|Art by Denis Kitchen (left) & Will Eisner (right)|
(from The Creators Bill Of Rights, May 2005)
[Will Eisner and I] spoke of it briefly on a couple of occasions. It was not something that, frankly, we took very seriously, though we understood and appreciated the sincerity and idealism behind its creation. There was a point in my early career when I would have unhesitatingly signed it. Will's autobiography of getting onto the business is appropriately called "The Dreamer." Most of us have been dreamers, but at some point you have to face the realities of art, life and commerce. I was so anxious to be fair to other creators when I started Kitchen Sink Press in 1969-70 that I literally gave all my profits to other artists and was unable to draw a penny in salary for the first couple of years. So I know very well what it's like to be both a starving artist and a starving publisher.
I think Will's quote below comes from pragmatism; from being on both sides of the equation (being a creator, running a packaging house, and being a publisher) and from a long life of observing human nature, particularly with respect to employees, free-lancers, partners and competitors. Of course he believed in creators' rights. No one was fiercer in demanding them for himself, way before almost anyone else in the field. But he understood that there has to be a balance of rights. The C.B.R. was a political statement without a real effort at balance.
In the "old days" of the industry, publishers had all the power and often used it ruthlessly. If the Creators' Bill of Rights was actually enforced, you'd have a very tough time finding anyone who would want to be a publisher. Will and I both saw the original (has it been updated?) CBR as generally naive and unrealistic.
You earlier asked me a question about Will's religion or lack of. It is my experience and observation that there are both moral people who go to church and moral atheists. There are hypocritical Christians, Muslims and Jews and there are amoral non-believers. My point is that mere titles are often meaningless. Creators (look at Todd McFarlane) are just as capable of mistreating other creators and there are many publishers (William Gaines, for example, or, I dare say, Kitchen Sink Press) who were fair and equitable with creators. There are publishers who are creative and creators who are uncreative. There are creators who rip off publishers just as there will be retailers who rip off distributors. I believe that creators will gravitate toward publishers who give them fair deals, pay them properly, provide a creative environment, respect their innate rights, give marketing support. and other tangible benefits in what ideally is a partnership to bring ideas to the marketplace. Supporting such publishers and avoiding whenever possible bad publishers is a realistic strategy for creators; and, likewise, smart publishers will find it in their best interests to nurture, support and reward good creators. It doesn't have to resemble class warfare.
The Creators' Bill of Rights is an interesting concept, and one worth healthy philosophical debate, but at the end of the day it is pie-in-the-sky. Pragmatists like Will and myself, who have seen all sides of the business, assiduously protected our own rights, and understood that both creators and publishers need rights and incentives. It's all about balance.