Friday, May 11, 2012

The Coming of Age of the Creative in the Digital Age

Enlightenment for those of a creative disposition

Hi Guys,

As I said in my previous Blog, a while ago on one, or two of the comics forums a series of threads were started, which showed the level of unrest amongst the ranks of professional comicdom and looked at what is rife in US comics and nowadays the remnants of UK comics. The discussions broached on some very touchy subjects and they are just some of the things amidst a whole host of others that are fundamentally wrong with the system we work inside of within the machinations of the comic business.

One of the touchy subjects was producing samples years after becoming established as a professional artist. On a personal note, I have refused to produce samples without full payment since 1999 for two reasons:

1.) The editor/publisher should, if competent, be able to ascertain whether or not an artist can create/write/draw/paint, etc from existing work they have done, without the need to see whether, or not they can draw a horse, or a 18th century town house, because there wasn't one in the samples that were sent. If not, then the odds are it will end up being a typical comic scenario of changes for the sake of them and the general garbage that can arise from these kind of working relationships - the alarm bells certainly sound instantly with me now.

2.) We do not work for FREE! Freelance does not mean we work for free, it means we hire ourselves out to companies to produce work for them, without them having to pay out national insurance, tax, and any of the perks one may have working on staff with a salary.

My view is simply – just because that's the way it's always been, doesn't mean it is right, or indeed cannot be changed.

My previous Blog enlarged on scenarios, which would be deemed wrong when compared with the comic creators’ analogies here.

If anything good has come from the digital age of the Internet, it is the abilities to better network with fellow colleagues, be they writer, artist, letterer, graphic designer or production folks. Comics creators can now side-step the publisher in favour of publishing the books themselves. With the advent of the computer age we no longer need to pay for the artwork to be made print ready by expensive reprographics companies – therefore no more expensive scanning and separations, etc to pay for. These were the reasons most comics creators couldn’t produce their own books until only recently. As a result of all these things we ultimately take more control over the standard of work we can produce.

No longer are we just producing product, we can if we want produce labours of love. Creating stories and characters, which can stand the test of time without having to abide by corporate policies initiated by suited none-creative types from within the confines of a swanky boardroom office.

It also means we have much better access to marketing tools, information and above all contact with distribution and retail and some, indeed all of that we can also do ourselves. Information is power and the balance has shifted as a result of these changes.

When I first set up the Keep back in 2005 I paid a visit to Carl Critchlow and he showed me work produced in the small press that I have to admit had me wanting more and looking on the books in better light than I did with the mainstream, a name as you know by now I do not like.

There are for me, just two things in comics – Great Comics and Bad Comics, no matter whether that is in so-called independent publishing, or mainstream. “Independent publisher” and the even more demeaning “small press” were originally given to the folks that deemed it fit to work outside of the parameters of the constraints of the big publishers as a means to subjugate them and keep them in their place by these big publishers. It was a way to differentiate, alienate and demean the work produced outside of their halls and it has worked for years.

To me it has always sounded like some backhanded compliment given to the small fry of the scenario, by the bullies of the piece. Especially in light of some of the great works created in the past and now being produced outside of the big publishers.

The only differences for me with the independent and the mainstream is the creative freedoms the independence affords one, working outside of the main publishers. The downside comes from a lack of money generated from the work in progress, until it sees print, unlike a publisher, paying a royalty on sales, or a page rate. That and the ability to own and exploit the IP(s) in whatever way you wish – unlike work for hire in which you own nothing, except the original artwork, which you can sell on to boost income.

The real difference between the two is the time the larger publishers have been in existence. What needs to be said is that it was not always the case, as the big publishers were small once and given the that same time to generate a readership and a cash flow so too can the new kids on the block.

The return of artwork has been a bone of contention for years with countless thousands of unreturned artwork, rightfully in the artist’s ownership, mysteriously disappearing down some equally mysterious black hole. Nowadays with the advent of digital delivery at least that happens now fewer times.

Another sad aspect of the comics business is hearing from younger comics creators almost incredulously asking if there was ever a time when one could make a working living out of comics. The rates in the main have depreciated, whilst all other things have increased in value, including the price of buying a comic.

I prefer to look on publishing like this; there are the big companies and there are small ones and like any businesses the bigger they are the more impersonal they become and the smaller they are the more likely you are to speak to someone with the passion and drive that you have, as a creative person.

Outside of the top comics publishers for a while there were young folks willing to create stuff for free for the unscrupulous publishers out there, in the hope that some marvellous career was about to bloom through doing so. When they decided it wasn’t going to happen they drifted away leaving only the battle hardened warrior comics creators, still determined to make their marks. In the place of the young folks came the next generation of would-be creators and with each consecutive generation they too would fall into the same trap of working for free.

Hopefully this shift in the paradigm of print and publishing is showing even the would-be creators out there that this business model can never do anything except keep down rates and undermine the hard work of past generations of comics creators fighting for creator’s rights. One cannot work for free forever and in business the unscrupulous will exploit that love and need to work creatively to its very zenith – just ask most of the comics creators of the last six decades, if they are still here to listen to.

But things are looking very positive indeed nowadays, just look around and check out all the new stuff being produced, as I predicted years ago. Some fantastic stuff is being created by other folks joining me in working out in left field, outside of the normal parameters of US and UK comic books. Like the dinosaurs the bigger publishers have had their days now. Their own demise is on the cards brought about by a lack of vision, a need to repeat the successes of the past without any innovation allowed whatsoever, or incentives for the creative teams of the present day.

Given their knowledge of the treatment of the forefathers of the industry, the greats, the Kirbys, Everetts, Kanes, Colans, et al by those wielding the power of an at-times paltry pay check, or not, if they stepped out of line, it is hardly surprising those same young comics creators are looking to pastures new to invent their characters, to tell their stories and to make their livings.

It looks to me like a grand scale viewing of the “Emperor’s New Clothes” syndrome in the case of the big fish. Well the pond just got a whole lot smaller guys and the new fish inside it are full of life, eager to fight to survive and fit enough to eat the old guard. Think piranhas and great whites.

My money is on the piranha…

Until next time, have fun!

Tim Perkins…
May 11th 2012


Kid said...

"To me it has always sounded like some backhanded compliment given to the small fry of the scenario, by the bullies of the piece. Especially in light of some of the great works created in the past and now being produced outside of the big publishers."

Sadly, some creators working in the "mainstream" also use terms like "small press" and "independent punlishing" (which would include "self-published" comics) in a demeaning way, to look down their noses at those who have either not yet hit the "big time" (as in work for one of the "big" companies) or prefer to work outside of the restraints of mainstream publishing.

A strange attitude, as many came up through that same route and still dabble in it from time to time to supplement their incomes.

You only have to look at the comments of some "professionals" directed at so-called "amateurs" with artistic aspirations who were not receptive to the new direction of a certain comic a while back, to see that such snobbery exists not only in the mind of mainstream publishers, but some of the freelancers they employ.

I know that's not the main focus of the point you're making, but I felt it was worth pointing out.

Thanks for the thought-provoking couple of posts.

Tim Perkins said...

Hi Gordon,

Yes, like I said in the Blog for me there are only two kinds of comics good and bad.

I have seen some excellent "small press" books that are far better in content and execution than those in the "mainstream." The same goes for some "independent" books too.

In my honest opinion publishing is publishing and comics are comics, etc. These tags are set up by the big guys to keep the small guys in their places for the most part, but that is now changing, thankfully.

Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment.

Best Wishes,