So, I am being Blog-Flogged over some comments I made during a panel at Wondercon. Specifically during a panel I was asked what I would have done differently if I were starting publishing today. My initial reaction was that, having the knowledge that I have now, I would not have gone into publishing at all and done something else with my life.|
I sensed, however, that that was not the answer the person was looking for. So I said the following (which is pulled from the Newsarama coverage of my panel since my memory has become faulty enough that I don't remember what my exact words were):
On the serious end, I would not publish creator-owned work. It’s a terrible business model as a publisher.” He said the successful companies in the industry own their characters, mentioning Spider-Man as an example.
“When you’ve got an environment where someone can come in, cut their teeth with you, then turn around and walk out, taking the stuff that you put money into with them, it’s just not a healthy way to do it,” he said. “I would not offer creator-owned contracts, I’d own it; I’d own it all. And sure, maybe there would have been things that wouldn’t have come our way, but I guarantee you if we’d had an equitable way of taking those properties on, if I’d owned Johnny, if I’d owned Milk & Cheese, if I’d owned Lenore, if I’d owned everything I’ve published over the last 20 years, this company would be in a lot better shape as a company. So that’s what I would do differently, and that would be my advice: no creator-owned comics.”
First, to clarify, I was asked what I would do differently, what I might change if I had the chance. You have to understand this about the timing of the question, it was the final question of the panel. Some Star Wars group was making a ruckus's about needing to get into the room, so there was no opportunity for a follow-up or elaboration. But the question was what would you do differently. I answered that question based on my experience of the last 21 years in this business. There was no follow-up or opportunity to elaborate in a public forum.
So a bunch of people have chimed in on the subject, not a major firestorm of any sort, but enough of it that I felt I should post some kind of response to some of the comments. Using the miracle that is Google Finder I was able to find several blog postings about my panel. I'm not the kind of person who likes to go to message boards and engage in endless discourse on minor nonsense and this kind of ego-surfing just bugs me. Neither am I someone who enjoys seeing their name in print, on other people's blogs or even really anywhere. I am a pretty private person and maybe the thing I really would have done 21 years ago when I started this was to come up with someone else to be me so I could just do my thing and never have to read about myself. Which bring me to the first comment I read bout the panel, from Tom Spurgeon's The Comics Reporter:
"What's interesting is that Vado speaks out so infrequently no one knows exactly how to take his statements."
I am not exactly a hermit, when people ask me questions I answer them. I try to be as candid as possible and as anyone who has ever done business with me (hopefully) knows that while you may not always like what I have to say you can make bank on the fact that I am not going to bullshit you. Yeah, I don't blog regularly, I guess in today's day and age that is the equivalent of a monk taking a vow of silence. However I have only turned down one request for an interview in my entire life (although to be honest I have discouraged a lot of them) and if someone WANTS to interview me, well I am right here. I suppose I could take Tom to task for maybe not dropping me a line and asking what I meant by the statement, but then (and I do not mean this in negative way) his website is the Comics REPORTER and not the Comics JOURNALIST. I realize he is reporting on something I said, and that is fair, but the comment about not knowing how to take what I say, that's a matter of opinion and best left out of his reporting.
The award for keeping things in perspective goes to Simon at Icaruscomics.com
"A rather shocking statement from a company with a reputation for being very creator-rights-friendly, but keep in mind he is answering a completely hypothetical question. On one hand, the purpose of a publisher is to monetize the creator’s product, and lopsided terms for the creator will oten end up being too obstructive, ultimately hurting both the publisher and the creator. On the other hand, would SLG have gotten half of the properties for which they’ve become known for had they had a strict publisher ownership policy?"
So, first, three cheers for Simon for noting that my comments were a response to a HYPOTHETICAL question. People seemed to gloss over the first answer that I had to the question, which was given a chance to do it over, I wouldn't have. I can't change THAT either. I found it kind of amusing that the people who found my comments about ownership to be anathema don't seem to care much that my initial reaction was to say that publishing at all was a mistake and that there were a lot better ways to make a living. Sure, maybe some of the people I published would have found other outlets for their work, but I can promise you that a lot of people's lives would have been a lot different had I not been there and gotten them their start.
At The Engine message board James Owen wrote:
“Interesting dichotomy that perspective creates. The thing is, what it’s also saying in hindsight is, ‘I should have figured out a way to take control of what YOU created, so I could profit from it instead of you.’”
I don't know James Owen, he doesn't know me and to be honest I did not go read his post on the board, instead I pulled it from a headline that The Comics Journal's JOURNALISTA (A great site, or at least a great part of the Journal Site and probably the only comics site I read every day). James is drawing an inference from my statement based on whatever personal experiences he has had with whatever people he has worked with. But, I am going to call you back to one part of my statement, one that all the "VADO: I WOULD OWN IT ALL" headlines don't do justice to, which was I guarantee you if we’d had an equitable way of taking those properties on, if I’d owned Johnny, if I’d owned Milk & Cheese, if I’d owned Lenore, if I’d owned everything I’ve published over the last 20 years, this company would be in a lot better shape as a company.
The operative word here is Equitable, which is defined as (and I am pulling the dictionary definition here since it is the EXACT meaning I wanted to convey when I made the statement)
c1.characterized by equity or fairness; just and right; fair; reasonable: equitable treatment of all citizens.
I didn't say if there was a way to rip off every cartoonist I had ever published I would do it, but, if I were approaching publishing today I would have gotten loans and based a business model of buying properties and giving people a financial incentive for selling me their work. Comics publishing is something that sort of found me, I never thought I would still be doing this at this stage of my life. James is assigning a motivation to me I do not have. Not very fair, or equitable, on his part if you ask me.
On her adistantsoil.com site Colleen Doran shows her creativity by making an obvious joke "Does Vado put the slave in Slave Labor..." which I am unfairly taking out of it's context because I am so sick of hearing that joke that it brings up another possible answer to the question about what I would have done differently; the name of the company. We go by SLG Publishing now (and no not because of our Disney license) and I am pretty open about the fact that, had I known I would still be doing this 21 years later I would certainly have picked a different name. The name sticks, however and no matter what I have tried to call the company people always come back to Slave Labor Graphics. Even the Disney exec in their own press release called us that and her quote wwas the only place in the release where the name of the company appeared that way.
Doran goes on to say "Then again, some of the small publishers are simply lousy at their jobs. Unable to help a book expand its audience, a bad small press publisher can weigh down a creator and keep them from realizing their sales potential. Some creators leave because they simply can’t make a living at their original publishing house".
Like James Owen, I don't know Colleen, she doesn't know me, our paths have never really crossed and they are not likely to, and I am not trying to draw an inference from her comments, but there were a number of postings out there which essentially said the same thing, that I am not very good at what I do. While I am certain we have not met every creator's expectations in all of the time I have been doing this, I feel pretty confident in the work I have done both in the selection of stuff to publish and in the way I have approached the business. Again, to clarify, I am not saying that was what Colleen meant, just using her comment to show a general attitude.
There is a LOT of chatter at The Beat, mostly mixed and way to much to respond to. I did respond to one poster's assertion that we were a "goth comics publisher" and that person did offer an apology when both a number of people (including myself) pointed out the variety of comics we have published over the years.
Then there is James Kochalka, someone whom I have published in the past, taking an opportunity to plug his book coming out from Random House and pointing out "Not only do I still own the copyright, they don’t even take a percentage of film rights or merchandise or anything! So… if creator ownership works for a giant like Random House, it must not be such bad business after all."
Yes James, SLG is not Random House, thanks for pointing that out. Random House's entire foundation (no pun intended) is not really built on creator-owned books but on books developed in-house which they own. Likewise it is doubtful that Random House would have published your early work, so do not compare me to Random House.
Also on The Beat my good friend Rikki Simmons points out "I think in the end all Dan is saying here is that he’s tired of other publishers using him as an unpaid talent scout."
Amen to that brother, and thanks for pointing that out. I am tired of that. DC Comics Minx line of graphic novels probably would not exist if it weren't for the frequent visits that editor Shelly Bond made to our booth over the years. Honestly, Shelly should be sending me part of her paycheck. This past weekend Dan Didio came RIGHT INTO MY BOOTH and sat next to Greg Weisman to pitch him on writing for DC. Now, Greg is a known talent and once worked on staff for DC, so maybe that wasn't that big of a deal. BUt if I wandered into the DC booth and started passing out my card to creators you could be certain I would hear about it. Come on now people, a little respect, please.
Which brings me, in closing, to the comments posted on a Livejournal by a guy who calls himself Eurotard.This guy wins the award for creativity in his posting as he writes:
"Why not eliminate the middleman, Dan? Ditch the company entirely. Dial up people who you'd really like to exploit, get their addresses out of the phone book, go to their houses and punch their loved ones in the face. Grind little Timmy's pet turtle into the carpet with your iron heel. Cut the cat in half with an ironing board. Tear the tubes out Granma's nose and take an icepick to her iron lung. I mean, if you're going to do a thing, don't be a milquetoast. Strip down to your skivvies, hollow Granma out, drink the cat's blood, smear yourself with turtle paste, make a deal with Mephistopheles, then zip into the past (wearing Granma as a suit) and convince Siegal & Shuster to work for YOU."
When someone posted something in my defense, pointing out that I was responding candidly to a hypothetical question Eurotard went on to say:
"Sure, he's answering a question honestly, but he's also providing a quote for anybody in big business who wants to buttress their argument against creator rights. The idea that cultivating goodwill amongst your employees is 'bad for business' is the sort of backward hash I'd expect to hear out of a CEO with a silver spoon in his nose, not a small press publisher. Dan Vado may not be being an evil dick, but he's not fucking helping, either."
I don't know who this guy is, I don't care to and were it not for Google Finder he would never have come on to my radar. However, it is there for all to see and since he addressed me personally in his blog entry I can only assume that his comments were for my consumption. Which brings me to a small tangent here: People who put stuff on their blogs who name me (or anyone else) by name as if they are addressing you but knowing full well that their comments will never be seen by the people they are writing about. You can yell FIRE in an empty theater as much as you like, you can say nasty shit behind people's back all you want I suppose, but I consider it cowardly. Had I not stumbled onto Eurotard accidentally I would never have seen his comments, I do not search for things on the Internet using the search term Vado Eurotard very often. I can only assume that he did not INTEND for me to see his comments since he did not post to any of the sites or boards that had pretty lively discussions on the subject, neither did he choose to email his semi-creative bit of character assassination. My feeling in life and my approach to both what I say and write is that I do not say anything in private about someone that I would not say directly to them, it keeps things simple, for both me and my friends or business associates.
Anyway. I normally don't bite at stuff like this, but it really does call for some kind of response. So here is my two part response.
1) The execs at the giant companies (whom you presumably would want your work to be published by) already know that creator ownership is bad business, that's why they are giant companies. I am not here to help you in your struggle to get a giant media companies to buy your work AND let you own it. You also missed or glossed over the part where I talked about equity and you more than anyone I saw write about what I said assigned motivations and even RESPONSIBILITIES to me that I do not have.
2) Your user name is Eurotard. How can I take you seriously. Take a pill and shut the hell up.
Thanks everyone for reading this perhaps overly long response. Feel free to comment here, but I have spent more time on this subject than it truly deserves so do not expect much of a response.