COMMENT: Men of Tomorrow, Today?

I’ve had Gerard Jones’ enthralling must-read, MEN OF TOMORROW, on my mind a lot the past few days, thanks as much to the Speakeasy fiasco as my general feelings about the comics industry lately. So much of what I see happening with seemingly naive creators getting screwed over by inept publishers with big plans and little common sense — and even in the corporate comics world, what with hastily revised plotlines resulting in lackluster stories potentially killing fledgling careers, etc. — reminds me of the Donenfelds, Liebowitz’, Siegels, Schusters, Fingers, et al, of the early days of the industry.

Back then, it was a perfect storm of opportunists, dreamers and fanatics, and it’s not much different today, with far more pyrrhic victories than outright successes. Only the terms of the contracts have changed.

I want to extend both my condolences and apologies, in particular, to Vito Delsante, about whom I suspect I’ve been unnecessarily pointed in my assessment of his role in the Speakeasy collapse. I know what it’s like to want to something so bad you’ll overlook pretty much everything negative as long as there’s even the slightest glimmer of hope on the horizon. I don’t envy the position Delsante found himself in, and can’t honestly say I’d have done things differently if I were in his position.

That said, as I mentioned previously…due diligence. I know too many people in the poetry world who got screwed over by jumping at a book contract from some random fly-by-night publisher with no distribution plan and zero connections beyond a good deal with a printer. Or signing on with an agent who had no connections beyond access to the same types of venues one could approach on their own. When Def Poetry came along, the slam poetry scene was flooded by wannabes who thought they were going to become famous overnight, that all they had to do was hit as many open mics as possible until the next round of auditions were announced. Little thought was given to craft, to improvement, to developing their skills to a point where it was more than simply appealing to a drunken bar crowd caught up in the moment, only to be forgotten the next day. Instead, they focused more on marketing, on building a name for themselves, all based around work that a year later they’d often be embarassed to be reminded of having written.

The comics industry is ridiculously similar.

I don’t know the specifics of anybody’s contracts out there, but I do know that some are clearly better than others, and that any contract that holds a creator liable for losses needs to be shredded upon presentation. Plain and simple.

Legitimate publishers take on the risk of publishing a particular work. In an industry as segregated as comics, if you’re not working with the Big 4 and getting that front of Previews exposure, the gap between self-publishing and signing on with a 3rd tier publisher is a narrow one. Either way, you’re going to have to bust your ass promoting your work — at the indie roundtable on Sunday, the minimum estimate each creator gave for time spent marketing their work themselves was 25% — so why not reap the full benefits of doing so, and avoid the possibility of losing momentum when your subsidy or vanity publisher decides to cut you because you’re losing them money?

If it’s a question of not being able to afford to self-publish, there are affordable options out there like POD, ashcans (we called them chapbooks in the poetry scene) or webcomics. Self-distribution takes work, but anything worth doing takes some work. It can be done, it’s just a question of how hungry you are, and how realistic you are about the marketplace. Diamond and the direct market are not the end-all be-all of comics.

More later, maybe…

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