Greg Rucka is a name you might be familiar with. He’s written several novels (including the Queen & Country series) and quite a few comics (including Action Comics and Batman), and had his and Steve Lieber’s Whiteout adapted for a major motion picture. He’s won a Harvey Award and four Eisners. He’s currently writing The Punisher for Marvel.
The man clearly knows a thing or two about comics, and has a vested and ongoing interest in printed comics. But last year, he also started up a new webcomic with Rick Burchett and Eric Newsom called Lady Sabre & the Pirates of the Ineffable Aether. In a recent break between chapters, Rucka posted a reflection on the previous year and some of the differences he sees between webcomics and what shows up in most comic shops every week. He’s graciously allowed us to reprint his piece here…
It was, roughly, just over a year ago that Eric, Rick, and I debuted our flight of fancy here, and, yes, a whole lot has happened, and a whole lot has been learned, and a whole lot has been observed. We’ve discovered just how difficult it is to work in this medium, and with this schedule; we’ve made many mistakes, and struggled to correct them as they arose; we’ve learned that the Beast must be Fed, and that our fan-base is our greatest strength; we’ve learned that there are more of you out there than we thought. We’ve learned a lot about loyalty, too.
I’m feeling introspective right now. This is the first time in over two decades that I’ve passed on attending SDCC, and even with that decision, I still found myself there for six hours on Saturday. It’s like the much-parodied Michael Corleone line from The Godfather, part III – every time I think I’m out, they pull me back in – but that’s not entirely fair, nor entirely honest; this time, I was there because I wanted to be. This time, I attended on my own terms.
A lot of what Lady Sabre is about, what this site and this comic was born of, is much the same. Rick and I have known each other for almost 15 years now, and yet I can count the number of projects we’ve actually worked on together with both hands and fingers left over. This isn’t due to lack of desire on either of our parts, but rather a concerted effort on the parts of the “Big Two” Publishers to keep us from collaborating. The arguments were always the same, to be brutally honest: they didn’t like Rick’s work as a companion to my own. Either it wasn’t in keeping with the house style, or it wasn’t slick enough or “mainstream” enough or popular enough or sexy enough or whatever they needed as an excuse. Flash won over substance almost every time, and artistic skill and strength of storytelling could be damned.
So we said enough was enough, and that’s how we came to be here. Eric, Rick, and I, what we want is to tell the best stories we can, have the most fun we can while doing it, and to entertain those of you who’ve come to take part in our tale. This is our profession, and we take pride in our work. We want to make a living doing it, and thus the questions surrounding the trade are of incredible importance to us.
That’s how this happened. That is why it will continue. On our terms, a collective “us” that grows as more and more readers discover Lady S. The poll about our first trade was especially telling to me, not solely for the vociferous support the crowd-funding option drew, but because of how many of you spoke so articulately about what you wanted the trade to be, your reasons for doing so, and your confidence in our ability to succeed.
It means a lot. We are more grateful than you can imagine for all the time and thought you put into your responses.
I’m thinking all of this, and I’m thinking about a lot of the news I saw coming out of the convention this past weekend, especially in regards to comics. I read a lot of tweets and reports and comments about various announcements, and I’ve seen a lot of gnashing of teeth and wailing in anguish. And it occurs to me that it’s time to say, clearly, something that I’ve been feeling for a very long time, now. Something so straightforward and so simple that one would think it could go unsaid. Yet comics, so unique in its relation to its audience, perhaps demands the stating of the obvious.
Some of you are continuing to buy books you don’t like. Some of you, I would venture, have been doing this for years. I direct this, with all the lovingkindness in my soul, to you:
The time has come to stop doing that.
Stop playing on their terms.
Because they’ve got you, and they know they do, because they’ve had you for years in some cases. They’re holding you by the short-and-curlies, because they know, they absolutely know that if they publish something with “Bat” in the title, or the letter “X,” or the word “Spider” you will buy it, and you will keep on buying it no matter its quality. No matter if they’re ignoring you, or if – in some instances – they’ve even gone so far as to outright insult and dismiss you.
This isn’t an indictment of any particular story or event or character or creative team or anything like that. For every story that someone loves, there’s someone who’s going to hate it. That’s not the point. Nor is this an argument of “creator-ownership vs. work-for-hire.” I’ve lived in both camps, and both camps have their merits, and the arguments in support of one or the other are for a different time.
This is about getting out of, to use a very poor analogy, the abusive relationships you’ve been living in for years, now. This is about you realizing that the love of a character does not require you to be abused every time you pay for the privilege of spending time with said character. This is about you realizing that, until you stand up for yourselves and walk away, nothing is ever going to change. This is about you realizing that, after month after month after month of hoping and praying that it’s going to get better and instead seeing it get steadily worse, it’s time to call it quits.
At the risk of causing offense, you who have waited for months, years, to see your beloved character “return” to quality, you have become part of the problem. The only language the publisher speaks fluently is Money. When you buy books you do not enjoy, you are sending a mixed message, and it’s not getting through.
I say it again: set your own terms.
They need you. We need you, all of us who create stories and art and try to make a living in doing so, we need you.
You don’t need us.
Don’t forget that. Don’t let the publishers forget that.