Michael Netzer has always been an interesting figure in comics. He has been involved in the politics of comics more then most creators. His latest endeavor “Save The Comics” has involved the Federal Trade Commission. Michael was nice enough to stop by First Comics News to let our readers know what “Save The Comics” is all about.
First Comics News: What do you hope to accomplish with the petition?
Michael Netzer: I would first hope to bring it to the attention of the comics community that an important cultural artifact that we all love is being endangered by the irresponsible and careless business policies of the companies spearheading it. I would then hope to elicit enough of an outrage to make this situation known outside of the comics world because comics don’t only belong to us. They are an important part of American and world culture. I would lastly hope that this would help convince DC and Marvel to reconsider their business strategy and begin charting a course for saving the comics industry.
I believe there are minimal steps that must be taken. DC, Marvel and other major publishers must get together with potential distributers and the comics shop owners and consider steps such as opening up distribution channels and revising the structure in which the Direct Market operates… as well as rescinding the non-returnable policy and allowing store owners to carry the wide array of comics being published.
I don’t believe any of this is possible within the attitude that most business is being conducted today. I believe our forefathers had a different idea of what a free economy would be about, than how it has actually played out. They apparently counted on a spirit of collective goodwill to keep things like this in check. But we see today that most business policy has little such concerns. Business is generally obsessed with itself and its own success, mostly to the detriment of the environment it operates in. Knowing this, it seems the most prudent thing we can do to help change the spirit with which business is conducted, is to demonstrate how this attitude can be ultimately detrimental to any successful business – and how much more profitable they could be in a more healthy and growing economic environment.
This is what I’ve tried to set in motion with the petition. Hoping that a strong public voice calling for this goodwill can encourage an environment that makes it imperative for business policies to change, so that businesses can thrive and grow.
1st: Why do you need DC and Marvel to change their policies, isn’t Image comics a viable option?
Michael: Well, it’s not only about DC and Marvel. The problem extends into the areas of Image and most other publishers. It’s a problem of the state of the world and specifically that of the comic book industry. Image is certainly not much of a viable answer to solving the issues of comics publishing, distribution and sales. I turn to DC and Marvel because first and foremost, the crisis lies at their door. They are the two companies that hold the industry hostage with their dominance of the Direct Market and comics shops. A change in their policy, or in the attitude with which they conduct business, would have a profound effect on everyone else. It would also allow the publishing market to grow and make room for others to participate. All this is ultimately in the best interest of DC and Marvel, though they clearly think otherwise right now.
1st: Don’t businesses have the right to make their own decisions since they are taking he original financial risk?
Michael: Oh yes, absolutely. But they don’t have a right to put the entire comics industry at risk because of the decisions they make. Even the American constitution which entitles everyone the right for liberty and freedom, limits that right when it becomes injurious to others.
1st: How many signatures do you need to make an impact?
Michael: I don’t think it’s the number of signatures that will cause the impact. The petition is one vehicle among a wider array of forces in play. There are other tools, as of yet untapped, that will become serious factors towards bringing a change. But certainly a good show of support for the petition will help move things along. I’ve heard speculations of about 300,000 hard core comics fans in the US, but I believe the number is much larger. Suffice it to say that a few thousand signatures would be a good sign that we’re on our way. It will not be easy to get such a number but the dynamics are very interesting. Such campaigns generally grow exponentially. Meaning that as more people are aware of and support them, so does the power to compel a larger audience also increase proportionately.
1st: Who lodged the complaint with the FTC?
Michael: I did, after it was suggested by a good friend on Facebook. It’s actually already accomplished a good part of what I hoped for. It brought attention to the petition and that’s been a critical push we’ve needed from the ground level.
1st: What do you hope the FTC will do?
Michael: I would hope the FTC considers the complaint seriously enough to launch an investigation into its merit. If it turns out that DC and Marvel practices in comics publishing are suspect of being illegal under protective business laws, and this suspicion is verified, then I would hope the FTC would take measures to deter them and force them to change policy, under penalty of law. But I would hope we never get to that. I would hope to see a voluntary change once we get a little closer to this point.
1st: If fans want to get involved, what can they do?
Michael: I saw firsthand what power and wonderful spirit there is in comics fandom with the campaign to save the Martian Manhunter a couple of years ago. If there is any community that can raise the voice of the people today, it’s comic book fans. We have so many tools to work with. So many forums, blogs and websites devoted to the goings on in the comics industry, that it’s like a powder keg on the verge of bursting.
In order for comics media and news sites to start covering this story comprehensively, we need to show a growing grass roots presence in all these fan communities right now. We need to enlist ourselves towards making this campaign visible and our voice heard. I have a couple of banners on my site for use, which should be linked to the petition. But this is one of many other ways we have for spreading the word. We need to make this an urgent issue, and we need to think creatively of every possible way to do it.
1st: For professionals that sign the petition, will they face any type of retribution from DC or Marvel?
Michael: I would hope not, but history has not been kind to such hopes. I understand the concern professionals have in this regard. This is why I left a provision for anonymous signatures on the petition. Certainly a growing number of creators and other professionals signing the petition openly would be much more effective towards its eventual success. But each of us understands our own peculiar situation well enough, and I wouldn’t call on anyone to do anything they believed would be detrimental to their own best interests.
1st: Doesn’t spearheading this movement mean that you will effectively be giving up ever working for DC or Marvel again?
Michael: I don’t really know. I mean, I’m an old man already. I’ve spent the good part of the last decade trying to get work in comics and can see the difficult situation the industry is in. I talked with Joe Quesada in 1994 about doing something with Marvel and he seemed supportive but I never heard from him afterwards. I wouldn’t even know where to start with DC today. I’ve tried through some contacts but never received a response. So, it’s as if I’m at their mercy and will have to wait until one day someone there thinks they’d like to have me on a project. I’m a little tired of waiting, actually.
A big part of the problem is that the industry is too small. Comics must become huge, and right now, in order for there to be enough work for artists like myself and hundreds of other professionals who’d give anything to be part of it again. So, I’d rather direct my efforts towards helping the industry to grow, rather than to remain paralyzed waiting for DC or Marvel to remember me.
Even more compelling are the dynamics of my possibly becoming an adversary of DC and Marvel. It’s a well known thing, for example, that software security developers are at great odds with program hackers. Yet the most notorious hackers are known to be eventually enlisted by such software developers because they have a great knowledge of tech security and it’s the best way to render them harmless. In this vein, it would seem likely that if DC and Marvel saw a serious adversary in my efforts here, they might be more moved to bring me in on a project – and even try to make an irresistible offer. So I’m not sure the notion of my effectively giving up working for them actually bears out.
But then again, my response to such a possibility could be even more intriguing than this campaign.