Monday, 8 October 2018

From the depths of the AMOC Cave I bring forth...Spider-Ham!

Hi, Everybody!

So looking for something else in the AMOC cave, I ran across something Dave wrote in the Blog & Mail:
Dave Sim's blogandmail #220 (April 19th, 2007) 
As You May Remember from Yesterday's Thrill-Packed Episode, Dave has been playing telephone tag with his contact at Marvel…
Evidently he does have a rate offer that he's gotten approval on from "upstairs" so I just have to wait and see what the number actually is. Haven't heard back all week and again I'm in the situation of having to decide whether to give him the benefit of the doubt or if this is the mainstream comics pressure tactic again of trying to figure out how desperate you are by how long they can keep you hanging. Hm. How desperate am I? I got in absolutely no money in the entire month of February so I was in a different frame of mind back in March when we first started talking and now I've just had two very big weeks of trade paperback orders, last week in March, first week in April (THANK YOU, RETAILERS!) and Monday I got in the first two big cheques from Diamond of the Dave Sim Solo Administration (THANK YOU, DIAMOND!). It's a very awkward way to make a living. Revenue dries up, so I start thinking about ways to make money and sending out metaphorical messages in a bottle and just as those reach their intended recipients, I get a nice big dump of money and orders and I think, "I don't want to do any commissions or any outside work. Sales are fine. Revenues are fine. Let's stop doing the Blog & Mail or any outside work and just work on the secret project. The books sell themselves." Of course then revenues dry up again. And there's no discernible pattern. Ger would print out all the crunched numbers for each of the trades, month-by-month. How many sold and what month they sold in. Bar graphs showing overall sales month-to-month. If you set the computer on "random play" I don't think you could get a less predictable sales profile.

The problem with the Marvel situation…well, there are a couple of problems already. First of all, I said, I think what went wrong at DC was I treated their work-made-for-hire contract as an initial overture. When Shelly Bond's assistant told me I could direct any questions to so-and-so in the Legal Department, I figured, okay, this is the guy I talk to about what I have problems with: here's what I'd like changed. Nothing was "do-able". End of negotiation. Bye-bye, DC. So I suggest to him, Why don't you fax through the Marvel contract and put a check-mark next to any non-negotiable point. I'll read what you have checked off and if I can't live with them, we'll call it a day. So he faxes through the Marvel contract. Nineteen, count `em, nineteen honking pages. Nothing checked off. So the next time I talk to him he says that he didn't know which clauses would apply in my case and which wouldn't so he decided to just fax everything over from their boilerplate work-made-for-hire contract on up. "Oh, well," I said. "Whatever else happens I'll have a lot of material to talk about on the Blog & Mail." I would describe the ensuing silence on the other end of the line as "pointed".

One of the problems is that what I pictured doing was Spider-Ham. I have a definite approach in mind but Marvel has a Submissions Waiver form (supplemental to the 19 pages, it came in the next day masquerading as an afterthought) which you have to sign which says that this indemnifies them if you pitch them an idea that they're already working on. There's a lot of trust involved in signing something like that. I mean, what's to keep them from CLAIMING that they were working on that idea already after they read the proposal? BWS pitched them on his Hulk graphic novel about Bruce Banner having been molested as a child. They rejected it, but a year or two later it turns up as a Jim Shooter script. Yes, that was a long time ago and, yes, that was a different Marvel administration. It's certainly possible that Jim had already been working on that but, even if you allow for that possibility, obviously the BWS story is going to be that much better just because it's BWS. And BWS gets bupkis.

So, I faxed my contact "I really can't sign this, so how about instead I'll tell you half of my idea, the half where there's no jurisdictional risk to Marvel at stake. What I want to do is Spider-Ham but it's a completely different approach to what Marvel has done with the character. So what I'm proposing is that Marvel gives me a stake—nothing huge—but a stake in my version of Spider-Ham and if it turns into a series or Hollywood wants to make a movie out of it, I make a small percentage. If you do YOUR version of Spider-Ham I don't get anything." Given that it's going to cut into my own writing and drawing time and I'll probably be making substantially less money, I have to come up with a scenario, however remote, that would potentially make this a cagey move. Even the outside chance of getting 1% of a 75-million or 200-million dollar movie would justify a certain encroachment on how I do things (is the uneasy underpinning of my rationalization).

Well, he went and ran that past whoever he had to run that past and phoned back a couple of days later and said, "No, Joe Straczyinski just did Spider-Ham in Civil War, so Spider-Ham is out." This is one of the things I have trouble understanding about mainstream comics. I'm not talking about Joe's Spider-Ham, I'm talking about Dave's Spider-Ham. It has something to do, I would guess, with creating the illusion that they're actually documenting real-life characters and if Dave's Spider-Ham shows up too soon after Joe's Spider-Ham that will make Spider-Ham less believable in an overall Marvel continuity sense.

The real world part of me thinks "We're discussing a cartoon pig in a Spider-man costume. `Believable' is a relative concept with very, very big quotation marks around it." You know. "Let's get a grip, here." But Dave Sim, fanboy, understands perfectly. Mark "Marvel Universe" Gruenwald (God rest his soul) has been dead and gone for some years, but the urge to make everything conform to One Giant Marvel Comics Flow Chart of Internally Consistent Reality has survived him in spirit if not in fact (a die-hard Marvel fan would know better than I would). Dave Sim, comic-book writer, who has a foot in both the real world and the fanboy world thinks, "I made twenty-six years of a cartoon aardvark plausible to an audience made up largely of grown-ups. Send me what Joe did and I'll figure a way to turn his Spider-Ham into my Spider-Ham in two panels that will have Mark Gruenwald weeping in the great by-and-by at the sheer symmetrical and internally consistent inventiveness of it all." But "real world" Dave understands that that's VERY unlikely to happen. 

"Real world" Dave is "new around here". When in Rome do as the Romans tell you to do.

"What other Marvel character would you want to do?"
 Everybody remember Spider-Ham?

This is what he first looked like...
 The character that Dave has said was "Cerebus in a Spider-Man costume."
[For those not aware of the history, way back when the earth was still cooling and I had done my three consecutive Wolverroach covers on Cerebus 54, 55 and 56 -- thereby sincerely pushing the boundary between misappropriation of a trademarked character and legitimate parody -- I suspect that Marvel decided to fire a warning shot across my bow by coming up with a funny animal version of Spider-man that was basically Cerebus in a Spider-man costume. I don't know whose idea it was (Jim Shooter his own self?) but I have to say that I always admired the thinking behind it. It was a very measured response along the lines of "See? How do YOU like it?" while also a creative one and, ultimately, a profitable one! According to my Overstreet Guide, Peter Porker, The Spectacular Spider-Ham ran for seventeen issues from May 1985 to September 1987 as part of Marvel's Star Comics children's line. Not a bad run for the mid-80s]
 And which has been disputed.

This is how he usually appeared...

I mean when Dave draws him the "Cerebus-ness" is DEFINITELY there...
Well, there's a new Spider-Man movie coming out:

And Spider-Ham is in it. But he looks more like Porky Pig in a Spider-Man suit now.

Okay, I "momented."

Next Time: The thing I was looking for today (I hope...)


whc03grady said...

Dave, at the CBR link:
"Twenty years later on, Wolveroach is far more memorable than Spider-Ham, even though there was, in my view, a far greater level of appropriation going on in the later case."
Really. Spider-Ham represented a far greater level of appropriation than Wolveroach.

Mitch Grady.

Jeff said...

Mitch, it would help if you gave a clickable link to what is to which you're referring, so that we can read it in context.

Otherwise, "this is exactly the sort of thing up with which I shall not put."

Jeff said...

"what it is"


whc03grady said...

whc03grady said...

Oops, I realize I didn't offer a clickable link, as was requested, and therefore my credentials are on the line. Maybe you could refer to the blog post itself, which does contain a clikable link. (The blog post is where I got the link. Right up there.)

Or, you know, highlight->ctrl-c->ctrl-v->enter