Thursday, May 29, 2008

Some thoughts on fame, comics, and contracts

If this looks too long, all I ask is that you read the bottom two paragraphs.

After watching this really great video blog by Jackson Pearce, I've been thinking about the concept of wishing. Wishing isn't just important to characters—it forms a large part of not-so-fictional people's lives, too. Many of us are wishing for fame—watch any "reality" TV show, and you'll see a range of people struggling for their fifteen seconds.

When Andy Warhol spoke about the 15 seconds, society operated at a slower pace than it does now. As our lives become more and more "real time" with the internet's ability to near-instantly deliver information, the pressure to obtain that fifteen minutes multiples. We want to be famous, because we are surrounded by a culture of fame—everyone is made a celebrity in America. No longer just film or music people, we lend celebrity status to almost anyone that can supply fodder to the 24 hour news networks. Politicians, rich teenagers, reality tv "stars," writers and artists.

Lately, it's been comic book artists. San Diego Comic Con used to be a geek haven, but now it's one of Hollywood's circle-the-date events. Hey, I'm as happy as any other comic reader to see SDCC getting the star treatment that used to be reserved for the Oscars, Emmys, or Golden Globes. With the popularity and "cool" factor of comics ever-increasing, many people are being exposed to a medium that was a social taboo not more than 10 years ago.

It's even spilled over into the not-so-illustrated novels—see the fantastic Vicki Pettersson's Signs of the Zodiac series, about a troupe of astrology-based superheroes patroling the streets of Sin City. What makes Pettersson's work stand out from all of the other urban fantasy novels on the shelf is her original mythology—but, perhaps more importantly, at the heart of the series is a damn fine author who knows how to put sentences together. That's what makes a novel endure and last in its relevancy beyond a six month shelf life.

The truth is that the world changes. We don't have the attention span we used to. We've become less text-based and depend more on visual stimulation. Hopefully, our publishers are going to change with it, but maybe this uncertainty and fear of what the future brings only adds another degree to the need we feel to be The Next Big Thing younger and younger. Part of that search for younger "stars" is the media realizing that it's teens and tweens who have the money to spend on music, books and movies. (Plus all the tie-in merchandise.)

With their finger on the pulse of this youth-market, one of the companies attempting to change the way comic publishing works is TOKYOPOP. They've started this sort of America's Next Top Manga Idol program on their website called "Manga Pilot." (TOKYOPOP has shifted their focus from in-store sales to driving people to their youth-orientated website, which is a combination store/online community.)

The online comics professional community has flooded this week with wave after wave of backlash against the Manga Pilot program and TOKYOPOP in general. You can read why on Anime News Network, PW's The Beat Comics Blog or at Bryan Lee O'Malley and Lisa Hernandez's livejournals. TOKYOPOP offered this statement as a response.

After educating myself on the situation and discussing it with professional artist friends, I've drawn the two following conclusions:

1) If you wish to be involved in the Manga Pilot program, no one has the right to take that choice from you. However, I stress this as a professional who has experience reading and writing contracts—please, have a legal representative go over the contract you are given for any publishing deal. Whoever writes a contract makes it so it is advantageous for them. It may seem "sneaky," but it is just how the business world works. You need to be aware of this and ensure that you're looking out for your interests. Protect yourself. If you can't find an agent*, please seek out an entertainment or creative/intellectual property lawyer. Your peace of mind and future security are worth their fee.

2) Support your fellow creators. It's not just enough to raise the issue of the contract; the artists and writers who are with TOKYOPOP need our support. So do the independent comic stores that rely on selling those artists' titles. Visit the creators' personal websites. Shop their Cafe Press stores. Buy a print of their work from their deviantART page. Go into your comic shop and ask to try something from Seven Seas or Del Rey or Viz if that's what you need to do in order to feel like you're taking a stand.

Peer support is the answer to all of this. Not just financial—emotional support and mentoring to provide education and assistance to those who need it. That is what the online community exists for. It's time to show people that we are professionals by behaving in a positive, professional manner.

*Graphic Novel is a selection in the "Fiction" drop-down menu of Agent Query's search tool. When I searched this morning it generated 42 results.


johnevans said...

I think this is a very good post. You're giving sound, positive advice that really applies no matter what kind of project someone is involved in. (Sane and sober advice on the internet, imagine that!)

I just have one small issue with the post, which doesn't really impact the larger point...When you say "We don't have the attention span we used to. We've become less text-based and depend more on visual stimulation.", I don't really think that's the reason for the increasing popularity of comics. I think it's more that, now that nobody really cares about the CCA anymore, authors are free to explore do more interesting experiments with comics...which gets comics more respect, which attracts more authors to do more interesting experiments, and so on.

Have you read Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud? It's a good read, I recommend it. ;)

Chandra Rooney said...

Oops, didn't mean to imply a shorter attention span was the reason comics are more popular. I think the CCA has a lot to do with it, as well as who are now the people who decide what is "cool." (If that makes sense.)

I meant that comment more in reference to how that might affect the generation that grew up online. Printed newspapers, like the Los Angeles Times are facing serious financial threats. They've had to go online to try to compete with bloggers, and the established print papers are at the disadvantage because their long relied on business models aren't working.

Publishers see that POD (Print on Demand), Self-Publishing houses, and eBooks are gaining popularity. So they're left to adapt, which affects book stores.

TP started as a physical-book based company, and they've since expanded into this massive digital presence. Manga Pilot appears to be the latest phase of that migration. What people seem to object to are what are being called "unfavorable" terms for the creators who get involved with this new approach.

We can hope if more companies have projects like Manga Pilot, the competition will create a demand for more "favorable" terms.

Anonymous said...

I met bryan lee omally :) he signed and did a sketch in my scott pilgrim book