Adversity & Comics: A Civil War Brews Among Creators and Publishers

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Jawbreakers Lost Souls

Forget Marvel's CIVIL WAR. The real comics civil war is happening in real life. But instead of costumed heroes, the combatants are creators and publishers of those heroes.

A few weeks back, I wrote about the Indiegogo success of the graphic novel JAWBREAKERS: LOST SOULS, and how it had crowdfunded over $200 thousand, but was encountering pushback from retailers who had opted not to carry the title before it was even solicited in Diamond. To be clear, this is the version of the title that was to be published by Antarctic Press, not the version that would go to the Indiegogo contributors -- who have now pushed their pledges to the point that it's now flirting with the $330 thousand mark.

Much has changed since that announcement, and it's set a lot of theories and accusations into motion.

Comics veteran Mark Waid, whose current works include Marvel's CAPTAIN AMERICA, was a prominent voice on the Internet regarding the Antarctic decision to publish JAWBREAKERS, expressing dismay. Waid has been a longtime foil of Richard C. Meyer, the writer of JAWBREAKERS and the force behind the Youtube channel, Diversity & Comics which is openly critical of not just comics but frequently the creators behind them.

While Waid later went on to say "Antarctic Press is free to publish whatever they want to publish. We shouldn't be trying to stop them from publishing something. That's what the trolls do, and it's a free market system. But before we all come down on them for willfully engaging with people who promote hate and intolerance, we ought to know that they're aware that they are." [Emphasis mine.]

Waid did not identify the "we" in his statement, but we must assume he didn't have a mouse in his pocket, and that he was in fact talking to a group of like minded invidivuals who were, in fact, ready to "come down on" Antarctic Press. And whatever the communication with Antarctic Press happened to be, the post hoc ergo propter hoc of the whole matter was that Antarctic Press rescinded their decision to publish JAWBREAKERS.

Note to our readers: This statement will not be removed in 7 days.

This put Antarctic Press in the position of having to clarify what had actually happened more than once.

And just to be sure everyone understood that their decision had nothing whatsoever to do with Mark Waid's call:

Naturally, Antarctic Press could not comment as to who was carrying the torch that shed this light. But the light was enough that within a span of three days, Antarctic went from referring to JAWBREAKERS as "a kick ass project" to being something they were uncomfortable publishing solely based on the producers.

Celebrations were had.

"Important Thing is it's not coming out." -- Mags Visaggio

"It is good in that it is not coming out." -- Heather is a Nerd

There was even one call on Facebook to approach Indiegogo itself to have the listing -- and with it all of it's funding -- removed completely.

Alongside Waid's involvement, retail stores were announcing preemptively on Twitter, unprompted -- that is, not in response to any thread or online query -- that they were not going to be carrying the title.

As mentioned in our earlier piece, some retailers had already met in a private Facebook group to discuss that they would not carry the title, but also how to handle the delicate issue of turning down customers who asked for it to be special ordered. This prompted speculation in some corners that there was collusion amid competitors that encroached on violating the Sherman Act's outlining of antitrust laws. It certainly seemed to fit the definitions of a 'group boycott' which demanded further scrutiny.

"It's likely a legal boycott," says Washington University's Professor of Economics, John N. Drobak. "If the stores are agreeing among themselves not to distrubute [Meyers'] graphic novel, that's a boycott of his by all the comcs stores, which are competitors. So it is a group boycott."

But that's not the end of the story.

"Group boycotts are generally legal," Drobak tells Critical Blast, "unless they're directed at a competitor. He's not a competitor. If other writers of graphic novels got together, and they got retailers not to sell this guy's graphic novel, that would probably be, per se, illegal."

"My guess is there are other ways to get the graphic novel, probably over the Internet," Drobak continues. "And there are plenty of other graphic novels out there, so customers are not hurt that much. If anything, this is a business tort."

So it would seem that there's no antitrust violation in the matter, since retailers and graphic novel writers are not in a competitive relationship. "You need an agreement between competitors," Drobak explains. "If two graphic novel writers got together, and then pressured the publisher not to publish [JAWBREAKERS], you've got a much better chance at an antritrust violation."

To be clear, Meyers himself is not charging that any antritrust violations have occurred. He is, however, stating that Waid's call to Antarctic Press amounts to tortious interference.

1. A valid contract between plaintiff and third party. Meyers had an email agreement with Antarctic, which constitutes a contract in the state of Texas.
2. Knowledge of the contract or expectancy by the defendant. Antarctic announced its intent to publish publicly. Waid acknowledges having seen this announcement by his own publicly stated intent of calling the publisher.
3. Intent by the defendant to interfere with the contract or expectancy. As previously shown, Waid denies any intent to block the publication by Antarctic Press of JAWBREAKERS. He has also commented that if he were in the position where he found out any of his fans were "spreading misogny, transphobia, racism, or bigotry as a way of 'supporting' my work, I would take active steps to shut that shit down in a cocaine heartbeat, not just shrug my shoulders."
4. Actual interference. Following Waid's publicly announced call, Antarctic released a statement that they would not be publishing the graphic novel.
5. The interference was improper. Waid works for a competing publisher (Marvel, and by extension, Disney), and is an advantaged competitor in the same field (writing) and market (comics).
6. The plaintiff suffers damages. Antarctic choosing not to carry the book removes the title from being carried by a recognized publishing banner in the direct sales comic shop market.

Waid has further clarified his intent of the call to Antarctic Press, stating in an interview with Bleeding Cool that the call was completely out of concern for them, to warn them against fan anger. "My purpose in calling was to discuss, as we did, the potential fallout and how to navigate it. I offered to, once the dust settles, conduct an interview with him for publication where we can talk about the choices he’s made here and the thinking behind them–they’re pretty interesting, particularly when it comes to the difficulty in separating the artist from the art, and I think it’d be terrifically informative." Waid did not elaborate where this planned interview would be published, but his assessment of Antarctic Press's choices is correct that they're "pretty interesting" and the way AP separates "art from artist" (a phrase repeated in Antarctic's earlier announcement that they were pulling out of the JAWBREAKERS deal). Politically, AP publishes books on both extremes of the political spectrum, notably Timothy Lim's parody, MY HERO MAGADEMIA and Brian Denham's satirical TREMENDOUS TRUMP: A MAN CHILD COVFEFE. And both have been carried in comics shops without regard to the politics of either book.

At least, I think they have. Interestingly enough, most comics shops we reached out to did not want to go on the record, preferring to keep their name away from this controversy which has branded itself ComicsGate. However, we did get comments from comics shop owner Michael Tierney, who is also a writer for the OVERSTREET PRICE GUIDE as well as the author of the WILD STARS graphic novel series.

"I order based on what my customers ask me and talk about," says Tierney. "I’ve always told publishers and creators, the way to get your books to sell more at my store is to get fans asking about them. I always go by a multiple of what kind of feedback I’m getting from customers, and a multiple of zero is always going to be zero. That’s not a boycott, that’s just that I don’t anticipate any fans. If I hear people asking about something, then I’m going to carry it, because I always want to take care of my customers."

And if that product being requested is from someone with whom he vehemently disagrees?

"Politics has no place in retailing," says Tierney. "I don’t care what somebody’s politics are. If somebody comes in and wants to order a copy of a book called 'Obama is God,' or if they want to buy a copy of a book called 'Trump is God,' I don’t care. I’ll order them a book. But for these guys to say they don’t like the politics of the book so they’re going to refuse to carry it for a customer, it’s just wrong. America was founded to fight stuff like that. That’s the whole principle of America – the freedom of choice, freedom of religion, and freedom of political choices. Just because [Meyer] made some comments that they didn’t like, now they don’t want to sell his product?"

"The only time we don’t carry something," Tierney continues, "is we don’t carry Adults Only books, because we’re zoned where it’s against the law for me to carry them. That’s the only thing I will never carry. Now, sometimes I’ll see a creator, and I know, oh, that name, that guys work isn’t usually very good. If you have a title that’s doing really well, and you see a certain creator get on there, and you know that the sales always drop when that creator gets on there, then yeah, you’ll start backing orders off – and you usually don’t back them off fast enough! But I’ve never made a decision to stop carrying something just because I didn’t like a creator or didn’t like what they were doing. It’s just how well they sell, that’s all that matters to me. Will the work sell? That’s my only denominator."

Meanwhile, the loss of a publisher isn't stopping Meyers and company from pressing forward with the JAWBREAKERS graphic novel. If anything, the resistance has emboldened consumers, pushing the Indiegogo pledges higher. To work around the loss of Antarctic Press, Meyer is working with artist Jon Malin and colorist Brett R. Smith to form their own publishing imprint, Splatto Comics, which will be distributed through Simon & Schuster.