Monday, March 31, 2008

Warren Ellis: If I Don't Own It, I'm Not Going To Spend My Life On It

" For those of you who harbour a wish to write comics, consider this today: you're either on this side of the line, with me and Brian K Vaughan and Garth Ennis and Grant Morrison and Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction... or you're not."

-- Warren Ellis on why he doesn't stick around long for the non-creator owned comics he works on

So I guess copyright/creator's rights issues is going to be a hot-button topic this week...

I can't begrudge Ellis leaving Thunderbolts. He had a really great run, and 12 issues is not too shabby.

Brubaker is on this list, though? Really? Hasn't he been on Captain America for like forever? What is his opinion on working on books he doesn't control the rights on?

Here is a list a Newsarama reader provided on the comments thread (I have no idea if this is accurate or not):

Warren Ellis:
Iron Man: Six issues
Thunderbolts: Twelve issues
Ultimate Fantastic Four: Twelve issues
Doom 2099: Fifteen issues
Ultimate Trilogy: Eighteen issues
Excalibur: Twenty one issues (back in 1994-1996)
Stormwatch: Twenty five issues (Back in 1996-1998)

Ultimate X-Men: Twenty issues
Runaways: Forty two issues

Ed Brubaker:
Captain America: Thirty five issues and counting
Daredevil: Twenty five issues and counting
Criminal: A couple volumes and counting
Immortal Iron Fist: Fourteen issues and counting
Catwoman: Thirty seven issues
Sleeper: Twenty four issues
Uncanny X-Men: Twenty five issues and counting

Grant Morrison:
JLA: Forty one issues
Animal Man: Twenty six issues
Batman: Twenty issues and counting
New X-Men: Forty two issues
Doom Patrol: Forty four issues

Matt Fraction:
Immortal Iron Fist: Fourteen issues and counting
Punisher War Journal: Eighteen issues and counting

Garth Ennis:
Punisher: About 100 issues
Hitman: Sixty issues

But that said, why should Ellis have to write the title beyond the point he felt interested in it? Isn't it better he write 12 kick-ass issues than hack it out past that point just for an easy paycheck?

And that list leaves out stuff like Transmetropolitan, which Ellis had some sort of creator-owned deal on, and which he wrote for 60 issues.

Would the publishers offering a bigger slice of the rights/royalties pie make these comic writers more likely to stay longer?

What do you think?


  1. I think anytime you can get an Artist/Writer combo to put in a good 12 issues anything extra is just gravy. Funny though how Ellis mentions some creators that had some unusally long runs (I'm thinking Morrison on X-men and Ennis on Punisher). Is there really a group of creators that's like, F-you Ellis I'm writting Spider-Man until I die?!

  2. I think it's more likely that there are a group of fans that *want* a group of creators to write Spidey till they drop. Because that's what those fans would do. They have a hard time imagining anything better.

  3. I believe Ellis is referring to the fans who criticize writers for leaving, etc., etc. The creators he mentions also have creator-owned projects as well as work-for-hire.

  4. Coming from anyone else, the argument might hold some weight... but Ellis has always been very vocal about his contempt for the superhero genre, ie: reassuring everyone interested in his upcoming Astonishing X-Men run that he's only doing it for the money, the repeated-ad-nauseum "Year of Whoredom", etc. It just rings incredibly false to me.

    I'm also a bit chafed at the fact that he throws himself in with writers like BKV, Morrison and Brubaker, all of whom show a much greater degree of creative flexibility than Ellis himself ever did. I mean, Brubaker's "Uncanny X-Men" reads nothing like his "Daredevil", but I'll be very surprised if the X-Men under Ellis don't turn into chain-smoking, self-loathing cynics with a deep loathing of colorful costumes...

  5. Not to be overly snarky here, but does this reason also apply to why all of Ellis' titles are always late? I mean, how far behind is Thunderbolts? newuniversal? Sure, it might not be all his fault, but still.

    Other than that, he has the right to work on titles for as long as he wants for as long as the comic companies are willing to accept this practice.

    But I wish he picked a better group of creators to "be with on that side of the line". Because the ones he selected have multiple lengthy runs on company owned comics. It doesn't go well to proving his point.

  6. I'm not sure what the problem is here. He's doing what he wants to do. The only thing that got a Spock-like raised eyebrow out of me was when he appeared to draw the line in the sand at the end. He's launching a conversation about the nature of Art and originality and ownership. It's interesting, and it's an important conversation to have in a medium where most everything was created 60+ years ago. Unfortunately, I think a great deal of people will respond with a knee-jerk "So what's wrong with writing 100 issues of Captain America? You too good for us?"

  7. Ellis definitely picked an odd list of people to put on "his side", and talks later in that thread about how "his friends" Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar really brought him back into the fold at Marvel. At least he didn't throw Bendis on his list of people who don't want to write longterm superhero books.

    I think he's totally got a point that no one owes anything to anyone in terms of long runs on corporate-owned superheroes, but he's also being a little disingenuous, I think. Why not just say "I got bored" or "I was running late and there are things I care about more?" Why the need to turn it into a manifesto with an extended homeowner metaphor and a line in the sand?

  8. Anonymous7:40 AM

    Would the publishers offering a bigger slice of the rights/royalties pie make these comic writers more likely to stay longer?

    Rights and royalties are important to me in 'manga' only. Mainly because, I'm being tasked to invest myself in about 2 or 3 volumes, each at about 130-140 pages a book. That takes time, and since many publishers in 'manga' aren't paying 'high wages', then I better have a healthy royalty check coming after the book hits the stores.

    On the superhero front though...if I were to ever swing that way: the only thing to hold me back wouldn't be rights/royalties, but creative control. Being able to create stories freely for a companies character, without having the dark cloud of editorial mandate hanging over your head.

    Just my 2 cents.

  9. It seems odd to lament the nature of the beast at such a stage of his career. No-one's ever put a gun to the head of Ellis - or any of the creators he mentions - and forced him to work on corporate-owned franchises, after all. The writers do so willingly because they want to get paid, and there's no shortage of publishers willing to publish an Ennis or a Morrison self-owned series. It seems moot, too, as the creators he mentions (some of the most popular writers in modern comics and every one a guaranteed draw) are supposedly militant about the creator's rights issue, yet they could work on nothing but creator-owned properties if they so choose.

    I'm tempted to just be petulant about this, to be honest - if Ellis feels that strongly about it, let's see him stop writing books in a genre he claims to despise and let new blood have a chance. There are lots of creators who put their money where their mouth is and work entirely in self/independant publishing - Paul Grist is a good example. Perhaps Ellis should grow a pair and try his luck in that arena.

  10. On that list, I'm not so sure Hitman should be included under Ennis. I don't know what kind, if any, rights he kept for Hitman and all his loveable sidekicks (Sixpack forever!), but I don't know that anyone else ever wrote the character (except Grant Morrison, where Monhagan shows up to try out for the JLA "to check out Wonder Woman with my X-Ray vision."
    The funny thing is that Ellis is exactly what Quesada wants right now. The editorial direction with most publishersis to frame stories that can be easily recollected into trades. 12 issues is perfect for a two-volume TPB set or a one-volume hardcover: "Warren Ellis' Thunderbolts." They'll make a mint, too, because people are eating this crap up right now.

  11. I wonder if publisher/creator-controlled partnerships aren't the "New Self Publishing-" like, 15 years ago, it was the hip in-thing that all the cool kids were doing, with its rock stars (Sims, Smith) and its dogged genre bands (Drew Hayes(?) Bendis on Jinx? Colleen Coover on Banana Sunday?) to continue the analogy.

    Of course Hayes, Bendis and Coover are all working with publishers now... but Bendis and Coover don't seem to be putting out stuff in the creator rights/publisher partnership model that we're discussing... and my rock star analogy is crap because it makes it look like I think these three talented creators are just genre hack when they are brilliant and I love them...

    But I had a point somewhere. Brian Woods and Becky Cloonan(sp?)- from Demo to creator-owned Vertigo-published. Hip cool kids. New Self Publishing. There it is.

    As an aside: I do like the point Ellis made that his Superhero stuff acts as a draw for Transmetropolitan. Seems like a reasonable business model to me.

  12. My belief is if you love the material and the characters you're working with, you should want to stay for as long as they let you or until your well runs dry (which, unfortunately, many creators can't seem to monitor properly). But, there is nothing wrong with also wanting to move on to different projects if that's where your interest lies.

    Yes, there is the satisfaction of total control over stuff you yourself have created and put out and the looming knowledge that many creators bang around the industry for a while and are forgotten or that anything you do can be waved away by a retcon, but in the end it should always be about the story. If you have a story to tell, and are lucky enough to get the outlet to tell it, then that's all that should matter.