If you were following our live tweets of the Harveys last night, (and those from ComixMix and JahFurry) you saw portions of Mark Waid’s keynote speech transcribed. While claiming it was a “vodka-fueled rant,” Waid delivered a heartfelt, if off-the-cuff, talk on the importance of the idea and the supremacy of comics as a medium of ideas. He started off with remarks on the history of copyright, stating it was a means to allow ideas to go into the public domain where they could remain powerful. “No one would say we’d be better off if Shakespeare plays weren’t allowed to be read and performed in high schools,” he used as an example. While not advocating piracy, his main argument seemed to be that it’s already done, the genie is out of the bottle, and struggling to keep ideas protected isn’t as important as finding a way to profit from those ideas.
It was mostly pep talk, partly an entreaty “not to be afraid of the future when we can still affect it.” On that part, it was hard to find fault.
But at least one other attendee, namely Sergio Aragones, a cartoonist whose name is regularly preceded by the word “legendary,” took issue with Waid’s idea that ideas should be free. After the speech, according to witnesses, Aragones went over to Waid and the two had a heated exchange. While we heard several reports of various folks storming out and slamming doors, we also heard that after all was said and done, Aragones and Waid literally hugged and made up.
We had a chance to talk to Sergio later on — it was an off the cuff conversation in the middle of a rather chaotic night (the Hyatt bar was shut down early and everyone was in a tizzy). Paraphrasing here a bit, but Sergio was advocating more for the idea that the spread of free content has devalued content, making it harder for people to make a living at it. He said a couple of things that I tried to jot down, one that (I’m paraphrasing) “quality has to be considered again” and the one I tweeted “If you give everything away for free, you have ruined everything.”
This wasn’t a real hard and fast pronouncement, but rather a reflection, I think, of the devalued media world of content farms, user-generated content and “doing it for the exposure,” — anti-income-generating measures that leave many of the creative types I know scrambling for 20 different ways to make a living.
Which isn’t to say it’s bad. It just is. Aragones and Waid are both right. It’s part of a conversation I’ve been having with many people this weekend, and most people seem to think that we’re living in a world where IP is the only sure currency — the Waidian view, as it were. The Aragonesian Principle is more that you have to be aggressive about valuing your IP – and getting paid for SOMETHING.
Dirk Deppey and Lea Hernandez, among others, got into a late night discussion of the Aragones quote, which, given the out of left field context it was presented in, was more of a webcomics-centric argument. Deppey wrote:
I’d go so far as to say that, right now, giving it wawy and selling merchandise at the back end…..is the de facto method for self-supporting, self-published cartoonists in ANY medium.
….true as far as it goes. But we live in a world where popular, loved cartoonists can’t make a living just selling comics for people to read. It may be SOP for all creative people, but it’s infinitely more complex than Jack Kirby’s world: Make a good comic, get it seen by a movie company or ad agency or whatever and get them to pay you a lot of money to do something, go back and do another free comics, rinse and repeat.
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.