When you’re running a comic shop that is trying to be mindful about the product being brought in and the creators being promoted, there will be times when your ideals will be tested. This week is one of those times.
A few days ago, Frank Cho announced that he would be prematurely terminating his gig as an artist on the Wonder Woman variant covers currently being offered by DC Comics. Originally scheduled to produce 24 covers (covering the first full year of the title’s run on a twice-monthly schedule), Cho’s covers will end at issue 6. The creator has cited interference from editorial and series writer Greg Rucka as being a large reason why, claiming undue censorship.
On the surface of it, this is a very simple situation: DC hired someone on a work-for-hire basis and provided that artist with guidelines that the artist found to be unpalatable. That artist quit. End of story, right? Well, it gets sticky when said artist comes out swinging and claiming censorship. Is it censorship for DC to require guidelines for how their characters are depicted to artists on their payroll? No, that’s brand management. More to the point: is it censorship if you quit, rather than being fired? Again, I would say “no”, that’s more of a principled stand than anything else.
There’s nothing wrong with taking a principled stand. There is something wrong with mischaracterizing the situation. Cho was not hired under the provision that he could draw whatever he wanted, however he wanted. Even if he were given quite a bit of artistic freedom, DC definitely has the right to demand changes to a product before said product reaches the stands. That’s a large part of why the editorial and business structure of their company exists.
Now, Frank Cho has come out and said he was promised complete artistic freedom with his covers – only to discover that Rucka had been granted a large amount of sway over the editorial direction of the series. If this is the case (and who knows, it could very well be, but I doubt DC or Rucka will be willing to come forward with details regarding contract negotiations) then you can definitely see where Cho is coming from. Had the roles been reversed, knowing Rucka, a similar stance would have been taken, and Rucka would have walked off the book. The issue here isn’t with a principled stand – it’s with the accusations attached to this particular stand. Rucka has walked out of both Marvel and DC for his own principled reasons in the past, and if you listen to any interview he’s given about these decisions, he always concedes the fact that he signed a work-for-hire contract, and that at the end of the day, his goals didn’t match the company’s, and so he left. No finger pointing, just stark realities: sometimes the stars just don’t line up.
So. How does this all apply to Variant Edition? Well, we’re known for making principled stands of our own. We are attempting to cultivate a positive culture in our store and as part of that we attempt to be very mindful about the products we’re bringing in, and the creators we promote. When we’ve come across stories about creators who have ideas counter to building an inclusive culture (I’m looking at you, Dave Sim), we often don’t shelve their works – or, at the very least, we don’t hand sell their products to customers. Now that doesn’t mean we won’t sell their books – we are not the gatekeepers of your preferred aesthetic, and we will always provide people with the means of access to products that they want, as required and requested. It just means that we will generally be putting our efforts into promoting the works of those who tend to be additive to an inclusive environment, rather than reductive. In this case it means… well, it doesn’t mean much. Our subscription orders and shelf copy sales of this new Wonder Woman title are remarkably healthy, and quite honestly, were built from Rucka’s reputation as a writer (as well as the reputations of Liam Sharp and Nicola Scott, the two main artists on the series). Frank Cho’s existence as the variant artist has been additive to the book’s sales, but at the end of the day, he’s not why most of our customers were getting the book. Will we lose some sales as a result of this? Almost definitely – but I can’t help but side with Rucka in this situation – if he is indeed a part of the situation at all.
Editorially, having Frank Cho provide these covers was an artistic and aesthetic choice that does not really match the drive and the contents of the series itself. In the situation as presented, if DC had to make the decision of keeping Cho, or Rucka, their choice had to benefit the company’s long term goals for the book and the character. In siding with Rucka, that choice is clear. In the short term, it might hurt sales (although it looks like the extremely talented Jenny Frison has been brought on for future variants, so maybe not?) but in the long term, it promotes the overall health and cohesiveness of the storyline as the character is being reestablished. The decision by DC to stick to their guns, resulting in Cho walking off, is a sound one, given that both creators were supposedly promised a certain level of control.
I respect DC’s decision to back Rucka, if that is indeed what happened here. I also respect Cho’s principled stand of walking away from a situation that didn’t suit his goals. That’s all this situation should be, and that’s essentially our stance on it going forward.
As always, we encourage everyone who comes into the store and makes regular purchases with us to share their opinions on the matter and vote with their words, and their money. If our opinions of the situation (or any situation) differ, that’s more than okay, so long as the conversation is frank, honest, and not insulting. It’s another cornerstone of the store: we treat others with the respect they offer towards us, and others. If confronted with a message of intolerance, we generally push back against it, meeting exclusionary remarks with our right to exclude those ideas from our store. We’ve found that it’s made for a great environment, one that we hope to foster and grow for a long time to come.
Thank you for your time.