|Cerebus & H.R. Watson (1995)|
Art by Dave Sim & Paul Pope
(from the essay Spirits Having Flown, Cerebus #207, June 1996)
It's an emotion-based world.
That was my best analysis going into the Montreal Spirits stop this past weekend. What is the effect on self- publishing of people like Teri Wood, Colleen Doran, Terry Moore, and others moving into the traditional publishing environs from self-publishing? So far, emotional. What is the emotional reaction of the retailers? Will there be a backlash against Image and its various studios? Yes. But the fact remains that a self publisher's circulation goes up dramatically when he or she takes his or her book to a company. Although Drew Hayes' numbers on Poison Elves have dropped considerably from the first Sirius issue high, they are well above his numbers as a self-publisher. There's no reason to believe that the same won't be true of Wandering Star, Strangers in Paradise, A Distant Soil, and others. I cringed while reading Teri Wood's interview in one of the slick fanzines where she describes Drew coming up to her table in San Diego and saying, "I guess you hate me now because I'm not a self- publisher." Teri said no, Drew seemed to be doing fine, and she wished someone would offer her a deal like his. Drew talked to Sirius, Sirius talked to Teri, and the deal was done. She concluded with the observation that "probably everyone now hates [her] in the self-publishing business." (italics mine).
I have no place in a world that dominated by emotion, and I should have known that.
Two self-publishers who sell around four hundred copies an issue approached me in Montreal to ask what they should do, having been approached by Caliber. They were - both afraid (emotion) that I would get mad (emotion) at them. I told them it was their decision. They should sit down and assess what the pros and cons are and make a decision based on that. They both want to keep self-publishing, but they are losing money issue after issue. They were afraid (emotion) that other self publishers would feel (emotion) that they were betraying the cause.
Self-publishing is not a cause or a movement. Self- publishing is a choice, an option. Viewed dispassionately (something that seems to be beyond most people’s abilities), it is a good way to come to the attention of the overall marketplace - fans, retailers, and distributors - for a reasonably small financial investment and a lot of hard work. Some books sell well; some books sell badly. Those that sell badly erode to the point where it is no longer feasible to continue. At that point the individual self-publisher can choose to stop, choose to keep going or choose to find a publisher, or choose to accept an offer made by a publisher. I was offered the chance to write Howard the Duck at a time when Deni and I were making very little money on Cerebus. I chose not to. I was offered a reprint deal by DC. I chose not to accept it.
Each individual self-publisher has comparable options. You have to do what you feel (since no one thinks anymore) is right for you and for your book. I think you are better off thinking about what is right for you and for your book, but, hey...
It is impossible to abdicate from a public perception. I am perceived to be a leader, a champion, a guru, a godfather of self-publishing. That perception is inaccurate. I am a self-publisher. One. Individual. Self-publisher. I prefer self-publishing. If we get to a point where it is no longer feasible to self-publish Cerebus, Gerhard and I will discuss our options and select what we think is the best alternative to self-publishing. There have been many crisis points in Cerebus’ eighteen-year history when I have had to think very seriously about other options. In each case the crisis period subsided, and I no longer had to focus on the options available. You can trust me, however, that I never once considered whether people would hate me for my choice.
Kevin and Peter decided to go the Hollywood / merchandising route with the Turtles. Jeff Smith chose to take Bone to Image. It is not what I would have done in their situation, but I don’t hate them for it. Terry Moore was afraid (emotion) to call me and tell me that he was taking Strangers in Paradise to Homage. There was nothing for him to be afraid of. As I told him, starting back with the Toronto and Northampton summits, a number of creators worked very hard to improve condition for creators. Scott's Bill of Rights is a very tame, Mom's apple pie kind of document eight years later on. At the time, it was perceived as a rabidly radical document. What was set in motion back then has led to companies like Image and Caliber, and Drawn & Quarterly, Black Eye others following a strict policy of non-interference in creative work. The most recent improvement is the “departure clause,” which allows the creator to depart at any time with no legal consequences. That was considered a rabidly radical notion when Deni and I did not contest Bill Loebs taking Journey to Fantagraphics.
Terry thanked me for supporting his decision.
I can only shake my head. No one listens. No one listens.
I don’t support Terry’s decision. I think it is wrong-headed in just about every way I can consider it. I support Terry’s right to make the decision. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness - I think I read that somewhere once.
All that is happening is that control in the comic-book marketplace is moving towards the creators and away from the publishers and distributors. Neal Adams, Frank Miller, Scott McCloud, Kevin Eastman, Larry Marder - a whole range of people have worked over the last thirty years to improve creator rights in the comic-book field. The more rights creators have, the more choices they have and the more decisions - as a consequence - they have to make. Every day, individual creators have to decide whether to change the way they are conducting their career or to continue conducting their career as it is currently constituted.
I have said before that I don’t think emotion is a sensible thing upon which to base a decision. I would advise against making decisions based on emotion. But that is one very real option for creators, and it is the right of each creator to make decisions based on whatever he or she makes decisions on - a Ouija board if that’s what you feel is best.
But let me just state for the record that I have no feeling about your creativity. Whoever you are. I have no feeling about your decisions. Whoever you are. I have realized that it is impossible to assist other self-publishers without being perceived as a leader, guru, godfather, or what have you. It is impossible to stage events centered around self-publishers without self-publishing becoming a “movement.” So, although I don’t share that perception of myself or self-publishing, I hereby resign that perceived position. I would appreciate it if everyone reading this would perceive that resignation - you know, really feel that I have resigned as King of the Self-Publishers or whatever title you perceive me as having had for however long you have perceived me as having had it. And I would appreciate it if you could perceive that I have no feelings about your creativity and that I have no feelings about your decisions. I don’t admire you, I don’t hate you, I don’t love you, I’m not suspicious of you, I’m not jealous of you, I’m not embittered toward you, I’m not disappointed by you, I’m not saddened by you, I’m not delighted by you, I’m not proud of you, and I’m not ashamed of you.
Please. If you can fit only one thought, one idea into a fixed position in your emotion-ravaged lives, let it be this one thought:
No matter what I do, Dave Sim is not going to feel anything about it one way or the other.
Do what you think is best. If you’re not capable of that, do what you feel is best.
And live with the consequences.