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The Middle Ground #108 | Something in the air tonight

by  in Comic News Comment
The Middle Ground #108 | Something in the air tonight

It’s one of those weeks when you see things that are connected, and feel the pull of something larger behind all of them, just waiting to happen. You might not know what that “something larger” is, necessarily, but you know it’s there, and that’s somehow enough to make you simultaneously impatient for it; both nervous of and oddly exhilarated by whatever will come afterward.

The connected things in question, this time around, are Paolo Rivera‘s announcement that he won’t be renewing his exclusive contract with Marvel, Mat Johnson explaining that he won’t be working with Vertigo for the foreseeable future (found via the inimitable David Brothers), and the rumored changes to DC’s exclusive-creator contract that would limit said creators to pursuing creator-owned books through the Vertigo imprint as opposed to shopping them around other publishers. The Rivera and Johnson stories echo each other strongly; the latter says that the reason he doesn’t have anymore Vertigo projects planned is because “I’d kind of like to own my own stuff going forward,” while the former explains the reasoning behind his choice as one of ownership. “With the exception of just a few published pieces of art (which belong to other companies), Marvel owns the copyrights to my entire professional portfolio,” he wrote on his blog, adding, “why shouldn’t they? I was, of course, compensated fairly for it, and for that I’m grateful – but the sum total of that work is not enough to support me in the distant future. My page rate is essentially the same as when I started at 21, so I’ve decided to invest in myself.”

Whether it’s been Before Watchmen, the Avengers movie, the success of Saga and The Walking Dead (the fact that #100 is being estimated to be the top-selling book of the year, in a year when both Marvel and DC are desperately trying to outdo each other, makes me happy to an extent it’s difficult to describe and hard to explain the reasons for, I shamefacedly admit) or the tragic, truly heartbreaking news of the death of Robert L. Washington III, 2012 has been the year of … what? Creator rights? Not exactly, but perhaps people actually really thinking about creator rights and talking about it seriously again for the first time in … a decade? Longer?

Rivera and Johnson aren’t necessarily trailblazing in their decisions – I feel that they’re following in the footsteps of a great many creators, including just recently Chris Roberson (whose Monkeybrain teasers suggest his next step in this area is imminent) and Roger Langridge, but also Mark Waid and Greg Rucka, who moved in part online with creator-owned work in the last year or so, Mark Millar, who’s renounced Marvel and DC for his uber-successful Millarworld, or many others — but there’s something about the fact that both Johnson and Rivera explicitly stated the need to own their work as the reason behind their decision that feels important, for reasons that I can’t quite verbalize.

And in the middle of this, DC reportedly tightens its belt with regards to how it deals with such issues. It’s not that Vertigo isn’t home to all manner of good books right now (the last few months have seen the release of both Gone to Amerikay and Shooters, two really great graphic novels that are worth checking out and haven’t received nearly as much attention as they should have), but just the idea that it’ll push exclusive creators into true exclusivity seems like a bad idea, in terms of making itself an attractive destination for creators considering signing on that particular bottom line. That feels like a further step in the secondary story of the year, in comics, one that’s parallel to the creator rights issue: The big two making decisions that may strengthen them in the short term, but are so out-of-step with the wider issues that they’ll end up being problematic/downright toxic long term.

I feel as if there’s something just over the horizon to tie this all together, or take it to the mythical “next level” (quite what that would be, I have no idea). But everything feels anticipatory right now, like everyone’s holding their breath and wondering what happens next.