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Cullen Bunn — “The Power of ‘No’ and the Painful Lessons of ‘Yes.’”

Jordan Smith

Hello, Comics Internet!

(So awkward, still.)

Keep an eye out for a new “giving away comics” post a little bit later. Currently, this 100% opinion piece!

Something you may not know about us working donut professionals is that we keep odd, lonely hours. Between one and five-thirty am every day not only am I awake and functioning at a high level it is exceedingly rare for me to utter a single word. Take a second to think about your day. Have you ever been silent for four and a half hours and not asleep?

What a nutty life.  Much, much more after the jump.

 

Anywho, in order to fill those hours when I can’t speak to anyone I listen. I listen actively and intently to all manner of media. Albums, comedy specials, NPR, Hood Internet mixtapes, TV Series. Hell, I HEARD more Friday Night Lights, House of Cards, and Cheers than I ever actually watched. I also found that I am not averse to the sound enthusiasm. Podcasts such as our own esteemed “Wait, What?!” Marc Maron’s WTF, Grantland, and Nerdist…sweet, sweet, Nerdist brought me a new arena of entertainment.

Let’s clear one thing up right now. I am a faithful Ben Blacker apostle. I listen to Thrilling Adventure Hour, every one of his Nerdist Writer’s Panels, and literally anything else he and his writing partner, Ben Acker, produce. These guys are legit trailblazers. Architects of a new endeavor. Check ‘em out!

Hey, Kids!  Shine up your astro-spurs and dust off your robot fists!

Hey, Kids! Shine up your astro-spurs and dust off your robot fists!

http://www.nerdist.com/podcast/nerdist-writers-panel/

http://www.nerdist.com/podcast/thrilling-adventure-hour/

(Bonus: Latest behind the scenes episode #115 features a sneak peak at upcoming comics pod co-host Heath Corson.)

At any rate, I was toiling away one morning and listening to him chat up some guy named Ryan Condal.

http://www.nerdist.com/2013/04/nerdist-writers-panel-84-ryan-condal/

Ryan was/is responsible for adapting Cullen Bunn’s Sixth Gun for television. To be fair, frank, and clueless I didn’t know this was going on and I haven’t read more than two issues of Sixth Gun. Here’s a quick recap of the surrounding hullabaloo featuring our own Savage Graeme!

January 22 – May 8

Graeme ‏@graemem22 Jan
Congratulations to @cullenbunn @brihurtt @crabtree_bill @OniPress for the Sixth Gun getting a pilot order for the TV version.

Jay Faerber ‏@JayFaerber6 Apr
Congrats @cullenbunn — the Sixth Gun is apparently an early favorite of the NBC pilots! http://www.deadline.com/2013/04/primetime-pilot-panic-the-early-buzz/

Brian Hurtt ‏@brihurtt8 May
At end of day @cullenbunn and I intend to stay focused on the one thing we do have control over. The comic. Thanks for all your support!

cullenbunn ‏@cullenbunn9 May
Don’t give up hope for THE SIXTH GUN tv show just yet. http://ht.ly/1W0trk

Whew, that’s a rocket ride. Throw your entire career related highs and lows into a basket and it would be tough to match that six-month run.

Aye, Verily.

Aye, Verily.

This episode of “Writer’s Panel” had gone up prior to the bad news so Condal was still very hopeful and excited. Throughout the interview he was kind, considerate of others feelings, and seemed an all ‘round good egg. Additionally, his twitter icon is Shatner – as Kirk – mid ‘KHAAAAAN’ scream and his background is Frazetta’s “Conan the Destroyer” so say hello to my innermost gristmill, Mr. Condal. We are close on a level few humans have words for. I salute you.

However, missing in all his amiable chat with Blacker was any mention whatsoever of Bunn, himself. The man, along with artist Brian Hurt, who is more responsible than anyone for the vision of the Sixth Gun as a “thing” did not rate a single mention. It should be said, of course, that it may have been edited out and certainly Blacker knows Bunn as he’s mentioned him numerous times on other shows. I’m not saying – unequivocally – Bunn’s been given short shrift. However, they both mention Oni Press, the production company that holds development rights for all Oni Press offerings (“Closed on Mondays,” a division of Oni created back in ’03 if you’re curious.) and various other people associated with the project.

What I am saying about Cullen Bunn is simply this: He’s not up front – where a creator should be.

They just needed to move that pic of Cuse of the creator credit and it would have been  perfect.

They just needed to move that pic of Cuse over the creator credit and it would have been perfect.

Without getting into Hickman-esque diagrams it’s clear that Cullen Bunn is down the ladder. Is he going to write any of this? Is he going to get a producer credit? Is this creation going to secure his working life – financially and creatively – for the foreseeable future? Have we been sold a bill of goods in the “Creator Owned” arena?

At it’s average, The Sixth Gun was selling under five thousand copies and he’s ending it at issue 50. According to Publisher’s Weekly that’s just Beer Money under most models. http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/comics/article/53365-the-kirkman-bendis-debates-four-years-later-creators-look-stronger.html

In the realm of “Creator Owned” not all contracts are written equally. For example, we have no idea how far Cullen’s creative rights extend to development in other media. Does he get to say what goes in and what stays out? Does he get to exercise final say over any decisions in regards to merchandise? In the link to his blog post above he mentions that the showrunners were “open to feedback.” Very reassuring.

What’s Oni’s mutated role in all this? They may be oh so happy to write a contract that gives creators control of a 3,000 issue-selling comic but does “Closed on Mondays” offer extended rights? Or is that a new raft of deals, reduced options and shares? As our own Abhay once opined:

THE SIXTH GUN is a comic book published by Oni Press. Oni Press is a comic publisher founded in 1997, and since 2003, it’s been the sister company to Closed on Mondays, a production company that Oni describes as “created specifically to help Oni Press creators and titles find life in mediums outside of comics” which “works closely with Oni creators and staff members to find [appropriate] creative partners.” Like other similarly situated comic companies, Oni refers to their comics as “creator-owned” — though when comic publishers have sister companies that work closely with creators, some people might find it a little fuzzier what creator-owned means exactly– or at least, it’s my limited understanding that reasonable minds might differ on that point. All the crowing and chest-puffing of this past year aside, the label “creator owned” on a comic seems sort of like the label “organic” on a box of cookiess– it’s not exactly clear to me what that means, and I don’t know if it’s a good idea for me to always assume what’s being sold is healthy just based on that label.

http://www.savagecritic.com/reviews/abhay-the-sixth-gun/

Hear, hear Mr. Khosla.

Contrast this position with that of one Robert Kirkman. A person, who since launching stage two of his career post-manifesto has, essentially, written the book on how to “get yours.” You can’t look at a thing that is Walking Dead without knowing Robert Kirkman made that choice. His was the power of “No.” Right from the outset he saw through a plan that got him dirty but left him free, clear and holding permanent rights to the kind of success Jack Kirby might only achieve in a fever dream.

Cullen Bunn, on the other hand, working with a loose definition of creator owned, a bright burning dream, a restrictive in house production company deal, and sub five thousand sales may well have felt his options were reduced to one simple, “Yes.”

Yes or No?

Yes or No?

3 Responses to “ Cullen Bunn — “The Power of ‘No’ and the Painful Lessons of ‘Yes.’” ”

  1. Ooch. Nice little curveball of a piece, Smitty. I never realized how truly terrible the phrase “open to feedback” is in that context.

  2. YAY! I’m happy to see you have a column now, J Smitty! I’m sorry for not commenting on that before. My manners were on vacation, I guess.

    I didn’t know you made donuts! That’s like the coolest job I’ve ever heard of someone having! Sadly, I can relate to not speaking for many hours in a row. Most of the people I work with only communicate by e-mail and there are days when I go 10 hours without saying a word. I mostly listen to Washingon DC sports talk radio, though, although I’m hardly ever in DC. I think DC sports talk is to me what the Nerdist is to you.

    Tony Moore would likely disagree with you on Kirkman being a good example of creator rights. I know you mentioned the caveat, “got him dirty, but left him free..,” but Kirkman burned a lot of bridges to get there. Comparing him to pretty much anyone outside of his fellow Image partners is kinda apples and oranges because those are pretty much the only other guys who have comparable stories of co-creators who hold grudges over finding themselves on the outside looking in.

    Oni, though, is a bit of a black box when it comes to creator rights. The Oni of today is not the Oni when it was founded. It wouldn’t surprise me to find out they’re an IP farm in disguise as being a creator owned publisher. You make a strong case!

  3. @Chris Hero
    Yes, Absolutely. In hindsight I think a much cleaner throughline could have been Greg Rucka & Rick Burchett’s Lady Sabre & The Pirates of the Ineffable Aether.

    I understand Kirkman is RIFE with negative feedback potential but i’ve kinda pitched my tent there and so am not afraid to go to the well on occasion.

    Looking at Oni has been a real eye-opener. We’ll see if my follow up questions to Cullen get answers. I just submitted them. Fingers crossed!

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