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Greg Stephens
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 03, 2002 3:35 pm    Post subject: Open-source comic characters Reply with quote

In his Permenant Damage column today, Steven Grant suggests that the open-source software model might be a good appoach to comic-book characters.
Quote:

I suggest independents "source" their characters so other people can use them. This appears to fly in the face of traditional concerns like property rights, but here also a model is provided: Free Software Movement founder Richard Stallman wrote a standard software license for "free software" (the "free" has nothing to do with price, everything to do with usage) in which the creator maintains property rights, preventing the property from becoming public domain, but allows free usage. I imagine a comics parallel would need some hard and fast rules, like characters may be used so long as they aren't altered from the creator's original version, not killed or humiliated, arenlt used in more than a maximum of two issues running, etc.

That's such a good idea that I'm really glad I thought of it last year. I don't think I can take credit for inventing the concept, because somebody must have thought of it before, but I would really love to see something like this happen.
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Randy
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 03, 2002 3:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Forgive the vagueness of the source, but I do believe that I read somewhere that Dave Sims once said (paraphrasing) that anyone could use Cerebus. His feelings were that if someone could do it better, then let them.

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Greg Stephens
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 04, 2002 2:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I also remember reading that statement and can't think offhand of where it was, but I think it's hardly the same thing. Dave Sim has not offered his character for anybody and everybody else to use. His statement strikes me more as bravado- A dare rather than an offer of intellectual freeware. I suspect highly that if Marvel Comics decided to publish a Cerebus series of their own, Sim would absolutely take legal action.
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Tim Mallos
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 04, 2002 8:05 pm    Post subject: Er... Reply with quote

Software, like a character, is what it does. However, software emerges to solve a problem. This provides the software's driving force. And is the guide for all open-source development: solve that problem better.

I think where a character is concerned, the character would cease to be distinct. I'm not thinking about this a lot / clearly right now, but I immediately pictured a character "growing" like Jack from the 52 Pick-up jam. Every and no direction at once. I guess if a creator laid out some imutable rules of personality and behavior it might work.....

I dunno.

T
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gazorenzoku
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 06, 2002 9:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

...I suppose this might be a cool thing to do. One of the best things about it is that no one has to allow their characters to be used by others if they don't want to, and you can choose to use only characters you create as well... So no one has to be involved in this kind of system if they don't want to. For those who do want to create characters for others to use, and for those who want to use other peoples' characters, then they should of course be free to do so. But if there are people who want to do that, then I suppose that they would already be doing that.

I guess the bottom line is that a character is only as good as the theme or the plot of a story. The idea that a character's powers, looks, attitude, or anything else should be the main drive of a story is an idea that I think has held comics in America from being all that they can be for a long time. Of course a character driven theme or plot can be a great thing, but it should not be the only option, or even the main option. Theme, plot, setting, and other literary elements should also be allowed to run the show sometimes.

I guess the owning and liscensing of characters has led to this way of making story and theme in comics secondary to the character....

Anyhow, of course people should be allowed to trade characters and stuff like that. It would be a cool experiment. We could even kick something like that off here at the Zwol forum as a sort of jam (where people tell seperate stories using the same basic characters). That might be a lot of fun!

vince
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Greg Stephens
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 06, 2002 7:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

gazorenzoku wrote:
...I guess the owning and liscensing of characters has led to this way of making story and theme in comics secondary to the character....


Oh, absolutely. Notice how Marvel Comics' actual corporate name is "Marvel Characters"?
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Alexander D.
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 06, 2002 11:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think that in order for this idea to work well, it would be helpful to toss out the idea of all-encompassing continuity. Each story about the character would have internal continuity, but each artist's interp of the character would not necessarily have to blend together. Perhaps there might even be an "official" continuity (most likely the one written by the original creator), which would not be obligated to incorporate the stories told by other artists. That way, if the character derails, or is overly affected by one of the stories, it does not necessarily damage the character overall.
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PostPosted: Sun Apr 07, 2002 11:23 am    Post subject: it wouldn't be fun to draw or to read otherwise... Reply with quote

Alexander D. wrote:
Each story about the character would have internal continuity, but each artist's interp of the character would not necessarily have to blend together.


Yeah, I agree. The situation should be such that people could have fun with the stories, but not be obligated to stick to a continuity. It would probably be the only way this could work...
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PostPosted: Sun Apr 07, 2002 11:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Greg Stephens wrote:
Oh, absolutely. Notice how Marvel Comics' actual corporate name is "Marvel Characters"?


ha! Amazing to think how comics have been asleep for so, so long. How could this have happened?!!
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 08, 2002 3:45 pm    Post subject: As for an actual character: Reply with quote

So, if I have a character, Samuel Nash, the venture capitalist who invests in exciting and quirky businesses, wanted to be a farmer when he was a kid, and would be extremely loyal to a girlfriend, though this goes unproven -- if I offered him up, I could exact some terms, eh? Like no one else gets to give him a date, no one can make major changes in his life... or would this be counterproductive and a bit too restrictive?

I am offering Sam Nash to anyone, thus I'll use him as my example here... how cut-and-dried would this be, legally? Could it work informally?

Anyway, can we set up a forum for free, extremely open characters until (with hope) something a bit protected can be arranged? How about subplots as well? Really, I've been envisioning a complete network of beginning comics creators, for the usual selfish motive -- I can write, but I can't draw. I'd love to set up logistics, if anyone could code...

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 09, 2002 3:32 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think that as far as restrictions go, each person who lends out a character should be able to set his or her own terms. That way people using the characters can decide which ones fit their tastes in terms of creative freedom vs. continuity.

None of us are going to have the money or the time to sue anyone else, so of course this kind of thing would all be done on the honor system I suppose.

I am not going to be using anyone else's characters or offering any of my own for the time being, but I look forward to seeing if this works...

vince
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PostPosted: Tue Apr 09, 2002 7:35 am    Post subject: Groovy. Reply with quote

Good. Shall I post characters here or open a new forum? My choice, I guess...
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Greg Stephens
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 18, 2002 4:29 pm    Post subject: Dave Sim Reply with quote

I found, online, the text of Dave Sim's "Note From The President" where he discussed copyright and is the source of the quote Randy references above. Link here: http://cerebusfangirl.0catch.com/187.html

Since Sim prefaces this with "My personal view, relative to self-publishing, is that the only way to protect ownership of your character is to keep doing your character on a regular basis, establish your character, and thus render meaningless any attempt by anyone to take it away," it looks to me as though Sim is claiming ownership of Cerebus in a way that is quite different than an open-source character. He's not offering it for public use and he is actively saying that his Cerebus is the only valid Cerebus (the One, True Cerebus, as it were), no matter what anybody else might do.
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PostPosted: Mon May 06, 2002 2:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I CAN'T BELIEVE THIS!!!

sorry if i'm coming on too strong, but i can't believe the American system of disowning comics characters, and sticking to one universe:

I myself am belgian, and have a view which has nothing to do with the american way of viewing comics. In Europe, most creators keep their characters, because we don't have the comic leaflet (24 pages stapled together and coming out every week) system. We have comic books of about 56 pages and that's about it! We have comic artists that write short stories, but still bundle them in albums, and a lot of artists write series consisting of up to hundreds of these albums... WHILE RETAINING THE RIGHTS!

When the artist dies, often his/her heirs decide what happens next, but often the series has already been taken over by a younger artist, chosen by the creator of the series.

In some cases these "wills" can be quite complicated:

Herg? (the writer of "Tintin") had a complex will that made it impossible to continue the series after his death. Some are against this "beyond-the-grave" control, but we shall have to wait until Tintin becomes "open source" (as with all artistic property, 50 years after the death of the artist, i believe), before anyone can continue the series. Of course one can refer to Tintin, as one can refer to any work of art, but it's strictly forbidden to write a new album with Tintin as a character playing in it. Also, this is probably the reason why Tintin has become the benchmark for quality comics: noone has been able to ruin the achievements by Herg?, by making a lesser album of it and collectors are able to finish the complete collection with all thirty-odd albums!

Also, a writer like Jodorowsky has created an entire and complex universe around characters like "John Difool", "The Incal", "the Meta-baron" etc..., and has always kept the rights so he could continue new spin-offs with other artists at the drawing board (Moebius being among them). This makes for very original visions of the same universe without losing its coherence! (Pure quality! If you like well-drawn surreal Sci-Fi this is a must-read!)

Often, when a character is pushed around too much between writers/artists, it loses more and more of its realness: The constraints become too big, and all the new writers can come up with are rehashes of the past, and "stories about a guy in a cape".
You only have to read what the X-Men and Spiderman have become to know what i'm talking about: The writers are desperately seeking innovative ideas, but have to come up with them in a universe so heavy with history and additional characters, they just can't get out anymore (hence the multiple and confusing cross-overs, which make great collector's items, but poor reading, if only because noone can know the complete histories of two series by heart, and the artist and writer have to beware not to confuse too many readers)

Why can't the american writers make some more *good* one-shots, developing an idea or a story or a character, without going "Dallas" (extremely long "soap"-comics without "grand finale" or at least a decent ending)? Why do talented writers have to take on an existing character/universe, instead of creating a new one that is truly theirs? Why are artists forced to copy the drawings and designs of earlier artists, instead of developing their own worlds, characters, styles?

The %?$*?&+ comic book market! That's why! The editors are scared to take risks, so they create entire universes of characters, all intertwined, so you have to buy comics that are mass produced by guys (and galls) that often haven't even talked to each other, but are copying each others storylines, only because it becomes too hard to follow! And this at the rythm of 24 pages per week!!!

In Europe some artists bring out their lbums once a year, once every two years, and they're damn good ones too, often because they had time to make it better! They cherish their characters more than their readers do, and kill or abandon them, when their characters story is told.

Who would consider Moby Dick literature Ishma?l's adventures were being told by about 30 writers in 20 years? This is what happens to some universes though.

Now I know i've hurt some people here and i don't want to diminish the superhero genre, nor its series. They have done great things, and i'm sure a lot of people love reading them, but being an author is also feeling pride in creating characters, not just drawing them. Telling stories nobody knew before, telling about worlds nobody knew before!!!



Dave Sim is right to be the only one drawing cerebus. And if the rythm at wich a comic appears is too slow, it may be a pity for the editor but it is a chance for the author to develop in-depth characters and for the reader to broaden his horizons and read other stories in other worlds!

The benchmark quality comics in the american industry are ALSO series of limited numbers of books ("Watchmen", "Elfquest", ...)

Please note how they were never pursued without direct control by their authors!!!

Please Americans! Claim your Heritage and your artistic Freedom and Rights!!!
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PostPosted: Mon May 06, 2002 3:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Just one thing to add: Unfortunately "Watchmen" is owned entirely by DC comics and neither Alan Moore nor Dave Gibbons have any control over that work or those characters. The only reason that DC hasn't exploited this asset is that they actually have a modicum of respect for Mssrs. Moore & Gibbons. It won't necessarily last, though.

Kind of makes it all seem even worse, doesn't it?
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PostPosted: Mon May 06, 2002 3:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote



i'm speechless !

(well, European comics often retained the rights too until it all broke loose in the seventies, but i guess here in Europe they have editors, managers and lawyers that aren't so good at making money, so that gave us an edge )

Well, now you tell me, it would be rather hard to write a sequel to "watchmen" too, i guess LOL
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PostPosted: Mon May 06, 2002 4:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yingo wrote:
:Please Americans! Claim your Heritage and your artistic Freedom and Rights!!!


American are often too obsessed with fame to worry about intellectual property ownership. It's amazing how quickly creators will sign over their rights with dreams of being the next big pile in the merchandising glut.

Likewise, I'm constantly surprised at people's ignorance concerning copyrights. Most American think anything is clip art and that any comics character can be reproduced for any purpose.

You've hit the nail on the head with the publication schedule (MANY problems with American comics are due to their Time magazine-style distribution). Keeping a character alive issue after issue is the only concern of most publishers. Personally, I wish Spider-man would've ended when Ditko left the book.

But then we probably wouldn't have had all these great years of Spider-man lunchboxes, bedsheets, squirt guns, coloring books, ad naseum.

Thanks, Marvel, for beating this dead horse for so long.

Ashley
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PostPosted: Mon May 06, 2002 5:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

thrdgll wrote:
Quote:
But then we probably wouldn't have had all these great years of Spider-man lunchboxes, bedsheets, squirt guns, coloring books, ad naseum.



...not to mention they can actually win Eisner awards with lunchboxes!!!

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PostPosted: Mon May 06, 2002 7:40 pm    Post subject: it's not all bad..... Reply with quote

The American comic book system is certainly not the best, but there are some good things that come out of it. The flip side of creators not owning characters is the long life of characters. I was able to enjoy the adventures of Superman and Batman all throughout my childhood.

Also, the American self publishing world is growing day by day. I recently visited my home in Texas (I live in Japan currently) and was suprised to find a large section of high quality mini-comics. Before I left for Japan 3 years ago, there wasn't really that much quality on the min-comic shelf. Now, the quality is really getting better and that shelf has expanded to a whole section!

Unfortunately, I imagine that most of these self published comics and mini comics from America do not make it to Europe....
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PostPosted: Mon May 06, 2002 8:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

i'm afraid not. I have read about them. Are they Manga style? Or more like small comics? Here they have finally started (in French at least) to make pocket versions of the all-time classics so they can be taken on buses etc more easily, a bit like manga's

I tend to get bored quickly with long "soap"-like stories.

I *loved* spawn, because it had a sense of fatality to it, but then it started selling, and the whole idea of spawn nearing his (second) death has been abandoned to make him a super-hero like any other. Result? I start wondering what's the point. Comics like the death of superman have something great about them. They bring in a sense of humanity i really miss in most superhero comics: The hero never dies, and it takes away a lot of the tension.
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PostPosted: Mon May 06, 2002 9:49 pm    Post subject: Re: it's not all bad..... Reply with quote

gazorenzoku wrote:
I was able to enjoy the adventures of Superman and Batman all throughout my childhood.


I'm sure the creators of Batman and Superman would've wanted it that way. But it should be their choice to make.

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PostPosted: Mon May 06, 2002 10:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

A "mini comic" is not a smaller version of a mainstream comic. It is a self published comic, generally is small in size, though the page count varies. That is, each page is smaller than a regular sized comic, but the comic itself can be short or long. Mini comics are also generally printed with copy machines in black and white.

Self published standard size comics are also big in America. These comics generally have the American standard 32 page count. They are usually black and white, with color covers.

The idea with mini comics and self published standard size comics is innovation and experimentation. They are both self published, so big companies can not determine what the content will be. Of course there are still lots of small time self publishers out there imitating the low quality common in the larger comic book companies, but there is also a lot of creativity and experimentation going on in the self publishing world.

If you are interested in ordering mini comics and self published standard sized comics, there is lots of info on the net. You can order through individual self publishers, but it might be cheaper to find a comic book store that will let you order. This way you can have them ship comics to you in large quantities to save on shipping costs.

I recomend a comic book store in my home town, Austin, TX, USA. The store is called "Austin Books". It stocks lots of self published comics and mini comics. They will ship anywhere.

You can contact them at brad@austinbooks.com .

For info on what kind of comics are out there, try sites like:

http://www.thesmallpress.com/
http://www.tcj.com/
http://www.smallpresscomics.com/
http://www.indymagazine.com/
http://artbomb.net/home.jsp

http://www.comicbookresources.com/community/forums/forumdisplay.php?s=&forumid=29


Some of those sites also have forums devoted to self published comics.
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PostPosted: Mon May 06, 2002 10:09 pm    Post subject: slave labor Reply with quote

Quote:
I'm sure the creators of Batman and Superman would've wanted it that way. But it should be their choice to make.




Yes, that is true.

I once heard that early comic book publishers would print a small contract on each paycheck they gave to their creators. The contract would say that the characters drawn and all contents of the comics that the creator was payed for are the property of the publisher.

I have a great reverence for the body of work that came out of that kind of exploitation, but one cannot ignore how messed up the actual exploitation (both of the creator and the reading public) was and still is.
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PostPosted: Tue May 07, 2002 4:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I generally like it when people share characters, but I also like continuity, such as in a crossover. It makes for a stronger connection between the works containing the character, and usually makes the character stronger as well, unless the two comics have such different atmospheres or mechanics that the character gets pulled in opposite directions. But then, perhaps those two comics shouldn't share characters in the first place.

Also, it seems to me lots of things besides characters could be shared. Objects, settings, language, pretty much anything in a comic.

This kind of thing works better in online comics then any other medium I can think off, becuase the intertwingledness of the web makes it so easy to connect things, and you have both visual and linguistic carry-overs.
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