GLENN HAUMAN: Who made comics piracy big?
There’s a thread going on over on The Engine where Warren Ellis is practicing knuckleballs with Molotov cocktails again and taking a snapshot of comic book piracy. The thread has some interesting points, and it reminds me who really made piracy popular.
Not the first comics pirate, incidentally — people have been making fake copies of comic books as far back as Warren’s Eerie #1 and, later, Dave Sim’s Cerebus #1, and it probably predates that with the undergrounds. Nor are we discussing printers overprinting copies and selling them without reporting them to the publisher — we aren’t even talking about scanners of comics, who have been doing it and trading them ever since scanners started showing up at work– in fact, the first bootleg scans I ever got were from other comics professionals, the folks whose oxen are theoretically getting gored.
No, I’m talking about the guy who made it important to pirate comics, to distribute scanned copies far and wide, and to make it cool to read bootleg copies of the Internet.
Paul Levitz. DC Comics publisher and president Paul Levitz.
Remember when you bought a copy of Elseworlds 80 Page Giant #1? You liar. You never bought a copy. The book was pulped before it ever hit the stands in the US, the only copies that got out in this country went to DC Comics employees.
Why? Because Paul objected to a story in there by the ever-dreadlocked Kyle Baker with Liz Glass, a story entitled "Letitia Lerner, Superman’s Babysitter". Paul thought the Letitia Lerner story was inappropriate (for featuring scenes depicting the Kents rushing off to a motel and baby Superman in a microwave, among others) and ordered the comic destroyed. Thousand of copies were pulped. However, about 2000 copies of the issue had already been shipped to the UK and quickly became a highly sought after collector’s item. And somebody overseas scanned it and posted it on the Internet.
To use the lingo: POW! ZOOM! SMASH!
POW! It hit the Internet. ZOOM! It spread all over the world, into the hands of just about every comics reader online. SMASH! The story certainly was a smash, winning Kyle two Eisner awards, for Best Short Story and for Best Writer/Artist – Humor.
Ironically, it’s the only story from the 80-Page Giant to be reprinted, in Bizarro Comics.
The point is that when the distribution system– and I mean the entire chain, from publishers to distributors to retailers — fails, a black market will pop up. It happened with this story. It happened when people couldn’t get copies of Captain America #25. It’s happening now with Miracleman, one of the more popular torrents out there, because it can’t be brought back into print. It’s happening in countries where legitimate versions aren’t available yet, if ever — witness fan-subbed manga and anime, or Doctor Who episodes. It’s happening more and more as publishers try to extract every last dime they can out of the existing fan base, placing themselves on the upper half of a Laffer curve.
And it’s not going to get any better. But then, it never does, once you’ve shown them that sometimes, getting a copy online is the only way you’re ever going to get to read it. Even if it’s not strictly legal.
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