In 1988 over a two day Summit held in Northampton, MA, Scott McCloud attempted to write The Creator’s Bill of Rights in hopes of replacing the “Creative Manifesto” written that previous summer in a similar Summit. The original manifesto was thought of as a bit scattered, however, despite McCloud’s attempts, the original Manifesto stuck (McCloud, 2000).
The debate continues in regards to Creators’ Rights, but a few years after the summit, several top Marvel artists broke from the corporate restraint and formed their own company called Image. When this happened, creators rights fell to the wayside and the field became more of a game of clout and competition among the top artists. Yet McCloud states that despite all that has happened since 1988, the artist always has the right to control their art…just don’t sign it away!
It seems that the issue of creator ownership and rights is a long running debate within the comic book genre. Writers and artists have either worked for hire or sold their work directly to the publisher before publication. Most comic book creators are then consigned to being permanent freelancer who receive no royalties. If an artist created a popular superhero, they would receive nothing if that character would go on to star in a movie that made millions of dollars.
As an outside observer, I know very little about the comics industry and what I do know come from reading articles on the web, this class, or from the X-Men comics I enjoyed growing up. But I did spend a lot of time as a graphic artist, most of my beginning years as a freelancer. While my work never made it to the movies or produced Millions of dollars, I understand the feeling associate with leaving a job, being paid for that period of time for my contributions, yet never being able to attach my name to any art I created.
At 20 years old, I was just grateful to have a job, period. If I didn’t pay the rent, I was faced with living back at home or on a friend’s couch. I would image that many comic book artists who begin their career are faced with similar situations. The question then becomes do you want to maintain a cost of living, or do you want to take the risk to gamble on yourself, your talent, and produce your own art. From my experience and knowing artists in the print advertising industry, I always heard the following: If you truly believe in your creative work, you believe in yourself, and you believe you can actually commit yourself to the work and hours it will take, you have a greater chance of success.
As with all things in life, there are no guarantee’s and with the over-saturation of the industry, it can be very difficult to break into the industry and establish a sustainable art. Many artists I’ve seen are working on getting their career started through webcomics. While I prefer something tangible in my hands as I read a story, I can see the immediate benefits of producing a web comics.
- Fast exposure to a possible global audience.
- Generating a higher degree of interest by offering only a few frames at a time.
- Creating a buzz within the genre.
- Possible studio interest in your talent.
- Building a portfolio.
Even with these benefits, if I were an artist who chose this medium, I would ensure the website is under my control and/or owned by me. Be prepared to supplement income with freelance or full-time work. And finally, being careful in my choices if approached by any large studios or production companies and read contracts carefully. It can be easy to see large dollars up front, but over the long-haul the amount of dollars could be much, much greater.
Photo: Northampton Summit Participants – November 1988. Drawn group shot of the Summit participants from Reinventing Comics, Chapter Two. Left to Right: Ken Mitchroney, Mark Martin, Michael Dooney, Steve Lavigne, Peter Laird (sitting), Kevin Eastman, Ryan Brown, Michael Zulli, Richard Pini, Scott McCloud, Larry Marder, Dave Sim, Rick Veitch, and Steve Bissette. Image courtesy Scott McCloud. © Scott McCloud, all rights reserved.