If I was to run a comic company, here’s how I’d do it. I’d start with a small staff of writers, a moderate-sized staff of artists, an editor (we’d have a small stable of launch titles, all of them family-friendly adventure stories, most of them super-hero comics) and an art director…and a few assistants for the latter two, for reasons which will become apparent. (And plenty of venture capital funding coming in, because you don’t expect this kind of company to turn a profit for a while.)
The art director is the key, because I’m going with the Archie route: We would have a house style, and all the artists at the company would be expected to conform rigidly to that house style. (Keep in mind that when I say, “the Archie route”, I don’t actually mean “looking like Archie”. I picture it as being something fairly timeless, a sort of Neal Adams/Jim Aparo hybrid. Something that you could still look at twenty years later and say, “Ooh, that’s nice.”) But the point is, we are not chasing big names here. If you come to my company expecting to be rich and famous, you’re coming to the wrong place.
Which isn’t to say that we wouldn’t have credits. On the company website, and on the inside front cover of every book, it would say, “(Insert Title Here) was produced by:” and it would proceed to list the writers, artists, editors, and art director that made the book possible. You would be able to say to your family, “Yes, I work in comics.” But you wouldn’t, y’know, be able to say, “I do all the work around here. Give me a raise.” This is not a place for rock stars. (Actually, you would, in a sense. Artists would be paid an hourly wage, but they would also get completion bonuses for every page they did that passed the art director’s approval. So the faster you draw, the more money you make.) To make up for the fact that I’m treating it like a job and not like a creative opportunity, you get the sorts of things you get in a job–hourly wages, health and dental, 401K, et cetera. This is a career for people who want a career.
The books themselves would be done assembly-line style. The writers break down the plot into pages, and each page breakdown is circulated to the pencilers to draw. They, in turn, pass the finished pages to the inkers, then back to the writers for dialoguing, then to the letterers, and then to the colorists. (Every step goes through an editor/assistant/art director/assistant, as well, just to make sure it all comes out nice.) Once the story is finished (all stories are thirty pages long, and entirely self-contained. No multi-parters, no exceptions) it goes up on the website, which is advertiser-supported free content. Anyone who wants to read the comic can do so there.
Or, if they don’t like that, they can read the magazine. It’d come out monthly, and be 120 pages long (90 pages of story, thirty pages of ads, contains three different titles.) This would be sold on newsstands, alongside magazines like Shonen Jump. For those who only wanted to follow one title in dead-tree format, there would be semi-annual anthologies, printed in manga-style digests, and cheap black-and-white “Reader’s Editions” that would be collected in eighteen-issue chunks. Oh, and the occasional hardcover “Best Of”. And, once there’s enough backlog material out there, cheap reprint editions that collect a few random stories together and can fit in supermarket checkout lanes, a la the Archie reprints you see everywhere.
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?