It’s always strange being in the Baltimore Convention Center for anything that isn’t Otakon. It’s like walking through a house you grew up in, but is now owned by a different family. It’s all old hat and yet so very different. Baltimore Comic Con proved that different is good.
I went to BCC several years ago when I was still in the early years of Comedity. It convinced me that the comic-con crowd just wasn’t a good match with my work. And so I stuck to anime cons for years. Now that I’m doing a pretty solidly “standard” format comic (complete with books) and upon the advice of some good friends and peers, I figured I’d give the comic-con scene another go.
I have never been to a more professional, friendlier, or smoother-run event in my life.
From load-in to packing up, the staff were helpful and informative, the convention center staff who usually haven’t clue one what’s happening or give a damn were equally helpful. People I had never met before in my life said good morning to me and asked how I was. Not just fans either. I had a blast, a great time, and came home pumped to work, never surer of myself or what I was doing with my life. I am officially putting EVERY OTHER CONVENTION OUT THERE ON NOTICE: figure out what Baltimore Comic Con is doing right, and follow suite.
However, as awesome as the con was, apparently there was a bit of a scuffle at the Harvey Awards (which I did not attend). The short of it is that comic creators Mark Waid and Sergio Aragones got into a heated discussion immediately following Mark Waid’s speech about copyrights and the internet. The short of it something along the lines of “kids are sharing scans of comic books. Instead of trying to keep a hard and fast hold on distribution, we should figure out a way to make money off of digital (free) distribution.” Just google “harvey awards” and you’ll find a bunch of opinions and reviews of exactly what was said. However, here you can find a pretty good summary and even better discussion of the issue in the comments. I actually really recommend reading the comments here, for once.
It is an interesting debate, and even more interesting to see how people feel it’s impossible to make money on a product that is given away. “There no money in digital distribution,” seems to be a common theme among many. Which is stupid. Plenty of webcomics have proven you can do it. It is, granted, rare that a webcomic becomes so successful as a fount of money that one can retire to the Bahamas, but it is doable. I wish I could give you a secret key to success, but I don’t know what it is. I suspect it has to do with the realization that one doesn’t make money on the content (comic). There is no money in online content, but it is an excellent mechanism for attracting an audience and playing the age old game of merchandising. But even that is only half the truth. The truth is, that people will pay money for online content, even the content they get for free (I’m looking at all you wonderful people who donate to your favorite webcomics or buy their books). They just won’t buy it sight unseen.
I’m reading a book right now called The Four Hour Work Week which, regardless of content, is the most compellingly written self-help book I’ve ever encountered. In it, it mentions the way to sell puppies (this makes perfect sense in context). The way to guarantee a puppy sale is not to tell the customer how awesome the puppy is, but rather to let the customer take the puppy home and tell them that if it doesn’t work out they can always return the puppy. Once they have the puppy home, you can pretty well guarantee that they won’t be able to bring themselves to return the pup. They’ve already become attached to him. Who could return something so cute! Look at those big brown eyes!
The same is oddly true of comics. Let a man read the first issue of an awesome comic, and he’ll pay you for the rest. Hell, webcomics have shown that if a reader likes a comic enough he’ll pay to have his own copy of something everyone can get for free. Also their favorite comic artist also sells that pretty swanky t-shirt…. oh and has arts to hang on your wall… oh my… and plushies!!! EEEEE!!! *fangasm*
One can, of course, argue that it’s not fair that creators aren’t compensated for all the hard work they put into actually creating their works, that it’s unfair that they must work to create a comic to draw an audience and then harder still to make merch to make a living. Well… then donate to your favorite creator. I’m sure they’ll happily take your money. I’m sure they could use it. And in an ideal world, all readers would contribute financially to the creators who provide them with hours of entertainment at no actual charge. Maybe one day, we’ll live in that world. Maybe one day we’ll all be able to do whatever it is that we yearn to do without having to worry about whether or not it’ll pay the bills and keep us fed and clothed. That’ll be a mighty fine day. But for now, I think that whatever the answer is, it involves seriously re-thinking this concept of being paid for ideas.
I run a panel on copyrights at a lot of the conventions I go to. And one of the things that I have to stress is that copyrights do not protect ideas. That’s not a copyright’s job. Copyrights protect tangibly recorded instances of ideas. Don’t believe me? Go ahead, look it up. I have an idea for a story. I write down the story. That story is protected by copyright. But if someone else were to go and write a story that was the same in essence but not the same in detail (wording, characters, style, etc etc) they’re allowed. I can go create a comic about a billionaire playboy who witnesses his parents being tragically murdered and uses his billions to fight crime to sate some fucked up psychological need for justice. DC comics can’t stop me from re-inventing Batman, so long as my story isn’t so similar as to be mistaken for theirs. My story and my art are mine. Their stories and their art are theirs. The idea is free to everyone. That’s what copyright is. Copyright exists to protect works, not ideas. Copyright is there to keep me from taking Batman verbatim and passing it off as my own. That is theft, plain and simple, and I don’t think anyone is seriously advocating the total abolishment of copyright. The stories you write, the art that you draw is still yours, and just because it gets passed around the internet doesn’t make it any less yours (yes, I know that distribution without consent violates copyright). Countless forum threads exist of people trying to find out where they can find more of artist X’s work, based on a random image they found somewhere else.
This debate could go on forever. I think that anyone who picks a “side” on this one is a fool. There are no sides here. It’s not a question of “give it away” or “lock it down.” It’s a question of “in a world where ideas are free for everyone, how does one make a living?”