Daniel Pussey: Alienation in the Comics Industry Part I – Doctor Infinity and Background to an Exploitative Industry

                Comics have an immensely exploitative history regarding the treatment of individuals that produce stories that become commoditised. This relationship was especially prominent in the early days of the superhero genre, in which some creators were not even credited with a byline. Moreover, without any control over their creations, creators were vulnerable to poverty following long careers in the industry. Young Dan Pussey by Daniel Clowes, which can be found in Eightball, offers the reader a satirical perspective on the comic book industry by drawing parallels from the harsh reality of comics. The first post of the two explores Doctor Infinity, who is respected by Pussey and his peers because he was involved in the comics industry during the golden age (the 30s and 40s), which was a time when many artists would pencil, ink, colour, and letter their own comics. However, despite the talented creators Infinity once worked with, the present staff do not necessarily understand the economic dependency such individuals had on the doctor. Moreover, the mainstream comics industry evolved in a way that valued a Fordist mode of production, which forced specialisation and encouraged the dilution of profits for contributors. Furthermore, Infinity Comics Group’s staff do not understand the extent of alienation that former employees of the Doctor experienced.

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In Eightball #1 one, the Doctor recruits Dan Pussey and several other contributors to a new line of comics, which is called Infinity comics. This may in some ways draw parallels to the creation of labels such as Atlas comics, but this outfit was founded not by artists, but by an editor. It seems as if Infinity is taking an approach that may be associated with the “Marvel Method,” because the Doctor has already created a core of characters that his staff will have to work with. Furthermore, the Doctor is a well-respected actor in the comics industry and uses that to his advantage. His staff are naïve and he is able to persuade that their work is valuable because it will be studied like Shakespeare in the future. It seems obvious that the Doctor is not actually concerned with the cultural impact his style of comics will have in years to come; he is simply motivated by profit. This trend is consistently revealed by his emphasis on speeding up the production of his comics.

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An additional similarity to the early days of Marvel, is that the Doctor allows his contributors to be included with bylines. But, his reason for doing so seems to be in order to capitalise off of contemporary trends of the industry. Doctor Infinity understands that the modern industry has adopted the focus on autership that has been prevalent in the alternative comic book industry. The Doctor understands that he can increase the buzz around his products by having his contributors featured in comics journals.

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The Doctor may be comparable to the enthusiastic minds behind the earliest creations of Marvel. As discussed in Gabilliet’s text, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby enjoyed the idea of creating comics that a common person would enjoy. This could be achieved by incorporating everyday problems that ordinary people face. The Doctor is equally as excited about the potential superhero comics have, but he longs to produce stories that fuel imagination. These actors are all passionate about the superhero genre because they can voice perspectives that resonate in a meaningful way with common people.

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Despite the overtly noble cause the Doctor is trying to fulfill, during an awards ceremony in Eightball #6, Doctor Infinity delivers a speech that reveals some troubling information about his previous work in the industry. As he compliments his former colleagues and subordinate workers, he experiences flashbacks in which he remembers various forms of exploitation that he imposed on these individuals:

Here D.I. denies a request for royalties from a creator:doc 5

 

This example may provide the struggle that creators like Kane had from the 1940s, all the way until the 70s. The creator of Batman was requesting compensation for the extensive success of his character. He was eventually successful in receiving some remuneration, but it only came after years of legal battles. Personally, I feel as though such a wealthy industry—that has consistently produced cheap superhero trite—can afford to acknowledge the creative abilities of individuals, who provided the original depictions that these companies capitalised off of for decades. The interest of actors like Doctor Infinity is to cut costs in the production phase. The satirical approach by Clowes is effective in exaggerating the alienating process of profitable comic book companies, because not only does the Doctor refuse additional remuneration, but he also suggests that he would like to replace the artist on the entire series.

What is most ironic about Infinity comics is that new labels like Atlas, Darkhorse, and Image were a response to the growth in the alternative sphere of the comics industry, which enabled creators to start their own labels so that they could actually own their creations. This was a move to recognise ‘intellectual property rights.’ Moreover, the rise of alternative comix demonstrated to moderately successful individuals that they could too own their work. What Doctor Infinity is trying to do is to edit a completely new label, in which he has complete control; he is using underpaid employees to simply create work that is associated with his name. The Doctor has already established the series’ and merely needs bodies to come in to consolidate his thoughts. Since the Doctor has had an extraordinarily successful career in the industry and has developed a reputation as a legend, pretty much anything associated with his name would sell. Furthermore, he could hire any hack to create these texts because of his legacy in the industry. He uses a Fordist mode of comics production that employs cheap labour, distributes material that is most likely analogous to the big two (or this alternative universes equivalent), exploits the trend of autership, and capitalises off of his name.

References:

Heer, J., and K. Worcester. A comics studies reader. Univ Pr of Mississippi, 2009. Print.

Eightball #1, #3, and #6 (Daniel Clowes)

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