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Thread: Week 4- The Kirkman Break

  1. StevenForbes Guest

    Week 4- The Kirkman Break

    We interrupt your regularly scheduled lesson to talk about something that's currently setting the industry abuzz, as well as talk briefly about what you as a writer should be doing.

    We'll call this The Kirkman Break, and we'll return next week with more talk about creating comics.

    Since I can't tell a short story, I'm going to start at the beginning and then move forward, just like a novel. Hunker down and get comfy.

    If you don't know who Robert Kirkman is, you've been living under a rock. There's no other way to say it, so don't get angry. But for those of you who don't know, Robert Kirkman is the creator of Invincible and The Walking Dead, and also wrote for Marvel for a few years. More recently, he's been named partner at Image comics, and has issued a statement for creators to do more creator owned work and less work for hire, while also having Marvel/DC aim their books to a younger audience. The plan is that once those kids grow up and beyond the now-made-for-them-Spidey, they'll have a wealth of creator owned material to choose from. The creator owned material is like a retirement account for creators, because it's something they'd own. Simple, right?

    You've heard about this, right?

    If you haven't, then shame on you, because you haven't been doing your job. What you've been doing instead is living in a fantasy world where you're going to make a trillion dollars with your stories. You come here to have someone show you the way, but if you're not putting in the work, what difference does it make?

    If your goal is to write for Marvel/DC, and that's all you aspire to do, then I'm here to tell you that you're setting yourself up for failure. I won't say that you're wrong, I'm saying that you're going to fail in the long run, because working for Marvel/DC isn't a plan. It's a goal, sure, but it's no plan. I know a guy who's had one story published by them, and has been trying to get back ever since. He's BEEN there. What have you got?

    Don't you know that Marvel/DC is going to chew you up and spit you out, without even saying “thanks”? You don't get the benefit of a reacharound. All you get is shown to the door once you're no longer able to make money for them.

    Let's look at Chris Claremont. He is the writer of all of your favorite X-Men stories. His body of work on the X-Men spans twenty years. This is his LIFE'S WORK. And he was summarily removed from it in order to breathe “new life” into the franchise. A franchise built off of his sweat. Sure, Marvel is the house that Stan and Jack built, but it was people like Chris that painted the walls, moved in the furniture, and added wings and such to build it into the mansion it is today. And what's he going to get in the end? Nothing, because he's basically a freelancer.

    (Steven, are you saying Kirkman's right?)

    No. I'm not saying he's right, but I'm not going to say he's wrong, either. I'll come to that in a little while.

    As a writer, you should be checking certain sites EVERY DAY. Comics is your chosen field, and as such, you need to know what's happening in it. You should be checking the news sites, reading the solicitations for new comics- yes, that includes comics that aren't mainstream- and checking out opinion pieces and editorials. You should be keeping abreast of what company is publishing what story, who are the creators of that story, and what they're saying about it. As a writer, you should be aware of what other writers are doing. If you're not, you're really not doing your entire job.

    A few years ago, I wrote a story about a gun for an anthology called Western Tales of Terror. It didn't get published, and that's a different story in itself, but a few years later, I see a story called Gunplay win a contest. It, too, had a gun, and I'll be damned if the gun wasn't similar to mine in a LOT of ways. I mean, a LOT of ways. Now, when I did my story, not many people knew about it, so I can't say that he ripped me off. What I CAN say, though, is that if I went forward with my story, I'd be accused of ripping HIM off.

    And I wouldn't have known about it if all I did was stay in my little corner of the comics world and did nothing else. I probably would have gotten a cease and desist letter from a lawyer, and then have to go through the time and expense of proving that I had the idea first, even though it wasn't published. (And while I won't use the story, I can at least use the concept, but that's a topic for a different conversation.)

    What am I saying? Check out more than you're already doing. At the absolute minimum, you should be going to Newsarama and Comic Book Resources. These are the two major news sites. I'd supplement them with Wizard, Silver Bulletins, Marvel, DC, Image, and anything else you can think of. The first few will be broad news topics, and then it starts to narrow down. Of course, Marvel/DC/Image will promote their own stuff only. The more sources you look at, the more rounded you'll be, and that's the point. Like I said, know who is publishing what, and who's working on those particular stories.

    Now, back to Kirkman.

    The Kirkman Plan, while the thought is good, the practical application is, in my opinion, nearly impossible to do and wrongheaded. What should happen, in a perfect world, is a modification of the Kirkman Plan. The modification would be the best of both worlds, and be something beneficial to all creators.

    First, how it's wrong: Marvel/DC aren't going to change their publishing practices and their entire universes that have been around for longer than most of you reading this have been alive (me included). It's just not going to happen. Spider-Man and Superman are billion dollar marketing machines, all by themselves. Individually. More people know about Supes and Spidey than any other character. I dunno. Longevity will do that for ya. Technology is making the world smaller, and thus, easier to communicate, so there are more characters being recognized by more people, but the staples are Supes and Spidey. The effort to “save” American comics (because that's really what's being talked about by Kirkman. In Europe and Japan, creators can almost be rock stars.) is a great thing, but Kirkman's idea as it is would actually kill it, in my opinion.

    Having Marvel/DC basically restart their universes to cater to kids is ludicrous. (Don't get me started on the various DC “crises,” okay? Not my idea of a good time. Anyway...) It's not something that's really going to happen, and has no reason to. The reality is that comics are still trying to continue in an antiquated millieu, without having the wherewithal to adapt to change. Sure, technology has finally caught up to our imaginations so that we can see our creations come alive in other media (such as movies and TV), but comics are generally being produced the same way. The advent of technology has made the production easier, but it's still being done the same way, for all intents and purposes.

    If they restarted their respective universes, here's what would happen: kids won't come. American comics are produced monthly, and have 22 pages of story for $3 (and probably going to rise soon). How can that really compete with a monthly manga that has upwards of a hundred pages and costs around $5? You'd have to up the page count a lot, make only a slight increase in price, and produce it monthly. More work all around, and not a real increase in revenue (not enough to make American creators happy, anyway). That's not even mentioning the fact that American comics haven't done a good job of capturing the imagination of today's youth.

    There's a LOT more to this, and my little diatribe barely scratches the surface. I urge you all to do your own thinking and research on this, because the alternative is really much better (and more feasible).

    Do both. Freelance work for Marvel/DC pays well (so I'm told). You'll be able to pay the bills doing what you love. It really doesn't get much better than that. (Reminds me of an episode of Cheers where Norm gets a job as a beer taster. Did I just date myself again?) However, generally speaking, in order to get to play with the big boys, you need to have creator owned work, or have a body of work somewhere outside of comics, such as novels, tv, or movies.

    So, while you're creating the adventures of Pen-Man, you get tapped to write Spidey. Great! Does this mean you have to stop working on Pen-Man?

    If you're smart, no. You don't stop working on Pen-Man, because not only is Pen-Man the reason you got the gig, but because of your “amazing” Spidey work (hey, the joke was sitting right there!), it's also probable that you'll also get more readers for Pen-Man. Your job, while working for Marvel/DC is to get as many readers to recognize your name (and thus, your brand) as possible, and translate that into readers who will follow you. Get readers loyal to your name and your creator owned work, and by doing that, you'll be giving yourself a retirement plan.

    Mark Millar (pronounced “miller”), writer of some very high profile Marvel work, as well as some creator owned properties, has a hit movie on his hands. As creator of the comic Wanted and getting a co-creator credit with artist J.G. Jones for the movie, he probably doesn't have to work any more. Creator credits and production credits are theirs, and that residual income could sustain them for the rest of their lives. He wrote Wanted while still doing work for the big boys, and it's paid off highly for him.

    Stan Lee, co-creator of the Marvel Universe, doesn't OWN any of the characters. The man who created Spider-Man doesn't own him. That's a crime.

    A bigger crime? The real creator of Batman, Bill Finger, cannot be credited as such. Even though creator credit goes to Bob Kane, even the Kane estate doesn't get anything for the creation of Batman. Bill Finger languishes in obscurity, Bob Kane's name is nominally known, and neither of them get any money for their creations. And don't get me started on the Men of Steel.

    This is what happens when you do freelance work. You don't own anything you work on, and have no safety net if something goes wrong.

    This is why there is the Heroes Initiative (formerly known as ACTOR: A Commitment To Our Roots). It's a charity set up for creators that have fallen on hard times. (I also suggest you give. You'll be giving back to the creators that have not only fueled your imagination, but in whose steps you also wish to follow in. It's a good cause, and it's tax deductible.) It's a great thing that there is a charity set up like this, but it's also sad that there NEEDS to be a charity like this.

    So do yourself a favor and continue to do creator owned work while pursuing the big boys. (The secret is in trades, really. Kirkman talks about being able to make a good living off his creator owned comics, but that's because he's able to sell his comics twice. The first as a monthly issue, and the second as a collection. The collection sales enable him to continue doing his monthly comics, which means he can make more collections, and thus, more monthly issues, which means more collections... see how the machine feeds itself?) While you're doing that creator owned work, you also want to try and branch out in as many different media outlets as possible.

    Still taking Kirkman as an example (hey, this column is named after him, after all), here's what he's done: he won a Scream award for his comics work, getting his face and his comic work in front of millions of faces. His current flagship title, Invincible, is the most recent breakout superhero since Spawn. He's sold the rights to Paramount, in the hopes of getting a feature film made. He has a statue of his character made. He just made a deal with MTV to have Invincible “animated” for mobile devices, complete with voice casting, sound effects, and musical score. He was able to translate his success as a comic writer into a partnership that's right behind Marvel and DC for recognizability. (Creators flock to Image, even though Dark Horse has a slightly higher market share.)

    That's just what he's done. If he's smart, he'll try and get The Walking Dead to be something like an HBO or Showtime series. He's written other things, starting with Battle Pope and continuing with SuperPatriot and Tech Jacket and The Astounding Wolf-Man. He also writes the Invincible back-up feature Capes. Both of his bread and butter series The Walking Dead and Invincible show no sign of stopping, and in today's market of comics that get canceled left and right (just ask Jay Faerber about Noble Causes), it's amazing when an independent comic can reach fifty (50!) consecutive issues.

    Know what a creator owned, continuing series is when it generates different revenue streams? A retirement plan. You control it entirely, beholden to no overlord of a comic company. Everything you do with it is yours. Sure, a company like Image will take its cut as publisher, but everything else belongs to the creative team. You can't do that in the Marvel Universe, although that should change.

    A better model would be for creators to get a cut of characters they create for Marvel/DC. It can be done. When Claremont created Sovereign Seven, it was placed in the DCU as a creator owned property, but the deal was for a DC regular to also appear. It's possibly also being done for the Milestone universe, because they're coming back in the pages of DC proper. So it's not unheard of. Even though a character like Deadpool gets credited as being created by Rob Liefeld and Louise Simonson, they're not getting any money for the character.

    Having creators get some sort of participation incentive would keep great characters within universes such as Marvel/DC. It would create a revenue stream for the creator, but the caveat would be that they would have to leave the character in the universe. They'd get credit and paid for their use, but the character would have to stay where its at, and couldn't be killed off without the creator's consent. This would stop situations such as what happened in Spawn when Liefeld was kicked out of/left Image, where it was revealed that Chapel (a Liefeld character) killed Al Simmons (Spawn's alter ego) only to be changed after Liefeld was gone with his toys. This would help expand the character roster, as well as keep good ideas at Marvel/DC instead of all of them going off to do creator owned universes. (Honestly, there are only so many creator owned superhero universes that the market can sustain.)

    A lot of words, I know. The basic thing, as new creators, is to understand that you won't work for Marvel/DC forever. You need a plan for what happens after them. Creator owned material should not only be an option, but it should also be a necessity.

    I suggest you get crackin'.

    Oh, homework! Can't forget homework. List the sites you're visiting on a regular basis, as well as why you visit them. Sure, there will be repetitive answers, but it's also a point of discussion. We can also talk about creator owned comics versus freelance work.

    Next week, we'll continue where we left off at with creating comics. Thanks for your time. See you next week.

  2. Join Date
    Jun 2008
    Post Thanks / Like

    Steve, man....even your rants are fantastic!

    Now, my HW...let's see. I hit Projectfanboy, of course. Very insightful!

    I aslo got to the following sites: Digital Webbing, Newsarama, Diamond Comic Distributors, DC, Comic Bloc Forums, Comic Book Resources, Kingdom Comics Forums, Wizard, Blue Water Productions, BOOM! Studios, Devil's Due, Radical Comics, and probably others.

    I also talk to a lot of companies and creators on myspace.

    I don't go to the Marvel site much. Not to dis Marvel, I just can't navigate that site to svae my life. Which says more about my pathetic computer skills than it does about anything else.
    "Living Robert Venditti's Plan B!"

    CAT. 5

  3. DavidPaul Guest


    Holy shit, dude! I'm so right there with you. This is all conjecture, of course, but no worries. We've all got opinions but some of us can actually help teach the rest of us with their opinions, based on experience.

    I see a lot of problems with comics not appealing to kids today. When we grew up comics grew up with us. Or the other way around. There's a whole lot more out there today than there was when we were kids. Maybe one of the few things that competed with comics back then were video games. Both home consoles and arcades. But nothing beat the feel of a good comic in your hands. Today there really is a wide variety of entertainment and general distractions competing for the quick attention span of kids. I do think it's a good idea to continue to target kids with comics. With that said, I'm nonetheless a subscriber to the "comics are not for kids" school of thought. Even so, there's no reason we can't enjoy a nice healthy co-existence. I think we do in some ways today. Still... not a whole lot of kids reading now. Not sure what that says about the future of the industry. It certainly gives one pause for thought. And concern.

    You keep on preachin', brother-man! Hells yeah.

  4. TomLupo Guest



  5. StevenForbes Guest

    Thanks for the support, everyone. I appreciate it.

    Sorry it took me so long respond. I had to go to NY for a few days, and while I had time to check, no real time to post. But now I'm back, and have more goodness to share in just a couple of days.

    And is Sebastian really the only one doing the homework?

    For myself, I regularly hit CBR and Newsarama. I find them fantastic for general news and a few columns, such as The Buy Pile, Lying in the Gutters, and Permanent Damage. Those are on CBR. There really isn't a column I follow on Newsarama. I hit other sites occasionally such as Silver Bulletins and Wizard- but I no longer buy the Wizard magazine. For me, it used to be a good place for news, interviews, reviews, and previews. The last time I picked it up was about two years ago, and it was filled with ads and things that were only peripherally related to comics.

    Anyone else?

  6. DavidPaul Guest

    Oh come on. We all hit all the sites. In addition to those mentioned I like to support WoWio. And welcome back!

  7. rhannah Guest

    What's up with this "comics are not for kids" school of thought? Now I understand most American comics (90% perhaps) are not for kids these days, but comics are as good a medium for kids as any. The competition of video games and all of today's distractions has not stopped the success of Japanese Manga in a country where video games are also a powerful force. The format of a Manga book may differ from a American periodical, but IMO at least it is the culture in America that has changed, not the kids.

    Comics grew up with the creators who are generations of fans themselves. I believe there is/was a mentality to make comics grittier and darker both as a way to unload and throw off the chains of years of Silver Age cheesiness, but also to justify the medium to adult peers who viewed comic book writers with derision. There is a hint of a stigma among writers towards 'comic book' writers as if the medium is not literary enough, and more transient and less 'permament' or mature. Today many mainstream average folks (the majority of the population who don't read comics) still think of comic books as for kids. This is something that I think the Frank Millers and Alan Moores were rebelling against, perhaps subconsciously with things like The Dark Knight Returns, The Killing Joke, and The Watchmen.

    Slowly, kids were effectively ostricized from the medium as little except licensed properties based on animation or toys remained for them... that or Archie Comics. By the 80s and 90s I'd say that the demographic on the youngest end only went back to early teens, rather than kids. And demographic continues to get older. Look at the customers in any comic shop and the kids and teens that come through the door are mostly buying trading cards.

    In Japan, manga for all age from kids to adult is produced in plentiful quantity and the market there eats it up. I can't speak with great authority about how Japanese culture has enabled this, but it is still a wonderful thing to see. I just think one (and I acknowledge there are many factors at play) of the things that is holding back American comics from a younger audience is the simple lack of interest among writers and creators to produce for that market. One of the other big problems is how do you kick start a horse that has been long over due for the jump cables for decades now? How do you put comics in the places that kids will see them, and buy them? How do you make them affordable enough for kids to buy? Etc etc. It could very be dead as far as kids are concerned... but there is hope in the Manga format.

    Perhaps the Manga / digest sized format, on cheap paper, or completely black and white might get a foothold even if it did not share the Anime / Manga style. Who knows... I think it's more realistic than Kirkman's idea of Marvel and DC shifting into reverse. It makes more sense for Marvel and DC to make more serious efforts in their Marvel Adventures, and Johnny DC imprints, possibly even producing them as straight to digest form and getting them into Toys R Us stores etc.

    It's late and I need to wrap this up and get to bed. Great articles as always, Steven.

  8. Cary Guest

    i've always felt comics for kids was a multi pronged problem.

    price: too high per unit when compared to other things in the market like video games. your dollar value per hour of entertainment is vastly different.

    availability: games can be had in every Wal Mart, Target, toys r us and a thousand other stores nation wide. comics...gotta find that comic shop to get em.

    continuity: even with Final Fantasy 15000, you get backstory to catch you up, and then you're off. you don't HAVE to have the last 14999 games to know what's up. comics...if you haven't been reading a few issues back most times you're lost as hell. this equals confusion, and the switch is turned off.

    so what's the answer? trades, for the most part. they give you FAR more bang for the buck, on both sides of the counter. more profit for creator, more story for the reader, and you give them the WHOLE story, so they don't feel confused or out of touch. plus you toss in extras, and they feel like they got even more of a deal. access is also achieved because trades are common in bookstores across the country, reaching millions more than the singles can, with a shelf life that never expires.

    trades folks. it's how Manga has slowly slipped in and kicked the piss out of our medium with the younger kids, especially the girls, and it's the only serious way back from the edge if you're talking in hand product. now digital...that's a whole other ball game.

    bbut nice column Steve. i hit newsarama now and again but i think by and large the site is populated by WAY too many assholes. CBR is decent, but kinda like CNN as far as objective reporting goes. i hit the PF forums pretty regular like, cause...there's good people here! and i spend a lot of time over at Comic Related. i think that site is primed to surpass the other news and reviews sites before it's all said and done.

  9. rhannah Guest

    Just bought your first issue of Fallen Justice from IndyPlanet, Cary. The synopsis alone sold me right away. Presuming it takes the usual month of wait time before my copy arrives from IndyPlanet, I guess I'll have to find something else to distract me from anxiously waiting to read it. When will #2 be available?

  10. StevenForbes Guest

    Comics being for kids or not is a great discussion, but outside the realm of this column.

    That being said, Cary is absolutely right about the multi-pronged problem about kids & comics. The biggest ones are price and accessibility.

    You can go and tout manga as a great bang for your buck, and you'd be right. The "problem" is that what we're getting here are often reprints of material that is ten or more years old. I'll be the first to tell you that I'm not a manga reader. However, from what I can see of it, the style doesn't change all that much over a period of time. Not like American comics. (And yes, I could be totally off-base here. Like I said, I don't read manga.)

    But like I said, they're reprints. The initial costs of doing the translations and possibly fixing some nudity are peanuts when compared to doing a brand new issue. This is the major reason why they can be sold so cheaply here. You're not paying for 'new', you're paying for a fixed up 'old.'

    But really, no matter what Marvel/DC tell you, their comics are not aimed at kids. Not when you have them coming out with entire lines that are directly aimed at them. That's the proof of their lie right there.

    Again, to echo Cary, it's not that comics aren't a viable medium for their attention, it's just that American comics no longer capture the imagination of children. Not the way they used to. And if you want to blame someone, blame not only our fathers, but ourselves, as well. This is what we asked for: sophistication of storytelling and to have the characters grow with us.

    How do we fix it?

    Great question. We've been searching for that answer for years now. No one's gotten it yet--or if they have, they've been unwilling to implement it.

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