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mygif

Can I be the first to say we should totally hang out?

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mygif

The only thing that I’d really want to change is the “No multi-parters” rule. I think it would be better if you did a Doctor Who/Burn Notice thing: you can have a 4-6 issue ongoing plot, but every episode has to have a distinct beginning/middle/end in order to stand on its own. That way, people are given an internal reason to follow for an extended time, but the book is comprehensible to people who only pick up the odd issue.

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mygif

Hit the send button too soon – I was gonna suggest that multi-parters have to be rare and subject to a proposal process for quality assurance.

I’d also want to ask, what about overall character progression and continuity?

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Tim O'Neil said on October 1st, 2010 at 11:03 am

It sounds like what you have in mind is pretty much the original Valiant Comics model, with some Crossgen thrown in for good measure. The problem with this model is not that the comics weren’t good – early Valiant was pretty awesome, and Crossgen books were always at least competently done – but that the fortunes of these companies rose and fell on the strength of a single charismatic leader figure. You’d need to develop some kind of strong corporate identity that relied on something more than personal authority – like what Archie has done.

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mygif

I don’t know that no multi-parters is a good rule. I can’t think of a large number of great comic stories that were one and done issues. Stories need more build than that, also why I like novels over books of short stories. But yeah, if there was more substance to individual issues in a story, that would be good. Gail Simone does this pretty well.

Not sure about a house style. Sounds like that might be more your taste than the taste of the general public.

I like the webcomic/magazine/digest concept. The comic companies really need to get their comics out there in a way that is accessible to more people instead of just keeping us diehard comic shop visitors happy.

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mygif

It’s only crazy because nobody with money would want to invest in a project that wouldn’t make tons of money in return.

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mygif

You are describing 80-85% of what Penthouse Comix was; in fact, you’re probably closer to their spin-off titles Men’s Adventure Comix and Omni Comix. Chief differences were: (1) Not exactly family friendly (tho Omni Comix had no R-rated material) (2) Less reliance on an ioverall house style (i.e., there was a house style, but there was also room of off-the-wall stuff & established artists) (c)* multi-part story lines though each individual chapter tended to be self-contained (i.e., it led to the next chapter but usually didn’t have a cliff-hanger)

So why didn’t Penthouse Comix succeed? Well, it did…for a while. But internal problems (i.e., rampant drug use by the founder & e-i-c) led to mass defections; after the founder/e-i-c’s termination & suicide, the zines were handed over to Penthouse staffers who were resentful of the project, and it withered slowly on the vine.

Still, it coulda worked in the long run…

* I’m lousy at organizational things…

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mygif

I am also sketchy on the “no multi-parters” thing…does this necessarily mean an all-episodic story format (“story of the week” kinda stuff), or will there be an overall continuity, with metaplot development?

Because honestly…no title has been able to hold my attention for long without a fairly strong metaplot.

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malakim2099 said on October 1st, 2010 at 11:32 am

Also, I would suggest this, because frankly the current status of comics bugs me.

Let the characters age naturally. Or close to it.

See, right now, if comics followed real chronology, Scott Summers should be the Professor of Xavier’s institute, Franklin Richards the grizzled field leader of the X-Men, etc. And that’s just a tiny example.

The recent bout of “legacy” characters stepping in is a good thing (Steve Rogers as Director of SHIELD while Bucky is Cap, or Dick and Steph as Batman and Batgirl), but it’s a baby step in the right direction.

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mygif

Far from being the first to call you crazy, I’d like to be the first to ask for a job (I know it’s not real, I’m just saying).

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mygif

It’s a solid business model… but I suspect the finished product would be boring as hell.

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mygif

At best that is a sketch of a business operations plan. Although, I think you should really flesh out the webcomic/magazine/digest concept as this is by far your best idea.

I’d be interested in your marketing and sales plans.

I still don’t see how any VC is gonna come your way though.

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mygif

Yeah, the only thing that stops me is “no multi-parters.” How can you even do that with super-heroes? It’s one thing to do with Archie, where everyone’s in high school and everything goes back to status quo at the end, but bad guys get caught, right? Or do they break out of jail at the beginning of every story?

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MadHierophant said on October 1st, 2010 at 12:10 pm

This. So much.

God, if I had the money, I’d fund this in a heartbeat.

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mygif

Yeah, the only thing that stops me is “no multi-parters.” How can you even do that with super-heroes?

Story 1: Batdude versus the Juggler
Story 2: Batdude versus the Ostrich
Story 3: Batdude solves a mystery involving random crooks
Story 4: Batdude versus Three-Face
Story 5: Batdude solves a mystery involving random criminals
Story 6: Batdude versus the Questioneer
Story 7: Batdude versus Cat-chick
Story 8: Batdude solves a mystery involving random criminals

Story 41: The Juggler breaks out of jail for the first time in a while!

And so on.

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mygif

I don’t like the idea of a house style. The artists don’t get a chance to stretch their legs and play with the art as much because they’re too restricted to the “house style”. I think back to the early Marvel days, where artists were told to draw like Kirby.

And there’s nothing WRONG with Kirby at all. But not every artist drew like Kirby and had their own art style that would be more suited to that particular book.

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mygif

But at the same time, I like a little uniformity, myself – I get a little tired of seeing Artist A’s “interpretation” of Character B in the comics themselves. Save that stuff for posters or other ancilliary stuff…

By the way, totally off-topic: According to http://nickciske.com/tools/binary.php, today’s date is “&”. Heh.

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mygif

Why are there reams upon reams of cheap Archie digests, but no superhero ones anymore? Did Archie strongarm the others out of the checkout lanes?

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mygif

I’m pretty sure that it was just shortsightedness/negligence that led to DC allowing their checkout lanes contracts to lapse when the rest of the non-direct market collapsed. I still think it was the company’s greatest mistake…

Although by now that real estate is probably not what it once was, if TV guide found it uneconomical to keep it…

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mygif

I think this is a fantastic idea.

And the idea of no multi-parters works, if you treat each title like a television show. Some great shows have had 2-parters, but for the most part each episode is an individual story that develops an overarching plot/theme.

Use that method and a one-and-done rule is fine.

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mygif

This is just the sort of thing the comic industry needs. A consistent product with a low barrier to entry.

Although I wouldn’t necessarily be all that interested in reading the comics produced this way.

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mygif

@drmedula Yeah, that’s my thought.

Especially with the house style. I mean, look at an issue of Shonen Jump, the comics in there look different. Having a house style just seems like a way to drive people away. I might pick up the magazine if I like one of the stories, but if I don’t like the house style I won’t get it at all.

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mygif

I think that a house style would be a good decision. Artists have promoted their own brand at the expense of their corporate brands. That has been a part of the slow decline in comic readership.

Similarly, I would extend the Archie model to aging and/or changes in the status quo. Superman and Batman celebrated their 29th birthday every year for a half century. It is only vanity on the part of the reader to want to drag them with you into late middle age.

On the subject of format, I would suggest some tweaks.

Ad supported web-comics is probably never going to be a big enough market to break-even. That means you are depending on the new-stand and super-markets to a large degree. Neither has been viable for the Big 2 for over three decades. Therefore, I would suggest a subscription model. My feeling is $9.99 a month for unlimited access. If the reader is following 3 titled a month, then they feel like they are getting a good value vs. Marvel/DC.

As a result, being entirely self-contained would not be how I’d go. You would want to use the web and include hyper-links to relevant portions of other comics. That means on-going stories and some measure of inter-title continuity. However, avoiding line-wide continuity is wise. It lowers the barrier for new readers, which is what seems to kill a lot of titles.

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mygif

No, you’re not crazy, but you DID steal my idea. Damn you Mighty GodKing! Damn you to hell! during the late 80’s-early 90’s when DC turned Action Comics into an anthology for a brief period, I wanted to pitch it as a showcase for characters who couldn’t hold their own titles e.g. The Atom, Hawkman, Plastic Man, etc… Same thing with Wonder Woman, have her book turn into a “phone-book” magazine with other characters like Power Girl, Jesse Quick, etc… and sell them for $4.99, 4 22-page stories in one book, more bang for your bucks. But I do agree with the others about the “no multi-parters” clause. I think it’s too restrictive. What if you had a huge “cosmic” storyline to tell? I’m all for one-&-done stand-alone issues; it’s a great way to bring in new readers (hell, that’s why I LOVE LUCY is probably the most successful TV show ever, but even that show had multi-episodes plot-lines on occassions), but you shouldn’t shackle the creatives too much. Good job.

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mygif

Hmm. I’d like to say three things.

The first is that this seems wonderfully solid as a business plan. Aside from the struggle print magazines experience as a whole (and you’ve got that covered with a web presence) its pretty conservative and rock-ribbed, and in some ways you are treating your creative talent with a lot more respect and compensating them more highly than DC and Marvel do, especially health benefits.

The second is a question; you establish ‘no multi-parters.’ A lot of other people have already discussed that, raising all the points I could and doing it better, so my question is different; does no multi-parters mean the same thing as no CONTINUITY? I.E, will it be an editorial rule ‘No, you can’t reference Batdude and the Diamond Heist that was written last year; your story must stand entirely alone.’ How is that gonna work?

The third is another question; can you define ‘family-friendly?’ That runs the gamut from the original Batman: The Animated Series (a modern classic that the thirty-year-old me loves but was considered appropriate viewing for the ten-year-old me and my ten-year-old friends) to ‘Krypto the Super-dog’ (which the three-year-old me probably would have loved but the ten and thirty year old me would have gouged their own eyes out.)

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Kid Kyoto said on October 1st, 2010 at 4:02 pm

The problem is you’d be compeating for mind share with established brands. Why would we pay for your anthology when fans already have an established relationship with Superman, Ben 10, Naruto and Wolverine.

This model would work better with the Johnny DC line or Marvel’s adventure line.

That being said, yes. This is a good way to run corporate comics.

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mygif

The only thing i would say is that your choice of genre is limiting your audience significantly. Superheroes is the genre of choice at the moment, but there is a vanishingly small demographic that reads them. Marketing to a larger demographic (sci-fi, mystery, action and/or fantasy) might get you a larger audience that’s outside the current comics-reading group.

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mygif

Some good ideas and some questionable ones here. Putting aside whether this is anything I personally would want to read, I don’t think superheroes are the genre to be attempting at this stage, unless you have a REALLY REALLY good hook. I mean, sure, try *A* superhero book, but don’t make your line dependent on them.

The thing about Archie is that they still have the advantage of being on the drugstore shelves and checkout racks with the other periodicals…but trying to replicate that in today’s market, with periodicals dwindling the way they are, seems like a fool’s errand. So I don’t think a brand new company could capture Archie’s audience–they had to arrive where they are over the course of decades. That’s not to say that an attempt to make cheap digest versions and stuff kids can get hold of is a bad idea, I’m just not sure how easy it would be in the current market.

I’m also not sure what the point of the “house style” thing is. Archie has a house style because of Dan DeCarlo, Marvel had a house style because of Kirby. It takes a creative visionary to establish this stuff, and you seem to be going for an assembly-line thing, which, honestly, I’m not comfortable with. Sure, the “rock stars” of the comic industry have in many ways driven it off the rails, but that seems to be due more to editorial haplessness and disconnect with their audience. It doesn’t mean that creative, distinctive ideas and bold directions should be verboten. At the very least, you have to produce something original and cool first BEFORE you turn it into a product that you can crank out.

Oh, and I’m pretty sure the key to success for any new comic company would be to avoid floppies and aim for the graphic novel or online/digital market, unless you have some “in” already at comic book stores. This is especially true of kid-oriented comics, which is a potentially huge market that I don’t think the direct market floppies serve very well as is. Though BOOM! seems to me making some inroads there.

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The Crazed Spruce said on October 1st, 2010 at 4:53 pm

I just have a couple of issues with your idea.

First off, I agree for the most part with publishing mainly single-issue stories. It makes it much easier for the casual reader to pick up an issue and follow along without having to pick up another five or six issues to get the complete story, and it’s a nice change of pace from the current model of publishing multi-part stories just for the sake of reprinting them as trade paperbacks a few months down the line that the major publishers use. That being said, I don’t agree that you should ban multi-issue stories outright. Every so often, a writer will have a story they want to tell that just can’t be contained within 30 pages without forcing the ending, making the story seemed rushed. Sure, they should be kept to a minimum, but I don’t agree with a complete moritorium on multi-parters.

Secondly, a house style is a bad idea. That kind of groupthink lead to the myriad of Rob Liefeld clones that Image churned out back in the 90’s. Better to let the individual artists’ style shine through.

All in all, though, sounds like a great publishing model.

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mygif

Two things:

One, this looks like a good business model…for stories about characters with established fan bases. From what I’ve seen of Shonen Jump, by the time it started getting newsstand distribution such as you’re contemplating, many of the manga characters it featured already had sizeable followings. I am not at all sure how well it would work if started “cold” in a comics-universe with new, unknown core characters. Magazines need more than newsstand exposure; they need marketing. (As a one-time contributor to three different incarnations of Amazing Stories, the last of which tried to become a newsstand staple and tanked, I have some experience in this context.)

Two, what’s in this model for the writers — especially if you stick to the “no multiparter” rule? From a business perspective, this sounds very much like the old pulp-magazine model only with more pictures…which is to say, the self-contained short stories are more or less forgettable, but the characters became memorable. But here, if the characters and trademarks are house-owned and the short stories are all contracted at work-for-hire piece rates, both the comics and genre-fiction writing communities may well characterize you as writer-unfriendly.

Which is not to say you won’t find writers, maybe even good ones. But professional respect for those writers may be slow in coming, if it ever arrives, unless there’s something I’ve missed here.

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mygif

On rereading: the first time through, I missed the sentence in which you indicated you’d treat artists (and, by implication, writers) as employees, with paid benefits and so forth. Depending on the salaries involved (and what the contracts might say about profit-sharing in the event of movie or TV franchises), that somewhat mitigates the second issue I raised.

That said, it also means that your product will rise or fall very much on the strength of its creative team, such that your offices start to look a lot like the “writers’ room” of a weekly TV series. Which makes it dead crucial to hire the right writers and artists, because magazines need a lot more long-term stability in business terms than TV series do.

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mygif

I’ll be the first to admit that there are people who draw comics whose art makes me want to gouge out my own eyes. However, I’m not sure I’d want to give up the artists whose work I really love in exchange for rigid consistency.

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mygif

Great model for business, lousy model for creating art. Of course, the current industry doesn’t produce much in the way of art anyway…

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mygif

How do you intend to focus on character development without multi-parters?

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Tales to Enrage said on October 1st, 2010 at 7:22 pm

I think that of the ideas in this organizational setup, the House Style and no multi-part stories one are the things I get hung up on. However, I think both of those could still work, depending on how they’re implemented.

I think the House Style would be a fine idea if it was implemented as a “base you have to work from” as opposed to “his hair didn’t curl quite right, rejected” rule. So the broad details and the iconic ones need to be kept the same, and the scene needs to be comprehensible (and anatomically possible), but individual variations can come through. Just not strongly enough that the Awesome-man of Artist 1 doesn’t look like a completely different person from the Awesome-man of Artist 2.

As for no multi-parters, I think that’s a fine idea for the most part, so long as, again, it’s not a rigid rule banning them at all times. But it’s hard to put that into words-it’s more like something that needs to become part of the studio culture, that you CAN ask to do a multi-part story, but you’d better have a reason beyond “I don’t have any other ideas.”

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Snap Wilson said on October 1st, 2010 at 10:26 pm

I don’t know if I’m the first, but yes, you’re crazy. :) (I’m starting to feel like your personal contrarian).

This was the model of my old employer, Stan Lee Media. Not for comics, but episodic animated web stories. An in-house writing and art staff, which is uncommon among creative production companies. The reason it’s uncommon is because it’s expensive as hell.

I shouldn’t have to explain why it’s expensive as hell, but this will do it better than I ever could–a guideline on how much full-time employees cost: http://web.mit.edu/e-club/hadzima/how-much-does-an-employee-cost.html

So let’s talk about your artists: forget about the ability to find artists who can draw your Neal Adams/Jim Aparo style. Let’s assume these people are in abundance. What aren’t in abundance are pencilers and inkers who can crank out pages quickly. It’s a very prized talent and the reason several artists from the Big Two are regularly contracted even though their depiction of a redwood and a Volvo are impossible to tell apart.

So you’re going to have, on average, pencilers who can push out a page a day or thereabouts (if you’re lucky), working five days a week for your small stable of 30-page comics. There are, on average, 22 weekdays per month (21.73 actually, but hell, we’ll even forego sick days and vacation and round up in your favor) So to put out 360 pages of comic book, you would need 16 pencilers (16.36, actually, but we’ll round down in your favor). Let’s assume that you’re a cheap bastard and are only paying these creators an average salary of $40k per year, plus doling out another $10k in insurance, benefits, etc per artist. We’ll even throw out the page rate bonus. You’re paying $800k per year for 4320 pages (12 months * 12 comics * 30 pages) for an average cost of $185 per page, which would be a good rate for an established professional, so why not just freelance the established pro instead, whose name might actually help sell the book?

Speaking of which, let’s talk about actually selling the books. You don’t have any name writers or artists (intentionally so), you don’t have any established properties, so what do you have? The selling point can’t just be “family friendly content, self-contained issues, 30 pages” (which increases your publishing costs, but I won’t get into that). And wait, people can read your comics online for free (retailers won’t be happy with that, incidentally). How are you actually making money here?

What you propose is a lot more expensive than the way comic book companies do business now. You’re paying the writers and artists on salary, plus benefits, plus page rate, plus the space and equipment to support them on-site. Unless these are sweatshop conditions, that’s a ton of money going out the door. If this was a cost-effective way of doing business, comic book publishers would be doing it.

You won’t make up that margin in online advertising. Your best bet is probably licensing properties that come with a built-in audience. But as far as I know, even those don’t sell a heck of a lot, generally. Archie works to the extent that it does on the strength of it’s brand, and still has to come up with a publicity stunt every six months to boost sales.

It’s a nice idea that there could be a successful business models where writers and artists can get paid a decent salary and benefits and you could put out family-friendly entertainment. Unfortunately, comic books are an incredibly unlikely medium for such a business.

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mygif

@Snap, wow. Combined with Comics Beat’s recent post on real costs of a page of art that’s a real good peek into the economics of the industry.

How would B&W change the equation?

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mygif

You’re crazy. When will you be accepting applicants, and to what address shall I apply?

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mygif

I’d prefer to read comics that way, anyway. At this point, names are a major drawback for me and I’d want to be payed properly if I were a writer or artist on a book.

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Snap Wilson said on October 2nd, 2010 at 12:00 am

@Kid Kyoto: You don’t employ colorists. :) And printing costs are a lot cheaper.

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mygif

I’m amused at the people saying that they like stand-alone issues, because they’re like TV. Because pretty much all of the TV I watch has a ton of continuity in it. Mad Men and Dexter are my two touchstones at the moment, and each season is a single interlinked story of 12/13 parts.

Particularly with webcomics you don’t need to worry about being self-contained, because people can actually go back and read from the beginning.

Now _crossovers_ should be kept to a minimum, at least ones that require you to buy a whole bunch of different titles to get the whole story.

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Walter Kovacs said on October 2nd, 2010 at 7:41 am

Someone mentioned a TV writer’s room.

Actually, this sounds a lot like an animated TV show pitch, but put into comic form.

If you are pitching a family friendly cartoon you have:

Multiple artists, but there is a basic design they all have to follow and replicate.

Most of the stories are “done in one”, and while a metaplot may exist, it is often as unobtrusive as possible. If it does come up, the story itself will give some exposition, like pointing out that villain has fought them before, etc.

In most animated shows, the fact that the talent consists of voice actors is that the character, not the actor (in this analogy, the writer or artist) is the important part. And it should be easier to “recast” than a voice actor (although that has occured on many occaisions).

The magazine format is very similar to the DVD release of many of these types of shows (especially the superhero cartoon genre) where instead of seasons, they release cheaper 3 episodes on one disc at Walmart for say 10 bucks, something more likely to be an impulse buy than a full season.

Even the “free but ad supported first, then released as a product you can keep” format is similar to airing the shows on TV first, then putting them on DVD later.

So yeah, it seems like the business plan for a superhero cartoon converted into a line of superhero comics. I’m not sure how succesful that could be … but it doesn’t have to be wildly succesful to pull a profit based on the approach. Of course, it will also hinge on the creative side of things, because you could have the most efficient assembly line in the World, but if what comes out at the end isn’t something people want to buy, you just have an efficient way to throw your money away for something people don’t want to buy.

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Katzedecimal said on October 2nd, 2010 at 10:20 am

I gather you weren’t around for “The Marvel Way”? There was even a book for “Drawing Comics The Marvel Way.” Marvel used to have a house style and artists were expected to conform to it. No surprise, it was based on the style of Jack Kirby.

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mygif

A few clarifications:

The reasons for “no multi-parters” and “a rigid house style” are pretty much the same, and I’m sorry if I didn’t explicate them very well. It’s so that the material can easily be repackaged in reprints later on down the line. A big part of the business strategy is that we’d pay salaries, not royalties, so reprinting the material is like free money. And assuming the reading audience turns over every few years, you can reprint the same story in those cheapo checkout stand digests every so often ad infinitum…and having lots of multi-parters and artists with very distinctive individual styles would interfere with that, because it would jar when you had three stories about two years apart sitting right next to each other in the same book.

As to what I meant by “family-friendly”, I have three basic criteria. 1) No explicit on-screen gore, nudity, or swearing. I love all these things near and dear to my heart, of course, but parents control the pocket-book, and if there’s someone having his skull popped like a grape on-panel, it tends to make them unhappy. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Geoff Johns.) Extreme brutality and sex should be implied rather than outright stated. 2) Fast pace. (This goes back to the “no multi-parters”, too.) Enough stuff has to be happening to keep the kids entertained. So sorry, Brian Michael Bendis, but no complete issues of people sitting around a table talking to each other in halting sentences. 3) Basically moral characters. The occasional anti-hero is okay, but the good guys should try to do the right thing, deep down. (Keep in mind that Batman, Spider-Man, and Wolverine would all fall under this definition.)

Basically, if you want my platonic ideal of “family-friendly”, look to the new Doctor Who. Scary as hell, featuring openly gay and bisexual characters, funny and exciting and dangerous, but still something that you could let your kid watch. (Admittedly, they would have nightmares for days, but that’s just part of a healthy childhood.)

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mygif

I will admit, by the way, to some amusement at the thought of a whole comments thread of comic book fans saying, “But how can you possibly do a series without multi-parters?” when the norm, even up into the 70s and 80s, was self-contained stories…and in fact, that was a departure from the “classic” comics model of two to three stories an issue.

But that’s just me. :)

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Candlejack said on October 2nd, 2010 at 1:12 pm

So, in other words, you aren’t aiming for the fan-boy audience at all; you expect, and even hope, for the audience to turn over so they don’t get bored reading the same story several times in different digests.

That takes away my only complaint with the approach–namely that, like Archie, nobody will actually follow it. Moms get their kids Archies in the check-out, but the kids are never pounding down the doors to get the next issue.

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mygif

Creators. With no royalties paid, who creates your properties? And why?

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mygif

I note this is a stone’s throw from the Marvel Adventures line, and that’s a good thing. See also: the comics they did for the Batman cartoon and Justice League.

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mygif

But Archie, Marvel Adventures and the animated-DCU comics had an advantage this line wouldn’t: pre-existing characters with built-in audiences. Given a choice on the supermarket magazine rack, people will pick up zines about characters they know over zines about characters they’ve never heard of. And venture capital alone won’t solve that problem.

What’s missing from this model is a strategy for building brand recognition. And without brand recognition, I don’t think the model can work.

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mygif

I’m not too sure about the phrasing “emphasis on the characters instead of the creators.” A character is only as good as he or she is written and drawn.

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mygif

“Creators. With no royalties paid, who creates your properties? And why?”

Writers and artists, for money. Same as how Marvel, DC and virtually every other existing comic property was created.

“What’s missing from this model is a strategy for building brand recognition. And without brand recognition, I don’t think the model can work.”

That is a very good point. The indie books either licence existing characters or rely on superstar creators to get interest. You’re intentionally refusing both options.

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mygif

I agree, marketing and distribution are issues I didn’t clarify, but that’s mainly because they’re the same issues that pretty much every business faces. Everyone needs to market their product, everyone needs to get it to consumers. It’s the production approach that would be very different, which is why I emphasized it.

As to royalties, those are a fairly recent development in comics as well (at least, depending on how you define “recent”–within my lifetime, but that may just be me showing my age) and they came about as a response to a lack of other benefits. Creators fought for royalties because they had no job security and no health benefits; by giving them those things, I’d be short-circuiting the demand.

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mygif

I’m actually not seeing the job security in this proposal, John…it sounds like you’re offering to swap creators their potential merchandising rights, for your potential Internet ad revenue. What happens if the ad revenue slips, do you renegotiate all the contracts? Borrow cash from the VC guys? Declare bankruptcy?

If I couldn’t get some kind of ownership/royalty thing going on there, basically I’d want to unionize your shop. Forty grand a year may not be all that much, but it’s a lot less if you can’t get it…plus, I don’t know, Todd McFarlane lives in a mansion because he invented Spawn, eh? Not even Superman or Batman. I don’t see anyone taking salary + benefits in exchange for further rights in 2010, unless the money’s somewhere up around “house in the country” levels.

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mygif

Yeah, um, John, you lost me with the “no royalties” thing. There’s a lot more to royalties than something that’s swapped out for benefits–it’s what artists in pretty much every other medium have come to reasonably expect, and have usually gotten. The artists and writers are the ones who make the stories–or product, as you apparently think of it–and deserve to reap the benefits of it, including making millions of dollars if their creation reaches that level of success. Why on Earth do corporations get to claim that right over artists?

I’m trying very hard not to get angry, here, John, but your comments are pretty much outright insulting to anyone who values art as something more than a means to making money. If you were actually in charge of a comics company, I would at least understand your attitude, while not condoning it. But for you to pitch this as if it’s a great idea that we as comics readers should be celebrating is borderline insane. What you’re advocating is a return to SLIGHTLY better than the status quo of the 70s, a period in which armies of creative, talented people were repeatedly screwed over by bloated corporations who have transformed the comics industry into what it is today. You’re in effect saying that you think the corporate entity “Marvel comics” is better and more important than the actual work of Jack Kirby.

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I think John meant better than that, myself…but yeah, kinda icky if you look at it close.

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Let’s turn it around, and help him! Preserve his good intentions, and tweak the rest so it does what he wants it to do! C’mon, folks, John’s not an anti-Siegelite! Let’s imagine this right.

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On comics contracts and compensating creators:

The elephant in the room isn’t the question of royalties as such, it’s the question of who owns a given character and the associated copyrights and/or trademarks. Generally speaking, the US legal theory of copyright says that the creator of a work (or character) is its owner, and the associated contract law makes it relatively difficult for creators — especially freelance creators — to sign away ownership of a copyright (as opposed to licensing usage rights of various kinds).

That’s where DC’s and Marvel’s troubles have arisen in the courts; their core characters are worth enough money now that it’s worth it for creators and their lawyers to revisit old contracts looking for wiggle room in the drafting — and as often as not, finding it.

A publisher where the writers really are employees (and are managed and supervised like employees) would have a much better case for asserting corporate ownership of the characters created under its auspices. And I wouldn’t expect such a shop to pay creators on a royalty basis.

However — as I suggested originally — I would expect such a publisher’s employment contracts to include bonuses and profit-sharing provisions which rewarded creators in the event of things like movie or TV deals coming to pass. [The corporate precedent here is morally, if not legally, in patent law; it’s worth it in the scientific and engineering worlds for companies to pay inventors handsomely for inventing patentable technologies.]

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Seems like a good daydream. I don’t mind a house style as such, as long as it’s a clean style that people can adopt without resorting to outright imitation, and would allow for some personal expression by the artist. I mean there is a very large variation between 70’s Batman artists. And, I’d say that if you’re not aiming for the direct market/traditional comic book fans you don’t have to worry about ‘next big thing’-ism that fetishizes a personal artistic style.

But, man, this hypothetical company has a big financial footprint.

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“No royalties” is also the way the industry worked for its first 40-50 years. The technical term is work-for-hire, and there’s nothing inherently wrong or evil about it.

Otherwise, John’s combining about four different interesting / clever / stupid ideas here; it’s almost too much for one thread.

Doug M.

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Okay, on the supermarket thing:

There are multiple models around the world for turning comics into something you buy. In Europe, for instance, Marvel and DC comics are packaged as superfloppies. For $7 or $8, you get a big comic book with three or four stories. It’s floppy-sized, with staples instead of a spine, but the cover is heavy stock, and glossy. Often there’s some additional material in there — text, articles, whatever. You see them in airports and some bookstores.

That’s probably not what you’re after. (Who spends $8 at the checkout line?) But there are other models. In the Philippines, they publish reprinted Marvel and DC stories, typically 3-6 months old, in small (digest size) floppies. These don’t look like anything in the States, but… they’re good. One issue is about $2 and contains three stories. There are a LOT of ads, and shrinking a floppy down to 5″ by 8″ or so takes some of the oomph out of two-page spreads and such. But still: $2 for three stories, and they tend to reprint the more popular / critically acclaimed stuff. They seem to sell pretty well — every bookstore and newsstand has them.

Of course, (1) print costs are rather lower in the Philippines, and (2) it still has newsstands.

Doug M.

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Sure, nothing inherently wrong or evil in it…but nothing says anybody’s got to sign on with it, either. Plenty of jobs out there that pay more than “fuck you”.

Honestly, now. You all seem to think creators are just dying to give it away for free.

UNION NOW.

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Sorry I didn’t see you there Doug M.

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John Seavey, you wanted to tick people off. Colour me ticked.

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Okay, continuing that thought: in the Philippines, a country that still has a lot of newsstands and very low printing costs, a digest-sized color comic book on the stands is just over $2.

But.

These are reprints. They’re stories that have already been written, pencilled, colored, edited and inked. Production costs are — follow closely here — zero.

Okay, the Philippine publisher has to pay licensing fees to DC and Marvel for reprinting. Are they large fees? I don’t know… but I kinda doubt it. Think about it from Marvel and DC’s POV: it’s the Philippines, not a rich country, and anything they get is /pure gravy/ since they’ve already paid to produce these comics. Sure, as businessmen they’ll charge what the market will bear. But I think we can reasonably assume that it’s a small fraction of what it would cost to produce these comics from scratch.

So. What are the implications here for your business plan?

Doug M.

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I think creators want to pay their bills, same as anyone else.

I don’t think anyone working on Archie today gets royalties. Does that make them hacks? Naifs being exploited by the Man? Or just people doing a job and getting paid for it?

The problem with mainstream American comics from the ’40s through the ’70s was that work-for-hire was the only game in town. That kinda sucked, no question. But a market *without* work-for-hire, where everyone gets royalties, is going to be equally stupid in a different way.

Note that this is an old, old argument; people have been arguing that EVERYTHING SHOULD BE CREATOR-OWNED WORK-FOR-HIRE IS SLAVERY for over thirty years now. It’s never caught on somehow.

Doug M.

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— Anyway, it’s not really central to the discussion, amirite? John’s saying he wants his model to be work-for-hire. Let’s just stick with that. Play with it, see if it works. I think it doesn’t, but I’m willing to be convinced.

(Also, I totally had this argument for, like, a month back on rec.arts.comics.misc in 1998. Having it again today will just make me sad for the lost glories of Usenet. Let’s don’t make me sad that way.)

Doug M.

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Work for hire is somewhat defensible if someone is writing or drawing stories for an existing brand name character, though even there they have problems, which I’ll go into below. But it’s a stupid, unethical model for creative work IF THE CREATOR IS DEVELOPING CONCEPTS. I don’t care if it’s how the industry worked for decades, and I don’t care if you can find people to exploit using this model (you always can–creative fields in general and comics in general are loaded with people who are too neurotic about their own self-worth, or desperate to break in, and thus easily exploited). If you create a character or a concept or a story that gets retold, you should get royalties, period. I don’t see how this is even arguable, no matter what contract you sign. (Legally, contracts aren’t usually binding if they’re exploitative or take advantage of the creator’s ignorance, hence the aforementioned wiggle room.)

My problem with work-for-hire even for day-to-day writers and artists who continue to work on established franchise characters is that you can’t just “do your job” as a creative person without creating new things. Any new character or idea has the potential to be a breakout success, and as a writer or artst, you pretty much HAVE to create new characters, scenarios, concepts, etc. just to keep the stories rolling. Imagine if John Byrne had had the “day to day” contract when he was at Marvel back in the day. I don’t think he ever created a new book for them, but he did create the character of Wolverine–you think it would have been fair for him to end up with nothing but a pension for this character that almost single-handedly held up Marvel for a while? Then there’s the issue of revamping existing books to the point where they’re technically a new one (The X-Men were technically created by Lee and Kirby, but the popular version that we all know and love is Claremont, Cockrum and Byrne all the way).

And honestly, I’ve always thought that we take the idea of comic “franchises”, that characters should be continued ad nauseum long after their creators have left, way too much for granted. There are other media franchises that continue without their original creators, but there’s always a strong demarcation between the original work and the corporate-managed continuation. Even if you like the later James Bond movies better than the work of Ian Fleming, you don’t treat them as interchangeable, and Fleming got the respect and money due him. For some reason, in comics we treat the characters as if they were more important than the creator, and since the companies inevitably own the character, we get this ridiculous situation where fanboys are siding with DC comics over the Siegel family (for instance). It makes no sense at all, and it leads to an unhealthy attitude towards comics as a “faceless” medium. You want to talk about why comics aren’t taken seriously, there’s a good starting point.

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mygif

First, let’s start out with a statement of credentials here. I have worked work for hire, as a writer, and I developed ideas during the course of that creative work. At the end of it, I had to sign away the rights to that work and all the ideas within it. And, as an intelligent grown-up, I evaluated the ideas, the contract signing them away, and the money being offered in exchange for signing them away, and I decided that it was worth it. If I had decided it wasn’t worth it, I wouldn’t have sold those ideas. That’s kind of the way that the business of writing works, and honestly, I don’t have a whole lot of sympathy for people who don’t think about those things before they sign those contracts. This is not to say that there has not been genuine exploitation in the industry, but the idea that buying intellectual properties is somehow inherently exploitative is frankly naive.

Ultimately, this is what I knew would piss people off–the idea that if I was running a comics business, I would run it as a business. And yes, part of business does involve making decisions in your own self-interest and assuming that the other party in negotiations will do the same thing. Comics fans have come around to the idea that comics companies should look out for the interests of comics creators, mainly aided by comics creators who have shaped the narrative to that effect because their greatest lever in the business process is getting public opinion on their side.

In actual fact, a good job with a decent wage, benefits, and a retirement plan is a pretty good deal, especially if you’re not a superstar creator like a Todd McFarlane or a Warren Ellis. Would they take this deal? No. Would some of the people working for me decide that they could make more money or have more creative fulfillment working on their own properties (or becoming a rockstar at Marvel?) Sure, and they’re free to do so. But I’m pretty confident that there’s always going to be a steady supply of people who want to make a living making comics, and my plan would let them do so. If you think that’s exploitation, you have a lot to learn.

@Prankster: “for you to pitch this as if it’s a great idea that we as comics readers should be celebrating is borderline insane”…did you read the title of the post? :)

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And as an aside…Len Wein, not John Byrne, created Wolverine. If the creator got the intellectual rights, as you insist is the right thing to do, instead of handling it the way I suggest, which is that he’s hired as an employee with a salary and a retirement plan, Byrne would have gotten absolutely nothing for the work he put into the character beyond the page rate. Does that seem more fair?

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Seriously, man, this is an old, much-hashed argument. More to the point, this is not the venue. Take it to e-mail if you really must, but let’s move on here.

Also, FWIW, John Byrne did not create Wolverine. [/nerd]

Doug M.

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— missed the two Seavey posts. Well, if the OP wants to discuss it…

But John: I do have trouble seeing how this is financially viable. As others have pointed out, it’s expensive, and I have trouble seeing where you recoup your costs. Advertising on the website… ha, no. Monthly 90-page magazine? Sold where? Newsstands are disappearing. Even 7-11s hardly carry comics any more. Comic shops? Ah ha ha haah.

No offense, but it smacks a little of wish-fulfillment.

Doug M.

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I should make clear here that I don’t have inherent ethical problems with a work-for-hire business model such as JohnS describes.

Existing media-related WFH contracts, in comics and prose fiction, have been problematic precisely because the law governing WFH is explicitly designed to make it very hard to apply outside a strict employer/employee relationship. (Attorney C. E. Petit has discussed this from time to time at his blawg, Scrivener’s Error.) JohnS’s proposed business model addresses this squarely. So long as he and his employees enter into their relationships in mutual good faith, I see no grounds for legal or ethical complaint.

That’s not to say there’s no room for disagreement. As I’ve indicated above, I think employees in this kind of business should receive a share of that business’s up-side profits — but as Churchill might have said, that’s a discussion of price, not principle. And I have other unrelated reservations about the business model’s viability, also stated above. But where WFH is concerned, JohnS’s approach is, IMO, legally and ethically defensible.

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For some reason I always get Wein and Byrne mixed up. Apologies?

John, I’m sorry, but you’re coming off as condescending here. I’ve done freelance writing and art myself, and I’ve had to sign away the rights to work I’ve created as well. I went through the same decision-making process, and decided that the potential benefit was minimal enough that it was worth doing so. But I stand by my comment that this is a flawed, exploitative (maybe not inherently) process. Being able to choose between a beating and a stabbing doesn’t make the fact that you do have to choose “OK”.

The whole problem is that, creatively, you’re basically asked to give away the store before you know whether it, or you, are worth anything (and believe me, the comic industry has always been full of people willing to keep their artists’ self-esteem low while profiting off their works). I brought up Wolverine because he was created as a fairly minor character who spun off into a phenomenon; could Wein have been expected to know what was going to happen there? I’ll go a step further and say that Wein was exactly the kind of journeyman writer (I like the guy fine, but he was and is no visionary) that you propose to hire, but he created something that immeasurably enriched Marvel. Practically every other medium would have made him, and Romita, incredibly rich for doing so; the fact that I forgot exactly who created him (and I’m hardly the only one to have done so) just points out how fucked up and exploitative the comics industry is.

As to your business plan, yes, a 401(k) and dental is a better deal than the kick in the teeth most comics creators got, but again, someone has to do the creating, and I really don’t see how it’s unreasonable to say the creator should share in the profits if the company becomes a success. You say you’re going to avoid hiring “rock stars”, but you’re also expressly saying you’re going to build a company around these books, which means someone’s apparently going to come up with ideas good enough to support and enrich your company. So the only conclusion is that you’re going to find people with ideas you think are worth a lot of money, and then pay them less than they’re worth. A standard wage might be a nice deal for a lot of people, but BY DEFINITION these theoretical creators are going to be coming up with multimillion-dollar ideas for you. If you’re proposing to cut them out of those profits, I don’t see how you can call that anything but exploitation, regardless of what people agree to up front.

Again, I might be more understanding if you actually had to put these ideas into practice and there was real money on the line, but you’re talking about this as a fantasy exercise–“plenty of venture capital”–so why not imagine your company acting honourably and ethically? There’s a level of active contempt for creative work coming through in your post. I think you can run a smart business without “rock stars” (I more or less understand what you’re getting at, there, and I agree) while still honouring the artists as creative partners.

By the way, Archie is a legendarily sleazy company that has historically treated its creative employees like shit, so…

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mygif

“No royalties” is also the way the industry worked for its first 40-50 years. The technical term is work-for-hire, and there’s nothing inherently wrong or evil about it.”

Legally, as I understand it, it wasn’t work for hire–it was, in a lot of cases, just assumed that the company had all the rights to everything. Which is why so many lawsuits cropped up, because work for hire has to be identified as such (feel free to correct me if I’m off).
And most of the “work for hire” people were treated like freelancers, not employees as John proposed (that is, they were freelancers with no rights to insurance or benefits, but treated like employees working on company time when it came to assigning rights).

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By the way, if there’s a mechanism by which artists can look back, weigh options, and say “OK, the character I created has made millions of dollars, please give me a cut of that,” then the work-for-hire model is a great deal more defensible. But I still don’t see why they can’t just sort something out up front when it comes to creators, or even WFH people…like a clause that says “if a character I created gets their own book, I get a share of the profits”, or something.

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Walter Kovacs said on October 3rd, 2010 at 5:54 pm

There is a possibility that deals with the work for hire vs. creators rights issues. The writers may not necessarily come up with the characters. While in most cases, the creator is one of the initial writers/artists (in TV shows, films, or any other media that isn’t basically an adaptation of another existing product) it’s possible that the Editors, or some group that has controlling interest in the company comes up with the characters for the launch titles. Seperate the “writing process” from the “creating process”. If a new main character is to be developped, then whoever is involved with that creation is either given a seperate contract, or it’s handled by someone other than the day to day writing staff, etc …

Consider the Simpsons. Groening basically created the character models and their relationship to each other, etc … but for the most part he’s neither the writer nor artist of the series, he’s in the Editor position (from this model) ensuring that the house style (for both writing and art) is up to snuff. The style makes it easy to syndicate out of order, etc …

I would guess that is the basic concept intended here. Either John himself, or some of the other people “heading” up the company, would break down the various characters, making up a comic book equivalent of a “series bible”, having both character designs and their motivations/relationships/powers written out so that they can be consulted by writers and artists to make sure the characters are consistent from appearance to appearance. Again, with the analogy of cartoon production, the “series bible” is intended to allow for multiple writers to create episodes at the same time without characters being radically different between episodes.

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Walter Kovacs said on October 3rd, 2010 at 6:04 pm

Re: Prankster

However, in terms of the company that is investing the capital.

It takes a risk on 5 new books. 4 of them flop, but the fifth one is widely succesful. The artists on the first 4 books continue on in the company, being moved to other books to work on with no change to their salary or benefits. The ‘idea’ of these contracts is that you are exchanging possible huge success for job security. In the case of the company, they lost money on the flops … the succesful book is basically propping up the rest of the companies books that are less succesful. The artist/writer however have security either way, etc …

I’m not one to defend big business (although this isn’t exactly “big”), but the reason the investors get the most money is because when something fails, they lose a lot of money. IF (and that is a big if considering the company wouldn’t be expected to make money for a long time and would be entirely reliant on investors) the artists and writers have true job security (not something where, as soon as they are no longer spitting out gold they get fired) that protects them from fluctuations in sales or the economy … while there may be compensation, it should be smaller than it would be if risk was high.

The lower the risk of losing money on a potential venture, the lower your reward will be for success. If the company is taking a bigger part of the risk, it should get more of the money when it pays off since rarely are the artists and writers taking much of the brunt of the loses on the other titles.

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I have no problem, in principle, with including a profit-sharing plan as part of the benefits. It’s uncommon in business, but not unheard of, along with employee stock-purchase plans. I didn’t mention it because let’s face it, I’m already shaky enough on the “making money” side of things without mentioning yet another way that I’m giving money away and not making it. :)

I would do that, though, instead of a royalties plan, because that’s an incentive for people to keep working for my company. Royalties tend to be an incentive to sue. :)

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Actually, I think it all sounds pretty soulless and awful, and the company would fold in about eight months.

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MailOrderClone said on October 4th, 2010 at 1:00 pm

As a bit of a struggling comic writer, I’d be very interested in working in a system like the one suggested. The assembly line style and the online readership model sounds really interesting, and with a good online marketing campaign the site and the anthology books could really draw.

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I think that the house style works to a small extent in that there is a focus on characters looking consistent and there is an attempt to keep a uniform level of quality. But I think artists do need to be able to stretch themselves a bit and add their own style. There should be some sort of compromise.

I also think the idea has merit in that it would cut down on the tendency of some artists to rearrange art to suit their purposes. Todd McFarlane did a horrible job on Batman, Year 2 when he restructured the panels so it ruined the big Reaper reveal so he could have his splash page in the end. He deviated from the breakdown to suit his own purposes and it lessened the overall quality of the product.

So I think more artistic oversight is a good thing, but not at the expense of quashing an artist’s creative energies.

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HEY! Len Wein, though I love him like crazy, did NOT create the character called “Wolverine”.

FACT.

Also, Mr. Seavey: sort of pisses me off to hear you write stuff and then negotiate on its price with potential buyers. Man, you must be ONE SUCCESSFUL FREELANCER! Hey, I got a rejection notice actally TODAY, but apparently you’re wheeling and dealing, throwing away offers! Dude, come on, you’re killin’ me here. Little respect, PLEASE.

Fact.

Aw, you can delete this comment if you want, I don’t wanna put egg on anybody’s face. Just NOT FUN getting the FOAD, eh? And I had to say it somewhere.

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mygif

Um.

Is this some sort of prank comment? Like a satire on someone else’s comment earlier in the thread? Because it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense otherwise.

The first part: Yes, Len Wein did create Wolverine. If you’re trying to suggest that John Romita should get some sort of a co-creator credit based on his work designing the costume, or that Wein’s interpretation of the character bears little resemblance to the one popularized by Claremont and Byrne, fair enough, but simply stating, “Len Wein did not create Wolverine, FACT.” doesn’t contribute a whole lot to the conversation.

As for the second part…um? Again? I pointed out that I read my contracts carefully before signing them, and that I sign them in full understanding of what I’m signing away. I also pointed out that anyone who doesn’t do that really doesn’t have a whole lot of grounds to complain that they lost the rights to something they really wanted to keep.

The whole point of that statement was that I’m not a particularly successful freelancer, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking about these things. Being desperate for published work should not trump keeping an idea you want to own the rights to, and there’s nothing wrong with saying, “No thank you, I think I’ll take this idea elsewhere.” I’ve never done that, but I’ve been prepared to, because that’s just common sense. (I’ve also never haggled over the word rate, either. Don’t know where you got that from.)

This was not a, “I’ve published things and you haven’t, so shut up,” statement. It was a, “I’ve published things and I know how it works, and I can tell you that you might not want to blindly believe every claim of exploitation in the industry because a lot of them are just people who didn’t do their due diligence.” (Such as Alan Moore, who sits in a house paid for by the profits of ‘Watchmen’ and insists that DC exploited him.)

I hope this clarification helps with whatever issues caused you to post that.

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So there’s my idea of the ideal super-hero comic book company. No big stars, heavy emphasis on the characters instead of the creators, self-contained family-friendly stories, and lots of reprinting. In short, the Archie model applied to super-heroes. So who wants to be the first to tell me I’m crazy?

With the exception of the “self-contained family-friendly stories” this is basically just the web comic model that everybody on the internet and his kid brother have been using for the last ten years. Higher budget, perhaps, and more professional. But from a business model, it’s been done and it’s been fairly successful.

Nice to see you’ve finally caught up. But this really isn’t anything new.

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Terrible, just terrible.

I read comics for the high points created by truly excellent and unique writers and artists. This business model would ensure that there would never be another Alan Moore, J.H. Williams, Grant Morrison, or Eddie Campbell. At least, not at that company.

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