Friday, August 15, 2008

A Response To Robert Kirkman's "Beside The Green Wall"

Have you seen the Unibom...ahem...I mean...Kirkman Manifesto yet? Just in case you haven't:

Well, now you've seen it.

Let's do bullet points from the beginning:

  • Saying you became an Image partner to save the industry MIGHT sound arrogant? MIGHT??? It is arrogant. And is it why you left? Or do you unwittingly give the real reason when you mention that, with Marvel & DC, when you're hot, you're hot...and when you're not, you're not? More on that after the bullet points.
  • No one watches a movie and only aspires to do Pulp Fiction 2? Or write Moby Dick 2? Not necessarily fair comparisons, seeing as how an overwhelming majority of works offered in both industries are original products, unlike the comic book industry. Still, you have Dean Koontz writing Frankenstein and another writer taking over the Robert Ludlum's Bourne series. Plenty of directors and screenwriters would kill to work on big budget adaptations. There are people that hang their hat on being a top script doctor. What people want isn't universal, Robert; which is something you should have thought about before deciding everyone needs to follow your plan.
  • Creator-owned work has been known to extend the life of your career? As long as it is good? Well, therein lies the rub, doesn't it? Not everyone has original ideas that are going to resonate strongly enough with the consumers, are they? What if the creator doesn't feel confident in creating compelling new characters? What if a creator doesn't feel comfortable with the risk you have to take on establishing a new property and getting enough readers on board before it gets to really hit its stride?
  • Not enough new people coming into the hobby (you said industry, but you were very clearly talking about readers, not creators)? This is with the existence of cheaper books marketed to the younger readers that, despite your contention, don't actually talk down them? While the industry has been experiencing modest growth and you contend that it is a great time for comics? There seems to be large gaps in the logic used in this manifesto. Seems like someone going off half-cocked after having a long night of grousing at the Hyatt bar.
  • If the creators that have all the freedom at DC & Marvel were to do their thing on creator-owned books, we'd have the same stories worked around original characters? Not exactly true for a few reasons. First, stop saying creator-owned books when you clearly don't include Vertigo or Icon. Next, recognize that many of those stories key on having a wealth of history to draw on for the characters used. Finally, realize that just because you struck gold with Invincible & Walking Dead doesn't mean it's that simple to create great new properties that find their audience quickly enough to support the process.
  • Opens a whole new revenue stream for creators, such as getting their ideas options for movies? Exactly what percentage of creator-owned properties do you think get optioned? Again, you've had some luck. But, while there have been short-lived animation deals, I don't recall seeing any movies based on WETWORKS, YOUNGBLOOD, WILDC.A.T.S., SAVAGE DRAGON or SHADOWHAWK. Guess what those largely were: the "freedom at Marvel/DC" creators doing their stories with original characters. Meanwhile, creators at DC/Marvel get royalty payments for works they had no financial risk on and even get some participation in the movies (small as it may be) if some of their work is used for the basis of the film. You try to coach your argument in extremes that aren't all that fair in this discussion.
  • Let me get this straight. The best creators at DC and Marvel leaving them to do creator-owned-but-not-Vertigo-or-Icon work would be best for them? And it is because the current fan-man audience follows creators but the according-to-your-argument small number of kid readers don't? Your whole point hinges on the theory that kids will FLOCK to comics once you cut back on the continuity and make them less complex. By the end of the weekend, DC Comics will have just helped Warner Bros have the second highest grossing film of all time...with a mature, complex story. They're making some complex video games based on the properties, too, from my understanding (Arkham Asylum & DC Universe MMORPG).
  • The Adventures and Johnny DC lines don't necessarily talk down to kids. If anything, kids might bristle at comic book versions made specifically for them at a certain age, when they feel like they want to read the adult versions. Making all of the books into Adventures/Johnny DC style books so there's no version stigmatized might not help as much as you'd think.
  • Kids want to read something that's not necessarily meant for them but appropriate for them? Whuh? If it is appropriate for them, then it's kinda appropriate for them. If you neuter comic books until there's nothing inappropriate for kids, then you've effectively made them "meant for them". Some adults might still read them, like they already do with Marvel Adventures/Johnny DC, but there's no mistaking that they're "meant for" kids.
  • Pulling the continuity and complexity out of their current books makes the work of DC and Marvel easier and has it appeal to a wider audience? I don't know about that. I think dropping both of those qualities (especially the complexity) makes the work less appealling and leaves the consumer finding it easier to walk away from titles. Finding a new, younger generation to read the books (and insuring you'll constantly have to do that, as your audience refines their taste) is many things...but easy ain't one of them. You'd be better off dropping the charade that you care about how things would work for DC & Marvel and just embrace the fact that your bias is both clear and understandable.
  • OK, DC & Marvel might have to pay their writers and artists less. I wouldn't think it would be considerably lesser, but there'd be some savings. But writers and artists would be happier because they'd be doing what they want? Are you assuming that Brian Michael Bendis, Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, & Mark Millar are trudging through misery with the work-for-hire they're doing? I point out the writers because, despite you including them in word, you really seem to be ignoring the reality of artists. This rewarding experience of working on something that is your own creation? How's that work for the second artist on Invincible or Walking Dead? Or anyone working on several work-for-hire titles published by Image (cough...Top Cow...cough)? Preach concepts that you think will help the industry, but where the fuck do you get off deciding what makes everyone else happier?
  • The more people that do creator-owned work, the easier it will be to sell it? Exactly how? You've said that DC & Marvel will continue putting out their catalogs, so some amount of the "fan-men" will still be buying them as long as they are competently done. An influx of more creator-owned work in an industry that won't be adding another 100,000 readers overnight means a glut of creator-owned works competing against each other for the consumer's dollar. If there were 20 of you, the fans would come flocking, eh? How many books made by those 20 do you think your average fan would buy? You're smoking crack if you think it'd be enough to keep all of the books (possibly 60-80, if the creator is only putting out their personal product).
  • Alright...OK...ARE YOU EVEN THINKING AS YOU SAY THIS STUFF? DC & Marvel would be selling better AND creator-owned books would be selling better? This all assumes that kids would be flocking to the new "appropriate" super-hero stuff and the discarded adult readers would be flocking to creator-owned stuff. Have you paid attention to the difference in numbers between, let's say, Daredevil & Criminal? New Avengers & Powers? JLA & Invisibles? Uncanny X-Men & Casanova? Man of Steel & Next Men? I get that there isn't a "corporation" to eat so much of the profits, but we're talking about how many people will travel outside of their longstanding favorite super-heroes to buy what is easily a doubling or tripling of creator-owned work by "name" creators. Your plan works on so many assumptions that seem to fly in the face of documented history and/or assumes a bottomless wallet from your customer.
  • You know, the fact that you're sure you've said things that were completely wrong demonstrates that even you know you went off half-cocked. What's the point in making such a statement if you're not going to have thought it through? To get conversation started? You could have done that with a much more succinct call for more creator-owned work by established names. Challenged people, even. Then you wouldn't have made such wild and illogical claims about how your idea would definitely lead to some comic book utopia and every creator being happier.
  • You actually think DC or Marvel would pay to send representation to a conference meant to discuss them giving up all the named talent they have exclusives on so they can start recruiting the next generation of your readers? Cocaine is a powerful drug.
  • Communication and cooperation between all the comic book companies? Isn't that often referred to as "collusion"? I mean, especially since you're basically asking Marvel & DC to agree to not compete for name talent.
  • I feel a little shitty. I believe you when you say you love comics, comic creators and everyone who reads comics. Fuck. did this out of love, but the best intentions didn't stop you from being arrogant and condescending in the first third and then naive throughout the rest. Sorry. Do your thing. Put all your blood, sweat and tears into creator-owned stuff because that is what makes you happiest. Encourage others to cast their fear aside and take a plunge into creator-owned work. But this plan on how to make the industry work together is far-fetched and very likely illegal.
Oh, it's, also, worth noting that when I originally opened the CBR page that had the video, there was some sort of titling on the page (not in the video) that referred to it as Robert Kirkman's Image (or Image Comics) Mission Statement. Then later...poof...the Image part was gone.

When you're representing Image as a partner, you might not want to tell creators to leave companies that some of the partners do work for (Top Cow's deal with Marvel?). Trust me: I know how certain companies tend to hold anything said by people thought to be associated with an organization against said organization. Sometimes even expressly stating that your opinions are your own and no one elses (which I don't remember you saying, Robert) doesn't even help.


  1. Wow, I love Kirkman's Image books, but this is just...crazy. I see what he is trying to get at, but it would never work like he wants. It's almost like he loves Comics too much, he has to remember this is a business first and the various companies will do what ever it takes for the bottom line first. Besides, the webcomic format used for something like Adventures of Dr. McNinja, or Girl Genius (free webcomic with a new page a couple times a week, and then collected trade sold through an online store) would problably be a better way for a no name writer/ artist to be able to break into the business.

  2. He needs to look more presentable when doing videos. You know, not look like the comic guy stereotype. I'm somewhat getting shit for saying that at Newsarama, but it's true.

    Also, where the hell is Erik Larsen these days? He's letting the new guy turn into a "Ryan" (a little Office joke there).

  3. Larsen isn't running the game there anymore. He's another of the partners. I think you're looking for Mr. Stephenson to step in and comment. ;)

  4. Since Kirkman just became a partner, does that mean he gets any revenue sharing? If so, does his mission statement get seen as a possible attempt to pad his own wallet? Manifestos are for art students, not professional creators. NOW that he has a couple successful Image titles he can take shots at others. Once upon a time work for hire was something he did but now that he doesn't need it he's taking shots at ones who still do. I look at Criminal which is a great book but obviously doesn't sell enough that Brubaker can quit writing X-books- many of the X-book readers don't know about or could care less he's writing something else. Until readers quite supporting crap over great books like Criminal then creators will follow the money just as Kirkman has in the past.


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