Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

April 25, 2012

Chris Roberson At TCJ; A Real Cost Of Before Watchmen

If you read only one article today, and likely this week, make it Tim Hodler's thorough and sensitive interview with writer Chris Roberson over at The Comics Journal. Roberson was the writer that announced he wouldn't be working with DC after his current, main title ended and a forthcoming arc to which he committed was done. DC decided subsequently that they weren't interested in that forthcoming arc given what he'd written publicly about the company. Roberson cited ethical concerns with the general treatment of freelancers and specifically the treatment of the Siegel Family and the writer Alan Moore with the Before Watchmen project.

It's a fine interview, and Roberson sounds like a rational guy who was just fed up. I'm glad that he doesn't sound conflicted or mournful about his public stance or what it cost him in terms of burning some bridges. I appreciate his no-bullshit stance on the horrible idea that the shitty treatment of Jack Kirby and other creators can be used to justify terrible treatment now. I like that part of the interview is given to one of the things that could be a solution to some of these issues: a retroactive establishment of current creator standards when it comes to profiting from work done for those companies. I just generally like the piece, and I like that Roberson did what he did.

A real cost of Before Watchmen to companies like DC is that it puts into modern terms the age-old exploitation of creative people by business people, something that's soaked into comics' DNA so thoroughly one can forget it's there. This is a magnificent reminder of what these creators are facing in very real terms, the mindsets and the ambitions and the bottom lines that form scary, shadowy shapes behind the everyday grind and humiliations and dissatisfactions. As much as you and I might shake our heads and do the Little Rascals surprise face when we hear someone say some of the things that have been said in support of and defense of Before Watchmen or the Superman lawsuit, imagine how distressing it would be if these were your creative partners, the people on which you hoped to build a foundation for a fulfilling life. The humor in the title is that Watchmen was seen as a creator-rights forward title with ambition; this new thing is certainly reflective of a time before that.

I don't think we'll see a whole lot of people being as public about it as Roberson has been, but I bet the vast, vast majority of creative people out there have looked at what's going on with some of these issues facing Moore and the Kirbys and the Siegels and now Roberson, and on some level thought to themselves anew that they'd like to be as successful as they can independent of these companies. They may have had these thoughts all along, but I bet this makes those plans more real for more people. The gains may be incremental and the losses may be hard to fathom when you can point to a shiny new Batman movie or one super-team aimed at another super-team and all the money being made, but the move towards more instances of unfettered expression, better comics across the board and rewards that go in greater percentage to creators without being diverted elsewhere, it does continue.
posted 8:20 am PST | Permalink

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