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Overthought Bubble #12: Will Sign for Food

Written by Gavin D. on Tuesday, January 19 2016 and posted in Columns

Overthought Bubble #12: Will Sign for Food

When the expenses of life arise, fans pick up the tab while publishers benefit.

Last year, there was a lengthy discussion online regarding whether or not creators should charge for an autograph. The idea, which is touted by industry vet Neal Adams, is creators have to make a living. It is hard to argue with that logic, especially when many fans simply sell the autographed item for profit without the creator ever receiving any compensation.

The Twittersphere exploded in debate that day. Some creators mentioned that they will sign a limited number of items for free, others would merely ask for donations, and there were some who said it is free if you buy from their table. Still there are the many, who will sign any number of books for free. Yet all of these methods fail to answer the real question. Why are creators even having this conversation?

Regularly we hear about an artist or writer who is stricken with a substantial illness and cannot afford treatment. This is becoming increasingly common as legends of the 60's and 70's reach their old age with no retirement fund and a life of low wages. Perhaps the saddest part is the ways in which the companies tout these creators' works but never change the business practices.

A couple years back, Rocket Raccoon creator Bill Mantlo was in the public eye due to the imminent Guardians of the Galaxy film. Mantlo had spent the past 20 years in institutional care due to a hit and run incident. As the public became aware of the situation, Marvel did indeed step in and help Mantlo more substantially than before, but prior to the film he was left high and dry by the multi-billion dollar company.

Perhaps a better example would be Don Perlin. In the mid 70's Perlin co-created Moon Knight for Marvel comics, a character who saw a resurgence in 2014. In the past two years that character's solo series has earned the company an estimated $545,000*, and yet when he needed assistance for his stay in a rehabilitation facility, Marvel was mum. Valiant, whose market share and profit margin is substantially lower than Marvel's, offered incentives for fans to donate money to Perlin, but to the public's knowledge, Marvel was not willing to scrape together any of that half a million dollars for Don Perlin.

You may argue here that Marvel is not obligated to help Perlin or Mantlo, and you'd be correct. Marvel fulfilled their portion of the contracts years ago when they paid these men for their work. I will not argue the legal obligations of a multi-billion dollar company towards its employee from 30 years ago. I will, however, ask this.

Is this how we want the industry to work?

It has become increasingly common for creators to ask fans to pay their medical bills. The Big Two do not have health insurance or retirement plans for their creators. I have been told that Marvel does provide health insurance if you sign an exclusive contract, but it is a "bare bones" plan. Prior to the Affordable Care Act, most creators did not have any health insurance, and many of them still do not. Even if they did have that insurance you would run into the issue that these creators are paid so poorly that they cannot safely retire and there are no retirement plan options through these publishers. Fans do a great job of helping where they can, but that is not a sufficient means of security.

So why were creators debating charging for signatures? Because their employers are not taking care of them. The cost then falls to the fans in the form of signature fees and fundraisers for sick creators. These fans are already facing a higher cost on books as Marvel attempts to drive the average price point to $5.00, and that rise in cost has not gone to resolve the payment issues which plague creators. I'm not placing the blame on the fans for shouldering this burden, but rather on the publishers.

Yes, not all publishers can afford to provide health insurance and luxurious wages. I am aware of this, and I am not asking those publishers to. I am, however, asking that the companies who make millions of dollars on summer blockbusters find some way to compensate their creators of previous, present, and future by finanical means and in health and retirement benefits. I also ask that publishers such as Dark Horse, Boom!, and Dynamite raise their page rate for artists as Valiant Comics, who has a smaller market share, pays 2-3 times the average page rate of those companies.

I do not believe this to be too much to ask of these companies. In fact, I believe that I am asking the bare minimum.

*Numbers are estimates based on typical Diamond Distributor price, numbers of copies sold, and estimated cost of production. No precise numbers are public knowledge.


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About the Author - Gavin D.

Gavin Dillinger exists in a constant state of restlessness as he runs between two jobs and spends every spare moment writing articles or scripts. He has also perfected the art of being simultaneously dead tired and jacked on coffee, and is the best-selling author of When is the Right Age to Tell Your Highway It's Adopted. Gavin graduated Cum Laude from MTSU and should probably get a real job. You can follow him on Twitter or see a random thought on tumblr once every three five months.

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