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Oddities of the comics


Evan Dorkin talks about DC’s “cartoonist ban”:

First up from the files, the only piece of art I was allowed to draw for the Superman and Batman: World’s Funnest book for DC Comics. Not that it appears anywhere in the book. Long story short, part of which has been covered here before: DC has a clause that prevents folks from writing and drawing material unless said person is on the payroll or incorporated. Fear of lawsuits from freelancers claiming their work-for-hire entitles them to ownership of Batman or whatever the hell under some newly-inaugurated copyright laws or whatever the hell. I guess based on DC’s history they fully expect people to try to do whatever underhanded thing they can to chisel money and ownership of other people’s characters when the opportunity even vaguely arises. Or whatever the hell.

End result, I wasn’t allowed to draw a page of World’s Funnest even though I tried to get around it by various means, all of which went bust. Can I have someone else write the page I would draw? A hassle, apparently. Pretend Sarah wrote it? We’d get in trouble and the world would break in half. Use a pseudonym? It could mean jail time and Siegel and Schuster regaining control of Pete Ross. Sign an agreement that I wouldn’t pursue my questionable rights to the DC empire if I drew a goddamned page of a comic? No, no, a thousand times no. They wouldn’t put me on the payroll for a lousy single page, and I wasn’t going to incorporate for a lousy single page, so, no go (Somehow this hasn’t been an issue at Marvel, expect them to lose the rights to every one of their characters any minute now. I’ve got dibs on Fight-Man and whoever else is left over after the great purge).

  1. I dunno, I’ve gotta side against Dorkin on this one. He just sounds like he’s whining about nothing and coming across (to this humble commenter) as silly. DC’s a large company that’s trying to run a business. Yeah, it’d be great if they could just sorta do whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, with whomever, in any fashion, but they’re trying to do what’s best for them as a business (which has recently been the topic of conversation on this very blog (the business of comics)). It would cost them tens (if not hundreds) of thousands defending a lawsuit over creative rights of one of their flagship characters, and as such they’ve created policies to dictate certain aspects of their business.

    Personally I’m surprised that anyone that works for themselves isn’t incorporated, but that’s just me. There was an option, and just because he didn’t like it, then he wants to whine about all of his attempts to subvert their policies as silly and ridiculous on DC’s part. Maybe I’m just pissy this morning, but to me he sounded like an ass.

  2. I work for myself, and I’m not incorporated. I’ve talked to several accountants about this, and with very little overhead and relying on my wife for benefits (not to mention I couldn’t maximize my deposits to my SEP!), incorporation would actually be a hindrance.

    Take that, Jonathan!

  3. Either Evan Dorkin is completely remembering the situation wrong; some editor at DC Comics handed him a line of $#!+; or things have changed at DC Comics. I know for a fact that non-payroll employees and non-incorporated people do freelance work for DC Comics.

    He may have been asked to sign some kind of vendor form or legal document agreeing to standard royalties, etc.

    Getting “put on the payroll” means making him an employee and that usually requires background checks, benefits, etc. This is not simple and easy process and a lot of work just for someone to write and draw one page.

  4. I think this might have come off as a little unclear — Evan’s saying that DC doesn’t allow someone to both write AND draw a (company-owned) comic without being either on payroll or incorporated. It’s a long-standing policy. Yes, of course, plenty of people (including Evan) have done one or the other, or even both on different projects.

  5. Stuart is correct. You can’t write AND draw material unless incorporated or on the payroll. If you flip through the Bizarro anthologies, I believe only Kyle Baker was allowed to handle both chores himself because he’s incorporated.

    He’s also correct in that I didn’t explain myself more clearly because I consider my blog to be a sort of closed shop where most folks know what I’m talking about. World’s Funnest is a seven-yr old book, this policy has been standing for a while, and I didn’t feel the need to go over it in detail for what I was trying to do in my post. I don’t run a news service, I run a personal blog. Sorry for any confusion, wasn’t expecting non-readers of mine to find the post via anyone’s links when I wrote it.

    Alan is correct in that this is old news. I was dredging the past up while presenting some artwork form an older project, and explaining where the images came from in my patented whining style. Some folks like it, folks such as Brian, who is unfortunately incorrect about my making good money off my whining about nothing. The whining gets me the work that makes me decent money, the actual whining, i.e., my personal work, hasn’t been so fortunate. Sorry, I know that sounds like I’m whining. I’m not.

    Peter is correct in saying that incorporating is a pain for someone wishing to only draw one page of a comic. Honest.

    Jonathan is also correct in that he is indeed pissy this morning. My post was not a serious one, it employed something called humor — although perhaps this was not to your taste — and within the body of the post I admitted this was a minor issue. Lighten up, Francis. I wasn’t trying to subvert sainted DC comics, just draw a page of a project I was deeply involved in. Forgive my crime of sarcasm, and sleep well tonight, knowing that Time/Warner/DC Comics is safe from barbarians such as myself, whining about how cruel life in funnybooks is.

    BTW, Jonathan, I don’t know how old you are, but there was a time in comics when Marvel and DC really could sort of do whatever they wanted. At least to a point. Editors didn’t have to put every decision and action down on paper or have it approved by the powers that be if they wanted cartoonist “a” to do job “b” with character “c”. Assignments would be hammered out on second base during company softball games. Handshakes sealed the deal for my Fight-Man book. Once upon a time you didn’t have to put in requests to use characters in comics, because somebody might have dibs forever on some obscure villain only they can write or draw. References to other comics and characters were kosher. Sometimes you could mention products and people by name without fear of reprisals. You could draw cameos of other characters in backgrounds and legal wouldn’t bat an eyelash. I’m old enough to have worked under some of those conditions, where you could sit on a couch at DC and pick up a stray back-up or Who’s Who assignment (almost worked for me, actually worked for others) or pitch a story at lunch and have a job before dinner with no contract signed.

    Anyway, try to get some sleep. Tomorrow is a better day.

  6. Evan —

    My morose mood aside, I read the post this morning and it was filtered through the context of the business of comics (in particular, Heidi’s recent posts on pre-selling at cons vs. after retailers have their mitts on the books), which led to my general attitude of essentially “hey, if they’re gonna keep making ’em, then the company’s gotta be successful, or else NO books are going to be put out.” A devil’s advocate if you will.

    I’d like to think that I’m a big enough man (or man-child as the case may be) to not say something about the fact that I couldn’t tell your original post was intended to be humorous points out the failing in being funny (to me personally), but as of writing this very convoluted sentence I’ve realized that I too have failed.

    And you’ve got a very valid point that things have changed drastically in the business of comics. Things that are now taboo were often common practice, and that applies probably far more broadly than I would ever know as I’ve never worked for any comic book publisher.

    Personally I don’t care what happens to any of DC’s characters. I was a “Make Mine Marvel” kind of kid growing up, but I’ve stopped buying continuing series entirely, and only rarely buy the books that stick out to me. I swear I’m gonna get around to snapping up a copy of Blankets one of these days. So despite only one expenditure on a page of original artwork, I didn’t buy a single comic last year. However, its still something I love and respect, hence me reading this blog every day. Oh, and I’m 26 years old.

    So I didn’t “get it” and I apparently peeved you for my characterization of what you wrote, oh well. You’re still a respected artist, and I’m still in my shitty mood. Not much has changed, but you took time to put your own retort in and I respect that.

    I’m now certain that entirely too much of my time today has been spent on this topic. Is there another way to stir up some furious commenting? Who’re you gonna vote for?

    — Jonathan

  7. Jonathan –

    I didn’t take your commentary as “furious”. I worked in a comic shop for six years, I know furious over comics when I hear it. Anyway. Water under the Rainbow Bridge of Asgard. See? I’m a fanboy, too.

    BTW, comics have been pretty terrific these last few years. I mean, scary terrific. I don’t read modern Marvel or DC, but even as a former fan there’s a wealth of lovely old reprints and collections from those folks coming out these days. I dunno how anyone/even a passing interest in comics can not be buying a solid batch of comics right now. Even if you have to roll drunks for the money to do so.

    Speaking of which, I have to head over to the Bayonne Bridge where some rummies crash. The third Kirby 4th World Omnibus is out and my bottle returns won’t cover it.

    Oh, and I’m voting for Howard the Duck. Get Down, America.

  8. Evan —

    Sadly, rolling drunks is probably the only way I can afford some of these collections coming out. None of my relatives seem to think I really want these things when I put them on my Xmas list. Money was the main reason I quit buying Spider-Man and what not, and I just can’t afford 40 or 50 bucks a pop for some of these books that I want. There’s a wish list in my mind (and on Amazon) that I hope to complete one day. Until then I’ll just bitch and moan in the comments section of posts umpteen places from the top of the page and see if that yields me any shekels, ducats, scratch, clams, or bread.

    — Jonathan

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