Comic book artist Paolo Rivera recently announced on his blog that he is leaving "Daredevil," calling it "the single greatest job on the planet." His reason for letting go of his gig on the acclaimed series?
"The short answer: ownership. With the exception of just a few published pieces of art (which belong to other companies), Marvel owns the copyrights to my entire professional portfolio. And why shouldn't they? I was, of course, compensated fairly for it, and for that I’m grateful — but the sum total of that work is not enough to support me in the distant future. My page rate is essentially the same as when I started at 21, so I've decided to invest in myself. What I create in the next decade needs to pay dividends when my vision gets blurry and my hands start to shake (and who knows what else). Now is the time to make that choice, while I’m still young, possess "great power," but have few responsibilities."
Rivera is just one of a virtual exodus of talented writers and artists who are leaving mainstream comics to create their own properties. Author Chris Roberson, formerly of DC/Vertigo, just started his own comic imprint Monkeybrain. Superstar writer Mark Waid, also of "Daredevil," is still doing comics for Marvel -- but has also been an outspoken proponent of creator-owned content as well as digital comics (his Thrillbent site hosts some of his new creations). Mark Millar has made the transition from mainstream comics to publishing his own work quite well, both with his anthology magazine CLiNt and his work with Marvel's Icon imprint. And longtime DC writer Grant Morrison has not only turned to Image for his next creator-owned project, but is also (following in the footsteps of Millar) having his own comic convention!
Chris Roberson, formally of DC Comics, is set to launch his new comics site "Monkeybrain"
So who needs the Big Two, anyway?
Well, the issue is that having a regular gig at Marvel or DC has traditionally been a relatively cushy deal for artists and writers, especially if they have an exclusive (like the one Rivera walked away from at Marvel). Think about it: guaranteed work, royalties, maybe even health insurance. Whereas with a creator-owned comic -- unless you have a progressive publisher willing to provide you with a deal where you keep some or all of your rights -- you have to essentially set up your own business.
But, as in the case with Rivera, it boils down to owning your own characters and having enough equity to be able to survive the years when publishers aren't knocking on your door (an issue made more urgent and timely since the tragic case of Static co-creator Robert Washington III). There is also a sense that some of these "defecting" creators have decided to pull away from the mainstream comics industry in "protest" for the way creators before them were treated; Roberson has essentially cited DC's treatment of "Watchmen" creator Alan Moore in his abandoning of DC, and Rivera writes in his post:
"Marvel will continue to shine as well, just as it's done for generations. They've given me much more than money can buy: a devoted fan base. As valuable as that is (roughly, 4 billion), it comes not from the company, but from my creative predecessors — it's what Disney really bought in 2009. The reason you’re reading this now — the reason I have a career — is that I have played a privileged part in stories and characters that predated my birth and will long outlast my life. As an artist, my reputation — my fame, in blunt terms — is what makes this a profession, and not a hobby. And while I take great pride in the originality and craft of my Marvel work, I never forget that the audience who funds my living was lured into those seats by creators who worked under far less cushy conditions."
While there may be no shortage of eager freelancers to take the place of Rivera, Roberson, etc., it is also clear that Marvel and DC are losing some of their best talent to the lure of creator-owned work -- and, which I suspect happens far more often, the freelancers who remain tend not to give up their best ideas to a company who will own them outright. As Dean Haspiel tells the story in a recent Trip City cartoon "Where Have All The New Ideas Gone?", creating new characters and concepts for mainstream comics grants the publishers the right --
So where will we get the exciting new superheroes and ground-breaking graphic novels of the future? Will publishers like Image and imprints like Thrillbent and Monkeybrain lead the way? Will Marvel and DC come up with new contracts or business models to attract and cultivate new talent and ideas? Stay tuned, True Believers!