Hypotheticals Graphic designed by Dave Gibbons

Hypotheticals 5

Saturday 29th May 2004

Lee “Budgie” Barnett
and Dave Gibbons


Here's the script we used for the second year's Hypotheticals panel. As with the first year's script, 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.

Good afternoon, everyone...

Welcome to Hypotheticals, where we have a spectacularly talented panel who are... no wait, that's from last year's script... [fumble a second]

Ah, that's better. Welcome to Hypotheticals II. I'm Dave Gibbons and for those of you who weren't here last year, I'd better start out by telling you what this panel's all about. For the next hour or so, we're going to take a look at what it's like to deal with some of the ethical dilemmas that can occur in the comic book industry. Last year we dealt with, among other things, the speculator market, the relationship between an artist and a writer and what a company might do if they suddenly discovered they never owned the rights to their flagship character. Stuff that never happens, right? We'll try to be more realistic this time around...

But first off, and this is important, 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, a veritable "who's that?" of the comics industry:

BOB SHRECK is the Group Editor of The Batman line of comics. Previously at both Oni and Dark Horse, Bob's appearance at DC has led to a revitalisation of the group. He was recommended for this panel by Mike Carlin. Up until then, Bob thought Mike quite liked him.

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 denies that he's a God of comics and it's true that he doesn't walk on water. But he does run on lager.

JOHN McCREA got his start working on Action Force, but made his name drawing such titles as Demon Dicks, erm, Demon, Dicks and, of course, Hitman. He's currently just finished the Jenny Sparks mini-series and is working with Doselle Young on The Monarchy.

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, the sponsors of this panel, 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...

STEVE CONLEY is the writer and artist of the Astounding Space Thrills comic books and online serials. He's the web-maven and co-creator of Comicon.com, the online convention website, and through CONLEY INTERACTIVE has designed websites for, among others, Woody Woodpecker, Time Warner and Universal Studios. He also designed sites for the Washington Post and the World Wrestling Foundation, so he's well used to dealing in fantasy and make-believe.

CHRIS FRANCIS is the manager of Comics Plus in Aldershot and was one of the stars of last year's panel. People who were here last year will no doubt recall the unrelenting joy with which he contemplated the potential effects on his orders of an unknown writer on a big title.

Creator of the much lamented Batman website GOTHAM GAZETTE, ALAN PORTER is an ex-pat Brit who now lives in San Diego. He says it's for work, but we all know it's just so that he doesn't have to pay to travel to the convention. He created and ran FOREST COMICS, a comics dealership before he abandoned these shores and he recently wrote "The Unauthorized BATMAN Collectors Guide".

LEE "BUDGIE" BARNETT devised the panel. His deranged imagination created the hypotheticals we're about to delve into... and he's smiling because he thinks I haven't changed them. In his day job, he's the financial controller of a cable tv company, so he has vast experience of an industry where relatively few paying people are involved.

Ladies and Gentlemen... our panel.

[cue applause]

Thanks - always best to get the applause at the start, when we're sure of it.

Oh, one more thing. During this panel, the various panelists may be asked to take on roles that they're unused to. So, Bob for example may be asked to say what he'd do if he was the publisher of the company instead of the Group Editor that he is. Dez may be asked to say what he'd do if he was an editor... That sort of thing. Once again, it's not to be taken as anything other than a role-playing exercise.

OK, so welcome back to "Earth-Dave", [Dave, I suspect you may get a big laugh, or applause at this point; Take a bow.], where as you'd expect the comics industry has grown along similar grounds to that on the Earth you're used to, with some notable exceptions: Warren Ellis writes Sonic The Hedgehog, Frank Miller is editor of WIZARD and Stan Lee's 125 years old.

The two big players in the Comics Market are Wonder Comics and their direct competition for most of the past 30 years, INvestigative Comics (known as IC). The time is 2001, and following last year's panel, there was an exodus of writers and artists from Wonder. See, we did have an effect.

Alan Grant. After years of writing Flagman, making it a successful franchise, you're getting tired of editorial whims. You complain at the latest (a change of costume) and are summarily fired from the book by Wonder Comics. The editorial staff decide on a whole new direction and new creators and fire the artist as well. He vents in public, blasting you, the editor and Wonder Comics. How do you respond? Would you respond in the public arena?

Fan reaction to your leaving the title is extremely negative with internet campaigns to boycott the book. How do you feel about that?

Bob Shreck - you're the Group Editor of Flagman. The sales were good, Alan was popular. What reasons could there be for replacing a fan favourite on the book when he didn't want to go?

Dez Skinn - you're the publisher of Comics Unlimited, an international magazine about comics. Surely you're happy about a public spat. More copy for the magazine... Or are you?

Dez, again: what about if you were the editor? Would you care about the 'bad' publicity?

John: You're the artist on the title that takes over from the now defunct team of Alan Grant and A.N. Other. What's your primary objective when you start a book as far as keeping the readers happy? Would you feel awkward about taking a title in the surrounding publicity?

Alan Porter. You run Flagman Forever, a website devoted to all things Flagman. In fact, it's readers of your site that are starting the campaign. Would you try to calm things down or stir them up? Suppose you felt that Alan and his artist had been hard done by?

Chris Francis: It must seem like deja vu to you. Last year you had to worry about an unknown writer taking over a flagship title. This year, you've got big name creators taking over from big name creators, who have left in acrimony. What does this do to your orders?

The row is contained and Bob, you've got something new to concern you. You've just been promoted to publisher. Congratulations. You've decided to outsource the production of some of your titles to an independent production house. What might be the reasons for so doing?

At the same time, you've been very impressed by the comics being produced by Steve Conley and you offer him a title that he's going to produce completely on computer. Steve, you get a phone call from Bob one day asking you to take over one of the Flagman titles. It means a guaranteed larger readership for your art, but you're going to have to work with tight continuity. Are you tempted?

Why? (Or why not?)

Budgie, you've just been appointed by Bob as the new Chief Financial Officer of Wonder Comics. I think congratulations are in order. It's your numbers that have persuaded Bob to go with the outsourcing. While reviewing the books on the stands, a new proposal comes to you that will mean that you can publish some new titles, but only at the expense of the cancellation of middle-ranking books, books that are making profits for the publisher. Why would you have to cancel successful books? Couldn't you publish both sets of books?

You've just said (trust me Dave, I'll say it...) that your primary responsibility isn't to the creators, or the fans, but to your stockholders. Does that mean that you'd recommend cancellation of a book the moment it starts losing money?

Alan Porter: You know that your site is read by the staff of Wonder Comics that work on Flagman and you've had nice emails from some of them. If it was some of the Flagman family of books that were being cancelled, what would your reaction be? Could you understand a book being cancelled while the company admits that it's still making profits?

OK, now internet fan-sites are something relatively new in the industry. The last few years have seen a plethora of fan-sites and comics websites; in fact new technology is coming into play in the comic book industry as never before. We've had better paper, better repro...

Steve Conley. You work almost exclusively on computer these days. You're more than aware of the technology that would allow the pencils to be tweaked to make them darker and solid enough for reproduction. That doesn't apply to computer art though, obviously. Does the technology concern you as a creator, that your contemporaries in the inking world could find themselves out of work?

Bob Shreck: If the technology was available cheaply, would you try it out? If the pencilled art became good enough for repro, would the penciller get paid more, since in effect he's giving you finished art?

John, You're a penciller; you're used to having your work inked, used to seeing how an inker changes the art. Would you change the way that you pencilled a piece if it was not to be inked?

OK, moving on...

Alan, You've introduced a fanfic section to the site and you notice that the emails from Wonder Comics aren't as nice anymore. Some of them are quite irritable tone. In fact, they tell you that they're unhappy that you're "publishing" -- their word -- stories with their characters, even though you know that the stories are popular among the people who read your site. What's your response to Wonder Comics?

Bob, You're back to being the editor of the group again -- sorry the promotion didn't last; what's your view on fanfics? Useful training ground for new writers or ripping off the company?

Chris - A friend calls you and says that he's printed off some of his fanfics and wonders if you'd put them out as freebies to give away in your shop. You've read them and they're good stories. No one's making any money from them. Would you do it? Budgie - when Bob left, so did you (hoping that your stock options are still valid) and you return to writing fanfics for Alan's site. Breach of copyright, yes? Tch... tch... tch... Certainly a lack of respect for the creators of the character, yes?

You get an email from one of the creators currently working on Flagman saying that although he likes the writing, he'd really rather that you didn't write about 'his' character. How would you respond to him? Would it make a difference if it was a creator owned character rather than a company owned one?

Dez, you hear about this, that a creator has asked a fanfic writer not to write about "his" character. Is it a "story"?

Budgie, back to you. Luckily for you, the creator is going to be at the forthcoming comics convention -- DAVEWORLD 2001. Would you seek out the creator to try and discuss it with him?

Alan Grant - You're the creator in question, having sent the email to Budgie and having received his response. Would you want to see him if he asked to meet you?

Steve Conley. You're also at the convention. It's Saturday night. You're tired, you've spent the day doing signings and you're relaxing at the bar, so it's obviously a British convention. Are you permanently "on duty" or would you feel OK telling fans that come up to you with your comics in their hand, "tomorrow, ok?"

Same question to John McCrea and Alan Grant.

Alan Porter. You're a veteran of conventions as a fan. Are there lines drawn as to when you would feel uncomfortable asking for a signing or even saying "hi" to a favourite creator?

Bob - You're unfortunate enough not to be able to attend, so you're back at the office with yet another problem. An editorial assistant has just brought a copy of Flagman Unlimited to your desk and in it you see something that horrifies you. You show it to your successor as publisher and he orders the immediate pulping of the book. What is it you see? What sort of things justify the pulping of a book?

OK, a more specific example: An error by the letterer has led to the inclusion of a racist epithet. Would that be sufficient?

Dez - now surely this is a story. How big a story? Do you automatically accept that it was an error by the letterer? What if you'd heard rumours from a website specialising in such -- that shall be nameless -- that the letterer held racist views?

Another specific: John McCrea - you're the artist on the book and you included a private joke in one panel, something that you thought only a few people would see. It's picked up by the editorial staff and they're not laughing. In fact they think it entirely inappropriate. Have you any excuse for it? Or have they got the right to insist on it being corrected?

Chris - you get a delivery of the book, and just as you're unpacking it, you get notification that the book has been pulped and retailers are being asked to destroy their copies. You've got 50 of the only 2,000 editions published. What do you do?

Would it depend upon what the reason for the pulping was?

[script ends]

Saturday 29th May 2004, 5:30 pm

Hypotheticals - There's Always A Crisis on Earth-Dave!

email Budgie here