Some comic book publishers will not survive the effect of the coronavirus pandemic. Such a loss or reduction of income from the direct market and bookstores alike will see some not able to come back. While Marvel and DC Comics are still encouraging creators to keep on, as they were, smaller publishers are feeling the heat. There are comics that use other forms of distribution. Those who rely on newsstand and subscription, like Viz, Phoenix, Judge Dredd Megazine and 2000AD should be fine. Those with big bookstore sales like Scholastic will also still prosper.
And those who use crowdfunding services such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Patreon, publishers like Iron Circus Comics who monetise their subscriber base should also survive. There will be less disposable income to go around, and everyone's situation is more unstable than it was. Both Aspen and Valiant have been confirmed as ceasing production and asking creators to stop working, Valiant to the end of July at the earliest. A lot of comic book creators, especially those outside the Big Two, will be losing their gigs. Is this time for Ethan Van Sciver to show a little empathy to his fellow creators of all stripes?
Ethan Van Sciver Lashes Out Again
A message that some endorse but that not everyone is on board with. Van Sciver has talked about having a 'mean streak'. Other creators have stated it is this attribute when targeted at their colleagues which turned them against Ethan Van Sciver, and it does seem to be in full play this week. There are also creators like Mike Miller, who previously were Comicsgate-ho, but then decided better of it, who also feel his ridicule.
And for comic book retailers in trouble, fearing the imminent collapse of the direct market, there is little sympathy from Ethan Van Sciver there either.
The thing is – the observation that comic book publishers are subject to the whims of the market and creators who work for them can be very vulnerable as a result is not a new one. For those comics creators working for publishers, with fewer options, there's a famous image by Dave Sim that comes to mind.
Published in WAP, the comic book professional activist magazine way back in 1988, Dave Sim would later talk about the message in Comics Forum, in 1993, saying "If you picture a multinational corporation as a pyramid, coming down there's a ragged bottom of middle-level bureaucrats, and dangling from the end of one of the strands is an editor. Down below him, trying to reach up, is the creator. An editor is paid a Manhattan salary. Those people leave tips in restaurants bigger than what creators work for. This is why the reward for one of the top creators is always to offer them an editorial position.
They're struck dumb when they say to someone like Alan Moore, "We'd like to make you an editor, an overseer of a line of comic books," and the reply is "No, I just want to write them." You have to understand that these people have no credibility. Neil Gaiman has no credibility. Frank Miller has no credibility. They are a profit center. They are a prestigious thing to have around… The company has to feel at every point that what they have given you is a magnanimous gesture on their part. They cannot have the tail wagging the dog. There's a reason why it's the Vertigo Tour and not the Neil Gaiman Tour. DC owns Vertigo, they don't own Neil. They've already been burned with Frank Miller and Alan Moore. They didn't own them but the made them into superstars and then had them walk away. They won't make the same mistake again. They know what they own, what they control, and what they don't. I'm not, and refuse to be, a lapdog begging for scraps. Whatever level you get to in the comic-book field, that's what you are. Once you sign the contract, you get what you get. It's the company that decides it. You don't, your agent doesn't, your lawyer doesn't, your publicist doesn't. You're talking Time Warner. You are a tiny speck in the middle of their magnifying glass and that's all you can be. If you see it any other way, you're kidding yourself."
Comic book creators who can mass a sizeable enough audience through self-publishing (or as good as with Image Comics) can do very well, and make far more money from smaller sales than on work for hire for the big companies. It's why Netflix bought up Millarworld, why Scott Snyder and Charles Soule have made more money from Undiscovered Country than all their Batman books, and why those with successes in bookstores such as Dav Pilkey and Raina Telegemeir have made more money than anyone at Marvel but Ike Perlmutter. And why Dave Sim, when he was successfully self-publishing a niche book like Cerebus but selling the collections direct to retailers as well as through Diamond, stayed in the best hotels at Comic-Con and arrived in a limousine, and how Kevin Eastman threw the best parties.
None of this is new aside from the mean streak. Ethan Van Sciver is a very talented and successful comics creator with a business brain, a mobilised outraged fanbase, enviable success, monetising it as many have before, and bringing a number of his friends along with him. I wish him success and am pleased that he found a way to achieve it without reliance on comic book publishers. It doesn't actually have to always be done while cocking a snook at everyone else around you. As Miller has learned, you can fall off that friend list very quickly.