#SYPcon: Studying comics.

Heather McDaid, SYP Scotland’s Social Media Officer and Blogger, researched business models in the comic industry as part of her MLitt at the University of Stirling. Here, she talks a little about being able to research the industry.

heatherOriginally, I had planned on doing the dissertation for my publishing Masters on copyright, using Sherlock Holmes as a way to show how copyright has evolved and been challenged over the years, due to a semi-recent ruling. A few months into that, I was still compiling legal papers and trying to get my head around it and was thinking of maybe a last minute change.

Luckily, Scottish comic writer Mark Millar was at Glasgow’s Aye Write! book festival, talking about the titles that changed his life, and the copyright disputes of Superman came up. It was a bit of a lightbulb moment, and so copyright shifted swiftly from Sherlock to Clark Kent and the industry that spiralled from him, halving the time to do the dissertation in the process.

I’ll paraphrase as greatly as I can to avoid recapping the 16,000 words in their entirety! Superman’s creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster essentially sold their entire claim to the character over to what is now DC Comics, losing rights to any cut of licensing, and spent their lifetime fighting to get their credit back and money they felt they had lost out on, which is a battle that extended to their heirs.

This set the precedent for how the Big Two, Marvel and DC, operate, in that creators will be hired to create characters and storylines that belong to the company. The main rebuke to this came in the 1990s when a number of Marvel creators exited en masse to form Image Comics, now the leading creator-owned comics publisher in the world. My research looked at this: the creator-owned uprising, how it differs from the traditional model, and the impact it has on the industry.

Just part of what a dissertation on the comics industry looks like…

While the research was just an introductory overview to the area, highlighting many, many issues on both sides of the fence that were quite interesting in terms of the business, the main perk of being Scottish is that we have an excellent example of the model in Mark Millar’s Millarworld, which has produced titles including Kick-Ass, Wanted and The Secret Service, all of which have been adapted to film. To do a case study on a company and creator you’re an active fan of is always a bonus.

The results showed that DC and Marvel are (quite obviously) still the dominating forces in comics, yet they’re becoming a vehicle for many artists to carve out a fanbase on high profile titles and then leave to pursue their own careers while reaping fuller benefits. There remains many factors in the success of the subsequent careers, but this change in model and going it alone has also managed to shift the Big Two’s position ever so slightly. It’s not necessarily the end game anymore, but perhaps a stepping stone for creators.

While this doesn’t do justice to how interesting the industry is (and removes a lot of finer details to the research!), I’d definitely recommend it as a great area of study and one that’s got a lot of angles that haven’t been massively explored academically. There’s always a way to integrate it into your publishing course in ways like this (not to mention actual courses dedicated to Comics in Dundee), and Scotland is an excellent place to start.


One thought on “#SYPcon: Studying comics.

  1. Pingback: Day in the Life: Lecturer in Comics Studies. – SYP Scotland

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