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Via the ACT-I-VATE blog, George O’Connor, artist on BALL-PEEN HAMMER, a recent GN from First Second, reveals a dispute with Amazon whereby they refused to list the book he had illustrated onhis author page, but also removed some books he had already put there.

Recently, I had written to Amazon to have a series of books where I was listed as illustrator added to my page. Upon review, they decided not only were these (totally unrelated) books not worthy of being added but, in addition, they removed my new graphic novel Ball-Peen Hammer and two other books that were already up on my page. The criteria for deletion they listed to me were: my name must be featured on cover (my name was on the cover of all the books in question) and I must have contributed a significant portion to the final book. Essentially, Amazon has decided, that as a cartoonist, I merely contribute a few pictures to the final work. We’re only illustrators, it’s the author who gets all the credit. I wrote them a very polite, yet angry letter (copied below), and also told the good folks at Roaring Brook and First Second. Let’s see where this goes. A terrible precedent for graphic novelists.

“Author Central and Author Pages only support contributors who have authored or co-authored a major portion of a work and whose name is also featured on the title’s cover”

My name is featured on the cover of all the titles that you have flagged for rejection/deletion on my Amazon Author page, and I am surprised that you would endeavor to make assumptions about the level to which I contributed to the works in question without an individual examination of the creative process behind each book.

On the graphic novel Ball-Peen Hammer, currently featured on my page but now flagged for deletion (in response to my unrelated inquiry), I find it borderline offensive to be under-credited in this way. Comics are a synthesis of word and pictures, both sides working together equally to tell a story. If this is currently Amazon’s standard practice to judge graphic novels by, I recommend a reexamination of those practices.

I hope to hear back soon. I’ve also contacted my publishers on the matter.


It should be noted that the Amazon BALL-PEEN HAMMER page currently lists O’Connor as an author, but this is not the only instance of this kind we’ve heard about. Amazon really needs to get with the times on this.

1 COMMENT

  1. I read many reviews for my collaborations with Harvey Pekar [specifically on THE QUITTER] and with Jonathan Ames on THE ALCOHOLIC, where they were listed as the sole author and it was incredibly frustrating. Comix collaborations between a writer and artist ALWAYS have, at least, two equal authors. Words AND Pictures. ‘Nuff said.

  2. I have also experienced a similar thing, on several online retailers. I get my publisher to contact them to correct it. Alas, being listed as an “illustrator” is definitely a half-measure, but a step up from not being listed at all.

  3. An author doesn’t need pictures to tell a story. The purpose of a graphic novel is to tell the story with a succession of pictures. Mr. O’Connor should, at the very least get equal billing.

  4. This is similar to situations in which librarians have generated lists of books nominated for awards. The Beat had a piece on the ALA’s 2009 Great Graphic Novels for Teens, in which the illustrators weren’t included in at least some of the credits.

    Someone might ask Amazon.com how it obtains the records for its books. The data is probably in a standard format, similar to the MARC format libraries use, if not identical to it, that has illustrators listed, but not prominently.

    SRS

  5. (Ms. Tamaki, the “Skim” cover lists you as an illustrator (“pictures by”). You are listed as the author of “Gilded Lillies” on bn.com .)

    Okay… I’ll probably regret this, but…

    I’m a data analyst for Barnes & Noble, Inc. What that means is that publishers send B&N their bibliographic data (usually in ONIX xml code) and we process that data, adding discounts, distributor, subjects and categories, and other things required so that our buyers, booksellers, and customers can order and sell the titles. (If it helps, think of me as a cataloging librarian.)

    I am responsible for the files Diamond Book Distribution sends us. I also try and godfather other graphic novel publishers I have no responsibility for, but only as time allows.

    Please remember that the data you see on our database is only as good as the data coming from distributors and publishers. Some publishers send us every single contributor in an anthology. Others do no more than “various”.

    From experience, our website does not list every name. However, testing “Absolute Sandman, Volume 1” which only lists Neil Gaiman on our website, searching for Michael Zulli does retrieve the title. (Our book store database does list multiple authors.)

    Editors and publishers: please endeavor to list every contributor on a title. The more data points a database has, the more opportunity it has to sell a book. (“Dr. Seuss did comic books? Wow!”)

    Authors, Illustrators, and other contributors: If you see something wrong on BN.com, or at your local Barnes & Noble book store, you can email me directly. Place “GN Error” in the subject line, preferably with the book’s title and EAN/ISBN. In the message block, note the title, the ISBN, a link to the publisher’s website (if possible) or your own, what is wrong, how it should be corrected, and all the pertinent information.

    Send that email to: tadair [at] bn [dot] com No attachments, keep the links Safe For Work, and please be polite. As a Seducer of the Innocent, I’ll do anything to sell more graphic novels and comics! I’m on your side. Please remember, however, that I have very little power here regarding policy or the Big Picture.

  6. If you’d like to know more:

    ONIX
    http://www.editeur.org/8/ONIX/

    BISAC
    http://www.bisg.org/what-we-do-20-73-bisac-subject-headings-2008-edition.php

    Having had to delve into ONIX XML coding, NOTHING is prominent, just like MARC tags. Some meaning can be discerned, but contributor tags are given equal weight, with author being most important (unless it’s an art book, or an anthology).

    Again, it all rests on whomever is sending the data. That usually means the publisher. I pride myself on processing those data files, using my Midwestern Work Ethic to make sure everything is correct. (Today, 5000+ titles from Harvard University.) Of course, remember that in 2008, 275 THOUSAND books were published (plus 285 thousand old titles offered as new Print On Demand editions). On top of that, publishers send out updates on old titles.

  7. This is a huge problem. I’ve run into it with Amazon and with YALSA’s “Great Graphic Novels for Teens” list. However, publishers make this mistake too. Brock Rizy and I co-created and essentially co-wrote EMILY EDISON, but the publisher will still email me (and only me) with questions about the property. I always have to respond with: “Uh, let me talk to Brock.”

  8. I have been doing my best to add as many creator names as I can when I review graphic novels for Voice of Youth Advocates and for Booklist. I also add as many as I’m allowed when I create entries for the Graphic Novel Core Collection from HW Wilson. At least some of us in the library world are trying to change how we do things to give due credit to all comics creators. I think you’ll see some changes for the better with the next Great Graphic Novels for Teens list.

    In a bit of irony, the Caldecott Medal is given annually to the illustrator of a children’s book, and very often people forget that there is usually a writer as well.

  9. Torsten Adair:

    Re: Skim. To list us as separate entities was a misstep and caused confusion. Future editions will list our names w/o designation.

    You are entirely correct that it’s not the error of sites that list, it’s the information which is provided by publishers a lot of the time. It’s a bigger, more nuanced issue than simply “Online Retailers are not listing me”.

    Thanks for your resources.

    -JT

  10. Re: Skim. To list us as separate entities was a misstep and caused confusion. Future editions will list our names w/o designation.

    That’s probably smart.

    Even as a sole creator, I don’t like being credited as a “writer/illustrator”, because it seems to give short-shrift to the visual part of the work. As I’ve often said, calling a comics artist an illustrator is akin to calling a film director a photographer. I’d like to see cartoonists across the board reject the terminology, especially where credits are concerned.

  11. It’s been very interesting to read all the comments from people who are weighing in on this subject. Most of you have now had the chance to read the letter I wrote to Amazon yesterday after being informed I didn’t meet the criteria to have my books (specifically, Ball-Peen Hammer, a graphic novel which I am very proud of) featured on my Amazon Author Page. Just a few minutes ago I received this new response from Amazon. they stand by their previous decision. Once again, they state that having one’s name on the cover is a primary method of determining authorship, this despite my name being featured on all the deleted titles:

    Hello,

    As mentioned in previous correspondence, our records indicate you are not the primary contributor of the titles in question. Currently, Author Central and Author Pages only support contributors who are primary authors or co-authors. A primary contributor is a person who has authored or co-authored a piece of work, whose name is also featured on the title’s cover.

    We recognize that the roles of others in collaborative efforts are important in the creation of many great books, and we do hope to support them in the future. We regret that it’s not possible today. We won’t be able to provide further insight or assistance for your request.

    Thank you for contacting us.

    Please let us know if this e-mail resolved your question:

    If yes, click here:
    http://www.amazon.com/rsvp-y?c=atwuatcg3424527947
    If not, click here:
    http://www.amazon.com/rsvp-n?c=atwuatcg3424527947

    Please note: this e-mail was sent from an address that cannot accept incoming e-mail.

    To contact us about an unrelated issue, please visit the Help section of our web site.

    Best regards,

    Joe G.
    Amazon.com
    We’re Building Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company
    http://www.amazon.com/your-account

  12. The simple solution? Have your publisher list you as one of the authors, and then again as the illustrator.

    If critics question an author also drawing pictures, mention William Blake and C. J. Jung.

    I think the term “illustrator” needs to be redefined so that it carries more importance. “Artist”? That usually means something else, usually without a storytelling aspect.

  13. OCLC is working on resolving the differences between the MARC system and ONIX:

    OCLC just held a symposium last month on publishing and library metadata. Interesting stuff. Here’s some of the outcomes:

    * Libraries and library metadata not necessarily on publisher’s radar and vice versa.

    * How MARC and ONIX represent misalignment of libraries and publishers.

    * Structure of formats is inhibiting mutual understanding and ability to work together.

    * Authors and users are important inputs to the metadata debate.

    * We need to influence the ILS industry to accommodate data flexibility.

    * We should view ONIX and MARC as communication mechanisms not as standards to support systems.

    * Look at motivation as a way to understand who will or can do what.

    * Leverage intellectual work for everyone—figure out how to use it.

    * Proposals are a good way to vet ideas. Keep the conversation moving.

    * Identify small chunks of problem areas where we can accomplish change. The CIP process and ISNI are good place to start.

    It’s a given that Amazon.com uses ONIX, but to resolve the problems with author classifications, they would possibly have to be convinced to modify their processing routines and to add staff.

    SRS

  14. Torsten Adair Says:
    “The simple solution? Have your publisher list you as one of the authors, and then again as the illustrator. ”

    You know what? That may be the case here.
    George. Have you checked with your publisher?
    Maybe they made a mistake and didn’t put you as an author?

    It’s totally possible this is simply an error on their part.

  15. I have no idea about publishing but…..

    The fact that your name is on the cover surely states that you are a major contributor. And it is artwork not just 2 second doodles. Amazon do need to back down on this and realise that even if there were no words the pictures would give a clear story just as if it were only words the mind would still create the picture. Both words and artwork are as important as each other. Good luck.

  16. Beyond the issue of whether or not Amazon, et al, lists the right authors for any given comix collaboration, the bigger problem is when reviewers [and some readers] make the same critical mistake. It’s rare but welcome when folks can crit the symbiotic relationship between text and image…words and pictures. Therein lies the distinction that makes comix different and wholly original from literature, songs, movies, games, etc.

  17. That response email is so supremely absurd! “We can’t/won’t answer your question. Please let us know if we’ve answered your question.”

    If Amazon’s concentration is on being “customer-centric,” as the service rep’s signature says, maybe they need to hear it from their customers that they expect that collaborative works like graphic novels have equal credits for writers and artists on their Amazon listings.

  18. Maybe cartoonists should hold out for co-author credit (as in “by Adam Rapp and George O’Connor) on covers? It’s the best way, ain’t it? “Art by” and “illustrated by” makes me crazy when applied to comics. Will book publishers go for it, though?

  19. MY publisher definitely will. They sent me the proofs of the title page just last week, and I sent it back with a note reading, “don’t call me a writer/illutrator, just put my name like you would in any other book”. It was no problem.

    In cases where writers and artists are two different people, maybe they’d want some kind of indication of who did what. But my experience has been that book publishers–unlike comics publishers a lot of the time–are happy to accomodate creators’ wishes when it comes to stuff like this.

  20. In a slightly related note, last year, at a HOWL! Festival panel that included Jillian Tamaki, James Romberger, Josh Neufeld, and others, I asked the artists on the panel what their reaction was to the writer always being listed first in book records. A prominent editor in the audience remarked that that only made sense, since the writer was the one that came up with the idea for the stories.

    I was rather struck by that statement. Not favorably.

    As for this argument here, I’m staggered that this is even necessary to discuss. Isn’t the very definition for comics–as opposed to an illustrated book–that the images and text are completely interdependent? So how is listing the artist on a graphic novel as an author even grounds for debate?

    James Romberger, incidentally, brought up this very issue recently over at the Comics Reporter:

    http://www.comicsreporter.com/index.php/cr_holiday_features_ng_suat_tong_on_writing_collaboration_and_superheroes/

  21. Well, in my particular instance, my publisher is in contact with Amazon regarding this problem; it is not unreasonable for me to assume that this will be worked out amicably– in this particular instance. It is a much, much larger problem than just me and my one book. Realistically, this writer-chauvinism affects an entire industry’s representation (to say nothing of the effect this rule will have on picture books and other illustrated media).

    The one line from my initial response to Amazon that I felt was most germane was “if this is currently Amazon’s standard practice to judge graphic novels by, I recommend a reexamination of those practices,” has been totally disregarded with their ” We won’t be able to provide further insight or assistance for your request” line.

    The Amazon response to my letter is included in its entirety a few posts up, along with the Amazon-supplied links to let them know whether or not their response resolved my question. I invite any interested parties to respond with their own thoughts on this matter to click on the “no” link.

  22. George, I’m a publishers’ sales rep who works with Amazon and my advice is to follow this specific chain or attack:

    Ask your editor, to ask your publishers’ sales manager, to ask the national account rep who sells to Amazon, to ask (inhale) the buyer and merch manager they work with to intercede in and fix the matter.

    These fine (albeit overworked) people at Amazon are the heart and soul of the operations and can frequently override decisions made by automated systems or by customer service. Torsten above is absolutely correct—Amazon has specific data they have to work from sent to them, and it’s a complicated process to sidestep that data and work from good basic common sense. Sometimes you have to attack a problem like this from the side, and sometimes they do pay more attention to the publisher than the author—it’s easier to corroborate that the publisher is acting in a best interest, for example.

    But the fine buyer and merch manager team at Amazon should be able to help in this matter, especially if the national account sales rep has a good rapport with them. Good luck!

  23. Karen-

    I think it is interesting that films are listed as the work of the director, no matter WHO wrote the story.

    I believe that Tokyopop, when they were dealing with adapted or licenced comics, would describe the work as: “manga by: [cartoonist’s name],” then “based on [original author’s name]’s novel.” Or did I make this last part up? I swear I’ve seen something like it before.

    That said, I do believe that it often makes much more sense to give comic writers top billing in the case of mainstream comics. The ones where someone like Brian Bendis will write the entire stretch that the book collects, but maybe there’s two or three artists. On the cover it makes much more sense for his name to come first, as the overarching, uniting principle element of the work.

    Is that fair?

  24. I am generally in favor of artist and writer being jointly considered as “the authors” of the book with each individually thought of as artist and writer respectively, and assuming that’s how the chores broke down.

    But with comics you can never be sure.

    A. David Lewis and I recently received a very positive review of our new GN Some New Kind of Slaughter. The initial idea for the book was Dave’s, but due to circumstances we co-wrote it, and I then followed up doing the art. As a result we are listed with my name first, and Dave’s second, with no individual listings offered. We are jointly the authors, and have deliberately blurred the lines.

    Nevertheless, our reviewer, despite noting the contributions to the storytelling of the artist especially in the silent portions, had a tendency to assume Dave as the writer and myself as the artist because Dave is known for writing and I am known for drawing.

    I wrote a fuller explanation of our roles and received a nice thank you from him. It was all quite lovely and as I mentioned, this reviewer was well aware of the contributions of the artist to the storytelling.

    But these kind of subtle preconceptions can slip in. So I am inclined to think that we reject the term “author” for writers and apply it to both, reserving the terms writer and artist for individual talents.

  25. I have also suggested from time to time, that the writer writes the libretto and the artist performs the work.

    The corollary is that another artist might at some future time perform the same libretto.

  26. While I do not know the reasoning behind directors being listed as the primary contributor to a movie, it most likely is because:
    1) The auteur theory places the director most prominently in the general public’s mind.
    2) The director is ultimately responsible for what is projected on the screen.

    Other individuals are important, but the director is the MOST important.

    FWIW, at B&N bookstores, the DVDs are shelved by subject, then title. Our database lists many access points.

    I do not have access to the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules, so I cannot quote how libraries should catalog motion pictures and other audio-visual materials.

  27. Below is the MARC record for the DVD release of X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE. The director is in the 245 title field and named individually as a 700 added entry. Catalogers are allowed some flexibility; in the record for TITANIC, for instance, writer/director James Cameron is mentioned in a 508 note and listed individually in a 700 added entry, but omitted from the 245 field.

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    300 |a 1 videodisc (107 min.) : |b sd., col. ; |c 4 3/4 in.
    538 |a DVD, widescreen (2.35:1); Dolby Digital 5.1 surround.
    546 |a English, dubbed French or dubbed Spanish dialogue, English or Spanish subtitles; closed-captioned.
    511 1 |a Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Will.I.Am, Lynn Collins, Kevin Durand, Dominic Monaghan, Taylor Kitsch, Daniel Henney, Ryan Reynolds.
    508 |a Director of photography, Donald M. McAlpine ; editors, Nicolas De Toth, Megan Gill ; music, Harry Gregson-Williams ; costume designer, Louise Mingenbach ; production designer, Barry Robison.
    521 8 |a MPAA rating: PG-13; 13 for intense sequences of action and violence, and some partial nudity.
    520 |a Somewhere in the wilds of northwest Canada in the early 1800s, Logan and Victor, two half-brothers with special powers grow up amid violence. Eventually they will become the near-indestructible warriors known as Wolverine and Sabretooth. William Stryker is a sinister government operative whose Weapon X program experiments keep pulling Wolverine back in. Kayla Silverfox shares a peaceful Canadian co-existence with Wolverine as he tries to drop out of the program. Along the way, Wolverine encounters many mutants, both familiar and new.
    500 |a Special features: “Wolverine unleashed: the complete origins” featurette; trailers.
    650 0 |a Wolverine (Fictitious character) |v Drama.
    650 0 |a X-Men (Fictitious characters) |v Drama.
    650 0 |a Regeneration (Biology) |v Drama.
    650 0 |a Brothers |v Drama.
    650 0 |a Man-woman relationships |z Canada |v Drama.
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    700 1 |a Benioff, David.
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