Cory Doctorow sent me a couple of nice e-mails recently. He said he liked the last three posts, which discussed issues he raised about copyright, DRM and SOPA.You probably noticed from the dates on Cory’s articles and essays I cited (if you followed the links) that some were written a while ago. Cory said that he’s currently working on an updated, comprehensive book on the “big, synthesized whole” of intellectual property in the digital age. He sent me a sneak peek at the work in progress and gloriosky, it’s great. It’s not just for people in the biz or those fascinated by legal issues. Draconian digital copyright protection measures currently in use or being contemplated can affect ordinary, innocuous communications and be used in nefarious—make that really evilways—that never occurred to me. Some of the things Cory brings to light are deeply disturbing.
Can’t wait to see the final product. When it’s published, I’ll give you a heads up.
I provided links to some of Cory’s work, but I forgot this:
The Tomorrow Project is an Intel Corporation initiative run by super-smart Futurist Brian David Johnson. (His whole title, by the way, is Futurist – Principal Engineer and Director, Future Casting, Interactions and Experience Research. It’s better than being Lord High Plenipotentiary of Tunis.) The project is all about getting imaginative types to envision the future and create a vision of same. The book linked to above contains one of Cory’s visions, “Knights of the Rainbow Table.”
I’m working on a contribution to the Tomorrow Project, too. Brian picked me to do their first comics offering. Go figure. More on that later.
Another thing I forgot to mention is that Cory, Brian and I, along with SyFy Channel exec Craig Engler did a panel discussion about the future at the 2011 New York Comic-Con, video of which can be seen here: http://www.jimshooter.com/2011/10/nycc-panel-screen-future-gaming-comics.html
Thanks, Cory, thanks Brian, thanks Intel, and thank you all for your kind attention.Regarding My Modest Proposal I need to clarify and emphasize a few things….
In my modest proposal for a new business model for comic book publishing, I talked about the current, totally unfair Work-Made-for-Hire practices standard at the majors in the biz. I said:
Here’s a big key: COMPANY OWNED, W4H AND THEREFORE “UNIVERSE” TITLES MUST ALL BE CREATED BY EMPLOYEES ON STAFF. SHARED UNIVERSE WORK INHERENTLY MUST BE CREATED BY AN “ORCHESTRA” OF CREATORS UNDER THE GUIDANCE OF A “CONDUCTOR,” OR EDITOR (WHO IS A WORLD-CLASS VISIONARY).
MAKE ANYONE WHO WORKS ON YOUR UNIVERSE TITLES A WELL-PAID, SALARIED EMPLOYEE WITH BENEFITS AND PERKS WHO WORKS ON YOUR PREMISES.
And, by the way, these employees MUST BE GIVEN COMPELLING INCENTIVES TO CREATE, AND REAL PARTICIPATIONS IN THE SUCCESS OF THEIR WORKS.
Ahem. That solves the Gerber, Kirby, Friedrich-type lawsuit problem.
In my fantasy, the law would be changed to make it so for everyone.
Several people misunderstood. David said:
“By I would agree with commenters who wish you could have let go of one more geek millstone, the shared universe.”
You misunderstand, though I didn’t explain my point well. My point was about WORK MADE FOR HIRE. That is, if there is going to be a company universe, or for that matter, company owned characters, then they ought to be made under true staff employee conditions, not the current, nebulous, totally unfair deal under which freelancers sign a paper agreeing that for the purpose of copyright they will be treated as employees, but in no other way have the rights and benefits employees have (unemployment insurance, workman’s comp, etc. plus whatever the company offers). A shared universe might or might not be part of the new business model. It isn’t necessary at all, though I suspect Marvel and DC would want to keep theirs in some form.
RE: “”Publish all non-Universe work under normal publishing industry terms. Treat stars like John Grisham, treat beginners like newbie authors.”
I think modern Marvel (and even DC) kind of do this already.
e.g., “Superstar” creators like Brian Michael Bendis can do whatever they want, get the majority of the promotional efforts of the company, etc.
And newbies, if they are even let in the door at all anymore, as shuffled off to titles on the verge of dying, backup features, etc.
So… how would your proposal be different than the current “Marvel only hires Axel Alonso’s Hollywood friends and insiders” dynamic… at all?”
And newbies, if they are even let in the door at all anymore, as shuffled off to titles on the verge of dying, backup features, etc.
So… how would your proposal be different than the current “Marvel only hires Axel Alonso’s Hollywood friends and insiders” dynamic… at all?”
You missed the point entirely, though I didn’t explain it well enough. My proposal suggests that company-owned properties be created by employees, on staff, on premises. As I said, no prima donnas need apply. Bendis and Johns wouldn’t make the cut. Only the best of the best would qualify. I would think that it would be rare that a newbie would be good enough. Just as Disney and Pixar artists and writers work (on staff, on premises) under the direction of creative supervisors, the comics W4H/staff people would. When Disney’s creative supervisor was Walt, and he had tremendous talents like Ub Iwerks on staff, amazing things were created, and that would be what one would hope for. Since lesser lights have become creative honchos at Disney, well, few truly great things have been done. If the company wants to own outright some creative work, then it would behoove them to hire a reallyreally good, visionary supervisor and reallyreally good artists and writers who, like great creators in other commercial fields (advertising, TV, animation, etc.) do the job required with rare excellence.
For non-W4H works, “Treat stars like John Grisham, treat beginners like newbie authors.” That is, if the company was to publish something by someone of the stature of the late Jean Giraud (which he would own, as Grisham owns his works) that creator would be at the top of the royalties scale and receive star-type promo, perks and support. If the company was to publish a new creator’s work, they’d be at the bottom of the scale. “Mid-list” creators, as Cory says he is, would be in the middle. Clear?
A few didn’t grasp the scope of my proposal. Jim Baird said:
I think you are mostly right, Jim, with one exception. I don’t think what you propose can be led by a large investor. Crossgen tried something very similar to what you propose. I don’t understand all of the issues that caused Crossgen’s collapse, but maybe it was just too soon. I just don’t think there is enough money available to buy enough interest to ever make something like that profitable.
My reply: Sorry, CrossGen didn’t try anything like what I am proposing. CrossGen was a weakly capitalized small fry. The creative work they produced was as hit and miss—mostly miss—as is the norm in this industry and it certainly wasn’t anywhere near the quality and level of accessibility that I’m talking about. Merely having a roomful of the usual suspects working together accomplishes nothing. It would absolutely take a “large investor” to accomplish the new business model I suggest. You’re thinking way too small and way too old-school, same-old-same-old if you cite CrossGen. The deal is this—revolutionize and rebuild this industry in sweeping, dramatic fashion, including distribution, or forget it. I think it would take a huge investment, insightful business minds and a lot of great talent to pull it off. And, as I said, it’s unlikely to happen.Jim Baird continued:
I think that what you are saying can work with a small enthusiastic group working together at first. It has to build readership, then add creators. The audience needs to grow organically, based on actual story interest. Expansion needs to match demand to avoid the financial pressures of expanding too slowly or too quickly and I think that will only happen if there is a very non-human low capital investment. The creators have to have direct, but group ownership. It has to be a labor of love. The principals have to believe in eventual success and devoted enough to give success a reasonable chance, but it cannot realistically be their only source of income. Web publishing is probably the way to go. I don’t believe there are currently any web-based shared universes. A group can publish far more regularly than a single creator or creator team and that makes a print version of a shared universe anthology possible very quickly. After you have a product ready to sell, pre-order may be able to finance the initial print run.
I could not disagree more vehemently. Who would be in this enthusiastic group of people with day jobs? Any writers who realistically could choose to work in TV, film or as successful novelists? Any artists who could realistically choose instead to be a film designer like Doug Chiang, a world-class illustrator or commercial artist? If comics cannot compete for top creative talent, we cannot compete against other entertainment.What if Alex Ross was a middle-of-the-pack guy? What if Jean Giraud-level creators were the norm? What if Mark Waid was happy to work in the office writing Work-Made-for-Hire stories for company-owned characters under the direction of a visionary creative leader on a par with Spielberg—because it paid so damn well? And the job had such good bennies.
It takes a great deal of money to attract the best. No one would entrust that much money to a half-assed organization. It’s going to take a big player and a solid organization. And enlightened. Again, that makes it unlikely. Especially the enlightened part.
Then, diogensclub said:
Jim, I have to disagree with you on at least one point : Universe titles.
Universe titles are not the way to go.
You can’t enter the markter trying to create a new universe. It’s been tried, again and again … with poor results.
Marvel and DC universes were not created as universes but as independent series …
The future lies with independant series and, eventually, for the most successfulls, one spin-off … Imaginary Universes are an exception, proceeding only from the trop of the crop..
The way to go, IMHO, is to create independent series.
One thing you don’t address here is the format and periodicity.
Should we keep floppies or should we do OGNs (one-shots, limited series, ongoing), published one or twice a year, beautiful books to bestow on people as birthday of Christmas gifts.
You may want to have a look at the french market when thinking about the future.
In that market, we had it all : independent series with top notch talent.
Now, overproduction begins to become a problem, with spin-offs, low quality books, series with different artists to keep an accelarated schedule, …
You misunderstand me, though I see why. Poor wording. I have since clarified the point a little. What I was referring to by “universe titles” were work-made-for-hire/company owned titles. It doesn’t matter whether they’re in a universe or not, and I don’t necessarily recommend launching a universe as part of a new business model company. But, what if Marvel or DC took my advice? They already have universes, and I assume they’d want to keep at least part of them. The real issue I was talking about, again, is W4H.
To that, I will add that I wasn’t proposing a publishing plan or a business plan, so format, periodicity and all that were not at issue. If someone ever undertakes a plan such as I propose, those things will have to be considered.Craig made a number of observations, to which I replied:
Craig: RE: “The one (of my points) that I think is least tenable, however, is the centralized office where all “common universe titles” are created.
To succeed in the coming digital era of comics, cutting unwieldy overhead will be a primary concern. If a company had to house offices not only for administrative and editorial staff, but creative types as well, the offices such as Marvel and DC currently own or rent would need to be… much larger.”
Me: The creative people need not be in New York office space. Cheap space is available not far away. Also, there might be several “bullpen” locations — in the L.A., Chicago, Seattle areas, wherever. Part of my point, albeit laid between the lines, is that it should be expensive for the companies to have W4H done. The companies, in my view, have it both ways now. They use freelance talent, to whom they give few benefits, but they own everything just as if they were providing the benefits of full employment. Make them provide all materials, all necessities including footing the electric bill and other housekeeping expenses, make them provide benefits consistent with management types and then, fine, it’s W4H, no problem. Incentives for successful work would be good, too.
Craig: RE: “Also, such a requirement would almost necessitate that some of the “best, world-class” creators you talk about would be unavailable to those “common universe” titles.
Like it or not, the trend in business in general, and in creative fields especially, has been a shift toward home offices, and work-from-home environments.
Can you imagine telling Stephen King, for example, “Hey, we’d love you to do a 12-issue run on MAN-THING or GHOST RIDER, but it’s an in-house title. Do you mind moving from Bangor to New York?Otherwise, pitch us something else.”
Me: The best, world-class creators are already unavailable for W4H work. I don’t care what the trend is, making W4H on staff, on premises only draws a distinct line. Stephen King or anyone of that stature and position would refuse to move, yes. Exactly. That’s the point. He’d also refuse to do W4H for a Ghost Rider series. However, he could write such a series in the comfort of his own office under non-W4H terms, if Marvel would be inclined to give him an independent contractor deal worth his while.
Craig: RE: ” How many people outside of comics would agree that Roger S! Stern was a “world-class” writer who deserved attention comparable to J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, James Patterson and William Goldman?
Me: Who said anything about Roger Stern? He might not make the cut. I might not make the cut. Sal Buscema wouldn’t make it for sure, not even when he was in his prime. Most comic book “names” wouldn’t make the cut. Some, because they couldn’t do what was required, some because their egos wouldn’t let them.
Craig: RE: “…it just seems that your vision of huge offices (and thus huge overhead) might not gel with current trends in business and work environments.
Or the preferred working style of the truly “world-class” content creators.”
Me: You said huge offices and huge overhead, I didn’t. The cost of W4H should be high, and the benefits and security would have to be good enough so that it was a legitimate alternative to doing your own thing. All I’m saying is that if a company wants to be the “author” of your work, that is, treat you like an employee for purposes of ownership, they ought to treat you like an employee period. Being on company premises deals with the issues of the artist having to provide any resources and working independently, both of which muddy W4H. Ideally, the requirement I propose would lead to LESS W4H. and what there is of it being created by people who have reallyreally good jobs — good enough to choose the security of such over the risks and struggles of independent creative work.
Craig: RE: “Can anyone imagine telling J.J. Abrams, “Hey, we’d love to have you write an X-Men arc… but you need to be in the Marvel Bullpen in New York 9-5, five days a week, and forget about FRINGE, PERSON OF INTEREST, ALCATRAZ and all that Hollywood stuff, if you’re gonna work on X-MEN.”
And without folks like that, working on the “common universe” titles, the “world class” banner might not take hold.”
Me: J.J Abrams may have better things to do. However, if the companies pay enough, some amazingly talented people can be attracted. Disney never seemed to have trouble finding good people to work on their premises. Other creative organizations have done so too. Can be done. So many creators would give their non-drawing arm for an opportunity like that, and perhaps the chance to become known and become a J.J. Abrams someday. Miller did it.
There are many, many people now doing W4H in their own homes or offices, on crummy terms. There are zillions more who would love to step into their shoes! The streets of L.A. and New York are awash with wannabes. Some of them are oughta-be’s and some of them are will-be’s. No reason we couldn’t put together a brilliant staff.
Craig: RE: ” Tough questions.”
Me: Nah. Not at all.
Big Guns You Can’t AimIn my proposed new business model rant I said:
“…the Capitalist Enablers must hire brilliant, progressive, insightful business people as well as creative leaders who are visionary. Who are the greatest creative visionaries of our time? Spielberg? Cameron? Creative leaders who belongs in that company. Oh, by the way, no current Big Two creative honchos need apply.
“The visionary creative leaders must see to it that world-class entertainment is created.
“That means bringing in a lot of new, truly great talent, re-training some of the current crop and saying good-bye to many—including a lot of those who are “stars” currently. Stay objective now—they’re stars only to us geeks. They get away with self-indulgent crap because some of us tolerate it, and yes, some of us like it. They are emboldened to do so because they’re playing to people predisposed to love the stuff no matter what, just like local, amateur theater actors hamming it up in front of a house full of friends and family.”
I must emphasize the above.
The comic book biz is full of Big Guns You Can’t Aim.
I’ll name names.
Mike Kaluta. I love Mike Kaluta. Great guy. Brilliant, amazing, world-class artist. One time, back in my Marvel days, we needed a special cover for something—one of Larry Hama’s books, I think. Mike was available. We gave him the assignment, carefully explained what we wanted. Mike agreed. Man, we could just picture the cover image we’d all agreed upon drawn by amazing Mike. When he brought the finished cover in, however, it was nothing like what we had proposed and he had agreed to execute. Completely different. Brilliantly drawn, yes, but way off-spec and not nearly as effective as what was intended.
So, what do you do? Demand that it be done over (royally pissing him off)? Pay Mike a kill fee and get someone else who will do what you want? Assuming no other geniuses are available on short notice, the someone else would almost certainly a lesser light than amazing Mike. And his off spec cover is, after all, not terrible. Not bad at all. A superb illustration, however off-target. Use it and you have the advantage of his name on the solicitation…. Sigh.
Bill Sienkiewicz. I love Bill. Great guy. Brilliant, amazing, world-class artist. One time, back in my Marvel days, we needed a New Mutants poster. Bill was the obvious choice. We described to him what we wanted, a classic group shot, the definitive, iconic image of the New Mutants. Man, we could just picture the poster image we’d all agreed upon painted by the amazing Bill. When he brought the finished painting in, however, it was nothing like what we had proposed and he had agreed to execute. Completely different. Brilliantly painted, yes. Actually, it was a collage. It had some radio parts glued onto it. Not what we had intended.
Publisher Mike Hobson’s reaction was “I’d love to have this hanging in my office, but it isn’t what we commissioned.”
Still a pretty good poster, though. We went with it. Sigh.
(JayJay here. An aside. When I was working as the art director of advertising for Marvel my first choice to do promotional paintings was Bill. I’m a huge fan of his work and I’m awed all over again every time I see something new of his. I love the way his work feels unconstrained and wild, but is executed with an incredibly high level of skill. Truthfully, I didn’t think I could get him to do the paintings for our department, but he agreed. I was ecstatic. Bill painted the Spider-Man wedding poster and when he brought it in, it was the most beautiful, creative thing I’d seen. It’s still one of my favorite posters of all time. When we needed a poster for the New Universe, of course I asked Bill. I lucked out again, he agreed to paint it, too. Bill came in to meet with Jim and I and he worked up a rough sketch on the spot. Late one evening or maybe over the weekend, I only remember I was alone, I got a call from Bill and he sounded upset. He said he had decided to change the layout, had started the painting, that Jim was going to hate it and he didn’t want to do the job. As I struggled to hide the heart attack I thought I was having, I asked him to describe the changes, reassured him that it would be fine and said I was sure Jim would love it. I was pretty sure. I mean, it’s Bill. A couple of days later, when my fingernails were almost bitten down the bone, Bill brought in the painting. When I saw it, I couldn’t even remember the sketch. It was incredible. Exciting. It made me want to know who these characters were. And Jim loved it. Who wouldn’t?
Walt Simonson. I love Walt. Great guy. Brilliant, amazing, world-class artist. One time, back in my Marvel days, Mattel needed a design for a Secret Wars playset and commissioned us to do concept drawings. Walt leaped to mind immediately. Who is more creative than Walt? Mattel’s instructions to me were clear—they wanted a high-tech look. As intricate as the ships and machinery in Star Wars, but distinctively different. A new take on the Kirby machinery/electronics look. Complex, futuristic, super-scientific, highly detailed technology. Kids, said Mattel, loved detailed machinery. I conveyed Mattel’s instructions clearly, I thought. When Walt brought in the finished designs, however…well…he’d drawn thatch-roofed huts. A simple, rustic-looking setting. Walt explained that he’d thought about it and concluded that futuristic, super-scientific technology would probably appear to be simple. Rude and primitive, even.
Maybe I should have asked Bill Sienkiewicz to do that design. He might have glued on some radio parts, at least.
I chose these three gentlemen not because I have any ill will toward them, but precisely because I don’t. And, as far as I know, that goes both ways. We’re friends, or friendly, anyway.
Mike Kaluta and I never worked together much. He was pretty busy doing Starstruck with the talented Elaine Lee for our EPIC imprint. Maybe he’s the type who has to do his own thing, period. In my proposed new business model, I suspect he’d be doing only non-company-owned properties, ones he owned. He’d succeed, like a John Grisham or a Cory Doctorow, by dint of his own creative vision and talent—or possibly fail—rather than work on, say, Superman, and enjoy all the security, fat salary checks and benefits given to staff, Work-Made-for-Hire employees under the direction of a Cameron/Spielberg/Walt Disney-level boss. Luckily, Mike’s a genius. Why, then, did I throw in “possibly fail?” Because there are more ingredients to success than just genius, and it could happen. There’s more risk doing your own thing, but potentially greater rewards.
Bill Sienkiewicz and I worked together for a long time on many things. Aside from that New Mutants poster, Bill almost always delivered what we expected, better than we deserved. The exceptions, of course, are the projects where we encouraged Bill to do his own thing, explore, invent, experiment and revolutionize comics—the New Mutants comic book series comes to mind. We never knew what to expect, but we enjoyed the surprises. Maybe Bill was confused and thought the poster fell under the same swing-for-the-fences parameters that the comic book did. Whatever. I know that Bill has done some commercial art since those days, and therefore, must still be able to take direction when required. You don’t survive in the commercial art field ignoring the client’s instructions. When he was working on the Arrow Collar account, I’ll guarantee you that J.C. Leyendecker didn’t deliver illos of wingtips because one day he decided he wanted to draw shoes.
So, genius Bill could go either way. I’d give him a high likelihood of success as an independent author/creator under the new business model. But, if for some reason he chose to work on staff on Spider-Man—let’s say the company made it worth his while—I have no doubt he would do well.
Walt Simonson, in my opinion, just doesn’t like being directed or constrained in any way. He is the classic Big Gun You Can’t Aim. But here’s the thing—he’s almost always pointed the right direction anyway. The trick with Walt is to get him on something right for his style and his approach, which is more or less anything he is interested in doing, and stand back. He’ll hit the target. The eight covers for the second month of UNITY at VALIANT come to mind. He took the job on the condition that he could do his idea, his way. Fine by me. And, yes, he hit the target.
By the way his other demand was that he get paid a nickel more than Frank Miller did for the first eight covers, so he could tell people he got paid more than Frank. I handed him a shiny nickel myself. Sorry, Frank. : )
Walt could do the W4H thing if he chose, if he and the Jim-Cameron-of-comics in charge were simpatico and Walt was more or less left alone. Or Walt could take the risk and do his own thing. He’s got game, just like the other two.
Anyway, the comic book biz these days is rife with Big Guns You Can’t Aim. What’s really pathetic is that a lot of the supposed “Big Guns” are really BB Guns.
It’s not so bad that the legitimate Big Guns can’t be aimed, because, frankly, most of those in creative management who would be doing the aiming are clueless. Off target. Range-finder challenged. Blind. Which is why so many BB-Guns enjoy Big Gun-status. The editors and their bosses can’t tell the difference. Guys who have one tiny piece of the puzzle and chutzpah, or a crony in the right place get Big Gun treatment.
In the new business model, besides a creative visionary leader, there would have to be excellent, skilled, talented editors. Two types: Editors and creative management to govern and direct the house-owned properties and editors and creative management to work with the independent author/creators—not to govern and direct them, but to A) choose the best of the best, B) help them, guide them a little, if necessary to enable them to realize their vision.
All the work published under the new business model would have to be world-class professional quality, effortlessly understandable by anyone.
Ever had any trouble understanding what was going on in a Michael Crichton novel? Ever watched a few minutes of Law and Order and thrown your hands up in disgust because you can’t make heads or tails of it? Been to any major movies that might as well have been shown backwards in Swahili?
We have to be as accessible as other major entertainments.
Way more accessible than Starstruck. Sorry, Mike. If you actually tell the story that I know about from talking with you and Elaine on the pages so that anyone can get involved as easily as they can with, say, NCIS, The Lord of the Rings novels or The Hunger Games, then, I think, you win. I know you have the technology, being a genius and whatnot.
Now, I hear somebody out there thinking, “Oh, sure, all the great creators will become independent author/creators and only the drones and punters will do W4H work on the company-owned characters, which sucks for those of us who love Spider-Man, Superman and the rest.”
Nah. Doesn’t have to be that way. Free your mind. Imagine that the W4H/staff deal is reallyreally good.
Seems to me that George Lucas managed to put together a pretty good W4H team for Star Wars. They weren’t owners, but Lucas was generous with points and they all made a lot of money.
Hey, there’s a clue!
Designer Doug Chiang worked for Lucasfilms. He eventually moved on to other gigs and is, last I heard, working on his own property, Robota. I suspect it would often work that way—start out W4H (albeit startlingly well-paid) then move on to author/creator work.
Cameron managed to scrape together some talent for T2 and the rest.
And Walt Disney found seven old men who weren’t too bad.
Our medium is too magnificent to languish. Too wonderful to be left to the benighted.
Here’s hoping for the future.
NEXT: Finally, Really, No, REALLY…Evolution: John Byrne Then, Then and Now