Who has hurt comics more: WFH or creator-owned work?

Retailer Robert Scott has his own response to Robert Kirkman‘s call for more creator-owned concepts:

Well, I’m not sure how folks like Lea, Ellis or even Kirkman have missed it for twenty two years but Marvel, DC, WFH or retailers have not damaged the industry nearly as much as creator owned work (and the publishers who love them) has. OK to be fair it’s not the work but the lack of professionalism surrounding the work that is the culprit.

From unprofessional and nonviable work by folks with to much cash in hand to fantastic work with untenable publishing schedules and utter lack of business/marketing savvy, this work leaves not only a frustrated consumer with no lack of alternative entertainment options but a also a line of business partners (distributors & retailers) who become increasingly gun shy over such product because it cannot be counted on to pay the bills and not to actively piss off their customers (and to be fair, the Big 2 share some of these same problems).

D&Q, Fantagraphics, Slave Labor, Top Shelf… all produce a staggering amount of creator owned work. Warren Ellis touted both financial and critical success of Fell. And yet the aforementioned publishers have had to go begging hat in hand and must fight retailers for sales at conventions because the work isn’t selling as well as needed and who knows if or when Ellis will reward us with more Fell, which now seems to be on an annual schedule.

Comments

  1. ” (and to be fair, the Big 2 share some of these same problems).”

    Wait, SOME of these same problems?

    The last I saw D&Q, Fantagraphics, Slave Labor, Top Shelf don’t have regularly scheduled monthly or bi-monthly series.

    Marvel and DC (and perhaps Image) list books as monthly or on a regular schedule. Shops order these books and have their funds tied up when they don’t come out as scheduled.

  2. Why does every discussion about how the comic industry can be healthier turn into a pissing contest? Artists make a case for doing more creator-owned work, then somebody blanket-condemns the direct market, then the usual retailer spokespeople talk about how nothing could possibly ever be their fault and start bagging on artists and publishers. EVERY TIME.

  3. Can’t we just split the difference and, instead of making it a matter of blaming EITHER the Big Two OR the “alternative” press, we instead simply blame the CREATORS who work for BOTH?

    Whether they’ve worked for Marvel or on their original creations, guys like Joe Quesada and Warren Ellis have racked up an absolutely shameful record for meeting deadlines, and like herpes, their influence has been the gift that keeps on giving, and spreading, not only because other creators, whether “mainstream” OR “independent,” look at them and say, “If they don’t have to meet their deadlines, then neither should we,” but also because, if and when they get into positions of power, they hire guys whose pace is just as glacial as their own.

    Of course, additional blame also goes toward the readers who continue to buy these comics, saying OMG U GUISE QUALITY TAKES TIME, which would be great if there was any “quality” involved in the resultant output. Does anybody seriously believe that Kevin Smith’s final issues of Spider-Man/Black Cat: The Evil That Men Do were “worth the wait?” Or Joe Quesada’s Daredevil miniseries? Or Damon Lindelof’s Ultimate Hulk vs. Wolverine miniseries? Or the Image “10th anniversary” book? With the smaller press, it’s arguably as bad, because while they’re also plagued by missed deadlines, they run together so much that I can’t even pick out individual examples.

    So, no, this is not a matter of INDIES R SUPERIOR or DC/MARVEL ROOLZ, as much as it is a matter of HOLY SHIT A LOT OF THE GUYS PRODUCING COMICS RIGHT NOW ARE INEXCUSABLY UNPROFESSIONAL IDIOTS.

  4. Micah says:

    Regarding Ellis, don’t forget Planetary, Desolation Jones and newuniversal among his incomplete works. Honestly I think the man gets bored. He should just write complete works, never an on-going.

    Mr. Scott is blurring the discussion. Kirkman is talking about the integrity of the artistic merit of the industry and Mr. Scott is talking about the economics. Kirkman is talking about protecting the creators, and not the publisher. Mr. Scott is talking about protecting the retailer. As customers we know the pecking order.

    By the way, publishers charging $4 a book (Marvel & DC event books, IDW, BOOM!, etc.) are bleeding out the customers. They have got to figure out how to publish the books more cheaply. If Spiderman, Batman and Superman cost $4, who is going to buy a $4 Blue Beetle? A $4 Black Panther? No one is buying them at $3. The price point has been creeping in, and no one is even talking about it. 2 years ago you could buy X-men for $2.25. By the summer of 2009, everything is going to be $4.

  5. If you can get past the shrillness, Scott eventually (after this excerpt) does make a good point about lack of marketing with a lot of the creator-owned comics.

    Still, a lot of what sells books is the creator and DC and Marvel are locking up an over-whelming percentage of the best-known creators. With comics being as focused on publisher as they are (we’ve all been to comic stores that shelve books by publisher – you know that hurts indy sales), if any indy publisher (not just Image) had more “name” talent, it would probably boost the whole line out of pure exposure.

  6. I find the question kind of strange: “Who has hurt comics more…” kind of invites some strong opinions.

    Here’s my opinion, it’s neither WFH nor creator owned.

    Imho, it’s the whole direct market thing. Whoops, now I’m bad for throwing mud. But I have a dislike for the way it works. I purchase a Previews catalog, or stand around in the comic shop flipping through the Previews catalog. I order a few titles that I think might be good. When they arrive 2 months later, I pay for them sight unseen. Good luck to me!

    I take all the risks in that scenario, the retailer none. That hurts comics, because I am buying far fewer than when I could flip through them at the newsstand.

  7. What I want to know is, who has helped comics more? Anybody want to start?

  8. One could make a case that if the mainstream wasn’t “helping” the industry by encouraging the DM (all to help the mainstream’s own self, to be sure), there would have been far fewer venues for altcomics.

  9. There’s bad stuff all around:

    To the big publishers who don’t rock the boat creatively nor innovate to create inexpensive entertainment for many different audiences…

    To the indie publishers that solicit too early before having complete works in house…

    To the creators who don’t buckle down and stick to a schedule they promise to fulfill…

    To the retailers who (back in the 80′s, 90′s and beyond) gave indie comics a bad name by ordering huge amounts of crap on the off-chance something might hit with an audience and recreate the phenomenon that was TMNT…

    To the audience who doesn’t vote with their wallet…

    We are ALL to blame.

    The question we should be asking is “How are we going to change things?”

  10. Robert completely missed my point, which was that creators need to have something for themselves, something THEY own, to ensure their futures.
    I can’t think of ONE creator who devoted their career to WFH who came out well in the end.
    Since the beginning of my career, and before I was a pro, I have seen again and again what devoting the entirety of one’s life to characters they didn’t own (either because they gave up rights or did WFH) does to creators. It’s ugly.

    I’ve also seen what building one’s own house instead of or (usually) in addition to WFH does. Myself, Stan Sakai, Sergio Aragones, Carla Speed McNeil, Jeff Smith, Scott McCloud.

    My idea of saving comics is in saving and growing diversity, growing a market for creator-owned work, and educating creators that they don’t have to give up rights to be a success.

  11. meagain says:

    I hate to post something after Lea’s excellent post, but as someone who doesn’t read Marvel or DC comics, I would like to chime in.

    I just want good comics. I don’t care if they come out monthly or yearly or randomly. I usually don’t read the story until I have all or a large number of issues built up (when I bother to buy pamphlets in the first place). I supported a bunch of new Vertigo releases because I didn’t want to see them cancelled, and they were cancelled anyway–American Virgin, Testament, Exterminators…all good books; all cancelled. I’m taking a bigger risk than most because I could have bought 10-20 issues before reading any of them simply based on the story and the creators behind it. I also bought Civil War, and while I enjoyed that story, at the end of 7 issues I felt like I had only read 1 issue with minimal plot development… apparently all the interesting stuff happened in other books. I buy more $3.99 books than any other books, and I have no problem with that because I’m getting what I pay for. I would rather read a book from Boom! or IDW than 90% of what Marvel and DC put out (the other 10% consists of ICON/VERTIGO books and just plain good comics like Iron Fist by Fraction, Brubaker, and Aja). There was a time when I was buying 2 comics per month and just waiting for these two great books to come to an end so I wouldn’t have to buy monthly comics anymore. Those books were Liberty Meadows by Frank Cho and Strangers in Paradise by Terry Moore. That’s pretty far removed from Marvel/DC. I just recently read the third TPB of Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men, and as much as I like Joss’ work, I was still confused and incredibly bored by what went on in that book.

    So, who has hurt comics more? Comics readers. The only ones keeping comics going are the ones doing the most damage. “you only hurt the ones you love.” Comics readers who would prefer to spend all their time on the internet bitching about comics with other comics readers instead of trying to get other non comics readers to read comics are doing the most damage. They’re attacking something they are supposedly fans of to ingratiate themselves to a dwindling audience instead of going out and spreading the word of what’s GREAT about comics. It doesn’t matter if it’s Marvel, DC, or Fantagraphics; if someone is reading comics, they should be appreciated and encouraged to bring others into the fold.

    When I try to find a way to get someone to read comics, the biggest problem I face isn’t whether they should read work-for-hire comics or creator-owned comics or in deciding what to give them to read because I firmly believe that comics have more diversity now than ever before… the biggest problem is in getting people to READ in the first place. Everybody who wants to bitch and whine on the internet, find a young relative and teach that kid the joys of reading and you’ve just jumped hurdle #1. Everything after that should be easy. If they say they don’t like comics, show them your favorite hilarious Far Side cartoon or Calvin and Hobbes strip and tell them “hey, see, you DO like comics” and then go from there. If they like to read and they aren’t prejudiced against comics, then all you have to do is find the appropriate material and show it to them. It’s not hard. Stop being an internet antagonist and start being proactive in spreading comics goodness across the land.

    Look in the mirror. That’s who’s hurting comics the most. Form a Church of J’onn J’onzz of Present Day Comics Readers and go door to door spreading the “good news”. Those other guys get away with it by pushing their book on their unsuspecting neighbors, and so should you. The local comic shops probably have a bunch of leftover FCBD books stamped with their info on them… ask for the box and tell them you’re going to go around finding them customers and if they say no, then it’s their turn to look in the mirror and find out who’s hurting comics. If I was Joe Quesada or Dan DiDio and my comics business was based in one of the biggest cities in this country, I would have interns on the street corners passing out comics weekly if not daily with fliers for every single comic shop in the city between the pages of those comics for good measure…. instead of just sitting in their offices trying to figure out who needs to make a deal with the devil now or when to have their next crisis.

    or maybe I’m just an asshole, and you’re thinking “what have you done to help comics?” Well, I found someone who likes to read and who isn’t prejudiced against reading comics, and I bought her Mouse Guard and Herobear and the kid for her birthday. Hey, it’s a start, and I’m doing my part. Do yours.

  12. MBunge says:

    “I can’t think of ONE creator who devoted their career to WFH who came out well in the end.”

    Stan Lee.

    Mike

  13. MBunge says:

    Oh, and John Byrne.

    Mike

  14. MBunge says:

    George Perez doesn’t seem to have done too badly, either.

    Mike

  15. MBunge says:

    I’m also pretty sure that the last several years when Bendis has been devoting himself to WFH have also been the most successful of his career to date.

    Mike

  16. MBunge says:

    John Romita Sr. and Jr. have done pretty well as WFH guys too.

    Mike

  17. MBunge says:

    Mark Bagley hasn’t seemed to have any complaints, either.

    Mike

  18. MBunge says:

    Oh, and guys like Roy Thomas and Tom DeFalco have apparently made decent livings at WFH for decades. How many people do you know that have been able to work that long at something they love that also pays the bills?

    Mike

  19. The Beat says:

    I’ll just quote Pedro Bouca from a previous comment thread:
    >>>>> As I love to say every time there is one of those discussions: In Europe the Big Comic Publishers work on a creator-owned model. Hergé died a millionaire, Goscinny died a millionaire, Uderzo is a millionaire. And yet Media Participations, the main french publisher (owns Dargaud, Lombard, Dupuis and others), is richer than Marvel.

  20. MBunge says:

    “In Europe the Big Comic Publishers work on a creator-owned model. Hergé died a millionaire, Goscinny died a millionaire, Uderzo is a millionaire. And yet Media Participations, the main french publisher (owns Dargaud, Lombard, Dupuis and others), is richer than Marvel.”

    And the American book publishers work on a creator-owned model, with King, Grisham and Steel all to die millionaires many times over. Which isn’t much comfort to the buttloads of writers who never achieve that level of success and wish like hell there were more WFH opportunities to pay their bills.

    Mike

  21. Wow. How can people producing comics, whether bad or good, can ‘hurt’ the industry?

    Mr Scott cannot tell the difference between ‘the industry’ and ‘his shop’.

    And to the idiots talking about the price of comics (oohh so expensive! Yeah ready to drop $60 for a lame videogame but $3 is too expensive, hear me whine!) you should all know that $3 barely covers the price of printing, marketing and distribution for a single issue. Why? Because it’s not a good business model. It’s a business model forced on the industry by the DM, by Diamond and Marvel/DC, because 20 pages is all about an artist can draw every month. So you idiots who complain about the high price of monthlies you should know that it’s YOU, needing your continuity fix every month that creates those prices. If you would buy Graphic Novels, and wait 6 months for your next soap opera in tights fix you would get quality books at a very reasonable price (and preferably from a bookstore, not a LCS).

  22. I just wanted to come back to point out that I don’t know what Robert Scott is referring to when he said SLG “had to go begging hat in hand.” I’ve asked him about it, but I think it may be one of those occasions when one’s mind invents something that didn’t happen. As Dirk pointed out, Top Shelf and Fantagraphics were left in a bad position when their book distributors went under while owing them money and asked readers to buy books to help them out. (And it’s testament to comics readers that they did.) But I don’t remember doing anything similar. Perhaps it was before my time — I’ve been here a little more than seven years, and I know comic book people’s memories are a lot longer than that.

  23. Came out well in the end, Mike.

    Stan Lee being a huge exception that most certainly does not prove the rule. Let us observe how his co-creators fared. Kirby had to fight for the return of his physical artwork. Ditko barely recognized for his part in Spider-Man. (Yes, recognition outside of comics counts.) Stan was in the happy position of being at the top of the pyramid and is currently a personality far more than a creator.

    Things turned out well for Byrne? I beg to differ.

    Bendis is still fairly young. He has POWERS and other works he owns that he can return to.

    Tom DeFalco struggled after being replaced as Marvel EiC. Marvel has a cruel way with former employees and freelancers.

    Dave Cockrum died penniless.

    As did Tom Artis.

    Herb Trimpe, after years, was fired by Marvel. Lucky for him, he was able to find other work as a high school teacher, and distinguished himself as a Ground Zero chaplain.
    (http://shopping.msn.com/prices/shp/?itemId=1231392)

    Again, in the end.

  24. @Jennifer: “and I know comic book people’s memories are a lot longer than that.”
    Oh my, yes.

  25. [I just wanted to come back to point out that I don’t know what Robert Scott is referring to when he said SLG “had to go begging hat in hand.”]

    It was and still is explained to you the comments at http://comickaze.blogspot.com/2008/08/kirkman-making-industry-invincible.html

    Can you explain to me how, even if I had no basis for saying that or commenting on your need to fight retailers for sales at online and at conventions, it changes the fact that more creator owned work will not magically save the industry and comic publishers will continue to fail with creator owned or WFH work if they continue the status quo of producing work willy nilly and acting as if their job is done once its submitted to Diamond?

  26. Pedro Bouça says:

    “And the American book publishers work on a creator-owned model, with King, Grisham and Steel all to die millionaires many times over. Which isn’t much comfort to the buttloads of writers who never achieve that level of success and wish like hell there were more WFH opportunities to pay their bills.”

    So you say that the US comics industry is better because it allows creators who were unable to do a single sucessful thing on his life to work FOR A FEW YEARS (no third-rate creator has been able to work until his retirement on the US comics industry) in a WFH basis? Seriously?

    On the book publisher model (which is exactly the same european comic publishers use), anyone who can create a lasting sucess WILL have money for the rest of his life. Unsucessful writers will fail, yes, but wouldn’t they do so if they were working on the US comics industry? How many US comics creators for the 70s still work on the industry? Even John Byrne, whom you mentioned above, struggles to get a job today, yet he wouldn’t even have to worry about getting a job if his past sucesses had been creator-owned. Is that fair?

    Seriously, the US comics industry business model is unfair. Anyone can see that! Specially when, different from Europe, a sucessful comic can become a blockbuster movie – whose sucess won’t give a penny to the original creators.

    Best,
    Hunter (Pedro Bouça)

Trackbacks

  1. [...] As the discussion spawned by Robert Kirkman’s recent call to arms somehow morphs into an argument about who has done more to hurt comics, Grant Morrison delivers his own sermon on the subject: I suppose I’m slightly amused by the reformer’s zeal with which each new generation approaches the problem of ’saving’ comics. It reminds me of humanity’s charming, self-regarding notion that it’s our job to ’save’ a planet which has survived fine without us through several mass extinction events, climactic overhauls and planetary disasters. [...]

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