Yep, it’s our annual survey of the comics landscape, from the mainstream to the indies and everything in between. Each year we send out surveys to as wide a swath of comics pros around the world as we can muster…among the answers you’ll find lots of news of 2015 projects, predictions of the year ahead…and right off the bat some startling news from Jeff Trexler about a possible legal bombshell in 2015…and the return of Casey from James Sturm’s epochal comic strip “The Sponsor.” Hold on to your hats and let’s get going.
I write for The Beat and TCJ.com. My personal sites are in hibernation, but one day, I shall come back. Yes, I shall come back.
2015 Projects: I have an active law practice, so …
What guilty pleasure (of any kind) are you looking forward to in 2015? Catching up on all the articles I planned to write based on my notes from the San Diego and New York Comic Cons. There’s some fun stuff, not all of it legal.
What was the biggest story in comics in 2014? The biggest legal story would have to be the Kirby settlement. That case was on its way to the same fate as previous attempts to flip work-for-hire judgments under the 1909 Copyright Act, but the denouement was straight out of a Mister Miracle comic.
What will be the biggest story in comics in 2015? This might not be the biggest legal story, but one thing that many people don’t realize is that the Siegel and Shuster Superman lawsuits are still alive, with more decisions likely in 2015 and even 2016.
How can this be, you ask, when one of 2014’s other big stories was that the Supreme Court had dinged both of these cases?
The Siegel case situation is somewhat bizarre. You might recall that after the Supreme Court let stand the 9th Circuit’s ruling that the 2001 term sheet between DC & the Siegels was actually a final settlement, Toberoff tried to keep the case alive with a few new arguments . They weren’t particularly novel – rather basic, actually – but they were the sort of thing a lawyer typically would have tossed in the mix from the beginning. As I pointed out on The Beat, by failing to raise these arguments earlier he had actually waived them, thus illustrating one of the dangers of getting so swept up in what you might win that you lose sight of the details that can help you get there.
The court followed the same line of reasoning – arguments waived; case over. But then, at Toberoff’s request, two months later the court amended its judgment to throw in a declaratory judgment that the Siegels’ termination filing in 1999 was valid in regard to Action #1, Action #4, Superman #1 (page 36), and the first two weeks of the Superman newspaper strip. In other words, the material was officially not work for hire.
This ruling was rather unusual, given the 9th Circuit’s determination that the 2001 settlement agreement made everything afterward moot. Perhaps the judge thought that this was a harmless sop to history given the other legal hits to the Siegel, but it was at base a trap. Toberoff didn’t ask for this to make the Siegels feel good; he was setting up yet another appeal. His argument: the lower court should have exercised its discretion and considered the waived anyway. Were Toberoff to luck out and get a more sympathetic panel, it just might flip the lower court’s ruling re the Siegels claim that they voided the agreement but uphold the ruling that the termination was valid.
DC responded to this as one might expect. Since the 9th Circuit had declared everything after 2001 to be moot, the court had authority to issue a declaratory judgment that the termination filing was valid. What’s more, DC doubled down on the problems with Toberoff’s waived arguments and returned to one of its own earlier arguments that the Siegels’ 2004 lawsuit was invalid, since it was filed a year after the statute of limitations had expired.
Will the Siegels win? Well, the case will go before a new panel so there’s always a possibility. Should they win? I’ll leave the moral and ethical questions to each of you, but legally, let’s just say that there are some judges who would find Toberoff’s appeal here to be so disrespectful of the 9th Circuit’s previous ruling and the fundamentals of procedure as to be offensive. Again, there are others that might welcome the opportunity to flip the case back to the Siegels, so we’ll just have to watch what happens.
As for the Shuster heirs/Mark Peary case, the appellant here is in fact DC Comics. On December 9th, 2014, filed notice with the 9th Circuit that it is appealing the lower court’s denial of its state law claims that Toberoff unlawfully interfered with the 1992 Shuster settlement agreement and 2001 Siegel settlement agreements. The issue, in short, is not Superman but Toberoff.
The Siegel appeal is well underway – the briefs were filed as of September, and now we wait for oral argument (if any) and the court’s ruling. The briefs in Shuster/Peary case are scheduled to be filed by July 2015.
2015 Projects: Editing: Edward Scissorhands, Star Trek, Powerpuff Girls: Super Smash Up, Disney, Infinite Loop (US release)…and more!
What was the biggest story in comics in 2014? I can whittle it down to three: the rise of the creator, Amazon purchasing Comixology, and the continuing rise of women as creative forces and readers.
What will be the biggest story in comics in 2015? I *hope* it is more and more innovation on how to get more comics in the hands of new readers. I’ll certainly do my part.
What guilty pleasure (of any kind) are you looking forward to in 2015? Any and all Li’l Bub videos.
Eleri Mai Harris, cartoonist/editor
2015 Projects: I just finished working on an epic about bear hunting that drove me nuts
What was the biggest story in comics in 2014? Clearly Simon Hanselmann’s wedding to Comics at SPX in September was the society highlight of 2014? For The Nib, our story of the year was a comic by an anonymous artist about her rape
What will be the biggest story in comics in 2015? I’m hoping that the biggest story will be a clear shift from more traditional news media outlets to creating dedicated comics sections, as Fusion did with Jen Sorensen in 2014.
What guilty pleasure (of any kind) are you looking forward to in 2015? Reading the entire Tony Edward’s Captain Goodvibes collection on the beach in Australia in January.
Alison Sampson, artist
2015 Projects: I’m drawing a creator-owned book with Steve Niles- Winnebago Graveyard is a classic scary story. Our Think of a City project will run through all of 2015 and into 2016. Right at this minute, I’m working on a cover, and I’m hoping to be doing more design work and illustration including more unorthodox comic pages, next year
What was the biggest story in comics in 2014? Rights ownership leading to big financial wins for some- Image creators, Boom! Studios, Marvel films, and the rise of the comics-to films and tv interface.
What will be the biggest story in comics in 2015? Fallout from the rise of creator-owned work and the increased confidence around it: previously silent voices being heard, and the rise of more genuinely diverse work from companies known for their superheroes.
What guilty pleasure (of any kind) are you looking forward to in 2015? Drawing to expand the form of comics, and I’d like to visit the US again. The guilty pleasure would be eating seafood every day when we do get to the US.
Jim Zub, writer
2015 Projects: Wayward and Skullkickers for Image, Samurai Jack and Dungeons & Dragons for IDW, Conan-Red Sonja for Dark Horse.
What was the biggest story in comics in 2014? Diversity in comics, both in the fictional characters we read and the creators who weave their stories. The discussion of people of color, gender roles, LGBT, sexism, and our expanding social consciousness reflected itself in mainstream news and filtered down to the way the comic industry sees itself. It’s slowly changing the business in a good way and I hope the trend continues.
What will be the biggest story in comics in 2015? Reboots of reboots. Both DC and Marvel are trying to find the magic mix of new #1’s/new directions while clinging to their legacies with old + new universe crashing crossover events. It looks like they’re both going to reach critical mass in 2015 and seeing if they succeed or fail will be fascinating stuff that people will analyze and discuss for years to come.
What guilty pleasure (of any kind) are you looking forward to in 2015? Chip Zdarsky’s Howard the Duck series. I’m curious if Chip’s no holds barred humor will flourish in the Marvel Universe or if they’ll have to sand off the edges.
Michael Davis, artist/publisher
2015 Projects: Milestones2: African Americans In Comics, Pop Culture and Beyond:curator Dec 2015 -the immediate squeal to the wildly successful galley show Milestones:African Americans in Comics, blah, blah, blah.
The show opened Dec. 2014 for a 4 month run and was immediately extended. Making it one of, if not the most successful shows at The Geppi Entertainment Museum.
The Hidden Beach Project Winter 2015: a co venture with Hidden Beach Records. A never seen before merging of music & comics
The Underground 2015? Really? A story of the Underground Railroad—over 10 year odyssey written and illustrated by Michael Davis Dark Horse Comics
What was the biggest story in comics in 2014? Spiderwoman’s ass
What will be the biggest story in comics in 2015? The Static Shock Live Action show
What guilty pleasure (of any kind) are you looking forward to in 2015? The reaction of Variant Comics when they get called on the carpet legally. They continue to leave up untrue information and have been asked repeatedly to correct the issue.
Casey Gilly, journalist
What was the biggest story in comics in 2014? CAFs.
What will be the biggest story in comics in 2015? Treatment of women in the comics industry.
What guilty pleasure (of any kind) are you looking forward to in 2015? More pictures of Justin Jordan’s cat, Tom Waits.
Ivan Brandon, writer
2015 Projects: DRIFTER
What was the biggest story in comics in 2014? WOMEN. The fictional women inside the comics, the real-life women crafting their stories, the readers that made all of that possible. Women dominated the sales charts on original content and corporate properties and dragged the industry kicking and screaming into the present.
What will be the biggest story in comics in 2015? I’m gonna go with women again. I haven’t seen this kind of fire in the audience in my whole career.
What guilty pleasure (of any kind) are you looking forward to in 2015? Can I say Howard the Duck? I’m not really feeling guilty about it, but I’m pretty sure Chip will figure something out.
Calista Brill, Senior Editor at First Second
2015 Projects: Jay Hosler’s amazing LAST OF THE SANDWALKERS! It’s like Watership Down with insect scientists!
What was the biggest story in comics in 2014? Ms Marvel! And by extension the continuing (if grudging) trend of mainstream comics inviting a wider variety of readers into the club.
What will be the biggest story in comics in 2015? Scott McCloud’s THE SCULPTOR.
What guilty pleasure (of any kind) are you looking forward to in 2015? Finally catching up on SLEEPY HOLLOW!
Joe Keatinge, writer
2015 Projects: Writer of Shutter and Tech Jacket, for Image Comics
What was the biggest story in comics in 2014? It’s a tie between The Walking Dead show having more viewers than NFL football and Raina Telgemeier changing the definition of what a “mainstream” comic is in the 21st century by consistently dominating the New York Times bestsellers list with multiple perennial titles.
What will be the biggest story in comics in 2015? The Walking Dead show and Raina Telgemeier announcing a joint Presidential run for 2016.
What guilty pleasure (of any kind) are you looking forward to in 2015? I don’t like the idea of “guilty pleasure” as people should just like what they like, but in terms of just things I’m looking forward to in 2015 — I am excited Master Keaton’s getting released so I can resume having a new (to me) serialized Urasawa book every other month.
James Sturm, cartoonist, educator
2015 Projects: I’m working on a kamishibai project in collaboration with a performer and a kid’s book. I just wrapped up a nine-page comic for the D&Q 25th anniversary book—The Sponsor comic was the first two pages.
What was the biggest story in comics in 2014? The story I am most fascinated by for 2014 and 2015 is seeing how comics are spreading into the world-at-large as an indispensible tool for communication and education. Graphics medicine, comics journalism, and graphic facilitation are just three examples of ways that the language of comics is being applied in various fields.
The other thing that is very exciting: how much truly fantastic work is being produced right now. It’s hard to keep up.
What guilty pleasure (of any kind) are you looking forward to in 2015? Guilty pleasure and masochistic pleasure: following the Knicks and the Mets as they go from awful to awesome (in my heart I am an optimist).
Giulie Speziani, writer
2015 Projects: A few titles coming out in the new year that I can’t mention yet.
What was the biggest story in comics in 2014? The Milo Manara Spider-Woman variant cover. It was an extremely divisive topic–everyone had a strong opinion about it. People got in heated debates about the pose, the artist’s history, what it means for women in comics etc. My twitter feed was very entertaining that week.
What will be the biggest story in comics in 2015? Something Star Wars related.
What guilty pleasure (of any kind) are you looking forward to in 2015? Mad Max: Fury Road. Judging from the trailer it looks over-the-top amazing so I don’t feel that guilty about it.
Ian Harker, cartoonist/publisher
2015 Projects: GHOULANOIDS – Derek Ballard
What was the biggest story in comics in 2014? Breakdown Press
What will be the biggest story in comics in 2015? Emily Carroll
What guilty pleasure (of any kind) are you looking forward to in 2015? Potential BLADES & LAZERS Special Edition
Jeffrey Brown, cartoonist (Photo by Jill Liebhaber)
2015 Projects: Darth Vader and Friends will be out in April, while Jedi Academy 3 comes out in the fall. Currently working on a middle grade series about Neanderthals.
What was the biggest story in comics in 2014? I don’t even know, because the past few years all of the biggest stories in comics are overshadowed by film and TV stories related to comics adaptations. So the biggest comics stories are actually really, really tiny. So I’m just going to say Mike Dawson’s essay about what it means to ‘make it’ in comics.
What will be the biggest story in comics in 2015? Instead of big budget film adaptations of comics, independent producers will begin adapting single comic pages into youtube videos.
What guilty pleasure (of any kind) are you looking forward to in 2015? Episode VII
Van Jensen, writer
2015 Projects: I’m working on The Flash and Green Lantern Corps for DC, and I’ll have a new creator-owned series coming out from Dark Horse, plus the occasional bit of journalism.
What was the biggest story in comics in 2014? Honestly, I have no clue. The deeper I am in the comics world, the less I feel like I have a grasp on it. It felt like a very fractured year, with lots of really excellent books and also a lot of noise. It did seem like maybe we crossed some kind of tipping point with new audiences finding and consuming comics in really large numbers, and that influence starting to spread across even mainstream books. But I think it’ll be some time before we can really process that.
What will be the biggest story in comics in 2015? Other than the DC move to Burbank?
What guilty pleasure (of any kind) are you looking forward to in 2015? I’m really looking forward to our son starting daycare so I can have more writing time, but I feel incredibly guilty over that. So it goes.
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.