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.