Lately, in the comics industry, there has been a huge new emphasis on ‘creator-owned’ projects—that is, works that still belong to the writers and artists, rather than to the Big Two and their corporate empires (that’s Marvel and DC, for non-comic readers).
This is a touchy subject, and I plan to approach it from many sides, save one: money. This is a non-financial argument—aside from the the fact that if there is a solid piece of artwork you desire, you’d better bust your butt and pay for it. A live album by an artist you respect? Pay for it. An indie comic? Pay for it. Ballet? Pay for it. These people work their asses off for your enjoyment. They have executed excellence.
How much of a moralistic obligation is there to give credit for initial ideas? If you ask the comics community—a lot. The two largest publishers operate on a work-for-hire basis and reap most of the rights rewards. This is awkward and controversial and gives rise to lawsuits, indignation, and general pissed-offerey. However, I am not here to rail against big company bullshit. I am here to express my metaphysical thoughts on the matter of ownership.
And here it is: It is possible to give a creator too much credit.
OH SHIT! Yeah, I said it. But hear me out.
The origin of an idea is not the end of it. The genesis of something does not encompass the sum of its parts. Creators are necessary, but are not, and should not be, omnipotent.
Do you know why the nerdosphere breathed a sigh of relief when George Lucas relinquished the Lucasfilm rights to Disney? Because, as amazing as Lucas’s stories have been, people were sick of his heavy-handed “creator” perfectionism that kept changing, updating, and commenting on the existing Star Wars films.
Why mess with an established classic? Because it’s your “intellectual property”? Because of your “vision”?
Well. One might say that Shakespeare would be rudimentary and boring without his impenetrable use of language. What would Twelfth Night be without its witty dialogue? A gender-bending afterschool anime special. His language is the reason we revere him, not his “vision” of recycled soap opera plots.
Industries are full of people exclaiming, “Oh, yeah? Well, I thought of it first!”
In short… who cares? You had an idea? Great. Do something with it.
Intellectual property is worth very little unless the execution itself is stellar.
Some people try to use their “brilliant ideas” as an excuse for crappy style. Oh, it’s an original vision, so it must be worthwhile! But, no. No amount of brilliance in an idea will get me to read something that isn’t properly punctuated, sorry. Make the finished product count and it might deserve another look. Sometimes—dare I say it—sometimes the reworked product is the thing that counts. Sometimes the original becomes irrelevant under the circumstances.
For example, there are many fans who request that their favorite artists draw certain characters on commission. I might ask Ben Templesmith, whom I adore, to draw Eric Draven from THE CROW, whom I also adore. Should I give half the money to Ben and the other half to James O’Barr, who created THE CROW? Of course not. It’s silly, really. But this is what people are asking of writers.
Why do some creators insist on making people feel guilty for purchasing a property that they’ve already been paid for? New interpretations are not plaigarism. Especially not in comics.
I mean, Rob Liefeld created Shatterstar. If I had to give even fifty cents of my monthly X-FACTOR purchase to Rob Liefeld, I would shoot myself in the head. His initial conception of Shatterstar has nothing to do with my love for X-FACTOR. That honor would belong to Peter David and his illustrious artists (Emanuela Luppachino, Leonard Kirk, and others).
The successes of movies like THE AVENGERS and comics like BEFORE WATCHMEN bring creator-owned properties and their corporate counterparts to the forefront of pop culture conversation. “Joss Whedon is a genius! All hail Joss Whedon!” some nerds say. And yet, he grew up reading about Marvel characters written by other people, just like the rest of us.
How long should it take? Ten years? Fifty? DC waited 30 years to take on WATCHMEN, and many call them greedy opportunists, which might be true. But what should we say to all of the hundreds (at least) of women taking on PRIDE AND PREJUDICE fanfiction? Who ought to profit after 150 years? A dead Austen estate?
Do you think Bob Kane really cares about how much money DC is making off of Batman? He’s dead, for Christ’s sake. Or maybe he does care. Maybe he’s sitting on a cloud somewhere going “Oh, shit! I hope my great-grandchildren are making enough money from my character! DC is evil for stealing him! Oh, what a world, what a world!”
But I don’t think so. Because Batman lives on, eighty-odd years later. That is amazing. That, for me, would be reward enough.
When I buy a Batman book by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, I’m paying for it because I think Scott Snyder is a fucking genius, not because I think Bob Kane or DC deserve my money. No offense, Bob Kane, but I do not give a fuck about Bruce Wayne. Scott Snyder? He has my creative heart. Greg Capullo? They are the reason I read about Batman, and care.
I understand the desire to own something—your brain baby. Your creation. Keep it in your head, and it’s yours forever. But once you put those ideas on paper—once you introduce new characters to the world—they’re free. Trying to control your characters’ endeavors after the fact is like being an overly attentive parent who can’t let go of their kid.
If anyone is reading this and thinks that I don’t know what it’s like to be an artist, or I don’t know what it’s like to be poor, or I don’t understand the trials of creation—screw you.I don’t make a lot of money. I don’t expect to. I also don’t expect to profit off of a halfassed notion I may have spouted into a digital recorder while I was drunk. Until I do something with the idea, who the hell cares?
Creation is what makes life worth living. But creation is not limited to what your brain makes up. Creation involves taking existing elements and weaving them together—seeing a process and reversing it—being inspired by dialogue and marking that thought balloon with a silver sharpie. Writers who continue a story, and continue it well, deserve just as much credit and popularity as the one who created the story spark in the first place. Creators cannot skate on their old characters forever. Bands can’t keep pointing to an old album as the sign of their genius. It’s a matter of development. It’s a matter of moving forward. Of acknowledging, thanking, and building upon what came before.