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Over the past week, a number of stories have broken regarding comic book creators’ rights — or, more specifically, the way that two big companies, Marvel and DC (the sum total of the “mainstream” comics industry, more or less), have denied that the creators of their characters and stories are, in fact, creators.

James Sturm, founder of the Center for Cartoon Studies, explains it better than I can over on Slate, in the course of explaining why he’s boycotting the Avengers movie, due to Marvel’s recent courtroom slapdown of the Jack Kirby estate. Marvel has been on a roll lately in court, also winning a case against Gary Friedrich, the man widely acknowledged (by everyone except Marvel and the US legal system) to be the creator of Ghost Rider, and having the nerve to send him a very large bill for their lawyer’s fees.

Then there’s the controversy over the Watchmen prequels, which I’ve talked about myself over here.

I do believe that that last case is a little different than the first two, but what do I know? I know nothing. All I have is my own uninformed opinion. Nothing, I tell you, is what I know.

Well, okay, there’s one thing I do know.

Boycotts don’t work unless they are real.

By which I mean this: you can’t selectively boycott a company’s products over a short period of time to get them to take care of a systemic problem with the way they do business. If you want to get them to change the very system under which they do business, you’ve got to completely turn your back on the corrupt company that you’ve targeted, until they change their ways.

If you refuse, for example, to buy the Watchmen miniseries, but you use the money you’d have otherwise spent on it to buy Justice League International trade paperbacks instead, DC Comics isn’t going to listen to your concerns. They know that they’ve got you, and the firestorm will blow away. Corporations (legally, anyway) are people — but they are more-or-less immortal people, who are playing the decades- and centuries-long game, not the weeks- months- or years-long game, like you and me. You and your outrage will be gone in a hundred years — and Alan Moore will probably be dead by then, too, maybe — but Watchmen will still be in print, and will still be making money for DC or whatever hydra-headed corporate singularity monster owns it by that time.

Likewise, if you don’t go see the Avengers movie over Marvel’s treatment of Jack Kirby, but you still pick up the latest issue of The Avengers (or X-men or Fantastic Four or …) from the comic book shop, your “boycott” will be seen, by Marvel as well as other observers, as nothing more than momentary posturing.

If you want to make real change, you have to make them hurt, and you have to make them hurt for a good, long time. Take this from an old GLBT activist: boycotts are serious business, and can make a real difference, but only if they are drastic, complete, well-publicized (in a friendly and inviting manner), organized, and long-haul. Anything else is a tantrum.

For me, and for most of my friends, it would be very easy to boycott these companies — my interest level is fairly low anyway. I only started picking up monthly product just recently, when Comixology started having lots of “same day as print” offers, and my interest was piqued, but I am not sitting on the tail-end of a decades-long hobby, and could drop the practice of buying a handful of books every Wednesday very easily. Likewise, it’s easy enough to go see some other movie rather than The Avengers. I want to see it, but I also don’t care all that much if I miss it.

I expect that if James Sturm does buy any regular superhero books, he could drop them easily as well. Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate what he’s doing. His essay is the very definition of a friendly, persuasive invitation to boycott. For it to really work, though, Marvel’s going to have to suffer a lot more than just one bad weekend at the box office. The run-of-the-mill fan whose blood boils over these decisions is going to have to give up all his/her monthly books, stop going to all the movies, and refuse to support the companies whose policies they claim to be outraged by.

Do you think that’s going to happen? I don’t think that’s going to happen. Neither do the corporate boards of Marvel and DC. Which is why these policies will continue.

You’re probably wondering if I’m going to boycott. The answer is that I don’t know. Yes, I am part of the problem. If you’re honest with yourself, and you’re reading mainstream comics today, or watching movies based on Marvel and DC properties, ever — so are you. I haven’t decided yet what I’m going to do about the fact that I’m part of the problem. But that’s really none of your concern. We each make our own decisions. The real question you should be asking yourself is this: what are you going to do? If you really want to make change, you’ve gotta do more than you’re doing, because change isn’t anywhere near about to happen. Right?