When thinking about the crazy world we live in today, where The Walking Dead is the most successful thing on TV and Marvel is the most successful thin in movies, I often think back to a seminal moment in the debate between creator-owned and company-driven: the 2008 debate between Robert Kirkman and Brian Bendis which took place at that year’s Baltimore Comicon. The think kicked off when a pre-Talking Dead sharpened Kirkman posted a video editorial calling for more creators to band together to make creator owned comics more of a thing, He even had an agenda for the process (emphasis mine.):

Step One:
Top creators who want to do creator-owned work band together and give it a shot. I’d certainly love for that to be at Image, but whatever, wherever — if you want to do it, step up and do it. The more people who do it, the easier it’ll be to do. Creators are very important to the current fan base, if it’s done right you could bring a large portion of your audience with you provided you take the plunge and only do creator-owned work. If you give people the option of Spider-Man or your creator-owned book… they’ll choose Spider-Man, that’s something time-tested versus something new. New has to be the only option.

Step Two:
If that results in a mass exodus of creators leaving Marvel and DC, don’t panic guys, I love their books as much as everyone else — nobody wants to hurt them in the process. Look at it like an opportunity, that’s the time for Marvel and DC to step up the plate and make their comics viable for a whole new generation. Less continuity, more accessible stories — not made for kids, but appropriate for kids. Books that would appeal to everyone still reading comics, but would also appeal to the average 13 year old too. There are a wealth of talented creators who haven’t yet reached a level where they can sell books on their own — they can do awesome work for the companies and be happy doing it.

What that could lead to:
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.

Well, turns out he had kind of the right idea about some things, didn’t he? The actual “debate” moderated by C.B.Cebulski consisted of Kirkman earnestly making his case, and Bendis sticking to the idea of having a regular paycheck being a good thing. It’s an idea he seemed pretty certain about, and I can’t say that he’s wrong. I remember Todd McFarlane once telling me that if you could live on macaroni and cheese for a month you could do an Image book. This is correct if “one month” means “years” as many people have found out. But as Kirkman showed, when you can hit it big, you REALLY hit it big. Also, as big a Hollywood shot as he is now, he’s always been very loyal to the idea of creator ownership.

iFanboy has a video of the debate still online, and I think it’s worth revisiting every once in a while just to see what changed and what didn’t. (Todd Allen took a look at it in 2012, in fact.) I think, as Todd suggested, the creators’ position looks a bit better now than it did in 2012 even.

Aside: what I really liked about the panel at the time was that Kirkman showed a chart of the ICv2 sales figures and how close they are to the real sales figures. At the time I got constant grief from everyone about the sales charts I run here, and this is as close to anyone ever came to saying it wasn’t the end of the world.

Second aside: while I was looking for the above photos, I found this one from the 2008 show of Matt Kindt and Jeff Lemire sketching away at the Top Shelf booth, their then-steady employer. (I got a nice pirate sketch from Lemire!)

Since between them Lemire and Kindt now write every mainstream book that Charles Soule doesn’t (While still doing the odd creator driven book like Kindt’s Mind MGMT), you can see that a page rate does have its charms. One thing that ‘s great about the world of 2014 is that more comics folks seem to be making a living at it than there were six years ago. At least I hope so.


  1. I think it is interesting that- on a number of books that Kirkman has “created” and owns but does not script himself (e.g. Thief of Thieves), as well as, I believe, some other Skybound books that he does not write, but owns (by the look of the indicia), it would seem that Kirkman now provides the kind of work-for-hire work to writers and artists that he himself advised them not to take back in 2008.

  2. (Unless I am misunderstanding how a book like Thief of Thieves works, which is entirely possible.)

    But it seems like, from the very first issue, he was hiring other people to write and draw a book he gets to own, and potentially sell to other media. Which doesn’t seem much different from what Marvel and DC editors do. It is just that a much smaller corporation is providing the work for hire work.

  3. David- you misunderstand what kirkman is saying. Big name talent should move over and do creator owned. Lesser known talent moves into the big2. What big name talent is working on his skybound stuff?
    Michael- other then the reason kirkman gives (readers will choose spider-man), the “verus” comes from the real world. “Gotta pay the bills” or “only so much hours in the day.” For most people to do quality work they have to put in alot of time. Quality work gets you a job at the big2 for a livable wage as well as selling enough copies to live off of a creator owned book (once you have the recognition).

  4. Mac- I would say that Andy Diggle, and even a 2012 Nick Spencer, are the sorts of creators that a 2008 Kirkman seemed to be advising should spend their time on their own work rather than working for others.

    And more troubling is the indicia of Skybound books like Manifest Destiny. In that case, to judge by the letter in the back of the first issue, is a passion project idea of an up and coming creator. His big new idea. And all the ownership of the book and characters are attributed to Skybound Entertainment. Now, I could be wrong, and would glad to be corrected if I am, but this *looks* like Skybound as an imprint fronting the capital to bring a new book into the world that *it* then owns instead of the credited creators.

    If that is true, that is not an up and coming creator cutting their teeth and finding an audience on Spider-Man. Rather, it looks like someone selling their original idea rather than owning it.

  5. @ David – I like Diggle, but I don’t think he’s the sort of creator that Kirkman was talking about. I think he meant the kind of creators who can sell stuff on their name. The Bendi and Morrisons of the world.

  6. Extraneous to the “debate”, I still wish Bendis would go back and do more creator-owned work. I think most people agree none of his current Marvel stuff outside of hopefully Miles Morales is gonna stand the test of time. And his creator-owned work was great.

  7. Stupid argument. If creator owned is what Kirkman wants to do, then by all means go ahead. But don’t tell other writers what YOU think they should do with their careers. If Bendis wants to do mainstream work, that’s his choice. He’s under no obligation to step aside for an up &comer, just b/c he’s made a name for himself. His only obligation is to his own career.

  8. I think it’s a good argument, not stupid; and worth revisiting every so often… in fact, as often as companies (big or small) continue to make money from artists. Because as long as THAT happens, most companies will try to take advantage of their artists, particularly in terms of ownership, residuals, benefits. It’s the never-ending struggle for truth and justice, if not the American way.

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