Tuesday, October 16, 2007


This weekend at Edmonton’s annual Comic Talks panel series at Pure Speculations 2007, I had the opportunity to attend a discussion featuring the Creative Director of the online media company Zeroes 2 Heroes, Jessice Leigh Clark, as well as colourist and Newsarama blogger Stephanie Chan and two of my favourite people, The Future of Comics (I) Fiona Staples and artist Devon Jopling (who was on the panel in her role as a seller of Comics, Books, and Stuff.) While I would have attended panels featuring Fiona or Devon regardless of topic, I was really there to try and get a better sense of what Zeros 2 Heroes (which led to interest in getting an understanding of what their new initiative, Comic Creation Nation: Canada), a “virtual studio” I first heard about at Canadian Geek, was all about. Having seen the panel and talked to Ms. Clark a bit…

…I’m not sure what I got was a wholly accurate representation of the company’s agenda or its soon-to-be-implemented practices.

Before I get into all that, I want to highlight a couple of positives about the company, because I don’t relish the Negative Nellie Naysayer role I seem to have been identified with in some quarters.

First up, and, from where I stand, the most compelling reason for a writer to get involved with CCN, is Paul Dini’s participation as Editor-in-Chief of the project. Even if his role is largely that of a figurehead designed to lend some credibility to a project (as the EiC of at least one company I’ve worked with indisputably was), to me that looks like some pretty heavy credibility, certainly in the film/television space.

Another positive is the split of profits between creator and company--with each getting 50% of the gross profits. Meaning, as soon as your property brings in a dollar, the creator (in this case meaning just the writer, of which more later) gets fifty cents. This is almost unheard of in the comic world (I’ve never heard of it happening before), but as Ms. Clark put it to me, Z2H Media can’t lose in the proposition. They’re not expending their own money on the project, but Telefilm Canada’s, so it’s not like they’re losing anything by cutting the creator in as soon as the starter’s pistol goes off. Which isn’t to say they couldn’t have more or less ensured almost all their creators would never see a penny by only giving them net or adjusted gross profits and gotten away with it, so kudos to them for that.

From what I can tell, they are a bunch of savvy businesspeople. Which, as we’ll see, is a double-edged sword, but I’ve been involved with lousy businesspeople and in retrospect, given the choice, I’d rather have worked with Z2H than some other companies I’m legally unable to name. And one I am, but won’t because I’d probably still get sued and I have a faint hope of getting paid by them one of these days.

Hell, let’s toss that in as another positive: I’d bet up to five Canadian dollars that Z2H will not become known as a publisher that fails to pay its creators what they’re owed promptly. Unless Canada’s dollar is still worth more than the Americans’, in which case, make it five US$. I’m not made of money, y’know.

There. A few good things about Zeros2Heroes Media. And that’s the end of my thoughts on the company, right?

Sure. Because I’m the Feelgood Blogger of the Year. Riiiight.



I’d have to go back and review the tapes of the panel, but the general impression I got from Ms. Clark’s statements on the panel were along these lines:

-Writers post their pitches online, along with a brief script sample, and “the community” votes on which projects should proceed forward.

-Artists undergo a similar procedure, only they post a portfolio. Then, when the community gives them the thumbs-up, they produce a few sequential pages, which are paid for regardless of what happens next. If those pages garner sufficient support in the community, the artist will be assigned to a project, either one of those Z2H has taken on for a corporate client or one of the CCN “books”.

-Artists who do original work for the company (ie, not the first portfolio they show, which would presumably feature previously created work) will receive payment for all that work. Letterers and colourists and editors are likewise compensated for their efforts. I didn’t hear anything mentioned about what writers get paid, for good reason, because they don’t, at least not until the “book” brings in money.

-What the writer DOES get out of CCN is ownership of all their rights. Now, again I’d have to go back and review the recording to see if Ms. Clark specified as to whether that was “all rights in regard to the comic Z2H will produce” or “all rights to their intellectual property.” The former is true; the latter, as far as I can tell, not so much. But the *impression* I (and Tiina, who was also present) received was that the writer retained all rights to their intellectual property.

-In any event, a “winning” CCN writer would have the final say regarding the execution of their comic. Ultimately, the writer’s desires trumped those of every other party, including the company, editor, and artist.

-The winning writer would also receive a professionally drawn, coloured, lettered and edited comic, which would be “published” online on Z2H’s platform.

-If it was popular enough with the community, this comic would then be published in print form.

So, in short: I create a pitch, it gets voted on. If I’m “elected”, I create a script, and *it* gets voted on. If I pass muster with the community at that point, I get to write a script that will be edited professionally, but I’ll retain the right to ignore editorial suggestions if I disagree with them. I’m pretty sure I get artist approval, too. The comic is then put online, and if the community is sufficiently supportive of it, a print version will be produced and sold.

This scenario would be repeated for fifty books, “until the money runs out.”

By the end of the panel, I had several questions about CCN and Z2H. I put them to Ms. Clark, who patiently answered them.



(This is to the best of my recollection, it is certainly paraphrased if not utterly distorted. Take it for what it’s worth.):

Q: Does the creator really get to have control of their property?
A: They have control of their comic, yes.

Q: Even if they disagree with the editor?
A: We hope they’d work with the editor, but yes, they have the final say on their comic.

Q: Aren’t you worried about people “stuffing ballots”?
A: No, because not every vote is considered equal. Z2H’s community is built on a social credit system; for instance, the opinions of those who’ve participated in the community for several weeks will be given more consideration than those who signed up the day of the voting.

Q: You realize by letting the writer have final say you’re almost certain to produce at least one really, really crappy comic, right?
A: Yes, but I’d rather produce nine crappy comics to get to a tenth that wouldn’t have a chance of being picked up somewhere else.

Q: You said you were looking for artists and editors to handle fifty projects. What are you looking for in them?
A: Artists should put their work online at Z2H, where the community (and our editors) can see them. The first thing we require of editors is that they be based in Vancouver.

I thanked her, wished her luck, took some literature, and went on my merry way.



Only the way wasn’t so merry. Something about Zeros2Heroes wasn’t sitting well with me, but I was damned if I could figure out what it was. I spent much of the rest of the day (including several hours at the costume party) mulling over exactly what my problem was with a company giving creators the rights to their work and paying at least some of them for doing so.

I mentioned my unease to Tiina, who suggested it sprang from the fact that Ms. Clark had “said everything you wanted to hear.” There was something to that, but it wasn’t entirely the case; for one thing, as great as she’d made Z2H out to be, I *hadn’t* heard everything I wanted to hear.

Ultimately, I wasn’t really happy with the reasons I came up with. They cast me as an elitist snob who sees himself as above the common man (or common online comic fan, as the case may be). Which I probably am, but it’s still a hard pill to swallow when I’ve got to face it directly.



The first issue with Z2H in general and CCN in particular that I managed to articulate was, it’s designed as a contest. As an (occasionally) professional writer, that doesn’t sit well with me. I don’t mind putting my work in front of an editor and getting rejected. It’s a different thing to accept the judgement of a nebulous “community”.

Ballot-stuffing has been eliminated, but the risk of work on Z2H being judged by the popularity of its creator rather than its actual merit still exists. And in a world where “Arrested Development” can’t get enough viewers to survive while “According to Jim” lumbers on, I’m not at all sure quality will be rewarded, or even recognized, by the masses. DC apparently sees something in this, as Zuda has a few slots reserved for creations the management likes, even if the community doesn’t. Z2H doesn’t seem to have a comparable arrangement.

“It’s research, it’s market-driven,” said…someone I talked to about it, I forget who.

But I don’t think it is. Support of a community for something read for free online may or may not translate into support for the same product when it costs three bucks. If internet communities could really be trusted to vote with their wallets, CIVIL WAR wouldn’t just have bombed, Mark Millar and Joe Quesada would have been hung from lampposts so children could throw rocks at their bodies.

What it does do is generate content for a website for very little cost up-front, and create the impression of a thriving online community, which is at least partly based on those whose participation has less to do with interest in the site than in currying favour with others in that community so that the odds of “winning” improve (Ms. Clark made the case for the importance of networking inside the community to improve one’s chances quite eloquently in the panel.) It’s also something else altogether, but I didn’t discover that until this afternoon, when I read the Z2H’s CCN contract. I’ll be coming to that later.

Incidentally, I don’t think that last paragraph is a bad idea at all, from a business or community standpoint. If the conversations that result from the community are of a positive nature, who cares how people got drawn into it?

I was also disturbed by Ms. Clark’s admission that Z2H was willing to consciously produce comics that were poorly written. The will of the community and, later, the writer, overrides the opinion of publisher and editor--people who presumably have a better sense of the craft of comics than the new writers CCN’s aimed at. Does the comics world, online or otherwise, *really* need more mediocrity knowingly introduced into it?



Maybe my problem wasn’t with the contest, but with myself.

Perhaps, instead of being uncomfortable with CCN, I was actually uncomfortable with the odds of my own writing skills winning over the Z2H community. Maybe the notion that, at this point in my career, I shouldn’t have to win over a group of strangers with (for the most part) no track record, that it’s demeaning for anyone at any stage of their career to have to enter a public contest to prove their creative worth, was in fact my self-serving rationalization, an excuse that allowed me to save face by giving me an out from competing.

I have to admit, it’s possible this was the case. I wasn’t consciously trying to claim the moral high ground with all this, just to work through my own feelings on what Z2H had to offer creators who I honestly don’t think always get the recognition or success their talent merits. I wanted to be able to throw my support behind CCN and Z2H. Or so I told myself.

For whatever reason, by the time today rolled around, I was reasonably sure I wouldn’t be participating in CCN. I was, however, going to write something very much along the lines of this post, because that’s what blogs are for (wherever you might end up reading this, it was done first for my online public navel-gazing activities.) And I was planning to tell several friends and acquaintances of mine who are no less talented than I am but are, for a variety of reasons, lower on the professional totem pole that, from what I could tell, compared to things like DC’s Zuda initiative, and Platinum’s Comic Book Idol, Z2H was making a better offer in a lot of ways.

It was because I was planning to do that that I went to the Z2H site a few times since Pure Spec, looking for more information to give people whose careers I thought might be well-served by taking part in CCN. And this afternoon, I got a LOT more information.

I don’t know if it was there before, but this afternoon I found and read the Z2H contract, Z2H’s description of what’s in that contract, and a point by point comparison between Z2H’s arrangement with its CCN winners and the Comic Creators’ Bill of Rights that was put together by Scott McCloud, Dave Sim, and numerous others 20 or so years ago.

Which opened up a whole OTHER can of worms…

To be continued.


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