By Hervé St-Louis
Oct 3, 2009 - 10:17
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 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.
This assumption that comic books owned by their creators are better started first with the likes of Dave Sim in the 1980s, where he preached for creators to own their creations and not let them go to publishers. Dave Sim is the Canadian cartoonist better known for publishing Cerebus, a 300 issue comic book that started as a Conan the Barbarian spoof and went further into political study of anarchism and realism. I would argue that Sim’s Cerebus profess to be inspired by Thomas Hobbes, and some libertarian ideas. Those libertarian ideas, which of course Sim believes in, dictates to him that he should be his own man, his own master his own slave and that none of the work he does, should benefit a system or in the case of comic books a corporation.
Join the discussion:
Gerhard (the background artist of Cerebus,) owned a share of Aardvark-Vanaheim (until he left the company, at which time he started to be paid for his share of the company,) and still retains the full rights to reprint his work on Cerebus.
No artist at either Marvel or DC has that right. Or owns a share of the company.
Yes, your point about some of the Image studios being not really different than Marvel or DC is a good one.
But Aardvark-Vanaheim IS fundamentally different than Marvel or DC, or Image.
More power to Sim.
For this reason I find it a bit odd that you're referring to "the Cult of the Creator", as if comic books and the characters that star in them came drifting down out of thin air, and corporations harvested them like fruit. In no other medium are the artists and storytellers who actually produce the work treated as interchangeable the way they are in comics. THIS is the bizarre, atypical attitude, yet apparently arguing that comic creators should be treated the same as those in other media comprises a "cult".
When I'm freed up a bit from work and thesis research (like never), I'll try to write the missing piece.
If these were standard-issue books we were talking about, this would be self-evident. If someone reads, say, their first Stephen King novel, and enjoys it, they're probably far less likely to say "Hey, I think I like horror novels" than they are to say "Hey, I think I like Stephen King novels". They could, of course, say both, but if they then set out to read other books by King, would they have fallen prey to "the cult of the author"? I hardly think so.
Refering to it as a "cult" sounds flip and contemptuous, when, again, it seems not only logical and natural but--to get a little more controversial--possibly healthier than choosing what books to read based on other criteria, such as the character featured or the company that produces it.
There's nothing odd about wanting to read books about, say, Batman. I like Batman. I will always gladly read a Batman comic if it's recommended to me. But I don't make it a goal to read everything featuring Batman--I don't know if that's even possible at this point. The fact of the matter is, even with a character I enjoy, like Batman, there's no guarantee that the story he's in will be any good; certainly it doesn't seem worth buying every Batman comic just on the chance it might be great.
On the other hand, I greatly enjoy Grant Morrison's work, so I made it a point to pick up his current run on Batman. At the same time, I'd gladly pick up a Morrison comic that didn't feature Batman, because I'm a fan of his writing.
To expect a creator who's done good work in the past to continue to do good work seems eminently logical to me, even if it means forming an emotional attachment to the crator (what good are comics if we can't form an emotional attachment?) To further assume that this creator might be happier and more motivated if he was earning more and had more control over his work likewise seems logical. Of course dashed-off, work-for-hire stuff from a great creator is still likely to be better than the heartfelt, self-published work of a hack, but surely having control over one's work might be a factor leading to better comics?
What I'm saying is that the way comic books are marketed these days put way more emphasis on the creator than warranted.
It is a cult (figuratively) because people that are involved in cults always deny that they are part of a cult - a group mind attitude that there is one way to perceive and appreciate comic books. This is what the article is denouncing, because as I've mentioned, it's hurting a lot of people that think they can also be super star comic book creators and that this is the way it should be. I want more emphasis on customer service from the comic book industry.
How? Why is it not warranted? Can you give examples of a comic that's been marketed with too much emphasis on its creator, to its detriment? Because it seems to me the only alternative is to market a comic based on the character or property it showcases, and if anything I'd say comics are, and have always been, way too reliant on these "franchises" rather than the writers and artists who create them. If you want to talk about not putting an emphasis on customer service, I'd say expecting people to keep mindlessly buying a superhero book, regardless of the creative team, has done far more damage to the comic industry, and for far longer, than Image ever did.
I certainly acknowledge that it is possible to view comics through other lenses than "who's actually producing the work"--postmodernism, death of the author, and all that--but I find it baffling that you're arguing against the validity of creator control and the acknowledgment of individual effort in a medium that has always been weighted heavily against this, and is clearly suffering because of it.
You complain about "rock star creators", even though, again, every other medium produces creative types who are feted for their accomplishments, and very few of those media are suffering for it. Your assumption seems to be that somehow this produces "a low level of customer service"--but if the artists and writers aren't looking out for the audience, who is? The big companies who publish the comics? I hardly think so. Big-name creators with control over their own work sometimes produce crap; faceless hacks who crank out product under strict limitations from a corporate overlord NEVER rise above mediocrity.
If your idea of "customer service" means "keep producing my Spiderman comics on-model, and I don't care how good they are", then yeah, I guess having individual artists who bring their own sensibilities to their work has the potential to interfere with that. I, personally, see "customer service" as "making good comics that surprise and challenge as well as entertain me", which I don't get from corporate franchises. I get them from individual authors and artists.
Herve, how do you feel about Stan Lee and Jack Kirby? For that matter, how do you feel about Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster? Do you really feel that the way they were treated by the comics companies--which is pretty much the antithesis of elevating them to "rock star" status, aside from the recognition Kirby got late in his life--helped either their work or the comics industry as a whole? Because I sure don't.
While you and others in that industry continue to fight an old battle about creator rights, you're missing the bigger picture about how this industry is about to change fundamentally, like every other creative industry.
Just a few points.
1-There is a part two to this article. I don't intend on spilling the beans on that article here in replying to you message after message. It's kind of pointless. You've got half of my thesis here. Can you wait for me to deliver the rest? Grad school crunch right now. Can't help it.
2-You and many others don't like what I have to say about creators and their roles in the comic book industry. It seems that it's a problem when someone dares say that the way the chairs are assembled around the table may not be the only way they are assembled. Unfortunately that always lead people to accuses me of being a company man and all kinds of stupid crap "if you're not with us, you're against us."
I call it a cult because people are tangled in a web of interpretation about the comic book industry and can't pause and think through issues, the way I'm trying to do here. The moment I started contesting a bunch of accepted ideas, I was deemed a wakadoo to quote a popular blogger. I'm asking you and any one else to stop being defensive about the things I'm writing here. Stop saying I'm wrong, when you don't even pay attention to what I'm saying. Instead of just holding on to one or two sentences in this whole article, go back and re-read several times. Think about it. I'm not asking you to agree with me. I'm asking you to think about it.
It's not an easy read. It wasn't easy to write. This is stuff I've been thinking about for years. It's not something I just made up one morning. It shouldn't take you just one reading to understand, because I have to re-read it too and I wrote the thing.
Then, ask me the right questions, not those that assume I'm going one direction when a careful reading would indicate I am not or left a topic unaddressed.
Key points to remember when you read my articles.
1-The customer is always the most important.
2-I don't care about traditions and past debates. I'm focusing on the future of comic books and trying to philosophy about them. I'm acutely concerned about their future.
3-If I didn't care about comics, and a lot of what they stand for, I wouldn't bother writing this.
This is not intended as a personal insult to you Adam. I'm not saying you can't read. But a lot of people, you include debate me about things that are not in the article, and that is annoying.
Some of it will be in the next, some won't. Meanwhile, read all that I've written on business plans and copyrights on this site. That will help you get where I'm going with this and in the case of the business plan stuff, might help you in your own projects.