We first met Larry Young at the 2007 Alternative Press Expo and he immediately became one of my favorite people on the planet. Young, with his wife, Mimi Rosenheim, runs AiT/ Planet Lar and publishes some of the best comics and graphic novels out there (several of which he generously contributed to our anniversary prize packs).
Recently, Pink Raygun talked with Larry about Ait/ Planet Lar, the Ghost Rider debacle, and what’s become of the comics business.
PRG: Read any good books, lately?
Larry Young: I have! When I was younger, before we had our young man, I would easily read a book or two a week. Fiction, non-fiction; stuff for research on a particular area of expertise I’d need to write dialogue for a character. But now I tend to select stuff that is either funny, or embraces a subject I’m interested in, or, conversely, is a subject I’m not interested in, so I learn something I wouldn’t otherwise know. Like how I try to talk to someone every week or two who is respected in their field, but a field I don’t know anything about. You never know what’s going to help you solve a problem or give you a fresh insight on a matter you have to address. Radiator manufacturers, peanut butter processors; you never know what thingamabob is going to tickle that bit that helps you address something in a new way.
PRG: Contracts, copyright, and creators rights are in the news lately with Marvel’s pursuit of Gary Friedrich’s last few pennies over Ghost Rider. AiT/Planet Lar does a five year contract with creators rather than holding them over a barrel for all time. How have those terms benefited AiT?
Larry: You mean besides being good for our karma? I think it has benefitted us by better enabling creators to feel more comfortable with the agreement. It’s only five years, which isn’t that very long a time at all. Some of the works we’ve published took longer than that to create, at the outset!
But when Mimi and I started shopping around Astronauts in Trouble: Live From the Moon, there, at the outset, we’d receive offers to publish at inequitable percentages or for unusually long terms, and that informed our thinking when we started publishing with our own company. I’m sure our deal isn’t a secret in comics, since I often have potential creators quoting back to me the terms and thanking me for its fairness and King Solomon-like wisdom. We contract for five years, and the company gets a third, the writer gets a third, and the artist gets a third. We had some wiggling in the early years, so some stuff is WFH and some stuff is a few points here or there, but that’s what we’ve settled on. We do our job, and the writer does his job, and the artist does his job, and no one has room for complaint. Oh, sure, you might get some perturbed freelancers meowing in the corner and sharpening their incisors, but all of that gets self-selecting pretty quickly. I can morally defend “Split everything three ways between the three factions” until the cows come home.
PRG: I understand that some fans take a negative view toward a five year contract with creators. I thought that comic fans had a more progressive view, at least toward creators’ rights. Is it a lack of understanding or do people just readily accept getting screwed?
Larry: I’m not sure I can speak in general to what “fans” think. Me, as a creator and as a businessman, I realize that there is a difference between talent and the contract owners and the business people. Me, for example, on some properties, I’m all three. On others we publish, I fill two roles, and on others, only one. But I’m sure there’s a type of fan who only pays attention at the level of “that’s an AiT book” and, you know, rightly so. It all depends on how an individual fan wants to engage with his entertainment. Some folks want to know how the sausage is made, and some folks just want sausage on their pizza.
I don’t know anything about the Ghost Rider situation, and I’m not a copyright lawyer, but someone forwarded me this scan:
From the origin story from MARVEL SPOTLIGHT #5 as reprinted in GH #10 (because of a blown deadline). All I can tell you is, “conceived and written by” + “drawn by” + “aid and abetment” + “edited by” certainly muddies the waters for me, personally, on who the “creator” is. Based on what I know from all the work we’ve done over the years, comics is a collaborative medium, and folks collaborate. Sometimes putting your finger on who did what or why some portion of the story might resonate over the other and who should get credit for it seems like a very iffy thing indeed to try to quantify.
The big challenge in terms of PR is that of course there would be no business without the creators, and creators would have to individually create a wide audience for their work absent the business infrastructure. But in corporate comics, there is a big difference between creators and the corporate-owned characters that the fans associate with and love. That’s why a true creator-owned contract is such a big deal to me, personally. Let us help you out, get exposure for you and your talent, get the word to the retailers about your genius, and thank us when you get your Eisner. That’s it. Five years pass, stick with us or leave the nest. Either way, you can do what you want at your decision. Know why? Because I’m a creator, too.
An interesting thing that’s happened in the last five years is the surge of New Media; the comics business isn’t a comics business, anymore. It’s an incubator for Big Media. When one out of five of the top twenty domestic grosses are comic book-derived movies, that tells us something.
PRG: Speaking of copyright, SCOTUS ruled in January that Congress can re-copyright works, taking them out of the public domain. I’m interested in your thoughts on this as a creator and copyright holder.
Larry: I’m not a lawyer, so this is just my opinion as a guy who reads the papers, but it’s my understanding that that Supreme Court decision was made to have the US more closely align with international law. And once you get into that, it’s easy to go off the rails, like the Andrew Ainsworth case that had a British high court decide that the stormtrooper armor from STAR WARS was not a costume but “an industrial design” no different than a kind of toaster, and, as such, had run out of copyright protection in England. If you want to make stormtrooper armor in the U.K., you don’t need Lucasfilm’s permission any longer.
I dunno; as a creator and a copyright holder, as a husband and a dad and a regular joe, I guess I’d have to say I wish people just used a lot more common sense.
Win a boatload of AiT/ Planet Lar books (and more from Pink Raygun: art! comics! t-shirts!). TO WIN: link this post. Tweet it, Facebook, G+ it. Is MySpace still a thing? Click here for more.