Sunday, March 3, 2013
Life over fifty
First off, I want you all to understand that I welcome , nourish and encourage new blood in the comic book world. I think it's healthy for any industry, to be welcoming to new talent. When I started in comics, in 1980, many of my artistic heroes were in the same age group I myself am in now. I was thrilled to be in the same club as Jack Kirby, Gil Kane, Gene Colan, Joe Kubert, Curt Swan, John and Sal Buscema, John Romita, Don Heck, Gray Morrow and many many others. They were all valued for their skills, and their experience, and most if not all all worked steadily into their 70's, or until they passed away.
In my own experience, I have worked most of my years for DC Comics, and that was by choice. The people who worked there were good people, and I still call many of them friend. Like any young artist, I had offers to work elsewhere, and occassionally dipped my toe into other company's ponds, but always came back to DC. At DC, I have had many successes, and opportunities. I was thrilled to help establish the All Star Squadron and Infinity Inc with Roy Thomas. I was thrilled to be part of the original "Crisis" as well as "Zero Hour" and "Infinite Crisis," all major DC character event comics. I was thrilled to help DC share in the success of the 1989 blockbuster "Batman" movie by drawing one of the best selling comic book movie adaptations ever.
I poured my heart and soul into reviving the character of Superman, working alongside John Byrne and Marv Wolfman at first, later graduating to writing Superman's adventures alongside people who became my best friends. I left the Superman universe at a time when our successes paved the way for a TV series, "Lois and Clark" as well as an unsuccessful attempt to bring the Death of Superman to the big screen with Tim Burton and Nic Cage. Superman as a property was revived, and led to a ton of Death of Superman merchandise, a higher profile in the public eye, and renewed interest among kids. A cartoon series did make it on the air, and was terrific. Smallville the tv series owes a lot to what happened when I was involved in the comics.
I moved on to pouring my soul into reviving Captain Marvel, and it was a wonderful experience that lasted through an original graphic novel, and 48 regular issues of the monthly comic plus an annual. After that, I seemed to suffer from the cancellation of Shazam, and a firing from the Superman books I had been invited back to, before I even started. Bad feelings ensued, and I stopped working for DC.
I went to work at Marvel for a few years, and enjoyed my work on the Avengers, Captain America, Thor, as well as drawing the company wide crossover "Maximum Security: and the spin off USAgent mini-series. When my opportunities dried up at Marvel, I went to work on a smattering of Wildstorm books, on comics such as Tom Strong, Top Ten, Planetary and a mini-series with Hollywood writers Danny Bilson and Paul Demeo, "Red Menace."
I returned to DC as well, drawing Wonder Woman with Walt Simonson writing, and then fell into the situation of being a "fill-in" artist, jumping from title to title, sometimes drawing a whole issue or two, sometimes drawing only a partial issue, when the regular artists were either in deadline trouble, or unavailable. I was offered, and accepted an exclusive DC contract in hopes that this would somehow help me to land a regular assignment, and steady work. After 9 years of being the guy who was thrown at late deadline material, I was still not any closer to getting regular work, nor was I being treated by the company as a valued employee. In my last year on exclusive contract, I was starved of work. Kind of hard to believe, but there it was.The contract had no clause to require DC to give me a minimum amount of work, as this problem never happened in the past, and could have happen, or so I thought at the time. I drew the last two issues of JSA so that the regular artist could jump onto one of the new "52" comic launches. After that, I spent the summer trying to use whatever connections I had to get work-- any work. I was finally given a short Batman themed story to draw, a story that was never published. Dan Didio kindly invited me to join him on a new Challengers story, and Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Grey asked for me on their Freedom Fighters re-launch. That manifest itself as the now concluding Human Bomb four issue series, done after my contract expired, but promised while the contract was still in effect.
I am thrilled to be well remembered, and respected in the comic book community, and to have fans willing to pay me to draw commissions, but I got into comics in order to tell stories, not to draw custom art. I still feel vital, and still want to be at that table. Do I think DC comics owes me anything? Yes and no. I understand that no company owes anything that isn't contractually stipulated, but in my heart, I think I deserve better than being marginalized over the last 10 years. I'm not retired, I'm not financially independent. I'm a working guy with a family, working for a flat page rate that hasn't changed substantially since 1995. I may have opportunities at smaller companies, companies that pay less per page than I made in 1988, with no royalties or ownership of any kind. I'm not at all looking down at that, but it is hard to reconcile, as I can't work faster, and refuse to hack my work out to match the rate. I have pride in what I do, and always have. As to my part in the history of dc for the past 33 years, I was a highly visible and successful part of it, not a minor footnote.
Getting back to the beginning of this essay, and to the artists I loved as a kid, all I ask is for some of the same consideration my generation of creators and editors gave to the older guard in the 1980's. My work is still sharp, my mind is still full of stories to tell, and I'm still willing to work all hours of my day to meet my deadlines. Why am I out of work from the publishers? Why are my friends, people who turned in great work, worthy of hardcover and trade paperback reprints, not able to get work?
As a comic reader and customer, the publishers use our older work in collected editions, for what they call first copy royalties, no reprint fees. They publish the All Star Squadron trade, for example and you buy it for whatever the cost. My royalty is maybe a couple hundred dollars, if I'm lucky, for 11 issues worth of work. On a recent Absolute Infinite Crisis hardcover, I had 30-odd pages reprinted in there, a book that retailed for over a hundred dollars-- a book that DC never even gave me a copy of, and the royalty amounted to a few dollars, I couldn't buy a pizza on that windfall. I want to work, I don't want to be a nostalgia act, remembered only for what I did 20, 30 years ago.
Older fans need to voice their opinions, and ask the various companies why (fill in the blank) person isn't drawing or writing comics for them anymore. If you like the Superman books enough to spend a hundred dollars on a volume, I don't understand why your buying power can't wake the companies up to the fact that they have a willing and able talent pool idling.
Oh and put in a good word or two for me as well, why don't you:)