From the Vault: Playing With Other People’s Toys

EARTH2_Cv0_dsRecently, comics writer James Robinson left DC’s Earth-2 series. Nobody’s come out and said officially why that happened but Bleeding Cool is theorizing that he may have left because DC wanted to add another title to the Earth-2 line and they wanted someone other than Robinson to write it. Robinson took offense to this and walked. Now, this is just hearsay and Bleeding Cool makes it clear that they’re not sure that’s what happened. It all brought to mind some things that I’ve learned as a professional writer these past ten years: when you’re working with other people’s toys, don’t overvalue your importance.

If Robinson did bail because DC wanted to put someone else on the new book, then that’s a prima donna move. DC owns those characters and can make whatever decisions they wish — if his *only* problem was that they wanted someone else to write a spinoff project, I’m not really in his corner.

I had someone compare it to Pro Se starting up a Lazarus Gray spinoff and giving it to someone else to write. That’s not a fair comparison at all. I own Lazarus Gray. Pro Se is publishing it right now but that’s it. Even though it’s part of the Sovereign City project, I could file off those numbers easily enough by finding and replacing Sovereign City with New Roma or some such. Robinson was doing work-for-hire with characters that he did not own. Even his new creations for that series were revamps of existing DC concepts. If I took Lazarus Gray to DC and signed a contract saying they owned him, then they can do whatever the hell they want and not consult me – because I signed the contract. That’s why I don’t have much sympathy for Alan Moore and the Watchmen stuff that happened awhile back. Moore signed the deal and though you may think that DC has violated the spirit of it, they have abided by the terms of the deal. Just because you’re an artist, you don’t get a pass for being an idiot when it comes to business.

Now I realize that I’m tossing around lots of different examples and situations here but my point is ultimately that if you’re working for someone else, you have to give up some of your artistic “rights.” I recently wrote a Liberty Girl novella. It had to be approved by the license holders. Some of their changes were ones that, left to my own devices, I wouldn’t have made. I honestly think my version was better… but that doesn’t matter. I don’t own the character. They do. They get to decide what’s right and wrong for her to do. I looked at their changes and said, “Okay.” Why? Because it’s not my character! Before I can please the audience, I have to please my “boss” and if they say no to something, that’s that. Same with my Green Hornet or Avenger stories for Moonstone. I’m a licensed employee for those projects and I do what I’m told for the most part. My expectations are different for a contracted work-for-hire job than they are for my own projects — but sometimes creators seem to get so attached to their run on Batman or whatever that they forget this rather fundamental part.

Now, if my Pro Se editor makes wholesale changes to my Lazarus Gray novels and I disagree with them, I’ll argue until I’m blue in the face. Because that’s MY character. See the difference?

When I see people acting like fools on work-for-hire projects (and I’m not saying Robinson did — he’s stayed classy to this point in not slinging any dirt), I just laugh. When I worked for Marvel, I eventually decided that the fun of being “at Marvel” and getting a steady paycheck didn’t quite measure up to my artistic desires (I wanted to write prose) or my lack of enjoyment on the work I was doing. So I exited, knowing full well that I was a tiny cog in the machine.

If the working conditions are that terrible, then by all means walk away. But they’ll just replace you with someone else — if you’re okay with that, go with your integrity. I’ll give you a thumb’s up as you do — and then I might make a pitch for the job you’re leaving. 😉

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