The other afternoon, whilst sipping on a cool beverage and shooting the breeze with a comic book making cohort, I stumbled upon a most interesting What If scenario. You see, this pal of mine loathes Kevin Smith (of Jay and Silent Bob, and a dozen other ventures). Knowing this, I pressed:
“What would you do if Kevin Smith got a hold of your [Amazing Indie Book I’ve Plugged Before], and decided he just had to turn it into a film. Would you make a deal with him?”
A little bit of hemming and hawing later, the answer was a resounding yes – pending a considerable amount of money was put on the table, as well as some subsidiary rights. It ultimately got me to question myself: Would I put aside my integrity as an artist if it meant a more lucrative life? Well, as much as I’d love to be able to side with the staving artists of the world, I’m a fat dude who loves a good Faberge egg omelet far more than resting on a pile of unsold ideas.
It’s oftentimes the pipe dream of the indie creator, is it not? Certainly Banky and McNeil of Chasing Amy had courted selling out as means to better ends, and no one looked down on them much. The fact is that we barnacles on the S.S. Comics may enter into the endeavor or making pulp for the masses with nothing more than good intentions to entertain, but there’s only so long that one can sustain the hobby without lucrative backing.
As I’ve detailed time and again: each issue of my Samurnauts series represents roughly 250 work hours from concept to completion. Three guys working full time jobs and maintaining contact with loved ones – like our fiancés, wives, and kids – put in those hours. While there’s no greater feeling in the world than seeing a complete stranger plunk down his hard earned cash for my comic, there’s no bigger dream then being able to sustain a career actually making the next issue.
If there were to be a fly on the wall when Shuster and Siegel were pitching Superman, do you think they were contemplating points on the backend when they signed their names on the dotted line? I doubt it. They sold the rights for $130 and a contract to produce more material, to the tune of $150,000 a year for the pair. Superman, of course, went on to become a radio show, a newspaper strip, a cartoon, a television program, and countless cartons of collectable crap. The creators would end up suing DC and other respective owners for a fairer cut for the rest of their natural lives. The notion was clear from the start: putting food on the table will trump a stiff upper lip every time.
When an artist is given carte blanche to see their truest work come to fruition, I’ve no doubt it will always be better than had it been built by a focus group. But there’s a reason why DC and Marvel hire known names to helm their biggest titles. They’re not in the business to take leaps of faith. In the best cases, one could argue that a collaboration between art and commerce leaves the most people happy. See The Avengers. And when it goes wrong, well, funny enough, no one is exactly blaming Eastman and Laird over Bay’s Ninja Turtles now, are they.
The notion of selling out was always troublesome to me. The thing is, the Million Dollar Man was right: Everyone has a price. But there will always be those creations we hold nearest to our hearts and feel the need to protect. I believe for most of us indie creators, our ideas are always on the table for sale because we pride ourselves in the ability to create more where they came from. The hope is when we’re well off enough we can afford to give life to those new ideas without the slimy hand of an unwanted third party. Left to their own devices, Green Day became Foxboro Hot Tubs and without any focus groups to get in the way… ended up sounding like Green Day (from 1968).
So, I say unto all those amidst the Artist Alleyways! You are free and clear to seek that big payday without fear of repercussion. For you see… the artist that pays his bills, and lives to see another day has plenty of integrity in my book.