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A View From The Cheap Seats:
CrossGen, and Perdition
By Rich Watson

07/15/02


Welcome. I hope everyone had a great Fourth of July weekend. I wanna say thanks to everyone who came to the MOCCA Art Festival and helped make it a huge success. MOCCA has announced the date for next year’s show – June 22, 2003. Hope to see you there!

I'm very pleased to join SlushFactory.com, naturally, partially because of the lineup here. The book that got me hooked on comics was FANTASTIC FOUR #244, story and art by John Byrne. When I got back into comics after a brief hiatus, it was, in part, Dwayne McDuffie and Milestone Comics that did the trick. And this happened when I was in college, where one of my classmates was Alex Robinson. See how it all works out?



CROSSGEN AND CREATOR-OWNED BOOKS

CrossGen, and its president, Mark Alessi, has been the talk of the town lately. To recap: CG announced last month the start of two new imprints, CrossGen Entertainment (CGE) and Code 6, as outlets for independent creators to publish their work. The former offers creators a wide range of multimedia options for their book (for which CG would get a 10% revenue cut). They retain total creative control and ownership and assume printing costs. The latter offers page rates and a 25% cut of ownership and all net profits in perpetuity, minus the development costs, while CG assumes the responsibility of printing and promoting the work. At WizardWorld Chicago earlier this month, Alessi effectively declared war on current industry top gun Marvel Comics, calling it an “insane asylum” and predicting that the braintrust of president Bill Jemas and editor-in-chief Joe Quesada would be gone in a year.

It’s the aspects of CGE/Code 6 that I want to address here. I talked to some indy creators to get their reactions to it. Naturally, there was some skepticism and trepidation over something as radical as this, but it was also viewed positively.

“I'd love a setup like this, and I wish that it, or something like it, had been available when I got started three years ago,” says VOGELEIN creator Jane Irwin. She cited how many publishers had stopped taking unsolicited submissions when she entered the field, and that when she failed to get a Xeric Foundation grant, she saw self-publishing as the only option left. “The lessons I've learned through self-publishing have been invaluable; but that doesn't mean I wouldn't sign up for an agreement like this if the terms were right. Now don't get me wrong - just because this option isn't for me doesn't mean it couldn't be viable for other creators. If I had an idea that I wanted to explore, while getting a steady paycheck and health insurance, Code 6'd be a great way to go.” Still, she said she likes having total freedom. “I guess I'd rather be small and maneuverable on my own than take the risk that CG might tank (not that it stands a chance of doing so right now, but one never knows the future) and leave me scrambling for another publisher -- or decide that my book, and the direction I was taking it, did not fit the image they wanted to portray, and have them ask me to take
my business elsewhere.”

Other creators weren’t as impressed. “I don't see what's supposed to be so groundbreaking about CGE/Code 6,” says RAVEN’S CHILDREN creator Layla Lawlor. “As far as I can tell, the CGE deal is not substantially different from any of the existing companies' arrangements with their creators, while with Code 6 CrossGen owns the lion's share of the rights in the product (and is opening themselves up to a legal nightmare in my opinion).” Though she doesn’t care for CG books in general, she added that if CG got as
big as Marvel and DC, change might come much sooner – provided they get some innovative titles. “CrossGen's titles all seem very flat and self-similar to me. In order to get big, they need some striking ideas; they need people who are willing to take risks. Maybe adding independent creators to the mix will do this -- or maybe they'll just fade away. Too early to tell.”

There has been much speculation as to how other companies, especially Image, would be affected by CGE/Code 6. When Image first formed a decade ago, it was to an unprecedented amount of success for its creator-owned superhero titles, yet before long, late shipping, coupled with the rapid decline of the speculator market, meant a precipitous drop in profits and many canceled titles. Co-founder Jim Lee eventually sold his imprint, Wildstorm, to DC Comics in 1998. (Image has persevered, though, thanks to a restructuring of their business, a greater emphasis on diverse titles and a healthy trade paperback program.)

Alessi ruffled feathers in Chicago when he said that indy comics would not save a dying industry, a goal he said was more important than creators’ rights. “Image hasn't changed the world,” says FINDER creator Carla Speed McNeil. “Creators taking responsibility for their own understanding of what a contractual partnership is and should be is the only thing that drastically improves their lot in life.”

My take on all of this? Well, after reading Alessi’s comments (including on the CrossGen message boards) and following all the back and forth debate, I’m inclined to think the man has a point. The way I see it, you have to look at it from a business perspective. He’s providing creators with options on how to publish and promote their work and he’s laying everything on the table for them to see so they can make an informed decision. Code 6 may not appeal to some creators, but if so, they can go through CGE. By accepting what amounts to PG material, he’s guaranteeing the widest possible audience, and the better the material is, the more people will want to read it.

It’s a cold, hard truth that no matter how good an indy title is, it’s still gonna need the capital necessary to get people to notice it, much less read it. Alessi has the capital, and he has made remarkable strides in spreading the word about CG to the general public. CG is available worldwide, both in print and on the web, major bookstores are supporting it, he’s getting advertising for it on the radio, he’s getting it in classrooms, and there’s every reason to believe that this is only the beginning.

I think an indy creator could do a lot worse than hook up with CGE/Code 6. Alessi has the means by which one can achieve the highest level of exposure. If you choose to give CG 75% of your product (and let me stress the word “choose” here, because it is a choice), you’ll still reap a portion of its benefits no matter what. Meanwhile, CG, as primary owner, gets to print and promote your book while maintaining the ability to stay in business. If you choose to retain all the rights, you can do that too – plus you can pursue film and television and game deals if you want.

It remains to be seen what the fortunes of creators who join CGE/Code 6, such as Team Red Star, will be, but when Alessi says that he’s out to force change in the comics industry, one can’t help but believe, based on his actions to date, that he has the potential to make it happen.


CHEAP SEATS GOES TO THE MOVIES

The movie ROAD TO PERDITION opened last Friday. (I’m about to go into some detail on it, so consider this a spoiler warning.) Based on the Paradox Press graphic novel by Max Alan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner, it’s a somewhat liberal adaptation starring Tom Hanks as the Irish-American hitman betrayed by his boss, played here by Paul Newman, and forced to go on the run with his adolescent son in tow, all the while plotting his revenge.

While I liked seeing Hanks in what is for him an atypical role, he didn’t come across to me as intimidating as I expected. In the book, his character, Michael O’Sullivan (Sullivan in the film) is nicknamed the “Archangel of Death,” and everyone knows not to mess with him. He’s like Clint Eastwood. In the film, we see people deferring to him, respecting him, but not fearing him. Not really. Plus, the way Hanks is shown killing people seems slightly detached. In a climactic shootout scene in the rain, we see a bunch of guys shooting in Hanks’ direction, then they get mowed down one by one, and then we cut to Hanks himself, stepping out of the shadows. And did I mention that this happens without the sounds of gunfire? Instead there’s a haunting piano score that plays over the action. For me it took some of the edge of the film off. The whole idea behind O’Sullivan is that he’s a ruthless killer and a compassionate family man, and there didn’t seem to be enough of the former to balance the latter.

Also, one of the major themes of the book – redemption – is missing here. O’Sullivan is a deeply religious man; in the book he and his son talk about whether God will forgive him for the things he’s done. There’s a scene in the film where Hanks is in a church staring at candles, presumably praying, though we really can’t tell for certain. In the book, it’s made clear that he lights a candle for every man he kills, in addition to seeking absolution from the priest. We didn’t get that in the film, and it’s a shame because it’s such a powerful theme and makes for excellent drama.

Jude Law plays an assassin who doubles as a crime photographer that Newman hires to kill Hanks. This is a new character, and I suppose I can see why he was made up for the film. The book is pretty one-sided, and they wanted to flesh out the other side a little. Don’t expect to see any of the historical figures in the film either, like Al Capone or Eliot Ness. They wanted to make it more about Hanks vs. Newman, and I can understand that too. The acting is very sharp. Newman is more intimidating than Hanks, and the kid who plays Hanks’ son is very good too. I’d see the film before reading the book, because despite how critical I know I’m coming across as, it is very good and worth seeing.

Another new movie that has comic book connections (though it’s not based on a comic) is called THE DANGEROUS LIVES OF ALTAR BOYS. It’s an indie film, so it may or may not be playing where you are. It follows the escapades of four teen boys in Catholic school who wanna be comic book artists. Jodie Foster, who also co-produced the film, plays their stern nun teacher whom they plot an act of vengeance against. The problem I had with this film is that it seemed
unfocused. The story jumps from subplot to subplot, and it felt like every time one dragged, they’d either jump to another or spice it up with something shocking, and in the end I’m not entirely certain what we’re left with. While it didn’t suck, it seemed needlessly complex and incohesive. I didn’t feel like there was anything holding it all up. It has its moments, though. The first half is very funny, before taking a dramatic turn (including a horrifying fate for one of the main characters in the end) and there are animation sequences directed by Todd McFarlane. Just don’t expect another MALLRATS.


OFF THE AIR

Last month, radio station WBAI-FM here in New York canceled “Nuff Said,” the program that featured interviews and discussion with comic book creators past and present, after a nine-year run. Producer and host Ken Gale said in a press release that program director Bernard White cited the show’s “small audience” and narrow focus. Over the years, the show covered comics from a wide variety of angles, both corporates and independents, foreign and domestic, classics and contemporaries, and did much to raise the awareness of comics as a respectable medium.

“I've seen the ratings so I know it wasn't a small audience,” Gale said in his press release. “And the way I did the show it was anything but narrowly-focused. I dealt with comics as creativity, not as commodity. I put them in historical and cultural contexts. I tackled social and political issues (which is one of the things WBAI is ‘supposed’ to do). I related them as aspects of people as a whole, including people who didn't necessarily buy them (which might be why I had such a large audience of non-fans).”

Gale called for a campaign to save the show by phoning and e-mailing White. “WBAI is also ‘community radio,’ but most people don't believe there is a such thing as a comic book community. 9-11 showed otherwise (as did saving Top Shelf Publishing), but I hope we can show to Bernard that we ARE a community that SHOULD have a voice on the air.”

If you’re a fan of the show and you want to help, you can reach White at WBAI by dialing (212) 209-2834. His e-mail address is wbaipdbwhite@yahoo.com.


ON THE SHELF

Some of the comics I’ve bought recently:

THE PATH (CrossGen) is beginning to grow on me somewhat. Ron Marz has a habit, though, of reiterating the main plot within the dialogue. He did it in early issues of SCION and he’s doing it here too, though not in an annoying way… Ted Naifeh’s COURTNEY CRUMRIN & THE NIGHT THINGS (Oni) has been a pleasant surprise. Issue 4, the last in this initial (but hopefully not final) mini-series might have been the best of the bunch. I’d never heard of him before this, but I’ll definitely look forward to whatever stuff he does next...

BATTLE OF THE PLANETS (Image/Top Cow) was pretty much what I expected: a faithful rendering of the classic anime cartoon, costumes, villains, and all. I was a huge fan of this show growing up, so seeing this was a nice thrill… FADE FROM BLUE (Second2Some) continues to impress with the second issue. Loved the scene with Christa in the clinic… VERTIGO POP: TOKYO (DC/Vertigo) was kinda trippy – and I’m totally digging Seth Fisher’s art.


FOOT IN THE MOUTH

Finally, I feel I should bring this up here because it’s been at the forefront of my thoughts lately. The July editorial of SequentialTart.com quoted Marvel president Bill Jemas making an ill-conceived, extremely poor taste joke about the site and the women who run it. I have been friends with many of the women at ST for years, as well as being a regular at their message boards, so you can imagine how outraged I was to read about this. To this point I had been content to ignore Jemas’ shenanigans, but this time I
felt like he crossed a line. I wrote him an e-mail about it, which I posted on the ST boards, concluding with the decision on my part to stop buying Marvel comics until he either publicly apologizes or leaves Marvel for good. Now, I don’t expect the rest of Fandom Assembled to follow suit just because I say they should, however, I will ask that you read what Jemas said. Was he just goofing around harmlessly or did he finally go too far? U-decide!



Did you enjoy Rich Watson's first column on Slushfactory.com? Tell him what you thought of it by posting on Rich Watson's own forum. Click here to go directly to it. Come on, you know you want to!


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