I want to let you in on a dirty little secret about DC Comics: they need to make money. Seriously, they have writers, and artists, and editors but beyond that they have electricity, and heat, and the guy who empties the trash. It’s what we call in the trade, “a business”.
Here is another secret: not all of the books they put out make money. It’s a gamble. If they knew exactly how to print the exact right number of books they would do it. If they knew the formula for combining a creative team with a character and a concept they would do that too. But they don’t.
Some things are safer bets than others. Like if you have the top selling graphic novel of all time and you take the characters and settings from that book, and combine it with some of your top teams, you should sell a few copies. And if this move is considered controversial and drums up tons and tons of free publicity? That won’t hurt sales either.
DC comics owns the characters from the Watchmen and they paid Alan Moore for them. Handsomely, might I add. And he deserved to make a lot of money it made a lot of money for DC comics. But people don’t want to talk about the creative teams on the books that didn’t sell for whatever reason. Because if those books lost money no one asked those creative teams to give their paychecks back.
See, that’s why creators chose to work for DC comics. They want that guaranteed paycheck. Could you make more money if you self published? If the book is a hit, then sure you could. But before the book is a hit you have to eat, and keep your heat on. and you also have to spend money promoting the book. That’s one of the nice things about having DC Comics publish your book for you. They have a marketing department and a publicity department. They add an air of legitimacy to your project just because they chose to publish it. And if your amazing book that you self publish doesn’t sell for whatever reason you will have nothing to show for it other than a stack of unsold comics and a stack of unpaid bills.
I’m glad Alan Moore has enough money to not need any royalties from the Watchmen movie. Dave Gibbons still took them and I don’t believe that makes him a bad person. Another “secret” is that no matter how talented an artist you are you can probably only knock out a page a day. A talented writer can write a book a week. Maybe more. So, as a writer Alan Moore can produce 4-5 times as much work as an artist. And he can write movies if he wants to. Dave Gibbons can’t draw one. But I’’m off topic.
Here’s the point I wanted to make. DC Comics finds a new talent. Maybe it’s you, maybe it’s me. (It’s probably going to be me.) As an unknown quantity it doesn’t make a lot of sense for them to take a chance on me. But they look at their bottom line and they see if they have any profit this quarter. Like say they sold a bunch of Before Watchmen comics. Maybe they can afford to hire me to write a book that maybe won’t sell so well. Or maybe it will be a big giant hit and they’ll make lunch boxes and action figures and a TV series.
I’m all for profit sharing and creators being well compensated. Because well compensated creators are better equipped financially to create their weird niche creator owned property. The cash they get from their corporate work creates a cushion. One of my favorite comic books is called Action Philosophers. It’s terrific. It’s self published. The writer also writes for Marvel. And I’m pretty sure if he wasn’t getting that Marvel paycheck he probably wouldn’t be doing his awesome self published book.
I would love to think that royalties from his corporate work, and sales of his creator owned book would make enough money so he could tell Marvel Comics to go to hell. Because then there would be a job opening there for me.