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GOING POSTAL

Is Originality Drying Up in The Mainstream Entertainment Industry?

 

Netflix sued for use of image under copyright

 

Subtitle:  Why Couldn’t Netflix Come Up With Its Own Pretend Representation Of Satan?

The old adage that everything is derivative seems to be ever so slowly giving way to everything is plagiarism. For better or worse, we have been going through a relentless deluge of sequels and prequels for years now. Although, by definition, they are extremely derivative, they attempt new storylines and maybe even achieve new perspectives on old themes.

Also, for better or worse, mainstream media has always had its share of remakes, but, generally, those remakes have always been acknowledged as such. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery and all that.

Given the penchant for sequels and prequels and remakes, were we always on the road to mainstream plagiarism? Or, have we always been there, but now, thanks to the lidless eye of social media, it’s simply getting discovered more frequently?

There have been a few incidents as of late that can’t be definitively labelled as plagiarism, because there is no court ruling labelling them as such, but which could rightfully be referred to as coincidentally very similar, CVS for short.

The first CVS incident I became aware of in January-February 2018 timeframe was how closely the plot for “The Last Jedi” followed a fanfiction storyline. Check it out for yourself: http://scavengersholocron.com/category/home/something-you-should-know-about-the-last-jedi/

The second CVS incident that came across my radar, roughly 3 months ago, was that many characters in “Star Trek Discovery”, as well as a central plot device in the show for how the ship travels the universe, were lifted wholesale from a little known 2014 video-game. The CVS is so strong that the game’s developer is taking CBS to court (Footnote**).

 Star Trek Discovery going to court for plagerising a video game storyline METRO GRAB taken from: https://videos.metro.co.uk/video/met/2018/08/30/7398681322825206871/1024x576_MP4_7398681322825206871.mp4 Credit: Anas Abdin/YouTube

Most recently, Netflix was sued by The Satanic Temple for use of an image under copywrite of Baphomet in their new series “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”. It was eventually settled out of court.

This would seem worse than the CVS situations with “The Last Jedi” and “Star Trek Discovery” in the sense that it demonstrates a blight of creativity so profound that original set props have become unmanageable. If this wasn’t a marketing ploy on the part of Netflix I don’t how to categorize it; Plagiarism? Stupid? Lazy?

Maybe, just sad.

Footnote** In his own words, the game developer explains: http://anas-tronaut.blogspot.com/2018/08/tardigrades-case.html

Bill Maher: An Elitist Flaunting His Ignorance Despite Acknowledging It

Bill Maher Real Time

Bill, on Larry King you conceded to never having read comic books, “I didn’t even read them when I was a child”, ** yet you had no issue dismissing the entire story telling medium; “… a culture that thinks that comic books and comic book movies are profound meditation on the human condition is a dumb fucking culture.”

You are an elitist who is flaunting his ignorance despite acknowledging it. It is actually the overabundance of closeminded people that is of greater cultural concern. I hope you can follow me on this, Bill, because you are woefully out of touch. Comic books and graphic novels win significant literary awards and are becoming an integral part of the literary landscape in the education system from grade school on up. This is not because standards are dumbing-down, it is because comic books are important.

Your post is short, and you clearly made an effort to put a lot of stupid into it, but I’m just going to focus on two sentences.

This sentence encapsulates the entire post:

“But the assumption everyone had back then, both the adults and the kids, was that comics were for kids, and when you grew up you moved on to big-boy books without the pictures.”

First, nothing makes a man seem quite as sharply relevant as the use of “back in my day” aphorisms. Second, back when? I’ll just assume back then was the early to mid-sixties. There were lots of assumptions from that time which proved to be untrue or simply were once true but changed with time. A lot can happen in half a century. Catch up.

Your concluding remark:

“I don’t think it’s a huge stretch to suggest that Donald Trump could only get elected in a country that thinks comic books are important.” 

I infer from your post that you are of the opinion that comic books are foolish. By linking them with Donald Trump, I infer that you view him similarly and used the opportunity to get a shot in.

Where this unravels is that comics books and graphic novels are not foolish and the folks who hand out awards like the Pulitzer agree. Movies based on comic books or comic book characters garner Oscar nods for more than special effects and sound tracks.  

Bill, a man who dismisses something without any consideration or knowledge on the topic, is a dumb fucking man. In this particular instance, if that same man had previously taken a paycheque for a role in a comic book movie, say, “Iron Man 3”, that would additionally make him a hypocrite.

Timing your curmudgeon huff to be within days of Stan Lee’s death, additionally makes you a douche bag.

Footnotes

** This appears to slightly contradict your blog post, Bill; “…I read them now and then when I was a kid…”. Bill, can we agree that in the period between being a kid and being a child you hardly ever, to never, read comics and that that period was the extent of your involvement with comic books thus making you a complete non-authority on them?

I know nothing about “The Witcher” and Netflix is counting on that.

“The Witcher” is a role-playing game, taking place in a medieval fantasy world, and is inspired by the novel series “The Witcher” by Polish author Andre Sapkowski. The setting is based on Eastern European folklore and mythology.

Netflix Witcher

In spite of being hugely popular and having a large, loyal, fanbase I had never heard of it. Until recently, that is. Netflix is making it into a live action show and are preemptively alienating the core fan base by not adhering to the lore through race bending central characters. Eastern European fans of "The Witcher", and particularly those of Polish decent, are left feeling robbed of one of the few pieces of media where they are represented.

Being unfamiliar with the series, I tried to imagine my reaction to Netflix producing Camelot and having Lancelot played by a Filipino man. Personally, I’d want a lore-fitting explanation as to what a Filipino man is doing in Arthurian England and, furthermore, how he managed to become the most famous knight at the round table. I suspect, invariably, that whatever retrofit reasoning was provided it would cleave Lancelot from the story - thus taking a main and beloved character out of his setting.

Why is Netflix tampering with this established property?

Strangely, Netflix passed an opportunity with “Death Note” to cast Asians. And, alternately, for the popular series, “Haunting of Hill House”, they did not leverage the absence of preestablished lore. Netflix could have gone in any direction with casting this horror series but ended up leaning heavily on the trope that only white people would move into a haunted house. 1  

With this sort of apparent randomness in treatment, one may wonder, what would Netflix do if it produced, say, “Black Panther”?  In a tweet, show writer for “The Witcher”, Beau DeMayo, stated: “To make a white actor Black Panther would literally make no sense due to how race plays a part in the character.” Sort of like how race plays a part in the “The Witcher”, but clearly not enough like.

 However, his response is no guarantee. Early on, Lauren S. Hissrich, showrunner for “The Witcher”, had assured fans that Netflix would stick closely to the source material. This turned out not to be entirely true. The answer, then, as to what the Netflix agenda would do with the “Black Panther”, is that it would be anyone’s guess. 2

 After rejecting and even castigating fans, I have to wonder what could possibly be the demographic that Netflix is going for? Certainly not pre-existing fans. Strangely, they seem to be counting on those who had never heard of it. For example, me. Netflix can reshape the story as they wish and I won’t know any better. I feel honoured. 2 With me, they’re off the hook.

No disrespect, Mister and Miss Netflix, but fair warning, I will be interested to learn how a young Zimbabwean woman ended up in an Eastern Europe inspired setting during the mythological middle ages. Just sayin’.

 Footnotes: 

1 For those too young to remember a time before political correctness or for those of who have forgotten – this is what an attempt at humour looks like.

 hu·mor

[ˈ(h)yo͞omər]

NOUN

The quality of being amusing or comic, especially as expressed in literature or speech.

 

2 sar·casm

[ˈsärˌkazəm]

NOUN

The use of irony to mock or convey contempt.

 

Sci-fi and Fantasy Franchises Self destruction

When Rian Johnson was raked over the social media coals for his re-imagining of “Star Wars” many directors came to his defense. One of those directors, James Mangold, tweeted of fandoms’ negative reaction: “a lot of bolder minds r gonna leave these films 2 hacks & corp boards”.

I interpret this to mean that James Mangold sees both Rian John and himself as bolder minds. Yet, if Rian Johnson’s vision for “Star Wars” was bold, then James Mangold’s movie, “Logan”, was absolutely not. Rian Johnson’s version of “Star Wars” veered off in a wildly different direction than anyone familiar with the franchise and its characters would have predicted. Including Mark Hamill. Social agenda had pushed the story out of the way.  

James Mangold did just the opposite with “Logan”. His movie stayed the course and kept true to the essence of the character and was loved for it. A bold choice would have been for Logan to become a coward in old age who left people to die so that he could spend his twilight years as a lounge singer pursuing the glitz and glamour in Vegas that he had secretly always craved. That would have been bold. That would have been Rian Johnson bold. And that would have been ripped to pieces by the fandom.Dr. Who falling ratings

It would seem that a lot of well-established franchises are making bold choices. The latest iterations of “Star Trek” and “Doctor Who” being current examples with the new “Lost in Space” treading unnervingly close. (Please, do not boldly remake “Battle Star Galactic”, “Babylon Five” or even “Space 1999”.)

“Star Trek: Discovery” has missed the mark so badly that Trekkie fandom see “The Orville”, an intended parody of the genre, as being truer to the core of Gene Roddenberry’s original vision.

However, most recently, mention of course corrections for both “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” are circulating. While show runners, directors and actors, rail against the fans for not lapping up their bold choices, it appears that the tyranny of the bottom line is forcing corp boards to assume the voice of reason.

When working with shareholder money marketing 101, give the people what they want, applies. Perhaps, in the not so distant future, the ruination of beloved properties will be relegated to passion projects and side hustles.

Mark Waid vs Diversity and Comics: Who has the fans best interest at heart?

For the few of you left, with even a passing interest in comic books, who haven’t heard - a comic book industry professional, Mark Waid, is being sued by a YouTube personality “Diversity and Comics” or, by his given name, Richard Meyers. What is occurring symbolically, however, extends beyond the goings on between plaintiff and defendant. It speaks to a shifting landscape.

Mark Waid vs Diversity & Comics

The History:

To give some context to the suit, one must first understand that the relationship between professionals in the comic book industry and “Diversity and Comics” is best described as mutually antagonistic. “Diversity and Comics”, with use of industry insiders, regularly made known his dissatisfaction with the direction the industry was going. A particularly elitist cabal of raw egos within the industry, of which Mark Waid was, and is, arguably it’s most vociferous and bombastic member, took profound exception to the criticism.

Had they not, had they ignored “Diversity and Comics”, Richard Meyers’ YouTube channel would quite likely not have experienced the explosive subscriber growth that it did. Richard Meyers had struck a nerve within the industry and within fandom. Consequently, he was elevated to the defacto spokesperson of disgruntled fans everywhere. His immediate network of likeminded YouTube personalities became collectively labelled ComicsGate.

Richard Meyers has said a lot of things that people don’t like and, in my opinion, has occasionally crossed the line and the cabal has attempted to define him by his most extreme statements and, through association, the entire population of fandom that also doesn’t like that the comic book industry is headed away from providing entertainment and toward pontification.  

Leveraging his newfound popularity and perhaps looking to educate the cabal on what a comic book should be, Richard Meyers crowdfunded his own book, which he took to Antarctic Press with whom he contracted a distribution deal. In response, Mark Waid publicly announced that he was going to make some phone calls and ensure that Antarctic Press knew exactly the kind of person they were dealing with and then went on to brag about his actions, as any successful bully, or a narcissist would, when Antarctic Press caved. Richard Meyers went on to self-publish and distribute his book

Where Are We Now:

What Mark Waid did is definitely censorship but it is also potentially illegal. It’s called tortious interference.

Richard Meyers decided to sue Mark Waid and started a GoFundMe campaign – which, at the time of this blog post, was doing very well thanks in no small part to a handful of 5 figure donations.

Mark Waid did likewise. Since the man is reputed to be fairly well-off, the crowdfunding campaign is likely PR strategy as well as giving notice to the cabal that it is time to circle the wagons. Of interest, on Mark Waid’s GoFundMe landing page, there is a link to an article at “Bleeding Cool”, which espouses how bad the ComicsGate folks are. Why this is interesting is that a year ago Mr. Waid threatened to punch a “Bleeding Cool” staff writer, Jude Terror, in the face. And one of the reasons why this is interesting is that the extent of Mark Waid’s hair-trigger temper is coming under increasing scrutiny with each passing day as trial awaits - giving at least some insight as to what got him into this predicament in the first place.

Delving Into The Contentious Issue Of Censorship:

From the start, this has been about much more than merely Mark Waid versus “Diversity and Comics”. This is the comic book industry versus ComicsGate. It is about who really has the fans best interest at heart. Specifically, who wants to proselytize at their expense versus who simply wants to see them entertained.

Mark Waid’s censorship is rooted, in part, in ideological alignment. Agree, or perish. He behaves as if, by divine right, the cabal have absolute dominion over what gets published and what does not. His coercion of Antarctic Press, though a spiteful act of a small man, demonstrates that he is not entirely wrong in that belief. If it is possible to put a good spin on this totalitarianism, it is that perhaps it comes from a place of good, but greatly misguided, intentions. Though, I suspect not. I suspect it comes from the fearful tantrum of an inner child.

The comics book industry is in decline. For quite a while now fans have been proclaiming to deaf ears that it is not the medium but rather the message which is the problem. Comics books have become more about pushing ideology than about telling stories. Yet, fans, inconveniently, just want stories and it is in the independent market where their hope now resides. Every year it is getting easier for a small independent to produce, market, and distribute their completely original stories; genuine stories, not propaganda leaflets. “Diversity and Comics”’ ground up, grass roots, success, is an in-your-face reminder of that fact; an afront made all the more biting for the cabal because it is essentially a self-inflicted injury. As well, there might be some envy. I imagine the prospect of starting from nothing would be terrifying to many of those who have inherited well established IP. Whether this group of industry professionals are self-aware enough to label the motivation behind their censorship as such, I suspect that there is an awakening fear within them; the fear of irrelevance.

The great promise of the website Upwork

Near the end of July (2018) I parted ways with the company (a team of two) I had been working with, on-and-off, since 2008. My mistake had been letting a business relationship develop into friendship.

The last 4 years of our decade together had become more intertwined with the advent of the A4E Project. What had been historically singular task based  became a much broader array of deliverables. That change, I believe, was my misstep. 

I had originally hired the team onto the A4E Project to provide the layout, artwork and design for a 144 page graphic novel. Whereas, all their previous work for me had consisted of the likes of putting together a book cover.

While keeping within the cost budget, milestones were constantly missed resulting in final delivery having been pushed back a year. Admittedly, the final product was good, but, underscore, it was one year late.

Our friendship as well as (I had convinced myself) their ability to deliver a marketable product at a reasonable cost, prompted me to try working with them again. This time for a motion graphic series. I had begun writing episodic scripts in the fall of 2016 and by the spring of 2017 I had completed the first seven episodes and I was ready to have them animated.

Unfortunately where the novel had stretched them greatly, the series broke them.They were in over their heads and either weren't aware of that fact or wouldn't concede it. 

In short order, the per episode cost tripled and continued from there to spiral upward. The end result was that the original estimate for seven 20 minute motion graphic episodes became the cost for one 2 - 3 minute trailer.   

Out of pocket thousands of dollars, and with nothing usable to show for it, I severed the relationship.

It was in looking for a new team that I came upon the website Upwork. I'm very happy that I did. I setup an account and I put the details of project out to tender. In less than one hour I had twelve very reasonable bids. I chose that day. My fingers are crossed but initial progress is very promising! 

Vidme is Shutting Down Mid-December

This was the surprising, yet not so surprising, news that I received when I logged onto my Vidme account a few days ago. Vidme was never really competition to YouTube but it was an alternative and its absence from the marketplace will be missed.

From my perspective the corporate culture of YouTube is an enigma. Internally, and maybe to other outsiders more 'in the know’, it may all seem perfectly fine, consistent and sane but there is such broadness in the terms of use that it really comes down to corporate mood. The apparent arbitrariness of their content management methodology gives me apprehension.

Sure there is the like of Steemit and Dailymotion, but nothing is quite the fit that YouTube is, and Vidme was, for an episodic series.

There is only YouTube now and, without an alternative to go to, my concern has fully manifested. What if I offend the de-platforming algorithm/committee?

The 7 episode series which I am putting together is definitely less ‘edgy’ than “Family Guy” or even “Big Mouth”, but I’m not a network and that is a critical difference. YouTube has made it clear that, relative to networks/large studios, a stricter set of rules apply to small/independent creators. 

With YouTube I’m at risk of some committee member (the “algorithm”) being constipated or having had a tiff with their life partner the day they review my content because some random individual felt unsafe watching a cartoon.

All the time, money and effort I’m putting into the project could potentially be for naught. Ugh.

Cost: Graphic Novel vs Motion Graphic

Production costs for both graphic novels and motion graphic animation vary in the marketplace. However, what I did find was that there was more variance within each medium than between the two.

The result is that I am able to produce a motion-graphic episodic series that will run roughly 140 minutes for very close to the same cost as producing a 140-page full-colour graphic novel. (Given that a page of scripted dialogue equals a minute of film runtime the two are directly comparable.)

The caveat is that there is extra cost related to voice actors and musical scores, which, if you play your cards right, isn’t that much extra especially when compared to the overarching large expense of the animation itself.

In the end, I believe it will be worth it. Videos with decent production value, when uploaded to platforms such as YouTube and Vidme, are bound to get more immediate exposure than any graphic novel I could release ever would.

The A4EProject video channels began in fits-and-starts and in many ways are still in the fits-and-starts phase. However, we did manage to put together some beta testing in the form of a 5 part interview ( Playlist: https://youtu.be/uX5xkB78QQk) which represented a sort of soft launch for the channels and provides any future viewers of the eventual series with some backstory that, while not essential, might nevertheless be of interest.

Indie Comics: Is it better to go into animation?

The actual question that I asked myself nearly a year ago was: “How do I recoup (at least some of) the costs of production?” My intention is to elaborate on the personal ramifications of this question over the next few blog posts.

Marketing Hurdles:

As any real indie comic producer will attest to - the cards are stacked against success. It is difficult to be heard above the promotion machine of DC and Marvel and the best of times and the stark reality is that readers, and therefore shop owners, aren’t really that interested. Additionally, if there is interest in indie, most of the time what is being referred to as “indie” is actually any large publishing house other than Marvel or DC. (I’ve written about this.)

Production Hurdles:

Lacking any economies of scale this means that small run printing and shipping costs are prohibitively high. This leaves selling digitally which are very prone to theft. Once the digital file is downloaded there is nothing preventing that file from being copied at infinitum.

An entire essay can be written around the moral blur in today’s culture between the expectation of getting things for free and the technologically enabled ease with which intellectual property can be stolen.  In this environment, if you’re counting on recouping production costs through digital sales your business model is greatly flawed.

What, then, is a legitimately independent comic book creator to do?

With platforms such as Vidme and particularly YouTube, it is a least theoretically possible to recoup some production costs through advertising dollars. However, anyone familiar with these platforms would likely be aware of ‘adpocalypse’. This ongoing crisis of faith from vendors distils down to the bottom line that advertising revenue is no guarantee.

Alternately, these platforms also provide the simple opportunity to raise awareness, encourage purchases of products and seek financial support from patrons. That is my game plan.    

Phicno.com - friend of the indie community

It must be over a year ago now that Alex, the brains behind Phicno.com, contacted me via Twitter to see if I would be interested in selling and promoting 'Alexandra Forever' through Phicno, a platform he informed was tailored to help indie community.

I will admit that I didn't give it much thought at the time. As with many creators I hold down a full time job that pays the bills while being chief cook and bottle washer for the nearly full time hobby that is my passion. There's not a lot of spare time for exploring potential new avenues for distribution and promotion. My response was maybe, but I don't know when.

Alex was persistent, but not annoyingly so. Over the course of the next year, he would check in from time-to-time to see if I was ready to learn about Phicno. Very recently, that day finally arrived for me.

We chatted on the phone and he walked me through the site. It was obvious that he was proud and passionate about what he had created. His enthusiasm for helping the indie community combined with participation being free was enticing. I decided to work with Phicno. Alex provided a little technical support but otherwise my setup was very straight forward. 

Beyond uploading my promotional comic book onto the site I don't have any affiliation with Phicno or Alex. I'm writing this blog post simply to help bring awareness to a platform that is legitimately trying to help true indie creators.

 

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