Topic: Alasdair Stuart has very generously given me an unlimited budget, and access to every comic creator on the planet, and the remit to build a company that publishes comics and OGNs, and asked what I would do.
Obvious answer #1: embezzle the budget, live out the rest of my days in luxury.
Clearly, what he meant is that money’s no object, but I do have to turn a profit on it.
Obvious answer #2: Hire top grade talent, then get out of the way.
Except I’m not 100% convinced of the viability of that. I think everyone, absolutely everyone will do their best work if there is someone set over them with the authority to tell them that their work isn’t up to scratch, and that they’ve got to go back and do it again, or at least, tighten the damn thing up, and make sure it fucking sings. However much I like a creator, I tend to remember Bill Drummond’s views on Julian Cope – that Cope is undeniably a monstrous and vitally important talent, but that the single greatest blight he’s suffered is that post-The Teardrop Explodes there was no-one to tell him to get back in the studio and try again, because what he’d just produced wasn’t up to the level of his own ability.
(On the other hand, if there had been, he might not have evolved into the hugely interesting auto-didact of ancient sites and religions that he is, and I might never have gotten Cope’s “Discover Odin”, of of the best albums I own. So you know, swings and roundabouts.)
Obvious answer #3: Hire the usual predictable list of names. Moore, Morrison, Ellis, Rucka, Ennis. Equivalent grade artists. (Obviously, I am still all about the clever writing.)
And you know, I probably would. The deal is straightforward: create me two properties – the creators can decide if they’re ongoing, OGNs, whatever, so long as they are (to within 10% or so) the same number of pages in length, and I can reasonably expect similar production and distribution costs for both. One of them, the one that is published first, the company gets a 50% stake in, across all media, and tie ins (and yes, gets approval on the tie ins – this is the company’s cash cow), and will attempt to shop around, and will shoulder 50% of the marketing costs. The other 50% of the profit will be split among the creators as they dictate.
The other, is 100% creator owned. I’m not going to shop it about or anything (well, I might, if the opportunity arose, but I’m not going to look too hard for ways to exploit it), as all the profit from it, and from any other media sales at all, that all goes to the creators – all my company takes are any production/marketing costs. If it fails to cover costs, any losses it makes are recouped by my company from the cash share of the profits from the first that that creator makes.
There’d need to be a bit more fine print (to allow for then running the one I see cash from into the ground with production/format costs, while coining it in off the 100% creator owned one), but you get the idea. A genuine, honest to god, codified “one for the studio, one for the love of the art” (or you know, whatever reason the creators have to make their book, anyway) system. (Should creators wish to do more that two books, I’m delighted. Extra books are still done in pairs, on the same basis.) Creators are completely free to ask for a page rate up front for either book, and I’ll pay more or less what they demand, but their page rate is a production cost for the book, and gets deducted before profits.
All of this, contains the caveat: I am not going to bankroll anyone’s project that is obviously not going to make us both a profit. Anyone demanding a page rate/production values that are likely to have a net effect of rendering both books together unprofitable will be told to piss off.
So there you have it. Is it earth shattering? No. But Al gave me as much money as I could possibly want, didn’t he? Well, yeah, in that case, there’s other things I’d add to it. This would be aimed at making a profit over a five-to-ten year period, because apparently, I’m well capitalised enough to work like that. And the initial ad campaign would cost a fucking fortune, because it’d need to do a Playstation-grade job of branding these things as aimed at hip 20-somethings, not mouth-breathing nerds, and it would need to raise the level of awareness of them to something quite huge. So I’d be looking to launch with a line of 12 Watchmen-length (and hopefully Watchmen-quality) OGNS, none of them featuring superheroes. And I’d attempt to support it with interviews in mainstream press – Esquire, GQ, hell, even FHM and Loaded, including buying enough fucking ad space with the relevant magazines that I could be sure of having these things and these people treated as cool, rather than getting “Biff! Bang! Pow! Comics Are Back!” treatment. The point being: I have time, and I am explicitly intending these things as long term investments, like Watchmen, or Sandman. Because I am very rich, it turns out, and can afford to.
Of course, that last paragraph isn’t much besides a lovely pipe dream. You really do need absurdly deep pockets and a willingness to take a huge risk in order to run something like that. And very occaisionally, you do find a publisher with one of those two things, but you’ll never find one with both.