As I get older, I don’t find myself as outraged by corporations’ behavior as I once did. When I was young, all of the appalling behavior was new, or had been recently discovered (or recently discovered by me), and I couldn’t believe that the corporations engaged in such activity - and the people employed by them - weren’t broken up and thrown in jail in less time than it took a Walter Johnson fastball to cross home plate.
To this day, I still won’t buy gasoline from a Shell station. I’ve added BP to my list of companies that will never get another dime from me.
In the wake of the recent Gary Friedrich mess, I’m torn about comics.
Here’s the thing. I love comics. I think I love them more now than I did when I was a kid. I picked up a complete run of “Captain Carrot And The Amazing Zoo Crew” last year. I’m working on a complete run of “Nick Fury, Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Next on my list is starting to pick up old comics with the Creature Commandos in them.
It took me a while to understand it, but I love Alan Moore’s “Promethea” so much that I want to pick up the Absolute editions. And that’s where the trouble starts.
We all know about the utter mess “Watchmen” has been for DC and Moore. While DC may have behaved legally and fulfilled its contractual obligations, DC doesn’t seem to place any particular value on its relationship with a legendary creator who inarguably helped to transform the entire medium.
But that has ripples - Moore stopped working with DC and founded his own imprint, America’s Best Comics, under Wildstorm, which was in turn an imprint published by Image until Jim Lee sold Wildstorm to DC.
So where does that leave “Promethea,” a creator-owned series from a creator-owned imprint published by another creator-owned imprint which was subsequently sold to DC? Does Alan Moore receive payments for it? If he does, does he accept them? Does the revenue that “Absolute Promethea” generates (however much it may actually be) go to Moore and J.H. Williams III, or does it line DC’s wallet like newspaper in a birdcage?
I really could care less about “Before Watchmen.” Some of the creative teams look interesting, but overall, I’m simply not interested in it. I understand why DC is publishing those comics; they’re pretty much a license to print money and that’s what a corporation is in business to do - make money. In the same way that we aren’t surprised when wild animals kept in domestic situations maul people, we should not be surprised when corporations behave in ways that are exactly consistent with their primary goal, which is to make as much money as possible as fast as it can with the greatest profit possible. DC is behaving in keeping with a corporation’s nature - fairness is not part of that equation.
This is part of how we know that corporations are not, in fact, people. When people behave as corporations do, it’s not uncommon for them to get punched in the face, not be invited to social gatherings and so forth. Generally, people want to be treated fairly and with respect; people who do not behave in such ways are typically ostracized and find themselves associating with people who are, as the O’Jays put it, backstabbers.
And that’s just a recent, simple example.
The matter of Gary Friedrich is more troubling.
Again, we’re beginning with the idea that a corporation is more akin to an animal than a person; its nature does not lie in fairness, it lies in revenues and profits. Just as animals kill other animals for food, corporations eat ideas to sustain themselves. They depend entirely on ideas, on the work done by people working for the organization, and whose work belongs to that organization. Some companies take the matter farther - there are examples of corporations which claim ownership of all creative ideas generated during an individual’s employment, arguing the creative atmosphere is so pervasive that it effectively infects an individual like a virus, which means that the process so indoctrinates people that anything they create while exposed to that environment is a direct result of that process and therefore owned by the employer. For more commentary on that idea, there’s interesting discussion at OnStartups.com covering a number of these topics.
And that’s the best way to consider how Marvel is approaching Gary Friedrich in barring him from claiming that he created a character who, by most accounts, he at the very least had a hand in creating and earning any revenue from convention appearances which depend on that claim. If that were the extent of it, it would be bad but perhaps somewhat manageable.
But that isn’t the end.
Marvel wants Friedrich, a 68-year-old man who turns 69 in a few months, someone with stated medical issues, to pay them $17,000.
Again, considering corporations as we consider animals, this is understandable in the context of a corporation’s motivating factors - revenue and profit. Attempting to ruin an elderly man in poor health for a paltry sum of money (and $17,000 is a paltry sum for a corporation of Marvel’s size, particularly since Disney bought Marvel) is, sadly, entirely in keeping with a corporation’s drivers. This is how corporations act. This is what they do. Profit and revenue neither know nor understand mercy or compassion. They simply don’t translate to any language a corporation speaks.
And this? This is why corporations are not people. People may be jerks, but most of us operate with something resembling an understanding of mercy and compassion, of fairness and justice. If we were millionaires, most of us wouldn’t pursue a $17,000 judgment against someone who is clearly in no position to pay, especially if the pursuit of that judgment would leave them homeless.
But Marvel is a corporation, not a person, and that judgment has been entered. Instead of Marvel publicly stating that it will not pursue the matter further and that it will not attempt to collect on that judgment, Marvel has remained silent on the matter.
And just to add salt to the wounds, a new Ghost Rider movie comes out on Friday. Not that Gary Friedrich can afford to go see it.
And this is where I’m torn. Like many other comics readers who pay attention to the industry, I think the way corporations treat creators is unconscionable. It’s appalling. It’s unjust and unfair. It may be legal, but if corporations are people, then they also meet key components of the diagnostic criteria for sociopathy.
But I also like the stories. I like the characters. I like seeing how talented and skilled writers and artists play with the toys in the sandbox.
And therein lies the conflict.
For a long time, I’ve known that convictions are not convenient. Having an actual conviction, a belief, means accepting inconvenience to adhere to it and remain true to one’s core values and ethics. A conviction isn’t something that people only pay attention to when it doesn’t matter - such a paltry little idea is like a drowned worm, a wretched and soggy little thing swept away by a trivial amount of rain.
A conviction, on the other hand, would withstand a Category 5 hurricane or an F5 tornado or an earthquake which couldn’t be measured on the Richter scale. Convictions abide, regardless of the forces deployed against them.
I believe that the way Gary Friedrich is being treated is wrong. I believe the way Alan Moore was treated is wrong.
And while a significant majority of my pull list consists of indie comics and creator-owned titles (somewhere around 65-70%), I’m not quite at the point where that belief has become a conviction so strong that I’m willing to sacrifice the stories I love. I’m struggling with it.
I’m a work in progress. We all are.
Except for corporations. In the absence of evolution, corporations will remain exactly what they are - greedy, rapacious little things, gluttonous and ever-hungry, feeding on ideas that they’re too mentally impoverished to create and the creators who gave them those ideas. And Gary Friedrich is just their latest snack.