Flight Volume 4 CoverIf you head over to The Comics Reporter today, you’ll see Tom Spurgeon list six problems facing the comics industry, at the moment. Not to steal his thunder or anything (it’s a good list), but except for the syndicated comics concern all of his points are cycling through my brain at least 2 or 3 times a week. The DM/Superhero Retail concerns more than the others, admittedly, but the future of the North American Manga Market and the “Loss of the Professional Class” are both high on my list of comics-related worries. Usually I treat those wories with comics-related Gin & Tonics.

Tom does a great job of summarising everything though, and I particularly wanted to talk about “The Loss of the Professional Class”. Take it away, Tom:

“I’m becoming more and more of the mind that the recent surge in business for many comics industries has for the first time in the medium’s history not had an identifiable, corresponding impact on the fortunes of comics creators. In previous decades comics rates went up when the business was booming… Now, despite the opening of new markets for new creators and the obvious relative health of the direct market when compared to five years ago, the stories about people receiving corresponding remuneration generally relate to opportunities seized outside of comics, not within it. In fact, there’s some initial evidence that a few of the new models even when they’re working full-bore may offer up rewards more of the struggling artist rather than the successful artist variety.”
- Tom Spurgeon, Comics Reporter

I just realised that’s a great tag to go after Tom’s name. Neat. As to Tom’s point… well… yes and no.

Steady Beat Volume 2 Cover, by RivkahI have a number of friends who are young comics professionals, and looking at their carreers now, as opposed to what might have faced them 5, 10, or even 15 years ago, it’s pretty easy to see that there has been a significant, quantifiable increase in the dollars going into comics creator pockets. It’s still about as much as getting a real job as opposed to Todd McFarlane Wealthy, but it is possible to earn (rather than eak-out) a living in the new world of graphic novel publishing. Of course, it all depends on the deal you sign. $10,000 for a Tokyopop GN that’s effectively work-for-hire with a few sales incentives thrown in? Seeing as I’ve lived on $10,000 a year I know it’s possible, I just don’t want to do it. But there are people and they are getting better, fairer deals, and in some cases a pretty stupendous advance (we’ve all heard those names floated around, no need to go into them here).

Let’s look at Jeff Smith and his series Bone. Jeff Smith built his massive success on his and his wife Vijaya’s backs. It was a pretty brutal slog, in retrospect, with Jeff not only illustrating 140 pages of comics a year for 10 years, but also running the company that published those comics and doing 10-15 conventions per year on top of that. When the Scholastic deal came around, and let’s not forget that both Bone and Cartoon Books were successful at this point, that money was a reward for 10 years of very hard work. But could anyone, at this point, go the Bone route? My money’s on ‘no’.

But we’re also at a point where no one has to. The Mouse Guard guy is hitting a bunch of conventions, but he’s not the one lugging cases of his books (I hope), he’s got a publisher for that. Kean Soo’s Jellaby will be coming out from Hyperion Books next year, a young-readers graphic novel aimed squarely at the Bone-reading audience, and while mainstream authors are always encouraged to do promotions and press for their work (and I will be roping Keaner into a number of “personal appearances”) he’s got a team of people out there getting Jellaby in front of reviewers, into bookstores, onto book clubs, and into the hands of its intended audience. Which is gonna be hell for him, he’s so hands on. :)

Making Comics, by Scott McCloudThe real reason that I’m not entirely worried about “The Loss of the Professional Class”? It’s a secret I probably shouldn’t spill on my blog, but… Alright, here goes: Judy Hansen, of Hansen Literary Agency [Edit: I had the name of the agency wrong, earlier, apologies to all involved]. Judy Hansen is Scott McCloud’s agent, and got him out of the deal with DC and into Harper Collins’s warm embrace. Scott set Judy up with Flight, and moved them from Image’s money-on-the-back-end deal to Random House, where… I don’t know how private those details are. Let’s say everyone involved is currently much happier with that situation, except possibly Image? Anyway. Judy also represents a ton of individual Flight Anthology creators, including Kazu Kibuishi (Scholastic), Hope Larson (ginee soo books/S&S), and the afformentioned Kean Soo (Hyperion). Her name most recently came up when it was announced that Svetlana Chmakova has signed with Yen Press (a division of Hachette) for her post-Tokyopop graphic novel series, negotiated by Ms. Hansen. Judy Hansen is known as an extremely tough negotiator for her comics clients (coming out of the collapse of Kitchen Sink publishing and seeing too many artists treated like commodity), and it’s a matter of public record (scroll through the archives at Publisher’s Weekly) that her clients are generally happy with the deals she secures for them.

I can’t speak, from the creative side, to the artists not represented by Judy Hansen, but despite her gruff reputation (she once told someone to stop talking to me because they had somewhere more important to be, all the while never making eye contact with me) I have quite a bit of hope for the economic feasibility of being a graphic novelist thanks to her. My fears are still there, but assuaged.

I honestly think that as graphic novels (not even as a category (although that’s nice), but individual gn’s) continue to hit with solid sales and critical acclaim, more agents, editorial staff, and publishers will become educated enough to really understand the medium, its unique creative and fiscal concerns, and things will settle in (upwards) accordingly. I wouldn’t trust a publisher, entrenched in either the direct market or out in ‘the real world’, who tells you there’s no money to be made in the publishing side, that it’s all in getting the work optioned for other-media exploitation. If the work hits (and if the publisher does the work so that it has the potential to hit) then creators should get paid for the sales of the book, it’s that simple. On that count, Tom Spurgeon is 100% correct, and the deals have got to get a hell of a lot better for creator-owned material (and creators really have to get lawyers and/or agents to look over those contracts before they sign them…!). But there are good deals out there right now, contracts to pattern yours after and a value being placed on creative work that’s equivilent to a living wage. It’s really up to the people with the power–the creative people–to seize on it.

- Christopher

Moe, of the 3 Stooges. Not the Moe you were looking for.P.S.: The future of the U.S. manga market is that either the tastes of the audience will age and the material being imported will do the same (like JAPAN), or it won’t, and we’ll be stuck with a nation of hardcore fucking nerds, lusting after MOE 12 year olds and deeply enjoying material for children (like AMERICA). Either way, you know, there’ll be an absolute avalanche of material to choose from, and so the market will remain healthy. It’d take a new Pearl Harbor for North America to turn away from Japanese culture in the fashion necessary for the market to collapse.


13 Comments on “The Creative Underclass”

You can track this conversation through its atom feed.

  1. Hope says:

    Judy is a powerhouse!

  2. Judy Hansen says:

    Dear Christopher-
    I read your blog and I would like to confirm that I do try to obtain good deals for my clients.

    However, I need to correct an important error in your blog. My agency is the Hansen Literary Agency, not Kitchen & Hansen Agency.

    I still represent a few clients through the old agency including the Will Eisner estate, Wendy and Richard Pini, Mark Schultz, Bryan Talbot and Chuck Dixon to name a few. But after negotiating to revert all of Will Eisner’s graphic novels from DC and place them at W.W.Norton, and many other deals, as the partner in the old agency who actually did all the trade book deal negotiations and contracts, I moved forward with my own agency.

    All of the clients you mentioned, Scott McCloud, Kean Soo, Kazu Kibuishi, Hope Larson and Svetlana Chmakova and a number of other fabulous creators and wonderful clients are exclusively represented by the Hansen Literary Agency.

    Facts are important so I want to clarify that I now take on new clients only through the Hansen Literary Agency.

    regards,
    Judy Hansen

  3. Chris says:

    Judy- Thanks for clarifying that, I had heard your agency described under both titles recently, and I defaulted to the earlier title. I’ve fixed it in my post now.

    Best,

    - Chris

  4. huffy says:

    That MOE poster if absolute genius.

  5. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » June 5, 2007: Numbers game says:

    [...] Is growth in the comics and graphic-novel markets not filtering down to cartoonists? Reacting to an argument made in a Tom Spurgeon essay, Christopher Butcher thinks that it isn’t as simple as that. [...]

  6. John Lind says:

    Speaking as a partner (whose main focus is admittedly the creative side of presentations and book packaging) in Denis Kitchen’s new agency, Kitchen, Lind & Associates, I’d like to address this post…

    As I pointed out to Christopher Butcher in an email yesterday, there are numerous agents working in the book industry with graphic novel experience and obviously the goal of any agent is to get the best deal possible for their clients.

    The real story here (or “secret”, as Christopher put it), isn’t just Judy Hansen (and I’m not trying to take anything away from Judy’s accomplishments), but agents in general. The story should have been that every creator who is aiming toward the book industry, GET AN AGENT TO NEGOTIATE YOUR CONTRACT. You might be able to stumble through a contract on your own, but you really need the kind of experience someone like Denis Kitchen or Judy Hansen (or Ken Levin or Allan Spiegel) has in your corner.

    Since agents are generally thought of on par with lawyers at the bottom of the food chain, it is tough to get this message across to the creative masses in comics (many of whom never thought they’d have use for an agent). I’ve heard too many private stories in the past year of creators who thought they could go it alone and failed. Comics has a long standing history of creators getting screwed, it would be nice to see that tradition end.

    I’m including a few quick follow-up links for creators, although I honestly have no idea what the submission status is with any of the following agents (with the exception of KLA, which accepts submissions online or at the MoCCA show), they may currently be closed to new clients and some are difficult to track down. I would suggest anyone interested in attaining representation do some serious research first.

    Allen Spiegel Fine Arts
    http://www.asfa.biz

    An interview with Ken Levin
    http://forum.newsarama.com/showthread.php?s=&threadid=4895

    The Gotham Group
    http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117947042.html?categoryid=2159&cs=1

    Kitchen, Lind & Associates
    http://kitchenandlind.com

    Hansen Literary Agency
    (I only have Judy Hansen’s private email address, but I assume she can be contacted thru her clients).

  7. Brian Hibbs says:

    “Let’s say everyone involved is currently much happier with that situation, except possibly Image?”

    Speaking as a retailer, I’m not at all thrilled with a 10%(+) lower discount, I have to admit!

    -B

  8. Joseph says:

    Wow, I hadn’t realized that it was the old school book publishers sniping away (probably wrong term) people away like that.

    If that keeps growing and growing you’re going to get an even larger schism between the direct market and the comics section of the local big huge bookshop. Will there be a point where either the direct market gets eaten by the borders/bn/amazon?

    I know that I buy fewer and fewer single issues as time goes by… And by more and more from internet sales and or bookshops?

    If that happens, other than the few artist who are already at harper-collins et al. are going to get squeezed. As in any industry the gatekeepers have the power, not the creative types. Will it be dark times?

  9. Scott Bieser says:

    Generally speaking, I see a further bifurcation of the market between superhero material primarily from the Big Two, and everyone else. As director for a small GN publisher this worries me a bit as I’d sooner compete with DC and Marvel than with Harper Collins or Scholastic. However, generally I expect the Big Two (and the Second Two) will survive for some time, and webcomics will serve the functions offered previously by indie comics publishers, who will mostly be doomed if they don’t make the jump to the Web.

  10. Simon Jones says:

    I have to ask, though, on the manga front, what’s wrong with being perpetually geared towards a Young Adult market? Having people outgrow it and new people grow into it. It’s a relatively sustainable and acceptable approach. It’s honestly where the vast bulk of the home japanese market is, with a lot of the moe type stuff really be intended for the same perpetual man-children that have resulted in the big two’s prominence.

    Moe creeps me the hell out.

  11. Chris says:

    Simon- The problem with being perpetually geared to young adults is that the work doesn’t STAY for young adults, and the fan base doesn’t outgrow it. Sort of like Superheroes have aged with their audience, dirty old men will continue to buy Love Hina/Air Gear/Battle Vixens. Moe is just symptomatic of arrested adolesence I think… I dunno, this isn’t a fully developed thought (just getting my head around it here…) but America is a much more permissive society than Japan, and I can just see groups of adult nerds adopting this culture at the same time as the kids, rather than moving to reading material that’s actually for them. It’s also a bit selfish because I, as an adult, would like to read more manga for adults, which does poorly here on release for the most part…

    I dunno. I just think it’s sad how many 40 year olds relate to the protagonist from like CHOBITS or whatever.

  12. Simon Jones says:

    Moe is actually a little creepier than that. There’s a lot to suggest that it’s gained in popularity because it’s target audience, that is hard core Otaku, are threatened by the idea of full grown women, of a female other they can’t relate to, the confuses and threatens them and that they can’t fully understand. A cute little girl, on the other hand? Is non-threatening, they can feel in control, they can protect and feel like the stronger party. It’s a genre feature built on the crippled psychology of it’s target audience. They’ve gone from the fiesty girl perpetually harassing and threatening the hero, which is honestly more a function of anadolesenct girls are icky thing and more a function of shonen and it’s target audience thing to a movement towards Moe for those sweet otaku yen. It’s basically a Japanese version of things like Lady Death in the 90′s. Only with pinafores rather than bikinis. All of which why Moe creeps me the hell out. So does Train Man. I really loathe train man.

    And, while I want me some more grown up manga (And some stuff from the 60′s and 70′s. Ashita No Joe would be nice for a start. or at least something other than bloody Tezuka) the YA market is where mangas bread is pretty much buttered, where even the vast majority of the japanese material lies.

  13. ReidFire says:

    Hi! i’ve stumbled over your blog when I tried gathering informations about agents and representatives from net. And I can say that your writing has helped me so much! Thank you ^O^ I’ve been searching for agents info and until this time I haven’t got useful information.

    Actually, I’m here to ask something also since you looks like an expert in this field…
    do you need to be the sole creator of a project (story+drawing) if you want to be represented by all of these wonderful agents? Or will they be willing to represent you only as a comic artist? I do know few of manga artists that use agents even tough they don’t have a project and just waiting for script from a publisher to be assigned to them. But the problem is that I dont know if all of the agents employed just artist or all of them do…^^;

    I will be very thankful if you’re willing to help me…since I’m not an American citizen and is living in Indonesia. I’m a manga artist and I do have my works published here and there but even tough you can stumble over few contracts sometimes it’s hard to maintain them overtime when you dont have someone personally representating you in front of the publisher…

    Ah well…sorry for the long rambling. I hope you can help me tough. I’ll be very very THANKFUL

    Sincerely,
    ReidFire aka Rhea Silvan

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