Brevoot Tackles Ageism — Are Respected Creators Owed Anything?

Tom Brevoort is one smart cookie. First, he wrote a piece about how no one is owed work. It tackles the difference between ageism and evaluation based on performance, and it does a pretty good job of it.

Then a fan pops up in the comments to say “I disagree with that last statement, to a degree.” Which isn’t what he means. What he goes on to say is that he disagrees with all of it, that any name known for creating Marvel work in the past should get work from Marvel now whenever they want it, and if all his favorites returned to Marvel, sales would increase.

(Another fan pops up to say “I’m trying to break into comics, please hire me.” Which makes me wonder why any professional ever bothers with public online commentary, but that’s their struggle, not mine.)

Anyway, Tom wrote a whole post in response to the idea that anyone’s owed anything.

John Byrne is not owed work. Certainly he’s entitled to respect for the great runs he worked on in the past–X-MEN, FANTASTIC FOUR, AVENGERS, etc. And whenever John’s work is reprinted in trade paperbacks, he gets a check. But John is not owed any work beyond that–any work he gets, either here or at another company, he gets because he’s earned it, because somebody thinks that he’s the best person for the job.

True enough. Comics is partially in the bad shape it’s in because there’s too much done on connections and “friendship”. (Sneer quoted because there are too many “friends” out there who quit talking to you when your ability to do something for them changes.) That also contributes to the sexism and racism of the industry. Work should be purchased and published based on performance.

Then Tom reveals the dirty secret:

I have five words for you: Peter David Back On Hulk. For years and years and years, HULK fans insisted that if Peter were only given the chance to go back on HULK, sales would skyrocket. And eventually, it happened–and the numbers remained more-or-less the same. Same sort of thing is true of Layton and Michelinie’s last IRON MAN limited series–no avalanche of sales or readers. Or, across town, same thing with the Englehart & Rogers BATMAN series. That’s not to say that any of these creators are bad, or doing poor work–in each instance, somebody felt that they were the right person for the job (in the case of Peter back on HULK, me). But it does show pretty conclusively that this idea of a classic creator back on their classic character equals tremendous sales is fiction.

In other words, it just ain’t so. My husband used to tell me the same thing, that when classic creators did special issues of, say, Superman, orders dropped instead of rising.

Why is that? I dunno, but I can speculate. One factor could be some retailers more interested in chasing whatever’s new and hot than what’s well-done. Another could be fans who don’t put their money behind ideas they say they support. Another could be that those classic runs were sometimes products of their time, and tastes in storytelling and art have matured. There’s also the possibility that the creators could be more interested in revisiting what made them popular than in telling a good story of interest to readers today.

Tom sums up:

Every creator has dedicated fans, and every book has classic runs in its history, but it’s ultimately self-defeating to try to replicate the classic runs of yesteryear thinking that you’ll somehow replicate the sales success of yesteryear. Time moves on, tastes change, the medium evolves. What was popular on television or in music or in movies two decades ago isn’t what’s popular now, and comics are no different in this regard.

Not to mention that the world is a very different place from two decades ago, with a lot more choices for your comic dollar, let alone a whole ton of other ways to spend your money.

3 Responses to “Brevoot Tackles Ageism — Are Respected Creators Owed Anything?”

  1. Cory!! Strode Says:

    The other dirty little secret when it comes to “classic” creators is that the style of comics storytelling has changed, and many of them have not changed along with it. In the 80’s, there was a very specific way of telling comic book stories, one that treated a comic book series like a long-running soap opera where you could stretch out overarcing plots for YEARS (look at how Iron Man told a story of Tony Stark becoming a drunk and losing his company, only to get it back in the fist-fight…it lasted 40 issues, from 160 – 200). Now, fans complain about a story that lasts 6 issues, but when you get a creator who tries storytelling like that in the 80’s, the book fails quickly.

    Besides, a story that was fun for 25 cents to a dollar might not be worth $3.

  2. James Schee Says:

    I notice that the fan who Tom was responding to posted a rebuttal. Basically handwaving away all of the arguments to restate that the past creators would be huge sellers despite Tom’s evidence to the contrary.

    One of the oddest things I see in the argument is that it seems like the fan doesn’t believe new talent should be given a try. While I don’t think you toss the old talent to the side, I think there has to be room for new voices. Otherwise you get to the point where everything feels like a retread, which happens far too often in superhero comics anyway.

  3. Johanna Says:

    Cory, very true.

    James, thanks for the update. There are too many fans like that, the ones who think “it doesn’t matter what people in the jobs think, I know better how to do things”.

    And yes, there’s already too much navel-gazing in superhero comics… locking out new talent would only make the problem worse.




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