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Marvel’s Particular Piracy Situation, Or On Humanism.

Look closely at Marvel’s release schedule, as it switches out artists on their comics, and you’ll see that Marvel is feeding piracy. Okay, so maybe that needs a little explaining. Marvel has developed a habit of replacing their artists intermittently as a way for compensating for double-shipping their issues. As David Brothers is keen to tell you, this process devalues the artists and makes them seem less pivotal to their respective series. It’s a simple trick. If an artist can be switched out at will, then that sends a signal to readers that they aren’t all that integral to the comic they are currently enjoying. And this disregard is ultimately going to make Marvel poorer in the long run.

Pirates like to attack easy targets. Pirates like targets who look invulnerable, tough, ‘the man’ in all its wealth and public faculties. Every time some schlub goes to the flea market and picks up a burned copy of some movie he couldn’t be bothered to copy himself, he justifies it by saying, “This isn’t hurting anyone.” He’ll remind you that given the opportunity to help a small artist in need, he’ll pay up, gladly. See, he’s not hurting people, he’s hurting some rich landlord or a corporation, who makes millions every year anyway. And even then, this is special.  He wouldn’t watch it if it wasn’t cheap or free.  He’s only pirating because he’s bored.

That is the excuse of the everyman pirate on Bittorrent or in a flea market, for every game, movie and comic stolen. It’s not hurting anyone who counts.

By changing up its artists, Marvel kind of looks like the big corporation right now. Here’s why. Marvel clearly wants to make fans loyal not to the comic creators, but the comic series. The goal is not to have fans following Mark Waid and Paulo Rivera, they should be following Daredevil. Waid is, or at the very least Marvel would hope you believe, a Marvel man or “Architect”, much like Fraction, Bendis and Hickman. That makes him less of a writer and more of an extension of company ideal. To Marvel, Waid is a medium who can channel intellectual property into cash flow. That view is also why they don’t switch around writers as they do artists. The writers are positioned as extensions of the company. Yet, when Waid eventually leaves to focus on his own comics, or when he goes back to DC, or when he simply gets tired of Daredevil, Marvel does not want Daredevil’s fans to follow Waid away from the series.

Heck, Marvel doesn’t even want people to follow its key architects. I doubt they’ll make a big deal when Hickman takes over for Bendis on the Avengers. Perhaps a comment here, or an interview there on Bendis’ last issue. But they’ll be quick to remind people, “New Avengers out on Wednesday!” Same when Fraction eventually leaves Iron Man, because he’ll run out of stories one day and is replaced with Kieron Gillen (it will happen people).

You can’t really blame Marvel for hoping that people will look for series and not people. First of all, it’s worked fairly well for them in the past, considering how long people stuck around after Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil or Mark Millar’s run on Ultimate X-Men. There’s also the simple math element to it. Writers and artists don’t last as long as comic series do. Marvel wants to keep readers for another fifty years or so, and their characters need to survive beyond their writer’s ability to spin new stories for them. However, by building loyalties to brands and not people, Marvel is going to make it a lot easier to ‘justify’ pirating content from them.

This is entirely wrong as the human element is an easy way to make it harder for that false justification. Let me give you a personal example. I went to TCAF over the weekend for some fun and panels, and maybe a talk to a few creators. While I was meandering around, I see issue 6 of Comic Book Comics readily available. I was a pretty big fan of Ryan Dunlavey’s and Fred Van Lente’s earlier work, Action Philosophers, and was psyched to see the final issue of their new series on the desk. I picked it up and began to casually look through it.

“I can’t wait to see this in a trade,” I mumbled to myself, as I usually do when wandering around booths, trying to grow enough backbone to talk to a writer or an artist.

“Oh really?” A voice said from behind the desk. I turn up, and see, Ryan Dunlavey sitting with a child on his lap. It’s not like I expected to see someone else, but I was a little surprised that he talked to me first. Although I suppose he could have assumed I was talking to him when I blurted out my impatience to see six issues become a book.  Anyway.

“Oh, yeah, I really loved Action Philosophers. I’ve read through every issue. I’ve seen a few samples of this new one floating around the internet and I guess I’ve been waiting for it to be collected.” Of course, I should have added, “Oh by the way, I read all of Action Philosophers on my computer because a friend of mine sent me pirated copies to me over Skype.”

“Good to hear. You can take that issue you’re holding.”

I kind of glared at him in disbelief. “But, I-Are you sure?” I said and without realizing it, reached into my back pocket for my wallet.

“Hey, don’t worry about it. I believe you when you say you’re a fan,” he said calmly, before turning his attention back to this kid who was now bouncing on his knee. I mumbled a thank you and then ran to the other side of the room.

I feel  guilty for stealing from Dunlavey and Van Lente, just because it took me an embarrassing conversation for me to realize that I was taking from two (or at least one) extremely decent human beings. I don’t deserve that issue. I just feel too guilty. Though, I am very glad to have it for reasons I will get to in a moment.

You can see my point, creating empathy between the creators and the public is how you make them want to purchase a comic, or feel bad about stealing. No one is going to care or feel guilt about pirating a comic if they think they’re stealing from the brand of a faceless corporation. I don’t care about Marvel. Marvel isn’t my friend. Marvel is a creature that for over fifty years has treated its creators as disposable parts of the comic creating process. If anything, I’m prone to make Marvel the guy I avoid at the annual corporo-humanoid dance party.

Let me eliminate some misconceptions for a second. I’m not trying to validate pirating in any form against Marvel, DC or any corporation. Just that it will be far more likely if the perpetrators think they are stealing from of a million dollar corporate hierarchy instead of individuals. Nor am I saying that building a connection, like the one I accidentally formed with Dunlavey, is the catch-all solution to solving piracy. Louis CK released his comedy album for only five dollars online with a personal pledge that he hoped people would be honest and not pirate his work. They still did. But the connection between a creator and consumer still earned him a million bucks. Course, there’s a further caveat to that. Louis CK was a well-established comedian with his own TV show. People knew who he was before he released his album. As for someone unknown using the same technique, there probably wouldn’t be nearly as many sales and more people would pirate it. So the system ain’t all hunky-dory as I’d like to propose.

Yet, Marvel does make enough that instead of trying to hide its artists and trying to absorb its writers, it could bring them to the forefront. Don’t show them as ‘Marvel Architects.’ Marvel should try to showcase their unique abilities, personalities and interests. Treat them like you would treat any author, not some medium through which the corporate IP flows.  Connecting the audience to actual people will bring greater respect for creators, and bring a greater respect to comics as a whole. It is only through mature dealings with the creators, will the rest of society then see that comics, as a medium, have matured.

Fred Van Lente says it best at the end of Comic Book Comics issue 6, as he explains how he believes the comics industry in the US has to move forward in the coming years:

“Discarding the “Pennies Business” demands more respect of the medium and creators. It robs pirates of one of their most potent weapons—The self-serving delusion they’re “Sticking it to the man” and hurting only evil faceless corporations and not middle-class folks just like them. There will always be a market for free stuff with no consequences. But as corny as it sounds, putting a human face on those who produce what the Torrent Generation consumers will be a more effective curb than trying to sue them into submission.”

Summarized into fewer than ninety words, that is exactly what I am trying to say. Marvel and DC by hiding creators, or trying to mask them under a corporate brand, is only encouraging piracy. I only really talked about Marvel’s actions, but DC’s Before Watchmen is just as disingenuous if not more so. They both need to get their acts together and start celebrating their real employees as much as their fictional characters. It’s the only way they’re going to get fans to feel actual guilt for stealing.

Finally, thank you Ryan Dunlavey, and I’m sorry. Just give me a second to pre-order Comic Book Comics from Amazon. I’ll pay this time, I promise.

Review: Hellboy The Storm and The Fury Miniseries

I am not a big Hellboy fan. In the past, I’ve enjoyed the series because it is a deviation from the norm. It’s one of the biggest name comics in North America that doesn’t have a superhero on its cover. And, in its core, it is more about atmosphere and intrigue than it is about dudes punching each other out. The most daunting thing about Hellboy has always been the ten volumes I’d have to read to catch up, along with whatever was going on in the BPRD spin-off. So, when I heard that Hellboy The Storm and The Fury were entirely approachable having only read the first volume, I jumped on, and what I found is probably one of the best ‘event’ comics Read the rest of this entry

Indirect Market: Cinematic Universe

Clearly there are not enough people talking about comics these days, so my good friend, Matthew Ishii and I decided to make our own podcast called Indirect Market. We talk about one broad topic in the comics industry every week and explore it to the best of our ability. Which, to be fair, isn’t much ability at all. The topic can range from shonen manga to costume changes in DC.

This time we talk about comic book movies!

  • We start with the heroes of Batman 66, and Superman, despite our lack of knowledge of them
  • Then move onto the crazy nineties with Spider-Man and X-Men films
  • Jumping to the current day, we talk about Marvel’s attempt to build a cinematic universe, the Dark Knight, and DC’s other lesser movies. We also talk about Pixar’s Incredibles and Kick Ass
  • We also talk about the amazing future, with Man of Steel, Amazing Spider-Man, the Avengers, and our own personal wishes, like an Iron Fist, Fourth World and Animal Man movies. Boy we get excited about a possible Animal Man film.

Comment Below!

Review: Flashpoint 3


Despite exploding upon his attempt to recreate his Flash powers, Barry Allen lives long enough to try again. This time it doesn’t result in a hilarious self-deprecating moment and Allen’s powers return. Problem solved, the Flash and Thomas Wayne Batman decide to search for Superman with the hopes that he can shift the tides in the crumbling world of Flashpoint.

We’re more than halfway through this supposedly world shattering series, and it seems we’re only starting to get to the main plot. We can see an inkling of an army being built and a lot of character development, but this should not be happening during the third issue. Read the rest of this entry

The Toronto Comic Arts Festival 2011

People crowded through the aisles of the Toronto Reference Library (TRL) this weekend, engulfed by the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF). An international group of graphic novel creators and fans gathered in first two floors of the library, which showcased some of the more obscure graphic novels.

TCAF is held every year in the downtown library and, as their pamphlets assert, is not a comic book convention. What makes it different is that it is as much about the creators as it is about their fans. According to their official literature, TCAF is meant to celebrate diversity and creativity, with a leaning towards independent and atypical projects. Unlike most gatherings for graphic novels, superhero comics were in the margins while quirkier stories got the limelight.

Tom Humberstone, a comic writer and illustrator based in London, England, came to display his work from the British anthology, Solipsistic Pop. Despite the distance from home, he said it was worth the trouble of flying across the Atlantic.

“Because it’s free and in the downtown core, I get to meet a lot of people not usually into comics and more willing to opened up to an alternative style,” he said at a panel on UK comics. “Back in 2007, I was looking at the communities (for independent comics) in North America. When I saw TCAF, I felt really jealous because we don’t have this kind of infrastructure and support back in the UK.”

TCAF also gives the opportunity to show local independent creators, like Benjamin Rivers, a professor from the Ontario College of Art and Design. A Torontonian, Rivers was there to promote his graphic novel, Snow. Rivers explained that while he liked the atmosphere, TCAF was his opportunity to sell his comics.

“I’m here to make money. I just got (Snow) printed this weekend, so this is kind of a launch party for me,” he said. Snow is about a girl who lives on Queen Street West. Rivers talked to everyone who approached his booth with a smile and described his story.

Another Canadian at the festival was Stuart Immonen, an artist better known for his work for Marvel and DC Comics. He was there to release his collection of his sketches and short comics, Centifolia II. He could be found on the second floor with his wife, as they casually talked to fans about their independent and mainstream titles.

“We’re locals in Ontario and we’ve come almost every year. (TCAF) lets me meet old friends and we get to see new fans,” Immonen said. “It’s good for our lesser known works too. Last year we debuted Moving Pictures at TCAF and now I have Centifolia.”

Though it does seem to provide satisfaction to many creators, TCAF wouldn’t be much of a festival without its fans.  Visitors poured in from all over the city, and by Saturday afternoon, the reference library was so packed it was difficult to move.  Some of the fans have been waiting for this for weeks, while others simply came in to see what all the commotion was about.

Melanie Sue is a psychology student at the University of Toronto who went to TCAF on a whim.

“I was at the Beguiling (a book store), and they told this festival was going on at the TRL. It’s free, so I came by,” she said, as she was making a curious glance through the aisle of T-shirts and trinkets.  “The art here is really crazy and I was impressed by all the people. I didn’t expect to see this many artists and fans.”

TCAF has panels on comic book design and culture, a large list of exhibitors and workshops for kids. It is run by Christopher Butcher and Peter Birkemoe every year around the first weekend of May.

Scott Pilgrim and the Modern Man

I don’t really like Valentine Day. It’s a day where I’m supposed to buy something.  A recent tradition is that women will talk about women’s role in a relationship. Who give gifts, who gives what gifts, marriage proposals. I think it’s unfortunate men don’t get treated in the same way, that is self analysis of our position in society. People just assume that men don’t have anything to fight for because we’re already at the top of the ladder. I’ll show a shift in the image of man I think we neglect THROUGH SCOTT PILGRIM.

This is a topic I’ve wanted to do for a while. It’s been crawling in the back of my brain in class after someone said, “Isn’t Scott Pilgrim basically just an average guy.” At first I thought that was terrible. Why would anyone want to be Scott Pilgrim? His life is fun, but only because he’s delusional. He’s not faithful. He’s not reliable. He’s not even the stupid archetype of the strong male fighter, with muscles abound and able to shoot a one-liner with every flex. But, I kept thinking about it, and you know what, they’re right, this is the new image of man.

This discussion is probably better suited to a lit essay or a something ‘professional’ but I’m in rant mode, so why not. As anyone who has turned on the television knows, the ideal conception of man is the brotherly, womanizing god, who can cry manly tears when he needs to and suffers the burden of the protection of his property. But we all know that’s fake now. There is no super-man like that, and in reality, such men are usually assholes. That’s what we’re taught, and that’s what we know from reality. This does not exist.

So of course the rational response is then to demonize that form. Thus, in reality we believe that men aren’tcouragous, they’re foolhardy. They can’t commit to a relationship. They’re powerless in the long run, and they can’t do anything without a woman. Really, the ideal man can be changed from a god to a horny adolescent. Now think about that, and think about Scott Pilgrim.

Scott is the modern understanding of man, a sort of child who is stuck in his fantasies. He’s a slacker, who doesn’t want to do anything if he doesn’t have to. He dates a 17-year-old to relax, and then abandons her for a cooler, more-hipster woman. His goal in life, when they exist, are limted to getting a girlfriend. He fights to defend her, but in a world that exists in his head via video game logic. The comic actually parodies how the fights have no meaning (except the last one, but more on that later). He beats an Indian pirate with the power of friendship, but that’s secondary to his goal to get Ramona and have an awesome band. Once they are over, he goes back to real life where his victories don’t really matter. If anything, Scott makes more trouble for himself by trying to ‘protect’ Ramona. They cause conflict between them, one of evil exes even kidnapps his friend, Kim.

SPOILERS GOING FORWARD

This is clearly just as wrong an understanding of masculinity as the first one. If you create an image where this is the norm, it’s fine to just be a delusional manchild because, you know what, that’s a man. Interestingly enough, the comic series and the movie recognize this, and Scott actually manages to grow out of it by the end. In the comic, Scott repeatedly comes across negative parallels of himself, in Negascott (all of his repressed memories of failure) and Gideon, who is Scott taken up to an obsessive extent. Gideon is the master of video game duels, except he’s played the game long enough that he knows all the rules. His own image of himself is a huge god who has Ramona drooling over him in chains. It’s literally all in his head (or Ramona’s in this case – long story, read the book) like Scott. By finally discovering this parallel, Scott is able to free himself from his pattern.

Gideon doesn’t take this stance in the film, here he’s more of an ultimate douchebag of hipsterdom. What’s more important is how Scott manages to defeat him. Scott has to die once, before he realizes how stupid he’s been. He realizes the reason he failed the first time was because he was always overconfident or underconfident, and his love for Ramona means nothing without self-respect. He doesn’t need to be a jerk to get what he wants, and he doesn’t need to idealize a woman or be idealized by a woman to have worth. He needs to know when he’s fighting for himself, and not for Ramona. (The latter revelation actually comes to Ramona in the comics, but if I go into that, this thing will never end) He shows that love can only go so far here, Scott has to change who he is. (This is why I think it was more appropriate for Scott to end up with Knives in the end, but that’s another story)

There’s more I want to say, but I really don’t have the effort or cohesive power to put an essay together right now. Instead I’ll say that Scott Pilgrim in either medium does an excellent deconstruction of the feeble modern man. I think we need more of this genre. There has to be reminders that neither the ideal image of man or the reactionary image of man is the valid interpretation. Though, after we’re through, what I really hope for is for some reconstruction. I want to see fiction that shows what a great modern man could be, rather than just showing us where we’ve gone wrong.