A superhero comics concept I can’t write

Usually, I stick new story concepts in my brain or in my files, with the idea that someday, I may have the opportunity to write them. However, this is one that if it is ever written, it should be by someone else, so I’m not afraid of displaying it publicly.

What I’m envisioning is someone in a superhero universe purposely putting together an all-female superhero team. Some would join out of female unity, some because they didn’t feel properly treated on other teams, some simply because they had trouble qualifying for most teams. The core of the book would be the internal group dynamics, the sort of thing one sees in any group where the defining characteristics are not tight enough to require a psychological conformity. You’ll have feminists in the mix, but very different sorts – the team will have the sex-positive I-own-the-effect-my-body-has gal, the equality-through-androgyny, sex-differences-are-a-myth woman, the mystical-essence-of-femininity-and-mother-earth womyn (who will want to solve all problems in a nurturing, non-masculine and thus non-violent manner), the female supremacist. And then you’ll have the woman who doesn’t cafe about the “issue”, she just wants to punch things, and the woman who believes that a woman’s role by default is in the home, but has specific reasons for being there. (None of the characters should be solely defined by these types, but starting with strong archetypes can make for good comics.) The internal disagreements of what they should get involved in (is stopping bank robbers merely supporting the status quo rather than being heroes? Is encouraging the education of girls in sub-Saharan Africa more important than stopping bank robbers in Manhattan, and even if so, is a team of superheroes equipped to make a difference there, or would trying to be involved just be a case of assuming the “white man’s burden” attitude? Are we the group most responsible for fighting women villains? Should we fight them at all?) as well as issues over their public image (Does the group exist to get things done, or do we exist to be role models? Are they going to assume we’re all lesbians?) should make for some good running internal conflict and banter and interesting targeted stories… although there is a real problem of an excessive didactic-to-punching ratio.

But I can’t be the one to write this, not at this point. I have no problem with writing female characters, but for me to take this on… well, I fear many would see it as Mainsplainin’: the Musical (and maybe they’d be right.)

Published in: on October 16, 2013 at 4:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

Halloween Comics 2013

On Halloween, we give out comic books, and it goes over very well. Kids love picking them, parents love having them get something to read. We get a lot of happy faces here each year – and by a lot, I mean in the range of 100-200. “But comics are like $3-$4 each!” I hear you cry. “How can you possibly afford that.

Here’s our trick: we give out special Halloween minicomics that the publishers produce. Cost about twenty cents apiece, in the range of a mini candy bar. But if you want these, you really have to order them right about now. Few if any stores offer these for retail sale; they are really meant more for stores to give out to trick-or-treaters than for folks at home, so stores order them at the same time that they order the comics they’re going to be selling in October. If you go to your local comic shop now, they should be able to order them for you (they’re in the August “Previews” catalog, tell them that.) Or if you don’t have a handy shop that you trust, you can order them online. Here are the links for ordering them through Westfield Comics. Each title comes in a bundle of 20 copies, which lists for $4.99 (although Westfield charges $3.99… but then you’ll have to pay shipping.)

The titles include some famous characters that people will know from the TV and films, some things that have a running success in comics, and some new comics titles just being launched. As much as I would generally push comics-original titles, for Halloween I prefer to go with the known names, as it makes it easier for the kids to recognize the titles and get excited about it. Unfortunately, the two big superhero publishers don’t offer minicomics, so there’s no Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, or Iron Man in the mix. The comics are “mini” in all dimensions, with smaller covers and fewer pages than a standard US comic. In some cases in the past, the “minicomic” proved to be an incomplete tale from a full comic book, which is disappointing.

This year’s titles:

If you want everything, you can save a bit of money by ordering The Mega Bundle (that’s 20 copies apiece of the 11 books listed above).

Westfield has an extra shipping charge of $5.25 to ship the week that these come out (October 9), to be sure to have them on hand for Halloween. I am not sure that paying this is necessary if you’re only ordering the Halloween comics; I think it may be meant for people who are ordering other things as well, in which case Westfield will want to hold your books until your entire order is in… but my thinks on such things are often wrong.

My current plan is to order two packets each of Ben 10, My Little Pony, and Sesame Street, one packet apiece of Archie’s Pals&Gals, Super Dinosaur, Adventure Time, and Itty Bitty Hellboy… but I may switch that about a bit over teh next couple days.

Published in: on July 29, 2013 at 3:50 am  Leave a Comment  

The status on corporate comics

The discussion of Disney and its licensees treatment of Don Rosa, raised in Rosa’s discussion of why he left, has spread out to a larger discussion of non-creator-owned comics and how creators are treated. What I’m running down here is largely what is standard in the industry, at least as by my ability to perceive it through my limited experiences and from my discussion with other creators. All of these have exceptions, both to the advantage and disadvantage of creators, in some case due to the specific company involved, in some cases due to the negotiation strength of an individual creator.

Corporate-owned properties

By this, I mean work done on characters like Batman, where the company publishing the material also owns the copyright and trademarks to the character.

  • The publisher claims copyright to the finished work.
  • All sales of English-language editions count toward possible royalties to the creative team.
  • Licenses of foreign-language edition do not generate money to the creative team.
  • New characters/concepts do not generate money for creators when used in other comic book stories (i.e., if you give Mucuswoman a sidekick, Mucuslad, you don’t get money when Mucuslad spins off into his own series.)
  • Payments are made to creators when new characters/concepts are used outside of comics – that Mucuslad action figure or his appearance in the Sidekick Crew animated series will make the creator some cash.

Licensed properties

These are characters where a licensor owns the property, and the publisher is a licensee, paying money for the right to use that property. Examples are Conan, GI Joe, Garfield.

  • The licensor holds the copyright to the material.
  • Publishers are split as to whether the material generates royalties for creators when reprinted by the original publisher in English during their original run of the license.
  • Licenses of foreign-language edition do not generate money to the creative team.
  • New characters/concepts do not generate money for creators when reused anywhere.
  • No royalties are generated for the creators when the material is reprinted by a different publisher.

This isn’t to say that the Disney situation doesn’t go well outside of what is common. One is their insistence on owning up the original art. Return of the original art not only provides a potential additional income but also adjusts in value with the quality and popularity of the work. And the extensive use of Rosa to do signings promoting work, generating additional sales on works that he wasn’t getting additional money for.

There are some practical reasons why licensors want to work the way they do that go just beyond maximizing profits. Unlike with corporate comics, the licensor never has a direct relationship with the creative crew, which makes setting up ongoing interest harder. And with most licensed comics, comics are a minor sidelight to some more major product, and it isn’t worth the hassle of worrying whether some small character in a comic book story seems similar to one in the latest tentpole movie and thus some creator is expecting payment; that’s a different situation where comics are the primary or source product, and where it’s in the rightsholder’s interest to encourage originality.

But the net effect can be, well, Don Rosa – who is not a miserable man, who seems to have still surrounded himself with a life he loves, but whose work contributed enough to the licensor that he deserves appropriate forms of respect directly from them.

I am both a comics creator and publisher, and even before I entered that dual role, I was a bit more ethically comfortable with some aspects of work-for-hire than the more vocal of my creative brethren. But even setting ethics totally aside, as a practical business matter, it’s in a licensor’s best interest to find ways of ensuring that creators are rewarded for quality work, because in the long term that work is more licensable and thus more profitable. Few creators are Don Rosa, only willing to work on a single property. You don’t want a creator turning down work on a licensed book or leaving an acclaimed licensed run simply because the corporate comic will make him money if reprinted 20 years later while the licensed comic will not. If you want great work rather than bulk work, you should find some way to reward quality.

Published in: on February 12, 2013 at 6:04 am  Leave a Comment  

Trademarks aren’t stealing language

There’s some hullabaloo turning up these days regarding the two biggest US comic book publishers, Marvel and DC, defending ownership to the term “superhero” (and variations thereof) as it applies to comic books. Let me make it clear right now that I think that Marvel and DC should not manage to hold that trademark, that it clearly has become a generic term. If you were to show average people issues of Nexus or Madman or Justice Machine or Spawn, they would identify them as “superhero comics” and would do so even if informed of the publisher’s identity. It’s just as generic as calling an apple red. Having said that, most of the arguments I’m seeing placed against Marvel and DC on this are poppycock

People are acting as though using some pre-existing term as a trademark is inherently “stealing language”, but they are only applying it to “superhero”. They make an argument that it’s a pre-existing word, but that is true of most comic book-related trademarks. If I were to publish a comic entitled MARVEL SUPERHEROES: SPIDER-MAN VERSUS DAREDEVIL, there are very few in comics circles who would not perceive me as trying to exploit the reputation built up by the company that is now a branch of Disney, and really only the break-Marvel-in-any-way folks  and the all-intellectual-property-is-evil folks would suggest that I’m doing nothing that should be legally wrong. And yet, while four of the five words of that title are trademarked for comics, none of the words are ones that were invented by/for Marvel. (I probably see one or two blinks out there over the word spider-man, but here it is in 1876, and you can find the term in everything from a Hardy Boys book to the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson.)

There is nothing illegitimate about the use of preexisting and common words for trademarks. Not everything needs to be Electrolux and Unisys. The consumer is protected by knowing that if they buy Tide detergent, Brawny paper towels, Saturn cars or Trojan prophylactics, they are being produced or approved by the companies that built the reputation behind those names, and its hard to say that it is particularly unfair that competitors cannot name their detergent Tide, as putting Tide on a detergent makes basically no sense except if you’re trying to exploit that reputation. That’s different from being barred from putting “orange” on your brand of juice, where it is a legitimate and understood descriptor for the nature of the content rather than for the producer… and “superhero” seems (to my non-lawyer eyes) to fall into that category as well.

Published in: on February 5, 2013 at 5:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

Creator ownership and the generation of comic book movie properties

What we have here is a chart looking at the English language theatrically-released films released since 1982 that are based on English language comic book and graphic novel properties, sorted in order of the date of first publication of the property, color-coded for whether the property was creator-owned, corporate-owned (generally by the publisher), or co-owned by both.

The 1982 date was chosen to reflect a shift that was going on in comics at the time. I’m specifically linking the date to Destroyer Duck #1, which showed that creator owned material could be run in a standard-format American comic book. This was not the invention of the creator-owned comic, of course, but it was a strong change in the air.

What can be seen is that once creator ownership was on the table, the moviable properties were largely works that creators maintained ownership of. Of the large mainstream publishers that preexisted the change, Marvel and Archie have published no new company-owned properties that have reached the big screen. DC has published four over those 30 years. In contrast, in just the 10 years preceding 1982, Marvel launched 6 purely-Marvel-owned properties that would later become movies, including a couple that were made into movies within 15 years after creation (so it’s not merely a matter that company-owned concepts take longer to reach the screen – although they seem to – that prevents post-1982 Marvel material from showing up.)

Caveats:

  • The source is derived from the Wikipedia article “List of films based on English-language comics” and its completeness is dependent on that.
  • Not having a long time for research, the ownership status is sometimes based on my assumptions, informed by the companies involved and the practice of the time. Corrections are welcome.
  • I counted as “Corporate-owned” anything created as work-for-hire and anything independently-created where the property was sold to the corporation before publication (example: Superman), but not anything where the creator or heirs may have sold to a corporation at some later date.
  • I counted as creator-owned things that may have been published as copyright by the publisher, but with a reversion clause where the property reverted before the film was licensed (Road to Perdition.)
  • There were judgment calls on what to count as the property creation date, for items like Green Lantern and The Losers, where the property name had been used by the owner on what might be viewed as multiple properties.
  • Judgement calls were also made on what counts as a comic book property; both the inclusion of Red Sonja and the exclusion of Aliens Vs. Predator are arguable.
  • I recognize only one property per film, as that’s the central thing that caused it to be made. So, for example, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is the Wolverine property, not the X-Men (despite their presence in the title) nor Deadpool.

 

Published in: on June 14, 2012 at 5:14 am  Comments (23)  

Why no review for The Cape

NBC launched a new solo urban superhero series, The Cape, last night. And at this point, my professional life interferes a bit with my bloggy life; I have a solo urban superhero concept that a producer is currently trying to find a home for. As such, I lean a bit toward avoiding similar TV fare, because I don’t want anyone saying “hey, what you did with your concept was a lot like what they did there, so you musta took it.” Which is actually not that likely to happen, and it is a concern I would overlook if I had heard great things about The Cape. But I haven’t, so I won’t, and thus I’m not.

Published in: on January 10, 2011 at 7:59 pm  Leave a Comment  

Losing sleep the world around

Back in 2004, I founded an annual international festival of comics creation, 24 Hour Comics Day.  It honestly wasn’t that international at first… but now? I love seeing photos from Singapore, from Indonesia, from Nigeria of people who all chose to forego sleep to make comics. It’s one of those things that reminds me that people are more the same than they are different.

(Yes, I did take part. Still recovering. Not sure I’ll post my results…)

Published in: on October 4, 2010 at 7:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

Comics confessions

I frequently take part in Tom Spurgeon’s Five For Friday feature on his Comics Reporter blog.. frequently enough that when I miss an itneresting one, I feel I miss something. But when I miss the one calling for people’s comics-related confessions, I feel guilty, as if I’m hiding. So here go my answers:

  1. I stole a copy of New Teen Titans #1 from a library, a couple years after it had been released.
  2. I enjoyed Floyd Farland, but what little I’ve seen of Chris Ware’s comic work since has left me cold.
  3. I still owe something in the neighborhood of $17 to people who subscribed to my minicomic The Life and Loves of the Average Panther a couple decades ago, (my Amiga computer ate the subscription list file which was not properly backed up).
  4. I love the theory of webcomics, but I just don’t enjoy looking at comics on the screen for long periods.
  5. I have dropped a number of series that I liked because, on my now-infrequent trips to the comic book store, I cannot recall which the last issue I read was. (Is that the cover I had? Or did I see it in a “next issue” ad in the issue I had? Or somewhere online? The multiple-cover thing makes this all the worse.)
Published in: on January 24, 2010 at 4:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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