Only an idiot would think so now.
For those who've been in a cave since Sunday, Micah Wright (writer of the recently cancelled STORMWATCH:TEAM ACHILLES and various other works, including a book of anti-war posters, YOU BACK THE ATTACK! WE'LL BOMB WHO WE WANT!, based on WWII recruiting/war effort posters) abruptly revealed (apparently just in advance of a WASHINGTON POST exposé) that he was never a U.S. Army Ranger and never, among other things, took part in the Panama invasion, despite it being his gimmick for the last several years that he was. A pretty sexy story, particularly in our little neck of the woods, where Thor guest-starring in DAREDEVIL is usually considered the stuff of racing heartbeats. Certainly it's bad for Micah, who predicated at least his poster book career on a bogus reputation of "military man who's against war." Read Micah's various rationalizations for his Big Lie if you want to.
A stupid thing to do? Oh, yeah.
I just can't get worked up about it.
Yeah, moral outrage and all that. I know. If Micah loses his book contracts or other work over this, I can't get that worked up about that either. That's between him and his publishers. It wouldn't be unfair, it's not like Micah's a victim in all this. It was his idea, for whatever reason, to lie on his resumé. That's one of those things that supposedly "everybody" does (though it's usually called "embellishing") and firing isn't unlikely when "they" get exposed too. Just the way it works. In Micah's case, it might be wasteful – he's a decent writer – but not unfair.
It's just nothing of real consequence to anyone besides Micah.
I've read that this derails the whole antiwar movement. Yeah, sure. Whatever helps you sleep at night. Particularly in a week where footage of American soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners is on TVs all over the world. To say Micah's lie invalidates anyone against the Iraq occupation is about the equivalent of saying the handful of soldiers caught torturing prisoners makes all American soldiers in Iraq vicious monsters, and I doubt anyone really believes that. (Though some interesting things came out about that today, including a "defense" by their commanding general – who applauded the success of such techniques – that they were working under orders from the CIA, who wanted the prisoners "softened up" before interrogation. This is, and if it's unexpected it's because people refuse to learn from history, shall we say highly reminiscent of the relationship between the CIA and the military in Vietnam, which provided most of the atrocities there that turned the previously very supportive American public against that war... though in the face of Iraq I've noticed the right wing trying to resurrect the myth that we lost in Vietnam because the "politicians" wouldn't let "us" win...)
Why doesn't Micah's lie bother me? For one thing, he's a fiction writer by trade. He's got no particular power to affect the world. His "propaganda" posters may have been either amusing or infuriating, but if they've changed one single opinion about the war or American politics, I've yet to hear about it. In the broad scheme of things, his history and reputation are pretty irrelevant. It doesn't bother me because I never cared whether Micah was a Ranger or not. Is his STORMWATCH: TEAM ACHILLES run made even marginally better or worse by his not having really been a Ranger? His lie doesn't affect the fact of his work at all, and that fact is the same as it is for all of us: the author can say anything he wants, but the fiction lives or dies on its own merits.
It doesn't bother me because I hear so many lies and rationalizations every day from people who are in a position to affect other people's lives and deaths, like a president who claims to have "served" when he didn't bother showing up for the last 18 months of his two-year National Guard service, or a vice president who claims not to be getting paid by his "former" corporation when they're socking his salary away in an escrow account until he leaves office, and that's not even scratching the merest epidermis of the surface, that I just haven't got any more moral outrage to waste. Got no problem with Micah getting caught – if you're going to lie, don't be dumb enough to tell lies transparent enough to be easily exposed, unless you've got a press corps to insist it's either bad information or your accusers just don't have all the facts – or with whatever he suffers as a result. Or doesn't suffer.
But, considering the volume of lies that people willingly swallow every day, Micah's is inconsequential. Go ahead and have a good laugh at a guy who bet beyond his means and rolled snake-eyes. Just another sideshow, and not even enough to distract attention from the main event. Except in our little corner of the world, and we were never much for the big picture anyway.
Why did Crossgen fail?
Back in the mid-'90s, I coined "the Shooter principle": if it's not your money it's not your company. Longtime comics fans may recall Jim's string of companies where he claimed to be in control: Marvel (fired); Valiant (fired); Defiant (investors closed the company under him); Broadway (investors closed the company under him). Defiant in particular brought things to crystal clarity: initially in all the press releases, Jim vehemently insisted that it was, for the first time, truly his company and he made all the decisions. It sounded good on paper. It lasted until the first major snafu – something to do with trading card binders, but I forget the specifics – which he vehemently blamed on his backers. But how could they be responsible if he was totally in charge? The answer was obvious when the company abruptly ceased to exist.
If it's not your money it's not your company.
And if there was ever a man in comics absolutely determined not to go that route, it's Mark Alessi, founder and architect of Crossgen. Whatever else you can say about him, Alessi, who reputedly made a fortune in some other fields (I've heard computer gaming, real estate, or the stock market, but I have to confess I've never been interested enough to find out for sure), put his own money on the line. No Shooteresque ambiguity here: it was Alessi's money, it was Alessi's company.
Which, I suppose, conjures an "Alessi principle": it takes more than money to make a successful comics company.
To some extent, Crossgen's problems were the same as all smaller companies in this market, and unavoidable. These don't increase any newcomer company's chances at success, no matter what the talent pool nor how much money's sunk into it, unless you come up with a sensational gimmick and quickly pay off on it and keep paying off. But there was another, just as crippling element of Crossgen that was obvious from the start:
Crossgen existed less as a comics publishing concern and more as a monument to Mark Alessi's ego.
I know that sounds harsh, but it's not as judgmental as it sounds. That's considered not only perfectly appropriate behavior in our business but expected behavior. After all, that's the model that most aspiring comics companies have dangling in front of them (and which talent like Alan Moore have reverently lampooned): Marvel Comics under Stan Lee, which was the highly successful epitome of egoism as marketing concept.
It worked for Stan, because it was new, it was different, it was perfect for a time when the country was coming out of the grimness of the '30s and '40s and the cultural blandness of the '50s (at least as far as corporatized culture went). Stan brought to comics such a massive dose of good-humored narcissism that, particularly compared to the religiously staid anonymity of voice in DC Comics of the time, it was infectous. But if that were all Stan brought, Marvel wouldn't be here today.
If the comics published during Stan's reign weren't any good, Marvel wouldn't be here today. Stan talked a good game, but he had the cards to back it up.
And that's where most companies fall down. You can say whatever you want to bring them in, but if you don't have the goods you don't keep them. If you've had the goods in the past, you can keep them for at least awhile on reputation alone, a factor that has kept Marvel alive a couple times, but if you've never had the goods you have to produce them fast, and we're at a point in our culture (in general, not just in comics) where second chances are rare. If you don't hook 'em first time out, they don't swim back for another bite without some sort of major enticement.
Distribution aside, Crossgen just didn't hook 'em.
Certainly the company had its fans, and that fan base stayed more or less stable, which is a credit to the company. But they never managed to build on it. That was inherent in the company too.
Alessi built the company along the lines of a computer game company, hiring talent to work as employees on-site at the corporate offices. While not exactly a new idea in comics – Stan had at least pretended Marvel worked like that, creating the illusion of a "bullpen" where wacky writers and amazing artists shot ideas back and forth all day in an unending party of creativity – no one had ever taken it that seriously or that far. There's a reason for that: it's a ridiculously expensive way to run a comics company, when the talent can work freelance for far less expense to a publisher. (Which is among the reasons freelancers ended up in the business in the first place; most states have laws requiring employers to provide various services like health insurance and paid vacations to salaried employees, and when you add that to the cost of office space, phones, and all the other accoutrements of working in-house, costs skyrocket. Why pay that when you don't have to?) Still, if that had been the extent of Alessi's vision, who knows? Might have worked.
Where Alessi really went south from the beginning was his insistence on being the company's creative force.
Not that Crossgen produced bad books. They just weren't good enough to stand out. Alessi's core concept – the Sigil that gave people on various worlds in the "Crossgen Universe" superpowers – was intended to be a unifying element to disparate books, but the underlying question, apparently never asked, was whether disparate books needed a unifying element (not to mention one that pegged them as superhero comics when the company was marketing itself as not producing superhero comics). Creating "fantasy" comics wasn't necessarily a bad idea in itself, but failing to successfully market them to the audience that buys fantasy material was a major error. (Which may explain the superhero element; Crossgen targeted the direct market, which almost never does serious marketing for anything but superhero comics.)
The plus of the corporate office structure, for talent, was exactly what made it an expensive proposition: health insurance; a steady, contractually require paycheck; regular hours. (It also had the interesting effect of unambiguously cementing the company's sole rights to all material, legally speaking.) Some writers and artists like the camaraderie of an office, or studio, environment. But, creatively, there's a huge difference between freelancing and working for a boss who calls the shots, and what Crossgen, more than other comics companies, demanded of freelancers – though not all of them figured that out in advance – was that they subvert their personal approach or vision to Alessi's. As a result, the talent they attracted was the talent most willing to do that in exchange for the benefits. Which can certainly be understood in the recent economy, but, for most of us, if we were in this just for the money, we wouldn't be in this. Which is why the books initially looked a lot like better-produced midrange DC books, because the talent Crossgen mostly seduced over was mid-range DC talent. (Curiously, many of them blossomed at Crossgen, either due to or in spite of circumstances, and have moved up the talent food chain the business.) Certainly the pay was good enough to justify it, until it wasn't. Crossgen's brief history is littered with talent who gave it a shot but ultimately couldn't continuing subverting their own sense of story and good material (Mark Waid, for example) to what the company (which is to say Alessi) wanted. Every defection became a news story in itself, tainting Crossgen's public image in a small, gossipy market, and, past a certain point, Crossgen couldn't generate enough good vibes to offset it. When the inevitable money cave-in came, the prep work had long been done, and it wasn't difficult to believe the worst about them.
Alessi had also sown the seeds of this early on, with an endless string of self-congratulatory pronouncements about how he was going to recreate the industry, how he was going to bury Marvel and DC, how creative talent would never "fix" anything in comics but he could because he knew what he was doing and they didn't, etc. Again, that sort of thing only works if you can pay off on it, and pay off big and consistently.
When Dave Olbrich was editor at Malibu, he was fond of saying perception is reality, but that's not true and it never has been. Perception can be a building block for reality, but perception unrooted (at least a little) in reality will ultimately collapse. For awhile, you can create a public perception of yourself or your company, but, again, unless you can back it up with something solid, eventually everyone cops to the emperor's new clothes and past that point it's hard to win any credibility back on your say-so alone. A problem with a lot of would-be comics publishers is that they've come to believe enough hype will make itself come true. They also convince themselves that all they have to do is publish, and both readers and ancillary income stream deals – movies, toys, amusement park rides, whatever – will come raining onto them. Too many predicate their long term success on that. Certainly in the last couple years Alessi was more prone to talk about his upcoming media deals (and their potential for saving the company, though none have yet materialized) than about the comics.
Overall, like many publishers, Alessi built Crossgen on a card house of overblown hype and unrealistic expectations. Unlike most (perpetually underfunded) publishers, he funded it far beyond what was necessary. Like many companies, Crossgen also pumped out more product than the market was willing to bear, on the apparent assumption that more books would firm up audience support for the books already being published. That's possible. It's just as possible that every new book will dilute the audience for existing books.
The biggest problem was probably that Crossgen wanted to be Marvel coming out of the gate, like most new companies, and companies that start like that end up dead or shaky. A slow build may be emotionally unrewarding in the short run, but it increases survival in the long run.
I write all this not to kick Crossgen while its down but to give new publishers a leg up. Somebody try to learn from history, huh? At minimum, don't let your ambition get you ahead of yourself. It doesn't have to pay off only for you, but for the readers too. Do that and you'll stick around. Don't and you won't. End of story.
"You may be a wee bit premature on announcing [Walt Wallet's] death [in the Gasoline Alley comic strip]. I have been reading the strip carefully, and have yet to see his name announced as the deceased. Since we have not seen Walt or his wife since the event, it is entirely possible that is she who died.
The only thing that makes me think it may not be her is that the previous week had her setting up some sort of secret that she was going to tell about Skeezix's past. It would be cruel to let that secret slide, so I am mostly assuming that it is Walt who kicked, but until I get the official notice, I'm going to hold on to my sympathy card.
Whoever it is, it's about time. This strip runs in "real time", and they are (were) both in their hundreds. I'll miss whoever it may turn out to be, but I'm waiting to see a survivor before I weep."
I notice they still haven't specified who the deceased is. Maybe tomorrow, since the grave got filled in today. For some reason this puts me in mind of the first brain teaser I ever heard, when I was four or five years old: if a plane crashes on the U.S.-Canada border, where do they bury the survivors?
"It's a popular trend in the popular fiction in general and comics specifically is to thumb one's nose at all that came before as obviously having no worth. Now, perhaps this is not what Steve Gerber intended to say, but it's how it came out. Just because something is old doesn't mean it has no worth or that a creator can't use it as a vehicle to go somewhere better. I would argue that if you were an upcoming creator (staying with the Superman thread) and you had an intelligent story with a superhero main character that you could adapt for Superman, why litter the comic scene with another throw away copy? Take the already known platform and built in readership to get your message across.
It's strange that I'm put in the role of defending established characters, because my personal tastes are towards a lot more original books, but I just don't agree with the common ideas that old means dead and using pre-established characters means a lack of originality."
I don't think Steve was arguing that characters that predated him, or you, or you, or even you, are worthless. He was just arguing against the obsession many would-be writers have with writing characters they love to read. It may seem strange or hypocritical for guys like Steve (or me), who spent much of their careers working with pre-existent characters, to make that argument, but bear in mind writing pre-existent characters is often more an economic necessity than a career choice. (Not that there aren't many who love writing other people's characters and would prefer not to do anything else.) On the other hand, everyone's got to start somewhere; it's a lot easier to get assigned an existing property than to sell a new one, and, ultimately, what property you work on doesn't matter as much as what you do with it. Not quite as much, anyway...
"Comics these days seem to have become such a negative medium. I'm not referring to the content of books but to the mindset of fans. Today there is more about the gossip about what companies are doing behind the scenes than the product they put out for our consumption. I hear nothing but "Joey Q gets into shouting match" and "Creators in knife fight over which wookie was sexiest." I grew up in a ghetto where I could afford one comic a year and it was usually ten to fifteen years old. Comics were my escape, my way to fly or be faster than a speeding bullet. What happened to that feeling among comic fans. When did comics become a prison, not a gateway that allowed you to lose yourself in the fantastic? I blame us adults. Once we convert our childhood hobbies into adult interests we imprint upon them all the baggage we've acquired from living in an "adult" world. No longer are we satiated by thrill of escapism but we hunger for the dirt behind the curtain. I understand that companies are concerned about the bottom line and I'm not saying you shouldn't be informed; however I don't think that all the negativity that occurs at the corporate level should affect the way we enjoy the medium of comics. I won't let them ruin my good time. Even though I've transitioned from speeding bullets to 100 BULLETS when I read a comic I don't care about corporate politics or creator knife fights. I read them because for 32 pages I can shed the world and experience the fantastic."
There was more than one Wookie?
As someone else once said, there's room enough in the universe for more than one star. I don't think the problem is so much the "adultification" of comics as the monopsychology of the direct market and the publishers that feed it. (And even that's far from an accurate description.) In an intelligent market, there would be everything from the "pure sense of wonder" comics to the "down-and-dirty reality" comics. The problem is that we don't have either of those, for the most part. We have impure "sense of wonder" hand-me-downs "modernized" via sophomoric approaches to adult issues. Which is why Hollywood loves comics so much these days, because that's their key market.
"I don't know if a thing like this exists already (a preliminary search says, "no."), but I had this idea a couple of weeks ago for a website that would function as a kind of job board for freelance artists and writers. They could post a brief synopsis of their artistic interests (like preferred genres or artistic styles to work in, etc.) and some samples of their work (maybe a few pages of plot or script for writers and a couple pages of art for artists). Because companies generally aren't accepting unsolicited submissions, it seems that there are very few opportunities for aspiring comics professionals to display their skills outside of a comic convention, few of which have actual comic professionals attending, and even fewer with hiring power. I suppose it would be a venue that would make it easier for artists and writers to find collaborators interested in similar ideas and projects so that they could self-publish or submit work to publishers. It would both hopefully increase independent comic production and act as a kind of staging ground for the major companies to find "the next big thing". So, I guess my question for you is, do you think something like this would actually be useful, or ultimately futile? Does the freelance community need something like this? Also, do you think something like this would be able to sustain itself with sponsor ads?"
Not a clue. Interesting idea, though. A more important question is how you'd get publishers and editors to look at it. Also, "aspiring" professionals aren't "freelance artists and writers." You have to already be getting paid to be a freelancer. I think such a switchboard (to use archaic terminology) might be a worthwhile thing, but I think it would first require a lot of hard decisions about what it was really supposed to be. If you're talking about a job board for working professionals, that's one thing. If you're talking about a promo site for aspiring professionals, that's another thing, and there are quite a few of those already.
"Just wanted to add my 2 cents' worth to the hue and cry over the cancellation of WILDCATS 3.0. I'm not going to take my personal experience and use it to come to any sort of broader conclusion, but I will say I had a reason for not buying it, and maybe it was shared by others, who knows.
To begin with, I'm the type of person who tends to be swayed into buying stuff when there's a broad critical consensus behind it – music, TV shows, movies, books, whatever; if all the critics/reviewers get behind it, I usually eventually fall into line and try it for myself. I've been exposed to a lot of worthy material that probably wouldn't have gotten my attention otherwise, so I'm always aware of what's got "buzz," hoping to find the next thing I'm going to love. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't, but that's what you expect when trying something new.
Casey and Nguyen's WILDCATS was a title that the critics loved and it had a dedicated and vocal fanbase. Typically, it'd have been right up my alley. But I never bought it, and it's for the simple reason that I've never liked anything I've read that Joe Casey wrote.
It's not that he's a bad writer in a technical sense or anything, I'm not really qualified to judge - I just don't enjoy his stuff. I've read his SUPERMAN work, I stayed with his X-MEN for a good long while, I even picked up an AUTOMATIC KAFKA (but it went clear over my head) – I've given the guy his shot more than once, and he's never once done it for me. So why should I disregard all prior experience and spend money on this title, only to end up disappointed with yet another Casey book? No matter how many raves WILDCATS received, there wasn't any conceivable point that I'd have ended up buying it. And it didn't help that there was not-insignificant hype accompanying a lot of Casey's previous work, too.
I feel badly for the fans whose favorite book was WILDCATS. I've come on board a lot of books in the past when there's been a push to save a deserving title from the axe, but it wasn't going to be in the cards this time. If I keep buying the same brand of sneakers just because other people tell me how good they are, and they hurt my feet every time, then who's the idiot?"
Um... Jessica Simpson? (Always seems like a safe answer to that question...)
"Do you believe comic book stores are effective outlets in attracting new customers? In Chicago, I've noticed comic book stores are unkempt, clubhouses for white fanboys to their favorite display toys and posters. The store environment consist of track lighting, white walls filled with some posters of superheroes and women drawn in provocative poses, dated gray carpeting and a large superhero etched on the store front. The books are displayed with very little distinction from one another by age appropriateness, genre, manga, movie tie-in or even recommended by quality. The usually all male staff of unshaven, very casual clothes wearing thirty-somethings have an attitude that appears either elitist or inexperienced in retail sales. This is not indie record store like cool. In contrast, nearby video game stores appear to appeal to a wider demographic: a tasteful sign, relaxing yellow or green hued colored walls, wooden or tiled floors, tastefully displays products, and a diverse staff, in gender and race, dressed in a simple white shirts and black slacks. Moreover, their customers? Mothers with their children. Teenage girls. Men in suits. People of color. Now, the video games stores could have been set up like a comic book store. Which one do you think your mother, girlfriend/wife or any non-comicbook reading friends feel comfortable going in? Would you like to see a comic book store set up like the above describe video game store? I could like to note that the video game industry rivals only movies in consumer profits."
If we're speaking theoretically, overall I'd probably say, no, comics shops aren't effective customer draws. But there are comics shops that do fabulously. Some are exactly what you describe as a good environment, some are exactly what you describe as the wrong environment. In my experience the comics shops that make money are the ones that know their clientele. Sure, I have my preferences as to what I like to see in a comics shop, but there's an easy rule for these things, and it applies to any aspect of the business: what works works. If it works, it doesn't matter whether a store meets my specs. If it doesn't work, the owner should wise up and try something different, but if it doesn't work, that owner's likely not to be around in a short time anyway.
"In the spirit of WILDCATS and STORMWATCH:TEAM ACHILLES, what are the next low margin/high quality books likely to get cancelled? That is, now that we've been reminded that we need to save books before they get cancelled, what are the low selling books over which the fervent online readers need to send letters to editors, order past trades from Amazon, and pester their store owners to stock?
HARD TIME (DC's 12 issue guarantee or no)."
Good choice. Anyone else have other choices?
"I have a question for members of the American news media, popular culture media, and other persons who are supposed to be observing what's happening and finding creative ways to comment upon such.
What's to prevent someone from counting the number of American servicepersons who've died thus far in the Iraqi theater of operations,(temporarily?) acquiring one casket for each, draping each with an American flag, displaying the whole collection in a field/cemetery/city park/school gymnasium/wherever, and photographing that, to make the symbolic point?
What do you think SecDef Rumsfeld would have to say about that? Yes, I think the prohibition against photographing anonymous flag-draped caskets arriving at Dover AFB is censorship, and the above illustration- via-interrogative is why. The real point is, quite obviously, to do whatever possible to obscure not the fact but the realization that too many Americans have died in vain, with no concrete plan for extrication from the situation.
Just wait until July, when the world discovers (*gasp*) that the US Army will still be on the ground, and representatives of the US Government will still be the de facto administrators in Iraq.
I personally can't wait until November to see what the American people do about it."
Depends how bad things get between now and then, probably. Interesting idea, though. Performance art, really. Rumsfeld would probably say it was politicizing the war, and call for a Constitutional amendment prohibiting placing the flag on a fake soldier's coffin. (Micah Wright, out of luck again.)
I've been doing PERMANENT DAMAGE almost three years now (three in September). No, I'm not thinking of quitting it. (Well, I think about it every week I have to sit down and write it, but I'm not planning to quit.) I am wondering, though, if the column has fallen into a rut. Anyone have any thoughts on this? Anything anyone would like to see that they're expecting from the column and not getting? Anyone got any great suggestions for shaking things up a bit that wouldn't entail tons of work? (I've already got that.) Just asking...