Posts Tagged ‘Rich Johnston’

Comic Creators – It is Time to Change the Business Model

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

So, last week in my blog post The DC Comics Double-Cross I wrote about Gerry Conway’s post 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.

Adam’s, who led the charge in support of Superman creator’s Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster back in the 1970’s, was quick to publicly back Conway with his own take on the subject and a warning to creators about reading contracts. His response is an important read that can be found in this Bleeding Cool post by Rich Johnston: Neal Adams Talks Gerry Conway, DC Comics And Who Owns What?

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.

Gerry Giovinco

Playing Monopoly with Comic Books

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015

Who hasn’t played Monopoly? The idea is simple. All the players start out with the same amount of cash and start rolling the dice. They travel around the board buying, selling and renting real estate until one player ends up with all the cash. Game over.

Unless you play with comic books.

Since 1996 there has been one winner in Comic Book Monopoly and that is Diamond Comic Distributors. They have controlled the distribution of comic books in North America from that point on. This game of Monopoly never ends and the players just continue to go round and round the board dictated by the rules established by the one-time winner.

The players each have worn game tokens of writers, artists, publishers, retailers, and consumers. The distributor token has been retired. It is now the Bank and it controls the game.

It is ironic that the Direct Market for the distribution of comic books, which cultivated an environment that was conducive of the growth of independent comics focused on diversity in the medium could be channeled through only a single source.

Some may view this system as a fine filter for a delicate, well-oiled machine while others will view it as a stranglehold on an industry bloated with growth potential.

In an era when everyone is concerned about something like net neutrality which supports a fair and even flow of digital distribution through the many lanes of digital delivery, it seems inconceivable that comic books should have only one lane of distribution dictated by one distributor.

Mimi Cruz, manager of Night Flight Comics in Salt Lake City, Utah expresses the frustration of a retailer with just one distribution option in this post by Rich Johnston titled How Diamond Makes a Retailer Want to Weep.

There was a time when Diamond was not the only distributor and retailers had options. Distributors had to compete with each other and provide better and faster service to satisfy their customers or loose them to their rivals. Distributors took chances on new titles and experimented with options that would expand the growth of the industry. It was a healthy competitive market that unfortunately crashed collectively in the 1990’s for a myriad of reasons including a glut perpetuated by publishers and speculators as well as the assignment of exclusive distribution rights.

Diamond purchased  it’s last remaining competitor, Bud Plant, in 1996 and seized control of the board, establishing their monopoly of distribution to the entire comics market in North America. A monopoly that did not go unnoticed.

In 2000, Diamond dodged antitrust allegations brought on by the U.S. Department of Justice on the basis that they did not have a monopoly on the distribution of books. Because comic books can be considered a form of books, in general, Diamond has a standing “Get out of Jail Free” card and is allowed to control the comic book market.

This game of Comic Book Monopoly potentially hurts everyone in comics but especially those seeking creative independence. there was a time when it was possible to find a distributor to take a chance on an unproven title. Their opinion would often encourage others distributors to take a chance too. This has no chance of happening with Diamond where an independent publisher’s only opportunity  is to meet the sales requirement or else!

Brick-and-mortar retailers worry about sales lost to the internet but, thanks to the monopolistic distribution of Diamond, the internet is the only open resource for what is new and different from small independent publishers.

Part of what is fun and exciting about collecting comics is discovering the next new refreshing comic book. The thrill of the hunt no longer exists on the pages of Previews, Diamond’s monthly distribution catalog where all comics are a proven commodity meeting required standards. It exists only on the internet where brazen new comic publishers pepper the landscape with exciting print on demand comic books that are delivered strait to the readers door or downloads that can be read instantly on mobile devices.

The survival of the local comic shop is going to depend on their ability to step off the Diamond’s Monopoly game board and engage with other wholesalers or independent publishers that will enable them to expand the horizons of the industry. Introducing new options will force Diamond to raise their game and improve their performance for retailers. Until then Diamond’s only incentive is to continue to collect cash every time someone passes go.

It’s time to roll a new set of dice.

The comics market, like all markets, is a risky business of which I have written a extensive four-part series, Making Comics is Risky Business,  that can be jumped to using the following links.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Gerry Giovinco

In the Shadow of Comico’s Sins

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

Rich Johnston over at Bleeding Cool raised a few eyebrows recently with the post The Return Of Comico? But What Of The Elementals?

In the post he very briefly describes the demise of Comico before unveiling his discovery of a recent trademark application filed by Steven Rev. Rich happily divulges address information and even describes the location as having convenient parking, thus instigating the ires of the many folk that have beefs with Comico owner Andrew Rev who has become both notorious and mysterious since Comico last published.

Curiously, Johnston questions the future of one of Comico’s most legendary titles, The Elementals, which had been purchased by Rev from Bill Willingham back in the 1990’s. If Johnston would have dug just a little deeper he would have found that the same trademark search engine that revealed a potential revival of Comico also discloses that the trademark for The Elementals is currently held by DYNAMITE.

That revelation would have surely stirred up some excitement!

Of course all of that is here or there speculation.  One line in the post, however personally struck a nerve for two glaring inaccuracies.

“…there has been an attempt by the original founders to publish comcics[sic] as CO2 Comics…”

The Original Founders:

Top: Dennis LaSorta, Phil Lasorda, Bottom: Gerry Giovinco, Bill Cucinotta

Bill Cucinotta and I are only two of “the original founders” of Comico.  Though we both feel very responsible for the initial direction of that company and many of the positive and innovative approaches that defined it in its heyday, we were both often at odds with the other partners and ensuing management team. The working environment at Comico was often emotionally, verbally and physically hostile. Our disputes within the partnership resulted in both of our departures as active members of the partnership at separate times years prior to the bankruptcy and sale to Rev.

Though we are prone to celebrate the accomplishments of Comico, and there is a lot that we are very proud of, there is a pall of resentment toward what we endured within that extended partnership that continues to haunt us.

We made a conscious effort to define our current partnership by naming our publishing venture CO2 Comics to specify that the vision of this approach belongs to the two of us working in cooperation with the creators that support our vision. We cannot deny our roles as former Comico publishers but, as we have repeatedly stated, CO2 Comics is NOT Comico and never intends to be.

CO2 Comics current catalog

An Attempt to  Publish:

We feel that we have accomplished a lot in the last five years since we launched CO2 Comics originally as a web comic collective on the internet in 2009 We have published both on the web and in print several thousand pages of comics and comic related content.  A brief rundown of those accomplishments as well as upcoming projects was highlighted on our blog to commemorate our fifth anniversary.

I think we have well exceeded what could be considered an “attempt” at publishing comics!

A few weeks ago Chuck Dixon and Paul Rivoche, in an effort to promote their new book, a graphic adaptation of Amity Shlaes’ THE FORGOTTEN MAN, suggested that they were the subjects of a black list crafted by liberals in the industry against conservative creators.

The idea of a black list might seem ludicrous to some but when our efforts to publish great comics by  a laundry list of incredible creators can be so easily dismissed by observers of the industry we have to ask ourselves if we are not being subjugated by attitudes shaped by what Comico had become toward the end; a Comico that was far from our control and well beyond what we had ever intended it to be.

We couldn’t even get a link in this post that mentions us.

There may or may not be a defined black list in comics, but Bill and I often feel like two black sheep when our current efforts and accomplishments are overlooked. We can only wonder if we are maligned by the dark shadow cast by the sins of what Comico became after we left.

Fortunately we have surrounded ourselves by great talent, many of whom witnessed first-hand what we accomplished and experienced back-in-the-day. They appreciate our integrity and commitment to them personally and to the medium of comics. We can not thank them enough for their continued faith in us!

CO2 Comics is already much more than Comico became. It is a labor of love from which great comics will continue to flow, not a trial of deception, hostility, resentment and fiscal irresponsibility that crushed the dreams of many.

Bill and I have the same vision we ever had: to publish creator owned comics and to establish wonderful, trustworthy, and mutually profitable relationships with creators  in that process.

We wish any new Comico all the luck in the world. They are gonna need it. We just ask, please,  don’t let the sins of Comico past damn the future of CO2 Comics.

Making Comics Because We Want to,

Gerry Giovinco



Shia LaBeouf is Dangerous

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

Many of us have watched in amazement as Shia LaBeouf has exposed himself as the pretentious, self-absorbed, entitled, plagiarist that he is ever since he has been publicly called out for his direct swipe of Dan Clowes comic Justin M. Damiano which LaBeauf  adapted, uncredited and unauthorized into a short film titled HowardCantour.com.

Further scrutiny has proven that there is little that LaBeouf has ever created that was not lifted from somewhere else. Even his apologies were swiped!

An incriminating list of LaBeouf’s transgressions can be found here.

LaBeouf went on the defensive in this interview with Rich Johnston declaring that, Authorship is Censorship seemingly championing the perspective of Creative Commons.

Now he has gone on the offensive by antagonizing Dan Clowes with more blatant plagiarism of his work.

LaBeouf’s actions are so extreme they reek of publicity stunt and have even been compared to performance art, but could they be something much more subversive?

While he mocks and trivializes plagiarism, piracy and copyright law, infuriating  copyright owners and creators, everywhere he is galvanizing a pro-copyright , anti-piracy sentiment that will empower the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), “a secretive, multi-national trade agreement that threatens to extend restrictive intellectual property (IP) laws across the globe and rewrite international rules on its enforcement.”

The TPP will crush the internet by restricting users’ freedom of speech and right to privacy and due process. It will limit creative innovation by stalling public domain transitions. Worst of all, it is a non-transparent manipulation by corporations to control intellectual property and end users in an effort to protect their own bottom line at the expense of personal and creative freedoms.

Shia LaBeouf is a very public and extreme example of what the TPP wants us all to believe they are protecting against. His actions and words play into their hands every time he is demonized by the press or by any one of us blogging or commenting against him.

It is time to maintain a rational perspective and pay close attention to the ramifications of the TPP. This agreement needs to be shut down the same way SOPA was and for the same reasons. Take the time to learn about and understand copyright law and its history. Learn about the virtues of public domain. Be concerned about your rights as an internet user. Above all maintain,  a perspective of moderation to avoid becoming an irrational extremist like LaBeouf.

Shia LeBeouf is dangerous if his ridiculous antics create an atmosphere that cost us all what we have come to enjoy and use as the greatest tool of expression in the history of the planet: the internet as we know it.  Don’t be fooled! His actions may be “more than meets the eye.”

Making Comics Because We Want to,

Gerry Giovinco




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