Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Taking A Stand

In April 2012, Chris Roberson, a novelist and writer who has worked on several comics titles for DC and Vertigo, including his own co-creation iZombie, announced via Twitter that due to ethical concerns, he was no longer comfortable working for DC Comics. The remarks, following in the wake of several other comics-related controversies (Before Watchmen and general disappointment over the handling of Jack Kirby's legacy, among numerous other things) very quickly spread throughout the comics internet, and shortly led to DC terminating Roberson’s contract. Roberson's public statements, and the sometimes fiery arguments that they have provoked, seemed in some way to augur a possible modest paradigm shift. He agreed to speak to TCJ.com about what happened, his relationship with DC, and the ethics of the comics industry.

CHRIS ROBERSON: 
(from an interview with Chris Roberson at TCJ.com, 25 April 2012)
...Yeah, and that's really one of the things about it that has rankled me so much over the course of the last months. Because the only defence that's offered of things like either Before Watchmen or the counter-suit against the Siegels or any number of different things that have been done historically is that the company is operating within the bounds of the law. The company is doing nothing illegal. There's no defense mounted to the ethics or morality of their actions, and in many cases they will make kind of passing nods to the fact that what they are doing might be interpreted as unethical, but that because it’s not illegal, you know, they're going to do it. And seeing as these are companies, both DC and Marvel, that are built upon stories about paragons of virtue who stand for what's right, not for what's nitpickingly legal, that was really bothersome to me.

...I think that in a lot of ways so much of the hue and cry for creator rights over the course of the last - forever, really, but definitely in the seventies and eighties - in large part was about remuneration. It was about getting fairly paid for one's labor, and the fruit of ones labor, and definitely in that aspect DC has done a fairly admirable job, at least with stuff initiated after that. But the other part of the creator rights manifesto back in the '80s was over creator control and the moral rights that a creator could exercise, and that's the part that they don’t talk about very much, because that doesn’t seem to exist.

...There is [something DC could change which would make me feel comfortable working for them again], actually, and it was suggested not to me, but in a public forum, I think on Heidi MacDonald’s ComicsBeat.com, by Kurt Busiek. Kurt is tireless in wading into enraged inflamed conversations online and being a voice of reason. But what Kurt suggested was that if Marvel and DC both were to retroactively grandfather their current work-for-hire creator-equity deals - for example, now if you work for DC and you create a character that appears in one of their books, and then years down the line it’s an action figure or it appears in a movie or appears in a TV show or gets republished or whatever the case may be, the person that created that character gets a check. So what Kurt suggested was if DC and Marvel were to grandfather their current equity deals back to 1938 that they would obviate the need for the lawsuits that many of the creators and their estates continue to bring and that also they would have a public relations bonanza on their hands because they would be able to show how they were taking care of the people that made these characters that people cherish now. In much the same way that Time Warner settled with Siegel and Shuster in the '70s so they could trot them out for the premiere of the Superman movie. How great would it be if Time Warner could point to how they were helping pay for Tony DeZuniga’s hospital bills while they were promoting the Jonah Hex film, or whatever the case may be. I think if they took better care of the people who created the characters that other hands now service, that would do a great deal to engender fonder feelings on my part.

One other thing I would add is that if DC and Marvel did retroactively grant the creator-equity deals to their former creators, we wouldn't need a Hero Initiative now, because those guys would be getting money. It would reduce the profits a minuscule amount for the larger corporations, but it would take care of entire generations of now dying old men and women who have gone on to see their creations continue to generate revenue they or their children don’t have any part of.

A MOMENT OF CEREBUS:
I thought the principled stand taken by Chris Roberson against DC Comics echoed many of the creator's rights issues Dave Sim has discussed over the years and demonstrates the ongoing impact of the Creator's Bill of Rights on the younger generation of comic creators. I urge you all to read the full interview with Chris Roberson at TCJ.com and then reflect on whether you want to continue supporting Marvel and DC.

For me, enough is enough. From now on, I'm taking my own personal stand against their corporate ethics. I will no longer be spending any of my own money on Marvel or DC comics or products until they address their shameful, on-going treatment of the creative-founders of their companies (including - but by no means limited to - Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster and their heirs). That means not buying Marvel/DC comics, not paying to see Marvel/DC films, not buying Marvel/DC merchandise for nephews and nieces etc.

How about you? Are you taking a stand?

2 comments:

Eric Hoffman said...

I haven't been buying Marvel or DC comics for years, Tim. That's for a variety of reasons: economics, dislike of the content, and a some moral objection to how they treat their talent (although the case can always be made that it takes two to tango . . .). That said, I still have oodles of Marvel and DC comics in my collection that you would have to pry from my cold, dead hands. And just recently I purchased the complete Keith Giffen run on Legion of Superheroes v4 and Ditko's vastly underrated Speedball.

A Moment Of Cerebus said...

Hi Eric,
It's something when a company's own staff feel queasy working for them. Chris’ resignation and DC’s complete lack of respect for the Watchmen legacy has been a tipping point for me, and like Chris, this had been coming for some time.

I’m not naive enough to think that my actions alone will make any economic difference to Marvel or DC. The best that can be hoped for is that they are embarrassed into doing the right thing.

Kurt Busiek’s idea of retrospectively applying the existing work for hire contracts right back to 1938 is genius. It’s a relatively low cost thing for Marvel and DC to implement which would benefit a great number of lower-profile creators. It’s a simple idea that the comics community should be rallying behind. Spread the word!