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

February 12, 2007

Playboy Announces Page by Page DVD

Playboy Enterprises has announced an ambitious plan to produce all 600-plus issues of its publication on six DVD releases, each spotlighting a decade in the men's magazine long existence. As the article notes, the project with Bond Digital Publishing will result in 115,880 pages of scanning, pages that include work from cartooning greats such as Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Eldon Dedini, Phil Interlandi, Jules Feiffer and Shel Silverstein.

imageWhy this is comics news is because Playboy is pursuing this project using the page by page method of presentation, which means that as an historical presentation of the magazine's publishing history the writers, photographers and cartoonists whose work is in those pages do not have to be compensated for having their work presented in another medium. Whether or not such republication serves an historical function, and is a greater good for the culture, or whether this is a way for publishers to do an end-around on the rights of artists to control their work -- well, that's the question.

I wish had an answer. Frankly, I'm torn. On the one hand, as someone who writes about cartooning I benefit from these presentations in a major way. I'm also someone who believes in the limits to copyright that returns great works to the general culture rather than keeping them yoked to the money-making needs of some group or organization, even a benignly-operated one. Culturally important work being made available to a lot of people is a good thing. I certainly believe in Fair Use (note the Sokol cartoon), which grants republication rights to outside agencies in a certain way that serves a greater good; I have to admit there could be other benefits to having this work disseminated under outside control, even if I don't like them.

On the other hand, I wouldn't look forward to my own work in the Comics Journal being collected this way, which I assume would be Fantagraphics' right were they to do so in a page by page format. I didn't write any of those articles and reviews thinking they would be available in electronic form, and a lot of them I did with the idea that I would get to control that aspect of the work. In almost every circumstance I favor the rights of living artists to control what's done with their work, even if they do so in a way that's counter-intuitive or even harmful. This makes me against the assumption argument of scanning comics as doing a commercial favor for the artist; I think the artist decides that. I'm not sure Playboy presents a compelling enough argument to cause me to step away from that principle.

This isn't over. Playboy's entry into this market marks the second great repository of 20th Century American cartooning to come out in this form. Bond Digital worked with The New Yorker on a similar, well-received package. A third should follow: the current owners of the National Lampoon announced their intention to pursue such a product back when they assumed control over that company's holdings.
posted 2:03 am PST | Permalink

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