Chris Roberson quit DC Comics this week, going on Twitter to announce that he was leaving after he wrapped up his current workload. That he couldn’t work for such an unethical company. DC Comics responded as they should have and simply fired him, because the fact that I’m even able to open the column talking about this is proof enough that he spoke out of turn.
Creator rights is one of the big hot button issues of the industry. Who deserves what credit, who got screwed by who, who is profiting, who is broke, etc etc. Alan Moore got screwed out of Watchmen! Jack Kirby deserved more! Siegel and Shuster should own Superman! There’s a million of them, and while yes, there are cases like the Gary Friedrich situation where I stand squarely by the creator, there are ones like Alan Moore’s campaign against DC where I wonder what they really expected.
An editorial ran on Comics Alliance that Roberson cited as explaining his reasons, and to be honest…while I can respect the man doing what he believes is right, the fact that this is why destroys his case. The writer of the editorial paints us a world where DC Comics screwed Alan Moore out of his baby and then made a prequel to rub it in his face. He paints a world where the upcoming Avengers movie should be called “Jack Kirby’s Avengers”. He attacks corporations for crushing down the little people who do all of the work so that they can be big evil corporations. And really, the entire thing reminds me of an episode of South Park.
Anyone remember the Hippie Jam Festival? A bunch of hippies come to South Park trying to hold a giant music festival and Cartman keeps trying to lock them in his basement. Stan, Kyle, and Kenny are converted by a group of hippies who exclaim that they just finished their first semester in college and had their eyes opened by their professors. How corporations are evil, and how they have to bring them all down by doing…whatever it is hippies do. In the end, the hippies had no real plan other than play bad music and take a lot of drugs, and Cartman had to take a giant drill through to the center to take them out with Metal. The point of this tangent is the attitude displayed by the hippies in that episode. They wanted to set up a system where you could go and barter for food, but not a grocery store. A place you could trade for clothes, but not a store. Essentially, anything and everything ‘corporate’ they wanted to do away with, but they still wanted everything those places provided, and in the end, all they did was get high.
That’s how I view a lot of bloggers around the net these days. People being cynical for the sake of it, or worse, unknowingly ignorant. Really, nothing drives me crazier than supposed fans rallying against Marvel and DC and acting as if the big two are the reason the industry has shrunk so much. Than people finding any and every reason to enforce boycotts on the two companies that really and truly are the only reason any of us care about comics. Sure, there’s a lot outside of the big two to love (and my personal resolution for the year to expose myself to it is going strong, I’ve picked up nine new titles this year, and while some are minis, others are ongoing), but there’s no denying that Marvel and DC are what keeps the industry going. They are who keep comic shops open, they are the forefront of the digital marketplace, they are the marketshare. The fact that they do what they do is the reason why Chris Roberson is able to go and do independent work successfully. Their success is what keeps the industry large enough for smaller publishers to find new readers to reach.
Did DC screw Alan Moore with Watchmen? No, they didn’t. Not by any stretch of the imagination. They gave him a contract, it was not a bad one, and he signed it. He didn’t have to sign it, they didn’t hold a gun to his head and make him do it, he simply signed it and later had regrets. In Alan Moore’s perfect world Watchmen was going to be published by DC Comics, reprinted once in the non-existent trade paperback market of 1987, and the rights be returned to him by 1989…1990 at the latest after the lack of a market causes DC to not bother reprinting them. At this point Moore could do whatever he wants with it, whether it be take it to another publisher (and consider that his issues with DC are all about Watchmen, if he had gotten what he wanted, then what difference would another publisher make?), or just sit it down in limbo and deprive every following generation of it? To put that in perspective, how many of you readers have read Miracle Man? With the rights tied up in all manners of confusion, I think the only way to get those issues is ebay (if you’re lucky) or with piracy. Now, I’m not an advocator of piracy, but that’s the method I would have to take if I wanted to read it. Imagine if that was the case with Watchmen; if the seminal piece of comics literature was something that we couldn’t even read because it wasn’t in print.
Alan Moore couldn’t have predicted that libraries and book stores would begin to shelf graphic novels, or that Watchmen and Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns would pave the way for something that is just simply the way it is today. DC Comics couldn’t have predicted that either, or else they most likely would have figured out a way to pull it off sooner. It’s a shame that things went down the way that they did, but DC Comics is a business that made a sound business decision. If you’re publishing a book that is constantly selling and demanding new print runs, and is constantly generating income, why would you sign away the rights to it and lose that money? And if you do that once, then that sets a precedence for anyone in the future to demand the rights to their material back, and before you know it…you don’t have anything left to profit on. How do you stay in business at that point? Answer: You don’t.
So what’s the counter point to this? Gary Friedrich. He didn’t own the rights to Ghost Rider, and Marvel wasn’t willing to give them up, but at the very least they could have not sent him a cease and desist order to prevent him from signing art of the character he created at comics cons, or promoting himself as the creator of Ghost Rider. Those are just low blows by a company that should know better after the situation they went through with Jack Kirby. Then again, Jack Kirby understood the business, not unlike Gary Friedrich; he accepted the freelance nature of the job he had been doing for so many years, and while he should have received royalties (and in todays day and age, he would), you still saw him draw comic after comic and create character after character. His characters and concepts are still around, and prominent, today…and unlike someone like Alan Moore, if Jack had received any of the rights to his creations, I doubt he would have attempted to take them for himself. The man understood, and loved, the business. He spent his life creating things for the masses, and while he should have been treated better…it was a very different age.
Marvel and DC are companies that build themselves on their characters, and the writers who work fpr them understand that. The concepts created are added to the greater canon and become something bigger than the creator themselves, and that’s the way it has always been, and that’s the way it needs to remain.
If you really have a problem with that, as a creator, then you work for Image, or IDW, or Dark Horse, or any other company. You don’t go to Marvel and DC to make it rich with your own ideas unless you want to sign them away, and that’s not a secret. I have all the respect in the world for the guys who go out on their own and try to make it big with their own properties, I just hate when they condemn people who work for the big two. After all, Robert Kirkman is getting sued by his former friend, and Walking Dead co-creator, over the creative rights to Walking Dead. So this stuff happens everywhere, even Image, the company formed for creator rights. The place that saw the epic Todd MacFarlane vs. Neil Gaiman lawsuit over the properties Gaiman created in Spawn as well as Miracle Man…man, everything fucking comes back to Miracle Man.
I could really keep at this all day, it’s a topic that really boils my blood…so I’m not going to. Instead, here are comments from my fellow staff members here on the Nexus.
“DC and Marvel are pretty upfront with their business model (at least how their business model was back then. Image changed a lot of the rules). “We take all the risks financially, all the printing costs, distribution costs, etc. We pay you to write and draw the book, but we own the characters. If you don’t like this, you can go take all the risks yourself (which is what the Image guys did), and maintain your rights and characters.”
Siegel and Shuster have both been quoted as saying that they tried Superman a few times, but until National stepped in and bought the character, they weren’t able to make a go at it (Morrison’s book has some great insights on this…and he’s someone who has been on both sides of these deals).
Sure, Watchmen, Superman, Captain America, etc were all great successes, but Marvel and DC didn’t defraud anyone to make that happen. There was sure no guarantee that Watchmen was going to be a huge success. Same for Supes or Captain America. Their work for hire contracts were clear cut. People like Kirby and Alan Moore were not children or mentally handicapped in any way. There is not even any sign that they were forced to sign these contracts under any kind of distress. These are not kids in a sneaker shop making 12 cents a day. They are grown men, with access to lawyers and the freedom to say, “This deal just isn’t going to work for me.”
They signed them because that was the best possible deal they saw at the time in order to create what they wanted to create and reach as big an audience as possible. They were not victimized, they just ended up on the wrong side of some insane luck (these books and characters being as beloved and financially viable as they ended up being).
Also, Marvel and DC are publicly owned. They have a responsibility to the stakeholders to follow the contracts they make. In a perfect world, they can give more than what people are owed BY THE MUTALLY AGREED UPON CONTRACTS, but it’s not just like Marvel or DC can snap their fingers and make that happen without opening them up to tremendous liability to their stakeholders.”
My general thoughts: Since the dawning of art, there has always been an intermediary, one who has the (financial) resources to take the art from the artist and distribute it to the widest possible audience. You can call them producers, curators, executives, or publishers, but their function is still the same. And in most cases, that distribution comes with a cost.
It is only in this modern age where technology allows us to both see behind the curtain and make alternative choices. I know people who refuse to listen to artists who are signed to a major label, or people who shy away from movies from big Hollywood studios. I see their point.
There is nothing wrong with making a conscious decision to only read independent comic books. I applaud that move, actually. And in 2012, the technology is at the point where artists can be fully supported by their fanbases without having to sell out to the Marvel or DC Comics.
However, without DC Comics, then Watchmen would not have been read by as many people, and most people would not know who Alan Moore is. Alan Moore would still be a great artist, and talked about in the same breath as Art Spiegelman, Dave Sim, The Hernandez Brothers, Terry Moore, and Jeff Smith. All are very talented people. All are creators whose work you should read. But more people knew who Alan Moore is (even before the movie) than all of them put together.
Alan Moore knew all of this when he signed the contract with DC Comics, and even if he didn’t, he was a fully legal adult.
But despite all of this, I will not be reading one page of Before Watchmen. Because I am standing proudly for creator rights with Alan Moore? Not at all. My reason is much more simple. There is no reason for it to be made. It is a blatant cash grab by DC Comics. I have no interest in it, and see no reason to support it, despite being a fan of many of the creators.
I respect the creator AND the work. And I would feel the same way if DC Comics decided to tell new tales of Morpheus, Jesse Custer, Spider Jerusalem, Yorick Brown, or Agent Graves. I feel the same way about Sam Spade, Vincent Vega, Atticus Finch, Holden Caufield, Danny Torrence, Henry Gondorf, and Ishmael.
I think that the Gary Friedrich/Ghost Rider story is even more compelling. In addition to denying him a creator’s credit on a character that everyone agrees he created, they also went after him for money he made selling prints that he signed as the creator of GR. This isn’t just a case of pure legality, there’s a little bit of meanness there. That, the fact that they always suck, and the fact that it’s not longer published are all reasons why I won’t read Ghost Rider anymore. I intend to read some of Before Watchmen, but only if I can find it at a used bookstore I frequent that tends to have lots of recent comics for sale that I think come from a local store that over-orders. That way, I’m not really funneling money to DC.
I don’t necessarily think the contract was the issue per se. While the words were what they were in the contract, there was an implicit or explicit understanding that rights would revert to creators when the book was out-of-print. Back then, there weren’t a lot of collected editions the way they are now. So, the question is whether DC acted in good faith agreeing to revert rights (in the contract) and just didn’t anticipate it would never be out-of-print with the proliferation of comic shoppes in the 1980s and the growth of collected editions (triggered in part by the huge success of Watchmen – which was unforeseen). In terms of Avengers, I think its ridiculous that the all the creators aren’t appropriately recognized. How weird was it that the 2011/12 “designer” of the new Hawkeye costume (which is terrible and based on he movie version) gets a comic book credit, but no real credit to the greats that created the series? Appalling.
Jack Kirby should get co-billing as Avengers creator, but not sure how I feel about compensation. What I would say is that Jack Kirby should be treated the same as Stan Lee which means, I guess, that compensation should re-opened.
So what about you guys? What do you think?
What I read this week:
Top Five Books of the Week:
5. Uncanny X-Force #24
4. Wonder Woman #8
3. Ghostbusters #8
2. Avengers vs. X-Men #2
1. Batman #8
What I Watched This Week:
The Worst Things I Saw On Shelves:
I hate to rag on legendary talent, but I flipped through Avengers this week and it was not a pretty sight. I adore Walt Simonson, but I don’t like this.
Green Lantern Corps continues its slow and steady descent into hot mess. Tomasi has gotten away from what made his run on the book so great in the past and what we wind up left with is hollow characters and a hollow story. I feel no urgency or pressure, no worry that John Stewart might have his status quo shifted. The book just feel like it’s jogging in place. Then again, most things with John Stewart do that, he’s a horribly boring character.
I’m still waiting for the point and time where I care about Blue Beetle. This dates back to Infinite Crisis, fyi.
The Best Things I Saw This Week:
I loved the Young Justice season finale. Freaking awesome! And the best part? The next season debuts this week!
LET’S GO BLUES!
Albert Pujols. 16 games, 65 at bats, 16 hits, 0 home runs. What? I can rub it in, can’t I? Beltran has five, Freese, Holliday, and Molina each have three. Prince Albert can’t hit a homer in the City of Angels, and I expect his year end totals to make the Angels wonder if they really did overpay.
Top Five Moments of the Week:
5. Man, you know you’re in a bad neighborhood when there are reports that the Hulk has stolen pants. Incredible Hulk #7
4. IRON BAT! – Batman #8
3. Nightwing: 2. Owls: 0. Nightwing #8
2. Oh Peter David, this is why I have never missed an issue of X-Factor. Moments like this. X-Factor #234
1. Whatever happened to the Manhunter from Mars? Justice League #8
Top Five Moments of Avengers Vs. X-Men
5. Dr. Strange is arrogant, also, stupid.
4. Wolverine really had this coming, what with coming at a sixteen year old girl with his claws out without warning. She’s just lucky she had the power to burn him with cosmic fire, otherwise she may have died!
3. Best. Fastball Special. Ever.
2. Now that’s how you unleash the armies.
1. Don’t tell this man about his dead wife.
The Gold Standard
Tags: Alan Moore, Avengers vs. X-Men, Batman, chris roberson, Court of Owls, Creator Rights, DC Comics, Incredible Hulk, Justice League, Marvel Comics, Miracleman, Nightwing, south park, The Gold Standard, The Night of The Owls