Monday, 18 November 2013

Creators Bill Of Rights 25th Anniversary: Erik Larsen

Savage-Vark Head-Sketch (2012)
Art by Dave Sim
(from The Creators Bill Of Rights, August 2005)
The Creators' Bill of Rights was always a puzzle to me. It seems as relevant to me as eight random human beings hanging out at a street corner getting together and making rules for mankind. It’s not as though anybody put them in charge of anything or have any reason to acknowledge or adhere to their rules. Those who drafted and signed it, talk about the Creators' Bill of Rights as though it’s a document of some historic import, I'll grant you, but outside of those who signed it -- I’ve never had it brought up or even mentioned in passing to me by anybody in the industry. And really, I’m not sure why anybody should mention it. To call it a Creators Bill of Rights is a bit of a misnomer. It ISN'T a Creators Bill of Rights -- it's the conditions under which these eight (or however many it was) individuals are willing to do business. Anything more is presumptuous at best and arrogant at worst. What makes these individuals feel as though it's their place to speak for the rest of us? It may be a good thing to keep in mind or be aware of when a creative person is negotiating a contract with a publishing company but I think its impact in the industry is, frankly, minimal at best. Heck, I've never read the darned thing. Like I said -- it hasn't come up. Which isn't to say that the people involved aren't all good guys -- I just think that this isn’t really something that can be hammered out by eight random human beings hanging out at a street corner -- it's something that is to be decided in negotiation between a creator and a publisher. At the end of the day, the Creators' Bill of Rights real value may come from simply spelling things out in a form people can understand and utilize in their negotiations with a potential client. I think it's a little na├»ve to expect everybody in the industry to salute it like they would a flag and hang on its every word. 

Erik Larsen is the writer/artist of Savage Dragon and was one of the founders of Image Comics.


Anonymous said...

I think that the Bill of Rights and its surrounding events were primarily about Dave showing, as demonstratively as possible, that he had influential support among creators and publishers in his dispute with Diamond Distributors. Much of the content of the Bill of Rights itself seems to have been of little interest to Dave.

Dave’s own account supports this view:

Dave was only really concerned with one point on the Bill of Rights related to distribution. He says that McCloud, as a freelancer, didn’t understand Dave’s concern as a publisher with being bullied by Diamond distributors. So most of the Bill of Rights, drafted primarily by McCloud, was, for Dave, beside the point.

I think that Dave wanted to forcefully standup to Diamond, and the Bill of Rights, along with the various gatherings of prominent professionals, a speech Dave made at the time and which he printed in Cerebus, and other information printed in Cerebus and Puma Blues at the time, was all part of a kind of grand spectacle that he used to show power. It was more about the immediate interests of the creator-publishers, which included some of the others at the summit, and putting on a show of force in the face of bullying distributors.

Dave was able to marshal an impressive array of creators to his cause. This spectacle had to have at least caught the attention of Diamond and other distributors. Dave printed pictures from the summit and the Manifesto in Cerebus. Maybe all of that helped convince Diamond and the other distributors that this was not a battle worth fighting.

That nothing further seems to have come from this assemblage after Dave won his dispute also suggests that its primary purpose was to help Dave win his battle. It also seems that the primary thing they agreed on was to take Dave's side over Diamond. On most everything else, it seems like there was dissension.

Did this dispute set a precedent whereby creator-publishers could thenceforth sell collections directly to their readership and bypass the distributors where before they could not? I have no idea. But if so, then that is probably the legacy of the summit and the surrounding show of solidarity, and not the Bill, whose wording adds nothing to existing law and provides no bargaining power in and of itself.

-Reginald P

M Southall said...

A lot of words of disparaging opinion by a guy who admits to never having read a word of it, not even the Coles' Notes cheater version!

And it wasn't exactly eight "random" guys nor did the meet under a lamp post on a street corner.

That said, these last years, Dave was so deferentially fearful of Diamond dropping it, that he wouldn't sell Glamourpuss direct over the internet. While the battle may have been won, the long war appears to have been another matter.