Scott Mitchell Rosenberg is recently back in industry news, regarding his partial ownership of the rights to Rob Liefeld's Youngblood. In light of this, we're running this article from The Comics Journal #265 (January-February 2005), in which Michael Dean traces Rosenberg's trajectory through the comics industry and Hollywood up to that point. A year later, Platinum was able to boost flagging interest in a Cowboys and Aliens movie by reimbursing comic-shop orders for a comic-book edition in order to claim the comic was a top seller for the month. In 2007, Todd Allen at CBR outlined Rosenberg's business practices in the wake of the acquisition of the Drunk Duck webcomic site, and in 2010, Rich Johnston summarized his involvement with the 2011 film Cowboys & Aliens. Dean has written a new introduction looking back at the article.
The synergy between the comics industry and Hollywood described in this article has, if anything, only heated up in the years since it was published in TCJ #265 in 2005. If there has been any change, it may be that Hollywood — which, at the time of the article, was as ignorant of comics as it was hungry for what it believed they could bestow — has advanced along a steep learning curve. Today, for example, Hollywood knows that Captain America: The First Avenger is able to draw upon a deeper pedigree and wider fan base than, say, The Rocketeer, to name two films directed by Joe Johnston, one a 1991 flop and the other a 2011 hit.
Of all the dizzying quantity of comics projects described in this article as waiting in line for their day in the sun (more than 20 identified by name), only one actually made it to the screen: Cowboys and Aliens. A high-profile movie, but not, as it turned out, a successful franchise — or even a comic book series. Platinum still theoretically exists as a repository of Hollywood-ready comics concepts — now gathering dust — and a phantom comics line. It was publicly traded for a while, then de-listed by the Securities and Exchange Commission for failing to keep up its financial reports. Heidi MacDonald tracked the company's decline at The Beat.
Scott Mitchell Rosenberg (who is not the same Scott Rosenberg who worked on the Venom screenplay) has apparently been spending his time guest-lecturing to college students about how to succeed in the comics/movie business.
—Michael Dean, Wednesday, August 28, 2019
On Oct. 26, Gold Circle Films, the production company behind My Big Fat Greek Wedding, announced that it had just signed off on the biggest movie deal ever made with a comics publisher: $200 million to license 10 comic-book properties for film production.
Flush with the proceeds from Nia Vardalos’ colossally popular indy film and eager to follow up on that success, Gold Circle went looking for raw material in the comics industry, a wilderness as fertilely promising to Hollywood as it is bafflingly uncharted. Which comics publisher did Gold Circle tap for this monumental deal? Marvel Comics, home of Spider-Man and Daredevil? DC Comics, home of Batman and Superman? No, the production company turned to Scott Rosenberg’s Platinum Studios, a line of comics so sublimely and pristinely packaged for its Hollywood destiny that it has bypassed the hands of comics readers altogether. It is, in fact, a line of comics that don’t exist. And it is an indication of the genius of Rosenberg that he has somehow sold these invisible and intangible comics to Gold Circle for $200 million.
The Beverly Hills-based Gold Circle is financed by Gateway Inc. billionaire Norm Waitt. The 10 movies, expected to go into production over the next two years, will double Gold Circle’s output. The Wall Street Journal’s Merissa Marr reported on Oct. 26 that, “Some of the movies will be based on existing Platinum comics, others launched in the movie’s run-up,” but, strictly speaking, there are no existing Platinum comics. Among the first properties scheduled for production through Gold Circle are Seen (a Blow-Up-style thriller about an art photographer who finds evidence that he is being stalked in photos documenting his daily rounds), Casting Shadows (another thriller, about a conflict between modern-day witches) and In-Law and Order (an action-comedy about a cop with a liberal, retired judge for a mother-in-law). If you don’t remember seeing any of these comic books on store shelves, it’s because all are in different stages of completion. They are identified on Platinum’s website as “upcoming comics,” though, according to Rosenberg, none are expected to be ship before the summer of 2005.
The comics-publishing thing may be coming along a little slowly, but the Gold Circle deal is only one of several being negotiated by Rosenberg in Hollywood. Platinum is partnering with producer Gale Anne Hurd (Terminator, Howard the Duck) and Icarus Studios to develop a movie and an online game based on Rosenberg’s science-fiction/thriller premise about a war with an underwater kingdom, called Atlantis Rising. For Columbia Pictures, Platinum is developing the self-explanatory Cowboys and Aliens. Both Atlantis Rising and Cowboys and Aliens are ostensibly based on comic books slated for future release from Platinum. Also waiting in the wings for their chance at the big screen are “more than 1,000” Platinum comic-book characters — who have yet to appear in a comic book.
You haven’t heard much from him in recent years, but former Malibu Comics publisher Scott Rosenberg has been busy positioning himself right where almost everybody in comics wants to be today: at the gateway to Hollywood. He grew up in Los Angeles, fascinated with comics, filling reams of lined paper with drawings and stories of alternative universes populated by scores of inter-related superheroes. Something about the creation from scratch of worlds unbound by reality held an unshakeable grip on his imagination. At the age of 13, he became a comics dealer, taking out ads in Comics Buyer’s Guide and occupying tables at local conventions in order to make enough cash to keep buying new comics.
Rosenberg entered the comics industry on several fronts, beginning in the early 1980s with the Los Angeles-based Sunrise Distributors. At the same time as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles touched off a boom in black-and-white comics, Rosenberg secretly financed the start-up of no fewer than five comics publishers: Eternity, Amazing, Wonder Color, Imperial and Malibu. The last of these, Imperial and Malibu, were launched near the end of 1986 — by which time the flood of black-and-white comics was having trouble finding room on store shelves, and Sunrise had run into cash-flow problems. In February of 1987, Rosenberg came out as the owner of the comics lines, saying he had been asked by investors and editorial staff to take a hands-on role as president of each company.
This version of events was disputed, however, by Mark Hamlin and David Campiti of Campiti and Associates, who had been editing and packaging Amazing and Wonder Color comics from the beginning, in exchange for reimbursement of expenses and two percent of the cover price of each comic sold. Complaining that Rosenberg had failed to fully reimburse them, Hamlin and Campiti took a number of titles that had been solicited for Amazing and Eternity Comics (Ex-Mutants, Kamikaze Cat, The New Humans, Phigments and Mr. Doom) and repackaged them for release by Pied Piper Comics, which was owned by Hamlin and Roger Mckensie. Rosenberg maintained that he had paid Campiti and Hamlin everything they had billed him for. If this sounds complicated, it only scratches the surface of the corporate entanglements that arose from the black-and-white gold rush of the 1980s. Capital City Distribution’s Comic Dealer Newsletter reported, “The complexity of this situation can be illustrated by looking at Ex-Mutants, one of the most successful of the properties in dispute. In the past, it had been produced by Lawrence and Lim, in association with Campiti and Associates for TriCorp Enterprises Inc. of Brooklyn, owned by Brian Marshall and Tony Eng. Orders for the book were solicited on behalf of Eternity Publishing by Mark Hamlin of Pied Piper Press. When the book was shipped, it was invoiced by Guaranteed Services on behalf of Eternity. Campiti then broke first with TriCorp and later with Eternity. If the question of ownership of this property goes to court, just deciding which court has jurisdiction is going to require a large amount of legal work and a major court ruling …”
In the meantime, a number of Sunrise’s publisher-clients were not happy to learn that there was a link between the distributor and a total of five of their publishing competitors. To make matters worse, due to its cash-flow problems, Sunrise owed money to the publishers it was distributing at the same time that its owner was apparently investing funds in start-up publishing companies. Unmollified by Rosenberg’s assurances that no Sunrise revenue had been diverted to the publishing companies, two Sunrise clients, Blackthorne and Fantagraphics Books (publisher of The Comics Journal), filed separate suits against the distributor for overdue invoice payments of $20,000 and $47,000, respectively.
Subsequently, in September of 1987, Sunrise turned its distribution business over to the Oregon-based Second Genesis Distributors and liquidated assets to partially pay debts. Second Genesis had no history of bad credit with publishers, but when representatives from 14 members of the International Association for Direct Distributors (IADD) met with 26 comics publishers in New Orleans Nov. 29 and 30, 1987. Rosenberg turned up as Second Genesis’ representative. During the sales conference, each publisher was to have a chance to meet individually with the IADD distributors without any competing publishers present. Rosenberg had taken off his publisher’s cap in favor of his distributor’s cap, and his attending company, Eternity Comics, was officially represented by co-publisher Dave Olbrich, but the other publishers weren’t buying it. They balked at the idea of sitting down to a private meeting with distributors that included a man they knew not only as a competing publisher but as a publisher who owed them money through his former distribution company. In a vote, the IADD distributors decided that Rosenberg could not be required to leave, but asked if he would voluntarily leave anyway, which he did.
Rosenberg capped this period of financial disaster by launching a magazine through Malibu called Comics Business, which offered to advise publishers, retailers and distributors on how to run a successful business. By the end of the 1980s, if the comics industry knew one thing about Rosenberg, it was that he had chutzpah.
By the mid-1990s, it knew something else: Rosenberg had the ability to buck the odds and turn adversity into unexpected success. As the market for black-and-white comics imploded, the Pied Piper/Amazing titles proved to be not worth fighting over. Rosenberg began untangling the wreckage of his wobbly publishing empire by merging Amazing and Wonder Color Comics and canceling numerous titles. Eventually all surviving titles — including Men in Black, which was published in 1990 by yet another Rosenberg company, Aircel Comics — were absorbed under the Malibu banner imprint. Rosenberg had held in reserve until the glut of independent comics had abated. As Malibu developed, it left the world of black-and-white comics behind, acquiring an in-house computer color operation that set new standards for color publishing and high production values. When Marvel’s top artists walked out to form Image Comics, their first comics were packaged and released by Malibu, using Malibu’s state-of-the-art facilities. The Image creators soon withdrew from Malibu, setting up their own color production department patterned after Malibu’s, but those first issues were phenomenally successful (for one month, Malibu had a greater market share than DC Comics), and Rosenberg capitalized on it by launching in 1993 a new line of 14 monthly, writer-driven superhero comics.
Utilizing a shared universe (the Ultraverse) devised with the help of science-fiction author Larry Niven, the new titles were written by mainstream comics writers such as Steve Engelhart, James Robinson, Steve Gerber, Gerard Jones, James Hudnall, and later, artist-writer Barry Windsor-Smith. Malibu was able to afford these first-string talents by paying them relatively low page rates combined with a percentage of revenue from the books. Rosenberg launched the line with a million-dollar nationwide advertising campaign. By 1994, Malibu was publishing 25 to 40 titles a month, including the Ultraverse line, licensed properties such as Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Mortal Kombat, and the creator-owned Bravura imprint, featuring such mainstream stars as Howard Chaykin, Jim Starlin and Gil Kane. Rosenberg was also well on the way to negotiating his first green-lit Hollywood deal, an Ultraforce cartoon series. Though the Ultraverse line started strong, its sales soon began shrinking — along with sales of the many other relatively new publishing companies vying for space on the shelves, including Eclipse, Valiant and Defiant. Whether Malibu would have survived on its own in the long run is anybody’s guess; but in 1994, it was attractive enough that Rosenberg was able to make a lucrative deal with Marvel, and the No. 1 publisher was able to acquire it and all its facilities. Marvel was evidently more interested in buying out the competition and acquiring Malibu’s color lab than in publishing its titles. Within two years, Marvel had canceled all the Malibu comics and fired all the Malibu staff that didn’t work in the coloring department.
For Rosenberg, however, it was another step forward. He had divested himself of the potential liability of a floundering comics line while retaining an economic stake in those properties that had a future in Hollywood, including the Ultraverse titles Night Man and Prime and Aircel holdover Men in Black. Prime has been kicking around on the edge of production for years, and Night Man made it as a 1997 syndicated television series, but it was Men in Black that put Rosenberg on the Hollywood map. “I set it up/contracted all terms of the deal at Sony significantly prior to Marvel’s acquisition of Malibu Comics,” Rosenberg told the Journal. “In terms of new projects being set up going forward for film from the Malibu titles from the Ultraverse, Marvel and I will produce those together if any go forward (but, to be clear, Marvel owns and controls them).”
Marvel, Rosenberg and Lowell Cunningham, the actual creator of the Men in Black comic, each got a piece of the action from the movie, and there was a lot of action to go around. The first Men in Black movie in 1997 grossed nearly $600 million internationally, plus another $117 million from tape and DVD rentals (the highest-grossing comic-book movie ever until Spider-Man). With the release of a 53-episode animated TV series, a movie sequel and numerous videogames and toys, the property has become a billion-dollar franchise. It was a revelatory experience for Rosenberg (after whom one of the Men in Black aliens was apparently named).
“After I left Malibu Comics, I thought: I can do something in the real business world or I can continue to play with comics,” Rosenberg said. “I felt I had learned some lessons from Men in Black that would allow me to do both.”
What lessons? “How long things take in Hollywood,” he said. “Basically, you’re shoving a boulder up a hill. The project you’re working on is going to take longer than whatever execs you’re working with will last at the company. They may be multi-billion-dollar companies, but they still do a lot out of relationships and gut feelings.”
If there were two watchwords, therefore, that Rosenberg took away from Men in Black, they were “patience” and “relationships.” He formed Platinum Studios and settled in for the long haul. In the ensuing seven years, Rosenberg hasn’t actually published any comics, and only one Platinum TV/movie property has seen the light of day: Hermann Huppen’s Jeremiah, a French post-apocalyptic adventure comics series that was at one time published in the U.S. by Dark Horse was turned into a 35-hour cable series for Showtime. But Rosenberg has, nonetheless, been busy exercising patience and forming relationships with comics creators, movie executives and investors.
Rosenberg has managed to plant Platinum as a kind of catalyst between Hollywood and the comics industry. He objected when the Journal described Platinum as “agenting” for comics creators, but because the company doesn’t have the resources of a major movie studio like Sony or a major comics publisher like Image, it’s not immediately easy to see what it actually does. Platinum is incapable of single-handedly putting out a movie or even a comic book, and yet Rosenberg describes the company as a publisher and as a producer. “I equate publishing comics with producing comics,” he said. “We’ll be producing them, and publishing them, but not distributing them ourselves. A record company is still a record company even if it isn’t one of the handfuls that actually distribute. A book publisher is still a book publisher even if they have a parent or a relationship where someone else distributes. I look at it as the same as the film model in Hollywood. Many companies fully finance and produce movies, but distribute them through the majors. New Regency, for instance, is every bit a studio, but they release through Fox. Pixar, up until next year, has been a studio without its own distribution — and they’ll still likely sign up with a studio.”
A movie requires the coordination of talent, funding and a distribution network. For a typical project, according to Rosenberg, Platinum will supply at least some of the talent and some of the funding, bringing these elements together with a theater distributor. Platinum’s role, as Rosenberg describes it, is to “set things up.” Normally, that means attaching a director and a screenwriter to one of Platinum’s comics-based properties — ideally, a director and screenwriter who have strong “relationships” with a major studio, which, in turn, has strong relationships with actors and distributors. In the cases of Night Man and Jeremiah, Platinum also found financing for the projects before bringing them to the networks.
It’s relatively easy to “set things up” in Hollywood, especially if you have the kind of track record that Men in Black represents — Rosenberg and Platinum have set up dozens of properties with different studios over the years. The term means only that Platinum has succeeded in attracting the attention and varying degrees of commitment from studio execs and potential directors. If you take lunches with enough people in Hollywood, after all, it begins to matter less and less when one exec is replaced by another exec mid-deal. But it’s also important to take lunch with the right people, according to Rosenberg. “We don’t like to set things up just to set them up,” he said. “Most of what’s set up doesn’t get made. If you just go with whoever writes the biggest check, that tends to be a mistake. You may want to waive front-end fees [to get a commitment from the right studio]. It’s not that different from publishing comics in a way: The first goal is to get it made.”
When it comes to publishing comics, though, getting it made seems to be the last goal on Rosenberg’s mind. Many of Platinum’s projects are on a faster track to movie production than to publication, even though they are being marketed to Hollywood as comics-inspired properties. Though it hasn’t published anything, Platinum has hired large numbers of comics creators over the last seven years to work on dozens of comics titles. Lee Nordling, whose résumé includes DC Comics, as well as Nickelodeon Magazine, the Walt Disney Magazine and the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, is Platinum’s executive editor. “My job is to review new pitches for comics or previously published comics to determine whether or not they’re suitable for Platinum. For previously published comics, we decide whether we want to develop them for film and TV. When I think a pitch, a comic, or some aspect of either could make sense for us. I send it along to Aaron [Severson, Platinum Director of Development]. … I try not to be a bottleneck to the flow of ideas. I get the first submissions from the new creators. I get back to every creator on every proposal — even though there have been lapses, I’m committed to this — and, when the project isn’t something we’re interested in, I show them how to play closer to where we are in the editorial sandbox. Our favorite creators are the ones who are persistent and keep trying with new submissions.”
Platinum has also generated a large number of comics concepts in-house, most of which are tangentially linked by a continuity bible, which it calls the Platinum Macroverse. The Macroverse has been created by a team of creators, including Marv Wolfman, Cary Bates, Danny Fingeroth, Dan Mishkin, Dean Motter, and animated Batman story editor Michael Reaves, under the supervision of the former head of Dreamworks TV development and animated Gargoyles creator Greg Weisman. It is distinguished from the typical in-house universe at a Marvel or a DC in that it encompasses multiple dimensions that allow room for, not only different characters and situations but also different genres. Along with the usual science-fiction, fantasy and superhero-based worlds, the Macroverse contains environments for such movie-friendly genres as thrillers and romantic comedies. Platinum also had its eye on foreign comics publication and is designing some of its books to accommodate the European comic album format, as well as the American graphic-novel format.
With its shared universe, non-superhero genres, foreign-market ambitions, and movie pitches, Platinum starts to resemble the recently departed CrossGen Comics, but the similarities end abruptly. Platinum not only doesn’t hire creators as salaried employees, as CrossGen did; it doesn’t pay them freelance page rates either. Although it has an in-house universe designed to link its line of comics, it doesn’t actually have a line of comics. Platinum has published no comics to date and has no plans to publish comics directly. In a reversal of the arrangement by which Malibu launched Image Comics, the plan is for Platinum comics to be released through Top Cow, Image and other publishers that are deemed appropriate for a particular title. Furthermore, its titles will not be ongoing series, but graphic novels and limited series.
According to Nordling, “We’ve got science fiction, suspense, horror, supernatural, action, adventure, fantasy ... anything we think makes sense for that broader mainstream film and television audience. That said, we also have superhero/costumed-hero-related properties, but our goal with these has been to really move away from the need to understand a book’s mythology in order to fully appreciate it. Following this train to the depot, each Platinum book or miniseries will be completely self-contained.”
As at Malibu, Platinum comics typically begin with a writer-driven concept, to which Nordling connects an appropriate artist. A common refrain in Nordling’s descriptions of the kind of art needed for a given title is “a very realistic and grounded style.” Another, more consistent, requirement that Nordling applies in his search for usable comics concepts is that they must be comics proposals and not movie proposals. But the idea of a self-contained romantic comedy drawn in a realistic and grounded style begins to seem so cinema-targeted that one might wonder why Platinum even bothers with the comic books.
The likely answer is that comic books have a powerful cachet in Hollywood these days. It is the thing that sets Platinum apart from the thousands of other pitch-meisters in Tinseltown. As much as Rosenberg says he loves and is serious about producing comic books, Hollywood is the destination that he never loses sight of, and a comic-book line, even a nominal one, is his best stepping stone to green-lit movies. Rosenberg objects, though, to the idea that he is jumping on a bandwagon or exploiting a fad. Asked if comic-book origins made a pitch more saleable in today’s Hollywood, he told the Journal, “For some execs, yes — and I wish it were always the case — but after we’re about 30 seconds into a pitch, the exec really just cares about the story, the take and our plans. Bringing financing in is more helpful than whether or not the property is based on a comic.”
One has to assume, though, that a proposal for a comics-based movie from the man who made many people rich with the comics-based Men in Black has a distinct advantage in attracting financing. And even if the project’s comic-book pedigree is only good for 30 seconds in an exec’s office, that can be a lifetime when compared to the cold shoulder typically turned to the multitudes of would-be dealmakers without such credentials. Still, Rosenberg is no doubt right to take offense at any hint of Johnny-come-lately opportunism. Even if there is a comic-book bandwagon in Hollywood, Rosenberg was there from day one, building it with his bare hands.
In any case, he said, “there are several reasons we prefer to start with comic, instead of film pitches, treatments or scripts. First, all the other production companies have access to the same talent pool in Hollywood. We’re outside of that box, and the studios know it. They also know we have access to a tremendous library of properties, which is growing daily, and they know we understand how to tailor these properties to the needs of film and television. In short, we’ve carved out our own unique niche in Hollywood, and we like that niche just fine. But comic books have been popular in Hollywood for 60 years. They’ve been used forever. It’s true that merchandising became popular not that many years ago, so that may have helped propel comic books [in recent years.]”
Another advantage to starting with a comic book, he said, is that “we get to see the story and characters play out in the comics form. And so does the creator. But, if we relied on what gets set up at a movie, we’d only get a fraction of the stories told that we have a passion for. What fun would that be? Also, when a production company is developing a film or TV show from a comics property, if early efforts to develop the adaptation go south, we always have the source material as our start-over place. But if we developed material as original films or shows, and initial efforts didn’t go anywhere, it would be difficult to find a start-over place, and our development efforts could be wasted.”
Comics are not necessarily a ticket to ride, however. For every Men in Black or Spider-Man or Hellboy, there are hundreds of comics properties lost forever in development purgatory. Marc Silvestri, after all, despite some initial success with Witchblade, decided to turn Top Cow’s properties over to Platinum for movie development. Rosenberg explained, “Top Cow spent the money to create the division and hired the people to do it, but at the end of the day, it’s the focus of the guys in charge (Marc and Matt [Hawkins]) that’s needed so that they can direct the endeavor, and it’s that focus they couldn’t afford. In other words, they couldn’t spend the time necessary to go to 50 meetings to set up one movie, and then a zillion more to keep the momentum up on that film. One really needs to know the personalities of not only the studios, but each exec, and how the wind is blowing that particular day.”
Asked if comics have affected the way modern Hollywood tells stories, Rosenberg said, “I think videogames and music videos have had a much greater impact in this area.” But he did acknowledge that “certain comic stories scream out for effects to be developed that we’ve never seen before, which has helped to advance the technological capabilities of the medium.”
Asked if the anticipation of a movie deal is affecting the way modern comics creators are creating comics, he said, “I think creators realize there are a broader range of stories that can be told than are currently perceived as commercial in the comics medium. Because we encourage creators to delve into these areas and because they know they’ve got a greater likelihood of setting something up with us if it does fit our needs — the way any publisher looks for material that meets its needs — I think creators do work towards our end of the editorial sandbox. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re creating a comic because they expect it to be a film. We’re very straightforward with creators that it’s our first goal to get from the creator the comic in which we have a shared vision. We want the creator to be happy and satisfied with the comic he or she created. Just the comic. Otherwise, there’s no fun in heightened expectations of a movie that may never get made.”
A key aspect of that shared vision, however, is that, if successful, the creator’s idea will ultimately end up as someone else’s vision altogether. Comics creators who bring concepts to Platinum are cautioned from the beginning that in order for their idea to make it in Hollywood, they have to let go of it. “If they’re spending millions of dollars, studios have to be able to do what they want,” Rosenberg told the Journal. “If a creator is going to be unhappy with that, maybe we’re not for them. Maybe Hollywood isn’t for them.”
When the Journal pointed out that Hollywood producers aren’t known for their wise treatment of comic-book properties, Rosenberg said, “Yes, bonehead things can happen. A studio could make a guy a girl. Sometimes they ask, ‘Can this be the grandson of the [protagonist] so we can lose the period and make it present-day?’ We can’t tell them what actor to hire. We may jump up and down hating it, but at a certain point, the creator will lose control of the property.”
What do creators get in return for that loss of control? Initially, not much. They are paid a small up-front advance per assignment against later royalties. For comic books, those royalties come to about 20 percent of wholesale sales (or eight percent of retail sales). Andrew Foley, who is writing a number of titles for Platinum, told the Journal, “There’s a nominal advance against future royalties for each project. It’s not a page rate — I get the same advance for 88 pages of Crimson Rose as I do for 190+ of Jeremiah: The Last Empire. But the Jeremiah book will likely have a higher price and greater public awareness, so I’m hoping this will contribute to a higher payback after the advance is deducted.”
The royalty arrangements follow much the same pattern if the project becomes a movie, though the percentages tend to vary more depending on the creator’s degree of participation and the details of the deal that Platinum is able to work out in Hollywood. Creators are paid in royalties for both comic-book and movie development, whether they are the writers who originated the ideas or artists who were assigned to existing projects. Nordling said, “The only cases where creators’ participation is limited to publishing and not film royalties is where we’d already set up the projects and the pies were long-since carved, participation-wise ... or where full page-rates were paid ... or where the book is based on an existing property.”
For the most part, according to Rosenberg, “this is a publishing royalty and a film/licensing royalty. If Platinum makes money on a book or its adaptation, the creators make money. For film-related royalties, creators receive a percentage of the monies Platinum actually makes ... and no, this isn’t any variation on a ‘Hollywood net deal,’ which never pays anything. Again, if Platinum makes money, creators make money.”
And, by the same token, if Platinum doesn’t make money, it doesn’t owe any money to the creators who worked on its books. Platinum has been able to minimize its risk, which is why it’s able to have so many balls in the air at once. If only a handful of the dozens of projects in progress pay off, Platinum’s gamble will have paid off. It’s a deal that has attracted primarily creators who feel they have much to gain and little to lose, creators who are just breaking into the field or who have been away from it long enough to lose most of their publishing contacts. For these creators, Platinum has a lot offer, according to Nordling: “I work closely with them to help hone their storytelling skills, and for some, who’ve yet to work with somebody else’s script, they’ve learned to work to fulfill an interpretation of somebody else’s vision, while still being able to express themselves on paper. Some are looking to use their published books as the first important rungs of the ladders of their careers. Others, whose properties are already being set up, are calculating how they can use this credit to plan their careers. I’m very into helping creators with career planning because it helps them do their best work on the project that’s right for them ... and it gets us the best books possible. A win-win for everybody.”
Except that this win-win also has it’s downside. Comics creators, after all, are being asked to produce a lot of work for very little money on the expectation that somewhere down the road a comic book will finally be published, which may or may not make money and, perhaps more importantly, may or may not be made into a movie. Nordling has been developing comics properties for Platinum for six years. The soonest that any of them will see print is next summer. That’s a long time to wait for a maybe. As a result, creators have sometimes tended to give Platinum projects less than top priority in order to work on projects that will put food on the table today.
“Because of our low advances, we don’t set firm deadlines with our creators,” said Nordling. “We’re much more interested in getting books to be good than fast, and I suspect this is the reason so much of what we have is still on the drawing board. This said, it’s important that writers and artists be able to work on our books and still be able to make a living, and since our books are more of a marathon than a sprint, I think we’ve approached this the best way. Well, the best way for us. The downside is when some artists run into time-management issues and put our books on a perpetual back burner. In these cases, we’ve had to dissolve our relationship with them, and that’s always sad, because I still remember the time when they first read the treatments or scripts with enthusiasm, then agreed to the contract, and never made the time to do the work.”
If Rosenberg has been off the comics-industry radar for a while, that is entirely intentional, according to Nordling and Rosenberg. An open-to-admissions announcement has circulated on the internet, and Platinum’s website, platinumstudios.com, makes clear that the company is looking for comic-book proposals; but, despite numerous Hollywood nibbles and options, Platinum has largely kept quiet. Knowing how slowly Hollywood wheels grind, Rosenberg has avoided publicizing deals that may not lead to anything concrete for years. Fans can only hold their breath so long, as anybody whose anticipation of an Elfquest movie was first triggered decades ago can tell you.
Foley was first attracted to submit a proposal to Platinum nearly five years ago. His first idea for a graphic novel was shot down, partly because it was a fantasy idea that would have been too expensive to film. Other proposals, however, were accepted by Nordling and led to writing assignments on various Platinum projects. Foley has 11 titles in various stages of completion, as well as a couple of non-Platinum graphic novels still to be placed with a publisher.
Like other Platinum creators with whom the Journal spoke, Foley said he is encouraged to focus on his comic-book scripts and let Platinum worry about any adaptations to film, but movie potential is always hovering in the background. When he became involved in a collaboration with Scott Brown on Threads, a horror concept turned fashion-industry satire about carnivorous clothes, Foley told the Journal, “Lee felt it was important that the pitch have the same tone as the script ultimately would. In other words, just saying the story would be funny wasn’t going to cut it — the pitch itself had to be funny, too.”
When the Journal commented that it sounded as though funny comics were only wanted at Platinum if they could be translated into a funny movie pitch, Foley explained that “pitch” was the Hollywood-spawned term Nordling and Rosenberg used to describe comic-book proposals. Foley and Brown were prodded to improve their pitch for the Threads comic book not the Threads movie, he said. Toward that end, Platinum offers much advice on its website for honing pitches. Ostensibly, this advice is aimed at pitching ideas to comics editors, but movie terms quickly enter the discourse. (“The high-concept [‘movie title] meets [movie title]’ can also be effective …” “Sometimes it’s something as simple as the pitch that sold the movie, Twins, which was, more or less, ‘What if Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger were twins?’”) Platinum’s emphasis on the pitch, is probably beneficial to beginning comics creators looking for a career in mainstream comics, but it also suggests that Platinum is ultimately looking for comics properties that can be easily translated into pitchable movie proposals.
“Comics,” said Rosenberg, “have the added value of being a visual medium, so there’s a closer relationship between comics and film than novels and film, and, if the material is right for a studio, it’s a big help for them to be able to look at a visual dramatization of the story.” In effect, the comic book becomes part of an eventual pitch to movie studios.
“When it comes to Platinum,” said Foley, “I sometimes do find myself thinking about films, in terms of the type of genres and stories the company thinks will work for comics as well as get set up for film. Before I pitch, I sort through the story ideas I’d like to write someday and decide which ones Platinum might embrace — and then I pitch almost everything I’ve got anyway because it’s really a waste of time to second-guess what will really become a movie.”
Even if Platinum is judging comics proposals from the perspective of a movie producer, that perspective can be somewhat freeing for comics creators in the ways that it differs from comics-industry expectations. Foley said, “Another aspect of Platinum I find very attractive is the opportunity to write comics in a wide variety of genres and formats. I like superhero comics and I want to write superhero comics. But I don’t like the stranglehold superheroes have on the Direct Market, and I don’t want to write only superhero comics.”
Foley’s Platinum projects in progress: Age of Kings, a 62-page science-fiction graphic novel drawn by Russell Hossain. Foley described it as “pretty much ready to go,” with a roleplaying game expected to be spun off. Jeremiah: The Last Empire, a graphic-novel follow-up to the Showtime series, with art by Jorge Correa Jr., is “around two-thirds scripted,” and is slated to appear online in early 2005 before its print incarnation later that year. Jest Cause, a humorous take on fantasy quests, is “almost fully written” and may appear first in France as a graphic album drawn by Kevin Atkinson. Threads is “fully scripted,” with character sketches designed by Juan Chavarriga. Crimson Rose: Fairytale Ending is a four-issue color action-adventure miniseries, is “three minor fixes away from being fully scripted” with character sketches being designed by Amber Greenlee. Early McKay Vs. The Morpheus Machine, a children’s fantasy adventure to be co-written with Marc Bryant only exists as a partial outline at this point. Return of the Wraith, a 93-page Macroverse graphic novel is “fully scripted” and waiting to be drawn by Jason Millet. Dwellers, a four-issue suspense miniseries is in partial outline form and is slated to be drawn by Brian Churilla. Foley is also working on the outline for Ghost Bullet, a miniseries with a dark-fantasy police-procedural premise that makes it hard to encapsulate. Also being outlined are the dark fantasy Near Dead, the satirical action-adventure A Family Affair, and the modern-day fantasy comedy Life with Fred.
Platinum’s tastes would seem to encompass a wider range than the typical superhero-centric mainstream publisher, but at the same time, it is wary of material that might be too edgy for the broad movie-going public. Brown (Foley’s Threads collaborator) has his own small publishing company, Cyberosia, and reserves his Platinum pitches for “more commercial projects that don’t necessarily fit in with what I do at Cyberosia, which is publish more eclectic stories.”
Since Platinum plans to put its titles into print through other publishers, the Journal asked Brown if he would be in the peculiar position of developing comics through Platinum that would be published by Cyberosia. He replied, “I may self-publish occasionally, but it would be an elbow-to-asshole situation to publish my Platinum work through Cyberosia.”
Brown, like Foley, has been working on Platinum projects for five years. His first assignment, Human Factor, he described as “moving ahead at a good clip.” When a project that is nearly five years in the making can be described in that manner, clearly Platinum’s “good clip” is different from that of other publishers. Also moving ahead at a good clip are Nightfall and Threads. Others, including the Rosenberg-conceived Atlantis Rising and My Little Devil, he said, are “bottle-necked on my end.”
Brown told the Journal, “Platinum’s been really flexible with deadlines, so I cherry-pick whichever ones I feel the most in sync with to work on. I’m reformatting Seen into a more commercial size. I had originally written it for the European album size, but since the artist hadn’t gotten too far into it yet, and the Gold Circle deal raised the projects awareness level, I chose to revamp it into a more palatable format.” He praised Platinum’s openness to a wide range of formats, as well as its patience.
Writer/artist Dean Motter has been in comics for more than 20 years (a two-volume archival collection of his Mr. X comics was just announced from icomics) and worked with Nordling at DC. Nordling brought Motter to Platinum early on, not only to pitch concepts but to act as a de facto art director, illustrating other people’s pitches and designing what Motter called “launch collateral.” His next project for Platinum is scheduled to be Warhead & Peacenik, a Motter concept that has been percolating for several years and will be drawn by Jean-Jacques Dzialowski. The Macroverse title Unique was handed to Motter as a “two- or three-sentence springboard,” which he developed and scripted. It’s currently being drawn in Italy by Stefano.
Motter told the Journal, “I always tend to envision my work cinematically, but I’ve resigned myself to the notion that someone other than me will probably be writing the treatment/screenplay. I’d like to think that I’m capable, but until I prove it. it’s more likely that someone with a track record will be brought in. I learned that when I optioned Terminal City for movie development. Tom Clancy once said that when one sells the movie rights, it is akin to selling a house. You can’t really go in and ask to consult with the buyer on how to decorate the place.”
Rob Moran, a published comic-book writer/artist who had been away from the industry for a while working on computer game design and the Rugrats comic strip, is a relative newcomer to Platinum, having come to it a mere two years ago. Platinum projects he says are near completion include a miniseries called Illegal Aliens (which he said had suffered from “artist problems,” until the involvement of artist Javi Fernandez) and a graphic novel called Blood Nation. He is also doing character designs.
All of the Platinum creators with whom the Journal spoke described their Platinum work as “work for hire” in the sense that they do not own any of the properties they are writing or drawing — not even the ones they brought to Platinum. But neither are they paid page rates such as most work-for-hire freelancers receive from comics publishers. Moran said, “I get an advance for each project, and any other monies come from the royalties on publishing or the back-end deal from other mediums — film, TV, etc.”
Moran, like the other Platinum creators, said he was happy with the deal he had been offered: “Scott, Aaron, Lee and everyone else at Platinum have treated me like a prince and been incredibly supportive. Dealing with Platinum has been the most positive experience I’ve had working in comics.”
If nothing else, Platinum has given Moran a chance to be working again in a field that doesn’t always offer second chances. “When you leave comics for any length of time, people assume you are dead,” he told the Journal. “The Platinum deal seemed like a good way of getting back into comics, getting my work out to the public, being able to create my own books and get the chance to have my characters pollute the minds of the unsuspecting reader. And if any of my books were to make it as a movie or TV series on top of all that I’d be one happy bunny. (Who wouldn’t?) The Platinum deal seemed to offer the best chance to do all those things.”
Those sentiments were echoed by other creators who had been on the outside looking in before coming to Platinum. Foley said, “Mostly, I’m just very happy there’s at least one door in the industry open to me. That’s one more than people who haven’t heard of Platinum, or taken advantage of Lee’s generosity, have.”
If there’s one thing that Rosenberg represents to both Hollywood players and hopeful comics creators, it’s opportunity. Though Rosenberg preferred not to be referred to as an agent or a rep, it’s clear that he’s honed the act of representing to a fine art. To comics creators, he is an open door and an open-ended promise of aesthetic and financial reward, even if that reward ultimately requires the relinquishing of aesthetic control. To movie producers, he is Mr. Comic Book, an impeccably credentialed guide to the dark and mysterious gold mine that Hollywood believes the comics industry to be.
And if the property he offers Hollywood has been woven from a thread so fine as to be invisible to the naked eye, that’s no reason to doubt its potential. It’s all about the pitch, after all. Reality can follow as best it can.