As long as I can remember, speculative short fiction has been in trouble. Okay, that’s not really accurate. It’s short fiction’s print magazines that have (for the better part of last decade or so) been in trouble. Much of this is a reflection of the aging of their consumers and their inability to attract new (and younger) audiences.
A few years ago, when I was still worried about the survival of speculative short fiction, I came up with this idea. I use the past tense since I no longer equate survival of short specfic magazines with the survival of the form. No, I think themed anthologies are the lifeblood of the speculative short form.
Sorry about the rant. Back to the idea, which I can outline, because to pull it off would require lots of capital and it borrows from some of what’s currently being done. But...but...but...if you succeeded in making the numbers work , you’d actually attract new readers to the form (as a sort of a cross-pollination of forms...more on this later).
Let’s say, you focused on the genres of Military SF, Sword and Sorcery, and Supernatural Horror and were interested in minmalist short stories between 2000 and 4000 words. I chose these genres and sub-genres (off the top of my head) because they normally have a lot of visual punch, but you could use others as well.
You could produce online ezine, a print magazine / antho, a podcast series, a comic book antho, and a manga antho from the same stories by asking for a combination of exclusive first print, electronic, audio rights, translation rights, archival rights as well as rights to produce derivative works. Heck, we could go the route of Francis Ford Copolla’s Zoetrope All-story and request all rights, but as a sympathizer with all writers I’d never advise any writer (or publisher) to go this route. I mean, imagine they make a movie based on your work and you find yourself out in the cold.
The key would be that a print story = podcast story = audiobook = online / downloadable story, while comic book + manga would differ by 30 to 35% from the original short story (and from each w.r.t. visual communication and amount of dialogue used) in terms of say the ending. This is where the derivative rights would come in. The Comic and Manga versions would already differ (in a legal sense) just because the forms are so different. Again, I'm not a lawyer and am only really familiar with rights usually granted with prose short fiction, so I could have omitted other necessary rights.
Back to the cross-pollination aspect: If a person buys the comic book, they could receive the podcast or audiobook (which is 30 to 35% different) for free. This could be applied to various other buy-one-form-get-one-free combinations.
Since a Pro rate for a short story comes in at 6 cents a word (last I checked) and taking into account all the rights the writer would be granting, a fair payment might be US$360 (max 4000 @ 8 cents a word) upfront PLUS some % on the back end. Again this depends on the capital available.
Of course, the real cost would come from labour: slush readers, editors, webmasters, digital artists, mangaka (or rather pencillers who can draw manga style since mangaka are usually one-person acts), comic pencillers*, inkers, letterers, colourists. The comic dudes above would work on a work-for-hire to simplify copyright issues, etcetera. You could add comic writers to alter the story for comic form, but some consultation between editors and artists should take care of that.
*An important requirement for pencillers is to be able to draw from a short story instead of a full comic script. It occurs to me that doing this is closer to Marvel Style than Full Script.
General comic script formats (at least, the ones I’ve heard of):
1. Full Script
This is the format for writer-control-freaks, which is why I opted to learn this format! Basically, this is a page-by-page, panel-by-panel, break-down of what the writer wants to see. It involves panel descriptions (what must appear in each panel, including setting, action, captions and dialogue). The artist uses this as a guide to pencil the story.
2. Plot Script (a.k.a. Marvel Style a.k.a. Plot First a.k.a. Plot-art-dialogue)
This format involves the writer creating a synopsis of the plot, breaking it down to the page level, supplying action and setting. At this stage, the writer mentions only some of the dialogue (if any). Then the artist pencils the comic and, as a side effect, has the most control over the pacing and panel composition of the comic. Only afterwards, does the writer add the captions and dialogue.
Looking back, a lot of the Marvel’s internal story logic makes sense now... “There’s not enough space for Iron Man to explain his actions fully. Maybe, I can delete this section of dialogue and let reader’s imagination fill in the rest. Of course, this is a trial scene and he’s defending himself by giving a minute-by-minute account of actions, which the reader didn’t see, on the night in question. And there aren’t any witnesses or closed circuit cameras. What’s worse, the next page is splash page Avengers-S.H.I.E.L.D.-Skrull slugfest...Damn you, Bendisverse!”
3. Kurtzman Style
This involves drawing rough thumbnail sketches and scribbling down all the dialogue and captions inside these sketches. Then, the real artist transforms these sketches into real pencilled comic panels.
I only mentioned this tiresome-sounding format, because of Kurzman’s association with EC Comics and their association with horror comics and my idea’s reliance on supernatural horror. I can’t draw, so this format isn’t for me. Best left to writer-artists, maybe?
Anyway, see how a Marvel-style proficient artist would be better for translating short stories to comics or manga?
I even thought of a catchy name B.O.S.S. [Based On Short Stories]. Hopefully, Hugo Boss wouldn’t have problem with the name. This idea requires a lot of money to realise and may be slow to turn a profit, so only millionnaires and media conglomerates need attempt it.