A few months ago Comic Book Bin’s Hervé St-Louis declared that copyrights were for wussies and part of an evil cabal called The Cult of The Creator, something he promised to expose more fully in the future.

Now, bear in mind, if there is a Cult of the Creator, then we have signed on for Guyana, bought new Nikes and got $5.75 in our pocket. Here at Stately Beat Manor, we feel Creators Are Very Important People, and giant corporations clearly recognize this fact because they are always finding ways to make sure creators create for them, while taking as much of the profits from it as they can. So we’re not very likely to be persuaded by his arguments, and the first part anyway, lives up to our expectations:

In response to my last articles on copyrights and comic book creators, where I explained the concept of the cult of the creator, a smart commenter responded to my article and saying, essentially, that because he owned his comic book, which I suppose is a Web comics, that it would not be stale but a fresh alternative to material owned by large corporations like DC and Marvel Comics. His comment is typical cult of the creator attitude where it’s assumed that ownership leads to better comic books. Of course, this writer thinks that this is bullshit.

To bolster his argument that creator owned=crap comics, St-Louis points to early Image Comics. Okay, so Todd McFarlane is no Art Spiegelman or Chris Ware or Will Eisner. We’d still call that stacking the deck. St-Louis will be back in part two to explain why Spiegelman, et al. owning the copyrights to their work still doesn’t make for better comics, so let’s just wait and see.

The phrase “Cult of the Creator” is obviously used to raise the ire of folks such as myself, but the argument that corporate ownership makes for better comics works only if you think Marvel and DC comics are the best there is. (We’re aware that up until the ’80s or so, most comics were corporate owned, including the work of Barks and Stanley — but, to choose just one example, in the Masters of American Comics exhibit, only one of the artists, Jack Kirby, worked mostly in work for hire. While that show was flawed, as a benchmark percentage of creator owned to WFH, it’s about right.)

§ Another oddball (to us) article is this Reuters piece exploring how comics could go mass market, now that Disney is going to send Marvel Comics all over the globe. Experts such as a Bob Layton and Scott Mitchell Rosenberg lay out the need for such outreach:

“A large number of comic shops in America are dingy, poorly managed venues, akin to porn shops,” Layton said. “The comic industry needs easily accessible venues where young people can casually find and purchase comics, either through subsidies or discount incentives.”

Comic book publishers such as Marvel and DC Comics, owned by Time Warner, cater to niche customers, usually teenage boys and older males, through specialty stores that only dedicated fans would visit.

“There is a core group of people that are comic book fans,” Arvind Bhatia, an analyst with Sterne, Agee & Leach, said. “But to expand that and make it more mass market probably is the biggest challenge.”

While distribution and awareness are surely part of the reason comics sell less (on aggregate) than they used to, we’re not entirely sure that Disney, which has been shutting down its magazines over the last few years, would be interested in getting back into newsstands in a serious way.

Also, is ANYONE really into the newsstand in a serious way? If putting things out on the newsstands guaranteed profits, then Condé Nast wouldn’t have folded four magazines today.

That said, obviously the Marvel/Disney juggernaut presents tremendous potential for getting comics out there in larger numbers and more significant ways, but this article seems to take a pretty simplistic look at the potential. Also, branding specialist Kelly O’Keefe’s suggestion that “The risk that a comic publisher runs in going mass market, O’Keefe said, is that some of the hard-core audience might drift away to look for alternative comics,” seems to suggest that Marvel Comics turning into Disney pablum might send readers flocking to COLD HEAT, a charming but unlikely proposition.


  1. The Comic Book Bin piece has to be one of the strangest anti-copyright screeds I’ve ever read. I’m not sure anyone believes that owning your copyright gurantees that you will create a timeless work of art or that somehow you don’t understand that creating is also a business venture.

    Owning your copyright gives a creator an opportunity to develop their art and to better understand the business of publishing. Remember, in the book industry, authors almost always own their copyrights. And as more comics artists are published by traditional book publishers, this kind of oddball sophistry–owning your work is bad for your work!–will be exposed for the goofiness that it is.

  2. Meanwhile at the Cult of the Creator meeting.

    “Hey Charley, what are we going to sacrifice on the alter today?

    “I don’t know. What have we got left?”

    “Hey I’ve got it, how about our residuals.”

    “You idiot, then what will we play at the climax of our ceremony?”

    “We wouldn’t even have had them if we didn’t take that work for hire gig in Australia.”

    “Have they sent us our checks yet?”

  3. I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to the comics community for any role I had in instigating that first linked-to piece.

  4. So basically he begrudges creators and their families for pursuing the limited legal restitution allowed to them by law to seek ownership and recompense for their creations, and defends the same multimedia corporations that is actually responsible for subverting the copyright law in their favor.

    In this age of digital media, copyright law does probably need some overhaul. Copyright was partly created as a way of controlling distribution (the idea of protecting the creator came later), but that was when it was easier to do so when things like printing presses and, later, photocopiers were licensed or limited. The ease with which digital media can be replicated and distributed at the user/desktop level nowadays makes it more difficult to monitor copyright and even altered the way people look at copyright (if not outright ignore them).

    But creators played no role in changing copyright law; so I don’t see why they are to be blamed or vilified for wishing to retain ownership of their work and enjoy all of profits thereof IF THEY CHOOSE.

    And what’s this so-called cult of the creator? Yes, as befitting a celebrity-obsessed culture, we see creators names used as a brand to sell books. But one only has to look at the monthly Diamond catalog to see how the self-publishers he scorns have fared in the current environment. So does he believe that all other modes of distribution available to creators self-publishers should also be closed if they are outside the normal DC/Marvel distribution channel?

    In his essay, he says it’s the consumers who have the power in the industry. That is so and how it should be, and they exercise it every day, whether it be in the comic-book store or online.

  5. …also, copyright is not intended to guarantee quality nor protect moral rights. It was put in place to create a legal framework for ensuring a creator will PROFIT from their work. A creator (or their estate) may believe they have a moral right to be credited for and benefit from their work, but they can only pursue these rights in the way provided to them by law. Which usually means going after copyright ownership.

  6. So it seems Hervé St-Louis is an idiot. Cult of stupidity. I don’t know any comic fans (readers, collectors, etc.) that disregard the creators as merely a part of the comic system. The way he talks, the artists and writers aren’t really even necessary…just an ancillary part of the production process…

    He sounds like a fucking lawyer for Marvel. Better yet, a lawyer for Timely.

  7. (We’re aware that up until the ’80s or so, most comics were corporate owned, including the work of Barks and Stanley — but, to choose just one example, in the Masters of American Comics exhibit, only one of the artists, Jack Kirby, worked mostly in work for hire. While that show was flawed, as a benchmark percentage of creator owned to WFH, it’s about right.)
    I don’t know for sure, but I am pretty certain that the following artists who were included in Masters of American Comics did not own their copyrights: George Herriman, E.C. Segar, Chester Gould, Milton Caniff (on “Dickie Dare” and “Terry and the Pirates”), Frank King, and maybe Winsor McKay. For what it’s worth, it is entirely possible for a cartoonist to produce great work operating under the most absurd copyright conditions. It is even possible for artists to prosper under those conditions. But it is hard for me to see how anyone can say certeris paribus that work-made-for-hire is a better deal for the artist or the reader than copyright ownership.

  8. I suspect that St. Louis’s position on the copyright issue is based on the supposition that practically all comics creators will focus on indefinite serialization of their works, in order to ensure steady income streams. Someone who works under self-imposed deadlines and needs to get products out there to have stuff to sell could just as well be working for someone else, he might be reasoning. The copyrights to the material are less important than making a living. If he was thinking of publishing comics as the equivalent of publishing novels, where it’s common for the authors to retain ownership, he wouldn’t have taken the position he did.

    The impetus for the Reuters piece, I’m guessing, was speculation about how Disney will justify paying $4 billion for Marvel. Movies are hit-and-miss ventures; buying Marvel isn’t necessary to have cable programming. If superhero movies become a fad and the market is saturated, Marvel’s movies will suffer along with everyone else’s. Disney’s historic strengths are in licensing and brand management, so getting more people interested in comics and the characters would enhance licensing opportunities and revenue.. The problem is how to make more people interested in Marvel’s superhero characters, how to make the stories easier to get into. Analysts would naturally think that one approach would be simplification of the product, aiming for the lowest common denominator.


  9. Hello all. A few points.

    1-I did not write that I was against copyrights. If I were, that would make me a very bad Marvel lawyer.

    2-Cults don’t have to be evil. They simply have to be misguided.

    3-Tom Spurgeon does not have to apologize about my articles. I’m an adult. If I wanted to apologize, I would do it myself. I have been writing and studying copyrights for quite a while now. My opinions have nothing to do with Spurgeon. He shouldn’t credit himself for that.

    4-Mr. Chandler, I don’t intend on disappearing. I like that my opinions irk you the wrong way. It means I’m doing my job into thinking issues through instead of rehashing the same ideas over and over again that have become the normal way of interpreting the comic book industry and its history. I’m a trained historian. It’s all about historiography. The reason Mr. Chandler that you have to pay attention to me, is because I care about comics as much as any of view, but I don’t drink the same Kool Aid you guys do. You can learn a thing or two from me, instead of finding comfort in the same recycled ideas.

    5-That people feel shocked that there is a dissenting view on comics is the most shocking thing actually. If investigating and writing about comic books, copyrights and related matters the way I do shocks the comic book industry, than it is not a mature industry that deserve to be studied and taken seriously.

    3-Heidi, I’ve taken your bait. I hope it will generate a lot of hits for you! This reply should, but my editors already warned me not to post. So that’ll be all I post to feed this frenzy. Too bad you had to deform my ideas a bit to make them more bait worthy. But this should give you good numbers. Mondays tend to be slow.

    Best to all of you.


  10. That’s just bizarre. There are certainly a lot of ways that copyright policy and copyright law could be better – more understanding of fair use and less creep toward unlimited terms of copyright immediately springs to mind – but the idea itself is sound and important. Creators deserve a chance to get paid for their labors just like everyone else.

    Where does he think comics come from? Vending machines?

  11. You say you are not against copyrights. I understand that–you oppose granting them in PERPETUITY, which is a subversion of the point of copyright law. Copyright law eventually allows properties to lapse into public domain.

    But again, it is not the creators who have argued for such changes (at least not sucessfully). It is the media companies that have had the resources and influence to change these laws. Yet you seem to believe creators are wrong to pursue the rights and window of opportunity accorded to them by the law to get back these rights. And even if it’s driven by “profit,” isn’t that the only reason these media companies chooses to hold on to these properties and refuse to return them?

    Finally, what “baiting” is there going on? Don’t be disingenuous or so self-serving–the Beat simply reported this; you’re the one benefiting from the hits I suspect.

  12. Sold.

    This guy Harve is the lone voice of truth. He’s opening our eyes, and standing up the The Man. And all you uptight conformist-types JUST. CAN’T. HANDLE IT.

    Free your minds, people!

  13. “But again, it is not the creators who have argued for such changes (at least not sucessfully).”

    Actually, a great fiction writer, Mark Helprin, argued for perpetual copyrights in an editorial in The New York Times. But most people regard him as a crank (as do I, as far as his opinions on the internet and on copyrights go). One exception doesn’t disprove your point, obviously.

    (Helprin may be a crank, but I highly recommend A Soldier of the Great War…)

  14. I’m shutting this one down. Now that it got going, it’s obviously to me that St-Louis is just looking for attention with some wackadoo opinions.

    Also real news breaking that I haven’t even had time to blog about.