Saturday 29th May 2004
HYPOTHETICALS - Year 1
Here's the script we used for the first year's Hypotheticals panel. I've amended it only to correct some typos and to add a couple of notes and points that reflect both how the discussion ended up and some questions that Dave added to the script to sharpen it up.
A couple of points before the script though. As always, the panelists were assured that their comments would not be reported and I've honoured that; what you see are the questions, not the responses.
Secondly, you'll note that there are references to Dez Skinn. Dez apparently couldn't make it to the panel... as we realised after waiting in vain for him to turn up. He wasn't overly missed though, since Marcia Allass valiantly stepped in and not only answered her own questions, but Dez's as well. Although everyone was superb on the panel (with the notable exception of yours truly who was having too good a time to worry about what I'd say) Marcia really rose to the fore, since she was really being thrown hypotheticals that she no doubt had never considered...
Anyway, here's the email I sent to Dave during the week before the convention.
17th April 2000
I've been trying to come up with some sort of "script" for you and below is the best that I can come up with. Change it as you feel fit, but it should give the right sort of flavour.
I've taken it as read that you're doing the introduction... If I was doing it, then obviously you get the applause when I introduce you before I sit on that panel, but I think it makes more sense if you introduce it since you're moderating...
Welcome to the HYPOTHETICALS panel. My name is Dave Gibbons and I [gulp] write and draw comics for a living...
[cue lots of "Hi Dave..."]
..erm, maybe not.
Let's try that again, Dave.
Welcome to the Hypotheticals panel. My name is Dave Gibbons and and this panel is going to look at what it's like to deal with some of the ethical dilemmas that can occur in the comic book industry.
First off, and the most important thing to bear in mind, is that everyone here is appearing in a personal capacity. Nothing they say should be taken as representative of their individual companies or as an indication of what they might do if the scenarios we're going to play out come across their desks on Monday morning, ok?
All right - that said, let me introduce the panel of brave souls...
MIKE CARLIN is the Executive Editor of DC Comics who received a fair share of media attention when he was said to be "the man who changed Superman's costume." A respected editor and writer, his writing credits include characters ranging from the Man of Steel to Star Trek.
ALAN GRANT has written for 2000AD, DC and independent comics and for years was what some consider to be the best Batman writer on the monthly titles. He also wrote the Lobo book, but everyone's allowed one mistake.
MIKE COLLINS is an artist of the old school. He's worked for 2000AD, Marvel, DC and Eclipse drawing characters including Superman, Batman, Spider-Man as well as Babylon 5, Dr Who and those perennial favourites... Thundercats.
What can we possibly say about DEZ SKINN that hasn't already been said... by people who should have had more respect? Publisher and editor of Comics International, Dez is probably best-known for creating Warrior, a title which helped to launch the careers of a few people who've done pretty well in the comics business. People like Alan Moore, Steve Dillon, Alan Davis and Grant Morrison...
MARCIA ALLASS is Editor-in-Chief and Columns Editor of Sequential Tart, the web-zine that has done so much to raise awareness of women's contributions to the comic book industry.
CHRIS FRANCIS is the manager of Comics Plus in Aldershot.
LEE "BUDGIE" BARNETT is just the bloke who thought of the idea for the panel and got conned into appearing on it. He wrote the script and dreamed up the hypotheticals... and he's smiling because he thinks I'm reading this from what he wrote... He describes himself as that lowest being on the food chain of the comic book industry... a purchaser and reader of comic books. In his professional life, he's an accountant for a cable tv company, but I've promised him not to throw any bean counter insults at him... unless it's absolutely necessary.
Ladies and Gentlemen... our panel.
One more thing. During this panel, the various panelists may be asked to take on roles that they're unused to. So, Alan for example may be asked to say what he'd do if he was a new writer in the industry instead of the seasoned veteran that he is. Dez may be asked to say what he'd do if he was an editor on the end of the phone from a particularly dogged reporter... That sort of thing. Once again, it's not to be taken as anything other than a role-playing exercise.
OK, so welcome to Earth-Dave, where the comics industry has grown along similar grounds to that on the Earth you're used to, with several notable exceptions. No one's ever heard of Monica Lewinski, the writer-artist debate is in full swing, Rob Liefeld went to art college and... Alan Moore is a skinhead.
The two big players in the Comics Market are Wonderful Comics and their direct competition for most of the past 30 years, Investigative Comics (known as IC). The time is 2000, and although there was no exodus of artists from Wonderful in 1995, narrowly avoided at the time, everyone suspects that it's only a matter of time before such an exodus happens.
The Direct Market is flourishing, as is the speculator market. Again, though, long time professionals in both the market and the industry are predicting a crash before long.
Mike Carlin. You're the publisher of Wonderful Comics. Does the speculator market concern you, as a publisher?
Do you think you should do anything about it? There are mounting accusations from the fan base that there are just too many comics out there...Won't the crash when it happens, lead inevitably to a drop in sales? How will you keep those readers?
Some hold that "comics companies are a business and like any business, they're there to make profits for their shareholders." Do you agree?
Why not? Won't the inevitable crash (and surely experience shows us that there *will be* a crash) harm not only the industry but the reputations of those in the business?
Dez Skinn. Let's say you're the publisher of Wonderful's competition. Is the speculator market good for competition?
Alan Grant, as the writer of Flagman, one of the main characters in Wonderful's line. Does the speculator market concern *you*?
Chris Francis, as a retailer - what are your concerns about the speculator market and how is it affecting your business?
Alan, you're sitting at home one day when the publisher calls. They've had a "great idea". (Now, before you know what the idea is, what's your reaction when a publisher says they've had a great idea?)
Well, this "great idea" is to do a new title for Flagman, or rather six editions of it. Your job will be to write the opening and closing ten pages of the book with guest writers writing the middle bits. How do you feel about this? What sort of professional assurances would you need?
Alan, after you've turned in your plot, the marketing people ask you to tweak your story so that they can merchandise action figures from it and they ask you to include a character that you really don't want to. What do you do?
Mike Collins : You're Alan's regular writing partner. You've no real ambitions to write, although you've played with a plot or two in your time. You know that you're not really good enough to write this sort of thing. Alan's plot is turned down flat and arguments ensue which lead to him leaving the book. You're offered it on a pro tem basis. Do you take it?
Who do you owe your loyalty to? The readers? The company?
Dez Skinn : You're the publisher, editor and tea boy of Comics Unlimited, the trade publication for comics books. You hear "creative differences" and know that there's a story there. But you also know Mike's work and share his view that he's not ready for this. A fan favourite leaving a title? An artist not known for writing taking it over? Would you cover it?
You notice that you've been getting letters from fans complaining about artists getting writing jobs when writers known and trusted by the fans can't get work. Would you write an opinion piece on it? Who do you owe your loyalty to?
Marcia Allas : You're the editor of the webzine about comics. Everyone logs on to read your site. Do you cover it? What do you say? Who do you owe your loyalty to?
Chris Francis, As the retailer, you're the one at the coal face, the one that will get the comics to the readers. What's your reaction to a new unknown writer?
Well, the stories are published and they're a critical and sales success. Mike Carlin - do you stop looking for a new writer?
Mike Collins, you're sitting at home thinking about the royalties you're *not* going to get and you get a call from Alan. He's fed up with working for someone else all the time and is putting together a new group of writers and artists. He together with some of the other top names in the industry are going to walk out on Wonderful comics. And he's asking you if you want to join them. What goes through your mind?
Mike Carlin, you've just been appointed as the new Publisher of Wonderful Comics. Congratulations.
So, you're sitting in your office completely oblivious to what's about to hit you. Or are you? Would you have had some inkling of this? If so, what would you have done about it?
While you're considering this, your chief legal officer comes in to see you. He informs you in crisp language that leaves no doubts (OK, he's an unusual lawyer) that the legal rights to Flagman never actually belonged to you. The contracts were never signed. The rights have have always belonged to the creators who were bought off with a small retainer. You learned from your competition and paid a decent amount to them, but the in-house lawyer tells you bluntly that if the news comes out, they could sue for tens of millions... and that they'd win. What do you do?
[Post convention note : this led to a discussion as to who is responsible for a character's success... the original creator, those who have added to it? etc]
Marcia Allass : You're the first press person to find out about this. What do you do?
Dez Skinn, you're the first person to find out about it. Who would be the first person you called to check it? [Dave, if it's Mike Carlin, get them to play out the phone call and then pounce on whoever seems least satisfied after the call's over....]
Budgie, you're a fan of Flagman and heartily approve of what Wonderful Comics have done with the character, even though the character now being published bears little resemblance to the character. In fact, to be honest, when you've read the original stories, by the original creators, you're not that impressed. What do you think should happen, bearing in mind that if the creators were to sue, the company would be hurt? Bang goes your other favourite comics? Or are creator rights paramount?
The law case is settled and things return to usual in the comics book industry for a couple of months. Mike Collins is now drawing Battle Lord for the new imprint Mirror Comics from his old partner Alan Grant's scripts. Page 34 of the Battle Lord #2 is two panels showing Battle Lord spearing his opponent to the wall. Mike, you've played with it but you know the sequence would look and work better artistically as one panel. The only problem is that Alan Grant has a reputation for hating artists changing his work. How do you deal with it?
Mike, How much detail do you show? Is there a limit?
Chris - You know that parents of some of the youngsters who would usually be the target audience for the book in the store would object to the scene. Would you handle the book differently? Would you bag it? If parents complained, would you give them their money back?
Anyway, the comic sees print and two days later, little 13 year old Brian Oik from Chicago spears the schoolyard bully to the fence severely injuring the bully, to the extent that the kid needs hospitalisation. When asked where he got the idea from, Brian says he read it in Battle Lord... Alan Grant, you wrote the comic. Do you feel any responsibility?
Mike Collins. Do you feel any responsibility? Should you have shown it in as much detail?
The story is picked up by the national press and tv on both sides of the Atlantic. Mike Carlin - the company is being besieged by reporters and you're getting trashed on the news programs. What do you do? Issue a statement?
Budgie, you're the publisher of IC comics, Mike's direct competitor. Do you feel any sympathy for him? Or are you gloating?
While this is filling the media, Mike Carlin, you're invited onto a US daytime talk show to defend comic books. Do you go?
[Post convention note : if we had had more time, the hypothetical would then have changed a bit so that the material in the comic book led to the comic shop being closed and Chris arrested. Sorry, Chris! The next question would have been. "Mike Carlin - do you fund his defence?"]
Final scenario, folks... Alan Grant, you're an editor at Wonderful Comics and you get a parcel delivered one day from Fred Smithers, a legend in the industry. A legend both because of the quality of his work and the amount of alcohol he drinks. You haven't seen him for years, but have heard that his work's on the slide. The parcel contains superb work, but it doesn't look like his work... in fact it bears a remarkable resemblance to work you saw at a convention the previous week from a new artist. What would you do next?
Saturday 29th May 2004, 5:30 pm
Hypotheticals - There's Always A Crisis on Earth-Dave!