Shooting Shit with Sim
Creator’s Rights & Wrongs, Balancing Acts
* Continuing and picking up directly from yesterday
Balancing income against the Ideal Work has been the challenge; I see my students struggle with it regularly, in and after CCS. Note, for instance, CCS graduate Matt Aucoin (Class of 2010, pictured at left) and his website
“Matt works nights at a job that gives him money in exchange for physical labor–and during the day he works on this very website.”
He’s hardly alone in that, around here or around the world.
I don’t see many viable alternatives being presented to this new generation of cartoonists, now that the Direct Sales market and traditional print comics have collapsed once and for all. They each have to invent new wheels, using vehicles that refute income and revenue streams from the work itself. (A few—few—of them land publisher contracts, which have become, for a multitude of reasons, more like fields of landmines than any I’ve ever seen, but they are the exception and exceptional few, and that exceptionality is not necessarily due to being exceptional cartoonists, but rather what the marketplace craves and recognizes as pre-sold or sellable; again, another topic for another time.)
The quest for getting one’s work visible, read, hopefully purchased, and thus earning enough to sustain one for new work, has only grown more difficult. It’s not just the current economic Depression we’re in, internationally; as I say bluntly to my students, the challenge for their entire generation is how, given their own addictions to “free information/entertainment” via the internet, they can possibly entice others of their generation to pay for their creative work.
That’s the new challenge for a generation of creators seeking to “balance income against the Ideal Work.”
You and I, at least, have original art and sketch collectors, and a fan base from our years of print comics work; original art is almost meaningless in the digital age of comics (when will it cease completely to even be a commodity? We may see that in our lifetimes, and soon). New cartoonists are working in a world where their own comics may not even involve graphite touching paper. How, then, to generate income to feed the Ideal Work?
Given the number of weekly visiting artists to the Center for Cartoon Studies, it’s amazing how many of the new generation—whose work is renowned and read primarily on the web—worked in the same model: juggling a day job with cartooning, eventually reaching critical mass where they could finally dedicate themselve full-time to cartooning, sans day job, via either sales of ancillary merchandizing (t-shirts, a book collection, etc.) from their web comic, or a publishing contract from a publisher attracted to working with them via their web comic.
It’s essentially the path many in our generation followed going from fanzines to pro assignments (you did it, as detailed in your ongoing Cerebus Archive publication; I did it, as occasionally discussed here at Myrant); old wine, new bottle.
Of my own experiments with making of Myrant a revenue stream subsidizing its daily commitment and (at times) other work, only the “new sketch every few days” model has yielded income, and then only at a clear (pricing under $100) impulse buy purchase point.
Of course, the core conundrum is obvious: what everyone wants is new Bissette comics; what no one wants to pay for is new Bissette comics.
My 2010 experiment with Myrant Digital Comix yielded lots of eyeballs, but no income. I serialized a brand-new work, “King of Monster Isle,” back in January through April (links below), and attracted lots of readers and comments, but it derailed completely the fairly steady income of 2009′s “new sketches every week” model, and attracted only “hey, we’d love to publish King of Monster Isle, but can’t pay you anything” offers from print publishers.
As my daily obligations and duties are to CCS above and beyond all others, I had to pull the plug on “King of Monster Isle” before the end-of-semester crush of work hit. Then again, “King of Monster Isle” wasn’t the Ideal, either; it was an experiment.
At 55 years of age, I’m just not hungry enough, or nimble enough, to be posting new comics two to three times per week and still be available and working at 150% for my students and my employer (CCS); that, in fact, is the Ideal Work for me now. And CCS is paying and treating me quite nicely, thank you very much, to ensure it is self-sustaining work.
To be frank, “King of Monster Isle” was stealing bread from the table.
Having derailed the successful Myrant sketch store venue, it took months of recovery work to get the successful “weekly sketches for sale” Myrant vehicle back up and running and attracting regular viewers (and occasional buyers); it in fact took additional Facebook hours, working in conjunction with daily Myrant posts, to get it back up and running. As you’ve noted often elsewhere, once the incentive to visit an online site goes away, the audience goes away.
By mid-summer, exhausted from unexpected events (the horrific murder of my old friend Steve Perry, and the very unwelcome real-life heat my reporting on it here attracted) and momentarily despairing about the usefulness of this blog, I entertained ceasing the daily posts. Eddie Campbell had quit, as had others, but still, Myrant literally fed me in many ways.
Again, events convinced me to stick with it, and as the handy calendar (up at the upper righthand corner, topped with the panel of Tyrant‘s jaws tearing into meat, as Myrant chews through at least an hour of time every morning) will demonstrate, I haven’t missed a beat since re-engaging in September.
In short, Myrant feeds the writer in me daily, more than the cartoonist; I write quickly and easily, and enjoy it, and writing serialized essays for Myrant feeds my book projects. The sketches sell often enough when I post new ones every two-three days that it pays for my time on Myrant, and it keeps new Bissette art up and visible on a very regular basis. That’s an economy I can sustain happily, and will continue to.
I hope that you’re finding a similar balance possible and sustainable on commissions subsidizing Cerebus Archive and Glamourpuss (I bought full sets in the fall, and have enjoyed each and every issue). It’s too bad neither apparently sustains itself, but welcome to the 21st Century.
On the other hand, generating income to subsidize print work is becoming trickier and more difficult (as you know first-hand, via Cerebus Archive and Glamourpuss). It was worth it to me to do, for instance, the artwork for The Vermont Monster Guide (2009, University Press of New England), as writer Joe Citro is one of my all-time best friends, and we have and had a great time working together on projects. The Vermont Monster Guide was a joy, and working with a regional publisher, I knew up front there would never be an advance sufficient to justify the months of work.
The work—the book—was the incarnation of the Ideal Work at that time, and the book was a pleasure to work on and ended up being a handsome reward in and of itself. We’re also still earning royalties from The Vermont Ghost Guide (2000), so the hope of The Vermont Monster Guide continuing to earn via a long and healthy shelf life via a publisher who had proven they honor their contracts and obligations justified the investment, too.
Still, if it isn’t that, and doesn’t even cover the monthly mortgage due, what’s the point?
My moment of clarity came in 2004-2005, when Byron Preiss had contacted me about writing a trilogy of original Swamp Thing novels for his iBook imprint; it was to be work-for-hire, but it was also very attractive, as I was dying to be writing something, anything, that would earn enough income to allow me to step away from co-managing the video superstore in Brattleboro, VT. I was hungry.
Per usual, contract negotiations arrived at an untenable juncture: “negotiation” never seems to mean to publishers like Byron what it means in the real world. Despite my having, by that time, worked with Byron‘s editor to not only clear the proposed story arc for all three novels with Karen Berger at Vertigo/DC Comics, but also to entice John Totleben to do cover art and interior illustrations for the books (something Byron didn’t see as invaluable, though the editor certainly did, and fought for), the sticking points in the contract were daunting.
I’ll spare you and the readers the gruesome details; suffice to note that in the end, though the money was modest and had been agreed upon (I didn’t argue over the sum), Byron flatly refused to pay the one-third advance due me to begin work.
This simplified things enormously. The math was simple: “Byron, I am not going to work 40-50 hours weeks at the video store on top of the writing of the novel to subsidize my writing a work-for-hire novel for you and DC Comics to own.”
He accused me of being unreasonable; I was being utterly reasonable. The math was simple and plain and clear. I had agreed to write three novels for a pittance, but that was sustainable, just, under the terms we’d agreed to; but when he refused to pay the amount contractually due to even begin work, there was nothing further to discuss. My iBooks editor understood; Karen Berger completely understood when I let her know (that very day, via email) what the empasse was. That was that. (Sadly, Byron was killed in a car accident shortly after; rest in peace, Byron Preiss.)
(This all leads to my current quandry over what to do with N-Man, The Fury, The Hypernaut, and Sky Solo, work-for-hire, and such; soon, soon, we’ll get to that, Dave.)
I’m pretty much in full agreement with you here, Dave. I’ll likely never know what it was I said that so pissed off Alan that I had to be exiled permanently from his universe; it doesn’t matter.
We’re all seeing, though, what’s happening with Dave Gibbons, though I’m sure we’ll never know how it’s really played out for him. As I’ve watched, long distance, this whole Watchmen/Dave Gibbons thing unfold, my heart has sunk (for Dave), finding himself in a completely untenable position.
As you say, it all comes down to Creator’s Rights, and Creator Responsibilites. In collaborative ventures, one creator cannot be the sole responsible party, any more than one parent (if two are alive) can be the sole responsible party. The consequences are lifelong and can be devastating.
I find it forever useful to think of abandoned creative works as “orphans,” and since recent attempts at Senate Subcommittee proposals and revisions of the Copyright Act have enshrined the “Orphan Works” as legal terminology, that perception is all the more concrete today.
I won’t dwell on this, save to note that even though Alan “gave” his permission for Rick and I to proceed with a 1963 reprint edition, prompting a full year of hard work, negotiations, and almost bearing fruit, Alan‘s outrage at having to sign some legal document verifying that permission seemed to be a bridge too far.
In the real world, sans that signature, nothing can move forward.
Nothing will ever move forward.
This has been another life lesson concerning Creator’s Rights: the irony is, of everything Alan and I worked on together in the ten years of friendship and fruitful creative collaboration we enjoyed, only those works I signed countless contracts for stating I had no legal claim whatsoever to them—the works serialized in Taboo, From Hell and Lost Girls—and the work-for-hire we did together on Swamp Thing will or can ever earn income for those concerned.
Thus, 1963 is orphaned; as the only “father” with 1998 paperwork signing four of the orphans over to my legal care, free and clear of encumbrances, I alone now can proceed legally to do something with my quartet of orphans.
Since 1998, I withheld any previous plans to work with my orphans, not wishing to (a) upset Alan, (b) compromise Rick Veitch (the “parent” in the middle) further than he already was after Alan exiled me forever from his reality, and (c) risk deep-sixing a possible 1963 reprint edition, which would serve all of us, including my orphans, well.
Now that (a), (b), and (c) have been rendered moot and meaningless, I’ve no choice but to step up to the plate as sole responsible parent/Creator with Responsibilities. I must do something with my orphans, if only to protect trademarks and copyrights and make them worth something to my heirs down the road.
The sick twist: under North American copyright law, if I am to work with others (who want to work with me) on anything with my orphans, I’m stuck with either work-f0r-hire or assignment-of-copyright language if I am to protect my orphan copyrights and trademarks for my heirs.
Another gift from Alan; and I can’t even say “thank you” to the man.
Some promised links: King of Monster Isle
(my 2010 fling at doing online original comix):
II: King of Monster Isle, Chapter One!
Tomorrow: Part 4 of Dave’s Chat with Moi…