt.

  50. Create:
    verb
    Originating late Middle English (in the sense {form out of nothing,] used of a divine or supernatural being.)

    copywriter
    noun
    a person who writes the text of advertisements or publicity material.

  51. scott says:

    I do not agree with you. Your dictionary quoting does not change my mind.

  52. scott says:

    The intent of my post was that you are splitting hairs. You pretty much just clarified that point for everyone. Thanks, Kid.

  53. Someone who writes an Iron Man story may not have created Iron Man, but they created that story. Creation is a varied (and many-splendored) thing, and context matters.

    For that matter, what advertising copywriters do is creative as well. Just ask the creator of Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

  54. “Even something like Walking Dead wasn’t huge until Kirkman did Marvel Zombies.”

    That’s not true.

    By the time MARVEL ZOMBIES came around in late 2005, THE WALKING DEAD had already been climbing the charts for years as a comic-book series, and the first paperback collection was still killing it in the Diamond charts 18 months after it was first published, selling more than 2,000 units in some momnths. Kirkman’s Marvel work, MARVEL ZOMBIES included, had no visible effect on his creator-owned stuff, in terms of sales.

  55. Shawn Kane says:

    “The comic book medium will live on, but I canNOT wait for the comic book industry to choke on its own vapidity and die.”

    Do you mean Marvel and DC? Diamond? I’m not sure what is gained by the industry dying. I think a rise in independent comics and creator owned properties might make both change their thinking a little bit but I don’t want Marvel and DC going out of business. I have a great LCS that’s owned by a wonderful family who would go out of business if Marvel and DC stopped producing comics. I have less sympathy for Diamond but still we’re talking about people’s jobs when we’re talking about an industry dying.

  56. Mikael says:

    Blah blah blah. I can name a ton of current professionals who would love to work for DC and Marvel. Why? Because they believe working on those titles/characters WILL allow them to create and grow. Gabriel Hardman wants to do Batman. Jeff LeMire wants to do Doom Patrol. Christopher Priest wanted to do Iron Man. Not to mention all the creators at cons who do prints of “corporate” character (Rafael Albuequerque just did a whole bunch for SDCC featuring the JLA). The companies may or may not be stifling artists but those artists are definitely in turn using those properties to make some money. If only this much space was given to promote something the Beat is actually reading instead of hit-baiting.

  57. MBunge says:

    “Have they stopped publishing Stephen King, Oz books, Phineas and Ferb, Anita Blake, the Muppets, John Carter and such?”

    I think licensed books are different than Marvel publishing, or at least giving a shot to, stuff like Two-Gun Kid, Rocket Raccoon, Morbius the Living Vampire and other Marvel-owned IP. Sort of like the non-superhero stuff in the New 52.

    Mike

  58. Sean Murphy says:

    I’m hesitant to adopt a definition that you can only be a creator if you are, in essence, self-employed. Maybe Hickman can’t have Sue and Reed go through a bitter divorce, but his work on the FF title has shown incredible leaps of imagination. Likewise, Mark Waid can’t have Daredevil execute criminals but his work on the title absolutely meets my definition of a creative endeavor.

    Creators for the Big Two operate under certain rules but most of us do. If I don’t like the way my firm does a particular activity or feel bored, I’m free to work for someone else or start up my own firm (with all the risks involved). My personal choice has been to do the best work I can within the constraints I have.

    And for all the success stories of independent creators, there are so many more stories of people who had to find alternative work because they couldn’t get a foottoe in the industry. That is normal in the arts – for every gold record band, there are countless garage bands or bands that broke up.

  59. @scott:
    The intent of my repost was simply to clarify my position on how I define my use of those words. I apologize if it came across otherwise. Perhaps I am “splitting hairs”, however I was merely interested in a discourse (and maybe a re-defining) of the titles used for the job which is being discussed.
    @Kurt:
    As I stated in my original post, I am not against someone being credited as a creator of a particular creation if they are responsible for that particular creation. I do not look down upon nor devalue the work done by any one. In fact my hope is that it can all be appreciated within their particular contexts. What I was attempting to question was the inflated-ness of words like “creator” when discussing work.

    Clearly I’m out of my depth here as I have never worked for a comic-book company, but I am a cartoonist and I was interested in pursuing a conversation regarding the seeming inflated nature of the vocabulary used when discussing work. I realize now that this was inappropriate in regards to the original object of this article. I apologize for that but not for my passion on the subject. I was tired and the dangerous lure of internet posting seduced me.

    With that said I would like to add that as a young person it was a dream of mine to work at Marvel and DC but not because of an overwhelming attraction to their franchises. It was more to be able to work with the people who produced them. The Alan Moore’s, Jack Kirby’s and Archie Goodwin’s of the industry were my heroes and that was the biggest draw to desiring corporate work. Now, having grown taller, I recognize that the bullpen and studio mentality is vastly different then I imagined it to be and so there is no longer that attraction to pursue employment with corporations. It was always about the people making the stuff that thrilled me.

  60. @Chris Howard: I like the chef at McDonald’s analogy. The problem is that tons of people go to McDonald’s (familiar territory) while only some will try out the new place that the chef just opened up (unsure of the food, probably more expensive). We need to be willing to just have lunch at McDonald’s or Burger King, but have dinner at the little places so that chef can keep his restaurant open for more than a year.

  61. >>>Why are most corporate writer’s and artist’s referred to as “creators” exactly? It seems to me that working on 50 year old advertising franchises just makes them copy writers and ad-”men”.

    Actually both Marvel and DC refer to them as “talent” on an official basis.

    Look, you need both sides of the street. Great established canon and new crazy shit.

    But as I’ve surely written here before, no prose writers grow up dreaming of getting the job to write new licensed James Bond novels as the pinnacle of their career. They create their OWN super spy. Smiley. Bourne.

    Also people talking about successful comics creators are forgetting Jennifer Holm, Lincoln PIerce, Jake Parker, Kazu Kibuishi, Raina Telgemeier. Their comics sell in numbers rivaled only by Alan Moore in the “real” world.

  62. Johnathan Black says:

    The Beat Herself wrote:

    “Also people talking about successful comics creators are forgetting Jennifer Holm, Lincoln PIerce, Jake Parker, Kazu Kibuishi, Raina Telgemeier. Their comics sell in numbers rivaled only by Alan Moore in the “real” world.”

    I was completely unaware of some of these people and had to Google them. Perhaps “The Beat” could set aside some more time and space to covering cartoonists like these.

    I understand the need to cover items that will generate plenty of hits (‘brokeback pose’, the New 52, Corporate Comics are Evil) but interviews with such creators and in depth reporting on their projects would be more helpful than yet another article pointing out the faults of Marvel and DC.

  63. Synsidar says:

    Creators for the Big Two operate under certain rules but most of us do.

    One problem with doing stories with the Big Two heroes is that they can only behave in certain ways, and that eliminates types of situations. Suppose that some BEMs invade a New York town, and target both an orphanage and an office building. The hero can’t prevent the BEMs from destroying one, possibly not even both, but which one does he try to save? How does he react to the loss of life afterwards? Is that the first time he’s failed to prevent people from dying, or has he been in no-win situations before? If the editorial policy the writer is working under doesn’t allow a hero to be put in a no-win situation, or ethical quandaries, or depressing situations generally, it’s hard to say that the writer is creating stories. The restrictions are too severe.

    SRS

  64. Not every creator wants to grow. Look at Rob Liefeld.

  65. DogFly says:

    To me, the Big Two don’t really respect the characters, its audience or the medium much. Sure something good gets through the cracks but these books are just a vessel to keep sales going on characters who’s stories essentially stopped decades ago or a stepping stone to build careers. Killing off characters, altering them for gimmicks, bringing them back, shooting people in head as a matter of habit,giants fights because of misunderstandings, alternate universes. Just sloppy storytelling on all counts. Comics are just the printed page version of video games to them. And that is a market that actively covet.

    As much complaint as there is about corporate overlords, I think it was pretty much the same before they took over. I gather they pretty much leave those divisions alone if they make the numbers. Do suits understand that stuff? All they worry about is ownership of the characters which they’ve successfully swindled over the years already from their working man creators who were worried about paying rent at the time. That we still support the big Two is a bit of a compromise knowing that what lies at the top is pretty soulless and exploitive.

    Independent stuff should be a real alternative and have just as much a marketing opportunity to get attentions of the small comic buying public. Its 90% Marvel/DC, 10 % everybody else .

    Time to turn the tide.

  66. >> I think licensed books are different than Marvel publishing, or at least giving a shot to, stuff like Two-Gun Kid, Rocket Raccoon, Morbius the Living Vampire and other Marvel-owned IP.>>

    I’d tend to agree, except I’d note that JOHN CARTER and THE MUPPETS aren’t licensed. Both are Disney-owned (and JC is a Disney-owned version of a public domain property).

    However, when you originally made the argument, you said:

    “DC’s Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis comics to Marvel’s Master of Kung-Fu and Rom, stuff like The War Lord from Mike Grell, Arak from Roy Thomas and Marvel’s Conan family of titles.”

    Five of those seven examples are licensed books (or semi-licensed, in MOKF’s case), so it appeared to me that they were being included. And they’re all examples of the publishers doing non-superhero material.

    kdb

  67. Saber Tooth Tiger Mike says:

    “Five of those seven examples are licensed books (or semi-licensed, in MOKF’s case), so it appeared to me that they were being included. And they’re all examples of the publishers doing non-superhero material.” Both publishers are less likely to invest significantly into non-superhero material that might appeal to the general public, where they actually have to take some kind of risk when they can milk their current audience. Their current audience is willing to pay a lot more per unit ( a floppy)for a product, sometimes regardless of quality.

    I’ve also grown suspicious of people who believe that comics needs to be elevated to an artform in recent years, since Fantagraphics and the like do not seem to have any readers outside of the New Yorker demographic.

    There’s no difference between many of the comic companies in my opinion. Everyone’s business plan included catering to affluent upper middle class people who can afford to pay more to support all those high-production values and high salaries.

    The fragmentation of society, and concentration of spending power makes it unlikely that comics will ever be marketed to the “general public”, again.

  68. >> Both publishers are less likely to invest significantly into non-superhero material that might appeal to the general public, >>

    That’s a comparative without a specific — less likely than what?

    Both publishers do invest in non-superhero material, and Marvel seems to be doing so directly to reach out to a more general public than their core audience. Publishing Stephen King, Jane Austen, Anita Blake and Oz books is pretty diagrammatically investing in material that might appeal to the general public.

    >> Fantagraphics and the like do not seem to have any readers outside of the New Yorker demographic.>>

    Really? The publisher of THE COMPLETE PEANUTS?

  69. Mike L says:

    I think one of the inherent problems here is that it’s just too damn difficult for anyone, superstar or not, to even break into comics. Marvel and DC don’t cultivate talent they way they once did when the income from comics publishing alone was the way they kept their lights on.

    Pretty much the only way into the industry is to DIY, which can be incredibly difficult, and just because someone has the chops to be a professional-level writer or artist doesn’t mean they want to essentially start and run their own business. Some people just don’t have the acumen or desire for it — that’s not a shortcoming, any more than, say, television writers who are content with writing episodes of a show they didn’t create. They’re simply good at writing for television.

    The modern comics industry pretty much requires a creator to not just do what they’re naturally talented at, but wear other hats, as well. It’s the equivalent of someone wanting to work in TV and the requirements are first creating a show, then writing it, directing it, shooting it, casting it, and starring in it themselves — and not necessarily getting a distinct paycheck for each one of those roles. There’s few ‘auditions’ where hopefuls get a chance to get discovered, instead, they’re expected to field an entire production on their own.

    There’s a lot of talent in the field, but you have to wonder how many would-be superstar comics artists ended up going into other creative fields, like doing concept or production art for video games, where they can be hired and given some sort of actual training as they polish their craft. They don’t necessarily have to understand the whole creative process nor have their hands in it, they just have to do their jobs and draw / create.

    Even the creator-owned / indy market could do a better a job at this: few publishers are willing to match up creative teams and give them the guidance of a more experienced editor to help them find their footing, instead they’re only interested at looking at near-finished projects and just handling the business leg-work of printing and distribution. Marvel and DC aren’t invested in it because they can just draw from the ranks of the self-made. There’s a whole host of legal issues involved there, but if you’re not going to provide guidance to structured opportunities to develop top-notch talent, then the odds of it evolving on its own in the wild are much slimmer.

    Sadly, I think there’s probably more kids who want to grow up now to work on a superhero movie or video game than write, draw, letter or color a comic book, and in the long run, that’s not good for the medium as a whole.

  70. Saber Tooth Tiger Mike says:

    Me: Fantagraphics and the like do not seem to have any readers outside of the New Yorker demographic.>>

    Really? The publisher of THE COMPLETE PEANUTS?

    me again: Mr. the publication of the PEANUTS and other classic works is an anomaly at a company primarily known for publishing work by quirky and alternative cartoonists, or work that would not generally appeal to the mid-brow tastes of someone who enjoys the current comic strips in the newspaper. Their reprinting of PEANUTS, MICKEY MOUSE, UNCLE SCROOGE, POPEYE comic strips is done with a historical, high-brow touch. I’m saying this as someone who generally like Fantagraphics but acknowledges that it does not appeal to the general public as a general strategy. When are places like Wal-Mart are selling Fantagraphics’ PEANUTS, MICKEY MOUSE, UNCLE SCROOGE, POPEYE reprints and parents are picking them as gifts for their young children, I will believe Fantagraphics is reaching the general public.

    Until then, I will that Fantagraphics is a artsy comics publisher that loses money on alternative comics and breaks even on reprints of comic strips that the public may know of.

  71. Saber Tooth Tiger Mike says:

    Me: Fantagraphics and the like do not seem to have any readers outside of the New Yorker demographic.>>

    Kurt Busiek: Really? The publisher of THE COMPLETE PEANUTS?

    me again: Mr. Busiek, the publication of the PEANUTS and other classic works are anomalies at a company primarily known for publishing work by quirky and alternative cartoonists, or work that would not generally appeal to the mid-brow tastes of someone who enjoys the current comic strips in the newspaper. Their reprinting of PEANUTS, MICKEY MOUSE, UNCLE SCROOGE, POPEYE comic strips is done with a historical, high-brow touch. I’m saying this as someone who generally like Fantagraphics but acknowledges that it does not appeal to the general public as a general strategy. When are places like Wal-Mart are selling Fantagraphics’ PEANUTS, MICKEY MOUSE, UNCLE SCROOGE, POPEYE reprints and parents are picking them as gifts for their young children, I will believe Fantagraphics is reaching the general public.

    Until then, I will that Fantagraphics is a artsy comics publisher that loses money on alternative comics and breaks even on reprints of commercially successful comic strips. I’m not sure who is buying the reprints of commercially successful comic strips because aside from PEANUTS, and MICKEY MOUSE none of those comic strip characters are popular in the United States anymore.

  72. Torsten Adair says:

    Sorry if I’m late to the game, but I just spent Thursday-Monday over at the American Library Association conference in Anaheim.

    14,000 librarians, publishers, and book lovers of all sorts, and a graphic novel pavilion surrounded by awesome artists and publishers!

    Lots of “mainstream” publishers there, the kind who sell to bookstores, libraries, and schools. Most of what’s published is creator-owned, following a business model that is decades (centuries?) old. The publisher pays you royalties for the book, you own the copyright. Once the book goes out of print, the creator gets to take it to another publisher later.

    That’s why there are old Vertigo books being reprinted by other presses this year.

    Don’t think indie creators can be successful?

    Well, there’s Raina Telgemeier’s “Smile”, which has sold over 200,000 copies as an original graphic novel, mostly via schools and bookstores. Jeff McKinney. Gene Yang. Hope Larson. Kazu Kibuishi. Jeff Smith. Doug TenNappel. Jimmy Gownley. Art Spiegelman.

    Oh, and then there are the comic STRIP creators. Almost everything is now owned by the creators, with syndicates offering distribution. It’s a tough field, but if you last five years, you’re doing okay.

    Hmmm…. I wonder who is on the NY Times bestseller list this week?

    Alison Bechdel. Mark Millar. Robert Kirkman. Raina Telgemeier.

    And then there are the web cartoonists…

  73. >> Mr. Busiek, the publication of the PEANUTS and other classic works are anomalies at a company primarily known for publishing work by quirky and alternative cartoonists, or work that would not generally appeal to the mid-brow tastes of someone who enjoys the current comic strips in the newspaper.>>

    Maybe so, maybe no, but that’s a long way from saying that “Fantagraphics and the like do not seem to have any readers outside of the New Yorker demographic.”

    It struck me as overstatement, much like the earlier claims by whoever that Marvel didn’t have any interest in non-superhero IP.

    What the companies are best known for is not, generally, all they do, and I think it’s worth remembering that.

  74. Jonny Wishbone says:

    The NEW YORKER demographic? I checked the magazine’s most recent average circulation figures (you can too — http://abcas3.accessabc.com/ecirc/magtitlesearch.asp)

    So, over a million circulation per month for this one little ol’ highbrow magazine. Seems to me a comic book company would KILL for that level of circulation and that sort of demographic — ten times the top-selling monthly comic book in a month?.

  75. Torsten Adair says:

    Johnny, circulation figures tell only part of the good news.

    Their demographics are what sells advertising (and there’s quite a bit of it in the New Yorker, much of it high end).

    http://www.condenast.com/brands/new-yorker/media-kit/print

    Median HHI (HouseHold Income):
    $94,815
    (The affluent demo is $157,247 !)

    4% of the circulation is newsstand sales!
    1,013,730 of 1,047,260 are subscriptions! Which means a mailing list…

    When I worked at the Lincoln Center Barnes & Noble, I actively marketed graphic novels to the “New Yorker” crowd:
    The Jew of New York
    The Mystery of Mary Rogers
    Road to Perdition
    American Splendor
    A History of Violence
    Persepolis

    And, of course, the various New Yorker cartoon books. (That “Complete” volume sold well as a $60 hardcover, then as a $19.98 remainder, and now as a $35 paperback.)

  76. If I made a few million… I’d be successful.

    I’ve tried for years to be a big mainstream artist. Even though I’ve gotten a lot better, I still haven’t got in. But I have to say, I don’t understand Marvel’s choices as far s some of the artists on their books. Look at Paolo Rivera on books like Spider-man or Daredevil. His art looks like Steve Ditko mixed with childrens book. Then they mix the styles up for the next artist who draws completely different. Then you’ve got Greg Land (which is self-explanatory) and Salvador Larocca’s barely there art that is done over by a colorist.

    The styles of Marvel are all over the place these days. I don’t know if that’s neccesarily bad, but there’s I think Marvel doesn’t always need to ‘try new things’.

    Man, I wish I was one of those second generation Image artists. I’d love that money and keep on drawing until it ran out.
    Ever here that story about the first issue of Tribe?

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