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Don Rosa: Why I Quit (donrosa.de)
183 points by Hupo on Feb 8, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 48 comments

"But it’s an unfortunate fact that there have never been, and I ultimately realized there never will be, any royalties paid to the people who write or draw or otherwise create all the Disney comics you’ve ever read."

Please remember the above quote next time you hear some corporate puppet bring up the "starving artist" argument in a copyright policy debate.

Don't frame it like that. It's dishonest.

Corporations withholding royalties from artists is obviously bad. But it's entirely consistent to condemn such abuse while still supporting the idea that artists ought to be repaid for their work.

Corporations withholding royalties from salaried employees with whom no agreement was made regarding royalties is not "obviously bad".

Point taken. My objection was to praptak's generalized false dilemma of corporations cheating their employees versus weak copyright and widely accepted file sharing. Don Rosa's case is indeed more complex.

Tool. The corporate stooge has already framed it, dishonestly so. Using "starving artists" to argue increased control and ownership for corporations.

I don't understand what about it I should remember. Could you elaborate? I'm also not familiar with any general class of arguments called the "starving artist" argument. What are they and what do corporate puppets hope to prove using them?

The arguments against the evils of sharing copyrighted works with your friends online. The arguments for ridiculous "life of the author plus a century" copyright terms. Disney is a huge purveyor of these bogus arguments, all while stiffing the content creators who work for them.

Oh. But Disney comics is the only case where no royalties are ever paid, at least according to Don in this article. I don't think he'd want us using those words as a blanket permission to pirate copyrighted works.

No, but it highlights the hypocrisy of the largest anti-sharing organization. Movie studios and record labels are also generally lousy to the talent they make their money off of. Treating creators like shit while outwardly pretending to care about them to advance your business interests makes your whole side look bad.

When we talk about copyright policy, or enforcement, the effects are not limited to the big rich companies that it is easy to hate.

There are plenty of artist-friendly, or artist-owned, labels and distributions companies, and they are also hurt by piracy. In fact I would argue they are hurt more than the big labels, because each individual missed sale is a bigger percentage of their total revenue.

Considering people buy for convenience or to support the artist, I'd say a small label benefits more from piracy. The big labels with extensive marketing are going to gain less fans from piracy. While I might torrent a well-known group to try it out, chances are I'm already acquainted.

Whereas with a small group, pirating a torrent of stuff might be a way I actually discover an artist. I know I've downloaded big "mix" torrents, come across some stuff I like, then went to Amazon and bought all the downloads they had for that artist. Without the piracy, I'd have never found them.

On top of that, I think (perhaps incorrectly), that when you buy from a small label, you're promoting more good than buying from the big labels that will use my money to campaign for things I'm against. I know I have a few artists I like, but I'm not going to give money to folks that push for less due process.

Of course, actual data is hard to come by: it's not like you can accurately track torrent downloads/disk swaps and compare conversion rates.

I would encourage you to try talking to people who actually own and operate small and midsize labels. The effect of piracy is clearly visible in their sales charts; but based on the cultural treatment of it, they consider it a cost of maintaining good relations with their fans.

Their fans are hurting them, but since they like their fans, they struggle to find a way to make up the difference somehow.

Piracy is a good way for new bands to get discovered, but that benefit fades over time. When you have a devoted fan base and you're trying to sell your 5th album, having most of them download it for free offers no benefit to the artist or label.

How is it clearly visible? And why are you talking about labels, not artists?

Where's your proof those are hurt more or at all by piracy? I've seen just the opposite, sharing increasing sales/revenue.

It's an unusual situation, royalties in most situations are the rule. And that's a good thing, right? Right?

I grew up reading Don's comics, and my D.U.C.K. book is so worn that it doesn't have a cover anymore. Hell, in my old room I still have his (wonderfully and finely detailed, as usual) Duck genealogical tree poster. Despite all this, I knew nothing about the man himself, which - judging from this heartfelt article - is as good and intelligent as his comics. It's sad to see he stopped writing, mostly because there's no one there to fill his gap -- and it's a huge gap, as huge as those left by Floyd Gottfredson and Carl Barks.

I also own every duck book he ever released. I grew up with his and Carl Barks' comics. I still enjoy them.

Btw, Don Rosa and Carl Barks are almost like national heroes in Finland where I grew up. When Carl Barks visited the country, there were people on the streets celebrating. Don Rosa's visits are also a big thing.

Here's a video from 1994 when Carl Barks had his first visit in Helsinki. The streets were full of people celebrating. He was kind of a rock star in the country.


I've got my old Duck comics in a box with all my Richie Richs, and the old classic Duck stories are really something even today.

This guy's history speaks volumes about success and being good at something.

People who want to get into Software business because of money and people who want to learn how to play the guitar because of popularity have one thing in common: they only envision the outcome. They daydream of sitting on a load of cash or being surrounded by friends (and girls) when playing a tune.

People who get really successful at something enjoy the freaking process. Most of the times (if not all) they don't even realize they are heading for success: they are too busy enjoying the improvement of their craft.

I might not understand the complaint here. I don't get paid royalties on the software I write either, because my employer owns the copyright to my work. That licensing arrangement suits both of us because I would like to collect a salary without assuming the risk that my work won't be profitable. It's not an exploitive relationship.

The thing is, you are actually assuming the risk that your work is not profitable.. if the work is your personal work, your employer may sack you or withhold a raise. if the work is your team's then you share the risk, unless your team is the only team and then your employer goes out of business.

It is (usually) an exploitative relationship, most just don't know it. The fact that this arrangement is the norm speaks only of the power differential and nothing of fairness. Could you imagine what would happen to management if employees got a fair share of the work they produced.. for that matter, how much of Don's profits came from his hand and how much from the advertisers and how much from Disney's distribution network? Why are advertisers paid so much and box packers paid so little?

The fact that so many of us accept this system is because we don't have the power to demand profits (or we don't know any better) and we need to eat. We just tell ourselves that we prefer to earn a little less so we don't have to worry about risk. It makes it easier to sleep at night.

Not really. Once you get into understanding how investors, investment and VC, etc. work, the mathematics of risk and payoff become very clear. If you, as an investor, are throwing millions of dollars into a product that requires millions of dollars, and has only a 10% chance of success, then you a commensurate share of the payoff as well, which may even be most of it.

At my last job, I got to choose the balance between salary and equity I wanted -- and I really had to calculate if I wanted to earn a little less (or a lot less) in exchange for a greater share of future profits. Or to earn a little more (or a lot more) in exchange for giving that up. And having gained quite a bit of knowledge from the investor side of things, at least here in the tech industry in NYC, I don't think it's accurate at all to say it's "usually an exploitative relationship". At least, as long as employees bother to figure out how it all works.

Of course your employer can sack you or withold a raise. But of course you can leave for another company, or tell them you're leaving if they don't give you a raise.

But you've got to have enough skill to be of value, and enough negotiating skill not to be taken advantage of, as well. Just like a company has to have enough skill not to hire not to be taken advantage of by its employees -- the employees who don't contribute, the employees who spend more time playing politics, etc.

Absolutely! I agree with your whole post. I was meaning 'usually' in the sense of usual employer / employee relationships.

Most employee's do not know, nor know how to find out, their net worth to the company. They definitely do not get offered equity.

Most companies go to some lengths to obfuscate the earnings from their employees and contractually forbid their employees from speaking about their own earnings. Most employees, even if armed with such knowledge, do not have the power to demand their worth as there are a large queue of eager replacements for their position.

My point was essentially, if someone thinks they are trading off rewards / equity / ip royalties etc for job security, they probably do not have a good understanding of their relationship or value to their employer.

Don seems to have known full well what he was trading off, and as he explained when he drew the line and exercised his right to negotiate "they simply refused to actually ask permission". They refused to negotiate as they were so used to being in a position of power.

"But you've got to have enough skill to be of value" I would say, you have to have enough skill to be of 'great' value.. then you have the power to negotiate or go elsewhere. If you do.. more power to you!

You don't need great value, you just need two prospective buyers to compete.

If that works for you, that's great!

Many software developers around these parts (myself included) want equity in the companies we work for. Equity is just our industry's form of royalties. Make awesome software that people love? Greater valuation of your equity!

Work-for-hire is actually the norm in the mainstream comics world (DC, Marvel). Creator-owned comics do exist and there's a pretty big label that does nothing but (Image), but as you say there's considerable risk involved.

I'm pretty sure there are royalties for DC & Marvel artists these days, going back to the big squall in the 1980's. (For when their work is recreated, not their characters. They give the characters over 100%.)

This doesn't mean that Disney should or should not follow that practice.

No, DC and Marvel are work for hire. You are allowed to keep original artwork to sell later if you want.

If by "work for hire" you mean the company owns the work, I agree completely. But they also, by contract, give royalties when issues (including reprints) sell over a certain amount. (You could also say that their base pay for the work assumes a certain number of sales.)

Its not hard to understand. You are NOTHING like an artist.

Is your name used to promote work?

Do you have to go on promotional tours to show your face / drum up sales?

Is your work unique, no it's not. You can easily be replaced. You have a skill. Artist has talent and popularity. They could find another artist. Not easily and not with the fame and following and thus profitability of existing artist.

You seem to be conflating "artist" with "spokesmodel". Is Britney Spears the artist on her records? Only one part of many.

But then your employer starts releasing volumes of your old work with the title "Thurn's life work" one day, and one of your friends say, hey nice book, so you're going to pay me back that $200 you borrowed in college right, Mr. Big Shot?

This article is a good example of why I don't buy non-creator owned comics (aside from the fact that I view Marvel and DC comics from 1990-on to be pure shit). I know most comic fans don't give a shit but I do.

Wow I never expected to see an article about Don Rosa in HN. This is a really sad turn of events which I was not aware of. I grew up with Carl Barks's and Don Rosa's comics and thoroughly enjoyed each one of their stories, was inspired and moved by them. He leaves some pretty big shoes to be filled.

Thank you Don, for everything you have done and for being with me through all my childhood( and beyond) through your stories

btw, advice to anyone who experiences it, if you think your retina is detaching, SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION IMMEDIATELY. (If that wasn't obvious from the article.)

9 volumes!


Disney sucks to work with.

> Most Americans retire after 30 – 35 years.

It seems it all boils down to this: he didn't make as much money as he wanted.

I don't want to trivialize the issue: making money is not easy, but the guy over-plays the victim card.

He seems to be a successful artist. He quits and it's all a fault of other people, who don't pay him as much as he deserves.

Again, not to trivialize the issue, but an artist with a lot of fans should be able to find a way to make money.

Did he try to follow the steps of many cartoonists that make decent money doing daily cartoons on the web, like theotmealguy?

Did he try to create anything outside of work-for-hire arrangement that he entered (willingly, as a consenting adult) into with Disney?

No evidence of that.

According to him, it's just the system conspires against poor artist.

According to me, he's just a lousy businessman who lacks awareness of his own shortcomings and oblivious to many ways he could have made money with his art. Instead he chose a safe route of employment and as an adult he should understand that it also usually comes with limited upside.

If he wanted a bigger upside, he should have taken more risks.

> Instead he chose a safe route of employment and as an adult he should understand that it also usually comes with limited upside.

Did you even read the article? He turned down a lucrative career in a family-owned construction company to do this. He quit largely because a detached retina makes it impossible for him to draw. He's been doing this for at least 20 years; The Oatmeal has only been in it for 3. Have some perspective and modicum of respect.

I don't think you read his article very well. He doesn't give a shit about making money. He's just pointing out that in the Disney comic system there are no royalties and artists get exploited.

I don't think this is particular to the Disney comic. How many game developers are being paid proportionally with sales? Usually sales and marketing people are the ones with those benefits, not the content generators. On a flip side, is not like they invest any money on the final product as they are generally being paid as a regular job.

Before 7th generation pretty much everyone paid royalties in the games. I believe one of the major reasons the industry is in shambles now is that, with the advance of the 7th generation, 3d parties moved to cut off royalties either by acquiring studios or by rigging contracts. Still, 3d party owned studios working on profitable titles are paying bonuses that are proportional to sales more or less. For example, check out Activision vs. Infinity Ward GMs lawsuit.

I think that with respect to game royalties, that ship set sail a long time ago. Publishers in the earliest generations would often give creators huge royalties, and it's just been on a gradual decline since then.

The topsy-turvy situation the industry is in now, though, has countless factors - it's going to be discussed for years to come, and the signs of disruption are appearing on all fronts.

How many game developers do everything in the game and then get their game marketed in his/her own name. Then people would buy a lot of copies because of the name and the original author will not get anything.

You have to remember, selling a duck comic carrying the names of Carl Barks and Don Rosa is a very big business here in Europe. The comic's don't sell because of Disney, because of the ducks themselves. People adore those two gentleman.

And they don't get anything out of it.

The bit he was actually focusing on seemed to me to be that they started using his name to sell the books.

If _the artist_ is the product being sold, don't you think the right thing to do would have been to work out a new agreement?

I thought it was incredibly well written and quite forgiving of him.

People seem to have this idea that the world should be "heads I win, tails you lose" in their own favor. I can't say that I blame them, it's incredibly depressing to see a company get rich off of your work. But it fails to take into account that a person might create absolutely nothing of value while they draw a paycheck/salary and in that case it's the company that loses, not them.

That's how things go in engineering, though, you generally don't get employed unless you're willing to sign over whatever IP you are going to generate at the job (and sometimes even off-the-clock ideas too).

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