Comic book and television writer Kelly Sue DeConnick was a prominent member of the Warren Ellis Forum back in the day, and she met her husband Matt Fraction there. She worked with Warren Ellis on several projects, including writing the Avengers comics. As a result of last week's revelations, she has been having some tough conversations. Yesterday, she took to Instagram Live with a raw, honest account, to express her support women who have been speaking out, to talk about her guilt that she only benefitted from knowing Warren, while others did not. She believes, as a result, she owes a debt as a result and is talking about formulating a plan to make comic books less dependent on patronage, like other creative industries such as television and novels.
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Because this is still true, getting into the big comic book publishers without being a success elsewhere first, is often about social connections. It can be about being on the right message board, going to the right conventions – and the right drink-ups afterward – and making the right connections. This is especially true of writers. In recent years, there has been a move towards representative agents, but these are still mostly for creators who have proven commercial success, whether in comic books or outside of it. This is only within specialist comic book publishers, however. Graphic novel publishers who are part of more general book publishers, or focus on bookstores, book fairs, and libraries, expect creators to be represented by agents, it's the norm. I have been running a lot of graphic novel announcements from traditional book publishers of late, and they almost always have an agent to credit, even for debut creators. But for debut creators trying to break into Marvel or DC, having an agent is seen as an obstacle, of a creator being difficult right from the start. It is a black mark from the get-go. The only exception seems to be if you are an artist from a non-English speaking country – but agents are seen as warning signs for those who are not.
Kelly Sue sees the system as broken, and in her Instagram Live, she shared a conversation she had been having with another woman about how to fix this. Wanting to organize a conversation with current major publishers to persuade them to change the way that publishers bring new creators into the mainstream medium – and that might include insisting on agents acting for creators. She talks about not just relying on altruism on their part but also highlighting terms of publisher's liability if they don't. As she puts it, "whatever works."
It seems to have hit a chord. One of those lightning moments that runs around publishers, and I have had a number sounding me out last night and this morning. There will be more stores about sexual harassment in the comic book industry to come; this is a move to try and fix the systemic aspects unique to the comic book industry that may foster them. Which will be the first comics publisher to announce something like this? Watch Kelly Sue's video; it makes for a compelling case.