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May 19, 2008

Gene Colan, Bills That Need Paying and the Potential Forthcoming Crisis


The writer Clifford Meth reports that Marvel Comics has announced its intentions to provide both immediate and long-term assistance to the family of artist Gene Colan in their struggle to pay for much-needed medication. This is good news in a lot of ways, none more important that it's the right thing for Marvel to do. Colan was one of the artists present when the company was at the height of its comic book powers, and established much of what would become the narrative and visual backbones of five of Marvel's mega-successful movies: Daredevil, the Blade trilogy and the recent Iron Man. Marvel's decision to pitch in is laudatory, and should be treated as such by all interested observers.

imageThe Colans' polite plea for assistance and the ones made on their behalf, encouragingly answered by a number of agents both big and small including Marvel, throws a spotlight on what seems to me like an increasing number of creators and comics industry folk in financial trouble. This post at Blog@Newsarama has updates focused solely on the most current efforts being made on behalf of various members of the comics community. That post is disheartening, and it doesn't even begin to cover the efforts just past, the campaigns that are not public knowledge, the routine work done by the Hero Initiative to step in on behalf of creators and their families upon their passing or at times of great need, those instances where a creator in trouble manages to avoid the kind of half-life or prolonged illness that leads to a plea in favor of something more sudden and with more severe and conclusive impact, and the thousands of comics creators at risk.

I'm slightly terrified that this is only going to get worse in the years ahead. I'd say about half of the creators that have been hit right now tend to be those who worked when there was more of a functioning industry than I think there's been over the last 25 years. If a creator getting a steady page rate for years from a top company has these problems, there will likely be more folks in the next three decades experiencing severe problems that worked within the context of an industry that barely supported their efforts. Comics people don't give up even when it's good for them to do so. Many don't take care of themselves. A few don't take care of themselves at the expense of pursuing their love of the medium or the goals they have for their art.

This is a hugely unpleasant topic. It's hard to figure out a way to approach the problem that doesn't soon devolve into a blame game, and it's frankly hard to argue that maybe there isn't some blame to go around. Comics operates under the shadow of an original sin of exploitation where caretakers and money men cash in from obliquely "managing" a property during a single quarter for greater reward than the original creator and their family might see in a lifetime. It's an industry where elements of this kind of practice continue in the present day through, say, brutally unfair secondary rights clauses in standard contracts and no one want to talk about it because it's unpleasant and violates some seemingly agreed-upon right that every creator must be allowed to sign a bad contract if they want or don't know better or can talk themselves into it being for the greater good. It's a business where some of its most devout patrons can recast what should be simple matters of creators rights and economic justice into issues of dishonor and greed based on the concern of whether or not their corporate branded fantasy fix will continue without interruption. All of this is supported by a culture of indulgence, and denial, and status based on establishing a life for oneself behind the "staff only" door without ever asking the question of whether or not that's a life worth leading.

imageI don't want to get into most of that right now, although I will when it's more appropriate. For today, what I propose is that all of us with some sort of professional stake in the comics industry -- and/or the sort of love for a medium that wishes for ethical and humanitarian treatment of its artists -- take a hard look at how quickly any of us could be put in the circumstance that has hit many of these creators and industry folk. I know for me it wouldn't take much. My life could become a catastrophe overnight very easily, and I suspect that's true for a lot of us. What I hope is that no matter where our first sense of things tells us the greatest blame might ultimately fall, or where the ultimate responsibility lies, for now we can simply agree that this is an important set of issues to confront -- not just at the point of crisis, but at all levels. Further, I hope we can agree that we need to start thinking about this now: for the sake of the upcoming flood and for our own risk of being drowned. Once enough people decide that an issue is important, there can be energy and attention spent on confronting its unpleasant, hard-to-deal-with aspects. Without that resolve, it's $10 here, $10 there, and soon $10 every day until it's your and my turn.

Please give now. Clifford Meth is still organizing an auction on behalf of the Colans and still has available for purchase a limited edition of a book (seen above) that will benefit the artist. Consider giving to the Hero Initiative, or to one of the other efforts on behalf of comics industry people in need. And as you do so, please think about paying the issue itself the gift of your devotion to seeing that it ends, or that it's diminished or that it's the very least understood. That's a first step, and we've been too long substituting the last step of generous gift-giving for what should be a series of actions on the matter entire.
posted 11:00 am PST | Permalink

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