Names Withheld – Do Writers Have Too Much Power In Comic Books Today?


Before Image Comics was formed, Erik Larsen famously sent an anonymous letter to Comics Buyer's Guide (though he may not have meant it to be anonymous) calling for artists to consider seizing the reins of power and write their own books. On that kind of fervour, the artist-centric Image Comics was formed, and other projects such as Dark Horse's Legend Comics followed in their wake. Since then, however, things seem to have changed somewhat…

Paul Maybury is a comic book creator recently working on comics such as Atomic Robo with Brian ClevingerCatalyst Comix with Joe CaseySovereign with Chris Roberson, and has Valhalla Mad lined up next year with Joe Casey again, picture above.

But he has a Christmas tale of woe to share about creative collaboration on Facebook. Emphasis mine.

Now I'm not naming names, but some days it's hard to hold my tongue about the state of comics and what it's like to be me, an artist trying to hang in this business. It gets even harder when I hear fellow artists with the same stories as myself, similarly afraid to rock the boat and lose their only ally in a hand full of publishers, of which some seem to be complicit in the problem. I mentioned this earlier in a separate Ulises Farinas thread of discussion, but the empowerment of communication given to writers by publishers for the sake of easier movie and tv deals is killing this business. It also enables people with questionable morals to take advantage of their creative partners, and is a pretty common occurrence on a lot of popular books we all love. Wouldn't it be fucked up if an A-list writer sent out a quick text as a basis for a comic and let the artist create the entirety of the issue without writing credit or even equal ownership? I didn't make that up. Wouldn't it be insulting to know an award nominated artist on a critically acclaimed books payments were withheld by the writer for a year? I just heard that heart breaking story the other day. I'm working with Joe Casey on a project currently, and it's sad to say he's the only writer that's ever really done right by me. Why doesn't the comic industry ever discuss this imbalance of power? Much like the scandal with Brian Wood, it's right under the surface, and most people kind of knew already. Why does some poor creator always have to risk falling on a sword in comics before we fix things?

Later in the thread, Maybury states,

Some publisher working on creator-owned comics often have a single person or contact regarding the status of comic books and I have been that person myself. Sometimes that happened de facto, as the writer is often the instigator of a project, takes it to a publisher and establishes that relationship, with the artist presumed to be in the same boat.

The sad part is that I genuinely love collaborating with writers. There's a lot of good people out there, but it sucks to know about the bad ones that continue to get work and climb the ladder without consequence.

As for naming names,

Sorry Zack, not falling on a sword today. Give it another year or two.

But he did say, replying to Justin Jordan's request for clarification,

Justin, what I'm clumsily trying to say is that some publishers only want to deal with the writer of a creative team to simplify further business deals. On the surface it makes sense, but opens the door for unchecked mischief.

We have seen one settled court case between the artist and co-creator of The Walking Dead, Tony Moore and the writer and co-creator, Robert Kirkman. We also saw artist Roc Upchurch leave the creator-owned Rat Queens, replaced by Stjepan Sejic with unknown terms.

But I can attest to the deal-with-one-person attitude of a number of publishers regarding the progress and direction of creator owned comic books – because I have occasionally been that person.

As to his current work, such as working on Valhalla Mad, Maybury states,

I'm also not saying I've had a problem with every writer but Joe, but I am saying he's the only one that actively seeks my opinion and includes me in decision making. Also, we're assuming that publishers are as receptive to pitch material coming from an artist as opposed to a writer. I can't blame them, but again, it leaves artists open to what I'm talking about here.

Even the Millarworld deal, famously fair – even generous – to artists, and also very collaborative, seems to regard Mark Millar as the central business contact for the books, as the man holding them together.

Is this an industry norm that could do with a little discussion? But this particular expression of it may have been brewing for some time…

About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.