When thinking about the crazy world we live in today, where The Walking Dead is the most successful thing on TV and Marvel is the most successful thin in movies, I often think back to a seminal moment in the debate between creator-owned and company-driven: the 2008 debate between Robert Kirkman and Brian Bendis which took place at that year’s Baltimore Comicon. The think kicked off when a pre-Talking Dead sharpened Kirkman posted a video editorial calling for more creators to band together to make creator owned comics more of a thing, He even had an agenda for the process (emphasis mine.):
Top creators who want to do creator-owned work band together and give it a shot. I’d certainly love for that to be at Image, but whatever, wherever — if you want to do it, step up and do it. The more people who do it, the easier it’ll be to do. Creators are very important to the current fan base, if it’s done right you could bring a large portion of your audience with you provided you take the plunge and only do creator-owned work. If you give people the option of Spider-Man or your creator-owned book… they’ll choose Spider-Man, that’s something time-tested versus something new. New has to be the only option.
If that results in a mass exodus of creators leaving Marvel and DC, don’t panic guys, I love their books as much as everyone else — nobody wants to hurt them in the process. Look at it like an opportunity, that’s the time for Marvel and DC to step up the plate and make their comics viable for a whole new generation. Less continuity, more accessible stories — not made for kids, but appropriate for kids. Books that would appeal to everyone still reading comics, but would also appeal to the average 13 year old too. There are a wealth of talented creators who haven’t yet reached a level where they can sell books on their own — they can do awesome work for the companies and be happy doing it.
What that could lead to:
A comic industry where there are more original comics, so there’s more new ideas, more creator-owned books by totally awesome guys that are selling a ton of books. Those books are mature and complex and appeal to our aging audience that I count myself among who are keeping this business alive. And we also have a revitalized Marvel and DC who are selling comics to a much wider audience than ever before. And that audience, as they age, may get turned on to some awesome creator-owned work eventually. So everyone is happy.
Well, turns out he had kind of the right idea about some things, didn’t he? The actual “debate” moderated by C.B.Cebulski consisted of Kirkman earnestly making his case, and Bendis sticking to the idea of having a regular paycheck being a good thing. It’s an idea he seemed pretty certain about, and I can’t say that he’s wrong. I remember Todd McFarlane once telling me that if you could live on macaroni and cheese for a month you could do an Image book. This is correct if “one month” means “years” as many people have found out. But as Kirkman showed, when you can hit it big, you REALLY hit it big. Also, as big a Hollywood shot as he is now, he’s always been very loyal to the idea of creator ownership.
iFanboy has a video of the debate still online, and I think it’s worth revisiting every once in a while just to see what changed and what didn’t. (Todd Allen took a look at it in 2012, in fact.) I think, as Todd suggested, the creators’ position looks a bit better now than it did in 2012 even.
Aside: what I really liked about the panel at the time was that Kirkman showed a chart of the ICv2 sales figures and how close they are to the real sales figures. At the time I got constant grief from everyone about the sales charts I run here, and this is as close to anyone ever came to saying it wasn’t the end of the world.
Second aside: while I was looking for the above photos, I found this one from the 2008 show of Matt Kindt and Jeff Lemire sketching away at the Top Shelf booth, their then-steady employer. (I got a nice pirate sketch from Lemire!)
Since between them Lemire and Kindt now write every mainstream book that Charles Soule doesn’t (While still doing the odd creator driven book like Kindt’s Mind MGMT), you can see that a page rate does have its charms. One thing that ‘s great about the world of 2014 is that more comics folks seem to be making a living at it than there were six years ago. At least I hope so.
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.