The Author

Stephen Schleicher

Stephen Schleicher

Stephen Schleicher began his career writing for the Digital Media Online community of sites, including Digital Producer and Creative Mac covering all aspects of the digital content creation industry. He then moved on to consumer technology, and began the Coolness Roundup podcast. A writing fool, Stephen has freelanced for Sci-Fi Channel's Technology Blog, and Gizmodo. Still longing for the good ol' days, Stephen launched Major Spoilers in July 2006, because he is a glutton for punishment.

You can follow him on Twitter @MajorSpoilers and tell him your darkest secrets...

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12 Comments

  1. Xian
    February 20, 2012 at 9:32 am — Reply

    I don’t think that’s sensible.

    I think it’s condescending and anecdotal arrogance- akin to Kirkman’s 2008 manifesto- failing to recognize just how much of a fortunate outlier his success is in the realm of web comics (and Kirkman in indie comics). Market demand isn’t as trite as “If you build it [at six year old level quality] they will come [and spend $75 for it].” And instead of recognizing themselves as the beneficiaries of rather limited phenomena, they condemn others for not being as lucky. It’s a little like Justin Bieber talking down to cover bands who haven’t been discovered on YouTube yet… or more like Rebecca Black saying “all” it takes is a $4,000 internet video to break in. The whims of viral success aren’t so predictable that you can “develop an audience” so easily [and a living wage, say nothing of server costs or lost opportunity cost].

    Kurtz continues:

    “Stop bitching, grab some pencil and paper and come up with your own god-damn characters. It’s not hard. I’ve made a living drawing a farting troll for 14 years. All without any real grasp of anatomy or storytelling. Jeff Smith I ain’t. If I can do it….”

    It sort of proves the point. Kurtz doesn’t even understand his own success (compared to Smith) so what makes him an authority on how to replicate it?

    There are far far more free web comics out there than there are creators who can call themselves professional web comic creators- much less as their sole profession and fewer still that can call themselves profitable or successful (and none of the latter who can say they’re free to focus on just their art; they’re all required to have a degree of business savvy and social presence to leverage their work). If it were otherwise, we might call Kurtz sensible, but just because we all love PvP doesn’t mean he knows how to make anyone love anything else. Heck, if his methods were so easy he might as well help his existing web creators actually make a living before giving them more competition from professional artists who lack IP rights savvy.

    It’s a nice- if naive- thought to go creator owned, but there’s a reason artists, retailers, news websites, and even podcasts cover what they do. I’m sure it’s technically possible to have a podcast that never covers the Big Two… never mentions Superman, Batman, Avengers, X-Men, or Spider-Man… but we all know the reason they don’t. (Or you could start a private school, your own call center, or privately-funded broadcasting network to avoid pitfalls of the existing systems… working amongst the system doesn’t make you a chump who failed to exploit something a “six year old” could do.)

    Bottom line, this comes off as:

    “Why navigate the risks and worries of a day job? Anyone can pick lotto numbers and win like me.”

    • Xian
      February 20, 2012 at 10:03 am — Reply

      One more point on “develop an audience”… it could be argued, to start with, Kurtz didn’t do that so much as hijack the pre-existing gaming (specifically WoW) audience.

      People read PvP because of another entity’s IP- World of Warcraft. Just like people watched Felicia Day’s “The Guild” because of World of Warcraft. Initially, of course.

      Kurtz hardly has clean hands in terms of relying on someone else’s IP, the only difference is he gets away with it on a legal technicality. What separates pandering to WoW fans from unlicensed mainstream comic commissions is simply legal savvy (or luck) not some sort of originality-related fanbase development argument.

      The sensible advice isn’t “try to replicate the fortune of my comic” it’s just “don’t sue the hand that fed you.”

      In the Ghost Rider case, which Kurtz refers to, the $17K was a countersuit only for attorney’s fees because Gary initiated suit. Applied to Kurtz, if he had sued Blizzard on equally specious grounds, you can bet he’d have an ugly countersuit to contend with as well. The solution isn’t shoehorning in some argument about creator-owned comics… it’s simply to know your legal rights and responsibilities. Heck, the split of the PvPforums (now Forumopolis) from Kurtz demonstrates he’s not entirely sure how to KEEP a community [legally] once he’s [supposedly] “developed it” so it’s nuts for him to be telling others it is easily done.

  2. foolsmask
    February 20, 2012 at 12:47 pm — Reply

    The other thing that Xian touched on but missed about Kurtz’s comment…he has been doing this for years…the number 14 was mentioned…not sure if it exactly right, but it is close. And he has only been able to do his comic exclusively for like 5 years.

    People don’t got to conventions and ask for sketches of unknown characters from comics they haven’t read. If they see your work and like your art, they are going to request characters they like, Wolverine, Batman etc. I’ve been there at the conventions and seen it happen. So then the artist is left with a choice, make some cash or stick to his/her principles and go home broke.

    I really like Kurt’s stuff. I go to his site almost everyday. He is not wrong that artist should create their own works and strive to achieve what he has in life, but most aren’t going to even if they try, but they should try.

    Kurtz has achieved success and from time to time he forgets his roots, or maybe its more accurate to say he still thinks of himself as a small fry in the world of comics, not realising he isn’t anymore. He can come off as arrogant, but I just think he has his opinions and isn’t afraid to speak his mind. Product just listen to him more because of his celebrity status. If enough people call him out on these comments and he is able to step back and re-evaluate his words he will probably admit he comes across like a jerk, but his point is still a valid one.

    I think the precious commenter Xian was a little off in one point, PVP did not start off a World of Warcraft comic. It was about a gaming magazine company and the characters would enter the games they were playing. WoW is just really popular and commonly featured. He did HALO for quite a while also.

    • Xian
      February 20, 2012 at 3:12 pm — Reply

      The specific IP doesn’t really matter- whether Star Wars, Everquest, Halo, or WoW- the point is still the same. There’s not a huge ethical difference between selling an unauthorized sketch of Vader’s helmet and selling a comic with an unauthorized Vader’s helmet on Cole’s shoulders. Kurtz unnecessarily injects creator rights into the mix and conflates it a trite an inapplicable “original characters / develop an audience” solution to a case where it isn’t relevant.

      Friedrich could have sold Ghost Rider convention sketches for the rest of his life- just as Kurtz is going to keep appropriating light sabers- and Marvel would never have gone after him. It was only when Friedrich threatened their ownership that they properly protected the interests of their stakeholders and countersued according to the terms of his employment contract for attorney’s fees.

      People who do unlicensed commissions rely on the reality of non-enforcement, but then, so does Kurtz in not having to defend his works as parodies, transformative appropriation, fair use, etc… even if he would likely ultimately win, the IP holders certainly could create litigation costs which serve as a deterrent towards future use. The issue of original characters are neither here nor there. Far more relevant is knowing your contractual and statutory rights and the cost-benefit analysis of being able to enforce them or defend against a claim.

      To that end, that’s why I critiqued Kurtz’s solution. If you see original works as a viable solution to avoiding infringement enforcement for profit then expressing the long hard road to profit (and the rarity of that) is crucial to the analysis. But, to me, far more reasonable and relevant action is to avoid suing Marvel first! Obviously, Friedrich was looking for a piece of the film franchise which factored into his decision to try and sue, in which case potential web comic money isn’t particularly relevant to his decision making process anyways.

      I’m saying that Kurtz is having a knee-jerk reaction where he wants to spout “creator owned!” when it isn’t salient and- even if it was- it is presented as far easier a solution than the rarity of his own success would illustrate.

  3. February 20, 2012 at 1:20 pm — Reply

    Xian, PvP started in 1998. World of Warcraft debuted in 2004. So I must have been really innovative to hijack the popularity of game that wouldn’t exist for six years.

    I didn’t forget how I achieved what success I have, nor am I unaware of my talents and limitations. I was trying to be self-deprecating in my post and also point out that the people currently filling sketchbooks with amazing drawings of Marvel and DC characters most certainly have more artistic chops than I do.

    The bottom line is that nobody is promised or guaranteed a living doing what they love. I’m sorry if that offends you, but not everybody gets to succeed as a comic book artist. Nobody’s entitled to that life. You have to earn it. There are no shortcuts.

    Marvel and DC are not obligated to jeopardize their businesses (businesses which must adhere to corporate laws regarding trademarks and copyright) because there are both aspiring and professional artists who want to get way with selling perfectly bound sketchbooks and other mass produced merchandise featuring their intellectual property.

    You can’t argue that it’s these creators and their talents who are solely responsible for Marvel’s success and then turn around and say “It’s not as easy as just creating your own characters.”

    Any success I have was earned doing exactly what I’m encouraging others to do. By creating their own characters and putting out a product that people can invest in. I’m sorry if that’s difficult. But tough shit. What the hell do you expect from life?

    • Xian
      February 20, 2012 at 3:38 pm — Reply

      Whether Star Wars, Everquest, Halo, WoW, or whatever, the specific IP matters less than its appropriation into your work as I discuss above.

      While I definitely misread your self-deprecation as a declaration of ease, I think you’ve misread my post as I’m hardly defending Friedrich or condemning Marvel. If a lawsuit threatens a substantial chunk of a film franchise and it’s based in an employment contract which gives countersuit as a remedy for specious claims, then- of course- Marvel must serve its shareholders and employ the contractual remedies.

      My issue is not that Friedrich, denied a windfall in a property developed by Marvel, must then have the “ease” of original web comics as recourse. Hardly. I’m saying I don’t think that is the most relevant recourse for most convention artists period and- if it was- it is hardly as easy as your post presents (as interpreted by the plain meaning of the words… if I was meant to divine that your post meant that creating characters and developing an audience is actually a lot harder [than what a six year old could do], take longer [than being able to charge $75 at your next con], and less certain [than “if I did it, so can you…”] then I certainly missed that and withdraw that particular critique. The way it was originally posed: original character web comics is not just the “solution” to Friedrich’s problems, but anyone’s financial independence.

      To reiterate, my position is that commission artists need to balance their rights, defenses, desires, and options accurately rather than accept creator comics as a one-sized fits all solution. Gaiman and Moore have shown creator owned doesn’t mean lawsuit free. For a lot of artists, taking home several hundred dollars in commissions which may be infringing but will never see enforcement wins the balancing test against hoping a web comic might do the same for them one day.

  4. Mijder
    February 20, 2012 at 1:33 pm — Reply

    I feel so valued as a writer right now.

  5. February 20, 2012 at 6:36 pm — Reply

    No matter whether the advice is sound or not, the condescension undermines the point.

  6. February 20, 2012 at 7:38 pm — Reply

    I don’t think it underminded the point at all. Major Spoilers just posted me as the quote of the week. And people are talking about what I said. So the point seems perfectly minded. Not underminded.

    • ray
      February 27, 2012 at 6:14 pm — Reply

      Which comment were you trying harder to troll with? The first one or second?

  7. Jason Drews
    February 20, 2012 at 10:22 pm — Reply

    When I read Binwin’s post (yes I will always think of him as Binwin Bronzebottom) it made me smile. I thought he had a great point. I have always enjoyed Mr. Kurtz’s stuff. The podcasts that he did with WOTC are what made me get into listening to actual play podcasts. Without that I never would have started listening to Critical Hits.

  8. Opine
    February 21, 2012 at 8:19 am — Reply

    You shouldn’t take advice about drawing your own characters from someone who has admitted to copying characters from tv shows.

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