In a perfect world we would be exposed to multicultural diversity in the arts continuously and would revel in the vast brilliance of it all. Variety is, after all, the spice of life. The sad truth, however, is that art, at least in our culture is dictated by those with the power of influence. They are the ones that decide what is culturally acceptable and what is not. They are the gatekeepers masquerading as publishers, filmmakers, editors, agents and distributors. They are the pinnacle of the “good-old-boy” network. They are the enforcers of the status quo.
We like to think that great strides have been made regarding diversity but two recent accounts show us just how wanting we are as a society when it comes to welcoming true diversity.
First was a remarkable gaffeby Matt Damon, widely recognized for his liberal positions on filmaking as he schools a black woman about how to implement diversity claiming, “When we’re talking about diversity, you do it in the casting of the film, not the casting of the show.” This after the woman suggested a more diverse directing team so as not to be caught stereotyping a black character.
The other was a tumblr post by comics writer Alex de Campi who calls out DC, Marvel and some independent publishers for being disingenuous toward women in comics because of the lack of retribution brought towards known perpetrators of sexual harassment that happen to be big names in the industry who even she is unwilling to publicly name in her post though she is already resigned to being blacklisted.
The lesson learned is that the door to diversity can be held wide open but so long as the creative people have to pass a litmus test of what is acceptable to the gatekeepers there is still a lot of cream in the coffee.
America may be the melting pot but we still hold tight to our Eurocentric perspectives, which is a fancy way of saying it is only acceptable if it appeals to white sensibilities which are too readily regarded as universal.
In the comic industry, there has been a clamor for diversity for decades. sometimes we get diverse characters that may be various races, colors and genders yet created by the same white men that have no real idea what it is like to live in the fictional skin of these characters. Other times diverse creators are brought in but their contribution is still dictated by a publisher or editor responding to the demands of the market that still remains predominantly white and male.
These are just some of the reasons that developing diversity in the arts cannot be dependent on the expectations of commercialization. Diversity can never be about hiring the right person for the job as dictated by the market no mater how intent producers are to be diverse. True diversity only happens when the job is executed unfettered by a preestablished standard.
This is not to say that true diversity is impossible. Creative people have a way of growing art in the cracks of roads well traveled. Jazz, for example would not exist if all music was left to the standards of white musicians in the late 1800’s. Jazz grew on its own in the black communities and spilled into the streets with such energy that it appealed to a multicultural ear eventually establishing itself as one of America’s original art forms. This same freedom of expression led to rhythm and blues which led to rock and roll eventually coming full circle to the introduction of rap and hip hop.
Just as music can discover its diversity on the streets and in the multicultural communities of the country, art forms like film and comics can gain their hold on the streets of the information highway. The internet and the communities formed there are the future of diversity for these mediums. They are the fast lane around the gatekeepers that manage the restraint of the art forms.
Stop requesting diversity. Stop expecting it only to be disappointed. Create diversity as only we can as individuals. Support diversity when you recognize it. Celebrate diversity when it is achieved.Try your best not to whitewash it, and maybe then we can enjoy a multicultural experience that will put the jazz inmediums like film and comics.
Last week’s blog post, Power Outage at Marvel, suggested that Marvel and DC, in an effort to cut costs, might consider suspending their publishing arms and focus on licensing their characters to other comics publishers to minimize their expenses and risks. This concept might be a little extreme considering the two industry giants have each been making comic books for over 75 years but there is no doubt that the depth of their intellectual property is now more valuable in other forms of entertainment media and as a license option.
Marvel and DC, however, could understandably balk at the idea of farming out their comic books to others but would still need to cut costs in production or do a radical shift in marketing of comic books if they intend to effect things like DC’s reported two million dollar fiscal loss or Ike Perlmutter’s legendary thriftiness at Marvel.
Given that the current climate of American industry is a willingness to outsource production and manufacturing to foreign countries, it has to be considered that this be a logical possibility for comic books. Recent polls have shown that comic book writers are more popular now with readers than comic book artists, and though the art is definitely more labor intensive, it is also seemingly more interchangeable by today’s standards. What are the chances that art production could be shipped overseas, especially to India where great strides are already being taken in comic art production?
There is precedence for this in comics. Carmine Infantino in his insightful autbiography, “Amazing World of Carmine Infantino,” describes how, in an effort to stave off a comic artist strike in 1971, He, Joe Orlando, and Tony Dezuniga, went to the Philippines where artists were used to getting $2 – $3 a page. Their plan was to have Tony and his wife run a shop with artists where DC paid $45 – $50 per page plus 20% to the Dezuniga’s for their management effort. Later, a young Filipino artist comes forward at a convention complaining about being paid only $5 per page and it became clear that those running the show in the Philippines were robbing the artists and DC blind. Carmine does a wonderful job of not making a direct accusation but gives us enough information to explain possibly why the Dezunigas do not return to New York until 1977.
The influx of Filipino artists did prevent a strike and it did give us the great talents of Rudy Nebres, Alfredo Alcala, Alex Niño, Nestor Redondo and Gerry Talaoc just to name a few, but we may never know how much it set back the value of American comic artists in the industry.
We are living in a global economy where we are happy to see our electronics, clothing, food and everything else farmed out to people working in other countries for slave wages by our standards. It is sad to expect that the same will happen to our comic books. Many companies already print in China and elsewhere and nobody complains. Who knows? The next issue of Superman or Spider-Man could be drawn by a kid from India working for peanuts.
Just another reason to support homegrown, independent comics.
It has been a long time coming. Ever since Disney plunked down four billion bucks to buy Marvel, the world has been waiting for Marvel to lose its autonomy. It finally happened last week when Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter was deposed as reigning king of the roost at Marvel Studios.Kevin Feige stepped over his former boss to report directly to Disney honcho, Alan Horn, to oversee that Marvel Studios joins with Pixar and Lucasfilm in its next logical step of integration with the House of the Mouse.
Perlmutter is a notoriously tight fisted skinflint that refuses interviews and lurks in the shadows, dodging photographers like a vampire reeling from the crack of dawn. (Only one image of him from decades ago exists on the internet!) Legends of his unscrupulous tactics abound from wanting to offer only potato chips at a Marvel premier to denying new pencils if two inches were left on an old one. He led Marvel with all the fear tactics and guile of Dr. Doom but his success as a dictator was unquestionable until now.
Perlmutter was deemed too much of a threat to the sanctity of Hollywood business etiquette and has now been banished to control only the television, animation and publishing end of Marvel.
Oh, the irony!
The world knows, and Kevin Fiege will attest, that the success of Marvel Studios has been predicated on the quality of the source material culled from the comic books and their persistent adherence to it. Yet, the comic book publishing end, like Ike Perlmutter, will be destined to play second fiddle to the hugely profitable films regardless of how responsible both the comics and Perlmutter are for being thesolid foundation on which the current Marvel empire has beenbuilt.
Perlmutter in his storied career has proven to be both resourceful and vengeful so be sure he will not be buried in the comic book ghetto for long but what does this mean for the comic industry?
Don’t expect to see comic creators getting paid well anytime soon. Now that DCComics is cutting back in wake of a reported $2 million deficit andand Perlmutter’s predisposition to cheapness, there probably could be no better time to jump ship as a creator and go independent.
The driving force of the world’s most famous superheroes is no longer comic books, it is film. The publishing arms of Marvel and DC are both firmly planted in the back seat of their entertainment conglomerate’s priority list. DC is also racing to enforce edicts from on high to realign their comic book versions of their characters with upcoming film and television versions.Don’t be surprised if Marvel and DC both pull the plug as comic book publishers while their valuable properties are licensed to other comic book publishers just to save a buck.
Now that the review embargo has been lifted on the new Fantastic Four film reboot because it is finally in theaters, what we all expected if fully evident. The film is lousy. With a horrible 9% ranking on Rotten Tomatoes you can bet your popcorn money that this is one superhero flick that is a super stinker.
Marvel must be loving every second of it since it has been their goal to see FOX fail as miserably as possible with both the FF and X-Men franchises in hopes of gaining back the exclusive film rights to their iconic characters.
But who does it really hurt when a superhero film like the FF tanks badly? This film still opens with the same giant red and white MARVEL logo that appears in every FF ad. It is also the same MARVEL logo that opens every Marvel Studio film as well. Serious comic fans and fans of the superhero genre may understand the tumultuous relationship between Marvel and FOX but they represent a small percentage of the millions of movie goers that spend their hard earned cash at the multiplexes world-wide. To them, this is a Marvel superhero film that sucked and could be a forbidding of the collapse of the genre because they don’t understand the difference.
This spring’s Avengers: Age of Ultron underperformed compared to the first Avenger film, and this summer’s Ant Man showed tepid opening box office numbers though it was well reviewed and continues to put people in the seats. Now the Fantastic Four crashes and burns taking with it the legendary team of superheroes that initially put Marvel on the map. Iconic characters like the Thing and the Human Torch who in the past have teamed-up with every major Marvel character are unmarketable, laughing stocks and Marvel’s most prominent villain, Dr. Doom, is a joke.
Even if Marvel were to regain the film rights to these characters that would have to put them on ice longer than Captain America before they could revive them after the three failed attempts mustered by FOX. This Honest Trailer sums up FF film history nicely.
We may all be rooting for Marvel to get their properties back, especially now that they have proven to have the ability and willingness to maintain the integrity of the characters we have all grown to love, but it is painful to watch characters created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby drawn, quartered and drug through town so mercilessly.
These characters that marked the beginning of a new age in the superhero genre back in the 1960’s could signal the demise of the genre in the eyes of the general public with this continued box office failure. That could that be too much Doom to bear.
Last week’s blog, Copyright Law is Changing! Is it Time to Hit the Panic Button?, was predicated in response to a viral video, Everything You Know About Copyright Law Is About To Change, generated by a credible source that according to this post on Graphicpolicy.com , Don’t Believe the Hyperbole, There’s No Orphan Works Law Before Congress, is completely untrue leading thousands of people to share, watch and spread erroneous information with an agenda.
Oh, the power of the Internet!
The bottom line, as I said in my post and which was repeated on Graphic Policy, please, get educated about copyright and about anything else you may be passionate about especially when it comes to information shared on the web because, too much of it is either biased, false, or just plain fantasy.
People on the internet seem to get a kick out of being stirred up. In regards to copyright protection this could be an advantage to folks trying to protect works that have been infringed on. Face it. Nobody wants to go through the expense of hiring lawyers and marching to court in a copyright suit when it is much easier, less costly and sometimes more damaging to shame an infringer on the internet.
We all got to see how shame was used to drive the dentist that hunted and killed Cecil the lion underground long before authorities even had a chance to file charges. It is much easier to get the public worked up in a lather over killing a beloved animal than it may be over copyright issues but it has been done successfully many times.
Neal Adams used this public shaming technique back in the 1970’s when he orchestrated a deal between DC and Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. The Swipe Files on Bleeding Cool regularly hang infringers and plagiarists out to dry. We all remember what a mockery Shia LaBeouf became after his repeated plagiarisms. Marvel is no longer haunted by the perpetual public shaming of how they screwed Jack Kirby now that a deal has been settled with the Kirby family.
Online people fight their own wars behind the strength of their social networks. Cartoonist Jess Fink, for example has raised awareness of her experience with Todd Goldman on herTumblr and it has reached the audience of Comics Alliance.
Shaming like this does not have to happen. Usually when a copyright or trademark holder recognizes an infringement they notify the infringer with a Cease and Desist letter. Rational people realize that they have been caught or have infringed unknowingly and respond apologetically and appropriately to immediately rectify the situation. The real crooks get defiant and retaliatory, responding with a sense of righteousness and self entitlement that is beyond reproach. That is when it is time to bring it on but be wary, their moxie is generally driven by knowledge of their own deep pockets and a willingness to drain your resources legally.
I recently witnessed an artist who recognized a logo he designed on an unauthorized website. He had designed the logo for a company that used it as their trademark. He took it upon himself to notify the site that unless they had permission from the TM holder that they should not be using the logo. The initial response was the dreaded, “Don’t worry I’ll give you both credit and you will enjoy the great exposure!” When that was not deemed acceptable the infringer became a jerk acting like he was the violated one. This all played out very publicly on social media where the support apparently was strongly on the side of the artist. The logo was eventually removed and both sides agreed to remove the involved posts. Hopefully this is the end of this situation and both sides are content with the end result, though I am sure each has a stink eye out for a potential libel suit.
Avoid the shame. Play fair and don’t infringe on peoples intellectual property. If you wouldn’t steal their car why is it OK to steal their art? If you don’t understand how this works it is time that you get educated on the basics of Copyright and Trademark.
Copyright law is about to change and creative people all across the U.S. are going into panic mode!
Everyone else could care less. Both reactions are extreme because copyright law as it stands today effects so much of our daily lives that complete enforcement of it would be nothing short of dystopian.
If you want to understand what the fuss is about concerning potential changes then you need to watch this tedious but eye opening podcast video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kDoztLDF73I
The most significant part of the Copyright Act of 1976 that most people either do not understand or appreciate is that you possess ownership of copyright the moment you express a thought by affixing it to something tangible. There is no requirement to register a copyright or even attach a notice though both are beneficial. Every single person has copyright ownership of every original scribble, note, photo, video, doodle, craft, song, tune or anything else tangible that they ever created from the moment they created it provided they did not copy it from something else. Copying something without permission would be infringement of another’s copyright.
NOTE: Ideas are not protected by copyright! Only the physical expression of an idea is. Someone can have the same idea for a story or a picture but if how they tell that story or draw that picture is different there can be no conflict.
Instant ownership of copyright makes life a lot easier for creative people because they do not have to pay to register every single thing they create but in a world where now everyone is creative and able to publish their thoughts and pictures tangibly on the internet we are inundated with copyrighted material at every turn and surrounded by copyright holders.
Most people are not aware of the significance or value of copyright and consequently, as we go about our daily lives sharing or copying or quoting all the material we have such easy access to, we have unwittingly become a nation self-entitled of copyright infringers!
“By the end of the day, John has infringed the copyrights of twenty emails, three legal articles, an architectural rendering, a poem, five photographs, an animated character, a musical composition, a painting, and fifty notes and drawings. All told, he has committed at least eighty-three acts of infringement and faces liability in the amount of $12.45 million (to say nothing of potential criminal charges). There is nothing particularly extraordinary about John’s activities. Yet if copyright holders were inclined to enforce their rights to the maximum extent allowed by law, he would be indisputably liable for a mind-boggling $4.544 billion in potential damages each year. And, surprisingly, he has not even committed a single act of infringement through P2P file sharing. Such an outcome flies in the face of our basic sense of justice. Indeed, one must either irrationally conclude that John is a criminal infringer—a veritable grand larcenist—or blithely surmise that copyright law must not mean what it appears to say. Something is clearly amiss. Moreover, the troublesome gap between copyright law and norms has grown only wider in recent years.”
As technology continues to advance it is becoming easier identify when we are being infringed upon or pirated. This is great for people who make their living creating things but what about people who may want to make their living suing people for infringing on their copyrights of photos of the family dog or that viral cat video we all like to share? Do we really want to live in that kind of police state? Will we stop being creative because we are afraid of being infringed upon? Will we stop sharing socially for fear of being accused of infringement?
Before 1976, copyrights had to be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office similar to registering a patent or a trademark. This helped to identify copyrights that had a perceived value and allowed others to be considered public domain. Registering was definitely less convenient and more costly than the current system but may be not such a bad thing. Unfortunately, part of the changes to copyright procedure currently being considered is privatizing the registration process. Are creatives about to be corralled into money making scheme for some greedy corporate entity with huge lobby interests in Washington?
In the aforementioned podcast video at about 20:30 in to it, editorial illustrator and copyright champion, Brad Holland, talks about a company called theCopyright Clearance Center who already conveniently owns the website www.copyright.com. He talks in detail about how this company, which has been around since 1978, (the year the Copyright Act of 1976 when into actual effect) collects fees from schools libraries and copy centers for permission to copy images and text to the tune of $300 million a year! This is similar to music collection societies likeASCAP or BMI. Mysteriously, however, creators seem to be kept out of the loop when it comes to distribution of these funds collected by the CCC. Apparently they have all the infrastructure in place to register, manage and police copyrights while making boatloads of money at creator’s expense.
Now let’s look at the elephant in the room – Work For Hire. One of the biggest issues in the Copyright Act of 1976 is that it did not do a great job of defining Work For Hire, a point that was vehemently defended by musicians anticipating their ability to terminate rights granted to record labels after 35 years as defined by the Copyright law. This is a glitch that has big companies scrambling to make deals with creators who may be closing in on that term. It is the main reason Prince was able to settle an agreement with Warner Bros. and the Kirby family was able to settle with Marvel/Disney. It is the main reason why a lot of deals are being struck quietly behind closed doors before the proverbial shit hits the fan.
If Copyright law stands as it is, where creators own copyright from the moment of creation, any freelancer who did not sign a declaration of work for hire and was not actually defined as an employee of the company currently holding the copyright could terminate rights of use of their contribution to the work. Anything published after 1975 is currently fair game for future reversions.
Using comics as an example, say I am a letterer of an independent comic of the 1980’s and I was paid to letter a comic by the author or the publisher but as a freelancer and had no signed agreement that this was exclusively considered Work for Hire. According to copyright law can’t I consider that I am the “author” of the lettering on that comic and copyright holder from the time I penned it to the paper? If I decide I want to revert my rights by terminating the rights of the current holder, can I? If I can revert my rights, any reprint would require new lettering to replace mine or a new deal would need to be struck with me for a new term. Imagine if the Inker or the colorist did the same. This could prevent a work from being republished and it could create havoc for current publishers holding reprint rights.
Imagine if this happens in film where creators from many disciplines come together as freelancers to create a movie. It may sound far fetched but this is the backbone of this revival of the Orphan Works Copyright Act of 2008. It in theory seeks to make works accessible that are unable to be recopied into digital format by Libraries and Schools because copyright permission cannot be obtained by creators that cannot be located.
The argument is that our culture is being deprived of accessibility to works because of the inadequacies of the copyright law which intends, in part, to restrict perpetual ownership of works so they can be absorbed by the culture that supported and inspired it. This is the reason that the new law intends to have copyrights registered, to enable identifying creators but I bet it will also redefine the Work for Hire clause to prevent the mass migration of rights from corporations to creators. This is a classic case of misdirection that speculates most freelancers will not be aware or willing to pay to register copyrights on every work they did thirty-five years ago under a questionable Work for Hire situation, sweeping one big elephant under the rug.
Copyright law has three significant objectives: Identify the copyright holder, protect the rights of the copyright holder for the term of their copyright and limit terms of copyrights so works can ultimately be absorbed by the society that cultivated it.
I believe it is fair to say that the current copyright law has some inadequacies, mostly in regard to how staggeringly unenforceable it is at its most basic level. Policing every infringement on a daily basis would be impossible and if it were we would not want to live under those conditions. But for those of us that rely on the value of our works and their copyright for our income, it is time to be attentive to how we may be affected by changes and become involved with how a new law is constructed.
Is it time to hit the panic button? Maybe not, but it is time to get educated about copyright and to ensure that any new copyright law benefits everyone fairly.
Marvel/Disney is waging a licensing war with Fox over the Fantastic Four and X-Men properties. Marvel sold the film rights for the characters and their supporting casts to Fox back in the 1990’s when they were struggling with bankruptcy. Since then Marvel has moved on to bigger and better things including joining the ranks of Disney and becoming a film blockbuster builder themselves.
Now they want their toys back and Fox is not parting with them and are unwilling to share like Sony has with the Spider-Man franchise.
Marvel’s answer is a self-imposed embargo that blocks any and all licensors from using the characters associated with Fox’s film rights. Sounds like a brilliant strategy! Marvel will defeat Fox through attrition by preventing as much external awareness of the properties as possible.
In-house, they have also cancelled the Fantastic Four comic book and killed-off Wolverine, the most popular X-Man. They have even gone so far as replacing the characters on graphics from famous covers and removing them from Marvel Universe posters and 75th Anniversary trading cards. They are systematically erasing anything to do with the properties as if they never existed.
This decree, reportedly issued by Ike Perlmutter, is so obsessive it is becoming perverse in its resemblance to Holocaust denial, a conspiracy theory considered an act of antisemitism that is illegal in several countries. Like Marvel erasing mutants, Holocaust deniers will go to great extremes to convince people that the Holocaust never happened. Their goal, like Marvel’s, is to revise history to suit their agenda.
It is ironic that the mutants which compose the X-Men have long been a symbol of marginalized people and have often been equated with the Jews in the Holocaust. The mutants have been the champions of those that are different in the Marvel Universe. They have fought the good fight to be accepted and in their success have attracted fans world-wide who could empathize with their struggles and achievements.
Yet now, to satisfy the agenda of a corporation, these mutants, along with the Fantastic Four, a team that is the keystone of the Marvel Universe, are being eradicated, replaced by a new, more acceptable breed of heroes called Inhumans and an assortment of other “B” list characters.
Marvel/Disney is becoming our worst nightmare, an oligarchy that is willing to erase a mythology that has had a tremendous impact on our popular culture and specific marginalized communities that have embraced its message of inclusion and tolerance. They are manipulating history for no other reason than to effect their bottom line but at our culture’s expense.
Marvel’s property embargo is a brilliant tactic but a disgrace to a humanity that has accepted these mutants and heroes as our own. It is just another gross example of how willing corporations like Marvel/Disney are to manipulate us for their own gain. Congratulations Marvel! You are officially Disneyfied.
Gerry Conway has been a busy man over the last couple of years. He has attempted to raise the bar regarding creator rights, just a little bit, through his blog posts, first with his comments regarding Comics Equity Projectand then with his recent statements regarding DC Comic’s use of the term “derivative” according to apparently avoid making equity payments to creators.
After being contacted by the DC brass Gerry seems to have changed his opinion of their intent and has issued an apology to Geoff Johns, Dan DiDio, Jim Lee and Larry Ganem.
Gerry has nothing to apologize about! The thing that Mr. Conway needs to realize is that he has been conditioned over the last several decades of his involvement in the comic industry, as has every other creator that has worked for either DC or Marvel, to either expect or at least anticipate the type of treatment he felt he was experiencing regarding the finances of his work. That is not his fault!
It is nice that the folks at the top of DC have stepped forward and took the time to explain to Gerry how they really didn’t intend to screw with his royalty payments and their plan is to support the creators but history is not exactly in their corner.
The list of comic creators that have been commercially violated by publishers in this industry is extensive and should give pause to any creator entering into a publishing agreement with any publisher, especially the big ones that still rely on the sensibilities of “work for hire” as their business model that really needs to change.
To be fair this is not just a problem in the comics industry. Artists in general have been abused of for centuries and have learned to develop a thick skin about their value or expect to be taken advantage of. Gerry, like any other creator, is a product of that system. He has been conditioned to protect himself from unscrupulous publishing practices and sometimes that requires harsh measures.
Like an animal in a cage that has been poked, prodded and too often mistreated, creators naturally develop a sense of distrust as a vital defense mechanim. Can you blame them when they occasionally bite the hand that feeds them?
It is the responsibility of both parties in a professional relationship to exhibit respect or expect to be bitten.
Gerry has managed to maintain his famous moniker “Gentleman Gerry Conway” through it all, always managing to maintain a politely professional and objective position while exposing the facts as clearly as possible based on his personal understanding of the matter.
Because of his tactical approach and his self deprecating “minor icon” status in the industry he has made a difference that has benefited many creators who were either unaware or unable to identify the injustice or act on it. For that alone, he owes no apologies.
If the intent of the ranking officers at DC was in fact as honorable as they explained to Mr. Conway, they need to address the changes immediately and owe him the apology for their error. They also owe him a special note of thanks for bringing their attention to what was clearly a raw deal.
The magic number must be 75! It is no mistake that Marvel, DC and now Archie Comics, all of which published their premier iconic characters between 1938 and 1941, have rolled out celebrations of their 75th year anniversary finding interesting ways to reboot their entire universes in the process.
DC rebooted with Flashpoint, then The New 52 and now Convergence. Marvel is rebooting with Secret Wars and the establishment of Battleworld. Now Archie is planning to “Build a New Riverdale” with a controversial Kickstarter.
No coincidence that, as copyright law stands today, characters like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain America, Prince Namor, The Human Torch, Archie and most of the gang living in Reverdale are sitting on the precipice of public domain as their copyrights, whose duration is 95 years from first publication, are set to expire within the next 20 years.
All three publishers are scrambling to recreate their brand to distance the next generation of consumers and those that follow from the classic versions of their characters guaranteeing that their origin stories and adventures will be considered outdated and unmarketable. In the meantime, trademarks of every variation of those characters, their costumes and logos which can be prevented from ever expiring will be maintained an marketed as aggressively as possible.
So while Archie is rebuilding Riverdale and seemingly throwing out any style guide that remotely looks like the characters originally designed by Bob Montana, they are just ensuring that nobody else can tell a story about life in Riverdale without infringing on their trademark. Soon Archie and the gang will have as many different looks and styles as Batman has logos.
The funny thing is Archie wants our help and is seeking $350,000 on a Kickstarter campaign to do it!
According to Archie publisher Jon Goldwater, they just want to get the new product to market as fast as possible and have their funds tied up in a deal to expand digest distribution into Target and Wal-Mart stores.
What is Target and Wal-Mart’s sudden interest in Archie all about? If they wanted comics wouldn’t they be going after Marvel or DC first? Something is in the wind. Probably the “Riverdale” TV series that will soon be coming to FOX. All that exposure has got to be killing them!
In their rush to market these new projects by selling direct to the audience through Kickstarter, they also managed to offend their most ardent supporters, the retailers in the Direct Market. They should’ve seen that coming! Publishers like Marvel, DC and Archie are the bread and butter of the Direct Market retailer. When these publishers venture into a direct-to-customer distribution system they simply cut the retailers out at the knees.
Retailers are not the only victims. So are Indy publishers that have come rely on crowdfunding as a means to generate precious preorders on a product that may not meet the sales requirements of distribution through Diamond. A company like Archie, seeking a huge some of money in a campaign will crowd out smaller publishers, especially those that are now producing comics that compete directly for the audience that Archie has appealed to for decades.
This is the same technique that Marvel and DC employed in the 1980’s when they were threatened by the emergence of successful independent publishers in the fledgeling Direct Market. They simply flooded the market. More product does not mean that consumers will spend more money. Consumers have a limited amount of funds and when more product is introduced into a market it only means that the consumer now has to make choices on how they spend their money. The winners are usually the ones that have a big enough budget to promote their product and an already committed audience. That is not the small indy publisher.
How many Kickstarter campaigns have you read about in the news feeds this week besides Archie’s?
If Archie reaches their goal, that is $350,000 that is not going to other crowdfunding campaigns. It is also $350,000 not venturing into a comic shop.
Archie wants to rebuild Riverdale by strip-mining the resources of the current comics market all in an effort to erect a bulkhead that will secure them from public domain which is intended as a reward for a culture that supported their work for 95 years. In the process they describe themselves as small and scrappy, yet tread on those publishers that genuinely meet that description. Their campaign does not even offer great rewards! Supporters are asked to pay twice as much for product that will soon be available in stores.
Archie is a company that has been around for over 75 years with celebrated characters that have been in films, cartoons and live action series on TV. They have managed to maintain a presence with their comics outside of the Direct Market with their digest format, a feat that even Marvel and DC cannot claim. Now they have a deal with Target and Wal-Mart and a television deal with FOX, yet they still need $350,000 of our money to launch three new comic books, something the’ve been capable of doing themselves with no problem for three quarters of a century. Sounds like an easy way to get a lot of free advertising with a major dash of greed.
Not-so-poor or little Archie wants our help but remember who loses in this one… everyone but Archie Comics. If their campaign is a success, they are laughing all the way to the bank, where they should have gone for a loan in the first place.
So, last week in my blog post The DC Comics Double-Cross I wrote about Gerry Conway’spost regarding DC’s policy about “derivative” characters and how they are using it to avoid equity payments to creators.
I usually have a lot to say about issues that involve creators rights but I do not have the clout that Neal Adams does nor his long history as an advocate.
In the post Adams refers to the relationship that book publishers have with creators and how it differs from the type of relationship that Marvel and DC have had with creators for way too long. It is this difference that needs to be examined more closely.
Marvel and DC are two of the oldest comics publishing houses each having been publishing for over 75 years. Back in the late 1930’s when comic books began to grow as a viable industry, comics which sold millions of copies at the low price of 10¢ were considered a high-volume, low-yield product that relied more on ad sales based on circulation to generate income than actual unit sales. They were more concerned with paying sales commissions to the ad salesmen than they were to paying royalties to creators. Content along with its copyright was bought from creators and treated as “work for hire” which meant that the Publisher owned the work lock, stock, and barrel. The publishers, who now held the copyright were considered the “Author” and enjoyed the benefit of royalties as other mediums like film, radio and television began to license the characters as they grew in popularity. The actual creators of those characters saw nothing because they had signed away their legal rights or assumed they had none because of the conditions of work for hire. This, with few exceptions, remains the general practice of Marvel ad DC to this day.
Most book publishers have a distinctly different relationship with creators. A creator owns the copyright of their work. They enter into a contract with a publisher that grants the publisher exclusive rights to publish the work for an established duration in return for a royalty payment based on a percentage of the cover price of each book sold. The agreement usually puts the publisher in charge of marketing the work to other mediums and foreign publishers. There is usually also an exit clause that will allow the two parties to terminate their relationship if either party does not fulfill their obligations.The creator is the author and owner of the copyright and generally shares in all the profits made from the licenses of the work. The publisher is the contracted caretaker. This post, Book Advances and Royalties, does a good job describing how this relationship works.
As the comics industry grew and characters began to generate obscene amounts of money for the publishers, creators realized that they had been duped. To make matters worse, comic creators who were content to “work for hire” anticipating a life-long, secure career were finding that they were often tossed to the side in favor of the next, hot talent. Older and unemployed these creators watch as their work continues to make tons of money for the publisher while the creator faces poverty with no benefits.
This is a business model that has to change. Comic books are no longer a high volume low yield industry. Marvel and DC have adapted to change regarding distribution, production and marketing of the IP. It is time they change their relationship with creators to one that is fair.
Independent comics publishers have adapted to a model more similar to book publishers and creators are enjoying the benefits of profiting from their works as they are developed into other media. It is a model that can and does work for comics.
It is a wonder why creators continue to work for Marvel and DC when they could better control their destiny elsewhere.
Whenever I see young talent working for the big two I can’t help but compare them to teenage smokers. There is too much information out there that proves smoking is bad for you, why if you have half a brain, would you risk your life to cancer for that cheap thrill? I expect they think it is just a phase, something they can kick, until they are caught in the vicious cycle.
Young comic creators have a choice. Say no to work for hire. Create unique work and own it. Enjoy the success of your creations instead of watching others profit from your work while you are tossed aside like yesterdays news. If no one will work for publishers like Marvel and DC they will have no choice but to change their relationships with creators. Until then it will be business as usual.