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Brian K. Vaughan

Brian K. Vaughan talks about the Writers Guild strike

Monday 5 November 2007, by Webmaster

***Why is the WGA striking?

Because writers believe we deserve a fair share of the revenue generated by the stuff we helped to create, crazy as that sounds.

There’s an excellent summary of what I consider to be our very reasonable demands at this blog, which has been a consistently dependable source of good information about the strike: http://www.unitedhollywood.com/

But basically, writers are looking to negotiate modest residuals and protections for use of our TV shows and movies on the internet, where most of us will likely be getting the majority of our entertainment from in the not-too-distant future.

We’re are also asking for a share of about 8 cents—that’s eight stinkin’ pennies—for every DVD of our work sold, as opposed to the criminally insane 4 cents we receive today.

I read that Warren Ellis was concerned about possibly being barred from writing for animation (which is largely outside the jurisdiction of the WGA) during the strike, and while I think his concerns were absolutely valid (the strike rules have since been amended), I believe those initial guidelines were born out of the fact that this negotiation is also about fighting to extend the same health benefits, pension, and other protections that writers like I enjoy to our equally important colleagues in animation (as well as those in "reality" television, which employs more writers than you can imagine).

I got to hear firsthand how hard the Writers Guild worked to negotiate a fair deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, but after more than three months of talks, the AMPTP still hasn’t come close to even meeting the WGA halfway on its most important proposals.

It sucks.

***Do you support the strike?

Yeah, a hundred percent.

A few months ago, I was thrilled to start my second season as a writer and now a co-producer over at LOST, and have been unbelievably fortunate enough to help write a few scripts for what I think could end up being the show’s best season.

And much as it breaks my heart for my colleagues and I to have to walk away from a job we love, we all think it’s vitally important to the future of our industry.

At least in the short term, my friends and I stand to lose a great deal both creatively and financially in this strike, but every working writer I’ve ever met feels a responsibility to help protect those writers less fortunate than we are, as well as the next generation of creators to follow in our footsteps.

These last few weeks have been a real crash-course in unionization for me, and I’ve come away a bigger supporter than ever.

When we first started talking about a strike, I figured the Teamsters (our faithful truck drivers, location managers, etc.) would hate us "spoiled, overpaid typists" if we threatened their livelihoods with a work stoppage. But instead, they’ve been incredibly supportive of us at every turn, with many vowing not to cross our picket lines.

I know I sound like a second-rate Norma Rae (or Chief Tyrol from Battlestar for you young hipsters out there), but seeing all kinds of laborers, regardless of our different crafts, treat each other like brothers and sisters during the negotiations with the powerful corporations that employ so many of us has been one of the best experiences of my selling-out time here in Los Angeles.

***What does this mean for your comics work?

Comics are not covered by the WGA.

I’m lucky that my phone started ringing from editors at Marvel and DC as soon as the threat of the strike materialized, and while I’ve gotten some cool offers to work on existing books, I think I’m going to take however long the strike lasts (which could be anywhere between a day and forever) to concentrate on making Ex Machina kick as much ass as possible as we start to head into that series’ final year, and to continue to develop my next big creator-owned projects now that I’ve finished all my scripts for Y: The Last Man, Runaways, Buffy, The Escapists, Doctor Strange, and the upcoming Logan mini with Eduardo Risso. (Sorry, gratuitous plugging isn’t prohibited by the WGA during the strike.)

But this isn’t a vacation. I’ll be walking the picket line every single day, so if you’re visiting sunny Burbank, drive past and honk your support for the pasty bald kid, won’t you?

***Does this mean there’s going to be a flood of Hollywood writers coming into comics?

Maybe? I know a few creators—and a lot of readers—are sometimes annoyed by carpet-bagging movie/television writers swooping into comics to steal "their" jobs, but film/TV writers have been enormously generous about letting me into their world, and I think we should return the favor. Art is not a competition, and there’s always room for talented creators.

That said, no one wants these screenwriters to just try to shoehorn their unsold pitches and scripts into comic form. But trust me, the many writers out here who truly love comics already know that it’s a totally unique medium, one that deserves unique stories.

I guess I’d be a hypocrite to completely frown on translating existing movies/shows into comics (I had an awesome time doing that with Buffy) or translating existing comics into movies/shows (happily done it with Y and Ex Machina), but I think what each medium really needs is NEW ideas specifically created to play to the strengths of that particular artform.

***What does this mean for your comic-book movies?

Like I said, I’ve written adaptations of both Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina for New Line, and while they could conceivably move either or both of those drafts of mine into production during the strike (without any rewrites or other contributions from me), that seems pretty unlikely for lots of different reasons. As with most comic-to-screen adaptations currently "in development," I imagine they’ll stay in limbo as long as the strike lasts.

I was also about to begin work on a particularly exciting new comic-to-screen adaptation that I can’t really talk about, and while I’m hopeful the gig will still be waiting for me if/when the strike ends, who knows? That’s one of the many risks that comes with this very necessary strike.

***Will comic writers ever unionize?

I certainly hope so, though I’m sure that makes many of my beloved employers cringe.

I talked about this when Whedon interviewed me over at CBR a few months back, but I think it’s worth repeating here…

When I used the great Cloak and Dagger in Runaways, Bill Mantlo, the man who helped create them, didn’t get anything, to the best of my knowledge. Not even a credit. And I’m not blaming my friends at Marvel (or DC, for that matter), all of whom are good people who’ve always been beyond fair with me. It’s just indicative of the broken system, one that I’m very much a part of.

For the record, Bill Mantlo was struck by a hit-and-run driver a few years ago, and now requires expensive daily care that’s way beyond what modest means he was left with after dedicating much of his life to our industry. And while things like The Hero Initiative, an absolutely worthwhile cause that I totally support, exist to help comic creators in financial need, THOSE CREATORS SHOULD NOT BE IN FINANCIAL NEED.

I know the Writers Guild of America isn’t a perfect union, but I was afforded more benefits and protections in my first few months with the WGA as a work-for-hire screenwriter than I was ever given in a decade of working in comics. And again, I’ve been treated pretty honorably throughout my career, and have made more money than I ever deserved doing this "job," but that doesn’t mean that I can’t still be concerned about the generations of writers and artists before and after me.

Anyway, I know that smarter people than I have tried and failed to unionize in the past, so for now, we’ll have to help creators like Bill Mantlo by donating directly to organizations like The Mantlo Project, or to the aforementioned The Hero Initiative. But it would be nice to see the day when they weren’t necessary:

***I’m not in the WGA, but I support the cause. What can I do to help?

Thanks for asking! At this stage, I suppose the best thing you can do is to think critically about everything you’re going to hear regarding the strike, especially because so many of the news outlets we all rely on are owned and controlled by the very people against whom we writers are striking.

None of us wanted this strike, and we all hope it’ll be over before any of you loyal viewers even notice we were gone… but in the very likely scenario that this is going to be a long, tough slog, I’ll try to check back in with more thoughts.

For now, wish us luck!