Alex de Campi on ‘Ashes,’ Comics Publishing and Selling Film Rights on Kickstarter [Interview]
Written by Alex de Campi and illustrated by Igor Kordey, Smoke was a critical favorite when it was originally released by IDW Publishing in 2005, earning an Eisner nomination for Best Limited Series. Six years later, de Campi is back with artist Jimmy Broxton to complete the slightly dystopian, deeply cynical and darkly comical poli-spy saga in Ashes, a 250-page graphic novel whose completion depends on funds raised with the Kickstarter platform. With over $6,000 of its $27,000 goal raised in just under a week and endorsements from such popular comics creators as Mark Waid, Dave Gibbons, Colleen Doran, Kieron Gillen, John Cassaday and Howard Chaykin, Ashes is a project that demands some attention. The fundraising campaign is particularly notable for making the North American paperback rights, the European paperback rights, and the film rights available as rewards for substantial pledges.
CA: We hear a lot about the critical nature of media rights in comic books these days, when publishers will take a substantial piece — often 50% — of a creator’s rights as incentive for printing an original comic book property, like an Ashes. What’s your take on this practice?
ADC: The practice of grabbing half the rights of a book in exchange for getting it printed is appalling, and it’s a reflection on the overall insularity of the comics world that it’s considered okay. You see people like Bryan O’Malley taking their next books out to the traditional publishing industry… why is that? Well as soon as people get successful, they get a literary agent, and the literary agent looks at the deal the comic publisher is trying to pawn off on them and goes, “Holy sh*t, that’s a terrible deal, what is this monkey industry?”, then gets them to a traditional publisher whose deals are much fairer to the creator, or moves to Image or similar. Look who is publishing the new work of veterans like Alan Moore and Paul Pope. Ask yourself why it’s not their old publishers. Alan Moore knows the score, kids.
My attitude is that the secondary rights to my works are very valuable. I am happy to share them, but the publisher must then front up a significant advance to share in the risk of the book and make its creation easier. It’s like they have to pay me the option value of the rights. If they want them for free, I just don’t have the feeling they’re going to take care of them. We’re killing ourselves to get these books made. Ashes was two years of my life, and it’ll be nigh on a year of Jimmy’s. So I give away half the rights to someone for calling the printers on my behalf? And they give me… no money? In what Bizarro world is this a good idea? So, yeah, Jimmy’s calling the printers.
And publishers who snatch those rights are not statistically more likely to get your book optioned, that’s the shame. Part of the problem is that a publisher who is grabby about film rights is also likely to be grabby about the option deal, wanting points or production credit or some other deal-killing nonsense. Whereas Image books get optioned all the time. Some you hear about (Ben McCool’s MEMOIR, just this past week); some you don’t. I believe creators have as good, if not better, chance of getting their books optioned (if that’s what you care about) by going to Image than by going to the Grabby McGrabbersons of the comics world.
CA: You mentioned “the traditional publishing industry.” How do things work there, just to get a frame of reference?
ADC: The comics business is radically different in the way it works from prose publishing, from creator treatment down to retailer treatment. In all cases in the comics business, folks are still treated worse. Traditional publishing, almost always there is at least a small advance, and little to no attempt to land-grab rights. Traditional publishing, the stores get their stock on sale or return so if a publisher sends them a shit book that doesn’t sell, the store can send it right on back. All of this means that less care is taken both in making comic books and in marketing them than could be.
I think if more comics publishers focused more on making the publishing side of their business work, and less on trying to land-grab IP for future film deals, the comics industry might be in a better place. They’d have to look at, you know, maybe selling fewer titles, more carefully chosen and nurtured, to a broader variety of people. They might even hire enough staff so the editors are more than traffic cops — they have time to really work with a story to make sure it’s the best it can be. And they have to start offering us a reason not to self publish.