Baltimore: Bendis Vs. Kirkman
Over a month ago, Robert Kirkman (Invincible, Walking Dead) posted a video mission statement on the idea that many who work at DC and Marvel are there because they do not realize that creator-owned books can provide a stable living with healthy profit and that such titles are the way to enhance the industy.
Brian Michael Bendis immediately responded by saying that things weren’t that easy and that it was irresponsible to tell people that, speaking as a man who works on many Marvel titles and has had success with his creator-owned Powers series.
The two sides of the argument have been tackled, discussed and disected across the board on message boards, in comic stores, in bars, possibly even in secret lairs hidden beneath wealthy manors.
And so, at Baltimore Comic-Con, Bendis and Kirkman met to continue their debate and elaborate on their points before an interested audience.
Kirkman: “F*ck you, Brian Bendis.”
Bendis: “F*ck YOU.”
Kirkman (lower tone): “F*ck you.”
Bendis: “F*ck YOU.”
Kirkman: “F*ck YOU!”
Bendis: “That’s a good point.”
The true discussion then began in earnest. Kirkman repeated his beliefs concerning creator-owned work, emphasizing that he felt company books only sell to a locked audience whereas creator-owned books are what’s necessary to get new and younger customers into the stores.
Kirkman: “Looking out at the audience now, I see a lot of old faces and it scares me, frankly … I don’t think I have all the answers or many answers, you know, I just wanted to point that out.”
Bendis: “Though Robert was well-intended, for any artist or writer of any type it’s immensely important to see what it feels like to create something that did not previously exist. But in your diatribe, you were using yourself as an example that I was worrying if you didn’t realize … it’s rarified air that we breathe. In your call to arms, I was worried that what you were expressing wasn’t accurate, that truthfully most creator-owned books fail. Should you not make them? No. Just like if you were making a movie or creating an album. Tons of albums come out every year, tons of movies come out year … no one ever sees them again … If you’re a filmmaker working in a video store, everyone thought they were Tarantino one year.”
"I hope everyone in this room sits down and tries to make a comic … But know that unless, you know, God shines down on you it’s not gonna be definite it’s gonna be seen. So just know that going in and don’t care …. Torso never sold more than 2200 copies. Which meant that it sold 100 copies more than it needed to make a profit … That is the reality for most creator-owned books. You can’t make a living on it at all. I was working as a caricature artist up to a year when I was writing Ultimate Spider-Man …”
Kirkman: “I had those exact same days on Battleboat … It was a very hard road and having you help me out and getting me in Marvel was one of many, many things that got me to breathe this rarified air."
Bendis: "It smells like Quesada."
Kirkman: "I’m glad it actually doesn’t. Anyway, I don’t think it’s as rare as you might say … There’s definitely a cycle that’s necessary in the life of a creator to work your way up if you can to that level where you can breathe that sweet rarified air to turn that into a profitable creator-owned book … I’m speaking to specific creators. The problem I see is that there are creators who are out there who stay on corporate books when they don’t want to."
Bendis: "That is one cycle, that is not the only cycle.
Bendis: “You’re making generalizations that I don’t agree with at all. There are examples that go all over the place. Just like showbiz, there is no right or wrong way to break in. There’s no rhyme or reason why anyone’s successful …
Kirkman: “My stance is talking to the guy who is doing Green Arrow because he needs that paycheck. And Green Arrow is selling BECAUSE of him, because he has built himself up to this certain place where he can do Green Arrow … These people do exist because I’ve talked to them”
Bendis: "Name names."
Kirkman: "There are too many names … I’m just saying if you’re sitting there and you’re unhappy and a lot of people are unhappy, there are options."
Bendis: “Grant Morrison said this and I’ve said it too … Who among our peers do you think is unaware of the creator-owned market?”
Kirkman: “No one is unaware of the creator-owned market but people are unaware that you can sustain yourself on creator-owned books that sell at a fraction of the books done by a corporation.”
Bendis: “But you can’t.”
Kirkman: “But you can.”
Bendis: “We have peers … who, for whatever reason … completely disconnected from the audience they built up at Marvel and DC. It’s not the rule. There’s more examples of that than have done your level of creator-owned work.”
Kirkman: "I think there’s more than four people that have done well with creator owned work."
Bendis: "Well, the lever you’re talking? There are like five."
Kirkman: “What level are we talking about? … There are people in the upper levels of Marvel and DC who are making page rates far less than what they could be making on books that sold a fraction of what they’re doing. They’re shocked …
Bendis: “I’ve been doing it since 1991.”
“You’ve been dabbling," Kirkman said, to the surprise of many. He then mockingly imitated Bendis, saying "I do one issue of Powers and then I do nine Avengers titles.”
Bendis, however, did not take the remark personally and simply agreed that it was easier for writers to produce more each month than most artists, citing John Romita Jr. and Mark Bagley as exceptions. He also spoke of his belief that most creator-owned books will not sell five thousand copies.
Kirkman: “The guys I’m talking about … These guys are not going to be doing books that sell 5,000 copies … It is a falsehood that you’re trying to perpetrate.”
Bendis: "When we were at Calibre, if we broke 3,000, it was a Jewish holiday, man. We went crazy. To pretend that you for sure are gonna sell [a creator-owned book for a successful profit], it’s wrong. All the marketshare proves otherwise … I’m talking about making a living on things you can live on. It takes a while for the money to really start pumping. Sadly a lot of independent books do go away by issue #3. The marketplace as it is structured right now is set up for books to fail … [Your video] sounded almost irresponsible because it sounded like the best version. And you should say to people you’re not gonna sell but you should do it because you should do it. And f*ck everyone else.”
Kirkman: “It’s just not true that there is no such thing as a bankable creator who can get guaranteed sales. If someone wants to do a book about a librarian, that’s gonna be a bad sell."
Kirkman then took a moment to sarcastically remark, "Did you announce Dark Avengers? That is amazing. A new Avengers book! Who would have thought? And they’re dark? It’s gonna be dark? I can so give that to my kid."
Bendis jokingly flicked Kirkman off and then attempted to re-state his point, saying that a person can do creator-owned projects and it doesn’t lessen them to still be working for a company like Marvel or DC at the same time.
Bendis: “The one thing that is so unsexy and it annoys people when they ask you for advice, is relate to them that you also have to be the president of your own company, you have to be a business person and that shit’s boring … I think the Image founders show that to be true. Some were even better business people than creators."
Kirkman: “Do you think the Image creators were worried about selling under 3,000?”
Bendis: “I think they hedged their bets. [Todd McFarlane] did a cross between Batman and Spider-Man [in his character Spawn]. They were doing commercial work that was geared right at their Marvel audience, full blast.”
Kirkman: “And it all worked out to a certain extent."
Bendis: “To a certain extent.”
Kirkman then complained that Bendis claimed the success of Walking Dead was due to Marvel Zombies. Bendis immediately responded that this was not what he said and he knew he would be misquoted. He clarified that Marvel Zombies helped bring in fans who were not already reading Walking Dead or Kirkman’s other work.
Bendis: “[Ultimate Spider-Man] is not the only reason Powers is successful but I am very aware that it brought in people who weren’t looking before. When Dark Avengers comes out, someone will go, hey, this guy doesn’t suck. What else has he done?”
Bendis then emphasized that he didn’t meant to be disrespectful towards Kirkman’s views but that he was worried the Invincible creator was not addressing how rare success like his is when speaking to others.
Kirkman then turned on a PowerPoint presentation to prove his ideas. The first chart he claimed proved that Walking Dead was on a steady rise in sale and then leveled off for the first time during the publication of Marvel Zombies, only to begin rising again when the series was over. Bendis argued that what the graph proved was that Walking Dead rose above twenty thousand sales only after Marvel Zombies began and stated a similar phenomenon happened with Powers. Kirkman argued that the steady rise would have accomplished that whether or not Marvel Zombies ever came out. Bendis laughed, saying the charts were like a Rorschach test, with each person interpreting their own truth.
Kirkman then showed a couple of other graphs, each of which he said were proof that sales of his and Bendis’ creator owned work rose steadily whereas the Marvel books had numbers that dropped quickly or suffered from missed shipments. Bendis laughed that Kirkman had the time to make these charts, but then pointed out that they only focused on single issue sales rather than including trade sales, which, he argued, was a huge factor concerning profits. Kirkman responded that he could not get the trade sales figures off the internet, causing Bendis to cry out "These are internet numbers?! No way these are accurate!"
Kirkman then brought laughter to all when his next chart showcased "Internet Numbers vs. Actual Numbers." Although the numbers themselves were different, both the internet and "actual" graphs showed that they at least agreed on when sales rose and fell. Bendis, however, remained resolute that the charts were only showing "half a fact" since they didn’t include the "huge factor" of trade sales.
Image publisher Eric Stephenson and Dynamic Forces’ Nick Barruci wound up making comments from the floor and getting dragged on stage to offer their own perspectives on the issue.
And so it ended, with everyone going off to discuss their own opinions.
What are yours?
Alan "Sizzler" Kistler thinks Bendis made a stronger case. He has been recognized by Warner Bros. Pictures and mainstream media outlets such as the New York Daily News as a comic book historian, and can be seen in the "Special Features" sections of the Adventures of Aquaman and Justice League: New Frontier DVDs. His personal website can be found at: http://KistlerUniverse.com. One of these days he’d love to write for DC, Marvel or Doctor Who.