I posted a bit ago about Wednesday Comics, and noted that it seemed kind of depressing to have a fairly ambitious venture in terms of form and distribution saddled to the same old content (DC super-hero properties, natch.) Then a couple days ago, I wrote about how much I enjoyed Adam Warren’s Empowered series.
And I was thinking about those two things together a little, and it occurred to me that Empowered would be kind of perfect as a feature in Wednesday Comics. It’s a super-hero story, so it wouldn’t upset anybody’s paradigm. It has excellent art, which wouldn’t look out of place among the heavy hitters DC has lined up. And, best of all, I’m pretty sure Warren could actually do what very few of the Wed comics writers seem to be able to do — i.e., he could write a serialized story, and pace it so that each page had a natural gag/end while still advancing the overall plot. It would be great for Warren, I think; my impression is that Empowered has done pretty well, but that he’s had trouble getting it out there as much as he’d like. And it’d be good for DC, it seems to me, insofar as Warren could, I believe, have an appeal to various demographics (manga readers, possibly female readers) that the company has spastically, intermittently, and ineffectually courted for some time. It’s true that Empowered is R-rated, but I’m sure Warren could tone it down for a short story if he was asked to.
But, of course, it can’t happen. And the reason it can’t happen is basically because comics just don’t work that way. DC and Marvel don’t pick up independent creators and creations who already have a following and put more marketing muscle behind them. Because that would require some sort of negotiated creators rights deal, and, though I know they’ve dabbled with it occasionally, the big two just don’t function on that business model as a matter of course.
I’m sure folks have said this before, but…I think it just can’t be overstated how much work-for-hire is responsible for the insularity and creative stagnation at Marvel and D.C. It’s not just that they’re wedded to their stable of characters — because, after all, they are willing to do do new series as well, like Y-The Last Man and so forth. But their default attitude towards creator rights (basically, there are none) makes it extremely difficult for them to co-opt other’s good ideas — and co-opting other’s good ideas is the way that hidebound behemoths manage to stay relevant (just ask Microsoft.)
I mentioned this a while back, but I think Minx is a pretty good example of this. There are actually comics for girls which have done OK in their niche; stuff like Courtney Crumrin for example. If you wanted to release a line of comics for young girls, why not go with the sure thing, drop some money on Ted Naifeh’s lap, and say, hey, keep doing the same thing you’re doing, just do it for us? You’d have a baseline audience, some automatic publicity, and you could maybe pull in curious readers to check out other products. But, of course, DC can’t do this sort of thing because it doesn’t do creator-ownership — and even if it decided to make an exception, I doubt it would be able to figure out what to do with it. (Does anyone know if the Minx line was creator-owned? The few references I’ve seen suggest it wasn’t.)
I don’t know; I guess DC and Marvel are happy enough churning out stories featuring the same few characters for the same few readers. And of course, quite possibly Adam Warren and/or Ted Naifeh are happier being indie, and wouldn’t want to work for DC anyway. But you know, there are various genre comics creators who I’m sure would sell out if someone were willing to pay them a reasonable price — said reasonable price not including all the rights to their work. And, needless to say, it might be good for comics as a whole if the biggest companies found a way to reach new audiences by working with some exciting young creators.
But it’s probably elitist to suggest that somebody somewhere might want to read about cynical young witches or bondage sitcoms or anything other than zombie Elongated Man. I mean…he’s Elongated. He’s dead. His stretchy, decaying sphincter and soul belong to his corporate overlords. That’s power for the people, that is.
Update: Minx creator Brian Wood says in comments that the line was creator owned. Good for DC, then.