In defense of Robert Kirkman

Full disclosure: Robert Kirkman is my friend. I consider him to be a close friend. So anything I say in his defense will and should be taken in this context.

Last week Robert posted a video editorial; a call to arms if you will. He offered his thoughts on how to bring more life into the comic book industry and possibly save it from a even downward spinning market. His idea was twofold:

1) Top creators at Marvel and DC should think seriously about their future after the market no longer considers them popular. They should start investing their creative energies into creator owned properties now before Marvel, DC and the market decide their time in the spotlight has passed. Graduate from a successful freelance career at the big two into creator owned work WHILE you’re hot.

2) Marvel and DC start making their comics more accessible with less continuity and event-oriented gimmicks in order to remain competitive with this new crop of creator-owned comics. New creators can step up and seize the opportunity to transform Spider-Man, Batman and Superman into books that are more viable for younger generations to get invested in.

This could lead to a reinvigorated comic book industry with new comics, new ideas, and more importantly…new readers. A lot of people are responding to this on comic book news sites and they’re taking Robert to task. Brian Michael Bendis had this to say:

“I understand that I am one of the very few people that can do creator owned work and do mainstream work and find some success creatively in both fields…but having experienced what I have through comics, and being a little older than Robert, I can look back and can say at this level of play that I’m at and Robert is at, to ignore the fact that part of your audience came from Marvel is a mistake I hope he doesn’t learn the bad way.”

I see lines being drawn here between freelancers and independent creators and it really frustrates me because I personally don’t see that as the issue at hand. The issue at hand is this: for the industry to survive, its creators have to be able to survive. The heart of this industry is making it a viable career choice for the creative men and women who fuel it. Personally, I’m not 100% sure that Marvel or DC are the best choices of a retirement plan.

When Mike Wieringo died, he was working for Marvel. He had one creator owned project under his belt and wished to return to that world. But he didn’t know how to make that transition without dipping into savings that he wanted to keep for a rainy day. But every time we talked, he would tell me how he wished he was doing what I was doing, and I would tell him that was crazy. He was drawing Spider-Man and Fantastic Four. Who cares about my stupid cartoon. But Mike got it and he taught me that the real value of my work was that I owned it and steered my own ship.

For god’s sake, we start charitable organizations to provide for creators, giants in our industry, who have been abandoned by the market. Think about how it ended for Dave Cockrum. Bringing Storm, Colossus and Nightcrawler to life did not provide for him in the end. Once you as a creator, have used up all of your draw and panache with the market at large, once you stop being the hot thing, Marvel and DC will cut you loose and forget about you forever. They will move on to the next hot creator and they won’t give two shits about how you make your next house payment.

Right now, the only real retirement plan that creators have are their own properties. In 20 or 30 years let’s compare how Mike Mignola and an equally popular company man without an established creator owned title are doing. I promise you the company man will be struggling and Mignola will be sitting pretty on Hellboy residuals.

Certainly, life as a freelancer for Marvel or DC can be a good and rewarding one. Obviously it’s possible to freelance and pay for your own insurance and plan for the future with savings. But how can advising creators to establish their own creator-owned properties NOW while they’re popular be consider bad or petty advice? How can anyone shit on that?

I think it’s a pretty solid sentiment.