Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Fair Use and You

[The following pertains to laws and regulations of the United States only. Please check your local laws as they are likely to be different.]

The Fair Use Act comes up a lot in creative endeavors. It allows for a number of necessary uses of copyrighted material, and as such it needs to be discussed. Those uses are research, education, and parody, all of which are necessary for a free society. After all, if I am absolutely forbidden from using copyrighted material, I can't use it for reviews, compiling lists, and it becomes immune to being made fun, all of which runs counter to running of a society where information and humor are key.

Education and research are pretty basic. The material must be used in such a way as to educate others on the topic, and in such a way that it is obviously educational. This allows it the material to be critiqued, reviewed, and used an an example of a relevant topic. Yes, that includes textbooks, and yes, this means that the original creator may not get any money from it, but he or she does need to be recognized. It also allows relevant information to be compiled, and for the material to be used in a report without needing to know who the copyright holder is. It may end up sucking to be the creator of the material in question, but it does allow information to flow freely, and allow people to make more informed choices.

It should be noted that merely compiling the strips does not constitute fair use. If I'm discussing perspective and I decide to use a few strips to illustrate the point, that constitutes an educational use. If I compile Top Ten lists and occasionally use strips, that constitutes fair use as well. If all I do is show a number of strips without some kind of context and without permission then I'm improperly using those strips, even if I don't intend to profit from them. Okay, so that's a major point by itself: The intent to profit (or not) is superfluous to determining fair use, so don't count on it.

Parody is a hard one, as people confuse it with satire. A "satire" is a hopefully humorous poke at society, whereas a "parody" is making fun specifically of the source material. Granted I can combine them, but the issue here is that I need to use enough of the original material to count as a parody, and not just a satire. In other words, if I were to use Gabe and Tycho from "Penny Arcade" to make a point about video gamers in general, that is to satirize video gamers, but I don't refer to the strip, then I have not parodied the comic and as such have no fair use protections. On the other hand, if I make fun of the strip while making a bigger point about gamers, then I have parodied it and thus have fair use protections.

It's important to understand the difference between satire and parody for those making comics in order to avoid legal issues with the original creators. It's just as important for creators for them to understand education and research in order protect themselves. Learn it, live it, love it; knowing the limits of fair use can help you protect yourself.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Problems of Cosplay versus Source Material

[First off a caveat: I definitely believe in the idea that cosplay does not equal consent, and that sexually harassing a woman in a skimpy costume is definitely a bad thing. That said...]

An interesting question that popped up on a Facebook thread recently was someone inquiring about which female characters a person could faithfully cosplay without showing a lot of skin. She and her boyfriend couldn't think of more than a few options. I ended up giving them a few dozen options, but it did raise an interesting point about female costumes.

That point was that although there are quite a few good options for female costumes, a lot of attention gets placed on the skimpier costumes, and not just from men. Has anyone else thought it strange that while there are movements against dressing women in skimpy outfits in the books is seen as bad but women themselves routinely choose the skimpier outfits? Why is it that, out of all of the outfits Princess Leia has worn, the most popular by far is the Slave Leia?

Yet there are seems to be no no campaign against wearing skimpy costumes at conventions, and in fact rules are being created all of the time to allow for the wearing of said costumes. Think about that for a second: Isn't a cosplayer in effect a walking advertisement for my comic? If someone is wearing a Starfire costume, isn't that going to make people curious about the character, especially if the cosplay is great? And by extension wouldn't that make people curious about any other comics I publish? Conversely, the more clothed characters tend to be forgotten; how often do you see Rogue in her loose jumpsuit as opposed to her Spandex versions? And that's ignoring major players such as the Stargirl, who actually wears pants rather than leggings.

I can see any reasonably intelligent marketing department taking advantage of this trend. They'd mention to the illustrators that, "Sure, it may be exploiting them to put them in skin-tight outfits, but every time Starfire shows up at a con, Teen Titans sales go up." The illustrator, wanting to maintain a steady paycheck, is thus more likely to draw Starfire in as little as absolutely possible to increase the odds of her showing up at a convention and causing that spike. After a while, you're going to start seeing more female characters in little clothing in order to spike sales.

It gets worse when you look at successful independent comics. The ones with the best sales and critical acclaim are also the ones with scantily-clad females. Obviously I'm poking a little bit of fun at Image when it was big, but you also have Fathom (both the current and the Elementals version), and isn't there a character that stops time whenever she has sex? And this isn't just a new trend; both Silk Spectres in Watchmen are well-known for their nude scenes.

I just find it interesting that there is a movement to put women in less revealing costumes, yet the best received books contain the skimpiest costumes, and that the most replicated costumes on the convention floor are the ones that show the most flesh. I really don't think that the movement has much of a chance...

[Looking for some great cosplay ideas that don't show a lot of skin? Try these:
DC Comics: Katana, Liberty Belle, Stargirl, CIA Diana Prince, Talia al Ghul, Black Canary (Justice League Detroit), Big Barda, Gypsy, Ice, Molly O'Reilly (Booksof Magic), Madame Xanadu, Jonni Thunder

I'm not sure how to count Zatanna and Black Canary; they make beautiful outfits, but they both use fishnets by default; however, they have been known to wear pants (slacks for Zatanna, Black Jeans for BC).

Marvel Comics: Rogue (jumpsuit/jacket), Mariko (Wolverine's girlfriend), Lilandra, Mohawk Storm, Miss Marvel (Invaders), Yukio (Storm's friend), Wasp (depending), Nico (Runaways), Gerty (Runaways), Photon (Nextwave), Dazzler (Age of Apocalypse), Storm (Age of Apocalypse), Psylocke (the puffy purple outfit), Miss Marvel (Current), Captain Marvel (Danvers, curent).

Any of the Disney Princesses should also work, as well as the majority of Final Fantasy women. Even ignoring the school girl outfit, a lot of anime women work as well, such as Trixy (Speed Racer), Priss Asagiri (Bubblegum Crisis), and pretty much any woman prior to the 1990s. Sarah Connor, Buffy, Willow, and Tara, as well as any of the Firefly women, work as well.

If it helps...]

Friday, June 13, 2014

Costume Design Considerations

An illustrator has a lot of issues to worry about, and costume design is the biggest problem. The character designs are not just important for the comic itself, but for marketing, branding, and even sections of the website. There are some basic considerations that need to be taken care of so here's some ideas.

An important consideration: Every detail needs to be debated, but especially if you are doing a humor comic. You can get away with some skimpy designs, especially compared to a lot of other comics, but for those that have some serious designs make sure that you know the genres involved. This means that not do you need to know the genres you are making fun of, but you also need to know them well. If you're making fun of superheroes a hero with lts of pouches and pointed feet with a ridiculously buffed body and huge guns needs to be considered if anything involving the 1990s is involved. Comedy requires a lot of details to be right to work well; keep that in mind and your comic will look great.

It's a great idea to make sure that the costumes are functional as well as great looking. This is a criticism levelled at most science fiction and fantasy comics, but worth bearing in mind for other genres as well. The outfit needs to work with the person's profession as well as the local weather; there is a reason that a beekeeper is dressed so thickly and Pacific Islanders wear so little. If the character does a lot of traveling the character will tend to cover a lot of skin, and the clothes will also be loose. The clothes have to look right for the character and what the character does is important.

Social class also needs to be allowed for. A poor character's clothes are going to have more wear than a rich character's, and the rich person will also tend to have more decoration than a poor person. The key word in that last sentence is "decoration"; it can mean scrolling and piping as well as jewelry, and some cultures do not use jewelry. That also applies to any equipment the character carries, and especially any weapons.

Seriously debate kilts and pants. There aren't enough men in kilts, and they make a great fashion statement for action heroes. I also think that there needs to be more women in pants; it also makes more sense for an adventurer than a dress. This is not to say that the character needs to be exclusively into kilts or pants; they can wear pants or dresses for other functions. It would just be nice to see more of them.

Racial elements also need to be debated. A character with a tail does not need to just wear pants with a hole in them; it needs to be allowed for in the race's fashions. A winged race is unlikely  to wear metal armor due to its weight, and is unlikely to wear much back armor if any. It also bears noting that a thick-skinned race is unlikely to much, if anything, in the way of clothes; there is just no real need for it. This applies to body decorating as well; a furred race is likely to color patches of fur rather than tattoos.

Body decoration needs to be seriously debated. You should not use tattoos just because they look cool; they need to serve a purpose in the world. Consider yakuza tattoos; not only are they worn by people tat need to make themselves known, but their wearers are also forbidden from some areas. In general, poorer cultures with a lot of visible skin have tattoos, merchant cultures tend to favor ostentatious displays of wealth such as jewelry, and more philosophical cultures prefer simpler clothing. For example, the yakuza are from a poor culture (the criminal element outside of society) and one that displays a lot of skin (they do spend a lot of time in baths).

There are some cultural reason as well. Besides concentration camp survivors, tattoos have also been used to show possession (some nobles tattooed their serfs and slaves) as well as military organization (some European militia went sleeveless because their regiment information was tattooed on their left shoulder). It can also show rebellion; Amy Tan is famous for the shock of purple hair she wore to rebel against her background. This also shows up in hair styles; a mullet is rarely the sign of a rich man, while a short hair cut shows someone in the military. In Europe the rich wore long hair for the same reason rich people in China had long finger nails; they had other people to do care for it.

The basic point is that you need to have some serious fun with character designs, and it can help you build the world at the same time. Take some time and have some fun with it. After all, with any luck these are character designs you are going to have to deal with for a while, and you had better have some very good reasons for them.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Using Kickstarter to Raise Funds

Eventually you are going to want to gather your comic together, print out a large number of copies, and sell the hard copies at a convention or every comic book shop you can think of, or even through a website. Odds are good that You are going to use something like Kickstarter. Setting up a Kickstarter campaign can be a lot easier than you think, but it does require some planning. There are three major considerations:

1) Make sure that the idea is solid. First off, make sure that someone is going to buy your book. In general, less than 1% of your fans will buy your book; most people just reprint the webcomic, maybe with just a new piece of art as the cover. Add in a few extras, such as roughs, concept art, or information on how you create the comic, and you get more buyers. You need to think: "What can I do to make people interested in this book?"Oh, and let's go back to that 1%: Base how many book you will need printed based on that figure, and you should be okay. If you have less than 100,000 fans, think long and hard if you really want to sell a printed version.

You also need to debate the tiers. They should be cumulative, and you should have at least four tiers. The book by itself should be the second or third. The first tier should be a couple of dollars and be something cheap, such as bookmark or sticker pack. You should also have a tier that is the book and a piece of good swag, such as a tee-shirt or hat. You can also use sketches, posters, and any other swag you can think of. Just debate what you think will help sell the main item; some items are simply not appropriate, so have fun but think it through.

2) Know what you are going to do with the money. This means that you need to know not only how much you need, but also to make sure that you have enough for the product itself. Also keep in mind that sites like Kickstarter charge a fee, so that needs to be allowed for as well. If you are going to pay for any marketing that needs to be allowed for as well. Lastly, do not forget to charge enough to make a profit; a good mark-up is 50% to 100% of the price it takes you to produce each item (this allows for your production price as well as marketing and the site's fee).

3) Make sure that you market it. No one will buy what you have to offer if they don't know about it. Not only can you use social marketing, but it also means to possibly pay for advertising as well and promoting it on discussion boards as well. Project Wonderful is great for anything comic-related, so make sure you spend some money there.

In short:
1) Make sure your idea is solid.
2) Make sure you know money you'll need to make.
3) Make sure you market it.

Do that, and your Kickstarter project should do well!