30 November 2006

Fair Credit for Both Words and Pictures

Over at the Cybils Fantasy/Sci Fi nominations page, author Alex de Campi commented today:

Hey, I hate to be a pain (I've just posted a similar request for a book I wrote in the Graphic Novel nominations) but AGENT BOO is really a co-effort between me and the illustrator Edo Fuijkschot, and I was wondering if you would mind putting his name on the nomination as well?
Agent Boo is a graphic novel. (Though the label may irk some Oz and Ends readers, Fuijkschot's page at the Word-Factory website describes it as one of "a series of manga chapter books" from an Australian artist now working in China and an English writer now working in, um, England.) So I assume it's a nearly equal creation of author and illustrator.

Most of the Cybil-nominated titles are novels, so there's a natural bent toward giving primary credit to their authors. However, writer-artist collaborations long predate graphic novels. W. W. Denslow was such an important part of creating two best-sellers with L. Frank Baum, Father Goose and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, that the two men shared the copyrights. (That income stream came in handy for Denslow when he drank himself mad on a Caribbean island, but that's a story for another day, children.)

Baum never worked that closely with an illustrator again, not in creating his books and certainly not in sharing his royalties. And the law was on his side. In the early twentieth century, Peter Hanff once explained to me, the law presumed illustration to be derivative of the text it illustrated. As a result, John R. Neill's illustrations for Baum's later Oz books were treated as legally part and parcel of the text. They went into the public domain based on Baum's death date, not Neill's. (In England, the system was already different; H. R. Millar long outlived E. Nesbit, so his artwork for her Psammead novels is still protected there while her texts are not.)

I suspect that this legal situation is why books--even picture books and graphic novels--continue to list authors before illustrators, even when the illustrator is a bigger name. That doesn't necessarily reflect the creators' economic value, but then that's what advances are for. (Royalties still tend to be split down the middle for those formats, though in theory creative teams can split royalties to as many decimal points as their publishers' royalty systems could accommodate. When I was a book editor, I had a pair of authors who seemed to enjoy devising ways to share their money that would stymie the Accounting Department.)

This doesn't come up, of course, when a single talented person creates both text and pictures, whether the format is an illustrated novel like Monster Blood Tattoo (in which the full-page drawings are mislabeled as "plates") or a literate graphic novel like Age of Bronze.

But what will happen as books become more multimedia, with art, online, audio, and even video components? Usually that requires several collaborators. If they eventually all work together instead of in sequence, how many of them will share credit, copyrights, and/or royalties? Will the writer retain primary credit or, as in movies, will someone else become the auteur?

And now that I'm muttering about such things, why is the biggest photo on most audiobooks the actor who recorded the words, not the author who wrote them? I presume the actors' head shots are more convenient and more attractive, but I'd still like to see the principal creators get equal visual billing.

Where was I? Oh, yes. As for Agent Boo, I'm sure its Cybils listing will be updated in a reasonable time.


Unknown said...

You're right that illustrators often are treated as less important, and I think that's a shame. The illustrator creates the image that will often remain in people's minds long after they read the book. I've often thought that there should be an award for illustrations in middle-grade or YA books, since the Caldecott is more for picture books.

Agent Boo has now been corrected on both the Cybils site and on the listing on my site. I apologize for the oversight.

Agent Boo is actually a graphic novel/text novel hybrid, an interesting new type of book which intersperses graphic novel segments between sections of text. We've had three such books nominated for the Cybils: Agent Boo, Abadazad, and Travels of Thelonious. These books show some promise for appealing to reluctant readers and visual learners.

J. L. Bell said...

Interesting remarks about the appearance of graphic novel/text novel hybrids.

As I understand it, Abadazad was originally a comic, then acquired its prosier elements for the hardcover editions. If Agent Boo was originally conceived as "manga chapter books," then it might have made a similar transition. Perhaps that underscores the gravitational power of prose, even in an increasingly graphic world.

(And I had no doubt you'd correct the Cybils listings as soon as you saw Alex de Campi's note. The Cybils seem to be running into challenges other book awards don't face, such as titles available only in the US or only in the UK, yet the community also has the self-correcting flexibility to get around those.)