First off… here’s an interesting Chinese proverb to facilitate internal debate:
"It's better to be a dog in a peaceful time than be a man in a chaotic period."
Tue? False? You decide…
That aside, is it just me or has this been a terrible month for comic creators across the industry?
First it was the news that self-made indy-comic hero DJ Coffman was being forced to take a hiatus from his biggest book to date when the company publishing the title ran into “financial issues” that resulted in nonpayment to the creative team.
With no disrespect intended towards DJ (a man whose work I’ve admired from afar but have sadly had far too little contact with over the years), the simple fact of the matter is that neither he as a creator or even his publisher merit “headline” news in most circles, and as a result the news came and went… and when all is said and done that’s understandable.
Heck, I’ve been in that position myself on more than one occasion. Sadly, it’s not a terribly uncommon situation, but DJ’s credibility amongst informed bloggers and such combined with the… notorious… nature of the book’s publisher made in a blip on the comic internet, at least.
What made a much bigger impact, though, was the news “financial restructuring” was leading Tokyopop to “reorganize” their publishing plan so that a vast majority of the non-licensed titles by the publisher would be published not as print books/graphic novels… but rather on the Internet as online comics.
As can be expected (especially considering Tokyopop’s well-manufactured – albeit not necessarily unwarranted – image as a bookstore juggernaut), this announcement seemingly came from nowhere, although in hindsight eagle-eyed observers saw this telegraphed by the financial stresses of massive brick-and-mortar chain bookstores across the country – one of Tokyopop’s linchpins of financial security and success.
The jury is still out on what this means for the creators whose work is now trapped in limbo, as some sources on the internet are claiming that all rights on the non-print-published properties are being handed back to the creators while some creators are saying that isn’t necessarily the case – or at least not yet.
Either way, it’s certainly a blow for many creators who hoped to get their work in print and – even better – in the bookstore market. Can you imagine being lead to believe that your 100+ page graphic novel was going to be in bookstores nationwide – only to then discover (possibly at the last moment) that it would only be released on a website instead?
Mind you, as a guy who’s published the bulk of his work to date online I have no distain at all for the notion of publishing comics online. Heck, as longtime readers of this column know, I’m a huge advocate of doing so – especially when you’re first starting out. After all, it’s more cost effective for the creator (or, if applicable, the publisher) and it’s easier for potential readers to access the material online rather than having to trudge to a comic shop and then beg the sales clerk to order a copy of a book that’s not being published by one of Diamond/Previews “Big Four” publishers.
(That’s not meant to be a slight on my own work or anyone else’s, but rather a revealing of the grim facts as they stand these days: With the economy being the way it is, more and more comic shop owners are cutting down (or completely eradicating) their orders on non top-tier books. After all, why risk diverting funds into ordering a few copies of an “indy book” in which – due to the way Diamond’s ordering/discount system works – there is minimal profit to be made when those same funds could be channeled into ordering copies of top-selling Marvel books that adhere to a strict “no overprint” policy for first-edition floppies? It’s all in the math, folks…)
How this will shake-out for the numerous Tokyopop creators and artists involved remains to be seen, but I don’t think I’m talking out of class by saying that a lot of them are feeling a bit dejected and… well… screwed at the moment…
Of course, Tokyopop creators aren’t the only ones being “screwed” these days, as veteran writer Chuck Dixon also recently made another seemingly-out-of-left-field about his own career – stating that he was no longer affiliated with DC Comics and that, in his own words “I did not quit.”
The rub in a situation like this is that Dixon – regardless of his popularity with fans – was a contracted employee hired by a large corporation to do a certain job for a finite amount of time. For whatever reason he and his boss (or bosses) seemingly had some sort of falling-out that lead to him no longer writing for DC. Speculation is rampant that he had some sort of falling out with DC Bigwig Dan DiDio (who’s had his own problems as of late – more on that in a moment) and that’s what lead to his termination with the company.
At this point not enough details have come to light for anyone in the court of public opinion to say with any authority whether it was justified, but with fan-favorite writer Chuck Dixon unceremoniously tossed out on his rear-end within a week of Senior VP of Business Development John Nee (who was also instrumental in the running of Wildstorm and DC’s Manga-influenced CMX line) resigning from the company for – again – unknown reasons combined with Grant Morrison recently publicly lambasting the editors at DC for publishing a comic mini-series that blatantly contradicts his long-hyped-and-rumored-to-be-line-wide-rejuvenating-mini-series Final Crisis – which itself is now having an unannounced second artist jump onboard in an attempt to keep the book on schedule – all while DC is being beaten like a red-headed step-child in market share by Marvel Comics… well… the bottom line is that things are even getting ugly out there for creators (be them writers, artists or editors) at such massive companies as DC Comics.
Yes, that’s right – I also count editors as “creators”… as anyone who knows the ways of the industry should.
Heck, who can deny the creative influence of editors such as Joe Quesada, Axel Alonso, Shelly Bond or… wait for it… Dan DiDio.
As the overly-long sentence a few beats above shows, DC has been having quite a rough week or two, and with the San Diego Comicon right round the corner and his contract set to expire in the coming year, speculation is already rampant that he may not be in the driver’s seat of DC Comics much longer.
Truthfully, the man seems to be tenacious if nothing else, so I wouldn’t be surprised if his contract was re-upped without incident… but with so many of the natives (of both the professional and fanboy community) getting restless under a string of critical (if not commercial) failures at DC I’d respond with an equal amount of non-astonishment if someone such as, say, the well-loved Jimmy Palmotti was tapped to captain the sinking ship that is the current DC Comics… although the fact that he’s seemingly so adamantly against it leads me to put speculation money on Geoff Johns or the “dark horse” candidate (no pun intended) of Grant Morrison.
Speculation aside, these number of small crises (again, no pun intended) across the industry can’t help but beg the question of what up-and-coming creators should do… or can at least hope to learn from it all.
While everyone’s going to have their own take on all of this (after all, history has shown over and over again that these types of things always smooth out in the long-run)… I think there are two big lessons that can be learned (or at least reiterated) when collectively analyzing all these recent events:
1) All hired help within a corporation is dispensable.
2) It’s dangerous to pin your hopes and dreams – let alone your financial security – on the good faith that a corporation – especially as a free-lancer.
People approach me all the time about why I’ve had such “sporadic” success with getting – or keeping – my comic series Nightmare World in print. After all, it’s a generally well-received and fairly successful series that’s liked (or at least respected) by pretty-much everyone who reads it (despite the crippling web-outage we suffered last year combined with my lack of aggressive marketing of the series to let people know that we’re back and one story away from wrapping-up the 52-part series in a neat little bow)… and I usually give people the same canned response:
“You can’t count on anyone to care about your baby as much as you do.”
The truth of the matter is that I’ve turned-down just as many publishing opportunities as I’ve accepted (which I’m sure is causing some of you out there to gnash your teeth in frustration), and even then I’ve yet to enter into a publishing agreement with a publisher who has – in my opinion – upheld what I’d call their end of the bargain.
That’s not a slight on anyone I’ve ever worked with or for, as I truly consider many people I’ve worked with near and dear friends despite professional separations or break-ups. However, when it comes to my comicbook creations, I agree to bring certain things to the table in exchange for my good faith in said publisher (or corporation, if you’d prefer that term) will in turn bring certain things to the table.
Sadly, every time I enter such a deal things fall apart – although it must be noted that it’s rarely due to maliciousness and is usually the fault of outside factors such as finances, finances or finances.
Wait… did I mention finances in that list?
Especially with the economy being what it is these days, many comicbook publishers are existing on financial precipices that those who hold the purse-strings (aka: “The Man”) aren’t too comfortable with.
Don’t believe me? Ask DJ Coffman.
Better yet, ask the small army or creators recently “released” (albeit possibly in a limited capacity) by Tokyopop.
Heck… I’d be willing to bet you dollars to doughnuts that even the recent strife involving both John Nee and Chuck Dixon have their roots in finances (even said roots are hidden under the verbage of “your books aren’t selling to expectations”) as much as they might “creative differences.”
Even in analyzing the problem, though, this does little to answer the question of what to do about it – especially as up-and-coming little fish in a very turbulent pond where many of the big fish seem to be on the verge of eating one another.
Personally, I’d say the wisest thing to do at this point would be to suck-it-up, limit your “fun money” expenses and take a DIY (“do-it-yourself”) approach that combines using the internet and print-on-demand publishing techniques to ride-out the coming storms.
After all, like I said earlier, no one will love your babies more than you do… but turbulence also leads to opportunities for rebuilding and creation.
Regardless, with things in such a state of flux right now it’s going to be interesting to watch what happens industry-wide between now and San Diego…
Next Time: More pithy insight… and perhaps a major revelation or two!
Dirk Manning is the writer/creator of NIGHTMARE WORLD, a longtime contributing writer to Newsarama and an active member of MySpace, Comicspace… and even Facebook. Yeesh. While his activity on these various websites is based strictly on his ever-shrinking windows of opportunity to “surf the web,” he usually does pretty well at responding to everyone who takes the time to comment in the talkback sections of these columns… so subscribe to this thread it and check back often if you’re into that sort of thing, have something worthwhile (or entertaining) to say or otherwise want to keep the conversation going.
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