Robert Kirkman took to the bytewaves at CBR yesterday to deliver a video editorial explaining that he left Marvel Comics to save comics. The basic thrust of the piece (once you get past the alarming DELIVERANCE-style banjo picking at the beginning) is that prose writers don’t aspire to write Moby Dick II, so why should comics scribes aim for JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #756? Creator-owned is the way to go.

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.


Obviously, given recent discussion of Elvis, Col. Parker, and so on here and elsewhere, Kirkman’s vision of an industry where Marvel and DC satisfy the kids while mature, creator-driven work expands horizons, popularity and licensing opportunities is pretty utopian…but who’s to say we don’t already have the tools in place?

1 COMMENT

  1. “…Kirkman’s vision of an industry where Marvel and DC satisfy the kids while mature, creator-driven work expands horizons, popularity and licensing opportunities is pretty Utopian…”

    Not to mention pretty condescending.

  2. I’m with Kirkman as far as everyone doing more creator owned work. I’d love to see more Grant Morrison vertigo work. I’d love to see more Barry Ween Boy Genius. I’m a huge fan of Criminal and Powers, Doktor Sleepless, Phonogram, Nightly News, the Boys etc… I love those works and want to see more like them. So I’m with him there.

    However, I think Kirkman is pretty condescending in telling the Big Two not so much what they should publish, but what they shouldn’t be publishing. But hey, it’s an interesting conversation at least.

  3. This is a slap in the face to creators who have been doing their own work for years. We may not get “Wizard’s Top 10 Writers” and be the flavor of the months darlings of the “comic world” — we just continue to write and illustrate stories.

    Is someone forgetting the The Los Hernandez bros., The Jeff Smiths, Dave Simms, Robert Crumbs, Colleen Dorans, David Laphams, Rob Scwabs, Terry Moores, Marjane Satrapis, Will Eisners and Adrian Tomines to just name a few?

    Some choose not to earn a page rate for managing other companies characters while some have done both very well. Every creator has a choice as to what he or she does, just some of them that have blinders on see only what they and the company work for produce, thus in their mind not enough of them are “doing creator-driven work.”

    I believe if you have a good idea and follow through on it then word of mouth will take care of the rest. If people want something different, hopefully they’ll know where to look.

    Creator owned may not pay the bills all the time but at the end of the day these characters still belong to you. I support his somewhat ignorant statement and like in any industry — the ones with name recognition will be heard as the rallying cry.

    This sounds like a celebrity making a statement how’s there’s not enough to be done about curing cancer. “So I’ll make a commercial bringing awareness to the subject.” Thanks, your name makes headlines for a day or two while the those who have been at the task continue on.

  4. When I grew bored with Marvel, I discovered Concrete and Tales of the Beanworld. And started reading Superman after Crisis.

    I see nothing wrong with work-for-hire, so long as you know what you’re doing. Write good stories. Do stuff you enjoy.

    Jeff Smith, Colleen Doran, Terry Moore… they did work-for-hire. And then there’s Bizarro World… I don’t care who owns what, as long as what I’m reading is enjoyable. Usually, it means it’s creator owned. But even creator owned comics can be crappy.

  5. while I don’t agree with a lot of what Robert is saying about how things should be, particularly in regards to Marvel & DC, I do very much appreciate hearing about his continued passion for comic books and his concern about the industry in general.

  6. Kirkman is 100% right on everything. This video was the damn truth!!

    And this is nothing like a celebrity trying to raise awareness. Kirkman helps run Image. He has the power to publish and promote creator owned material.

  7. The mention of Marvel Adventures “talking down” to kids is something that I disagree with… some (probably most) of the adventure titles do that, but the only Marvel books that I buy are Jeff Parker’s Adventure stuff, both Avengers and X-Men: First Class. They are bitingly funny, have great action sequences, and give a one-panel introduction whenever characters are introduced to a story. This is what the big-universe comics should be doing, allowing an entry point for new readers.

    Granted, you’ve got the Wolkian “they’re selling coninuity” approach, but by actively hedging out new readers they’re losing thousands of potential readers.

    I read Marvel comics as a kid because, thanks to the X-Men cartoon and the multiple Marvel trading card lines, I had an entry point. DC was too continuity heavy for me to ever break through, so I’ve never read any DC comics, with the exception of Batman stories that stand alone (Dark Knight, Year One, Long Halloween) and New Frontier, which I read for the art.

    Superhero comics should, first and foremost, be for kids – should their be nuggets of brilliance and truth and the human condition that makes them great for adults? Ideally, yes – the same as, say, Uncle Scrooge, or Tintin. But Kids should be the target audience, unless its an actively deconstructivist tome like Watchmen or Dark Knight.

    The “should creators leave” business is silly. They should work where they want as long as they are making the money that they want and enjoying what they work on. Who doesn’t want to play around with their childhood characters, reinterpret them for the world?

    His plan is what every artist who can pretty much already does.

  8. Here’s hoping that Kirkman saying what I and others have been saying as long as I’ve been in comics (O HAI twenty-two years, three GNs, two series, two collections, and Comic Book Tattoo) is a push for people trying to make that decision.

    We’ve had the tools in place (self-published w/o the hurdles of up-front cost and satisfying Diamond and convincing retailers to buy (Image and the web)) for at least ten years.

  9. Kirkman lost me with the brutal issue-long rape and torture of the lone black female character in The Walking Dead. This was after killing the gay character from Marvel Team-Up in such a graphic and (oddly phallic) way. This video make me like him even less. He comes off as full of himself.

  10. Yay for Robert Kirkman! I look forward to more of Kirkman’s work at Image Comics.

    I’m glad that Kirkman is speaking out and that this video is getting people to talk more about Creator’s Rights issues. This shouldn’t be a topic that divides us, but a way to strengthen the efforts of comic book creators that support creator-owned comics.

  11. I don’t see how it’s as much as a creator’s issue as a what-comics-should-be issue. In terms of creator’s rights, things are pretty good these days – there’s no reason to work with Marvel or DC if you aren’t happy with them. There’s no reason for ANYONE to work with Tokyopop. There are tons of avenues for anyone with half a sense to do comics without subjecting themselves to the business horrors that plagued our forbears, and I just don’t get what the creators rights issues ARE anymore.

    I mean, seriously, you don’t cosign a loan with a compulsive gambler, you don’t go for a drive to the lake with a notorious date-rapist, you don’t let sex-offender-registry guy next door babysit the kids. Everyone knows the horror stories of working with Marvel and DC, , and if they spend two minutes looking they can find alternatives.

    If there’s breach of contract stuff, get a lawyer. If it’s a bad contract, suck it up and learn from your mistakes.

  12. Chris,

    I like your point on comics for kids. I still read Carl Barks’s Uncle Scrooge comics because they’re excellent, well told stories. But they weren’t written for a 30 year old, they were written for 7 year olds. That’s what DC and Marvel should be trying to do. Uncle Scrooge has some back story, but nothing a 7 year old can’t pick up. The meat is a fun, well crafted story. On the other hand, look at DC right now with Batman RIP or Final Crisis. Those are books written for 30 year old (or older!) readers who have read nothing but DC comics their entire lives and who are very knowledgeable in DC continuity. The meat of those stories are the continuity, and most 7 year olds would be bored to tears reading them. Hell, most 30 year olds would be bored to tears reading them.

    If the Big 2 want to stay relevant, they *have* to stop pandering to the audience they have now and find a way to reach out to the kids.

    There’s nothing wrong with stories like Final Crisis, Batman RIP, or Secret Invasion either. But they shouldn’t be the only stories featuring the main characters from the Big Two. The comic industry would be much better served by stories like that being published away from the Big Two and with creator owned characters. They would still find their audience and maybe even grow beyond the current niche audience comics has.

    The comic industry is dying. It can still be saved, but the comic book companies have to give up relying on only the sales of 30+ year olds.

  13. I can’t help but feel like the guy who writes Marvel and DC-lite books is schooling me on creator owned comics.

  14. I have to disagree with his take on novels and Hollywood- how many guys are ghost writing for Ian Fleming or VC Andrews? How many people are writing spec scripts or sequels to popular movies or working uncredited doing polishes on scripts?

  15. As far as Ian Fleming, nobody is ghostwriting him. One author wrote a one-off anniversary Bond book with his name on the cover and “writing as Ian Fleming” directly underneath.

  16. Can’t disagree with any of his points, but his presentation could sure use some sprucing up. That video looks like something a Ron Paul advocate would post to YouTube.

  17. I love Robert and I love this video. I think he’s right on most of the time here. There is one big problem, though… the economic model for making your creator-owned stuff is challenging, at best.

    Robert has done very well at Image. I, however, don’t have a superhero or zombie book in me, that I know of. For every Kirkman, paying his bills on his creator-owned stuff, there are dozens of creators who did great work, sold a few thousand copies, and looked for a decent day job. I’ve done a couple of decent books with Oni, and I couldn’t pay my bills on that stuff even if I produced a couple of OGNs a year… at least not without some Hollywood cash.

    Anj

  18. [Ande Parks Says:
    I’ve done a couple of decent books with Oni, and I couldn’t pay my bills on that stuff even if I produced a couple of OGNs a year… at least not without some Hollywood cash.]

    Ande, as a creator what do you as see the limiting factors? Failing the Hollywood cash unfusion, what needs to change for you to be able to live at least as well as you do now, off of your comic work?

  19. “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.”

    Is his work on Walking Dead and Invincible supposed to be “mature and complex”?

  20. Until the distribution system, retailers and consumers follow through with buying the good books in high enough numbers to provide the incentive we can have all the manifestos we want but it will come to nothing. We’ve seen previous generations come to the same conclusion Kirkman has, only to realize the options are limited and for every Kirkman who strikes it big there are many others who try and fail (John Byrne, Art Adams, Steve Bissette, etc.). It’s almost like a guy who hit the lottery telling you all you have to do is buy a ticket.

  21. Chris,

    The problem with saying that the Big Two should re-orient to kids is that any attempt to do so is going to be a terrific loss leader for several years, and even then the kids’ comics won’t become profitable unless they (a) put themselves in a format economically feasible for kids, and (b) manage to come up with original characters capable of competing with all the popular manga/anime characters, many of whom have had a “leg-up” in the form of dubbed cartoons seen by the kid-audiences on TV.

    Are there any preteen-friendly, American-made characters out there that are as prominent as ARCHIE, the Turtles and SONIC? Those are the only ones I can recall.

    For that matter, did any of the Big Two’s original “manga-format” books score big in sales? I’ve yet to see any big movement there.

    The format thing as I see it would also have to be on two fronts: floppies would have to be on cheaper paper to make it possible to sell them to kids. The big companies would still lose on individual sales but might make enough in volume long enough to nurture one or two appealing characters, whose adventures could then reach bookstores in the Tokyopop-TPB format. But that’s assuming one can come up with characters with mass appeal for kids. Star Comics, the last attempt by one of the Big Two to create a kids’ line, isn’t terribly well remembered these days.

    But let’s leave behind the idea of quickly graduating beyond the hardcore 20s-30s audience. That’s not going to change any time soon. The majority of mainstream books will still be written for that audience, and the “artcomics” movement will continue to exist in a codependent relationship with the mainstream, world without end.

  22. Yeah, as long as comics are $3 or more *on the direct market,* comics being something that is by-and-large written for kids isn’t very feasible. I don’t know of any kid’s parents who are willing to drop the cash monthly on the amount of comics that I do.

    When I was a kid, I was looking at MAYBE five monthly titles, and they were one buck a pop from the book store. And my dad loved his funnybooks.

    Now, saying that superheroes should be primarily written to kids is beyond condescending. It’s kind of condescending to me as an adult who still adores the genre and reading adult stories about those characters. It’s entirely condescending to the kids, though. At a very young age, I was able to pick out what was “written for kids” in movies, TV, comics…whatever…and I resented the hell out of it. I gravitated towards more adult stories(not in terms of content, just thematically), and when I didn’t get something, I talked to my dad about it. It was a great bonding moment.

    Stern’s Spider-Man stuff holds up beautifully, for example, as a book that I adored as a kid (and found completely accessible even when the continuity monster was invoked) that wasn’t at all “written for kids.”

    I worked with kids for a long time, and the thing that I learned is that they know when you’re treating them like kids, and genuinely appreciate it when you don’t talk down to them. Also? A lot of the stuff they’re getting from other media is getting more complex.

  23. Robert Kirkman is a young turk and did very well with his creator-owned comix right out the gate [I enjoy INVINCIBLE and THE WALKING DEAD]. His heart is in the right place even if it’s not gonna rally most pros to quit their day job [popular comics]. I champion making new concepts while pushing established icons along. Maybe we don’t need so many SPIDER-MAN and BATMAN titles and crossovers to choose from every month, but it’s good to know I can swing by my local comix shop and check in on Peter Parker and Bruce Wayne whenever I please. Otherwise, there is a deluge of other great comix to read, too.

    AGREED: let’s make more comix for kids. ‘Nuff said.

    My personal career solution is to keep my feet planted firmly in both alternative and mainstream ponds. Bring certain projects to the Big Two and get paid to make comix while manifesting creator-owned fare on my own time/dime until those efforts get printed into sexy collections [oops, I mean, graphic novels].

    This September I will have two books out: THE ALCOHOLIC [with writer Jonathan Ames] from Vertigo, and MO & JO: FIGHTING TOGETHER FOREVER [with writer Jay Lynch] from Raw Jr., while editing NEXT-DOOR NEIGHBOR, a bi-weekly webcomix anthology for SMITH Magazine, and writing/drawing my creator-owned series’ STREET CODE [for Zuda] and BILLY DOGMA in FEAR, MY DEAR [for ACT-I-VATE].

    Bottom line: I already took control of my comix destiny awhile ago and it’s a hard road but I’m fairly proud of my work and where I stand in the industry today.

    Besides all that, I love an industry when I can read AMERICAN SPLENDOR and then, right afterwards, THE INCREDIBLE HULK, and not even blink.

  24. “And we also have a revitalized Marvel and DC who are selling comics to a much wider audience than ever before.”

    No, we don’t. It’s one thing for fans to be ignorant of the basic history of the comic industry, but a pro like Kirkman should know better.

    Yes, things are certainly a lot better than the black pit of despair that comics were in back in the mid-to-late 90s, but comic sales are nowhere near where they used to be. And not only did Marvel and DC used to sell more comics, not only did they sell comics to kids… but both companies also used to have adult readers as well. And those grown ups weren’t all anal retentive continuity freaks living in their parent’s basement. Some of them were perfectly well adjusted adults who just liked reading THOR or CONAN or WARLORD.

    Mike

  25. [Joe Williams Says:
    Until the distribution system, retailers and consumers follow through with buying the good books in high enough numbers to provide the incentive we can have all the manifestos we want but it will come to nothing. We’ve seen previous generations come to the same conclusion Kirkman has, only to realize the options are limited and for every Kirkman who strikes it big there are many others who try and fail (John Byrne, Art Adams, Steve Bissette, etc.). It’s almost like a guy who hit the lottery telling you all you have to do is buy a ticket.]

    Joe, you’re putting the cart before the horse.

    Comic publishing, especially small press and creator owned work, has not changed in over 20 years. Creators up thread have already pointed this out and it is not retailers and distributors who are keeping them from making the necessary changes.

    What it comes down to is that too many creator owned works are not commercially viable because the creator does not treat the work as a business product.

    If someone wants to give away their work and let it seek its level of acceptance that’s fine. But if a creator wants distributors and retailers to invest their $$$ and risk their solvency by blindly supporting work they must prove a legitimate return on that investment.

    IOW, if the entity you purchase comics from had you prepay for your comics and then gave you those comics whenever they felt like it, maybe even 2-4 months or more after you were originally told to expect them, how long would you continue to support that seller?

    That is just one of the problems retailers and distributors have to overcome with comics.

    The other is that even when creators manage to deliver their book(s) on time, it is met with resounding silence because the book has had no marketing at all. It was simply printed and listed in Previews which has never been an effective form of promoting creator owned work.

    If you don’t beleive that all you have to do is look at the top 300 sales #’s for the last 20+ years. I think you can still find Charles LePage’s old USENET lists if you google for them.

    This is not the Field of Dreams. Simply printing it will not make them come. Comics need to be treated like every other entertainment medium, meaning that creators need to find ways to get people talking about their work even before it is solicited and then need to deliver work that is just as polished as anything else on the racks.

    When was the last time you went to a theater without knowing which movie you were going to see? Not until all creators are creating a similar awareness for their work will “more creator owned work” have any chance at “saving the industry.

  26. I’ve always thought comics ought to shell out some bucks to promote themselves on TV.

    The problem is picking what should be promoted; what might have real legs vs. what’s merely the flavor of the day.

  27. [Ben Says:
    Yeah, as long as comics are $3 or more *on the direct market,* comics being something that is by-and-large written for kids isn’t very feasible. I don’t know of any kid’s parents who are willing to drop the cash monthly on the amount of comics that I do.]

    You lost me there Ben.

    When when kids have no problem getting ahold of YuGiOh/Pokemon at $3-$10/pk $35 Harry Potter novels or $300 game consoles with $50+ games, there is no way that price is the sticking point for kids comics.

    BTW, I sell more copies of every new $10 Bone volume than any other $3 “Kids Comic”.

    Recognition, Relevancy and Entertainment Value are the keys to succesful
    Kids titles and it wouldn’t hurt if the books were written well enough to also
    appeal to older readers.

  28. “BTW, I sell more copies of every new $10 Bone volume than any other $3 “Kids Comic”.”

    Contrast the amount of content in the $10 Bone volume to the $3 “kid’s comic”. And it’s not just that individual comics are expensive for the experience they provide, it’s that who wants to read just one comic a month? I’m fairly sure that most comic readers throughout history have read multiple titles, which today can easily run from $20 to $40 a month to $20 to $40 a week.

    Mike

  29. “Recognition, Relevancy and Entertainment Value”

    Recognize that card games, video games and huge prose novels are apples to the comic book oranges.

    They have replay value and encourage social interaction to a larger extent with the games and a perceived larger educational value with the prose.

    And it is all well and good on how much parents already spend on their kids. But you need to further recognize that it is likely one or more of those items will have to be dropped in order to fit the comic books in their budget.

  30. [JWH says:
    Recognize that card games, video games and huge prose novels are apples to the comic book oranges.]

    Yeah, you’re right. That’s why DC just printed 900,000 more copies of Watchmen, comic based movies dominate the top 15 all time box office slots and Naruto and many others dominate book store sales charts.

    As for parents having to find a way to work comics into the budgets, it will be easy as pie onece they become Recognizable, Relevant and provide Entertainment Value to that demographic. It’s already happening, it just needs to be done on a wider and more consistent basis, instead of reinforcing the “poor little comic format” image that seems to prevail these days.

  31. Oh my god! He is so f**king hot, i want to jump at the screen while he is talking.. (he does look like he got on to cam at 5 am in the morning after surfing all night, so the lazy, non-collected, pausing talk adds to his chubby charm)

    The all-knowing Wikipedia told me that he had a son (and he allegedly named him peter parker Kirkman :p), but who is to say he did in a wedlock, or that he is (exclusively) straight for that matter. Kirkman, you seem to be an enthusiastic and kind of naive wannabe player in the comics field, and you sure seem to be full of yourself (ok, you earn a “hell of a” good living, i get the point; just stop rubbing it in!) but i would be willing to take it all if you can share your freaking hotness with me! So hot and so sexy! And what a surprise, he is really young after all.. Didn’t he say that he is yet to turn 29 somewhere in there? I guess i couldn’t catch cause i was drooling while watching :p

    Kirkman, YOU MARRY ME! (or have me for the rest of our lives :D )

  32. “This is not the Field of Dreams. Simply printing it will not make them come. Comics need to be treated like every other entertainment medium, meaning that creators need to find ways to get people talking about their work even before it is solicited and then need to deliver work that is just as polished as anything else on the racks.”

    BINGO!

    Not only do comics need to be promoted as a medium they need to be promoted as a product wether it be a graphic novel, magazine or comic book. Too many publishers assume that everybody reads or has read a comic book and that they exist in every home in America like in the good ol’ days.

    There was a time when a comic book was a ‘point of purchase’ item along with baseball cards and bubble gum but the Direct market made it too safe for publishers to fight for shelf space in this market plus the low yield of the comic book made it unpopular with retailers in those venues.

    Comic books did not historically survive on sales figures. Like most magazines they survived on distribution numbers that allowed them to sell advertising at very profitable prices. Because of this their prices were low and comics could be found everywhere from barber shops to doctor’s offices 5&10’s,convenience stores, and news stands.

    If publishers and creators and distributors promoted the packaged products with as much energy as DVD’s, Video games and other products are promoted; If Marvel and DC put as much effort into promoting the comic books as they do selling the film rights, comic book distribution would increase.

    Kid’s read, they spend tons of money, and they like comics when they can find them and they are written to them with respect and are new and fresh. My kid reads Shonen Jump, when I asked why he liked it he said “because the characters are new, not like rehashes of the old superheroes” He also liked the novelty of reading it backwards!

    Comics as a medium are doing great! There are more options for creators and readers alike. The genres are as popular as ever. It is the comic book itself that is in danger and unfortunately that has always been the building block of the industry. Do we save the comic book or is it time to find and promote a new keystone product?