The DC Comics Double-Cross

May 5th, 2015

If you have any interest at all in creator rights in the comic book industry or even just an appreciation for how big business finds new ways to screw over the little guy then this diatribe by legendary comic book writer Gerry Conway is a must read!

Who created Caitlin Snow on #TheFlash? According to @DCComics, nobody.

To briefly summarize it Gerry outlines how, at one time, DC under the guidance  of publisher Paul Levitz initiated a program called “creator equity participation” which allowed for creators to be compensated when their characters were used in other media. This was viewed a small victory in the long battle for creator rights that is as old as the industry.

In recent years since Paul Levitz has left DC and Diane Nelson has taken over as President of DC Entertainment, this program has been bastardized, first by defining some characters as “derivative” thus no longer deserving of remuneration and then by requiring that creators assume the responsibility of asking in advance for equity request contracts as DC will not pay retroactively if the papers are not filed. Gerry described this circle-jerk when he reached out for fan support with his institution of the Comics Equity Project.

Now DC has revealed new technique for double-crossing its creators. It’s called the reboot. Like the New 52? Enjoying Convergence? Isn’t it interesting how the characters origins, costumes identities and relationships all subtly or sometimes dramatically change? DC will tell you they are just trying to update characters to reflect the interests of the current market but in reality they are actively blurring the line to guarantee that all iterations of a character can be considered “derivative.”

Caitlin Snow, Jason Todd (Robin), Power Girl, Superboy & Barry Allen

According to Conway some characters can now have nobody attributed to their creation and he sites Caitlin Snow, Jason Todd, Power Girl, Superboy and Barry Allen as just a few examples!

I always expected that reboots like the New 52 were devised as an opportunity to distance the aging iconic characters from impending copyright revision suits or exposure to public domain but never did I imagine that reboots were so nefarious that they would so aggressively undermine all of the accomplishments of the creators rights movement simply to avoid paying  miniscule royalties on generally peripheral characters.

How bad is it when a company like Time Warner, who’s first quarter revenue this year was just reported as $7.1 billion, has to nickel-and-dime lowly comic creators with unkept promises? CEO, Jeff Bewkes clears a modest $32 million annually so I guess there is just not enough cash to trickle down to the bottom-feeding comic book pros.

I wonder if Diane Nelson is wearing any Prada these days?

And what about DC Co-Publisher Jim Lee? Didn’t he co-found Image, one of the most successful independent comics publishing houses, that has long been the bastion creator rights? I guess he has gone to the Dark Cide.

This type of reaming is not unique to the comic book industry. It is just another example of big businesses taking advantage of those that built them. It is a crass manipulation of an economic system that deprives workers of decent salaries, benefits, 401K plans, pensions, and just a plain-old, reasonable standard of living while continually filling the growing coffers of the already wealthy.

We like to think that our favorite superheroes instill in us a sense of justice and morality but it is getting much harder to look at that “S” on Superman’s chest and see “a symbol of hope” when it is clear that it is really a Kryptonian dollar sign for big bucks intended for a limited few.

Gerry Giovinco

Monday Weekly Update | ROMA

May 4th, 2015

New page of The Adventures of ROMA
by John Workman, now available.

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Thursday Weekly Update | Bughouse

April 30th, 2015

New page of BUGHOUSE by Steve Lafler now available.

BUGHOUSE Update

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Read the 3 Part STEVE LAFLER INTERVIEW
posted on The Comics Journal


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Misguided Girl Power

April 28th, 2015

There is a revolution going on and its objective seems to be about empowering little girls. Is it really an attempt, however, to redefine the personal interests and tastes of young ladies to meet the criterion of a particular marketing agenda?

Disney, for example has been actively distancing it’s princess characters from their “damsel in distress” stereotype. Recent animated films like Frozen, Brave, and Tangled along with live action versions of Maleficent and Cinderella actively seek to portray strong female characters that exemplify bravery, courage, strength and conviction. Are their efforts more about empowering young girls or corralling, back into the fold, those that are showing interest in the strong female characters that have been popping up in superhero films?

Marvels cinematic girl power

When Disney purchased Marvel in 2009 they gained a huge library of superhero characters, many of which were dominant females. The current success of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe has already propelled a number of these strong women characters into the forefront. Black Widow, Lady Sif, Gamora, Nebula, Scarlet Witch, Agent Peggy Carter,  Pepper Potts, Maria Hill, Melinda May, Daisy (Skye) Johnson, and others have all proven their ability to more than hang with the male characters. They are all powerful and independent women that have proven they can take care of themselves. Do not expect to find dolls, costumes,  toys or any other merchandise depicting them, however, because they will not appeal to the boys that the superhero market is deemed to be intended for.

The girls of Big Hero 6

One merchandising company’s response to a mother in search of girl characters from Big Hero 6 for her daughters says it all:

Hi Veronica,

Thanks for your email! Here is a little background on how we develop our designs.  When designing for a new film, we are developing well before the film is released and long before we have seen the movies ourselves.  Thus, we rely on the filmmakers to provide a recommended target audience.  Disney’s target audience for Big Hero 6 is boys 5-12 and secondary are girls 5-12 and teens.  Since this is geared toward boys, we chose to focus either on the main characters (in this case Baymax and Hiro), or on just the boy characters.  We have found boys do not want girl characters on their things (eeeww girls! Yuck! Haha). Should Big Hero 6 continue to resonate in the market place I think you will begin to see more product and even fabric with all the characters including the female characters.

I hope this helps explain why you might see product this way. We enjoy hearing feedback like this. So please, continue to do so.

Best regards,

Emily Robbins Kelly

Licensing Manager

Springs Creative Products Group, LLC”

This marketing ideology goes both ways and though we would love to believe that the intent of strong characters marketed to our youth, both male and female,  is to empower our children as they develop strong personal identities, they are more likely being used to define and manipulate a specific demographic to market to.

Disney of course is the master of marketing but the House the Mouse Built has established a model of success that is frequently emulated.

So here comes DC/Warner Brothers with an attempt at cornering a superhero market targeted at little girls ages 6-12 in hopes of competing with the princesses that have owned the market since the new millennium.

DC Super Hero Girls focuses on the female superheroes and super villains of the DC comic book universe while they are young teens that are relatable to the intended audience. Iconic characterts like Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl, Harley Quinn, Bumble Bee, Poison Ivy, Katana and others will grow as young women discovering their full super-power potential.

DC Entertainment President Diane Nelson says it all with this statement:

“DC Entertainment is home to the most iconic and well-known superheroes including Wonder Woman, Supergirl and Batgirl, DC Super Hero Girls represents the embodiment of our long-term strategy to harness the power of our diverse female characters. I am so pleased that we are able to offer relatable and strong role models in a unique way, just for girls.”

Just for girls.

This is from the president of one of the largest companies in an industry that is screaming for comics to be inclusive and diverse!

Is it not possible to create a product that appeals to a demographic like young girls without being exclusionary? Didn’t Nelson herself do that when she oversaw the marketing of Warner Brothers’  Harry Potter franchise?

And then there is the other problem. The featured characters have been icons in a market that has been dominated by boys and men  for decades. They have been sexualized, objectified, tortured, and even raped in comic books. Are these the characters we want our six-year-old daughters to identify with?  Sure, these will not be the stories that will be exposed to in the “just for girls” club, but what happens when the young, new converts look across the aisle at Wonder Woman in a titillating “broke-back” pose or see Batgirl in bondage, or Harley Quinn in a maniacally bloody rage on the cover of another comic in the local comic shop How do we explain the sexy pinups of those strong female role models when our daughters want to go to a comic con? How do we prevent the stand-off when feminists and sexists clash, as they continue to, over images such as the sexy covers parodied by Frank Cho?

This is why corporations protect their trademarks. Their value lies in their broad appeal which is preserved by avoiding being offensive in general. The best trademarks appeal to everyone and you only have to look as far as Mickey Mouse for a stellar example. Nobody messes with Mickey!  But DC has tarnished their trademarks from the inside out, focusing  primarily on the interests of an audience of young to middle age men.  The characters that DC is now trotting out for little girls may have been meant for young readers forty or fifty years ago but have long grown away from being suitable for that audience. It will be  like making Betty Page comics for little girls. She can be drawn wholesomely and have wonderful, empowering  adventures but what happens when the girls discover that Betty grows to be a pinup queen with a troubled life that led her into exile?

DC has a lot of work to do. They either need to clean up their house and redefine the integrity of their trademarks or create new iconic characters that are suitable for the intended audience. If they want to empower little girls, allow them to feel included instead of separated. “Just for girls” is no better than “back of the bus.” Why can’t we all be able to pick up a comic, enjoy a cartoon, or play with a toy and enjoy it because we like it, not because some corporation told us we should?

Because target markets make it easy to sell product. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

Girls can like superheroes, that doesn’t mean that they need to see men or women in comics be subjugated.

Boys can like princesses, that doesn’t mean they can’t appreciate a strong male or female character. When our culture strives to empower each other equally and as individuals. Not how we or some corporate marketer thinks they should be. That’ is s when we will all be superheroes and it won’t matter who likes pink or blue.

This is not to say that there can not be all kinds of comics and all kinds of superheroes. Walk into a book store or a library and you will find sections dedicated to personal interest, appropriate age group or subject matter. Comics and characters need to be better defined in a similar way so that audiences can identify them and easily determine what appeals to their personal interest or maturity level. Marvel did this successfully with their release of Daredevil on Netflix, a platform that allowed for a more violent and mature content, a far cry from the PG-13 Avengers fare that will appear across the board in media and merchandise. Daredevil will also not be popping up on party plates and kiddie underwear and nowhere did Daredevil show runners describe the series as “Just for Men.”

Gerry Giovinco

Monday Weekly Update | ROMA

April 28th, 2015

New page of The Adventures of ROMA
by John Workman, now available.

ROMA Update

Click here to read this comic NOW!

Thursday Weekly Update | Bughouse

April 23rd, 2015

New page of BUGHOUSE by Steve Lafler now available.

BUGHOUSE Update

Click Here to read this comic NOW!

Read the 3 Part STEVE LAFLER INTERVIEW
posted on The Comics Journal


NOW AVAILABLE,

Purchase a copy of the EL VOCHO

graphic novel, now on sale

At LULU Here.


Special Thanks to Herb Trimpe – RIP

April 21st, 2015

Herb Trimpe

This has been a bitter-sweet week in the comics world.

Few could have ever imagined that we would be in an period where we are overwhelmed by live-action comic book characters in so many forms of media. This past week for  me was overload time and I was enjoying every second of it.

Almost.

In the space of a few days I saw an incredible extended trailer of Avengers: Age of Ultron film due out in a couple of weeks along with a fantastic new trailer for the film Ant-Man due to be released this summer. On TV new episodes of Gotham, the Flash, Arrow and Agents of  S.H.I.E.L.D. hogged up my DVR and thirteen new episodes of the brilliant adaptation of Daredevil begged to be binged on Netflix. Even Jimmy Kimmel peppered late-nite television with visits from the cast of the Avengers pitting them against on another in an epic Family Feud battle that awarded the winners a custom Avengers bicycle-built-for-three.

Then came the sad news that put all the euphoria into perspective. Comic book artist/legend Herb Trimpe passed away, unexpectedly, at the age of 75.

None of this magic that we are currently experiencing as we watch our favorite comic book heroes come alive on the screen, wether it is the 3-D Imax at the multiplex, our TV, computer, or any assortment of mobile devices, if it were not for the labors of modest comic creators like Herb Trimpe who year in and year out brought us the adventures of our favorite characters for decades. His death is a loss to us all.

A lot has ben said about comic book creators getting credit for their creations. In a recent blog I asked  “Who cares that comic creators get credit?” Creators names are now popping up on the screen with names like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby always in the forefront but lately there is a growing list that is showing up in the after credits often titled “Special Thanks” dedicated to the comic book writers and artists who, though they may not have created the initial concept or design of a character, were instrumental in developing  continued and crucial mythos that has maintained our interest in the character over the years.

The Daredevil series is a prime example. The opening credits pay tribute to the creators of the character, Stan Lee and Bill Everett, but the “Special Thanks” at the end of each episode extends to Brian Michael Bendis, Gene Colan, Klaus Janson, Alex Maleev, David Mazzucchelli, Roger McKenzie, Frank Miller, John Romita Jr., John Romita Sr. and Joe Orlando without whom the long tradition of Daredevil would not be so rich. Still, fans were quick to notice that the late Wallace “Wally” Wood had been neglected for his role in designing the iconic red costume that first appeared in DD #7 (1965) and has been the character’s trademark since, proving it is still important to remember these fine creators. All of them.

Herb Trimpe is one of these journeyed creators whose name you may not see in the opening credits but deserves a “special thanks” for his work, especially his influential run on the Hulk throughout the 1970′s. His name should appear on any film with the character including this summer’s impending Avengers blockbuster. Though Lee and Kirby deserve the credit for Hulk’s creation, when I watch Mark Ruffalo’s CGI captured performance, it is Herb Trimpe’s version of the character that comes to life.

Focusing on just his rendition of the Hulk would be a disservice to a comic pro that gave us 45 years of wonderful, memorable material. For all of his creative work and for being the gentle soul and family man that so many who knew him have described him as, Herb Trimpe deserves a “Special Thanks” from anyone that calls themselves a fan of comics.

Rest In peace, kind sir. You will be missed and always remembered.

Gerry Giovinco

Monday Weekly Update | ROMA

April 20th, 2015

New page of The Adventures of ROMA
by John Workman, now available.

ROMA Update

Click here to read this comic NOW!

Thursday Weekly Update | Bughouse

April 16th, 2015

New page of BUGHOUSE by Steve Lafler now available.

BUGHOUSE Update

Click Here to read this comic NOW!

Read the 3 Part STEVE LAFLER INTERVIEW
posted on The Comics Journal


NOW AVAILABLE,

Purchase a copy of the EL VOCHO

graphic novel, now on sale

At LULU Here.


Comics on Campus

April 14th, 2015

This past week I had the pleasure of sitting in on a free lecture “Comics and the Art of Visual Communication” by legendary comic creator and theorist, Scott McCloud www.scottmccloud.com who was out promoting his new graphic novel, The Sculptor.

The event  was hosted by Rutgers University at their Camden, NJ campus. This was the same campus that hosted the second annual Camden Comic Con just a month ago where CO2 Comics presented a panel on our experience as independent publishers reuniting with some of the crew from our days publishing Comico comics back in the 1980′s.

It is so exciting to see the medium of comics finally being accepted by the great halls of higher education! When I was in college back in the early 1980′s at the Philadelphia College of Art, the administration and faculty showed complete disdain for the medium describing it as derivative and kitsch while vowing to break me of my interest in this lowly form of art. It is ironic that now, renamed the University of the Arts, they boast about  graphic novel writer Neil Gaiman’s inspirational commencement speech in 2012where they also presented Gaiman and Pulitzer Prize winning, editorial cartoonist Tony Auth each with an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts!

My, how times have changed!

More and more colleges and universities are including comic art or graphic novel courses into their curriculum. Some are beginning to build robust libraries dedicated to collections of comic books. Because of the rise of the graphic novel format and the popularity of comic related adaptations into other forms of media, educators have begun to take the comic medium seriously and since the first publication of Scott McCloud’s book Understanding Comics in 1993, educators have had a blueprint for teaching the subject.

My experience at PCA was not unusual. Comics history is wrought with degradation by  educators who widely considered it a form of base communication with no educational merit. Comics were believed to contribute to the delinquency and corruption of the minds of young readers. This notion was exasperated further by Dr. Fredrick Wertham’s book Seduction of the Innocent. Discussion among educators was more focused on how to steer readers away from comic books than to encourage them. Many even resorted to public burnings of the comics!

This sentimentality was buffered slightly by the comic industry’s 1954 adoption of a self imposed censorship called the Comic Code Authority which warranted against  any corruptive material in comics in the wake of a U.S. Congressional inquiry. It stood for decades as possibly the most rigorous form of censorship of any American medium.

Somehow, comics managed to still find a way to be interesting and in the early 1960′s with the help of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, Marvel Comics discovered how to appeal to young adults despite the shackles of the Code. The interest in the medium by college students in that era developed a fertile foundation for the future generations of comic creators to grow from.

Stan Lee recognized the interest of the college students and brought his show on the road as evidenced by this recording of Stan addressing students at Princeton University in 1966. Marvel comics spoke to the youth movement of the sixties. Those comics empowered some to create more comics that grew with the readers and reflected the unrest of the new culture that was rising.

Comics evolved throughout the seventies and eighties giving rise to the underground and independent movements that aborted the Comic Code, fought for creators rights and developed a new distribution system that allowed the unfettered medium to flourish. By the dawn of the new millennium comics were poised to explode as a form of powerful artistic expression.

Then came the internet, digital distribution, and print on demand.

Few mediums have benefitted so greatly by modern technology to put both the literal and visual power  into the hands of a single creator. From this has come great works of expression that need to be digested by those interested in learning and understanding the powerful form of visual literature known as comics.

Colleges and universities have figured this out and are actively reaching out to communities to share the mechanics of this exciting medium that has had such an incredible impact on popular culture.

A quick browser search revealed a few programs since the beginning of the year at schools like Vassar,  William & Mary, University of FloridaOhio State University, The University of Hartford, Drake University, and Northern Illinois University.

Those combined with the stops on Scott McCloud’s tour which have already included Mississippi State, Wittenberg University, Champlain College, and Rutgers University make it a wonderful time to be enlightened about the true cultural value of the comics medium and how it extends so far beyond what many know as just superheroes or funny animals. If you love comics, you may want to get to know them better at a college campus near you.

Take the time to check with colleges or universities in your area to see if they are promoting any public lectures on comics. Some provide courses that may be accessible to you. I promise you will be impressed by the diversity of the group that attends, it will be what you expect from any college, a broad mix of age, gender, and culture and everyone had a great time. Special thanks to Rutger’s Digital Studies Center, the Office of Campus Involvement, the Chancellor’s Office, the Department of English, and the Department of Fine Arts for pulling their resources for a great event that covered so many disciplines.

Gerry Giovinco


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