Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Should Comic Creators Speak Publically About Conflicts?

The comic book industry schadenfreude (my current $10 word) that began with Grant Morrison's comments about Final Crisis and continued with Chuck Dixon's commentary regarding his departure from DC has brought up an interesting point:

Should comic book creators go public in their conflicts with their publishers, if only to clarify points that might have been misunderstood by the media?

Dixon, while having many supporters, has also caught some criticism over his remarks. His side of the story is:

"I simply stated that I was off my titles and that I did not quit. This was to get out in front of the rumors. I have a career and a reputation to maintain and I’ve had it maligned before in situations juts like this where I took the high road and the other party used it as an occasion to smear me."

Well, honestly, part of the reason I wrote "Goodbye To Comics" was to clarify/explain points that were misunderstood by some of my acquaintances in the industry based on things they heard that were not accurate. Whether the inaccurate things were purposely spread or simply inferred because of lack of information, I completely do not know. But, I had the desire to set the record straight. Because you bust your ass for years in an organization, you get the "golden carrot" award (literally, a f**king award based on Bugs Bunny's carrot), you get combat pay for dealing with crazy people, you get tons of praise, you get books in on time, and then in the end you watch your reputation go in the toilet. And so what do you do?

Dixon busted his ass for decades in comics, and now he's going to just sit back and be silent while people report that he was suddenly yanked from his books? Honestly, if I had read that news and heard nothing from Dixon, I would have assumed he had f**ked up somehow. Was he late? Did his "political views" get him canned? Maybe he just wasn't a good writer anymore. Who knows? You don't know. You assume. It's a bad habit to assume, but you do. At least now I have some perspective. It's not a full story to be sure. But, it's a start.

There are two central tenets to public relations that I've learned from both study and practice in my jobs:
1. Be transparent.
2. Assume that every skeleton in your closet will eventually be brought to the light of day, and develop a strategy now on how to deal with it when that day inevitably comes.

My boss at at PR firm I worked at when I was 21 told me the latter. A former PR person for (I think) George W. Bush or another Republican wrote about the former in a book. And she admitted that it had become harder and harder for her to put that philosophy in practice, but she still stood by it. She said you need to "own" the publicity before the publicity "owns" you.

Which is what Dixon did.


  1. It didn't help that DC didn't comment after Dixon's first, very brief, announcement that he wasn't working for DC anymore. If they had stepped up with some sort of reasonable cover story, Dixon wouldn't have been put in a position where he needed to name names so that fingers would be pointed in one direction rather than having the internet explode with every rumor imaginable.

  2. Totally agree. I'm very surprised that DC hasn't come out with their own statement. But I completely support Dixon coming out to tell his side. And he did it so elegantly without shit talking (well, some digs at Didio, but mostly no specifics).

  3. It would hypocritical of me to say "no" when both you and Christopher Priest have written about your times at DC and Marvel, respectively, and I've enjoyed the peek behind the scenes in a "wow, it really IS just like any other office environment" kind of way.

    I think DC should have known better. Chuck Dixon isn't exactly the shy, retiring type. Had they just released SOME sort of statement he would've felt no need to post or say anything. I do think names should be left out, which is what all three of you did/do.

  4. Chuck Dixon is the man. I know some people are going to be shocked to see a gay person type this, but in many ways, he is a role model to me. And I don't say that baout many people.

  5. I think commenting on "what went wrong" is fine and even welcome, considering most publisher's tendency to keep saying "Nope, nothing wrong here," but Dixon did go a few, fabulously entertaining steps to far with his tyrant/glandhanding remarks. Don't get me wrong: I LOVE that stuff and I admire his candor (and word choices) but it is a wee bit personal and VERY public. I'd certainly hire the guy, but others...well, who knows? I'm sure publishers value good work over a tendancy to gossip.

  6. I also think that there needed to be more respect given to Dixon by DC, no matter how things turned out. Even if it's just a short statement from DC saying "Chuck Dixon was a writer who has contributed a lot to the mythology of Batman and we are sad to see him go & wish him luck in the future."

  7. If DC terminated Dixon's contract, they may not be able to comment, depending on what the labor laws in NY are.

    I also think that there needed to be more respect given to Dixon by DC, no matter how things turned out. Even if it's just a short statement from DC saying "Chuck Dixon was a writer who has contributed a lot to the mythology of Batman and we are sad to see him go & wish him luck in the future."

    What purpose would this serve, though? It's basically a PR move, and I'm not sure it would help them any — DC gets savaged (sometimes fairly, sometimes not) regardless of what they do and releasing a pat statement about Dixon would probably hurt them far more than "no comment" has.

  8. I agree that DC should've at least done the PR-proven public send off message, even if it was total bullshit. But, I dunno about the issue as a whole.

    On one hand, I'm a DVD special features kind of guy (indulge me here for a second). I like to know the story behind the story as they sometimes prove to be even MORE fascinating that the product produced. I guess I'm addicted to useless trivia.

    On the other hand, a lot of this stuff verges on gossip and childish displays of egotism. Gossip I can do without.

    I guess where I stand is because these creators are sometimes as highly regarded by fans as the characters they work with, that both the companies and creators should give them a little something of an explanation for any kind of suddenly change. I mean that in a professional way, not name calling or finger pointing or venomous backhanded gestures. I mean quite calmly and succinctly say y'know we felt it was time for a new direction or I want to persue some other projects for a while. Whatever.

    It can be true, it can be bullshit. A little something, as long as it doesn't go into dirty laundry territory. Save it for the tabloids.

    I feel like I rambled. I hope something in that mess made sense. *laughs*

  9. Right! Even at jobs I've had where cleary people hated each other, they would at least send out an email or something. To let it just go and let silence speak for them just seems like bad PR. To be fair, I've also seen other companies do it. Both comic book and non-comic book types of companies often make bad moves like this.

  10. I think that, in general, specifics regarding conflicts between creators and publishers are none of the public's business, particularly as the end consumers usually don't have as thorough a grasp of what happens behind the scenes in the comics industry as they may think they do. Of course, this doesn't preclude folks from talking about whatever the heck they want to, as long as they understand that bitching has consequences.

    The only exception I would cite in terms of the public's need to know is with whistleblowing, particularly when creators are getting screwed out of income. I think it's imperative for the creative community to spread the word about a publisher which is causing them financial difficulty, but it often takes bravery. It wasn't easy for Robin to blow the whistle on CrossGen, he was pretty vehemently attacked (particularly on the CrossGen boards by fans who had no idea how much trouble the company was in) and we never saw the $1300 they owed him, but he was just about the only one in a position to do so because he'd never signed their non-disclosure agreement so his hands weren't tied like others' were. I think you do run the risk of getting blacklisted for a time, but I also think that (a) if you're talented and (b) if what you've said is the truth, you will be able to continue making a living, although you may not be "A" list for a long time again (if ever).

  11. The only problem I have with what you wrote is your use of the word "f*ck" or "f**cked."

    I've never understood why bloggers do this. Because, to me, you're telling me that I can't handle the word or that you feel the need to self-censor yourself, for fear that there may be young readers here.

    Either way... it comes off lame. I love your columns, Val, but please don't self-censor your own blog. The "*'s" lessen the impact of your statement.

    Other than that, I'm all in favor of defending yourself publicly, or setting the record straight. It's just that, when you add names to the statements without actually saying who did what, it becomes a bit infantile.

    And I know.. because I did that quite a bit when I was starting out.

    I just think that if you're going to be vague about who did what, you're better off dealing with that person one-on-one, rather than in public. As a reader, it's really none of my business what goes on behind the curtain and a simple "I quit DC" should be suffice. And, unless I'm willing to actually be frank and list names of who did what, I'd leave it at that.

    Because, when you say that it's either x, y, or z... the problems may have been with x... but you're now saying that y and z are dickheads to work with and that's not cool in my opinion.

    I heard that he was off the books and then he said he didn't quit. That was enough for me.

  12. Wait, you mean, "should private individuals have a right to their own opinions & statements?" because yes. Yes. I think in fact if authors spoke up (& out) about the process more, things could hang better.

  13. "Other than that, I'm all in favor of defending yourself publicly, or setting the record straight. It's just that, when you add names to the statements without actually saying who did what, it becomes a bit infantile."

    Well you know what? Behind the scenes the names ARE attached to this or that accusation, rumor, etc. ALL the time -- and people are unofficially blacklisted all the time. Freelancers have their reputations trashed without benefit of recourse or defense ALL the time. They are trashed in editor's offices, in editorial meetings, and they are called this that and the other thing by name and don't get work again. Who will defend them? Do they have no right to defend their reputations?

    This "it's more honorable just to say nothing" is all fine and dandy until you get blacklisted from work. Then you get blacklisted and have to call editors begging for work. I've been at the end of these phone calls, listening to freelancers I've been told not to hire because of various accusations. Or the accusations about editors and other personnel. By name. All the time. That they're secretly gay, that they're drug users, that they stole, that they're crazy, that they slept with their boss.

    Again -- who defends these people, if they do not defend themselves?

    People who are assholes still have their jobs because I don't name names. And then I become the asshole for not naming names and getting them fired. Either way, I'll be looked at as an asshole. The only acceptable thing for me to do is smile demurely and parrot: "I had a great time there!" That's what civilized people do, right? Choke down their outrage and slowly die inside. Maybe if they're really good, they might get a little freelance crumbs thrown their way by Big Poppa Company. Oh, boy! I've seen that happen too.

    How does the phrase go? "Be a good soldier." That was an exact phrase we used at DC. "Good soldier."

    Life is too short for that mentality.

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  15. To "name names or not to name names" this is the dilemma.

    I worked in radio in Canada for a short while (studied broadcasting in college).

    We were taught "to be good soldiers" too.

    More than one instructor from the radio industry said "when leaving a job or dealing with someone else leaving your radio station watch what you do or say and be careful not to burn any bridges. That person could end up being your boss at another station..."

    I guess this happens in many smaller industries. The question is do you want to be a "good soldier" and keep silent or be a "bad soldier" and scream GRENADE!!!


  16. I totally agree with you about the "good soldier" mentality. There's a huge difference between being professional and having to eat shit.

    As Walt Whitman wrote, "Question much, obey little." You have to protect yourself and maintain your status as a full-fledged individual. Hopefully we're adult enough to know the difference between reasonable requests by management- even unpleasant ones- and those "we'll make you eat our shit just because we can" moments that cost us too much in return.

    Being asked to fire someone for cause because it's your job? Unpleasant, but something you have to bite the bullet and do. Being told to scream at a freelancer? Ridiculous and uncalled for. Those kinds of things.

    I'm not even a big Chuck Dixon fan, but I don't see where he's said or written anything untoward about this. He hasn't been pitching fits anywhere. He's merely stating his side of things calmly, without going too much into specifics. A hint here, a mild clue there, but certainly nothing that's tearing open the outer walls and revealing the seedy inner workings.

    I think he's protecting himself, and with the Internet the speculation that's always been there is amped up.

    Have you read that old Jack Kirby interview in Comics Journal? Wow! That was some extreme, faith-shaking stuff when it came out... and I LOVE Jack Kirby. Dixon hasn't even approached that. Oh, he's written a few negative things about Jim Shooter but even those were mitigated with a couple of positive points.

    Everything I've read that he's written about this has been merely the kind of thing someone not happy with a situation but being asked about it or having it talked about would do. A difficult juggling act between discretion and disclosure.

    Comics omerta? Is it really necessary? Some bigwig can get away with almost anything but the greater crime is... talking about it?

  17. That said, I'm not in favor of those crazy in-print screaming matches where everyone's slamming and badmouthing everyone else. Some people may enjoy that stuff, but not me.

    What Dixon has been doing is FAR from that, though.

  18. Oh... and it is funny to me that Jim Shooter's name came up in all of this and he got spanked a little (yet again) rather than any of the people who are actually involved directly in the whole situation.

  19. Anonymous9:03 PM

    Whether anyone agrees with what you say or talk about, this is your blog and I, myself, come here because I want to hear your opinion. I think and know there is a ton of backstabing bs that goes on "behind the scenes." Great creators, artist, writers, colorist who are blacklisted because of something "personal" that has nothing to do with thier performance in their field. Beyond people like you taking it to the "people" there's not much else that can be done - other than believe in Karma.

  20. It's really about damage control in a lot of these situations. As long as you're putting out the facts about what happened, you have control over the story and can freely deny rumors because you're being honest all at once. Now, at the same time there's a level of decorum that should be observed, as Dixon has not outright stated any specific person who fired him or the actual reasons for why it happened, since he also understands that he might be working for these people again and/or it's not good to come off like an arrogant jerk to the rest of the comics world.

  21. I thought Dixon's list of statements on his website to get out in front of the rumors was right on and completely appropriate. Then he kind of couldn't help himself, and kept dribbling jabs into comments threads at other sites, and sort of gives the impression that he's preoccupied with gossip about himself. Which anyone would be, but I think I'd have a more high-roadish opinion of him at this point if he stuck to clarifying disinformation and defending himself on his own site, from whence it would still hit the masses fairly quickly, instead of being coyly catty on CBR. I have no doubt that he deserves to set the record straight, and that the whole thing was just crappy, but I think he went from a solid posture to a slightly more adolescent one, once the gossip got going. Just my gut reaction.

  22. Tom Beland:

    I don't know whether it's Valerie's reason, but if I had my own blog I would definitely write "f*ck" if I had occasion to use the word. I'd want people to be able to read my site. Let me guess, have you got your own internet connection? When I didn't, I had to go round to a friend's house (as opposed to the library) to read any of Goodbye to Comics. "Intelligent" censorware isn't.