Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Some more positives about Z2H:

-They’ve posted their contract online for all prospective CCN creators (and anyone with a internet access) to see.

-They’ve even gone one better, and made that contract VERY simple, compared to what they could have done. I wouldn’t advise signing it without having an entertainment lawyer look at it, but odds are if you’re a would-be comic writer, you can’t afford a lawyer. I couldn’t when I was starting out. I still can’t, but I’ve had enough difficulties with contracts (and with not having contracts) that these days I’ll try to find the money ($150 an hour for the lawyer I go to; I count myself lucky he’s usually got things sussed in an hour). If I can’t afford his fee and I’ve still got to make a decision about a contract, I’ll either pass or sign. If I sign, my automatic assumption is that, at some point, I’m going to get screwed. If I end up not screwed, I’m pleasantly surprised. If I am screwed, at least I’m generally prepared for it.

Well, no I’m not, but that’s another post.

Anyway. Z2H’s contract seems very straightforward, which is to the company’s credit.

-I posted Part One of this discussion on my Z2H blog (as well as the Andrew Foley Writes Things blog, my LiveJournal and MySpace blog), which was read by at least one person involved in the company. Their response was friendly, not defensive at all--to me, this is further evidence that the company is run by people who have decent heads on their shoulders when it comes to business--a double-edged sword, to be sure, but I’ve been involved with companies who would have come out swinging in response to any perceived negativity. Which is the worst possible move, in my book. They’d be better off not responding at all, but passion drives people to do stupid things sometimes. Z2H’s people come off as nothing if not passionate, but the reaction to my comments shows that passion is tempered by a professionalism that is sadly lacking in the lower echelons of the comic industry.

-In addition to that, in responding to my post, Matt Toner indicated that the creative contract/agreement for CCN was not written in stone and was in at least some regards negotiable. My experience is that “we’re willing to negotiate” tends to be, well, let’s be charitable and call it a distortion of the reality. However, the activity on the recently opened Z2H forums does seem to show the company has some flexibility when it comes to creators’ concerns. I doubt the Big One is going to be something they’re willing, or even able to bend on. But the willingness to discuss things, and to some degree in public, to boot, is commendable.


Full disclosure time.

I consider myself to be a professional writer/editor. I know a lot of other writers, a few other editors, and some artists, and we’re all looking for work. I didn’t attend Comic Talks’ Professionals panel with no agenda. I would have if Jessica Leigh Clark hadn’t been on it, because I had friends on it. But Ms. Clark was on it, and I’m not so far ahead in my career that I’m not going to try and find work (well, paying work, anyway) wherever I can.

So I’ll admit, I had some hope there might be some kind of opportunity for me at Z2H, and if not for me, for others I know.

The procedure for writing submissions was going to be detailed online with the introduction of Z2H’s Pitch Engine (which seems to be a little behind schedule.) But by the time I got to talk to Ms. Clark, I was well aware of the contest aspect of Z2H’s process, and more or less realized my ego would prevent me from taking part in CCN, unless it paid its writers well.

Still, maybe there was hope for some editing work, for me or, if not me, for those editors I know who have substantial comic editing experience? Regrettably not, as Z2H’s “virtual studio” requires its editorial staff to be on-site in Vancouver.

OK, then, what about artists? Ms. Clark had already exchanged cards with Fiona, so she was covered, but there are a couple other people whose names I routinely put forward whenever a paid art job appears. Like Fiona, they’re great artists, they’re professional, and I like them. I get a vicarious thrill out of seeing them make progress in their chosen field.

As with the Pitch Engine, Ms. Clark’s advice was for artists to put their work online at Z2H, so the community could see it and support it (or not.) Which I’m reasonably sure the community would, if these guys could be convinced to make that effort. But unlike me, these guys are, unquestionably, professionals. I haven’t talked to them about it yet, but I strongly suspect that, like me, their reaction to the notion of having their work judged by a community of strangers would not be overwhelmingly positive. Then again, a paycheque is a paycheque, so we’ll see.

This was all more than a little dispiriting for Ye Olde Blogger. What I was looking at was a set-up that could allow professional creators to do something great, but which put all creators on the exact same level. After years of effort to get to where they/I got, they/I are being told that to get involved with Z2H in a professional capacity, we’d essentially have to return to square one and work our way up all over again, this time not just having to appeal to editors, managers, and publishers, but a group of people we didn’t know as well.

This stung at the time, and still does, a little. And that sting may be affecting my perception of several aspects of what Z2H is offering, and how they’re framing their offer.

I’m about to start dissecting the way Z2H presents itself. I expect--I hope--my own interpretations, presentations, and speculations will be likewise dissected by any parties who are interested enough to still be reading this. I’m trying to be even-handed and fair, here; I may not succeed. Ultimately, it will be up to those readers who are interested in pursuing a relationship with Z2H to decide whether what I’m putting forward are legitimate concerns or paranoid ramblings.

Or both. From where I stand, paranoia is a legitimate response for any creator who finds him or herself navigating the murky waters of intellectual property.



Awhile back, an established comic creator told me I should stop being so self-deprecating and instead act as though the existence of my genius was an irrefutable fact. Because that’s a more effective way to get ahead in the comics business.

He’s probably right (he’s also terribly humble and he’s got sufficient talent and recognition that he doesn’t have to be, so what’s good for the goose may not be ganderrific.) But I have difficulty presenting myself as the Second Coming of Bill Shakespeare. It’s not true, obviously, but that’s not really the issue. I’m a writer, a writer with a boring life, so if I don’t outright lie, I’m certainly not averse to taking artistic liberties with the truth when it entertains me to do so. No, the real problem is that I can’t do it with a straight face.

Anyone who claims to be a Great Anything just proved to me they aren’t. People who are Great don’t need to say that’s what they are, because there are enough people around who will do it for them. I suspect Fiona Staples is more than a little embarrassed that I’ve dubbed her The Future of Comics (I). I happen to believe it’s true, and I’ve no problem blowing the horn for others, loudly, when I believe in them. I’ve heard it said that the best advertising is word-of-mouth. I can afford that kind of advertising, and I’ve got a big mouth, at least when it comes to supporting those I think deserve it.

As a general rule, in a competitive situation, it’s the extroverts who get ahead. For decades, the entire advertising industry was based on proclaiming a specific product was the best thing ever. As the audience becomes more media literate, irony and surrealism have an increasing role in advertising (I have no conscious idea what “When you’re sleeping, Robert Goulet messes with your stuff” was promoting, but the idea still makes me laugh.) It’s a natural tendency to want to accentuate the positive when talking about something you’re trying to sell, be it a comic, a website, a publishing agreement…whatever. I can understand that.

But I question the effectiveness of that strategy, on the most subjective of grounds: my own response to people blowing their own horn. That response being to wonder what the hornblowers aren’t telling me.

Ms. Clark made a very impressive case for what Z2H was offering. She wasn’t telling me everything. Did I ask the wrong questions? Did she finesse her answers to accentuate the positive? Almost certainly. Did she lie? Absolutely not. Am I an idiot who doesn’t understand what he’s hearing? Quite possibly. For whatever reason, the impression of Z2H I came out of Pure Spec with was not a wholly accurate one.

Is the impression Z2H tries to create on its website wholly accurate? I don’t think so.

I’m not saying they’re lying; they absolutely aren’t. But they are presenting a picture that, if one doesn’t examine the contract offered closely, is misleading. They’re doing what good promoters do; they’re accentuating the positive.



The problem with presenting something as overwhelmingly positive is that, in the final analysis, almost nothing is. Which ultimately can have a few effects: people could feel they’ve been misled and turn against those they perceive as misleading them; they could decide that, while this isn’t as great as they’d been led to believe, it’s still pretty cool and/or has real-world applications that make it worthwhile; there’s the smug swine who never believed you and were waiting to tell everyone they knew it all along; heck, there’s probably one or two who will honestly believe the refrigerator is a must-have item for any igloo.

My personal feeling is that there is a danger to being relentlessly, single-mindedly positive when promoting something. Which is why, when I try to push myself or my work on strangers, while I might accentuate the positive, I generally go out of my way to acknowledge the negative (or, if I’m being really PR-minded, acknowledging “what some might perceive as being negative”) as well.

By doing that, I’ve deprived attackers of a source of ammunition and gone some way towards keeping discussion on my message. Having acknowledged a negative, any time someone tries to use it against me, I’ve got an instant defense, while never appearing defensive: “Yes, I acknowledged that over here, but it’s not relevant to the discussion.” If the guy continues to hammer at something I already mentioned, he looks bad and I get sympathy and maybe a couple sales.

I’m really not as Macchiavellian as that last sentence would make me seem. But I will take a sale pretty much any way I can get it.

If, however, you don’t acknowledge the negative and someone brings it up, you’re on the defensive (even if you never publicly appear that way.) You have to explain why this negative wasn’t mentioned earlier; you have to convince people you weren’t trying to hide something; you have to do a lot of things you wouldn’t have had to do if you’d brought it up in the first place. Or you can just stay silent, which will be taken as an admission of guilt, but is often the best position you can hope for at that point, from a tactical standpoint. At least that way you aren’t wasting resources fighting a losing battle.

Thanks to the internet, Those Who Do or Would Create Comics is a small, fairly tightly-knit community with more than its fair share of cynics (idealists who’ve been kicked by reality once too often). It’s pretty much a cosmic certainty that, with a business plan as ambitious as Z2H’s, sooner or later some marginal creator with an axe to grind is going to show up and start parsing every word he lays eyes on, looking for hidden meaning and inferring sinister intent at every opportunity.

And sure enough, here I am.

To Be Continued



RemandCentre asks if I’ll be using any of Z2H’s creative tools. The short answer: It depends.

I’ll certainly be looking at what they’re offering to see if any of it’s useful to me, and if so, whether the advantages are sufficient to get a natural-born luddite like myself expend energy figuring out how to make them work. I can’t see the Pitch Engine offering me much, but the Page X software sounds like it has some potential.

My big concern with this stuff is would-be creators missing the forest for the trees. When I was a kid, I wanted a full-size drawing table and a tabouret, because that’s what my artist idols had. Neither would have made me a better artist, and the energy expended on badgering my parents to buy me utterly ridiculous tools I didn’t need could have been put to much better use improving my craft. At the end of the day, all that matters is the work, but I know I’ve occasionally forgotten that when something shiny caught my attention. And there’s a lot of shiny stuff on the internet.

So, we shall see.


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