Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Re-Giftment of Re-Gifters

Yesterday was a cold, rainy day. The kind my mom would call "dreary." I had to bike it back to my apartment during my dinner break and decided to eat at MosBurger on my way back to work. Which meant I needed a book to read while eating a teriyaki chicken burger. I tried Charles Portis' True Grit (the upcoming Coen Brothers version has me interested in the novel again) and then briefly considered Haruki Murakami's After Dark. Instead, I chose the only other book handy that would fit in my pocket-- it had to fit there so I could keep it dry underneath my clear plastic raincoat and winter jacket...


I was not a big fan of the whole Minx imprint phenomenon. The name irked me, as did the concept of "competing with manga," as if manga were somehow the enemy of comics.

Also-- and this was my biggest worry-- from initial reports it seemed Minx was not a creator-owned line.

I believe a creator should own his or her work, without limits, without questions. If you write a novel or short story and someone publishes it-- depending on the contract-- you still own it. In the 1930s, 40s, 50s and beyond, the choice for comic book creators was "Sign on the line that is dotted or go sell shoes." And, ironically (or tragically), most of them would've made more money and worked under conditions of less stress and lived longer if they'd chosen the latter.

This situation existed because comics were initially a throwaway junk entertainment created mainly by gullible rubes for little kids. So publishers felt free to set up a model of indentured servitude, to pay writers and artists a pittance for the "privilege" of seeing their efforts in print while raking in the dough from movie, TV and toy deals for themselves. I see no reason in the 21st century for this idiotic tradition to continue at either Marvel or DC and-- as we've seen recently-- neither do the courts. So if some big company does an imprint of this nature, it seems like the perfect vehicle for other business models, the way regular book publishers do things. Especially since, like novels, most of these books appear to be one-offs with complete stories rather then series to be endlessly exploited.

Now I'm not sure what the status of creator-ownership is with these properties. Brian Wood, writer of the Minx book The New York Four, states in a comment on The Hooded Utilitarian blog Minx was "100% creator-owned," but some other comments muddy the issue for me. I don't understand legalese, unfortunately. I'd like to know if these books fall out of print with DC, could the authors then take them to another publisher. Or could they publish sequels to these books elsewhere? Do the creative teams, in fact, own the contents and characters outright?

I hope so.

Beyond my personal beliefs as an artist, I had an aesthetic qualm as well. A lot of the Minx books seemed to be about girls with purple hair and tattoos. Like a bunch of dudes got together, watched Foxfire and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and then went off to write about rebellious teenage girls. This is all well and good, but what about some diversity in the pro-diversity line up? Where was the quiet desperation of a more simple life? Too boring? Not demographically suitable?

Then I found out the awesome Mariko Tamaki, author of the sublime Skim, was writing a book for them and so I decided to sample a title while I waited for her Emiko Superstar. As the flagship offering, The Plain Janes would've been the obvious choice (especially since it seemed to be one of the few Minx books actually written by a woman), but I went for Re-Gifters because Jen Dik Seong there on the cover looked kind of forlorn and plain. The Plain Janes have each other, poor little Dixie has just her bag and shoes.

Fortunately, Re-Gifters proves surprisingly entertaining. Light and charming, with a feisty protagonist. But not perfect. I'm still not sure why she has to get "thrown spectacularly off her game" just because she has a crush on a boy in her hapkido class. Dixie could just as easily have been inspired to greater athletic glory and then realized she was alienating him via beating his ass repeatedly. That would have been a more interesting and original take on her internal conflict.

Of which writer Mike Carey supplies her a-plenty. Because Dixie lives in a post-Rodney King Los Angeles of racial conflict, family obligations, high school pecking orders and hormonal urges. No wonder she's so spiky (as her friend calls her at one point). The kid makes mistakes, stupid ones even. She's endearingly human. The art by Sonny Liew and Marc Hempel is appropriately scratchy and loose, with lots of stray lines adding energy. Very cute, but with an edge. It occasionally brings to mind Sergio Aragones, of all people.

So yes, despite my initial negativity, I enjoyed Re-Gifters. Then, I forgot all about Minx and Dixie. Until yesterday. Re-reading and re-enjoying Re-Gifters while shivering and wet and eating a hot teriyaki chicken burger. That's how I spent my dinner break. Too bad this imprint didn't last, especially if it was totally creator-owned. I think comics need more of this kind of stuff, even if it does feature purple hair and tattoos-- with emphasis on the creator-owned. Now I want to read Emiko Superstar and The New York Four.


baileybears said...

DC doesn't let things go out of print if there is a reversion clause. They will always do the bare minimum to be considered in print.

Joel Bryan said...

That's interesting. Thanks! Now I wonder if the creators could withdraw their work from the agreement. Or if it simply expires at some point. Or if they could take their characters and concepts to other publishers.