This is not a term I throw around easily. After all, if you extend the line of logic far enough, EVERYONE has to do something to survive, so EVERYONE is a sell out. Technically, I'm a sell out. I work my job for no other reason than they are paying me. I sure don't like it, and would bail if I could. So there's no higher purpose or anything noble. It's money. By definition, I'm a sell out. It's one of the reasons I don't yell "SELL OUT" when a band sells one of their songs as a jingle. I was in Target, and you know how their TV's show in house ads and shit? During one of the ads that just reinforced the Target brand name, it didn't really pitch anything, I recognized the song as soon as the first note played. The note, the instrument, the pace, everything. It was the opening of Tenderness by General Public, cutting out just before the vocals would start. It's a great song, General Public was a great band. I shrugged and thought, well, given the choice between traveling everywhere on nostalgia tours for nine months out of the year and staying home with the money coming to you, I can't fault their decision. Another example is They Might Be Giants. They were on the verge of quitting because of how unsuccessful they were when Tiny Toon Adventures approached them about using two of their songs in the show. They agreed, and they can now afford to keep doing what they want. Selling out? Sorry, I'm a TMBG fan, and anything that keeps them around is good in my book.
During the black and white boom, it wasn't unusual for a comic creator to do titles for Marvel and DC so they could afford to do an indie comic that barely made its money back. Since, technically, they are working on those books purely for money, would that constitute selling out? Doesn't matter that they are doing it for artistic reasons (especially since sometimes, like with The Trouble With Girls, those reasons didn't work out that well), they are still selling out. At the very least, they are doing what millions of people do, working a job and using that money to do something they really enjoy. But instead of going to a sporting event or a movie (read that: experiencing something someone else is creating), they are publishing a comic (read that: they are creating something for others to experience). Like I said, I don't like to throw the term "sell out" around, even if something is a nearly clear cut example.
The problem is motivation, and how people can disregard expressed motivation and say, "No, I know what's really going on. You're selling out." They overlook one of the primary reasons people do stupid shit -- it seemed like a good idea at the time. Life only rarely has real direction for us. The rest of the time, we're just doing what seems to make sense for what we hope to accomplish and praying for the best. Or just figuring that what we're doing won't hurt anyone and should be fun, so why not? (Super Bowl parties, Mardi Gras, Burning Man, etc. etc. etc.)
So when confronted with a WTF moment in artistic media, a lot of people will immediately say, "SELL OUT!" And it could be nothing more than, "It seemed like a good idea at the time." I want to take a moment to say hello to Dan Vado. Vado is the publisher of Slave Labor Graphics. They are a black and white indie comic publisher that has survived the harshest environments. I've met Vado. He's a great guy, and he's a true man of honor. I would be proud to have something published by Slave Labor. Not a lot of money, sure. But I would be with some great people. We all want to be affiliated with the good people. The best publishers in this regard are Slave Labor and Ape. Lots of indies are out to game the system and you (DreamWave, anybody?). They play fair.
Vado's company has hit some really tough times recently. He pulled every listing from Diamond when they started their campaign to kill indie comics. But that also means he's pulling in less money since Diamond had better market reach than Haven. He did the dreaded "pass the hat" on his web site to keep them up and running (when Fantagraphics did it, I was sad that Gary Groth got the money he needed, because I think he's a pompous elitist art scener. Vado at Fantagraphics? I sent $10 that very morning and the message, "I was there with you for Samurai Penguin, I intend to be with you for years to come."). It seemed to keep them okay for now.
Now, an announcement. SLG will be publishing a comic in association with Stan Lee and the National Hockey League. It's called The Guardian Project. Lee's team will create superheroes to represent each of the thirty NHL teams, and fans can vote which ones will be revealed first (I wonder if Blackhawk will be an ace pilot? * snicker *).
Now, does the idea sound a bit dopey? Sure, but so do most of the comic book ideas out there, my own included (I remember thinking Pokemon and Rock Band were the stupidest ideas ever, but what do you know, I gave them a chance, and I was hooked). Does it sound like it could work? Not really, but so what? It could be fun, and it puts some extra jingle in Vado's jeans. I say go for it and let's see what shakes out.
The reason for the whole "selling out" thing has to do with another misfire from sports and comics colliding like Taylor Momsen and geography (her band was playing in Glasgow and she said, "We hear Glasgow has the craziest scene in England!" I'm surprised everyone removed their palms from their faces long enough to boo her).
How many remember NFL SuperPro?
It's kind of a running gag among comic fans. If there was an MST3K for comics, NFL SuperPro would be prime material. An injured football player finds a super suit that enables him to use his football skills like super powers. He was created by Fabian Nicieza (I understand him to be a nice guy). Nicieza has stated that the whole reason he did the comic was to score tickets to NFL games. Now, do I think that's a bit silly? Well, yeah. However, my dad for a while was able to get tickets to Chicago Bears games. The look on his face every Sunday was like a kid who had a lifetime of Christmases presented to him at once, so I can certainly understand how, "Just bang out these scripts, and you get to attend an event you think is the coolest thing in the world" could hold a lot of sway. Besides, if some had said to me when Jordan was playing for the Bulls, "Just write these scripts for your regular page rate, and you'll get courtside seats at United Center," I would have been on it like cheese on pizza. Silly bartering, sure, but totally understandable silly bartering.
So, this is being viewed as a cynical marketing ploy. I haven't seen anyone taking cheap shots at Vado yet, but I'm scared they are coming. SLG is known for great stuff, and I don't want people saying Vado has sold out. Maybe it's to keep SLG afloat in these difficult times (it can bring in a lot of cash, and since these books are clearly targeted to hockey fan, they'll certainly sell better than direct market books. Gears Of War sold over a half million copies, four times more than Secret Invasion, but those sales went through video game shops. Make the Diamond list? No, but definitely a successful book). Or maybe Vado is excited to be working with Stan Lee, a legend in comics (Vado is tight with Disney folks, who also are underwriting Lee's production company, so I see how these two got together). Or maybe it just seems like a good idea at the time.
I don't know what will happen. I don't know if it'll be good like Hurricanes or bad like NFL SuperPro or that cartoon starring Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretsky. But please, don't give Vado any shit for it. Don't say he's selling out. Give him a chance, and if it flops, just remember -- we all do things that seem like a good idea at the time....