Okay, it’s creators rights day on the internet so let’s just get this going.
The Comics Journal jumps right back in the fray with an exit interview with Chris Roberson, who uses the occasion to express thoughts Twitter cannot contain. According to Roberson, his distaste with BEFORE WATCHMEN was stated in podcasts, but no one picked it up until his tweets were posted. The whole thing is one big must-read, but here are some quite nice statements that no one can possibly take issue with in the comment section:
I can’t speak for Marvel because I’ve never worked there, but at least at DC over the course of paying attention as a reader over the course of the last decade, and then definitely as someone employed by them over the course of the last few years, a culture has arisen which seems to devalue the role of the creator and prize the creation. The most telling examples I could point to are things like if you go to the DC website, there are categories for titles, there are categories for characters, and there are categories for movies or films. There is no category for creator. If you go to the listings for Superman or Batman or Wonder Woman, there is no mention of the people who created them. In many cases, there are listings for the the creative teams on individual titles and individual collections, but even there in many cases the names are wrong. They are legal names which have been pulled from contracts and not the names as credited. I am credited at least three different ways on that website, as Chris Roberson, John C. Roberson, and John Roberson. (John being my first name.)
But hand in hand with that there’s been this awareness on the part of DC, it seems, over the course of the last few years that they need everyone to present a kind of unified front. And so you would get things like a few years ago before he passed away, Dwayne McDuffie was fired from DC for having the temerity in public on a message board saying that a plot point was not his idea but editorial suggestion. He didn’t argue with it, he didn’t complain, he merely answered a fan, saying, I was going to do something different but these characters belong to them. Now that can’t happen, because everybody that works on DC work-for-hire projects has to sign a non-disclosure agreement, and legal action can be taken if they say something even as innocuous as I didn’t want those two characters to date or whatever the case may be.
Roberson also discusses the differences between the book publishing model and the comics model:
I mean, to people that have a blushing familiarity with prose novels, they’re aghast at the way that the rights structures work, at least for work-for-hire stuff, but for those novelists who’ve done work-for-hire novels, whether it’s writing novels for tie-ins for TV shows or games or action figures or whatever the case may be, they’re perfectly sanguine about it, because it’s the same thing. The difference is that in the prose world, the work-for-hire stuff is a very small sliver that is kind of—I don’t want to say the bottom rung, but it’s not the thing that the most attention is paid to. More attention is paid to stuff that people create themselves and own. And there are sometimes confused looks when I have to explain that the reverse is true in the comics industry.
Roberson says he has several creator-owned projects in the works.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.