Sam’s love of comic books strikes again…
For those of you who don’t read comics or who don’t read comics news, there’s been a lot of fuss lately about working conditions at DC Comics. Rob Liefeld, an artist mainly infamous for being terrible, left in a storm of angry, aggressive, and insulting tweets that in any other field of work would have made him 100% unemployable. Gail Simone, a well-known writer who was working on Batgirl, was fired by email and rehired in the course of about two weeks — she was a lot classier about the whole mess than Liefeld. Rumors abound that scripts are accepted by editorial, only to be returned with complete overhauls necessary when the “editorial brief” changes. The implication seems to be that the direction of the overall story they’re trying to tell keeps shifting.
Which is a shame on a number of levels, including narrative. Because I really want to like DC Comics, and I want to read their comic books, but I can see in every issue I read that the writers are confused by what’s going on and the time they’re given to make their stories work is compressed. It’s difficult to plan long-term because their plans keep getting knocked off-kilter.
Creativity is difficult to regulate. You can’t dole it out from nine to five. Artists have a notorious reputation as flighty flakes (somewhat undeserved, but occasionally true depending on the individual). But here’s the thing: this is professional art and collaborative art. You actually do have to be a professional because other people are depending on you, and most artists — writers included in that term — who work in comic books or television or mainstream film have figured out how to keep their shit together for at least long enough to get the story told.
At first I thought, well, can’t we figure out who is actually fucking all this up and tell them to stop? Because Superman is sucking right now. But in all honesty, this is not just a problem with micromanagerial editors. It seems to be an overall problem with DC, and it has a lot to do with the brand.
A while back I read an article about ways Disney is marketing Marvel correctly, which I wish now I’d kept around but didn’t because at the time it was about ten bullet points to illustrate only two concepts: strong vision and brand coherence. And you can’t really talk about one without the other.
Disney, through Marvel, has developed a very specific vision for its Marvel films, and perhaps less specific but still directed vision for the comics. I don’t know what it’s like to work at Marvel-Disney, but I suspect there is a very strong culture of adherence to the vision. What DC seems to be lacking is either a vision that lasts past the next big storytelling event instead of into it, or the discipline to keep its higher-ups in line with the vision it has. There has to be one page, and everyone has to be on it.
Which sounds a little fascist, I admit. And certainly general consensus seems to be that while Marvel is more coherent, and its books have voices that sound individual, it’s less diverse overall in terms of content. But Marvel is doing well, and telling engaging stories, so…
Well, I don’t mean to criticise DC, that’s not why I’m here. What I mean to do is illustrate that most creatives who want to earn significant money from their creativity have to do the same thing. They have to have a vision of where they’re going and what they want, they have to have a brand that’s going to carry them there, and they have to be consistent in both. It’s no different from developing a prose style, in all honesty. It’s one reason the “copper badge” I’ve had since 2003 is still around, because it’s a major part of my digital brand. That badge is my avatar nearly everywhere, and people know as soon as they see it that they’ve got the right guy. My brand itself has changed dramatically, but there comes a point where at last you want to know where you’re going and have a plan for how to get there.
Working on it.