It’s a tough time for creative people right now. The economy is still sputtering along. The internet is a great way to promote yourself, but it has also embedded the idea of “free entertainment” as a right, not a privilege, and it’s devalued skills we used to respect to the point where the content farm Demand Media can make $1.5 billion on its IPO while paying its writers $7.50 per article. Thanks, Google.
On the comics side, periodical sales are still falling, bookstores are in jeopardy and the web model has still paid off for only a comparative handful of people. If you’re a cartoonist, forget about getting a book deal unless you already have a bestseller out there — signing up new and promising graphic novelists to book deals was an Aughts thing.
Marvel and DC aren’t even comic book companies any more. They are IP companies. Creating new IP isn’t high on the list of things they are very good at these days. Publishing anything new is risky — that’s understood — but the publishing deals being offered now are taking a bigger and bigger piece of the pie. Surviving in every creative field is a matter of cobbling together jobs here and there, staying flexible.
No wonder, then, that creators are getting a little more vocal about the importance of creator-owned material. Eric Powell’s controversial video got things going, but itself was a response to a week-long tweet storm by writer Steve Niles, who blogged recently What’s all this Creator-Owned Talk?
All I’m doing lately is attempting to call attention to creator-owned books. I think plain and simple, things are going to get even tougher out there and we have to find our place. Personally I believe there is severe lack of cooperation among creators. There’s a very dog-eat-dog mentality in comics sometimes and I think all we harm in the end is ourselves.
My simplistic solution right now is to support as many of my fellow creators as possible. We just don’t have access to publicity budgets, so simple grassroots networking can help us all a great deal.
A lot of folks have already jumped on the bandwagon to promote more creator-owned comics, with The Creator-Owned Blogspot to highlight books, and a Facebook page for The Creators Front for Diversity in Comics. Stephanie Buscema created this adorable artwork for a new column by Niles.
Some other creators chimed in on their desire to have a choice between company and creator-driven work, as well, including Tony Harris, whose ROUNDEYE project has achieved its goal on Kickstarter, BTW :
But I am not saying that I dont wanna do anymore company owned work. That kind of work has been good to me, and my Family. But I guess I am saying It’s never been enough. Im saying that It’s not enough to be the 435th guy to draw Batman. I know cause I have been that guy. I am always chasing that next new idea. The thing that rattles so loud in my head, that if I dont do everything within me to make it a reality, then I will go insane. I also think that there is a big difference between the term Creator, and Artist. I know this isnt a popular notion but I don’t care, you think about those 2 words and you figure out what you think they mean, and who does, and who does not deserve either title.
Skottie Young also chimed in:
Stop telling me what’s WRONG and point to me to what’s RIGHT and you’ll start to get somewhere. Don’t make fun of what I do read, tell me what you read and why I should be reading it. I’m not talking about telling me to read creator owned books. I mean act like a real marketer and act as if I don’t know the difference between creator owned and corporate and sell me on a book. Tell me why I would love the main character, or how the plot will blow my mind, or or or. You get the point. Sell me. It’s that easy. Blog about it, tweet about it. Spread the word of the actual books we love not just the general “problem” that you may see.
In a later column, Niles also updated the reactions:
There were a couple hilarious comments. The most telling was and I’m paraphrasing here was, “Why would you want to help your competitors?!” Yes, why would we? Well, for one, I don’t view Eric Powell as a competitor or Mike Mignola or Terry Moore. I don’t have to take from someone else to gain something. That’s a very twisted way of thinking in my book. We’re all fighting the same fight. Sure, we’re all going for a slice of the same pie, but believe me, there’s plenty for everybody, and if we work together we can actually make the pie bigger again, like it used to be.
What’s all this about? As we said up top, a lot of it is general, unfocused anxiety. And we’re not quite sure who the cry for diversity is aimed at — is it the retailer who orders 100 copies of every FEARPOINT tie-in? Or the reader who buys all the FEARPOINT tie-ins? Or a system that has been pumping up an increasingly anemic front man with so much crank that it has no effect any more?
Is it just aimed at someone who will listen?
Don’t get us wrong; we’re highly sympathetic…and many medium is only as good as its ability to find new ideas. There are tons of new ideas for comics — the medium has never been better. But the business has never been so shaky.
To be continued…
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.