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BK Munn On Comics And Boycotts
posted February 16, 2012

Tom, just read your More Watchmen piece and as usual enjoyed the thorough way that you engage with issues of art, commerce and ethics in comics, with characteristic humour, logic, and a minimum of hyperbole. You make some great points and think things through to an extent I don't usually have the imaginative capacity to do. Along with you, I admit that my reaction to recent news and events has often been impish and self-congratulatory. Still, as you might expect, I have a slightly different take on the boycott issue, in general and as it pertains to the Watchmen prequels specifically. I don't have any illusions that a boycott of DC over its treatment of Alan Moore (or the Siegel heirs, for that matter) will have a profound effect on the policies or essential business practices of DC or Warners in the short term. It certainly won't stop them publishing the announced new series. But talk of a boycott, and I include the petition that Alan David Doane started at as part of that, at least give concerned readers and fans a central, organized, public way of engaging with the issue beyond the occasional isolated blog post, tweet or messageboard gripe. To my mind, a boycott is just an organized way of sharing your decision not to purchase the company's product. The added benefit being the chance to actually influence policy and spread the message beyond a small community -- boycotts are educational as much as they are economic. Likewise, I don't think concerned fans should be dissuaded from organizing on the basis of the apparent likeliness of success. If, as you predict, the most likely result of a boycott is corporate belt-tightening in the form of layoffs, should we instead say nothing, or only object in typical atomized form? Should the comics industry, especially that aspect of the industry controlled by giant corporations, really be treated as a charity or an ecology in delicate balance, with no collective effort on the part of consumers to advocate for long-term change allowed for fear that jobs will be lost in the short term?

I think it would be a mistake to see efforts at a Watchmen-related boycott as an attempt at a universal panacea for the comic industry's ills, or even a mechanism to permanently correct the way DC contracts with creators. Rather, I see any form of organized protest as a tiny step in the right direction. By the same token, organizing to help Gary Friedrich pay his legal bill to Marvel is wonderful, but taking the extra step and advocating not giving any money to Marvel until they change the way credit is assigned and royalties are paid has a better chance of permanently changing things than not participating in a boycott at all would. Our options as a fan community are either to limp along with bandaid solutions like the Hero Initiative and emergency Paypal campaigns or to actively promote change in the way our favourite creators (and the creators of our favourite characters) are professionally treated. I'm open to the idea I could enjoy a well-made movie about Ghost Rider that financially benefits Friedrich, Mike Ploog, and Roy Thomas, as well as everyone else involved (ditto for an Avengers movie/Jack Kirby or even some future Alan Moore project). I'm not against comic book-based movies, or sequels, or prequels, or superheroes. I'm against unfair treatment within a medium and within an industry I love. But change won't happen without some form of organization and right now the only option, besides abandoning most corporate comics altogether, is fan-organized statements along the lines of boycotts and petitions.