Sunday 8 December 2013

Dave Sim: The BBC & Corporate Metaphysics

Rejected cover art for Doctor Who: Prisoners Of Time #8 (2013)
Art by Dave Sim
All done STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND #3. Very tough. I'm hoping it's the toughest issue because it took me a month longer than I thought it would. I checked in with the Kickstarter folks and now I'm checking in at A Moment of Cerebus.  I send Tim ideas for items when I think of them -- like The Judge from "Little Murders" piece. Great to see the monologue after all these years!

Anyway, I happened to be in the coffee shop downloading some photoreference for STRANGE DEATH #3 and saw the "BBC Censors Dave Sim" piece.

Well, no, personally I wouldn't call it censorship.  I remember when Jim Shooter was testifying at one of the rights trials (Howard the Duck? Blade? I forget) and was asked who had created whatever it was. And he said, under oath, "Marvel Comics." Which everyone gave him grief about (or a lot of people did), but, legally, it was forensically accurate. That's what work-made-for-hire is. It legally substitutes the company for the creator because there's no other way to cover ALL rights. And I never forgot that. Any time I do work-made-for-hire or talked about it, it was with my eyes WIDE OPEN about that exact thing. Which is what the IDW variant covers was all about.

Try picturing it this way. You're out somewhere with a friend and he buys a vase. And you think, Nice vase. And then you go over to his place a week later and he has it in a place of honour.  But he's painted it this -- to you -- strange colour.  And you're thinking, "It was a nice vase. What was he thinking?"  But you don't say anything, because a) obviously he painted the vase and b) obviously he thinks he improved it or he wouldn't have it in a place of honour.

Doing a work-made-for-hire cover, I get the satisfaction of a) doing it, b) getting paid for it and c) selling the original. That's it. That's the extent of my involvement.
Rejected cover art for Doctor Who: Prisoners Of Time #9 (2013)
Art by Dave Sim
There was, I suspect, an element of competing Comic Art Metaphysics and Corporate Metaphysics.

I thought, I think the cover will sell for more if it has a logo on it. So I traced the logo out of PREVIEWS.  And I did think for a  moment, I wonder if I should be doing this?  Because, face it, the BBC is not exactly JAZZED about a DOCTOR WHO comic book PER SE. It's part of a big across the board push for the 50th anniversary. But comic books are not HUGE any more. They're just another thing you can do with an intellectual property.

So a primary concern is going to be what? I'd say the logo. That's what they want. We live in an age where "Brand" has become capitalized and turned into a verb.  So, that's the primary concern, I think.  So they get the cover and they look at it and right away they know that it's not their logo.  It looks LIKE their logo but in a corporate context, that's just...sloppy.  Amateurish.  It's also insubordination.  Whoever IDW is dealing with is, on the ladder, Up There.  IDW is down...let's say, off to one side, yes?...and Dave Sim, pair of hands hired by IDW, is way, way, way down here. Dave Sim doing his own logo in such a way that it can't be excised because it's PART of the artwork. That's not a Happy Thing for someone Up There.

I'm guessing, but I suspect what they were doing was "dealing with it" in what is a sensible corporate way of doing things. "You have messed with our logo.  We can't tell if this was done innocently or if you're just being a little pr--k.  Regardless, you are off your turf, way above your station and you are on MY turf. So, I'm going to make sure you understand where you are in the pecking order."

It WAS done innocently in the sense that I thought, "They won't care. As long as it looks LIKE the logo, it's a comic book. The BBC is not going to lose sleep over a comic book cover by someone they've never heard of and wouldn't care if you explained Dave Sim in a one-hour lecture to them. I'm beneath notice." Yes, I am.  But the logo isn't.

I really should have pushed IDW for printed logos, but that just...isn't how covers are done now.  I'm going to be doing a CHEW cover for John Layman and I've asked him for a logo. It's easier to conceive of the cover if you can see what is going to -- bottom line -- be on there. Here's the logo, here's the price, here's the company bullet, here's how the number is going to be done. But, it's a pain to do that. Particularly when you have to mail it to the guy instead of e-mailing him a digital file.  Here! Print your own damn logo. Which is why I TRY to be somewhat careful. People take a dimmer and dimmer view of someone without e-mail as we go along. So I really need to factor that in when I decide to try doing something like work-made-for-hire covers. REALLY factor it in. This is a MAJOR pain for 21st century people.  If you really don't want to join (and I REALLY don't want to join the whole online thing), well, pay the price and stay out of people's ways.  
Rejected cover art for Doctor Who: Prisoners Of Time #10 (2013)
Art by Dave Sim
And in terms of Comic Art Metaphysics: when I saw the doctored covers to #9 and 10, I thought, there's a message in this, too. Here. This is all IDW wanted. This is all the BBC wanted. Big picture of DOCTOR WHO. Close-up, head and shoulders. Boom. Done. But, I'm thinking, well there are Dave Sim completists who are going to be buying WAY too many copies of this book to get my variant cover. I have to do a cover that's worth what they're paying for it. That's fine. As long as it doesn't in any way affect the Corporate Metaphysics.  It's nice of me (in a way) to be concerned about Dave Sim completists but the LOGO is a Corporate Metaphysics no-brainer.  A simple clear picture of The Star, the physical icon that is what is actually being sold (and which the BBC also owns), that's what we're doing here.  If that makes for a not very exciting Dave Sim cover for Dave Sim fans, that's really, really, really beside the point.

As soon as I thought, Hang on, maybe I shouldn't be hand-drawing the logo, I really needed to think about it.  I'm the only guy who would do that because lettering is a major part of my "skill set", but that means you have to think it through MORE thoroughly.  If I'm the ONLY guy who would do this, THINK what this looks like to someone who works at the BBC and is in charge of B*R*A*N*D*I*N*G. And, of course, by the time the #8 cover had been consolidated to a single figure from my tri-level artsy-fartsy traced logo piece, the other covers were all done and all of them had traced logos. You have to do the thinking IN THE MOMENT.

Well, that's really all I wanted to say. Pretty cool to see Eddie's Cuba photos!

Okay, I'll be back whenever I have STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND #4 done -- hopefully this time it's not going to take three months! But at least two, guaranteed.

Thanks everyone!  See you in a couple of months!

Help finance Dave Sim to complete 'The Strange Death Of Alex Raymond' 
by making a monthly donation at Patreon or a one-off Paypal donation.

Originally serialised within the pages of the self-published Glamourpuss #1-26 (April 2008 to July 2012), The Strange Death Of Alex Raymond is an as yet uncompleted work-in-progress in which Dave Sim investigates the history of photorealism in comics and specifically focuses on the work of comic-strip artist Alex Raymond and the circumstances of his death on 6 September 1956 at the wheel of fellow artist Stan Drake's Corvette at the age of 46.


Anonymous said...

I thought pretty much the same thing when I saw the rejected covers and the modified final versions. The BBC want a completely unobstructed Doctor Who logo, the Doctor's face featured prominently, and at most one or two other peripheral figures.

It's pretty tried-and-true, some might say formulaic corporate design at work; but in all fairness, it looks fine, it's clean design, some Cerebus covers use this same approach, and no doubt the market research shows that these are features that people respond to and that it increases sales.

Do a google search for "doctor who book covers target" and you will find many Doctor Who book covers that are consistent with that approach and are probably roughly what would be acceptable for the BBC today.

-Reginald P.

Scott Tipton said...

For what it's worth, I absolutely loved all the covers Dave did for my book, issues 8, 9 and 10 especially! My only complaint is that I keep getting outbid on the originals!

Charlie Kirchoff said...

As the colorist on these, I was the one they asked to edit them. I cringed every time I got an email saying the BBC won't approve this, can you changed this, this, and this. I did my best to keep it looking Sim-esque, but I couldn't help but feel as if I was an accomplice to destroying a true treasure. I think #8 was the hardest. I felt he nailed that one and I had great fun coloring the original, then I was forced to edit the cover using some Photoshop trickery.
I understand that the BBC wanted to establish a certain brand consistency to the line, and I can respect that. But on the other hand, this is Dave Sim! These covers potentially could bring Doctor Who a new audience, so why not let Dave Sim be Dave Sim!
So, I want to extend my apologies to Mr. Sim for my role in editing these gorgeous covers. If it were up to me, I wouldn't have changed a line.

Geoffrey D. Wessel said...

I've already said what I have to say about the DOCTOR WHO covers (honestly, I thought the final #9 cover, the Eccleston portrait, was absolutely gorgeous), but I do question:

>> Okay, I'll be back whenever I have STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND #4 done -- hopefully this time it's not going to take three months! But at least two, guaranteed. <<

I can totally understand Dave wanting to have a certain number of issues in the can before solicitations, but why, if this is coming out in single issues beforehand, does the entire novel HAVE to be done before release? If that's the case, why not release it AS a novel?

--- Geoffrey D. Wessel

Tony Dunlop said...

Here's something that's always bugged me. Doesn't a "novel" have to be fiction? I mean, I've heard Joe Sacco's "Palestine" and "Safe Area Gorajde (sp?)" called "graphic novels." Granted, "Strange Death" is a fictionalized account, not more-or-less straight reporting like Sacco, but there really needs to be a different name for stories told in comics format that aren't actually "novels."

Geoffrey D. Wessel said...

>> Doesn't a "novel" have to be fiction?

Ask Truman Capote - he considered IN COLD BLOOD to be a novel.

--- Geoffrey D. Wessel

Birdsong said...

There is quite a bit of speculation going on in The Strange Death Of Alex Raymond. Perhaps he could call it a Graphic Docu-Drama and then just sit back and enjoy the snarky comments.

M Southall said...

Doctor Who comics continued in the UK even when the television program was a decade plus long in limbo.

Film and television productions are truly ensemble work, with multiple talents and talent involved.

Even CerebusTV absolutely required large commitments of creative effort from multiple people.

Recall that the initial time arc of IDW's involvement with Dave was the occasion of his announcement that he was financially in dire straits, economically unable to continue to self-publish. Some folks at IDW thought it better to employ Dave in artistic capacity, rather than have him head off in his mid-fifties in search of menial employment to the Alberta Tar Sands.

"Dave Sim Helps Lay Alberta Pipeline?" Nahhh...

Eddie said...

I think Dave and Will Eisner also agree with drawing a distinction. From the inside cover of glamourpuss #22:

"Will Eisner drew a distinction between graphic narratives and graphic novels. As he saw it, a graphic novel was fiction while a graphic narrative could be either fiction or non-fiction. I tend to agree with Will's distinction and think of it often."