Comics writer and artist Jamal Igle writes: In the ever-changing world of comic books, creator-owned characters – like his Molly Danger — must take the lead.
By JAMAL IGLE
The other day, I made a rather pointed announcement on my Facebook page about convention appearances:
I’ve made an executive decision. Starting in 2016, I will no longer carry non Molly Danger prints, merch or books. As much as it may cut into “the bottom line” I have to promote my property and no one else’s characters.
I’ll continue to do sketches if asked, and sign whatever books you bring for me but there won’t be anything on my table that’s not Molly. I have to think of myself as a producer, not just a creator or a freelancer.
A declarative statement, I know. Some people may question why I would go out of my way to make an announcement like this. Perhaps it’s not something that needed to be said. However, I do have my reasons.
Now, for those of you who aren’t already aware, Molly Danger is my superhero series. Molly, the eponymous lead of the series, is the story of a superhumanly strong 10-year-old who in reality is over 30 years old. Invulnerable, possibly immortal and precocious, Molly began her life as a hardcover graphic album, funded through a successful Kickstarter campaign and published by Action Lab Entertainment.
Prior to creating Molly Danger, I had a long and fruitful career as a comic-book artist and writer, most notably for DC Comics on series like Supergirl, with writer Sterling Gates, and Firestorm The Nuclear Man, with writers Dan Jolley and Stuart Moore. I’ve been blessed to have the career I’ve pursued and to have worked and learned from it. I continue to freelance in multiple media beyond comics.
As a working comic-book artist, I also attend many conventions around the United States and occasionally outside of the U.S. when the opportunities present themselves. In order to cover the expenses for traveling to certain shows, comic book creators bring merchandise with them to sell. Some of it complimentary copies of books they’ve worked on, provided by the companies involved. Some people bring merchandise they’ve produced such as art prints of varying quality and sold at a premium, or printed sketchbooks featuring preliminary and final art produced on commission. More often than not, all of these items feature characters they don’t own or have any equity in but have some connection to as a creator.
There are also a much larger number of “fan artists” who set up in the artist alley or purchase booth space at various conventions to sell the same types of merchandise. The difference being that these are people with no connections to the characters and intellectual properties involved. Now, I’m not trying to condemn anyone for doing this because we all know how expensive it is to promote yourself and your work at a convention, and this really has nothing to do with what anyone else chooses to do with his or her work.
So why make an announcement like this?
This wasn’t a snap decision in the slightest. It’s something that I’ve been thinking about doing for a few months now. If I’m to be honest, it’s been part of an ongoing internal argument I’ve been having with myself for the last two years. As a professional comics creator for the last quarter century, I’ve seen many movements in terms of creator-owned comics come and go. The people who have had success with their own intellectual properties always have one thing in common:
They focus on their concept, dogmatically so in some cases.
Right now, there’s a brand new Supergirl television series on CBS, which is doing really well in the ratings. From the episodes I’ve seen, it seems to draw at least some influences from my run with Sterling Gates on the series, so much so that we were name checked in the pilot.
Over on the CW, Firestorm the Nuclear Man is lined up to be a cast member of the new series DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, and the costume for the character resembles the costume I designed. The knee-jerk reaction would be to capitalize on this, to make prints based on my art from both series. I could probably do very well with them because prints are a point-of-purchase item. They’re great for the budget-conscious fan who can’t afford the hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of dollars you would pay for original art. It’s something I can put on a table and the casual viewer walking by could glance at it and possibly come over, and I could give them the sales pitch.
The thing is, I don’t own either of those characters, and never will. I have no stake in their success, beyond my tangential relationship to them. Spending my time, basically giving DC Comics more publicity while I’m no longer a regular, active member of their talent roster, doesn’t help me promote my work or my character.
It’s a small part of a much bigger conversation that is taking place among comic-book creators, convention organizers and IP holders. There are many people who believe that the larger companies that own Marvel and DC respectively, will eventually make it impossible for all creators to produce material based on their IPs. I don’t know how close we are to that, frankly, and it’s not my place to speculate on it.
What I’m doing is important to me. Molly Danger is a character that started its journey in 2003 and was never far from my heart. This past summer I had a second successful Kickstarter to help fund the return of Molly Danger as an ongoing series, published every two months beginning this summer.
This week (12/2) will see the release of Actionverse #0, written by Vito Delsante and myself, with art by Ray Anthony Height and Sean Izaakes, colored by Nate Lovett, Tom Chu and Ben Hunzeker. Previewed as part of this year’s Halloween ComicFest free comic-book promotion, Actionverse #0 is the beginning of a project I’ve been connected to for the better part of the last two years — the Actionverse miniseries event due to ship in the spring. (A full preview of Actionverse #0 can be found here. — Dan)
The issue features each of our creator-owned heroes: Vito and Sean’s vigilante hero Stray, Ray’s teen adventurer Midnight Tiger and “The Princess of Finesse” Molly Danger. It’s the first time I’ve lent my character to other creators to use; it’s also a way to reintroduce Molly to the comics-reading audience. It’s part of a much larger plan I’m putting together for Molly Danger and her world as we move into the next phase of production.
I’ve seen a lot of things happen creatively and culturally during my career. One of the truths that has repeatedly reared its head is that characters have a tendency to outlive their creators, if we’re lucky. Jack Kirby is one of the most respected creators our industry produced. His co-creations have grossed a combined $4 billion dollars and neither nor his heirs have seen virtually any of it. By the time he began to create his own fully owned IPs, he was well into the twilight of his career. There are many cases where that is similar, from Siegel and Shuster to Len Wein to Gary Friedrich to hundreds of others. That’s the nature of work-for-hire comics.
I’ve realized that because of this, I need a different path and I believe that path is Molly Danger.
I always say, “I believe in Molly.” It’s not a blanket statement that I just throw out because I think it sounds like a great tagline. I BELIEVE IN HER. I wanted to create the type of action hero for young girls that I would want my own daughter (and No. 1 Molly Danger booster) Catie to read. In order to put her in the hands of other girls and boys, honestly, I’ve made a decision to be in the “Molly Danger Business.” Much like a stage father, I have to groom and mold my creation to be everything I need her to be. I can’t do that, however, If I’m trying to sell prints of Batman.
I’ll continue to go to conventions as I always have and I will continue to sign any books you have for me, or posters, etc. I’ll still draw for people who ask, but outside of that, the only merchandise that will adorn my table will feature a little girl in pink, emblazoned with blue-and-white “M” logos. Whether I’ll succeed beyond what I’ve done for the last two years, we’ll see.
If I don’t try, though, I’ll never know.