Issues in Comics: Formed A Band, Formed A Brand

Issues in Comics is gonna to be a column which tracks, notes and reflects on current trends, themes and controversies happening in comics today. This’ll be a space for discussions about publishing models, variant covers, convention news, Brian Wood, and whatever else is going on in the weirdly wonderful, wonderfully weird, world of comics.

This first outing’s about the increasingly notable pattern of writing and artists working at Marvel or DC, building a profile, possibly forming creative relationships, and then moving to launch creator-owned work elsewhere, usually Image Comics. Recently, you might recall seeing Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire putting together six brilliant, experimental and critically-lauded issues of Moon Knight at Marvel. The announcement of their own book, Injection, a few months later, came as no surprise. Given that all three were already established before Moon Knight, Ellis and Bellaire more so than Shalvey perhaps, this is a case of a bond being formed and then transplanted elsewhere. It took awhile longer between the projects, but Batman Inc. forged the Morrison/Burnham partnership responsible for the psychedelic mayhem of Nameless. Same goes for Scott Snyder and Jock between Detective Comics and Wytches.

In terms of building a profile, Rick Remender and Matt Fraction seem obvious examples. A stunningly moving and hard-hitting run on Uncanny X-Force in 2010 brought Remender to a considerably wider audience than beloved cult, pulp sci-fi hit Fear Agent and opened doors to taking on a number of further Marvel books. Over a number of years likewise, Fraction worked on a slew of different Marvel books, even helming the Fear Itself event and becoming one of the company’s élite squad of ‘architects’ [which tellingly included no artists in the cabal]. In the end though, Hawkeye with David Aja was the hot ticket for Fraction that would bring loyal readers over, and ensure a good deal of noise was made for the post-watershed winner, Sex Criminals.

Fantomex and Psylocke by Esad Ribic

Fantomex and Psylocke by Esad Ribic

Obviously it’s not totally clear-cut in all cases, as creators generally begin their careers with independent work, before possibly moving to work with (larger) publishers. While the partnership of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie certainly predates their Young Avengers run, it was undoubtedly the combination of this book, Gillen’s Journey Into Mystery, and their positive and engaging presence on social media (Twitter and Tumblr) that almost predetermined that Wic/Div would be an absolute smash. And again, it’s also a great book.

Some creators have also spoken candidly about how important corporate work is for them in a financial sense. Rick Remender recently announced that he’s reached a point of financial stability to be able to take a complete break from his Marvel work, focusing just on his creator-owned projects with Image and elsewhere. Of course, it’s a creative question. Remender’s creator-owned projects are imbued with passion and personal meaning [he always lets us know..!], while with the launch of I Hate Fairyland, Skottie Young cites ‘no traffic cones’ as one of the key elements in realising his dream of doing an Image book. Rarely settling on any ultimate conclusions, but always encouraging critical thinking, Joe Casey’s meditative reflections on these themes in the back pages of Sex are always worthwhile.

Airboy #2 cover by Greg Hinkle

Airboy #2 cover by Greg Hinkle

The idea of work-for-hire as a potential necessity for creators does raise the question of what those comics produced as a result, at Marvel and DC, really mean. Are they affected by the circumstances of their creation? Maybe? James Robinson acknowledging his corporate work as just a paycheck in the brilliantly honest Airboy certainly pushes us to consider where different work sits for creators as they balance their workload and forge their careers. In a certain perverse way, it’s actually a refreshingly positive inversion of old traditions of terrible contracts and corporate exploitation. It’s not to say creators are simply ‘using’ the Big Two as a platform, but even if they are, it’s truly not the worst thing in the world. For the heart-wrending truths of Marvel’s publishing history, Sean Howe’s The Untold Story is essential.

[We’re yet to see something quite as compelling focused on DC Comics and despite his pedigree for historical volumes, it doesn’t seem likely we’ll get anything quite so balanced and challenging from Paul Levitz]

And long as there’s balance though, we’re alright. It’s a great and unprecedented time for independent, creator-owned, non-superhero projects, but we also need people to take good care of those 75-year old superheroes we still love so dearly/cling to so obsessively. Fortunately, with folks like Jason Aaron and Mark Waid, we’re still seeing dedicated and sophisticated superhero comics. Aaron is a brilliant example of a writer who has been consistent and evidently meaningful in his work in both the superhero and non-superhero realms. He also doesn’t look to be heading off into the creator-owned sunset anytime soon, keeping up a slew of Marvel books, most crucially his Thor run. [Gimme, gimme Thor, gimme Thor…]

Hard to sum up a batch of open-ended reflections, but it’s really an interesting time. Whatever’s going on, it’s working reasonably well as it seems that more and more folks who read the capes are picking up ‘other’ things, and curiously the reverse is happening here and there as well.

Adam Karenina Sherif

If you’ve got any suggestions for themes/topics to tackle in these Views From The Edge columns, drop a line to adam@orbitalcomics.co.uk