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Four revolutions in comics - Part 1 - The Ownership Revolution

The Kirkman Manifesto And the revolution that followed

The Ownership Revolution

In 2008, Walking Dead co-creator Robert Kirkman posted a manifesto urging comics creators working in the mainstream who were frustrated by the editorial constraints and financial arrangements of the Big 2 (DC/Marvel) that they should make creator-owned comics. Kirkman's argument was clear: he conceded that creators who shifted to creator-owned work faced the prospect of lower sales figures, but with those lower sales figures there was a chance to have total creative freedom and still make equal or better money than working for the Big 2. The math behind his claims weren't intuitive. Many comics creators are notoriously lacking in business savvy. Kirkman's argument was heavily debated.

A year later, an indie comic titled Chew debuted, an early test of Kirkman's theory. Based on its logline (detective with the FDA eats clues in a post-Avian-flu foodpocalypse) the book didn't sound like the first shot fired in a revolution. But it was a gangbusters commercial success - copies of the first issue sold out instantly and was reprinted multiple times. It was a critical success - winning the 2010 Eisner Award for best new series and the 2011 Eisner Award for best ongoing series.

Creators took note. Chew raised eyebrows. Kirkman's manifesto seemed to have merit.

Then in 2012, Saga debuted. The first issue sold out enough times to warrant five printings and sold over 70,000 copies.

It was a watershed moment - with the combined success of Chew, Saga, and several others, writers and artists began to shift toward creator-owned comics. Matt Fraction's creator-owned comedy Sex Criminals was named the best comic of 2013 by Time Magazine. Image Comics published several successful creator-owned series from the biggest names in the Big 2.

Fast-forward to May 2015, where the top-300 sales chart is littered with creator-owned titles such as Saga, Injection, Wytches, Mythic, Outcast, Chronauts, Jupiter's Circle, East of West, The Wicked and the Divine, Sons of the Devil, Black Science, Kaptara, Trees, Run Love Kill, Invincible, Birthright, ODY-C, Deadly Class, Nailbiter, Powers, Southern Cross, Chew, and Invisible Republic.

Reviewing the May 2015 sales chart, Kirkman's manifesto of 2008 reads like a prophecy.

Next: Part 2 - The Diversity Revolution

Milton Lawson

Milton is a writer living in Houston. Comics, travelogues. Go Astros. Go Texans.

A short comic about an indie music shop written by Milton Lawson with art by Dave Chisholm

A travelogue about four friends taking their first trip to Europe. Now available on Amazon.com.