Sunday, October 30, 2005

Sunday Morning, Before Dawn; Happy Almost Halloween!

A few catchup items...

* Ah, the perpetual Alan Moore question has come up once again. Exile is no fun, but this is less fun, like a curse. You know, when this sorry incident first occured, I said to my pal Rick Veitch, "This is never going to go away, and will spill into the next generation." Rick thought I was being ridiculous, but -- it doesn't go away, there's nothing I can do to remedy the situation, and now that George Khoury's excellent book on Alan is out with intros and outros by Alan's daughters Leah and Amber and Leah is actively working in comics as a writer (go, Leah!), that prediction about our own children dealing with this shit seems not at all remote. Hopefully, they'll do better than I have. My daughter Maia and son Dan are out in the world, someday they'll own my copyrights and trademarks, including the trio of 1963 characters, and I wonder when it'll spill into their lives, if it hasn't already.

(FYI, if you wonder why I've given up completely on comics conventions, this is a key reason: the question that will never go away always comes up. If I politely decline to get into it, the questioner feels I'm brushing them off; if I do politely get into it, the zealot Moore fan(s) explode(s), believing I am maliciously slighting or belittling their hero. It's a lose/lose for everyone, so I long ago bagged the con scene.)

In any case, here's the latest, which should sum this up succinctly enough for those of you wondering what the hell I'm talking about this morning:

  • The Query That Will Not Die

  • __

    * On another comics front, Al Nickerson has posted the latest Creator Bill of Rights letters from Dave Sim; as time permits, I'm working through a mega-letter of my own, placing some of these issues in a historical context (Harvey Kurtzman, Joe Kubert, Will Eisner, Bob Kane, etc.). The latest is
  • right here.
  • For the uninitiated who are curious, the link to Al's complete Creator Bill of Rights site is forever available on my blog menu (see right).

    The prior Dave Sim post has prompted much online discussion -- at last! -- as Dave generously posted the complete contents of a 2005 Vertigo contract, which was identical to the 1998 Vertigo contract I excavated from my files. My objections were identical to Dave's, save for the audit concerns -- I long ago resigned myself to the reality that DC's royalty statements are accepted fait accompli or not at all -- hence, my decision not to work with Vertigo if they would even have me (which, for a short time in '98, they seemed to; at least there was a courtship, initiated by two of their editors).

    The most disappointing portion of the contract to my mind is DC/Vertigo's use of page rates as infinite open-ended options -- that is, they are not obligated to publish the work once completed and paid for, but rights do not revert to the creator(s) if they choose not to publish. This is, simply put, reprehensible, and puts lie to the "progressive" perception most of mainstream comics (the professional community and fans) have of the Vertigo line. How many unpublished completed works is DC/Vertigo sitting on -- and to what end? From more than one account I've been privvy to from professionals who attempted to reclaim their work, DC/Vertigo requires that all fees connected to a given project be reimbursed to DC/Vertigo -- all fees including payment to all participants, and (according to one account) editorial fees and publisher overhead -- before they'll "release" a property. This is contrary to all standard book publishing contracts (wherein if a publisher doesn't publish an author's contracted/completed/accepted work -- say, a novel -- all rights revert to the author after a defined and contractually agreed-upon expiration date, no strings attached), and certainly contrary to the very "options" DC/Vertigo enjoys income from on a regular basis from Hollywood. In 1998, I argued that this clause was problematic and should be revamped to reflect standard publishing practices and movie-option terms, but that effectively ended what DC/Vertigo laughingly refer to as "negotiations" -- and there it remains, in a current 2005 contract.

    Anyhoot, you can access the ongoing online discussions from
  • Heidi McDonald's site.
  • There, along with Heidi's initial comments (note that Heidi worked at DC/Vertigo for a time, in or around 1999), is a link to the Warren Ellis forum The Engine, which I'll provide you directly
  • here.
  • That will bring you to an Engine thread entitled "DC/Vertigo Contract: Dave Sim", which is well worth a read, though it's lengthy and quite extensive and features posts by Heidi Macdonald and Warren Ellis, reflecting bovine acceptance with all things DC/Vertigo (no surprise there), though Jamie Coville is the main poster (with attitude, natch). Colleen Doran weighs in with her take, which is of interest and relevent, though Dirk Deppey from The Comics Journal immediately dismisses Dave's views on the contract by getting into Dave's gender views, which allows all and sundry to laugh off the reality of the Vertigo contracts while dissing Dave for a bit, though the thread regains footing and continues invaluable conversation. I gotta say I side 100% with Dave regarding the DC/Vertigo contract and all it reflects, which is the topic here; when Colleen refers to "creator owned" Vertigo work (with Warren), I wonder what their contracts were. Nothing I've ever seen relevent to Vertigo or DC was truly creator-owned contractually, though there's lip-service paid to the concept. Given my prior sour experience with Warren Ellis and his fiefdom, I won't be posting, though I may post comments here, if they don't all fit into my next letter for Al's site.

    Heidi blithely dismisses the objections Dave (and I once) raised by writing, "...because once they bought it, they don't have to publish it -- that kind of comes with the territory." Well, yes, it does come with the traditional model the industry was founded upon, but hasn't Vertigo claimed to be beyond all that?

    For this old-timer, the $350-500 page rate being quoted by Dave and others as "top rate for Vertigo" earned a chuckle. Shit, we did Swamp Thing, the comic that spawned the entire fucking Vertigo line, for paltry rates: I was "raking in" $65-72 tops per page for pencils, with both Alan and John working for less than that. The pay is better these days -- but at least our work was published! Had it not, there would be no Vertigo.

    When Al alerted me to all this activity back on October 24, he noted, "...three days after I posted Dave's DC contract to my website, there are 143 posts to this thread. That’s a lot, and I don't have the time to read all those posts. However, it does look like folks are talking about all this stuff. :)" Ah, yes, well, finally posting and discussing the details relevent to the "high end" of mainstream comics will have that result; the Ellis thread is now topping 233 posts.

    Kudos to Dave, but kudos most of all to you, too, Al, for initiating and nurturing this ongoing discussion of a vital topic.
    ____

    * My good amigo Jim Wheelock brings news of this week's launch of the annual Novel Writing Month, about which you can find details
  • here.


  • Jim will be participating, as he did last year, and writes: "We just had the first L.A. kick-off party for National Novel Writing Month today... I recommend Wrimo to anyone who wants to write. I think there's a few Vermonters on board....It starts Tuesday, but folks can still sign up for a while....Chris Baty, who created Wrimo, has a book that goes with it, No Plot, No Problem, which is pretty good. The whole concept's pretty similar to the 24 hour comics -- working fast to fight your internal censor. The group support's pretty amazing, and there's a wordcount meter for every participant. At the LA area kickoff, we figured the group of us there will break a million words. I think around 5000 people finished lasy year, worldwide. A lot of bad stuff was written, but that's the point. My friend Budgie... turned me on to it last year. There are a number of schools using Wrimo, including high schools."

    Excellent; thanks, Jim, and jump in, writers!

    BTW, Jim's blog is fun reading, too, and provides more links (including one to a Short Story Writing marathon) you might find of interest. He's also plugged into the L.A. scene, including amazing movie marathons, festivals, etc. I know nothing about (save what Jim tells me), so some of you west coast folks might find Jim's blog useful, too. Jim is at
  • The Qwelogian Lodge.

  • _____

    More later; Happy Halloween weekend!

    4 Comments:

    Blogger yesdear said...

    happy halloween... hey sorry about the bad vibes.. life is to short.. yeah well .. cleaning out attic last nite.. found hachet for the honeymoon poster from jsc days... wow blast from the past.. when u were a freebird...

    10/30/2005  
    Blogger alex ness said...

    Rock On Stephen. I think you are a very straight forward honest person, and I deeply think a better person than any who might have issues.

    10/30/2005  
    Blogger bob said...

    See this TCJ news story from last year for the most public airing I've seen of DC's "pay us back if you want your unpublished story back", including some quotes from the contract. Seems pretty crazy.

    On the other hand, Sim's recent example for FABLES was for a work-for-hire story, so I'm not sure his complaint about possible non-publishing is valid for that case, since rights wouldn't ever revert to him, published or not.

    10/30/2005  
    Blogger SRBissette said...

    Dave, amazing you found that poster! I used to draw movie posters for the films I showed at Johnson State College (1974-76), and only a few survived, thanks to friends like Dave (Booz), Mark 'Sparky' Whitcomb, and Terry Williams saving them. They were usually full color, about 11" x 17", and that Mario Bava poster was among my personal favorites, as I recall. Cool, Dave!
    __

    Thanks for the kind words, Alex.
    __

    Thanks for the link, Bob -- it is pretty crazy, as you say, but business as usual at DC. As I mentioned in the post, it seems in this era of minor and major media options now being part-and-parcel of comics, the hypocrisy of not treating publishing options AS options WHICH HAVE DEFINED EXPIRATION TERMS is simply an extension of the old 'status quo' of the comics industry, a harbinger of abuses from previous generations. It's out of step with the book industry standard practices -- the very industry outfits like DC/Vertigo are increasingly dependent on and ache to maintain and broaden their foothold in -- and dependent as ever on the ignorance and low self-esteem of the creative freelancers DC/Vertigo are ever-dependent upon.

    More on this -- much more -- in my next letter to Al's Creator Bill of Rights site.

    10/31/2005  

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