End of 2010 Spin with Sim

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do, The Big Pass, & More!

* Once again, continuing and picking up directly from yesterday

  • (right from here, still needing to respond to Dave‘s last two paragraphs and the next page, which I’ll also post below)…
  • Dave concluded his December 20th FAX letter to me with the following:

    * Whatever went down between you and Gerhard is your and his business, Dave. I’ll only say my piece because you brought it up.

    I’m sorry it was acrimonious. I’ll say only that Gerhard should have attained some level of sainthood in comicdom for his sticking with you and Cerebus for the duration (and putting up with you, man!), but it must be said that it was quite a ride, too, and that Ger savored far, far better conditions, travel, and renumeration than any other co-creator from his publisher (you) in all of comics history. That said, what little I know of your own ups and downs in the years I’ve known you both testifies to Ger‘s personal loyalty, stamina, work-ethic, and perseverance, too.

    I’ve stayed in touch with both of you off and on over the years, and love you both; I also understand (from painful first-hand experience, post-Swamp Thing) Ger‘s dread of anything to do with comics and drawing since the separation. Peter Laird went through something similar around the time the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie exploded, and I’ve seen it in other comic book industry “casualties” in all walks (including retail, publishing, etc.): a complete paralysis. It’s something only those who have experienced it can grasp, and I suspect it’s a form of post-traumatic stress, actually.

    Well, I’ve already said too much. Back to your letter.

    You were wise to let Gerhard name the sum, and to accept it.

    It won’t stop the brickbats (the Comicon.com board already brought one sailing in, with the expected peanut gallery). Your flat, utterly pragmatic statement, “Right now I have a deadline crunch on a commission that will put me “over the top” for Gerhard‘s 2010 payment. Four years down, one to go,” prompted:

    “Dave, are you actually complaining in public about having to live up to your financial obligations to another creator, particularly the one man who stood by you for decades, through good times and bad, making your comic book look substantially better than it would have without him? That’s not very classy of you.”

  • (See, or don’t see, the thread at Comicon.com entitled “Dave Sim on Cerebus TV,” fourth post.)
  • What bullshit!

    You were smart. It’s the same reason I made Kevin Eastman name the sum I owed and paid him at the end of 1993, for Tundra‘s outstanding investment in Taboo and any other project Kevin thought I owed him for. He named the amount due; I paid it on the spot, and went home with a receipt. Smartest move I made that year.

    Kevin naming the sum due made it firm that I’d paid him back whatever was due, and that no one from Tundra or Kitchen Sink or post-KS-whatever-it-became would be knocking on my door or that of any Taboo contributor, period (the documents and cancelled check is in my papers in the Bissette Collection at the HUIE Library, Henderson State University, Arkadelphia, Arkansas, should anyone ever question this transaction).

    Do what you have to do with Ger, and bless you for (as expected) not fucking over your long-term creative partner (your second divorce).

    And a hearty pre-emptive “fuck off” to the peanut gallery for any potshots taken now or in future. They’ve no idea.

    * Peter and Kevin‘s separations got a pass from the press; in fact, as I’ve often stated in the past, the whole of Mirage Studios got a major pass from the press, including the so-called comics journalists, since its inception.

    It’s frankly absolutely astonishing to me to this day how little attention or public scrutiny was ever, ever paid to the whole of Peter and Kevin‘s operation in Northampton, MA (including Kevin‘s detour with Tundra, which at least received the public airing of three interviews in The Comics JournalRick Veitch‘s, mine, and Kevin‘s, all of which substantiated one another—but little else). You’d have thunk the most expansive self-publishing-turned-publisher-turned-licensing-monolith operation in the whole of comics history would have prompted some curiosity, some wee attempt at investigative journalism—but, no. Peter and Kevin‘s luck holds out to this day. What a story it’ll make, if ever it’s tapped; but already, post dissolving of Mirage, the key players and elements are cast to the winds. (The made-for-TV movie version, if it ever comes, will never come close to capturing what went down.)

    * I agree fully that no creator should ever be divested fully of a share of what they created, and I believe it should carry over into the next generation(s).

    If it’s good enough for lands, titles, and estates of the aristocracy under English Law, why shouldn’t the real and current coin of the 21st Century realm—licensable conceptual properties—fall under the same province?

    In my worldview, that which the corporate world so ravenously covets clearly is of great and lasting value, and given the contracts I see regularly, there is nothing so coveted as creative property at the present time. The current contracts presented to creators seek to claim rights in perpetuity and beyond, in all media formats known or as yet unknown in the known and as yet unknown universe forever, or at least for the duration of the life of the copyright. They’ve neatly contrived since 1976 (via the so-called Sonny Bono Act) to alter North American copyright law so as to ensure the life of that copyright extends for 75 years after death of the individual, but 150 years for the corporation.

    So, yes, creative work is of great value. They say so themselves, with every contract issued.

    But my metaphor clearly implies once sold, a “plot” of conceptual “property” is sold, all rights transferred, and the heirs will be the ones complaining about the “family legacy” sold and lost forever.

    And that, after all, is what you’re talking about, Dave.

    European copyright law refers to these as “moral rights,” and they are implicit and non-transferable. It’s been amusing to see the contracts from North American publishers that acknowledge “moral rights” only to insist that those, too, are fully transferable and must be the property of the corporation in exchange for whatever meager advance monies or page rate or royalties only are being paid (or promised to be paid).

    My most recent experience relevent to your final paragraphs was the agonizing process of 2009-2010 of helping my late friend Steve Perry divest himself of whatever shared copyrights and creative properties that were left to him. Dying of cancer, utterly impoverished, raising his five-year-old son under the constant spectre of homelessness, Steve was beyond desperation; and among the precious few assets left to him were his co-ownership of his 1980s comics co-creations: Time Spirits, Salimba, and a clutch of stories he’d scripted for/with me and for Rick Veitch. When it became crystal clear Steve would sell those rights to anyone off the street for a pittance, I leaned on Tom Yeates (Time Spirits co-creator) to make sure he somehow dealt with Steve and came through wholly owning Time Spirits (though Tom, like the rest of us, had precious few financial resources to tap or offer).

    I’d already bought out Steve‘s share of our collaborative work earlier in the decade, but I acted like that hadn’t happened, and bought them out again, making sure notarized contracts were generated, signed, and exchanged; and I did the same on behalf of Rick Veitch, essentially brokering that transaction so Steve was paid and the rights signed over to Rick. Nat Gertler was the lone publisher to come through for another property, Salimba, which creative partner/artist Paul Chadwick generously deeded to Steve amid this ongoing crisis.

    [Note: I in no way am villifying Nat or the Salimba project; I in fact was very supportive, urged Steve to follow through, and contributed illustrations to the book. Nat came through honorably for Steve, and provided a venue for Steve's final short work of fiction, the original Salimba short story "Baby." See Nat's comment on this post, clarifying his position and specifics of this transaction, in the comments thread, below.]

    Every penny helped Steve and his son get through another day, week, month; but it was never, ever enough, and it was a horrific, soul-grinding process. It was Steve stripping his heirs (including his five-year-old son) of their legacy, of all he had left to give them, and I felt filthy, corrupt, and hyena-like every painful step of the process. After Steve was gone, it was also left to me to tell Steve‘s oldest three sons—who I’ve stayed in contact with over the years, along with their mother—that it was all gone, Steve had sold it all. Nat, bless him, saw to it the family received comp copies of Salimba; I’ll do all I can over the coming years to ensure that the boys get copies of all their father’s past published work, and Rick and I (should we ever manage to get our collaborations with Steve back into print) will always be cutting Steve‘s royalty share due to his heirs, but it was a terrible process to be involved with first-hand.

    It’s something the corporations do daily—every nanosecond, in fact—without a thought, much less a pang of remorse or regret.

    I have come to really loathe that which massed fandom fawns over—the Marvel and DC movie franchises—knowing they exist without even a fraction of the fucking catering budgets going to the creators or their heirs.

    What galls me more is when “fandom” spurns any thought, or pang of remorse or regret; it is “business as usual” in the 21st century, as it was the previous century.

    Disney, the empire erected on the sham of “family values,” is merrily paying fortunes upon fortunes to teams of lawyers to crush Jack Kirby‘s heirs in the wake of their purchase of Marvel, and too many passionate “fans” argue that is as it should be. What did Kirby‘s heirs do to “earn” anything?

    What a fucking world.

    Bless you for seeing to proper dealings with Gerhard, however acrimonious those were, and good luck in whatever the future brings on that front.

    And a heartfelt Happy New Year, Dave!


    Tomorrow: Part 5 of Dave’s Chat with Moi…

    Discussion (19) ¬

    1. Paul Riddell

      Not to steal anything away from comics people, but that post-traumatic paralysis seems to range throughout just about everything touched by science fiction/fantasy/horror fandom. Last year, my best friend discovered what happened to Dave Trampier, the “Wormy” creator who did an incredible amount of work at TSR in the Seventies and Eighties. He completely disappeared from comics and gaming, and nobody knew where he’d gone. Apparently a fan discovered him driving a cab in (if I remember correctly) Champaign, Illinois, and started nuhdzing him about why he quit “Wormy” with no notice. All Trampier kept asking was “Please don’t tell anybody where I am.”

      Ten years ago, my best friend wouldn’t have understood why such a presumably successful creator would have given up “all that”. In that time, though, he watched me as I went through that same PTSD, and he completely understood. The paralysis isn’t just because of the stress of past shaftings. It’s the understandable fear that it would be so easy to slide back into old habits and old circles, and the shaftings would be worse because everyone figures “I knew you couldn’t stay away.

      In my case, I’m a firm believer in the power of Proverbs 26:11, but I don’t always pay attention to my own advice. This last July, I succumbed to that little voice telling me “It’ll be different this time…” and attended a convention as a guest instead of as a plant vendor. Several thousand dollars in therapy later, I can finally get through the week without trying to kill myself, and those suicidal urges were set off mostly out of fear that I could make that mistake again.

    2. Nat Gertler

      I did want to spend some time gathering my thoughts on these posts before posting myself, but as my name has been invoked, I thought I’d best stab my toe into the water now; I need to make some small clarification, but while I’m at it, I’ll shovel in my two cents worth as well.

      Steve’s description of the deal that I made for Salimba makes it sound like I bought out the rights flat, with no further financial involvement for the creators… and to be honest, I would’ve been happy to do so. The situation with the Perry/Chadwick Salimba was not the same as it was for the creators of Superman, in that Salimba had been out for decades before I bought it, and the creators had that track record to look at and could make a reasonable estimate of the value of the property. If I was to buy this property, I wanted something that was simple, where I didn’t have to keep track of where every nickel was coming from and how it got divided. It was with Mr. Bissette’s encouragement that I adjusted the agreement with a windfall clause, so that if for some reason there ever is big money coming to me from Salimba – a movie deal, for example – then there is a healthy cut for the creators (or heirs). I don’t want Steve Perry’s kids to ever have to stare at a movie poster for Salimba and realize that they won’t make enough from their dad’s work to buy a ticket. On the other hand, if I’m getting a check for $8.83 next year for the digital downloads of Salimba, I don’t have to spend a lot of time on paperwork for a pittance.

      This whole deal was possible only because Chadwick was both willing and able to transfer all of his rights and interests in Salimba to Perry. That brings us to the question of whether a creator should be allowed to fully divest himself of financial interest in a work, and I’m torn on that. On one hand, we don’t want to see another Siegel and Shuster situation. On the other hand, we’re faced with the question of whether a creator have an obligation to care about his creation, or whether he has a right to divest himself of caring. As long as Mr. Sim is paying Gerhard a cut of the Cerebus money, the way that Sim is handling the property has a financial impact on Gerhard. Even if he consciously wants to divest himself from caring about the work, it will be hard to avoid thoughts that the choice of format for an archive may make the difference between this year’s check being $50 or it being $5000. Moore may wish to have simply nothing to do with Watchmen any more; are others placing on him an obligation to care? And is that appropriate? (In that case, the question is more complicated because it’s one both of obligation to his co-creator as well as to his creation.)

      It seems to me that we’re living in an era that recognizes a right of a creator not to care. The entire Creative Commons push is one for allowing creators to divest themselves of controls in and expectations of remuneration for a creative work. There are many ways to do business, and thank goodness the comics industry is no longer running primarily on the you-get-paid-for-the-page-and-all-rights-come-free basis, but I’m not sure that the opposite extreme – that a creator who has reasonable working knowledge of the value of his property should not be allowed to fully divest himself of that property – is a valid one.

    3. srbissette

      All good points, Nat; however, if one is going to divest oneself, what Ger and Paul did makes divestment manageable for old partners. What Alan is doing does NOT (except on those projects already locked into contractual arrangements; even then, there are repercussions for old partners), and I speak from hard experience.

      More on this later in the open dialogue with Dave.

      Thanks for weighing in, and please, continue to do so.

    4. Nat Gertler

      Oh, definitely understood in the specific case, but as I suggested, the conflict there is more on what obligations Moore may have to his co-creators, rather than to the work. Unilateral divorces have their problems.

    5. srbissette

      Understood; but I think there’s an obligation to the WORK, too. Orphaned works create both possibilities and nightmares for heirs, and if one leaves a trail of abandoned orphans in one’s wake, you’re doing no favors for your real-life offspring.

    6. Roger Green

      Great last comment. Totally off topic, but happy New Year, Steve!

    7. Brian John Mitchell

      I’m really torn on when creative property should go into the public domain. I look at patents on inventions & feel maybe there should be a similar amount of time? If someone writes a hit song when they’re a teenager should there family get compensated for it 75 years beyond their lifetime? What about someone like Steve Wozniak? Can his contributions really not be seen as equally creative & of long term value? Meanwhile, will “Happy Birthday to You” ever go into the public domain? (Note the tune has passed into the public domain, but the lyrics have not. So in movies where instead of singing it they kind of hum it, the movie makers were trying to save the money from paying to use it.)

      Okay, but aside from that I think a creator should have the ability to sell their rights. The fact is creators aren’t necessarily the best at judging the value of their work as far as commercial viability, but they also aren’t the best at gaining that interest. If a creator have no connections for getting a cartoon or movie made based on their work, then the value of those derivatives is currently at zero. If someone with connections is willing to pay a creator to develop a property, it’s up to the creator to set a price. While it is pretty crappy when a creator gets $1000 & the investor gets a million, the fact is that it’s still $1000 the creator would have never realized & should hopefully also increase interest in the original work. What I do think is unethical & illegal is places like Cartoon Network will put that a work was created as work for hire & therefore they own all rights even when it’s brought it as an existing property.

      It’s all a crazy system, but it’s just like when people win the lottery & start a business & lose all the money. Or maybe more like when you invest all the money for retirement in the stock market & then the economy craps out.

    8. Nat Gertler

      Now that I’ve seen Bissette’s added comment in this piece, I should note that I never thought he was “villifying” me; merely that in the midst of discussing whether folks could buy out rights with no ongoing involvement, pointing out that I had gotten Salimba and acting as though I had been generous in shipping some comps to the family made it sound like that was the way it varied from a flat buyout. The correction was on a sheer factual level – I’m a bit of a nitpicker (as this very note shows) – and I never thought that Bissette was either intending to or having the effect of casting me as a villain.

      (Casting me as a villain in this would be easy if one chose to do so. After I bought out the rights to the already published Salimba material, Perry offered me the not-yet-completed prose Salimba story “Baby”, offering me one-time publication rights for a fairly small price, and full ownership for double that amount. I paid that higher value, which was still rather small, and Perry and I then joked about how, should some of the comics press ever get hold of this tale, the headlines would read “Evil Publisher Buys Dying Writer’s Baby”.)

    9. srbissette

      @Brian: The core hypocrisy in the entire corporate lobbying to extend copyright terms vs. public domain is the key lobbyist is Disney, intent on NEVER LOSING THE MOUSE; but the Disney empire was built in part on Disney reinterpretations and reworking of PUBLIC DOMAIN PROPERTIES (the fairytales—Snow White, etc.—Robert Louis Stevenson’s TREASURE ISLAND as their first live-action narrative feature, etc.).

      We have seen, since the corporations were reeling post-1977 from having to finally legally define what work-for-hire was (a very narrow, specified legal corridor) and how it applied to their “we own it all” presumptions, is a succession of successful bids to redefine and extend copyright limits in their own favor.

      This has benefitted many individual families and heirs, yes; but the lopsided terms (see corrected citations of the law, below, in my comment following Nat Gertler’s to this post; I’d originally misremembered and misrepresented the actual years involved, for which I apologize) make it clear that the lobbyists have won this one for corporations. Lack of public domain is already sorely impacting many creative avenues—see Nina Paley’s SITA SINGS THE BLUES legal debacle, among others, including the “Happy Birthday” song issues you cite—that prior generations, including the real-life Walt Disney, were free to work from.

    10. srbissette

      @Nat: Thanks for that clarification.

      Ah, Steve Perry kept his sense of humor to the bitter end. Thanks for sharing that anecdote.

    11. Nat Gertler

      I’m not clear where you’re getting 150 year copyright terms from. The only U.S copyright term that I can find longer than 120 years — which is solely for work that was not published within its first 25 years after creation — is for materials that was more than about 60 years old and then was first published in a certain 13 year corridor now past. No “death” of a corporation is involved, nor is it different for individual authors. For most of the worthwhile stuff corporate-owned, material that was created for publication and published, it’s 95 years…. which is probably a little shorter than most of the worthwhile human-creator-owned stuff (most of us will probably turn out our most valuable works more than 25 years before our death.)

    12. srbissette

      Nate, I’ll go back and correct those numbers; I was slightly off (you’ll see where I briefly misremembered and misreferenced “150 years,” below, but my point remains absolutely correct: “corporate authors” enjoy a longer copyright life than “individuals like J.D. Salinger.”

      See: http://www.copyright.gov/legislation/s505.pdf

      (That’s the actual text of the 1998 so-called “Sonny Bono Act,” actually TITLE I—COPYRIGHT TERM EXTENSION)

      See: http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/openlaw/eldredvashcroft/cyber/index.html

      “Under the copyright regime existing before the Sonny Bono Act, works created by individuals, say J. D. Salinger or Elvis Presley, enjoyed protection for the life of their creators plus an additional 50 years. Works created by so-called “corporate authors,” such as Disney and the New York Times, received protection for 75 years from the date of their creation. The Sonny Bono Act adds 20 years to both terms of protection, giving individual authors protection for life plus 70 years and corporate authors protection for 95 years. Thus, a symphony created by a 5 year-old modern Mozart who lives to be 85 will not be available in the public domain for the first 150 years of its existence.”

    13. srbissette

      PS: I’m also going to double-check the Graphic Artists Guild writeups on copyright, which is where I’m sure the longer copyright life of corporations was cited. Be back later!

    14. Peter Urkowitz

      Since I was the writer of that “bullshit” Comicon post quoted above, the one that ends by saying to Dave Sim, “That’s not very classy of you,” I would like to point out that I did somewhat back off from it later in the thread.

      Lenny responded to me: “How is Dave’s post in any way a complaint about his obligations to Gerhard? Seems more like you’re trying to pick a fight here than anything else.”

      And I replied: “You may be right, Lenny, I might have been too harsh. It does seem to me that Dave is often spoiling for a fight himself, but I was being over-sensitive, since this isn’t really one of those times.”

      And Steve, I do appreciate your point that Dave can’t do or say anything anymore without being attacked for it. I’ll plead guilty in this case, for going off on Dave over an innocuous comment. I apologize for that, but only in the sense that I should have waited a few days for Dave to keep talking.

      Because Dave has made plenty of actually noxious and vitriolic public statements over the years about all sorts of people, that have been rightly derided by myself and others. His characterization of Gerhard’s credo, as “There’s no problem too big that you can’t run away from it,” is one such offensive statement.

      Okay, sorry, I’m doing it again, aren’t I? I’d better stop here. Anyway, once again, thank you, Steve, for having this enlightening conversation with Dave. Much respect to both of you, regardless of my comments here. Best wishes.

    15. srbissette

      Peter, I didn’t NAME you! Wasn’t looking to slag anyone, but in context, the post you posted was precisely what I was talking about.

      Problem is: Gerhard DOES say that. I’ve HEARD him say it, often, over the years. It isn’t intended mean-spiritedly when Dave cites Ger’s own statements, and that’s a Ger-ism if ever I’ve heard one.

    16. srbissette

      Also, there’s a difference, I think, between a vet in any given industry or field “spoiling for a fight” grounded in hard experience, and the kind of rhetoric readers/fans/scholars (no pejorative implied in any case) indulge in—and then think they can indulge in with seasoned pros.

      I can be plenty blunt and direct in many circumstances, and it may come across as harsh—particularly when I’m jawing with a fellow survivor of the trenches like Dave Sim, Rick Veitch, or John Totleben. But we’ve earned our scars and stripes, and that’s very different from the banter that drives pros from boards (like comicon.com, alas), where the harshest slings and arrows coming from those who know not of what they speak (and I’m not citing YOU, Peter, don’t take it that way) strut their arrogant stuff.

    17. Peter Urkowitz

      Steve, thanks for the clarification! I think I get it! No offense taken!

      Oops, I guess I was wrong about that second Sim comment about Gerhard too!

      Can I reserve the right to be outraged by Dave’s next boneheaded public statement? Okay, maybe i’ll just keep it to myself next time. :)

    18. Nat Gertler

      “Thus, a symphony created by a 5 year-old modern Mozart who lives to be 85 will not be available in the public domain for the first 150 years of its existence.””

      Yes, and if it was “created by” Mozart Inc. and never published during its first 25 years of existence, it would not be in the public domain in the US for 120 years. If it were published right off, it would get 95 years of protection.

      If you’re going to live more than 25 years after publishing something, it pays to be an individual. If you’re toward the end of your life, and if your main concern is the length of your copyright, then you may want to incorporate and do all of your creative work as “work made for hire” for Mozart, Inc. (Incorporation would also have other benefits, if you were interested in doing a solo comics project for a corporation and you wanted them to own the result – yes, I know that isn’t you – incorporation would also make that more possible.)

      Note to all reading: I am not a lawyer. Do not take any of this as legal advice. Talk to your lawyer. Your lawyer is your friend; it’s the other guy’s lawyer who is the enemy.

    19. Matt Aucoin

      Steve, thanks for posting these great conversations with Dave Sim. You noted how the whole Mirage Studio gang has pretty much been under the press’s radar. Growing up on the Turtles cartoon show, then realizing as an adult it all spawned from a couple of guys drawing a comic book was mind boggling to me. I snatched up all the trades and back issues I could find. I very soon after became very interested in what the creative team, Eastman and Laird, were like, and how come they rarely ever worked together after about the 12th issue of the original series.

      I searched for information and found precious little that wasn’t vauge. Hell, I still have no clue as to what went down with Mirage and why Eastman and Laird split. Eastman released his Ninja Turtles Artobiography through Heavy Metal a few years ago. It basically goes through the Turtles stories he worked on issue by issue with comments from Eastman himself. He seemed to look back on the earlier years fondly, but his decision to leaving Mirage was glossed over.

      I met Peter Laird, amidst a group of CCS students a couple of years ago. He stated that he was tired of working with the Turtles, as it had been 25 years working with the same characters, and rarely doing actual comic booking at that. Although, as he spoke of the earlier years he did seem to have a special glow in his eyes. I’m sure something crazy had to have happened once the Turtles franchise picked up speed, I would just like to know exactly what.

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