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Sunday, 12 June 2011

Major Problems In British Comics

A few months ago I drew criticism when I reportted that Disney were preparing to “Clean-up the Marvel house”.  Responses such as: “Yeah, I’ll believe that –not!” and “Rubbish. Disney have said they’ll not mess about with Marvel!” were amongst the indignant comments.

Disney, in financial trouble itself, purchased Marvel that was in an even worse state and investors couldn’t move the sale on fast enough.  Disney is a “family company” to the point of facism.  The darker look of Marvel comics soon vanished.  Talking to people in comics at last weeks Expo most of them noted that Marvel was going back to the less dark old look bit-by-bit.

Who decided Marvel had to clean-up?  Well, I couldn’t possibly say!

I noted Marvel UK (Panini) were, like other non-US Marvel outlets, about to get a very sharp pencil right up its posterior.  I was wrong.  I was told so.

Then the news, suddenly all over the net, spread.  Here is what Nigel Dobbyn wrote on his Face Book:
“You may have read that Disney, having taken over Marvel Comics, has decreed that no originated Marvel product can now be created in Britain. I have worked on every issue of Panini’s Spiderman and Friends title (for pre-schoolers) for over five years, but after a few more issues, that will all be over.

The thing that really sucks is that this is not a decision based on sales of the comic, which still seem to be healthy. If it was, I would understand completely, but simply seems to be a heavy-handed way on Disney’s part to take control of their new ‘empire’.

Spiderman and Friends was a great way to draw very young readers into the world of Marvel and comics in general.

It will be a great blow for Panini UK to lose these Marvel contracts. I hope they manage to survive this.”
I’ve been writing (or was up until 2006) a British Comic Industry Annual Report that began in 1993.  At that time it was 65% accurate on its predictions of coming events and trends, though when the reports were released those who KNEW what was going on said I was wrong, wrong, wrong!  But I was right, right, right!  By 2003 the reports were 95-97% accurate.

So, when you meet pros at the convention who say they knew this was coming for a couple months (the actual phrase all used was “It’s been in the cards for a month or two”)  you ask: “and what did you do about it?”

The replies? well the standard reply was: “What could I do about it?”

Over and over I explained that if all the creators got together they could do two things: create new projects of original material to submit to Panini to see whether the company might take the chance on an original title.  Or, secondly, do what Jim Lee and the others did years ago:create your own imprint run and edited/published by you -you’re all experienced pros who have names that can be used to promote or push new books.
Again, the reply was generally “But that’s putting my own money into it” (!!)  Usually there was the added “This puts me out of work now and its going to be very hard to find comic work”

So, long faces and misery all around because these people are out of work and are going to find new work hard.  But there are the two options.  And, yes, “shaky times” for comics (well, not really, like all previous recessions comics are not doing that badly), but unlike a lot of new talent launching with no experience in the field or pro name to attract buyers and who are succeeding, you have that edge.

While Marvel and DC monthly title sales drop (that’s a debate for elsewhere) Cinebook-The 9th Art has seen its US and UK sales alone rise by 35-45%.  Markosia seems to have hit a jackpot with Slaughterman’s Creed -a team of relatively unknown talent (though Vicky Stonebridge should be a well known name).
You have the choice: moan and groan about how mean it all is or grow a set and take the chance that if it succeeded would mean no reliance on a company that really does not give a crap about you and dumps you quickly with a “Hey-ho, such is life!”

I also spoke to other UK pros and it seems the UK comics industry is not changing. Its still the same “creators are two-a-penny” attitudes.  One colourist noted that he was asked to take a 45% cut in payment per page.  Contacting the rest of the team the idea was “if we unite they’ll have to back down!” The other team members folded as soon as they were told they were getting the 45% cut.  No arguements. Roll over. The artist in this case felt he had to accept the cut.

Interestingly I heard a very similar story from another artist but in this case it was a 40% cut in their page rate -full colour art,too.  As in the first case the rest of the team dropped their pants and said “yes” straight away.
The UK comics industry is the only one  where employees/freelancers roll over like this. Please, do not give me any excuses.  If you fold like this you are killing the future of British comics and making it easy for company bosses to treat every other creator like a slave.

I’ve been in these situations and I’ve stood my ground and the companies had to stick with the deal I’d made with them. On two occasions I did walk and made it very clear to the person I was dealing with, and later his boss by letter, that if they told me they were also having their pay reduced fair enough but as they had no respect for me as a creator I had none for them (both lost their jobs a year later and bleated on about how unfair it all was -I couldn’t sleep for laughing).

The UK comics industry is retarded compared to the US, Europe and even smaller countries further afield.  No one stands their ground or demands to be treated with respect.  So, the companies laugh and treat creators like dirt.

Comic shops take whatever silly distribution deal they got because they don’t want to rock the boat.
I spoke to a man who had gone to a few comic shop owners and said he wanted to set up a distribution service.  Out of ten shop owners not one said they were interested “If something goes wrong a year down the line Diamond will make us pay!” were two responses.  The others? “Uh, no. We’re happy with the deal we have” -but these were shop owners who had been bleating to me that we needed another distributor because they were fed up with Diamond!!!

I don’t see it as my task to right the comics industry from top to bottom. It is far too late for that. Everyone in the industry is to blame for allowing the situations to continue.  The sad thing is that European publishers have seen that the UK is a viable market and once they move in and succeed, and they will, the home grown British industry is dead.

Independent Comics in the UK and Small Press books will be the last stronghold for creators -and they don’t pay even if they do sell well.

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