Posted by: Brian Hibbs on October 6, 2011
I was reading the Joshua Hale Fialkov interview (he’s a great writer, by the way) yesterday, and was struck when he said this:
“Everyone has a path, everyone has a road — for some people that road is a lot shorter than other people. I have moments where I realize I’ve been doing this for 10 years. When “I, Vampire” was announced, there was a chorus of, “Who the fuck is that guy?” I’m like, “Seriously? 10 years. Tons of awards. Book published by Random House, biggest publisher in the world. Seriously? Anybody?” And then you realize that well, no, I have 3000 fans. I have those 3000 people who read everything I do and now you’re given this opportunity with the relaunch and with this book to reach twenty or thirty times that audiences and it’s fucking great.”
…and the thought that struck me was this: I don’t believe there’s ever once been a writer in comics who has become a “name writer” who didn’t become that way until after doing a regular, ongoing monthly series. Not minis and GNs — monthly on goings. Let’s define “name writer” as “sells a book solely on the strength of their name to a significant (5-10kish, maybe?) audience”
(I think that may also be true for screenwriters as well — I’m thinking Sorkin, Whedon, Abrams… though Maybe M. Night puts a lie to that?)
Clearly it isn’t true for writer/artists — but I think it is right for writers, which is why a lot of people never “break out”, because they never find that ongoing idea they can make their own for 5-ish years.
And it would pretty much HAVE to be a Marvel/DC series, wouldn’t it?
Chris Beckett’s theory that people are more likely to follow a writer who’s had a consistent writing schedule is something that’s worth following up on. Jim Butcher of The Dresden Files has managed to maintain his popularity by releasing a new book of his Detective Wizard once a year has made him a perpetual bestseller. Harry Dresden’s comparisions to Spider-Man don’t hurt either.
It’s only recently that Jim Butcher’s writings have been adapted to the comics page, though the first book is unfairly divided into two volumes instead of one. There’s also a single stand-alone volume, “Welcome to the Jungle” that works well and plays to Jim’s strengths better than the adaptions of Anita Blake.
As long as we’re bringing up the subject of European comic writers, we might as well add Raoul Cauvin into the mix. The man’s done an impressive amount of varying work, most of them comedic. His most serious work is The Blue Brothers, which is set around the time of the Civil War in a similar vein to M*A*S*H. However, most of his stuff is aimed at children, which seems to be a forgotten realm of the comics market. While everybody seems determined to gain the attention of adults, stuff at children seems to be mostly frowned upon, even though they’re some of the most popular and widely read stuff around.
On a related note, this goes for Newspaper comics as well. People are more likely to know the names of the following: Charles Schultz, Bill Watterson, Lynn Johnson, Cathy Guisewite, Mort Walker, Johnney Hart, Jim Davis, Gary Larson, Jim Unger, Bill Amend, Scott Adams, Jeff MacNelly and Berke Breathed among many others.
I like Kieron’s measure of 400-1000 pages of work. It indirectly sets up some benchmarks which make sense: (1) proven ability to sell, (2) ability to establish a distinct style of writing, (3) ability to sustain narrative for enough arcs to fill a minimum of 3 TPBs, etc.
Do we have statistics on cume dollar sales or total copies sold you can associate with a writer or artist? It would be interesting to see if there is a certain dollar sales volume that establishes a blockbuster writer. It would be even more interesting to see if there is a pattern among up-and-coming talent that accurately predicts their performance writing titles for the Big 2.
I don’t like comparing US artists to European or Asian artists because the marketing and distribution systems are wildly different. They deserve their own separate conversation, an increasingly important one in an era of digital comics.