Amethyst ups and downs

I heard the latest news about Amethyst, that the current DC Comics series she’s been starring in has been canceled, on Facebook. That’s where I always hear that a character I had a hand in creating will be showing up in a new comic or cartoon or as a toy or what have you. Which is not to say that DC has made a special point of keeping me out of the loop; there’s a long tradition of comic book publishers pretty much ignoring the artists and writers who invented their characters when those people are no longer doing work for them. And I’ve got it a lot better than many of my predecessors who created far more well-known heroes than Amethyst or Blue Devil: I have a contract with DC that specifies the royalties I’ll receive when my work is reprinted, adapted or licensed, and DC always pays.

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to see my characters (not that they’re “mine” in any legal sense) used in a way that seems to fundamentally misunderstand them. Or sometimes to understand them but decide to change them anyway, as appears to be the case with the recent Amethyst series: DC recognized they had a character who could be altered to appeal to the “Hunger Games” audience, and so they took a story about a thirteen-year-old girl with a loving family but a hidden and wondrous and dangerous heritage, and made it about a seventeen-year-old who’s been living a desperate and unhappy life on the run before she discovers those older dangers. (I couldn’t say whether the “wondrous” part can be found in this version, since I’m only going by what I’ve read about the series, not having bought the comics myself).

It’s an understandable approach on DC’s part, adapting what they already own for today’s market, even if it didn’t make me happy. But making me happy is actually not in the contract I signed with them.

In any case, the poster on Facebook who called my attention to the cancelation of the Amethyst comic was happy to see it go, and figured I must be too. Well, yes and no. On the one hand, it definitely didn’t represent the Amethyst I’d like the public to know; but on the other, it’s never a good thing to have your work canceled and the impression left that it’s not marketable. Thankfully, I’m not looking for employment in the world of DC and Marvel heroes these days, so I don’t have much concern that those companies will take away a lasting impression that my stuff doesn’t sell. In the big picture, in fact, it’s their stuff that doesn’t sell…not like it did in the 80s and 90s when the bulk of my work for DC (and some for Marvel and Malibu and others) was done. The “public” that knows the latest comics incarnation of Amethyst is a pretty small one, far smaller than the number of people who’ve seen the charming minute-long animated shorts now appearing on Cartoon Network (which definitely “gets” the original comic book series, though it necessarily skimps on a lot of the detail and nuance).

And I do feel bad for Christy Marx and Aaron Lopresti, the talented writer and artist who poured a lot of themselves into the current series and who I hope will find immediate work to replace it. Better yet, somebody should pay them both to work on projects of their own creation. That’s not the way the monthly comic book industry works, I know–Gary Cohn and I were hugely fortunate to have come into the business at a time when publishers, DC especially, were excited about trying new things–but I’d like to believe such a moment could come around again.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Amethyst ups and downs

  1. Peter

    Hey, Dan – I’m Peter. A little late to the party, I realize – but I just stumbled across this and wanted to add my two cents.

    I only got proper exposure to Amethyst relatively recently, through my (now ex) girlfriend Allison about three years ago. As I am a dyed-in-the-wool comic fan (likely to be buried in a coffin lined with Spider-Man issues from the 80’s), her somewhat latent comic book fandom came into full bloom soon after we started dating – but right from the beginning, she loved Amethyst comics. She absolutely adored them, and finding all available issues was her Holy Grail. I had certainly seen the covers of the originals lurking in the back issue bins here and there over the years; but had never really bothered to read any of them, as they didn’t really seem to be in my wheelhouse. I could certainly appreciate the general theme of the character as something that was worthy of praise – I just wasn’t really the target audience for Amy’s adventures. Unicorns, jewels, romance – you know, “girly stuff”.

    As a diligent boyfriend, I sat down to read the issues she had one day – lo and behold, I was a little surprised how much I enjoyed them. High-spirited, fun, serious without being dark, and still maintaining a sense of wonder and innocence. As she collected more of them, I read them happily – and while I can still say that they weren’t really written “for me”, so to speak – they were still a great read, and I’m happy to this day that stories like that had a place to shine. They were (and are) a great example of comics that were written for kids (specifically little girls) that are done with enough care that anyone, even a 30-something man, can enjoy them thoroughly. Writing something “kid-friendly” doesn’t have to exclude adults at all, and Princess of Gemworld is proof of that.

    When the new series was announced, a big smile found its way to my face, and Allison nearly had an aneurysm from joy. Eagerly anticipating the first issue, I read it before handing it off to the girlfriend – and I was sorely disappointed. The basic bio of the character hadn’t changed too terrifically (aside from being older) – but it was so DARK. It was rather bleak, grim, and frankly, there just wasn’t any fun or wonder in it for me. Allison enjoyed it to some degree – but the uncontrollably-bouncing-in-your-seat glee and excitement just wasn’t there. No SQUEEE’s were uttered. Can I honestly say that “it sucked”? Certainly not. Different strokes and all that, after all. That being said, I didn’t buy the comic expecting to read something halfway towards Game of Thrones, and it left a bad taste in my mouth.

    Is it a reflection of the comic book industry at large, or the audience itself, that this is what became of Amy? A difficult question. All I know is that I’d much rather sit down and read about the adventures of the character you helped create than the latest version. I’m inclined to think that there’s still a place for a character like Amy as you originally intended, assuming publishers are willing to look beyond grim & gritty for a while. The newest version of Jem & the Holograms seems to be scratching a similar itch with (not exclusively) female readers recently – you never know what the future might hold!

    In closing: thank you, Dan. Sincerely. On behalf of me, all the other readers who’ve enjoyed your books, and especially Allison. She cherishes Amy’s adventures in a way that’s difficult to articulate.

    • Thanks, Peter! About the recent reboot of Amethyst, the less said on my part the better, I think. But I believe it reflects the near impossibility of finding the intended audience for a character like the original Amethyst with a monthly comic book sold in comic shops; it makes much more economic and editorial sense to try to turn her into something that would mine the appeal of The Hunger Games.

      Thankfully, there are terrific adventure comics for kids out there (take a look at Ben Hatke’s Zita the Spacegirl), but they’ll be found in bookstores and online, not in comic shops.

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