By Todd Allen
Looking for a theme at Comicon isn’t always the most sensible thing to do. It’s a big show and there’s a lot going on. I am, however, seeing some momentum being gathered — in force — from a trend that seemed to spin out of the Image convention this past spring. It’s a little bit more than a movement back towards creator ownership, though that’s certainly part of it. It’s about the era of exclusive contracts dying and an age of , for lack of a better term, playing the field coming back.
The last 10-15 years was an age of exclusive contracts. Historically, it was a little unusual for someone to work at DC and Marvel simultaneously. It would happen every once in a while, but it was unusual. There was a need for exclusive contracts. This was also more of a writer thing than an artist thing. There aren’t too many artists that can handle two comics per month anymore. Writers can do three or four books a month (depending on how many changes are getting handed down from the editorial planning meetings).
The exclusive contracts war heated up a bit more when Crossgen starting hiring people and moving them down to Florida. One of the things Crossgen did was enter healthcare benefits into the exclusive contract equation. This was a huge deal, particularly for freelancers with families and at certain times, it felt like there were more people on exclusive contracts at DC and Marvel, than not.
Frequently, there would a 1-book “out” in the exclusive contracts, as it was more about keeping DC talent away from Marvel and Marvel away from DC. So Greg Rucka could still do Queen & Country and Brian Bendis could still do Powers. Eventually, Marvel added the Icon line to sweeten the deal for their exclusive contract creators and keep them closer to the vest.
That all seems to be changing and we’re seeing a wave of creators playing the field with multiple companies.
Take the example of Mark Waid. What’s Waid up to? Daredevil at Marvel. Shadow Walk at Legendary. Steed & Mrs. Peel at Boom!. Insufferable at his own Thrillbent digital label. Apparently, there’s plenty of Waid to go around.
J. Michael Straczynski is doing The Majestic Files at Legendary. He’s re-formed his old “Joe’s Comics” imprint at Image. I haven’t heard that he’s left DC, and he was promoting the next volume of Superman: Earth One at a panel today, so I assume he’s still working with them.
For that matter, his Earth One artist, Shane Davis, was on that panel as is doing Shadow Walk over at Legendary.
Have a look at the Image announcements that were just made.
Greg Rucka (added to Marvel and Oni), Michael Lark (Marvel), Matt Fraction (Marvel), Howard Chaykin (starting on Buck Rogers for Hermes and works with Marvel regularly enough), James Robinson (DC), Chris Roberson (I can’t even keep track of how many places Roberson is) –this is happening. I could rattle off more names, but that’s enough for now.
Warren Ellis used to try and balance his independent work with work at DC or Marvel. Mark Millar would take time off from Marvel to do his own projects. There was a working theory at the time that you needed a DC or Marvel book to raise the profile of your independent work. Of course, Millar is essentially his own imprint now and Ellis is doing more than just comics writing.
Are we going into a period where creators are trying to find more balance in their portfolio? Spread the risk between publishers and keep some copyrights for themselves?
Likely each creator will have slightly different reasons for his/her choices, but this shift is getting bigger.
And, because you need an exception to prove the rule, Marvel announced an exclusive with David Marquez.
Todd Allen wears a lot of hats. At various times he’s been (alphabetically), a bouncer, college professor, humor columnist, Internet producer and an NBA/WNBA Beat Writer, among other things. He’s the author of Economics of Digital Comics. You should probably read it.