Sunday, August 17, 2008

Kirkman, Making the Industry Invincible?

A few days ago, Robert (Walking Dead, Invincible) Kirkman released a video explaining that he was leaving Marvel Comics and becoming a partner at Image Comics to "save the industry". Robert Kirkman, Huh?!

OK, I've occasionally referred to myself as an apprentice savior of comics but RK, seems to be serious. Well here's the video, you decide.

Now while I do sell a lot of Walking Dead and some Invincible and other Kirkman work, proving that a lot of folks think he can write, with all due respect, almost every point Kirkman makes about the industry is just flat out wrong.

The most important being, that increasing creator owned work is somehow going to "save comics", whatever that means. It makes good sound bites but that's about it.

Robert, people do watch movies and aspire to only ever make Pulp Fiction 2 and yes people do read novels and decide to only ever write Moby Dick 2 and yes there are people who have decided that they only want to write the WFH Superheroes. But that is neither here nor there, as it has NOTHING to due with the ills of the industry.

She probably didn't mean it this way but Lea Hernandez proves it with her comment, "Here’s hoping that Kirkman saying what I and others have been saying as long as I’ve been in comics (... twenty-two years...)".

Why, if this was known twenty two years ago, is this STILL an issue? Because it is not THE ISSUE, it is an excuse that has been handed down from small press creator to small press creator like a cherished heirloom. But in reality there has never been more creator owned work commercially available (and viable) in the marketplace than there is now and even more is available online. Book publishers are fighting to lure creators away from comic publishers and establishing their own imprints to publish them.

Jeff Smith, Kazu Kibuishi, Ariel Schrag, Jeffrey Brown, Craig Thompson, Roman Dirge...

So, why are we still hearing the same tired refrain from creators?

I've been in the industry (as a creator, publisher and retailer) longer than Kirkman has been alive and despite the unprecedented level of creator owned work on the market, the one constant remains, the blaming of work for hire, particularly via Marvel & DC and retailers inability to embrace any work beyond the Big 2.

Well, I'm not sure how folks like Lea, Ellis or even Kirkman have missed it for twenty two years but Marvel, DC, WFH or retailers have not damaged the industry nearly as much as creator owned work (and the publishers who love them) has. OK to be fair it's not the work but the lack of professionalism surrounding the work that is the culprit.

From unprofessional and nonviable work by folks with to much cash in hand to fantastic work with untenable publishing schedules and utter lack of business/marketing savvy, this work leaves not only a frustrated consumer with no lack of alternative entertainment options but a also a line of business partners (distributors & retailers) who become increasingly gun shy over such product because it cannot be counted on to pay the bills and not to actively piss off their customers (and to be fair, the Big 2 share some of these same problems).

D&Q, Fantagraphics, Slave Labor, Top Shelf... all produce a staggering amount of creator owned work. Warren Ellis touted both financial and critical success of Fell. And yet the aforementioned publishers have had to go begging hat in hand and must fight retailers for sales at conventions because the work isn't selling as well as needed and who knows if or when Ellis will reward us with more Fell, which now seems to be on an annual schedule.

No, folks, the problem lies not in whether the work is WFH or creator owned. Nor does it lie in whether its interior sports slice of life or brightly colored spandex.

The problem is whether or not creators/publishers want to meet the responsibilities associated with running a business. If, Kirkman wants to save the INDUSTRY, he can start by using his new position as a partner at Image to educate creators publishing through Image Central as to the benefits of having a strong editor, in not rushing product to solicitation, in marketing and PR to build a demand for the work prior to publication and establishing and meeting realistic and appropriate publication schedules.

Creators capable of doing this will not have to worry about anything or anyone else and I can guarantee that they will have distributors and retailers beating down their doors for their work.

Or they can continue to treat the work as a part time job, fail to market it, solicit unrealistically and deliver haphazardly and wait another 20 years or so for the next Kirkman.