A personal diary keeping people abreast of what I am working on writing-wise.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Okay, back to comics.

Much has been made in various comic book news circles about this quote playwright and actor Eric Bogosian gave to MTV's Splash Page:

“The problem is […] what they want to do is make a deal to do the graphic novel, which would be great, and there’s no money there, which is fine — obviously you’re doing it for the fun of it — but if a movie comes out of it, then they guarantee that they will not pay you for it, that they will screw you.”

I've seen it framed as indicative of something inherently wrong with the comics industry and the fact that some publishers ask for a cut of film rights before proceeding with a book. Personally, I have no problem with this, and have gone on record that part of the reason I let Oni have media rights as part of our publishing agreement is I like their mechanism for pursuing these things and I have zero interest in being involved. I am willing to give them a cut for their doing the work (I do get paid for it, and if Bogosian is being honest that he wouldn't, well I wouldn't have signed that deal either; I think he's exaggerating). If I ever change my mind on future projects, I can either renegotiate or go elsewhere. Either way, then I will likely use my agents to handle those new publishing deals, because *gasp* it's another thing I'd rather let others do, thus leaving myself more time to write. Other people can choose to do otherwise, that is their prerogative. There is no right or wrong here, just what is right for you, and that can be fluid for both the creators and the publishers. (I always thought Oni should be willing to step back from things based on what a particular artist brought to the table; in some instances, he or she may already have the media mechanism in place.) Know what is right for you, and go with that. As long as you're not signing copyright away, I have no beef.

What I haven't seen is anyone call a spade a spade here and note that what Eric Bogosian appears to be trying to do is get a publisher to pay for a glossy pitch package so he can sell his idea to a movie studio. He may or may not really care about the comic in the long run, I don't know, but the comic is not the end goal here. In defense of my friends on the editing and publishing side of comics, they see this thing all the time, and they have been seeing it for many, many years. As an editor, I saw it constantly, people bringing their stinky, failed ideas to comics because they couldn't make a go of it in other media. Too many writers from other fields see comics as their dumping ground for ideas that have languished elsewhere. I even used to get full novel manuscripts with cover letters where the writer explained that he or she had not sold the novel and wanted me to read it to "see if it will make a good comic." You know how many of these novels and screenplays I read in ten years of editing? Zero. If you're so interested in making a comic, then put your ass in your chair and rewrite it as a comic, then talk to me. No one wants to put time and company resources into a project that the creative team will abandon as soon as their new, expensive advertisement that they expected the comics publisher to pay for gets them what they really want.

Talk to any editor at any company, they have seen this all before.

Honestly, this is exactly the time when a publisher should be asking for a cut of other media. I don't wish to disrespect Mr. Bogosian, whose work I have very much enjoyed in the past, but he's not exactly at the peak of his fame and readers aren't going to be lining up for a comic book by the police captain from the lowest rated show in the Law & Order franchise. (And me, I love Law & Order, so my honesty hurts here.) I could see if this were maybe someone like Gerard Way or Joss Whedon, whose Dark Horse work has attracted a ton of attention, enough to make any company want to be in bed with them regardless of their motives (which, as far as I can tell, are unimpeachable anyway, and in terms of Way's The Umbrella Academy, the comic has always been a comic first and foremost, and one of the best of the year to boot). I'm sorry, but in this case, it smacks of somebody wanting to plant their seeds in the comic book garden and then not invite comics to eat the veggies once they've ripened.

I could be wrong. Apparently, Eric Bogosian does like comics, so his artistc heart could be in the right place (he may have even already adapted the screenplay to the form, too). Obviously, this is just my interpretation, but I don't see where Vertigo or any other publisher is the bad guy in this. Given the failure of Virgin Comics and their line of "napkin properties"--celebrity driven comics where most of the celebrities would be lucky to be called B-listers and whose actual involvement was questionable--I think there is a very solid case to be made against these kinds of books as viable publishing concerns. There is even a case to be made against comics as an arena for building a fanbase for something from another field, as Tom Spurgeon recently did in regards to the comic book The Ferryman. Tom even notes a tendency from within our industry to craft some titles more for their potential Hollywood sale than for good reading in today's review of War Heroes. (I have read neither of these books so can only agree with the general sentiment, not the specific application.) Making good comics has always followed a simple formula: do the comics as comics, and worry about the rest later. So simple, it has to be repeated over and over, because too many are too determined to make it more complicated.

Think, too, we're also assuming that the comic is actually good just because it has a respected celebrity behind it. Nothing in the last part of that statement is any indicator of the first. It has, after all, been languishing as a movie idea for a decade, so who the hell knows? I also don't want to make it out like these types of projects can never be good, as the right creative team and the right idea could be comic book gold. One quote by one guy about one pitch no one knows anything about--I'd call that much ado about nothing. The same comic book everyone-thinks-we're-nerds-and-all-of-our-business-practices-are-wrong persecution complex, different comic book day.

Current Soundtrack: The Spandells, "Say No Girl;" Sparks, Kimono My House

Current Mood: dismissive

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All text (c) 2008 Jamie S. Rich

1 comment:

Juniper the Gooseman said...

Yeah, darn straight we take a cut from the film money from something we publish. It's a modest cut. I think the work we do to get people's work in the hands of producers in the first place is worth a modest cut.

And, honestly, if someone mentions the film potential of their comic in a cover letter, it pretty much means rejection.