Dr. Koop


The recent passage of former Surgeon General Koop has many people reflecting on his good practical nature when it came to healthcare, generally citing his putting aside politically popular agendas to actually deal with the problem at hand. The example generally being cited is his strong support for proper safe sex education and information, rather than facing down AIDS with calls for abstinence or simply ignoring it altogether.

For me, however, what I carry with me is a moment on a TV show. He was on one of Fred Friendly’s great panel discussion shows, either The Constitution: That Delicate Balance or more likely the other one, the name of which eludes me at the moment. The panelists were discussing a hypothetical about being approached by a panhandler, one who made clear that he was seeking money for booze. A female journalist explained that he would not give the guy money, as he would use that on booze, which was his problem; instead, she would buy him a sandwich. All good and upright, right? But Koop countered that he would give the guy money for booze. He’d offer him help finding a clinic if he wanted it, but this guy is an alcoholic, and as much as we may hate the disease, if he is stuck without booze he will be facing very real physical symptoms, very real consequences. That was the practical situation on the ground, to be dealt with. He gained a lot of respect from me in that moment.


In less than a year, we’ve lost both Bork and Koop. We’re running out of the sound effects that people make when suddenly astonished. I sure hope Paul Begala is okay!

Published in: on February 27, 2013 at 6:22 am  Comments (2)  

Saturday Night Short

Over the past few months, we’ve discovered On Demand, the service on our Time-Warner Cable that gives us access to recent shows. (While we’ve had T-W for years, we only got the cable box hooked up once we got the big screen HD TV last year, and even then we didn’t pay much attention to it, focusing on our non-HD ReplayTV. I’d assumed that On Demand was just for paid material.)

So tonight, I went to watch this week’s Saturday Night Live, and found it a bit odd going. There was no monologue. Guest host Justin Beiber didn’t show up until midway through the second sketch. “Weekend Update” came very early in the show, and then I realized that we hadn’t gotten the musical performance that usually comes before the fake news. So I paused the show to see the rnning length… this eighty-five minute show was clocking in at 49 minutes. By the time I hit the end, I realized that not only were both of the usual two musical performances missing, but that the host thanked a special guest star who I had not seen.

I haven’t yet checked if this abridged edition is standard for SNL On Demand, or whether there was something special going on in this case (perhaps Bieber has some exclusive agreement for video of musical performances?) But frankly, with a lot of the episodes I’d be happy to get to “Weekend Update” faster.

Published in: on February 12, 2013 at 6:40 am  Comments (1)  

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. AllĀ 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 folksĀ  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  
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