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  • What the Fuck is Wrong With You? (An Open Letter to Warner Brothers)

    Ok, let’s be honest.  This is a two-bit review sight for an obscure medium that isn’t high-budget movies.  I am not in any way influential in either Hollywood or the comics universe.  My voice is no louder than any other fan’s, at the end of the day. But this is the forum that I have, and it’s time for me to use it.

    Dear Warner Brothers:  What the fuck is wrong with you? Has anyone over there been watching this whole Marvel Cinematic Universe and thinking “Wow, that looks like a lot of money rolling in.  Think we could do something like that?”  Anyone?  Have any one of you executives thought, for even half a second, that maybe Marvel’s on to something here, and maybe we could do something like that?

    Guardians of the Galaxy just set some records.  Highest opening weekend in August, ever.  Of all time.  Not Iron Man, not Captain America…Guardians of the Galaxy.  This is an intellectual property consisting of a space asshole, a talking raccoon, and a houseplant.  Nobody who wasn’t hard-core into comics knew shit about this IP before the movie promotions.  And yet it’s breaking records.

    As well it should, because it’s a great fucking movie.

    Warner Brothers, you have at your command the entire stable of DC comics characters.  You have a massive and untapped resource of stories at your disposal.  Instead, you are flogging us to death with your grimdark Superman and assorted iterations of Batman.  The Dark Knight movies were cool and all, but they weren’t part of a universe.  They didn’t have an interwoven storyline.

    I get that what Marvel’s doing seemed risky at first.  I mean, you’ve got to sign actors to a whole shitpot of movies to even start to make this work.  With 3 Iron-Mans, 3 Avenger’s movies, and a cameo in the Hulk movie, Robert Downey Jr. will have been Tony Stark in seven movies before this is all done with.  That’s a risk.  When Marvel started, back in 2007, to put this whole thing together it was looking like a really risky move. But we’re halfway through Phase II of the MCU, and guess what?  Those fuckers are Scrooge McDucking this shit up over there.

    Oh, sure, Man of Steel made some money.  Almost 670 million worldwide.  That’s almost triple what you put into it, so I bet you think you’re doing fine.  Right? Fucking wrong.  Just because your movie hasn’t tanked doesn’t mean you’re operating at your peak.

    Captain America 2 beat your Man of Steel handily.  You managed to beat Thor 2 by about 20 million.  What was before Thor 2?  Oh, right.  At 1.2 billion, Tony Stark almost doubled the Clark Kent take.

    So, since the beginning of 2013, you’ve released one movie.  One.  And it pulled in 670 million.  Marvel, in turn, has released 4 movies to your one in that time frame.  And they average more box office as you have.

    That’s as of right now.  That means I’m only counting opening weekend for Guardians.  I have a sneaking suspicion that number is going up.

    Ok, but I’m only counting one of your movies, right?  I mean, in 2012 you had another success.  Dark Knight Rises was fabulous for you, pulling down over a billion worldwide.  Real knock-down drag out success, right?  I mean, what could have possibly beaten that in 2012? Could any movie possibly do that? 

    The last time that you, Warner Brothers, used your DC Intellectual Properties to do better business than Marvel was 2009.  And that only happened because Heath Ledger did the Joker the way the Joker should be done.

    2009.  You should look at that number with shame.
    There was a time in this country when DC v. Marvel was the kind of conversation to start knife-fights in comic book shops.  No longer – it’s clear that Marvel is winning.  There was a time when kids ran around with blankets tied to their necks pretending to be Superman or Batman.  Still happens, a little bit, but you get a lot more kids with garbage can lids pretending to be Captain America or picking up hammers and claiming to be Thor.

    Look, I know you don’t want to admit that you’re getting creamed.  After all, it’s not like your comic book movies are failures.  They don’t lose you money, so what do you have to complain about?  You’re making money, right?  How can I call you all fucking nimrods for standing by your otherwise successful shows?

    Answer:  Guardians of the Galaxy just broke box office records.  What does that tell us? That tells us that Marvel/Disney is very good at marketing, which is true.  But it also tells us that there are a core of people out there, including myself, who are bought into the MCU.  If they suddenly came out and announced “You know, guys, fuck it.  Next movie is the Great Lakes Avengers,”  I would still go watch that movie.

    I basically have faith that Marvel knows what the fuck they are doing, and is taking me along for the ride. DC?  I have no clue.  Dark Knight was amazing, Dark Knight Rises was ho-hum, the Wonder-Woman thing was fucked up, and Man of Steel was a grimdark Superman, which is frankly bullshit.  The PR for Superman v. Batman (with apparently a gratuitous side-serving of Wonder Woman because apparently fuck-that-bitch-why-should-she-get-her-own-movie) is so bad that I already don’t want to see the movie.  I am pretty convinced that you’re going to fuck it up.  So, like I did with Man of Steel, I’ll wait until it’s available on HBO GO and then I’ll check it out when I don’t have to give you my money for it.

    My question, my ultimate, resounding question, is this:  How do you fuck this up?  Marvel has given you a fucking blueprint for how to generate a cinematic universe.  They gave you a fucking tutorial on the subject, and they didn’t even charge you.  It’s embarassing as hell that they beat you so thoroughly to the punch, but that’s not the point, really.

    Here’s the underlying truth, though:  You still have a geekdom. We’re still here. We watched the Justice League cartoon and JLU and thought they were awesome.  We’re fans of Arrow, and we’re going to be tuning in for Flash.  We love Superman, and Batman, and the Martian Manhunter. We are fucking obsessed with your young heroes, a move Marvel never really successfully pulled off.  You have fucking generations of heroes to present us, from the gruff and surly Wildcat to the quick-thinking Tim Drake.  You’ve got all kinds of awesome stories just waiting to be told, and you have a host of nerds with money in their wallets just salivating.

    The talk amongst us, whenever we’re hanging out in a group, is to wonder where the fuck you went wrong.  What the fuck happened to make you stray from this most obvious of paths?  What is going on over there at Warner Brothers to make you think that not building a full cinematic universe, and doing it right, is a good idea?

    Here’s what it boils down to, fuckers:  Since they began the cinematic universe, Marvel has locked down 6.54 billion at the box office.  In that time, DC properties have pulled in 2.75 billion.  The cost/benefit balance works out in Marvel’s favor too; their box office profit margin roughly equals yours.

    And, again, I’m doing these numbers based on only the opening weekend of Guardians.  I’m guessing you’re going to get rollicked much, much harder by the time that run is done. So, to you people at Warner Brothers, if you are all sitting around a conference table telling yourself what a good fucking job you’re doing, aren’t you wonderful, just run the fucking numbers.  You do have some successful movies, but in terms of marketshare you are getting fucked.  up.  You’ve made some cash, but you could be doing so much more.

    Pull your heads out of your ass and put a division together to run the DC comics division of Warner Brothers like Disney runs Marvel.  Let them have their head, and let them tell the stories that their comics have told for years.  Put it together into a cohesive universe, and let us geek out about it.

    You will make so much more money that way.

  • Rant- Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Childish Whining and Our Profession as Authors

    *Originally Posted by Frog Jones


    This is in response to Elizabeth Wurtzel’s interview with NPR.  A brief recap of what you will find there:  Ms. Wurtzel received an advance from Penguin to write a book.  She did not write that book.  Now she (and other authors like her) are being sued by Penguin for not producing the work they were paid to produce.

    Quoth Ms. Wurtzel:  “I see that they’re trying to act like a real business that doesn’t treat authors differently from any other contractor. But having said that, a real business would make a business decision that would say that their relationship with me is of value to them. It should be of value to them.”

    OK, to begin with I’m not a big supporter of New York.  The big publishing houses have done some atrocious things to authors legally, and I’ve been behind the authors one hundred percent there.  Then I see crap like this.

    Ms. Wurtzel:  You are killing other authors.  You want to know why New York has started acting like a bastard to everyone?  It’s because of authors like you who feel entitled to take the money and not do the work because, well, you’re an author.  And being an author is an art, and you just can’t rush greatness, sweetie.

    And this woman writes self-help books?

    Fun fact:  If you take someone’s money and then don’t give them anything in return, you no longer have value to them.  Sure, your last book made a whole pot of cash.  That’s lovely for you and them, but they already have that book and that value.  The value in your continued relationship with your publisher is the next book, not the book you already sold them.

    Quoth Wurtzel:  “I think at some point they did send me a letter about this. I mean, I think it’s one of those things that I probably should have dealt with and didn’t because I’m an author and I’m not good about this stuff.”

    And then:  “There’s no reason to sue me. There was a reason to say look, we’re really serious and we need to talk about this.”

    Ms. Wurtzel:  They did try to say we’re really serious and we need to talk about this.  It was in that letter.  By blowing them off, you said you weren’t serious about it.

    If I give my money to someone in order for them to do a job, and then they don’t do the job, I ask for my money back, or ask when they will complete the job.  If I don’t get a response I’m going to come to the natural conclusion that the person who took my money is scamming me, and the only course of logic is to sue them.

    Authors like this are the kind of people that create this environment of distrust within the writing and publishing community.  I’ve heard authors rant about how dishonest the big publishing companies are, and not without cause.  But then I see something like this, and it becomes clear that the big publishing companies are dealing with authors who are just as bad.

    If we really want a truly open, artistic relationship with our publishers, then we have to give them a reason to trust us.  Taking the money and not producing the product is unprofessional.  Whining about it on NPR and expecting sympathy is downright childish.

    Read your contracts.  Have an attorney read your contracts to tell you what could happen.  Don’t sign them if you don’t like the possible results.  Sign them if you do.  But don’t sign them, take all the benefit, and then leave the publisher hanging.  Then ignore them.  Then complain when they sue you.  If we want to be taken seriously as professionals, we should probably act like it.


  • Paypal vs. Smashwords

    I just finished reading this article re: Paypal demanding the removal of ebooks from certain websites.

    Let me tell you why this frightens me, both as an author and as an avid reader.  No, I haven’t written erotica, but I don’t believe that Paypal should try to dictate to authors or other companies what they can offer on their website.   I especially don’t think they should use their dominant position in the market to bully the sites into compliance with those demands.  At its core, Paypal is a way to transfer money electronically and nothing more.  Imagine if Western Union refused to give someone a money order or send a payment because they considered the purchase “morally objectionable.”

    There is an added level of ridiculousness, since anyone over 18 can walk into a porn store in any city and- using that same credit card- buy something a lot more explicit featuring real people.  Not to mention taking the same credit card and purchasing BDSM toys to their heart’s desire.

    But that is the argument that Paypal is trying to make.   The e-mail they sent to Smashwords boils down to, ‘Our banks and financial partners won’t support the purchase of objectionable erotica from your site.’  Really guys?  The credit card companies won’t let you?

    Paypal has demanded that Smashwords, Bookstrand and other similar distributions sites take down or censor all stories on their e-publication sites which may contain incest or “pseudo-incest” (i.e. step-sibling relations), bestiality or paranormal romance involving one or more participants who currently are not in human form (Aren’t we getting a bit specific here?  I can think of big name authors such as Laurell K. Hamilton and Christine Feehan who violate that taboo at least once. Also, do adult versions of Beauty and the Beast count?  Cause arguments have been made that the prince was uglier as a human.)  Paypal also demanded any stories containing rape, BDSM or “morally objectionable content” be removed.   There are tons of books out there published by big houses which contain these themes in graphic detail and are quite acclaimed.   The international Best Seller Girl with a Dragon Tattoo would utterly fail Paypal’s “objectionable content” test.   Jacquelyn Carey’s bestselling Kushiel’s novels would be right out as well, given the main character’s tendency to revel in bondage, pain, and torture during sex.   But Paypal doesn’t want to remove those titles—apparently they’re literature.  What is so awful about erotica that makes it more objectionable than when it appears in literature titles? Where exactly is the line?  And by that argument, couldn’t all of these authors just change their listed genre and be good to go?

    But it’s not really the bias against erotica that offends me.  It’s Paypal’s assumption that authors and readers need someone to step in and tell them what is morally OK to read.  The underlying assertion is if no one stops grown adults from reading “objectionable erotica” (whatever that means), people might stop knowing what is right and wrong.

    Let me remind everyone, the United States is a country based on free speech.  You can say whatever you want, and espouse whatever views you want, and that is an inherent right of being American.   No one has stopped knowing what the moral norms are because everyone can say what they think.

    Or write down what they believe.

    Or even write down what they know to be absolutely horribly, awful.

    If I am reading a book, and a protagonist or antagonist rapes another character, I do not need someone externally telling me that was a horrifically objectionable and wrong act.  I possess the internal reasoning processes to make that determination myself.   I can then decide what I think of that character, including their motivations as given in that story, and continue reading or not– as I choose.  Paypal wants to make those decisions for you on these sites, and keep you from ever seeing the content in the first place.

    My contention is that any reasonable adult can make those decisions for themselves.   I can hear the age old argument, ”But what if my kids see that!” already.  My answer is simply: be a better parent.   Censorship is not the answer, supervising your children is.  If a parent feels their kids’ reading needs to be censored, they should do it themselves.   I guarantee you that no teenager wants to read anything remotely sexy with Mom or Dad looking over their shoulder.

    Let me let you in on another secret about books: stories about moral absolutes are boring!  Everyone knows what their society’s morals are.   You don’t even have to open the first page to know everything the author is going to say.  Moral ambiguity helps create conflict.   Good stories revolve around conflict.  Because it makes you think.  Do you really want to read stories that don’t make you think?

    Here’s another secret:  Great change is never brought about by perfectly happy, morally content people.  Why?  Because they like things the way they are.  The shapers of the future are the people who see the flaws and talk or write about them.  Even when what they write is completely, ugly, objectionable or lewd.

    All of that said, Paypal is a private company, and as a private company it can refuse to do business with distributors it considers objectionable. I hate it; it’s stupid and biased, but our country is set up to let people (and companies) express that bias.  However, if Paypal continues to push small distributors and refuse them service based on book content, it may be time to take a look into Paypal’s smaller competitors which offer similar services.  Smaller payment gateways such as Western Union online, or Dixipay might work just as well.  Paypal is not the only option available in the big writing sea.  The biggest, yes.  The most convenient? Possibly. But there are other options.