An open letter to comic book creators everywhere:
Is that all you’ve got?
Because if it is— that’s pretty fucking sad.
Look what Stan Lee and Jack Kirby contributed to the comic book field. The Hulk, Fantastic Four, the Avengers, X-Men, Thor and a mess of incredible heroes and villains. Jack tossed in Captain America, New Gods, Forever People, Devil Dinosaur, Kamandi, the Eternals, the Demon, the Dingbats of Danger Street, Manhunter and dozens of others on his own. Steve Ditko (aided by others at times, I’ll grant you) gave us the modern Blue Beetle, Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, the Creeper, Hawk and Dove, Speedball, Shade the Changing Man, the Question, Mr. A, Static and all of Spider-Man’s cool villains. Other creators have brought us Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman–the list goes on and on.
And you’ve given us– what?
You’ve contributed– what exactly?
A few pretty pictures? Some fill-in issues? A cool cover or two? An impressive run on a title, which you didn’t create?
That’s your legacy?
If you died tomorrow, you’d be fine with that?
What have you done, which is really yours? What characters will you leave behind? What can you point to as being something near and dear to your heart? What work are you most proud of?
Now, I’m not saying that Savage Dragon is the greatest creation in the history of contemporary pictorial literature. But at least it’s something I did. It’s something where I can say, I did this run on my book and it was all me and nobody else and it’s something which I own.
It’s all mine.
And I understand the desire to clutch on to the security of a guaranteed page rate. And I understand the attraction of working on characters that you grew up with. But at what point are you going to grow up? When are you going to stop sucking on the corporate tit? When are you going to (gasp) take a risk?
Do you think the guy working for MdDonalds really has a better chance for success than the guy opening up his own restaurant? Sure, McDonalds employee #12876 is getting paid a regular paycheck. Sure, the guy going out on his own is taking a real risk– thousands of restaurants go belly up every year and there’s no guarantee of success– but shouldn’t there be more to life than slapping together somebody else’s hamburgers? Are you really going to feel as though you’ve lived a full life having spent it churning out more Big Macs?
Better to have loved and lost than never loved at all.
What’s the matter?
Or do you really have nothing to say?
Are you ready to confess that those “old hacks” that you look down on really had more going on than you do? Are you willing to confess that you’re devoid of ideas? Are you going to fall back on the tried-and-true “all the good characters have been created” or “I’d just end up ripping off some existing character– and who needs another Batman knock off?”
Did you know that at one point they had considered closing the patent office because they thought that everything had already been invented?
(I’m not actually sure that that’s legitimate historic fact. I heard it at one point though and it sure sounds about right).
Do you think Mike Mignola regrets having taken a risk and created Hellboy?
Do you think Todd McFarlane regrets having left Marvel to create Spawn?
Do you think Frank Miller regrets doing Sin City?
You know damned well that I have no regrets.
And sure, you can find a publisher who will pay you a paycheck to do your creator-owned project for their company, and they’ll take a big hunk of your ownership and the rights, but you’ll still have your security blanket to cling to.
You big baby.
Why don’t you get off your fat ass and do something?
You say that you’re a creator– what was the last thing you really created? (And no– a new costume for Iron Man doesn’t count). Painting a house isn’t the same thing as building a house.
Why are you so pathetic?
Why are you such a pussy?
There are guys doing creator-owned books that are making wads of cash. I sign their checks on a regular basis. I know. They’re making more at Image than they ever would at any other comic book company and when Hollywood comes knocking (and they do come knocking) it will be their name on that screen, ten feet tall and fat bank in their money market account and you…?
You’ll be writing or drawing or inking or coloring somebody else’s creation. Maybe you’ll get another assignment. Maybe you’ll sign an exclusive contract and play a part in the “Big Two’s” corporate pissing contest.
Good for you.
But I think you’re missing out. I really do.
You’ll never know what it’s like to wake up in the morning and be able to put whatever you want to on a page. To do whatever you feel like and not have anybody around tell you otherwise.
But you stay shackled to that chain and pick that cotton and tell us all how “nice” your master is and how much you “like it” there. Tell us all how good you feel about the relative size of your house to the one your boss has and how fulfilling your life is doing somebody else’s dirty work for them.
You get to draw Superman.
You get to draw Spider-Man.
You get to put a bullet through Blue Beetle– a character you didn’t create or help create– but you got the opportunity to destroy.
That’s just swell.
What do you have to offer? What can you contribute? What do you have to say?
What’s stopping you from saying it?
You’ve got a computer. Write down an idea or two. Draw a few sketches. Keep a sketchbook. Jot down things when you think of them. One idea leads to another. You might see a movie and think of a better ending or come up with a variation on another idea or character and if you keep changing, adding, molding, twisting and reshaping it can be transformed into something new and original and yours.
What do you like to write? What do you like to draw? What do you like to read?
Is painting by numbers really all that you’re capable of?
I don’t think so.
I think you’re better than that. I’ve seen your sketchbook. There— on that page– that doesn’t have to be a new costume for an existing character. A few alterations, some color changes– that could be an entirely new character. It could be your character.
You’ve seen it happen.
You’ve seen guys do impressive runs on their own creations and I know that you’ve entertained the idea. Hell, you’ve seen people create other characters and then had their characters crossover and meet Superman or Batman or Spider-Man or others. You’ve seen movies, cartoons, toys made of other people’s characters (and it’s not as though I’m saying Hollywood is the goal here but for a lot of people it seems to be) and you’ve said to yourself– why wasn’t it my character? Why wasn’t it ,e?
Because you haven’t created jack shit, that’s why.
And don’t give me that line about being given “creative freedom” at the “big two” because it’s a crock. When somebody else owns the character you’re working on it’s not yours. Ultimately, any decision or direction the creative team wants to go is, ultimately, dictated to them by those that do own that character. You can’t have Mary Jane Watson-Parker get pregnant, fired or divorced without getting somebody else’s permission first. You can’t have Spider-Man go anyplace, do anything, say anything, feel anything, meet anybody or do anything else without some kind of approval. Spider-Man will never be your character and as hard as you fight to make his stories be as close to what you want them to be, he’ll never be your character. You can never fully guide his destiny. You will always be held back to some extent. And the next guy to do the book can erase, ignore or undo anything you’ve done.
What if all Jack Kirby ever did was draw other people’s stuff? What if he drew that issue of “Captain Marvel Adventures” and then moved on to doing some Superman comics and some Batman comics and some issues of Green Lantern and Jughead and Richie Rich?
Marvel Comics wouldn’t exist today.
What if others did the same?
There wouldn’t be any comics.
I remember how it was. I remember wanting to draw Superman and Spider-Man and the Hulk and Fantastic Four and Batman and Thor and Captain America and all the rest. It’s fun. It’s a kick to be working on something that’s been around for years– to contribute to a bigger story. And yeah, it is a drag when the next creative team comes along and ignores everything you set up or undoes it all or decides that your run was a dream sequence– but, whatever– for that brief moment that it appeared as though you were in control and your efforts mattered– it was a gas.
You can do what you want. It’s your life, after all.
It just makes me sad.
There are thousands of stories that will never be told. Thousands of characters that will never be created.
And for what?
So we can have more stories of Aquaman and Green Lantern and Daredevil and New Warriors. So we can see another character from the X-Men “in their own book at last.”
And– I guess that’s okay but…
I remember growing up and going to Rexall drug to buy comics off the spinner rack. It was a dry period in comics where there really wasn’t a lot of anything that could truly be called new. All the comics and characters had been created before I was born. These weren’t my characters they were my father’s characters. When E-Man came out or The Man Called Nova– I clung to those like a drowning man clutching a hunk of driftwood. Finally– a chance to be in on the ground floor– to follow a character from the start.
But I digress…
The thing is– people like new stuff. That’s why Clorox Bleach keeps saying that they’re new and improved. People want something new. They want something that’s theirs. Sure, there is a nostalgic pull to the comfort characters of the past, which is while they’ll forever be rebooting the Dukes of Hazard, Scooby Doo, James Bond and Charlie’s Angels and every other garbage TV show from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, but given the choice of Scooby Doo and something new— they’ll want to try something new. They may go back to something tried and true if that new thing isn’t to their liking, but they’ll try something new. That’s part of the reason that readers respond to Manga. They can start at the start and get in on the ground floor of something new and exciting.
These aren’t their parents‘ characters or their grandparents‘ characters with a fresh coat of shellac on them to make them look new and shiny– these are new characters. These are their characters.
And we can do that.
Christ– I remember the battle it took to get here. Years back you couldn’t do your own stuff. The major companies had a stranglehold on the industry and there weren’t any viable alternative. The independents changed all that. The battles have been fought and won and we all though that this was going to be cool– that cartoonists would finally break out and we’d be bombarded with a plethora of new, exciting characters and ideas and that only the saddest, most creatively bankrupt hacks would choose to stick it out writing and drawing the corporate icons.
But that didn’t happen.
So– what’s your excuse? What are you waiting for?
And it doesn’t have to be a Spider-Man knock off or a Batman clone in order to make it in this market. The icons of today didn’t get to be the icons of today by being copies of the icons of yesterday (okay, the Hulk was pretty much a blatant rip off of Mr. Hyde but still– most of them weren’t).
Look at “The Walking Dead” and “Invincible.” Those comics are selling more and more copies on a monthly basis! And the trades, which collect these comics, are going into third and forth printings! These books are building an audience. There are plenty of others who are building an audience as well.
And there’s nothing to stop you from doing the same.
So do it.
What are you afraid of?
And for those of you that did break free of the shackles, which had restrained you– this rant is clearly is not meant for you– you’re living the dream! Good for you! Keep at it!
As for the rest of you…
Show us what you’ve got.