FanExpo Canada: Darwyn Cooke, Dan Slott, Jimmy Palmiotti And More On The Economics Of Comics

One of the last panels Saturday at FanExpo Canada was “On The Couch with Ty Templeton,” a free-form discussion about comics, with a focus on indie versus corporate work. On the panel were Darwyn Cooke, Jimmy Palmiotti, Dan Slott, Ramon Perez, and Lar deSouza.

The panel kicked off talking about the topic of the day, with deSouza saying that because his comic is a web presence first, they write more for themselves - and have a better relationship with their fans. He called it a much more “intimate” experience, and that he felt that immediacy was filtering up to the mainstream.

At that point, Cooke - seriously - asked whether he could smoke in the room, with the panelists joking they can if the whole room chipped in for his jail fees.

Back to the topic at hand, Palmiotti said that when he’s working with a mainstream company like Marvel and DC it’s working on someone else’s characters, so any creative choices he may want to make will have to defer to the company... But it’s also money he can bank to work on other original projects. He then plugged Creator Owned Heroes, his book that allows him to do whatever he wants. “I have this hunger, this need to keep creating new stuff... But I know how to get money to help create those other things.”

Asked whether working for Marvel/DC is just “prostitution,” Palmiotti denied that flatly, citing Jonah Hex as a dream gig he’s gotten to do the way he wants to do it. On other properties, Palmiotti says, “How are we going to make it so we can make it fun?” He noted that Power Girl was a two-dimensional character he was assigned, and looked at until he figured out how to make it work.

Back to Cooke, he said, “I don’t know that I am a creator. I’ve always looked at what I do as directing, more than creating. Honestly, who wants to see a story from when I was eleven?” To which everybody in the crowd raised their hands. Templeton, following up asked whether Cooke felt like he didn’t have anything to say as a writer. “Sure, but I don’t know I need to create a character to say it,” said Cooke. Because he had money and a background in animation, he chooses the projects he wants. He noted there were gaps for years where he worked for DC, because they wouldn’t approve the books he wanted to do. He also noted that Catwoman took eighteen months, and New Frontier four years to approve.

He then told a story of talking to Alex Ross about how he should be able to get anything in, but in fact, it only got harder. “You’re a commodity that might get too big for your britches...” said Cooke. “They want creative talent, but they don’t want them to get too big. The characters, and the corporate culture are king. We’re just people hired to play the notes.”

Slott jumped in, saying how Marvel started promoting the creators, like Todd McFarlane and Jim Lee, and a year later... “Boom. Image,” said Slott.

Turning to Slott, Templeton asked whether he would do any creator owned work. “I’ve been at so many Cons where Hickman, or Fraction take me into a corner, and beat me up, asking why aren’t you working on something for yourself? You only get one chance to write Spider-Man. I’ve wanted to do this since I was eight years old,” said Slott. On that note, though, Slott said that he is going to try his hand at some creator owned work later in the year.

Turning to Perez, he talked about working on his Eisner winning Tale of Sand, which he didn’t get any royalties for. “Jesus, next time call me,” said Cooke. Perez then noted that though he took the job for a page rate, he got paid in “other currency,” afterwards. “How much they give you for Eisners at the porn shop?” joked Palmiotti. Perez continued, saying that he got to work more with the Henson Company, and got more fans, and that was worth something, too. “You do it, and move on to the next thing,” said Palmiotti.

Cooke added that for Paul Pope, as an example, doing a Batman book, “opened up everyone’s perception to him,” garnering the creator enough fans to go back to doing his own work.

Souza then talked about building a career in comics, that creating different properties with different ideas behind them allowed him to build an audience that followed his works from one site to another. He cited figures, including 750,000 unique readers for one site, and 1.25 million for another.

“I’m doing it wrong man, I had to make love to so many women I didn’t want to be with,” joked Palmiotti. “And one guy.”

Souza also mentioned that having fans meant having experiences like helping a guy get engaged at FanExpo using one of his drawings. Cooke noted a similar experience, with both saying its special to be part of fan’s lives.

Over to Perez, he said he’d been working for a very long time, with Editors even noting he should get work while not giving any... And it wasn’t until he was 35 or 36 that he broke in.

Talking about Dan Slott’s frequent berating on Twitter, he said, “Even when I was doing something like She-Hulk, you get this sliver of pie that’s the crazy f**k. When you’re working on Spider-Man, the pie is even bigger.” He then told the story about a fan yelling at him at a Con in Australia while Gail Simone and Ethan Van Sciver looked on, and ended up taking the fan from giving up Spider-Man, to selling him on the book.

Palmiotti, on the other hand, finds that he doesn’t care about negative fans, or reviews. “Go read another book. I can’t convince them to like it. I say, hopefully you can find something else I did that I like... And then Darwyn Cooke jumps over the table and kicks their a**,” said Palmiotti.

Souza added that he doesn’t get a lot of angry fans, but he does get a lot of fans who hate his co-writer, telling him, “You can do better.”

Palmiotti jumped in saying that at Marvel, they used to bundle the hate mail together so everyone could read it. A fan who hated a Toxic Avenger once sent a box, with the comic in a gel pack, and a note that said, “I pissed on it, I lit it on fire... I put it on the wall so everybody could read!” said Palmiotti. “There was so much love in that hate. If someone has such a problem with something I’m doing, there’s some love there.”

Cooke continued on this, talking about a time he sat next to Chuck Austen for two days, and couldn’t believe the hate people would pour towards the writer. He remembered one fan in particular saying, “You’re the s**tiest writer ever on X-Men. Your Hammerhead was okay.’ And then he drops fifty books in front of him and says, ‘Can you sign these?’”

On a related topic, Palmiotti talked about Painkiller Jane, saying that it was “frustrating on some levels, but a learning experience.” He said that he still owns the rights, but the TV show was made by people who didn’t quite understand the property. “The whole crew looked at me as a threat. When I was on the set, I was looking at everything. I did argue at times, and I did throw a temper tantrum. That’s not like me. I did have everybody knocking on my trailer saying, you want some weed man?”

Cooke talked about the New Frontier animated film. “The only thing I had was, there was an agreement I had to sign, and I never signed it. When everything was completed to my satisfaction. I never sign anything for Marvel or DC until I have somehting completed for satisfaction. I rewrote the screenplay, because I wouldn’t sign.” He said that if they didn’t let him rewrite, he’d take his name off and tell everyone what a terrible “piece of crap” it was. He continued that it was particularly shocking because he started at Bruce Timm’s studio, which made the movie. “The only power you have is not signing,” said Cooke.

On a similar note, Templeton noted that he found out while watching Halle Berry’s Catwoman movie that it was based on a story he wrote for the Publisher. Cooke and Palmiotti both encouraged him to contact DC, because the company is generous with their money. Palmiotti said, “I wrote one line. One line in Jonah Hex, and get a very generous check.” And on the other hand, Slott told an oft-repeated story about how he was immediately jumped on and stopped from asking for any money when he found out the Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes cartoon would use his Big House prison.

And on that note, we were done! All in all, one of the more spirited and honest panels of FanExpo so far - and if you’re ever in a position to catch Templeton’s On The Couch, please do!