How things change. Used to be, I’d constantly get asked how to break in at Marvel & DC, because I do so much work for them so constantly.
(For those still wondering, four ways:
1: Be so great they can’t say no.
2: Establish yourself as a writer in another field and attract their attention.
3: Network like you’ve never networked before in your life.
4: Get lucky. I managed to pull off the last one, but that was decades ago, & now I recommend combining all four.)
Now, they ask me how they can get their comic/graphic novel turned into a big budget major motion picture.
Short version: I haven’t the foggiest.
Fact is, I had next to nothing to do with it (aside from, you know, creating & writing the book). Ross Richie, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of BOOM! Studios was responsible for everything else. This doesn’t mean I had no interest in the process. I watched everything. It doesn’t mean I had no faith in the material. I wrote it solely because I had faith in the material, and for a long time I was the only one who had faith in the material. Then Ross proved to my satisfaction he did too, and there are times when you have to figure out it’s in your own best interests to trust in your material and your partner and just get the hell out of the way.
Because ultimately getting a movie made isn’t about ego — and this is a hard concept for a lot of people in comics to grasp, because there’s generally so little money in comics that ego is the only currency many of us get paid in, and we frequently have to claw for even that — it’s about money. If ego is the main reward comics provide, money is the main reward Hollywood provides. It’s a good idea to keep your priorities straight.
Now, every time I talk about Hollywood and money, there’s a demimonde of naysayers who apparently hate the whole idea of Hollywood intruding on comics and insist people should do the stories they want to do and not do comics that are intended as movie pitches first and comics second.
Let me say this about that: the naysayers are dead right. More on that next week.
In general, among the worst things comics creators can do is let publishers control the ancillary rights to the comics they create. Not that (most) publishers go out of their way to screw over creators, but it’s a natural tendency of publishers to believe the deal that’s best for them is also the best deal for the creators.* When creators feel otherwise, formerly solid relations can get very strained very quickly. In this case it didn’t matter much because Ross cut me a deal through which my interests and his became identical, so whatever deal he could strike was equally beneficial for both of us.
It has become something of a cliche over the past decade or so for publishers to dream of movie deals turning them into media magnates. Over the past decade, as Hollywood has paid more attention to the potential of comics as source material, visions of comics as a shortcut to Hollywood fame & fortune seized/poisoned the imaginations of talent and publishers alike, largely with a “Field of Dreams”-style “Build it and they will come!” mentality that for the most part really hasn’t panned out. Only three comics publishers have really had any sustained success in Hollywood so far: Marvel, DC and Dark Horse. (Archie has had sporadic TV success.) But look at how long it took Marvel. Their traditional approach, before someone wisely decided the company should take the risk and seize the reins of production themselves, was best epitomized by original publisher Martin Goodman’s decision to give away the media rights to Captain America; for many years Marvel’s general attitude was that any movie deal (like, say, the Roger Corman deal on Fantastic Four or the Fox/X-Men deal that gave Fox a backdoor allowing them to claim rights to all kinds of mutant characters (ultimately triggering the recent Quicksilver/Scarlet Witch crisis)) is better than no deal at all. They’ve since learned better, but that notion has a seductive lure for many comics publishers, especially those who don’t quite believe what a crazy snakepit Hollywood can be. It isn’t always, it doesn’t have to be, but… coyotes love nothing more than small, helpless animals that think they’re big tough beasts wandering off on their own.
Meanwhile, until recently, being functionally an offshoot of Warner Bros. Pictures hasn’t especially helped DC accomplish much except survive, partly because those running Warners viewed comics with disdain and partly due to general Time-Warner dysfunctionality that encouraged its various wings to view each other as rivals rather than allies. Arguably (though it doesn’t take much of an argument) the most successful comics-to-film operation has been run by Mike Richardson at Dark Horse, who had the sense when he started along that path to find a good Hollywood mentor, an established producer, to help him get started. The first Dark Horse Entertainment production, “Dr. Giggles,” really had nothing to do with Dark Horse (I adapted the screenplay into a two-issue comic) but came out of the mentor’s stable. It was a forgettable bit of horror fluff, but it served two functions: it established Dark Horse Productions as a company that had gotten a film made, giving Mike access to studios**, and it was a crash course in Hollywood filmmaking for Mike to apply to later endeavors, and he has generally applied it well. As a result, Mike has gotten a couple dozen projects successfully produced, and continues to.
Most publishers don’t put in anywhere near that kind of effort.
This is what Ross did:
Before he ever talked about producing movies, before BOOM! Studios was even a twinkle in his eye, Ross moved to Los Angeles, and learned the film business. He learned the ins and outs, where the pitfalls were and strategies to avoid them, networked and made connections. He laid groundwork, and took a long time doing it. When he started BOOM!, he focused on publishing comics. And while he’s savvy enough to know the value of media rights, he offered (me, at least; you’d have to talk to other people about their deals) not a slice of the pie but a full partnership in my creations. That was 2007. Six years later, we’re partners on “2 Guns,” the movie.
That’s six years. If it seems to you like my going into partnership with Ross took too much away from me — I have heard that argument — those are six years where he worked like a dog, in addition to running BOOM!, to get the best deal and the best movie he could, for himself, sure, but also for me, while I had to do pretty much nothing. Sure, he benefitted from the fruits of my labors. I’ve got no problem with that. I sure benefitted from the fruits of his.
And through Ross, I was able to sit back and see a lot of interesting things about Hollywood today, vis-a-vis comics creators, that go very much against “common wisdom” about comics and films. Check in next Friday for Part 2: The Lessons Learned, because it’s Independence Day again and it’s time for some fireworks.
*Rule of thumb tip for aspiring comics talent: publishers who offer no pay up front, either in advance of work or within a scheduled period shortly after the work is turned in — not “accepted” because they can drag that on for decades & there have been cases of work never being officially “accepted” yet ending up in print anyway — and who demand control of all rights for the indeterminate future don’t want to be publishers (or even comply with copyright law). They want to be robber barons. Steer clear or stock up on aspirin and Pepto.
**Anybody can call themselves a production company, but getting a picture produced makes a production company legitimate in the eyes of studios. Or, rather, a little more legitimate. At least for a while. Producing a film that makes piles of money is real legitimacy, but just making one at all garners a grudging respect, because it’s not an easy process.
Replies, mash notes, hate mail, etc. can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Anyone who wants face time can find me at the San Diego Comic-Con, July 18-21 (try the BOOM! Studios booth, 2743) & WizardWorld Chicago August 8-11 (I’ll have my own table).