Last week I began my in-depth look at the history of Zenith and its attached legal dispute. As before I shall add my disclaimer: that this in no way speculates on who is right and who is wrong, and that it seeks only to bring you the facts, histories and quotes at my disposal – focusing primarily on what information is already in the public domain – in order to better allow all readers to form their own opinions and judgments.
CBR has a nice roundtable on creator-owned comics that rounds up Robert Kirkman, Mark Millar, and Steve Niles. Since they are all “strongly for”, the piece doesn’t really ignite any banter, but it does allow many long, entertaining manifestos. For instance, how Millar terrorized Alan Moore when he was a teen.
Millar: And then I met Alan Moore when I was 13. It was around the same time, and there was a small comic convention in Glasgow where Alan showed up. He was still a new superstar then. He hadn’t really made his name in American comics except for a couple of issues of “Swamp Thing.” So he introduced me to “Warrior” where his early worked appeared. I’d never heard of him, but he was a really nice man and stood with me for an hour, which must have been torture for him, but for me it was fascinating because I got to talk to a comic book writer. And Alan was explaining to me about “Marvelman” and “V For Vendetta” and that he was starting on “Swamp Thing.” I remember I didn’t have enough money on me, so he bought me an issue of “Swamp Thing” and one of “Warrior,” which was the British independent comic that made me realize there was more going on beyond Superman and Batman.
Niles makes a few veiled allusions, first on the subject of those “movie pitch comics”:
Niles: I think content wins out in the end. In the end, you can sniff out those companies and those comics. You can tell when a comic is just a movie pitch or when it’s made with a genuine love of the medium. And I’ve been accused myself of just doing stuff to make movies, but everything I’ve done at its core is about loving comics and putting out good comics. There’s always that pile on where if something good happens for comics, EVERYBODY starts trying to do it, but we’re starting to see a lot of those companies that you’re referring to…well, I haven’t heard from a lot of them in a while. So I think the good stuff is floating to the top now.
And then on some…other events.
Niles: On top of the fact that you’re not told what to do – which is amazing since every time I’ve done DC and Marvel stuff, the things I’ve been criticized for are the things I was pushed into doing – I am totally ready to get shredded for anything I chose to do in a creator-owned book. I can take that criticism. But when you do something with a character that’s against your better judgement because it’s the order, that’s not very smart publishing – to hire a creator because you think they’re talented and then you don’t allow them to do what they want to do.
I found myself nodding, pounding my fist and yelling “Yeah!” most at Kirkman’s comments though. Kirkman is still pretty young—even his Wikipedia page doesn’t give his age but he’s still in his early 30s—and was raised in a world where creator-owned comics were the norm. Hence his insights that bust some old-timer notions:
Kirkman: But I do think there’s one thing that people haven’t been talking about, and that’s that when I came into the industry, it was rare to find a creator-owned title that came out regularly and shipped on a continuous monthly basis. Now I think you can walk into a comic store and find 50 of those! And I also think that the Direct Market comic book reader actually prefers what you get out of a creator-owned book these days. They want consistency and continuity and to know that book is going to be there month in, month out. What they’re getting now from bigger companies is exactly the opposite. If you’re reading a regular monthly series, the creative team can change at any moment. The entire narrative can change. The entire universe can change! And then all of the sudden, there’s a bunch of new #1 issues the next week. That can be a fun, exciting kind of thing, or it can have the opposite effect. There’s no stability at the Big Two right now, and I think Direct Market readers are realizing that there’s a tremendous amount of stability in something like “Chew.” It comes out monthly. It’s always by the same creative team. If you’ve read issue #1, you know that that stuff is going to play out in issue #30, and a lot of thought has been put into that. So you’re reading a continuing narrative experience, which people want out of comics.
[nods] I’m pretty sure CHEW has a longer-running regular team than any mainstream comic at this point.
He also nails the twilight of the superhero:
Kirkman: I think we’ve seen the last Elektra or Wolverine or Deadpool – the last great characters to come along in a company-owned universe and take people by storm. When you start to realize how old the “newer” characters are in those universes, you can see how people have come to grips with the fact that anything you do there will be owned by somebody else. I think it would be a tragedy to see Hellboy running around in the DC Universe. I’m sure there’s a parallel dimension where that’s happening right now, and even that’s terrible. There’s a lot more opportunity out there now, though, and there are places to go with creator-owned stuff. And people are aware of all that. So hopefully we’ve seen the last of people getting bamboozled out of their creations without their knowledge.
…a view which Millar states even more succinctly:
Millar: I like the Marvel and DC guys, so I don’t want to do any name calling. But I don’t like them so much that I’d create a character for them. [Laughter] I wouldn’t give them a free concept, but they’re fun to work with.
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.
BY JEN VAUGHN – On October 21st, Stephen Bissette from The Center for Cartoon Studies met up with Oliver Goodenough from The Vermont Law School to discuss Jack Kirby and his relationship with Marvel Comics. The Comics Journal put the audio up and it is a good listen with a nice James Sturm introduction. It was standing/sitting on the floor room only as law students and cartooning students mingled in the law classroom in South Royalton, Vermont.
Bottom line: get it in writing before you do the work. Listen for cartoonist Alec Longstreth‘s Carl Barks/Disney question too!
Professor Oliver Goodenough’s research and writing at the intersection of law, economics, finance, media, technology, neuroscience and behavioral biology make him an authority in several emerging areas of law. He is a Professor of Law and the Director of Scholarship at the Vermont Law School. His is also currently a Faculty Fellow at The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, where he is co-director of the Law Lab project. Prof. Goodenough holds many appointments and has written on a vast array of subjects including the topic of today’s conversation, intellectual property and the transmission of culture.
Stephen R. Bissette has won many industry awards in his quarter-century in comics as a cartoonist, writer, editor and publisher and is best-known for Saga of the Swamp Thing and his self-published horror anthology Taboo. His efforts in comics and publishing have provided fuel for many films including Constantine, From Hell, and TMNT II: Secret of the Ooze. He is a founding faculty member at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vt. and has been a champion for creator rights for decades.
Jen Vaughn is a freelance cartoonist, librarian and writer. She signs contracts in blood and saves rejections letters.
BY JEN VAUGHN – This Friday, ‘Marvel’ will face the ghost of Jack Kirby when professor and attorney Oliver Goodenough squares off against creator rights advocate and cartoonist Steve Bissette.
In case you’ve missed the ruling of the decade, Marvel is now owned by Disney ($4 billion smackers later) and when Kirby’s heirs took them to court for the rights to his work, a federal judge in New York eventually ruled in favor of Disney. Since Kirby’s comics and characters were created as works for hire under the Copyright Act of 1909, Judge Colleen McMahon ruled that the Kirby heirs had no claim to them.
Past and current champion for creator rights and enemy of work-for-hire Bissette will discuss the ethics of such a ruling with attorney Goodenough in an eye-opening talk betwixt two strong-arms of the comics creative world and the contract world. All are welcome at the Vermont Law School (Nina Simon room) to see the VLS professor Oliver Goodenough and The Center for Cartoon Studies professor Steve Bissette table these topics at 2:30pm, Friday October 21st.