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Steve Bissette on My Response to the Creator Bill of Rights
posted May 22, 2005
Hello, Tom --
Hope this finds you well.
I've just emailed a lengthy letter of response to Al Nickerson for his site on the Creator Bill of Rights. In the context of that response, I also replied to your post at Comics Reporter, and thought it best to send a copy to you, too (of the section specific to your comments, not the entire letter).
I hope this is received in the spirit intended.
Read on -- all the best, always,
As for Tom Spurgeon's Comics Reporter
comments of May 4
"Creator's Bill of Rights Remembered
," I'll comment only on the final paragraph: "Personally, I don't find the Creator's Bill of Rights all that fascinating a document, except in a fun, dormitory hallway discussion kind of way. In fact, I've always thought conceiving of rights in that manner a potentially harmful thing, and therefore question its usefulness."
Personally and professionally, Tom, those of us who make livings or partial-livings as creators have to move beyond "dormitory hallway" discussions on these matters at SOME point. That you haven't isn't indicative of the relative worth or worthlessness of the Bill. A small group of us did move beyond "dormitory hallway discussions" back in the 1980s, and precious few seem to have taken it much further. That isn't indicative so much of the wisdom of our conclusions or the Bill as it is the paucity of attention or discussion since, which seems to me rather astounding and unconscionable given the accelerated, measurable value of intellectual properties and unslakeable appetite of ever-consolidating corporate entities since 1986.
If you require cultural validation before moving this 'chat' beyond that "dormitory hallway," when as slight a confection as the Malibu-published Men In Black can provide the source material for a feature can finally redirect the entirety of the Marvel stable of properties into the top-ten boxoffice draws in history, the rights and fates of those who conceived of those properties are certainly deserving of scrutiny -- as is the potential of any property. Men In Black was less than a footnote in comics before the movie; how, then, can you rationally argue that "Universality can loosen the tether from historical circumstance in a way that lifts the discussion of rights out of the real-world dialogue that gives it power and immediacy." Hopefully, this discussion is lending some "real-world dialogue," and hence context, to the Bill and its relevance. The fact that there is considerable weight to your next sentence -- "In economically exhausted circumstances, creator rights thus too frequently becomes seen as something to bargain away rather than as effective, worthwhile and even just circumstances for which to fight" -- doesn't mitigate the necessity for discussion and debate; it in fact begs the question, "Why aren't YOU invested in this discussion?"
If nothing else, the lowest common denominator is that the Creator Bill of Rights provides a previously nonexistent 'checklist' of rights sold in most creative/business transactions, and that alone is of great value as a barometer and/or negotiation tool. Pragmatically, you've got a point: still, if "economically exhausted circumstances" lead a creator to sign anything to land the overdue rent check in exchange for work completed (as I did with Marvel's blanket work-for-hire contract in 1978), it's still worthwhile for identifying what one has parted with, and hopefully won't again. In that regard, the only power the freelancer maintains is the power to say "no," and walk, the Creator Bill of Rights be damned.
I'd welcome more discussion of your concluding brush-off -- "I thought it was a somewhat dubious rhetorical tool back in 1988, and still think so today. I'd rather we'd had the manifesto" -- if only to define "rhetorical tool," and why it was and is of dubious value; your just saying so tells me nothing, save your opinion, making you the "rhetorical tool," if you will. I also want to remind you that the manifesto did see print, should you care to revisit it. It was greeted with deafening indifference and silence, outside of those who subsequently joined the fray and rolled up their sleeves to work on the Bill.
Though I know full well I now sound like (shudder) a Republican senator, let's see your manifesto, Tom, please, or at least articulate your views more fully. Your ongoing dismissal of the Creator Bill of Rights as somehow inherently inert and beneath notice, sans meaningful debate or any proposition from anyone of anything comparable in almost twenty years, is indeed typical of "dormitory hallway discussion." After all, we've all been living out of the dorms for decades, haven't we? In the real big bad world, the Creator Bill of Rights is still as valid and relevant as ever.