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Issue #90

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Issue #90
  • Few weekends as psychologically and geographically exemplify the current schism in the comics market. In Philadelphia last weekend, the Philly Con was held, to not particularly huge numbers, and the emphasis was on comics, comics, comics (though according to reports the big sellers in the dealers room were bargain bin selections and graphic novels), and the big news coming out of the show involved lots of information about monthly titles from DC, Marvel and CrossGen, like Animal Man will be a guest-star in HAWKMAN. In Los Angeles, the book publishing industry’s Book Expo America took place, with, reportedly, much excitement about and attention to graphic novels, rapidly becoming a sizable part of the book industry. (Eric Reynolds reports other publishers told him Fantagraphics‘ foot traffic was the envy of all other publishers in the WW Norton area.) The focus here was mainly on manga (with its very large female audience), “art” comics (ala Fantagraphics Books) and places where graphic novels intersect with major trends in book publishing, such as memoirs.

    What this translates into is we now have two “mainstreams,” and, to some extent, they’re at war with each other for dominance of the comics market, even if they haven’t figured it out yet. What comics really haven’t figured out yet is that they’ve already lost, and the true battle is for the shape of the graphic novel; as mentioned above, graphic novels were bigger sellers than back issue comics even in the fanboy stronghold of Philly Con (not surprising, since collector fever is a rare thing in comics these days and graphic novels represent more bang for the buck, one of the psychological strengths of manga in this market, and certainly a bigger bang than the high prices of back issues) and even Joe Quesada cited the triple digit increase of graphic novel sales for Marvel, which should be even more impetus for them to mold their comics into templates for trade paperback collections. Companies that aren’t doing this are looking down the long barrel of decline, and it’s becoming clearer that if “pamphlets” are to be seriously revived, it’s going to be only as an adjunct to the growing popularity of the graphic novel. Over on the Permanent Damage Message Board, someone just asked why the pulps faded away when they were once such a strong newsstand force (they haven’t entirely, but you couldn’t tell it by looking at a newsstand) and the answer is they succumbed to a changing economy and the growth of the paperback book after WWII. The same thing’s happening today with comics and graphic novels. It’s not that pamphlets will die, it’s that they’ll become nichier and nichier. The new dominant species has arrived in the comics marketplace, and I’ll bet a lot of those X-MEN diehards are suddenly getting a taste of why homo sapiens had so much of a problem with homo superior.

    Not that there aren’t boobytraps everywhere. A constant bane of comics publishing, for all but the strongest publishers, has been distribution. Not just problems with the surviving comics market distributor Diamond, but with pretty much every distributor there has ever been. Like the several waves of catastrophes that threatened to exterminate the dinosaurs, distributor collapses have consistently wiped out undercurrents of comics publishing. Publishers who’ve gone to book distributors to bypass comics distributors have had other problems. When First Comics bought the Classics Illustrated name and distributed the line of “prestige format” comics through Berkeley Books in the early ’90s, they were forced to operate on book publishing terms instead of the comics market terms they were used to, facing returnables while overprinting on Berkeley’s orders. The first couple waves of CI sold fabulously, but as soon as Berkeley stopped actively promoting the books, sales plunged and First was stuck with a suicidal amount of returned product, destroying their initially fragile cashflow and pretty much ending the company. When TSR began their abortive comics line c. 1990, rather than risk DC’s wrath by marketing to the comics market (DC was then publishing DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS comics, and TSR didn’t want them to drop the license, which made no sense to me since TSR now had its own comics publishing division and could publish D&D comics themselves if the license reverted), they went with their standard distributor, Random House. Same result, only quicker.

    A couple years ago, Fantagraphics’ distributor to the bookstores, 7 Hills, went bust and left the company holding the bag for $70,000 (and many other publishers holding stuck for a lot more, since that distributor also strongly emphasized overpublishing – a recurring theme among distributors), forcing the company to take out loans now coming due – a situation which, combined with overpublishing for their new distributor, WW Norton & Co, has snowballed into the possible collapse of the company. Morons in the business who’ve held THE COMICS JOURNAL in contempt for years due to its unrelenting anti-“mainstream” hostility (hey, at least it’s got a point of view) are no doubt chortling over this turn of events, but it can’t be said that Gary Groth hasn’t put his money where his mouth is, and Fantagraphics has built up an extremely impressive catalog: the ultimate KRAZY KAT collection; works by great talents from R. Crumb to Gil Kane to the Hernandez Brothers to Barry Windsor-Smith; and the finest book about a single comics talent ever, Greg Sadowski’s B. KRIGSTEIN VOL. 1. (A collection of Krigstein’s extraordinary and all-but-unknown comics will be released later this year if the company makes it that far.) For the most part, Fantagraphics’ books are impeccably designed as well; they’re the model of the books the industry should be manufacturing. (If you’d like to help out Fantagraphics – and I hope you do – check out their fabulous catalog and order something; as I’ve said before, the B. KRIGSTEIN book is the best $50 you’ll ever spend on comics.)

    Most publishers seem to be trying to find a middle ground between the harsh demands of the book industry and the once relatively easy road of the comics industry. (Book publishers tend to be in awe of a system with no returnables.) Which is why Diamond has been an attractive distributor for them, but Diamond reportedly has faced a steep learning curve when it comes to bookstore sales, and it only shifts the burden of transition from a magazine economy to a book economy on Diamond’s shoulders, who inevitably will dump it back on the publishers. (Not implying anything on Diamond’s part: that’s just how these things work.)

    The upshot is the industry is now in drastic change mode, whether it wants to be or not, and whether anyone can figure out how to make it work or not. We better start putting real emphasis on that.

    So it was very entertaining to see my old pal Nick Barrucci waxing on such subjects at Newsarama (in company with another old pal of mine, Georgia comics shop owner Cliff Biggers). Nick’s a funny guy, vilified by many in the industry and in fandom because he capitalized well on the collector’s market (and took his share of bath’s on it too) and continues to periodically market comics on Home Shopping Network. (Or is it on QVC? I forget…) Me, I like Nick, but, face to face, I find it impossible to take him seriously. He’s actually one of the most earnest, straightforward guys I’ve ever met – but he’s blessed with a New Jersey accent that inevitably makes him sound like he’s trying to con you no matter what he says. Regardless, I’ve no doubt Nick’s in the business because, like many of us, he just loves comics. He makes some points you wouldn’t expect from the cashmongerer he’s supposed to be:

    1. To sell comics, we have to make good comics.
    2. Free Comic Book Day doesn’t work, because it preaches to the converted, and won’t work unless it has cooperation from every level of the business, not just retailers.
    3. Comics have to start advertising, and advertising smart and we’re blowing every promotional opportunity we have.
    4. The market didn’t collapse post-’93 because the speculation boom collapsed but because publishers didn’t produce comics good enough to hold readers.
    5. Nick’s setting up a fund to promote comics.
    6. Retailers can band together to demand better content in comics. (There’s a whole kettle of worms there, but that’s for another column.)
    7. Retailers need to form a national alliance to represent their interests and the interests of the comics industry.
    8. The comics industry needs to view itself with more respect, and act on that view.
    9. Comics need to encourage casual readers.
    10. Creators need to alternate “artistic” and “commercial” hits in order to build an audience. (Also fodder for another column.)
    11. Comics are not competing with DVDs, videogames or any other entertainment market. (Something I’ve argued in the past.)
    12. Promotional opportunities are everywhere.
    13. Comics don’t change because they’re afraid to change because they want their world to stay the same.
    14. The time to deal with the industry’s problems is now, and it’s time for all sectors of the industry to face up to them.

    I may quibble about some of Nick’s specifics, but there’s no doubt about the last one. We only have two choices: things can change with our help, or they can change without us. Which do you think will be more painful?

  • What’s the world coming to when summer TV’s better than the regular season?

    Summer came in with a bang, not the least because the drab third season of SIX FEET UNDER (HBO) is finally over, in a frenzy of melodrama that saw clan matron Ruth’s lightning marriage to a man she has barely known contrasted with Nate’s self-destructive guilt as he fears the worst has happened to his missing wife. (They tell us what happened but not how, and I fear season 4 will go into minute and tedious detail – unless, after the Rube Goldberg death that opened the episode – they couldn’t think of anything sufficiently impressive.) Key moment: Nate, beaten bloody after a bar fight, careening drunk down the road endlessly moaning “I don’t want to die!” as ghosts egg him on to almost certain doom. (If only this were the series ender.) It’s like something out of a Roger Corman film. The night was capped by the return of last year’s surprise triumph, THE WIRE (HBO, 10PM Sundays), in basically a set-up show with former homicide detective Jimmy McNulty busted down to harbor patrol, former squad leader Lt. Daniels commanding the evidence room (where evidence to last season’s big case has gone missing as surrogate drug lord Stringer Bell tastes some harsh truths about his business brought about by his boss Avon Barksdale’s light prison sentence) and Narcotics Det. Greggs working a desk to appease her lover. (Note to TV producers: enough with stories about lesbian couples trying to have a baby. Isn’t that what David Crosby’s for? Can’t anyone come up with a different lesbian storyline?) Too many story threads are tossed out in the first episode, but last season’s first episode was a real mess and look what came out of it, so I’m willing to cut THE WIRE a lot of slack. It does a decent job of illuminating the Baltimore milieu and setting the machinery in motion, with the usual focus on petty motives spurring great investigations, and there’s one great bit of McNulty’s slight revenge on the cops who exiled him. Look for him to be working murder scenes by next week, though.

    Even better was the return, finally, of AMAZING RACE (CBS, 8PM Thursday), now in its fourth generation, with twelve new teams of two (best friends, a gay couple who’s not telling anyone, a pair of virgins who’ve been dating for 12 years, a mismatched dating pair constantly bickering with each other, real clowns, NFL football wives, air traffic controllers, and others) solving clues and performing stunts as they race around the world, elimination threatening them each leg of the way, to cross the finish line first and win $1 million. A ridiculously simple and effective premise that provides great excitement, strategy lessons and unexpected laughs. (A team from Los Angeles gets lost trying to get out of Dodger Stadium, and last Thursday’s episode set a TV record for inadvertent pratfalls, I think.) As I’ve said before, I hate “reality” shows, but, man, there’s absolutely nothing more fun on TV than AMAZING RACE. If you’re not watching it, why not?

    Of course, tonight (last night for you) is the debut of KEEN EDDIE (9PM Tuesdays), Fox’s comedy adventure about an American cop in London that looks passably interesting on paper. Setting aside “reality” programming like AMERICAN JUNIORS (Fox, 8PM Tuesdays) (kids trying to act like adults; did we learn nothing from Jon Benet Ramsay?) and LAST COMIC STANDING (NBC, Tuesdays) (from the previews I’ve seen, the show is more of a joke than anything spewed by the so-far appallingly unfunny contestants), the networks seem to have decided it might be worth putting more than reruns on during the summer, but we’ll see if that holds. Among possibly interesting shows: THE STRIP (Spike TV – ne the National Network/Nashville Network and now on its third incarnation – ‘s cartoons-for-men block featuring new REN AND STIMPYs, something called GARY THE RAT, and the Stan Lee/Pam Anderson masterpiece STRIPPERELLA); the return of USA Network’s THE DEAD ZONE, starring Len Kaminski – I mean Anthony Michael Hall; RENO 911, Comedy Central’s parody of cop dramas; PEACEMAKERS, the USA Network’s “LITTLE CSI ON THE PRAIRIE” western; and, with the most potential for success and disaster, the Doug (GO, THE BOURNE IDENTITY) Liman/Mc(CHARLIE’S ANGELS, FASTLANE)G Fox soaper THE O.C.. At least I won’t be tempted to succumb to reruns of FRAZIER

  • The gummint may keep raising and lowering (or should I say browning and debrowning) the terrorist threat index, but it’s starting to look like the Iraq War is over (unless you count all those attacks on American soldiers, US soldiers shooting up Iraqi cops while the latter are trying to stop crimes, and our plans to forcibly disarm the country at the end of the month – sure, that doesn’t include small arms, but, as the NRA will tell you so it must be true, they go after any of your guns, it’s just a prelude to going after all of them – but at least America and England are controlling the Iraqi people’s oil so the war must be over) and the press’ honeymoon with the Hand Puppet’s administration with it. Shockingly, the New York Times has discovered (after English papers like The Guardian did all the work, but, then, the Times is no stranger to calling the work of other sources its own) the administration may have… gasp… lied to us!

    Of course, they could easily have done this during the US’ spurious presentation of its “evidence” (pretty much all of it forged or willfully misrepresented, and it was obvious at the time) to the UN, but that might’ve killed the war and kept the Iraqi people’s oil in the hands of an idiot savauge instead. It shouldn’t have been hard to figure out the administration was lying when it (after the fact) shifted its rationale for invading Iraq to rescuing the Iraqi people instead of rooting out those nasty Weapons Of Mass Destruction before the Vast International Family Of Terrorist Allies (henceforth known as VIFOTA) unleashed them on the USA like they did when Saddam Hussein crashed a plane through the World Trade Center. Wait, he wasn’t flying the plane, was he? No, that’s right, he just funded the terrorists because of his obsessive hatred of the USA and all it stands for. Except, wait, he didn’t do that either. In fact, all the information we have says he didn’t have anything to do with 9-11 and he and Osama bin Laden hate each other with an unfathomable passion, yet the White House spent months implying those connections and the New York Times must’ve known at the time the White House was lying, and they could have brought it up then. But they didn’t.

    The unfortunate poster girl of the new “they’re lying to us” revelation is Jessica Lynch, former poster girl for Marine Heroism In Iraq. Turns out most of the Jessica Lynch story is a fraud, something that was more or less obvious to anyone willing to sit down and put the pieces together at the time as well. (Needless to say, our nation’s “newspaper of record” didn’t bother figuring out what the record should actually be.) The more or less official story is that Jessica and her crew were ambushed by Iraqi soldiers, she went down shooting, and they broke her arms and legs and captured her, dragging her to a hospital where they most likely tortured the plucky soldier before Marines rescued her in a daring raid.

    Now it turns out a) Jessica’s injuries came when her jeep flipped over; b) she was unconscious the whole time and never had a chance to fire her gun; c) she was taken by Iraqi soldiers to the hospital where she was kept under guard but was apparently well treated, at least according to the Iraqi hospital staff who attended her; d) they had tried to give her back to American soldiers at least twice prior to the Marine raid but the ambulance she was being transported in was fired on by American soldiers and retreated both times; e) Iraqi soldiers had pulled completely out of the area well before the rescue raid; f) American soldiers were greeted at the door of the hospital and offered a master key, but refused it and smashed their way in instead.

    The last part’s really a picayune quibble. As we learned in Vietnam, hostile territory is still hostile territory even when the locals appear friendly, and the Marines would’ve been unconscionably lax had they not gone in as if they were entering a potential deathtrap. They can’t know there’s no threat until they make sure of it themselves. There’s also no reason to mythologize the whole thing and turn Jessica Lynch into a symbol, which she didn’t ask for and which now places her and her family in a very awkward situation. (Conveniently for our military’s propagandists, Jessica is “having trouble remembering” the traumatic event, and her family has announced they’re focusing on Jessica’s recovery and future, not past events.) Nothing I’ve heard suggests our soldiers did anything but what they were supposed to do. It’s the clowns in Washington who have things to answer for. (One report had a truly stupid and obvious lie of its own, that troops went in with blanks in their guns. Which would’ve rendered their guns useless for firing anything else, something that’s equally stupid in hostile territory, and, if that story turns out to be true whoever handed the soldiers those guns should be immediately court-martialed.)

    But we’ve been surrounded by Hand Puppet lies – on the economy, on tax cuts, on intended policies, on military actions, on who knew what when about any number of things from Enron to 9/11, on his own history – since the moment he started running for the Presidency, and no event should be allowed to overshadow that. (It’s only fair, after all. If lying is what really got Clinton in trouble – we know it wasn’t really about sex because the Republicans told us so – how come lying doesn’t get Rerun in trouble as well? At least Clinton’s lies didn’t get any servicemen killed. I saw one ex-soldier say on TV that the dead American soldiers in Iraq didn’t die for their country, they died for their government, and that’s exactly the situation.) If the New York Times is shocked that the government has been lying to us, it’s only because they haven’t been doing their job. Since it’s a long known part of the American experience that the government is as likely to lie to us as not, the only reason the Times wasn’t doing their job is that they chose not to. Which, unfortunately, is also a long known part of the American experience.

  • Somehow in all the chaos last week, I left out Todd VerBeek. Names mentioned in this article are not meant to represent real persons, living or dead, etc. etc., and, as last week, opinions expressed herein are not necessarily those of the management.

    The biggest “buzz” in the online comics community recently has been the opening of Marvel Comics’ “new” Epic imprint. The contracts are now on the Epic web pages, and Marvel is taking submissions from anyone who thinks they have what it takes to write, pencil, ink, color, or letter a comicbook. Most of these first-time submitters won’t have what it takes, and probably even fewer read legalese well enough to really understand what they’re signing away with the contracts.

    This article is an attempt to capture the key points of the legal documents involved in Marvel’s “Epic Comics” imprint, expressed in clear English. It covers the Idea Submission Form, Artwork Release Form, and the “Work Made For Hire” contract. I’d love to translate the Creator-Owned contract and the Packaging contract (which is referred to in the WMFH contract), but I haven’t seen those; I’ll put them on my web site when/if someone sends them to me.

    Although I’m inordinately proud to have scored better on the LSAT (163, 90th percentile) than most law school graduates (possibly including Bill Jemas?), I am not a lawyer and this is NOT a professional legal analysis. Law is just a dirty little hobby of mine. You should have someone who actually went to law school (and preferably passed the Bar exam) review any contracts and advise you before signing them. They would know, for example, whether any of these terms are legally questionable, and they might catch legal implications that I’ve missed. Corrections and clarifications from those better qualified or better informed than I are welcome. I’m just trying to shed some light on these contracts (with my own opinions, which I think are worthwhile), so you know what to ask your lawyer about.

    Idea Submission Form

    OVERVIEW: This is essentially a “release” form for the writer to sign before submitting his proposal to Marvel for consideration. They need this to protect themselves from frivolous lawsuits over the material you’re sending them.

    1. You’re not the only person thinking up this kind of stuff. Marvel is in the business of coming up with ideas for comics and it’s entirely possible that they’ve already come up with something similar to what you’re proposing, or they might get something similar in the future.

    2. If so, you’re not entitled to any payment for it, because it isn’t your proposal they’re using.

    3. They’re not sending your stuff back to you. Always send copies, never originals.

    4. Don’t expect anything more than a “yes” or a “no”. If you haven’t heard anything yet, it’s possible your rejection letter got lost in the mail, but they probably just haven’t gotten to it yet. If they say “no”, they probably won’t say why. If they say “yes”… well, who cares why? {smile}

    5. You can’t submit anything that’s owned (even just a part) by someone else. It has to be composed entirely of Marvel’s property (stuff from the Marvel U), your own property (an original story and/or characters), and/or public property (such as Tom Sawyer or King Arthur).

    6. Give your real name. Maybe they’ll let you publish under a pen-name, but they still need to know who you really are. And if word were to come out that Epic’s new gay porn series XXX-Men was being written by you, Donald Wildmon, and illustrated by your buddy Gary Glenn, that would be the American Fascist Association’s problem, not Marvel’s. If it were true, that is.

    (sample dialog: “So that’s why they call you Nightcrawler/Colossus/Longshot/Cyclops!” “Oh, Logan, you are the best there is at what you do!” “So, Xavier, are you bald all over?”)

    7. Marvel lives in the U.S. of A. and you’re limited to the rights that local trademark and copyright laws give you.

    8. Don’t even try calling or pitching to Marvel in person at a con.

    9. This stuff is way too simple to be worth a trial. If there’s a problem, it’s going straight to arbitration*, and Marvel’s too busy to leave the Big Apple, so it’ll be someone in NYC. Confidential arbitration is an option. In any case, you’re not getting more than $5000, and if you wait more than 6 months to complain, forget about it.

    * Arbitration is a bit like going to “Judge Judy” but without the theatrics: You tell your side, Marvel tells their side, and the arbitrator decides what to do about it.

    10. If your proposal is a superheroic take on “Romeo and Juliet”, Marvel can do another superheroic take on “Romeo and Juliet” without owing you anything. They have as much right to do Shakespeare as you do.

    CONCLUDING THOUGHTS:

    While it’s conceivable that Marvel is going “steal your idea”, that sort of thing is very unlikely, and 99% of such lawsuits are jokes that just waste everyone’s time. So I can’t blame Marvel for requiring you to sign this document, and you’re really not giving up anything by doing so, except the right to make a doofus of yourself by joining that 99%. Ideas are cheap, and even if Marvel did “steal your idea”, unless they also stole your plot or your dialog or your characters, they didn’t steal anything you really owned; you can’t copyright a mere idea.


    Artwork Release Form

    OVERVIEW: This is a “release” form for the artist to sign before submitting your work to Marvel for consideration. They need this to protect themselves from frivolous lawsuits over the material you’re sending them.

    a. They’re not sending your stuff back to you. Always send copies, never originals.

    b. They’ll let you know if they like it. Don’t call.

    c. This gives them permission to “publish” your samples for writers to look over. Without this clause, they wouldn’t be allowed to do this, because you still own the art!

    d. You’re giving Marvel the right to use your name and give out your contact info along with the samples, but not for anything else. A no-brainer clause for you, but if you were, say, Norman Rockwell or Bill Gates or anyone else with a professional reputation or privacy to protect, you might not want to agree to this.

    e. You can’t submit anything that’s not yours, including art you’ve done but already sold the rights to. If there’s a problem with any this, it’s your fault.

    f. You still own the art! That’s the cool thing about being an artist instead of a writer: you get to keep something when you do Work Made For Hire. (Of course, if you do art for a WMFH series that Marvel buys, you’ll only own the pieces of paper with marks on them; Marvel will own all the rights to use the images.)

    CONCLUDING THOUGHTS:

    This document is purely a formality, and I can’t think of any reason not to sign it. You’re not giving up any significant rights at all, and it’s a potentially great opportunity. But between you and me, don’t get your hopes up. Even if Marvel approves your work, you’re still at the mercy of those fanboy writers to pick you, and this is going to hurt just as much as being picked last in gym class. And then even if you get picked, the story might suck, and the series might get cancelled faster than you can say “Meanwhile…” And god help you if you wind up working for a writer who tries to cheat you out of your cut or is otherwise “unprofessional”; Marvel isn’t going to play “mommy” and step in to settle fights between the kids.

    Work Made For Hire contract

    OVERVIEW: This contract is signed by “you”, the writer making the proposal, and is signed by Marvel when/if they accept that proposal. At that point, it goes into effect. It establishes the terms under which you and your team will do this work for Marvel.

    1. You have to actually do the work. It has to be good enough for publication and it has to be done on time. Marvel can fire you or you can quit for any stupid reason, but if so, either one of you has to give the other a month’s notice. So if you’re doing a monthly, that effectively means you have to finish the issue you’re working on, even after they’ve fired you or after you tell them “I quit.” (If they fire you – or you quit – for a “good” reason – like paragraph 7 – the 30-day-notice may not apply.)

    2.a. Whatever you create for Marvel becomes their property.

    2.b. This paragraph tries to establish that whatever you create for Marvel never was your property, because you created it as “work made for hire” (aka WFH). Exhibit A spells this concept out more explicitly. Legally, they could even deny that you had anything to do with it (the “moral rights” bit). In case this paragraph doesn’t stand up in court, Marvel will still enforce the previous paragraph instead, which is the next best thing for them. There’s an exception for material you create on your own and then try to sell as a finished product to Marvel, but for a proposal like this, once Marvel tells you “yeah, go ahead and create that book for us” and the check clears, whatever you create for it is – and always has been, and always will be – theirs.

    2.c. A “natural person” is any individual, regardless of whether you’re a clone, android, temporal anomaly, spawn of the devil, etc. The alternative is that you’re a legal entity, such as a partnership or corporation (which our legal system treats as if it were a person, with civil rights and so on). If you’re creating something for Marvel, and doing it collectively as a studio or whatever, you have to apply the terms from the previous two paragraphs to your employees and subcontractors. So you can’t try to trick Marvel out of ownership by putting a disposable shell company between the actual creators and the publisher. Exhibit A appears to be one of Marvel’s standard tools for accomplishing this.

    2.d. Once Marvel buys it, you can’t take any part of this book and re-use it elsewhere. If they had rejected your Squadron Supreme story, you could rework it into a JLA story and sell it to DC, or publish it yourself with your own JLA knock-offs. But they bought it, so you can’t. This includes any new characters you introduced. It especially includes any existing Marvel characters or other bits of MU continuity you included. If Marvel pays you for it, but then decides not to publish it… well, you got the Fortune – but not the Fame – for your brilliant story. Tough.

    2.e. Since Marvel owns it, they can do what they want with it. That doesn’t mean they will make changes, but it means they can. You have no say about whether it gets used for a movie or game or novel or Underoos, or what happens with it if it does, because it’s not yours.

    2.f. And don’t expect to get paid for any other use of your material, either. (See paragraph 4.a for more about this.) In case this hasn’t sunk in yet: It’s Marvel’s property.

    2.g. You’re giving Marvel the right to use your name and maybe some basic info about you to promote this book, but not for anything else. A no-brainer clause for you, but if you were, say, King Fahd of Saudia Arabia or AOL/TW CEO Richard Parsons or anyone with a professional reputation to uphold, you might not want to agree to this. Practically speaking, this means putting your name on the cover, in the inside credits, and in the solicitation, and maybe a press release to the comics news sites, explaining that you’re a 40-year-old comics-and-collectibles-shop owner in Cornfield, Nebraska. If you’re a 19-year-old hottie they might include a photo to get the fanboys’ attention.

    3. For the record: You have to get your work to Epic; they aren’t going to come get it.

    4.a. Marvel will pay you $500 for all of this. They’ll also pay you the amount is stated in another contract, which will presumably spell out the per-issue payment, and the bonuses based on sales. But that ain’t in writing here. (It is, however, described in a chart included on my web site.) They’ve also talked vaguely about some kind of bonus for anything that gets licensed to other media, and that would have to be in that other contract as well; if it’s not, you’re not getting it. (And understand in any case that if your Dr. Obscure revival inspires someone in Hollywood to make a movie about him, it’s still just Marvel’s character they’re licensing, not “your” story; they’ll write their own screenplay, thanks. You won’t get any screen credit, and probably not a cent, even if some of your ideas show up on screen. Just ask Frank Miller or Chris Claremont.)

    4.b. Marvel can register their legal ownership of what you create, and you’re going to help them.

    4.c. The only possible exception are new characters, which are defined and covered by a Marvel policy. If you used any of your own characters that you care about, don’t make any assumptions about what that policy says; read it before you sign this document. Also, see my comments about paragraph 13.a.

    4.d. Marvel will pay you directly. If you ask to have the money paid to someone else, you’re still bound by the contract, so you can’t weasel out of it with that trick either.

    5. You can’t give Marvel anything that’s owned (even just a part) by someone else. It has to be composed entirely of Marvel’s property (stuff from the Marvel U), your own property (an original story and/or characters), and/or public property (such as Tom Sawyer or King Arthur). So if there’s a problem with the legal rights to the content down the road, it’s your fault.

    6. Standard butt-covering clause. This is where Marvel denies any liability for anything else that goes wrong because of you. It’s your fault. Got it?

    7. You might learn stuff about Marvel that they don’t want people to know, such as Bill Jemas’ cell-phone number, their plans to reveal that Ultimate Spidey is a mutant clone of Aunt May, an impending purchase by Tokyopop, or the fact that their letterers are locked in a closet and have to work with quill pens and the blood of any fanboys who show up wanting to see “the bullpen”. Leaking this info can get you fired and even sued for breach of contract. You have to keep your mouth shut even after you stop working for them, taking the sad plight of those letterers to your grave. (No one would care about the blood-drained fanboys.)

    8. You’ll do whatever Marvel requires you to do to keep your… I mean Marvel’s legal property from falling into the hands of other people. Including yours.

    9. If you have anything important to say to Marvel about your professional relationship (such as “I quit” or “I’m going to sue you for all you’re worth”), say it to the right people. They promise to do the same for you.

    10. Marvel can sell you (at least the part of you that you’ve signed away with this contract) and your work to someone else. So if Archie Comics wants to publish your Punisher mini, and Marvel agrees, you’re writing for Archie now. (Hey, don’t laugh. They did an actual Archie/Punisher crossover several years ago.)

    11. “We may be sleeping together, but we’re not married. So don’t try to sign any contracts on our behalf, and don’t even think about asking for the house when we split up.”

    12. You may be doing work-made-for-hire, but that doesn’t make you a legal employee. You’re self-employed, and personally responsible for everything that an actual employer would take care of, like benefits or taxes.

    13.a. This contract is binding. Nothing else Marvel has promised (or that you’ve promised them) matters because it’s not included here. The per-issue compensation and possible bonuses in that other contract mentioned in paragraph 4.a are the only exception. Note: They didn’t allow here for the “new character policy” mentioned in paragraph 4.c. I’m guessing that this is because it’s a policy (subject to change at Marvel’s discretion) and not a contractual agreement. So don’t expect to get any actual legal rights from it.

    13.b. You and Marvel both need to sign a new contract to change any of this.

    13.c. A standard “bathwater” provision to prevent any specific problem with this contract from wrecking the whole thing. If the Supreme Court says Marvel can’t do what they wrote in the second half of the third sentence of paragraph 16.q the rest of 16.q still stands, along with the rest of the contract.

    13.d. When Sony buys Marvel, you’ll be working for them. When you die from joy at seeing your by-line in a Marvel comic, your spouse and kids (who are we kidding? make that “your parents”) will be entitled to… well, whatever this contract entitles you to.

    14. Marvel lives in the Big Apple and they’re not about to come out to Cornfield, Nebraska for a trial. Besides, they know how the New York courts will interpret the law and they’d rather take their chances with that, instead of letting some yahoo in California or Red China or Andorra apply their kooky local laws to it.

    Exhibit A: This document appears to be what you’d use if Marvel buys your proposal and you need to assemble your “team” to produce the goods. Because you (the writer who proposed it) are the one Marvel is paying, you’re responsible for getting the artists working for you to agree that this is “work made for hire” like in paragraph 2.b, and you all agree not to challenge that. In fact, it says that if anyone involved did have any problem with that, they wouldn’t even be working on this project… which, between you and me, is an important point for you to consider. This section uses the same kind of terminology you’d use for cut-to-order lumber or custom auto parts, to reinforce the notion that you’re not really creating anything; you’re supplying mere components under Marvel’s supervision, for their editorial staff to use to create a copyright-worthy work of literature/art.

    Exhibit B: If you want your checks mailed directly to your silver-haired mother back in Smallville, they need it in writing. Use this form.

    CONCLUDING THOUGHTS:

    Most of this contract is about limiting your rights, with a lot less language dedicated to limiting Marvel’s. This is because Marvel wrote it, and they figure you need them more than they need you; there are more writers out there than there are publishers with rights to the Marvel Universe. It does give you some specific rights, which are good to know. Go through each item and ask yourself if this is something you’re willing to give up. If you get to the end and the answer is still “yes”, then send in your pitch. And if the terms of the contract mentioned in paragraph 4.a turn out to be acceptable, then go for it!

    If you can’t agree to the WFH contract, you might consider instead pitching the story (without Marvel characters or MU elements) to Epic as a creator-owned proposal. (The creator-owned contract is only sent to people who submit non-Marvel-Universe proposals, so I can’t tell you anything about its terms. I can’t tell you anything about the contract mentioned in paragraph 4.a, either. I’d love to see these when/if someone gets them.) Or take the story (again, without Marvel elements) elsewhere. I’ve never seen the WFH contracts Marvel gives to creators working for Marvel proper (i.e. not Epic), but I doubt they’re substantially different, so I wouldn’t bother trying to pitch to those editors for better terms. DC’s WFH contracts are probably about the same. That’s the price of getting to play with someone else’s toys. In any case, if you still have your heart set on using Marvel’s characters, and think you have real talent, you’re probably better off “breaking in” the traditional way, by getting your work in print through other routes (such as self-publishing with your own characters) and negotiating a deal with Marvel from that position, which might give you a little better leverage. Or not.


    Closing Thoughts About Epic

    So far, Epic has been scoffed at and gushed over at great length. Whatever else, it’s attracting attention in this insular world of comics fandom. And rightly so, because it has the potential to have a big impact on the comics-producing industry. What remains to be seen is whether that impact will be positive or negative. Or even measurable.

    I see three possible outcomes of this experiment:

    1) Epic launches with decent (non-returnable) sales – or without – and quickly sputters to death, like so many new publishing initiatives before it. The 70-year history of comicbook publishing has been an exercise in throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks, and Epic could join the misfires on the floor. This is the most likely scenario. If this happens, the main impact will probably lie with the legions of disappointed fanboys seeing their Big Chance at being called up to The Show disintegrate. Hard to say how many of them will quit buying comics (especially Marvel comics) in disgust, much like the fan/speculators who quit buying comics altogether when they finally figured out that their collections weren’t actually worth anything and never would be. Impact: Either none, or damage to Marvel’s foundation, undermining the direct market, possibly undermining the whole industry. Those of an anarchist/indie bent might see this as the revolution they’ve been hoping for.

    2) Epic launches with respectable sales, and despite a higher junk-to-gem ratio than most imprints, manages to find its own audience. For this to happen, it’ll need to find a public identity, a theme that explains to buyers what it is. I don’t think Marvel has one, which means it’ll have to evolve, by the “see what sticks” method.

    As Marvel execs keep telling us (about creator ownership) readers don’t care how the book is produced, only about the book itself, and they’re probably right. So Epic’s current defining trait (fan-produced) isn’t going to work for this. The original Epic’s theme to readers was mostly “non-Marvel-U stories”, but Marvel clearly doesn’t want that for this version. (Personally, I think that shows stuck-in-a-rut timidity on their part. They’re the only multi-title publisher trapped in their own little universe.) Other imprints’ themes (like Vertigo or Max) aren’t about setting, but about audience: “mature readers”. That’s not where Epic is headed either.

    One possibility is genre. Although Marvel is clearly asking for stories set in their superhero universe, they seem interested in stories that break from the current superhero standards and those that introduce new (licensable) characters into the Marvel U. If enough proposals of that sort come in, get published, and sell well, Epic could gravitate toward that theme. The Marvel U could expand to include more than just superheroes and a few western characters, and Epic would publish their stories. Impact: Probably good for Marvel and good for the industry, which could take advantage of the broader audience this would foster.

    Another possibility is style. The inevitable volume of fanboy fantasy stories, with lots of kewl fights, wacky team-ups, etc. could dominate – and find a market – and Epic would come to be known as the place for stereotypically adolescent superhero fare, leaving Marvel proper for the grown-ups who’ve been reading X-Men since the Claremont/Byrne or Lee/Kirby days. That doesn’t seem to be what Jemas is asking for, but if it works, I doubt he’ll mind. Impact: Possibly good for Marvel, little impact on the industry.

    3) Epic is a huge success, increasing Marvel’s market share (i.e. taking over more shelf space), boosting its profit margins with cheaper-to-produce books, and forcing the rest of the industry to take notice. DC would come under pressure (perhaps even from higher up) to change its overall submission policies (currently “don’t call us, we’ll call you”) or set up a similar program to compete. Impact: Like the first possible outcome I cited, this could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your point of view. Either way, it’d be big. It too could instigate the collapse of the comics industry as we know it.

    Of course the most likely outcome is the one I haven’t foreseen. There are no advance solicitations to tell us what’s going to happen, so all we can do is guess and speculate like fanboys, and wait and see what happens, month by month as the drama unfolds.

    Todd also wrote some speculation on as yet unseen Epic contracts that can also be found on his website. Also, Scott Slemmons wrote a response to Michael Medved (and divers hands)’s anti-Marvel screed on Captain America in The New Republic but hasn’t been able to get it into Medved’s hands. (I’d suggest mailing a copy to the magazine, Scott.) But you can read it online, even if Medved’s not likely to.

  • Future Comics are getting better, but it’s unclear whether they’ll get good enough to survive. It’s been a long time since I read superhero comics I wanted to like as much, though. METALLIX #5 ($3.50) unfortunately cheats on last issue’s intriguing cliffhanger; I was waiting to see how “comics’ first tag-team superhero” would use their failing suit to escape the harsh Antarctic climate, but David Michelinie & Bob Layton’s story annoyingly circumvents the script. The rest of the issue’s entertaining enough, but the need for action defocuses the book this time out. We’ve got the concept down, and, yeah, the suit’s amazing, but it’s really time to flesh out the characters, something they seem threatening to do next issue. FREEMIND #5 ($3.50) is pretty much all character, except for a tiny bit that solidifies The Future Universe as android hero Edison Wilde takes a brief vacation in (an unfortunately cliched) Las Vegas (but I’m getting oversensitive about that) and runs into an old college friend and the limitations of being a superman. DEATHMASK #1 ($2.99) introduces the Indian shaman hero (along with, unfortunately, yet another Future criminal organization), but doesn’t go nearly far enough in telling us who he is, why he’s wearing the clothes he’s wearing, and particularly why he should matter to us, aside from being the title character. And that’s really the problem with Future’s comics. They’re so… relaxed. I know they’re specifically “recapturing” ’80s pacing and density, but it’s not doing them any favors. Future’s comics are likable, but I’m not sure they’re likable enough to survive in today’s harsh climate – and that there’s no way to circumvent rather than face.

    Who created Johnny Dynamite? I don’t know. Max Allen Collins doesn’t say in his introduction to JOHNNY DYNAMITE: UNDERWORLD ($12.95), the collection of the Collins-Terry Beatty Dark Horse mini-series by AiT/PlanetLar Books, and all we really know is the character was a Mickey Spillane knockoff that Pat Morisi usually drew. At any rate, Collins (of ROAD TO PERDITION fame) and Beatty keep the ’50s milieu and the staccato Spillanesque patter (and spatter) but jump the hero from crime to horror, as Dynamite goes to… urgh… Las Vegas to face a Satan-created zombie mobster. It’s nowhere near as goofy as it sounds, and if Collins’ script nicely invokes Mickey Spillane, Beatty’s artwork is pleasantly reminiscent of Johnny Craig’s suspense/horror work. The ending’s a little too EC-by-way-of-TREASURE CHEST for my tastes, but, overall, a good read.

    Collins also writes IDW‘s CSI ($3.99@), which threw me a curveball; I didn’t realize until recently that #2-4 were separate issues and not alternate covers for #1. (Sometimes even I miss the obvious.) In imitation of the TV show, the CSI team tracks a Jack The Ripper wannabe through… arrr… Las Vegas against the backdrop of a Jack The Ripper fan convention while facing down deadlines and false leads. Gabriel Rodriguez’s art is sometimes a bit shaky, but overall the book’s well done and Collins manages a dead-on capture of the show’s voice, characters and rhythms. Anyone who likes the show should get a kick out of the comic, and with CSI the #1 show on TV, who’s responsible for this not being the #1 comic in America? Someone’s missing the boat here…

    In the last bunch of reviews I did, I raved up Alan Moore’s Superman pastiche on SUPREME, so now I get to come off as a hypocrite for not liking Claypool ComicsELVIRA #122-123, an “homage” to the Mort Weisinger Superman books that basically consists of shoehorning as many comics clichés – various origins, a machine that sees the future, the bloody Superman Revenge Squad – into 44 pages. Unlike SUPREME, though, there’s not a lot of imagination or wit involved; the punchlines seem to depend on deep familiarity with the source material. Which may be the core ELVIRA audience, for all I know; the book got to #123 somehow. Frank Strom’s writing’s not bad, and the Todd Smith/Terry Austin art is fun, but it seems like so much effort for so little payoff (the ending’s completely obvious from pg. 2 on, and I’d never read the book before and didn’t know the other characters).

    Being crazy, former Wildstorm editor-turned-writer John Layman is apparently going the insane route with PUFFED, a series drawn by Dave Crosland about a guy who works in a “magical creatures” theme park and gets stuck dressing up as Puff The Magic Dragon. Crossed by a park rival, he finds himself dumped in the costume in the middle of the inner city, and something resembling a magical voyage of discovery (by way of Charles Bukowski) ensues. The first thing he discovers is that he has to go to the bathroom and can’t get the suit off. It’s a strange little series, very amusing. You have to think Wildstorm really didn’t know what they were losing when John left, but, I dunno, 39 pages in, maybe they did. He’s crazy. From Image Comics in July ($2.95@); look for it. Nice Frank Quitely cover, too.

    I don’t recall my reaction to Brian Kirstin, Ray Dillon and James Taylor’s TOUCH OF DEATH but I’m ambivalent about #1 ($2.50). The artwork’s nice if uneven (some places it’s just awkward, some places it borders on Severinesque) and the actual dialogue’s pretty good, somewhat more complex than I usually see from newcomers, but the story is all over the place, and there’s just not enough of it. Only 13 pages are new; the rest of the book reprints the #0 preview, and the two parts don’t appear to connect at all. I can’t say it’s an interesting idea; I have no idea what the idea behind TOUCH OF DEATH is. I wouldn’t call the book bad, but it needed more thinking out and more fleshing out.

    Despite its popularity, YU-GI-OH is about my least favorite cartoon (yeah, yeah, I know, it’s not a cartoon, it’s an anime) on TV today; I just want to throttle that kid when I see him. So the manga in SHONEN JUMP came as a surprise, being considerably different from the show, with far more interesting characterization and art reminiscent of latter day Will Eisner. Now Viz has issued the first volume of YU-GI-OH ($7.95) in trade paperback to hungry market, and the material holds up. Beyond the repetition of the first couple episodes, it actually reads better in collected form. Skip the show and read the book.

    There are few retailers as cantankerous as Brian Hibbs, a man who buys old comics by the pound and actually sues publishers, and I doubt there’s any reading for the retailer as essential as Hibbs’ TILTING AT WINDMILLS (IDW; $19.95), a thick volume collecting his online columns on comics marketing, retailing and culture. Hibbs’ writing is a strange mélange of common sense practicality and hippie venom – DC publisher Paul Levitz spends most of the introduction saying how much he disagrees with Hibbs – but he backs up most of his thinking with solid reasoning and entertaining anecdotes. Add TILTING WITH WINDMILLS to Warren Ellis’ COME IN ALONE and Larry Young’s TRUE FACTS as essential texts on the workings on the comics industry present, past and, hopefully, future.

  • A couple notes: Classy Freddy Blassie died this last Monday, a sad day for wrestling fans. By sharpening his teeth to points and chewing glass, as well as being a very entertaining wrestler in the ring, Blassie not only became a worldwide wrestling star (he was monstrously popular in Japan) but also a cultural icon due to things like appearances on THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW (which spiked the show’s ratings to their highest ever) and his lengthy association with Andy Kaufman, including Kaufman’s cult film MY BREAKFAST WITH BLASSIE. I saw Blassie once, when he was filming the video for his single “Pencil Neck Geek” at Rhino Records in Los Angeles, c. 1978. There aren’t many people I’d call an icon, but he was something else. He was 85.

    The fourth issue of WRITE NOW! ($5.95), the magazine for comics and animation writers, is out right now, with interviews (Howard Chaykin, Paul Dini, Denny O’Neil, Kurt Busiek and Fabien Nicenza), articles on transliterating a script to comics art, writing live action for TV, writing for comics, storytelling, dealing with rejection, an Chaykin AMERICAN FLAGG! cover, and a couple pieces from me, including how to sell your comic to Hollywood, and a segment from the NEXT YEAR IN TOLUCA LAKE strip that appeared here awhile back. Don’t miss out.

    I want to remind everyone that the final part of Adi Tantimedh and Gavin Showman’s Elseworlds graphic novel AGE OF WONDER, a steampunk reimagining of the Justice League, came out from DC last week, and issue two of Jon Vankin and Giuseppe Camuncoli’s VERTIGO POP: BANGKOK arrives in stores today. Seek them both out. (There isn’t much advantage to having me for a friend, but there’s this.) Over in my little corner of the industry, the FRANK MILLER’S ROBOCOP project for Avatar Press is going great guns – and wait until you see Frank’s psycho covers for the series – but I made the mistake of taping ROBOCOP 2 off the Encore Action channel and watching it for the first time in 15 years. No wonder I didn’t remember it; I blotted it out. Let me say categorically that the actual movie was made from some recombinant version of Frank’s screenplay run through a Cuisinart and a strainer, like those 10% juice drinks that try to claim they have real fruit in them. The comic is absolutely nothing like the movie.

    Also, the full color Cyberosia trade paperback reissue of the DAMNED crime comic I did with Mike Zeck, Denis Rodier and Kurt Goldzung now has an order code: JUN03 2224. I plan to start doing heavy online promotion for the project next week, so if you’re a press outlet and you want to talk to me about it, get in touch.

    San Diego’s coming up. I’m skipping my traditional notes on how to break into the business this year – too many other things to do – but the old columns on the subject remain online here at Comic Book Resources in both the Permanent Damage and Master Of The Obvious sections. (Speaking of MASTER OF THE OBVIOUS, plans remain for the collection to arrive from AiT/PlanetLar Books later this year.) If you want to see me at San Diego, this year I only plan to be there Friday afternoon and all day Saturday, so bear that in mind. I’ll give more specific locations as they’re set up.

    Those wishing to comment should leave messages on the Permanent Damage Message Board. You can also e-mail me but the chances of a reply are next to nil these days, given my workload, though I do read all my e-mail as long as it’s not trying to sell me something. IMPORTANT: Because a lot of people apparently list it in their e-address books, this account has gotten a slew of virus-laden messages lately. They’re no real threat but dealing with them eats up time I don’t really have, to the extent I can no longer accept unsolicited e-mail with attachments. If you want to send something via attachment (say, art samples) ask me first. If I say okay, then send. Unsolicited e-mail with attachments will be wiped from the server without being read. You can also leave messages for me and have discussions on other topics at my Delphi forum, GRAPHIC VIOLENCE. Please don’t ask me how to break into the business, or who to submit work to. The answers to those questions are too mercurial for even me to keep up with.

    Those wanting to subscribe to the WHISPER e-mail newsletter should click here.

    I’m reviewing comics sent to me – I may not like them but certainly I’ll mention them – at Steven Grant c/o Permanent Damage, 2657 Windmill Pkwy #194, Henderson NV 89074, so send ’em if you want ’em mentioned, since I can’t review them unless I see them. Some people have been sending press releases and cover proofs and things like that, which I enjoy getting, but I really can’t do anything with them, sorry. Full comics only, though they can be photocopies rather than the published version. Make sure you include contact information for readers who want to order your book.

    My old personal webpage – the one with all the information – has finally vanished, and it’s about time, since I left that server almost a year ago. The new one isn’t up yet, but keep watching this space for details.

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