Monday, March 4, 2013

Howard Beale strikes back!

Wow, thanks for the outpouring of comments! I appreciate every one of them, and I want to clarify that yesterday's essay had been simmering for a while, and was brought to the surface by a few things. I had seen comments on the internet, that  the reason I wasn't on regular assignments had to do with me being semi-retired, or perhaps independently wealthy:) Neither is true. I also was at a bookstore this past weekend, looking at a big book on DC, a history, year by year. It reminded me of how many noteworthy DC universe projects I've been involved in over the 33 years in comics.

My intent was not to garner sympathy, because I have a fine life, and career. I am doing fine, and have more commission requests than I can handle right now. I wanted to pull back the curtain a bit, to show a little of what goes on behind the scenes. I made it clear that I chose my path, I made the decisions, and I don't have any real regret, except for staying with the DC exclusive contract when it wasn't really helping me.

I brought up the contract issue of not getting work, while being exclusive to DC, because I have heard from others who were in the same situation, who might not feel free to publicly say anything about it. DC comics  has always been fair to me, and honored signed deals with no problems whatsoever, in all the years I worked for them, except in this one instance. To take this further, I think that if DC had, say six artists, that they DESIRED enough to sign to exclusive contracts, then those six artists should have all been incorporated into the New 52 launch. You assign the folks whom you have obligations to FIRST, then hire others. That's called honoring the contract that you as a company drew up and signed.  Personally, I was surprised that I wasn't included. I contacted plenty of editors when I was open, and I wasn't even told of the plans to relaunch. I pitched story ideas, and did my best to contact any who could help me, finally resorting to contacting Jim Lee on Twitter. Jim probably got me onto a list of creators that Palmiotti and Grey saw, when they were planning their Freedom Fighters mini-series.

DC chose 52 artists over me, and let me twiddle my thumbs for a full 3 months while they tried to find inventory work for me. I knew I wasn't currently in anyone's "top ten" artists, but to find that I wasn't in the top 52 was a shock:). If any of you are ever asked to be exclusive to any company, make sure they will incur penalties if they can't keep you busy:)  I had that clause when I first signed, but the renewals did away with it because "it wasn't really needed." D'oh!

So anyhow, don't feel sorry for me--I don't want that. Don't use this as an excuse to bash DC over their new books, but DO use this to understand the life of a freelance creator. We pay for our own healthcare, we pay an extra tax known as the self employment tax, and we all work strange long hours trying to make sure your comics ship on time. Support comics by the creators you like! Every sale helps. Support the independent publishers, and the small press comics, because they are putting their hearts and souls into their creations without any advance payments or page rates.

 I know it's easy to be negative, and throw out comments like"Everything new sucks, why can't we have 1980's comics again," but don't stop buying comics, and then remain on the sidelines complaining.  If you like comics, stay in the game, search out books you think you might like, look for familiar creators you like. Your dollars count, and if you support what you like, and support your local comic stores, it helps us all. Buy from smaller publishers! Competition is what pushed DC and then Marvel to initiate royalties on comic sales, putting creator names on covers, raising rates, etc. With the industry dominated by a few, there is no incentive to treat freelancers better. People joke about the content of the Image comics at their launch, but Image Comics' success forced other companies to pay creators better, rather than lose them to creator owned books.

When I started professionally in comics, in the Summer of 1980, comics were printed on the cheapest paper known to anyone except the toilet paper manufacturers, and the big publishers all bemoaned the state of the business. Then things started to change. DC made great strides, and created deals to lure talent to their ranks. People were offered equity in new character creations, royalties came into play, new formats were targeted to the new, direct sales market, and there was growth in the industry again. People were enjoying more creative freedoms, freelance rates were raised, and this wave lasted through the Image launch and the comic book "boom" time of 1991-1994. Once creator owned books were no longer guaranteed to earn a creator the equivalent of a DC or Marvel page rate, the power reverted back to the publishers with big pockets. Since then, page rates have been flat, and year by year, and with a glut of freelancers available, the publishers have treated everyone with less respect.

The time is now:
I think that the comic fans who feel like they've been abandoned could organize and be a force for change. I hear from so many of you, that there's nothing to buy that interests you, except for reprints of older stuff. If you can all rally around me, based on my blog post, then let's see you rally around books by creators you like. If I had a kickstarter, I would love your support. I know of plenty who have crowd-funded projects who could use your support. Graham Nolan and Chuck Dixon, Jamal Igle, Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Grey, all did or are doing their own stuff. And there are many many others. Support them! Support Image books.  We all love comics, or we wouldn't be here right now, correct? Your local comic store probably needs your business as much as I do. If any of your favorite creators solicits a book through Previews, please pre-order a copy, and try and talk it up to the owner, in hopes they will stock a few extras to be discovered by a customer or two.

Whatever ire I've stirred in you, it needs a positive outlet. Hopefully something good can come out of my rantings. Thanks for listening.


Warren said...
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Warren said...

The thing is, after 40+ years of being a fan of both Marvel and DC, I am so frustrated at what they have done with their characters that I no longer wish to read them. I love super-heroes and I love Spider-man and the Avengers and I love Superman and the Justice League of America, but the titles put out under those names now bear little resemblance to the tone of the comic books I read.

Today's comics are over-wrought and too reliant on "superstar" talent to put a "new take" on established characters.

No one these days is interested in just telling a good story and doing so on a monthly deadline.

It's not that I don't like reboots. In fact I tend to love it when the baggage of decades of "continuity" is discarded and writers and artists can do new things and tell new stories.

But that's not what Marvel and DC are doing. All they are doing is marketing. DC has allowed it's uniquely whimsical world to be cast aside in favor of a more "Wildstorm" feel.

And Marvel is only concerned with hype and not with quality. Their whole schtick used to be that the Marvel Universe felt a lot like the real world. Well, that is gone. Marvel feels more like a video game universe than anything else right now.

I'm no longer interested in reading comics that I've read my entire life.

I think that this might be the best time in twenty years for a new company to grab a big share of the market. The only thing is that it will have to be done outside of traditional venues.

Make Mine Kickstarter!

Dale said...


Are you accepting Commissions ?

Many of us would be very interested

Darren Goodhart said...

Mr. Ordway, you sir, are an amazing class act. I,ve bee following your work ever since your start, and I'll keep following it no matter what you do next...

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Tim said...

I hope that your post will be the "Blog heard round the world" to make comics fun and entertaining again. I have always been a bigger DC fan than Marvel due to my love for Captain Marvel but when they soiled Mary Marvel's purity and then de-powered all the Marvel family, I was finished with DC. My other hero, Superman, has been portrayed as a condescending jerk for many years now so there is little left. The issues you did on JSA right before the reboot were the last glimmer of hope I had for ever enjoying my old heroes again and that too was cast away in favor of this travesty called the new 52. After reading your post, however, I am once again given hope that maybe either DC and Marvel will take note and hear our cries as fans for stories of heroic deeds and not superpowered drama. If not, my hope is that you and other talented creators will unite under your own banner and deliver what we are crying out for.

Unknown said...

It appears to me that the 'New 52' era DC is all based around which clique you are in. If you are not in with Jim Lee and Geoff Johns, then forget it.

It appears to me that Lee is trying to recreate his glory days of the mid-90s of Image Comics and Marvel's 'Heroes Reborn' at DC.

Hence the reason why the talentless Rob Liefeld was given 3 New 52 titles and Jerry was given none...

Unknown said...

I'm one of those people who grew up with your Superman (together with Byrne and Wolfman), and I actually re-read that run every year or so, it was a classic take on Superman, maybe even the best Superman ever written and drawn.

I also own your Captain Marvel run and love it for the same reason, because what you did was to give those characters a sense of fun about them that no longer exists.

I believe that may be the reason DC and Marvel don't want you anymore.

Every now and then I flip through a comic book today from those two companies. I don't buy them anymore, and I used to buy comics for maybe 100 dollars per month, and that was when they were still between 75 cents and 1.75 dollars.

That whole "story telling" today, you know, when they tear off the Joker's face (har har, isn't that funny? No. It's torture porn imagery)...

... it just doesn't mix with what you write and draw. Your stuff I could (and have) given to my nephew to read.

The stuff they do now?


I know that really doesn't mean anything for somebody who has to pay the bills.

Still, just wanted to let you know that yes, you have a lot of people who love your work

Unknown said...
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OkayComics said...

I appreciate the comments here. I also share a sadness over the loss of the DC Universe continuity. I had some hope that the Earth 2 concept within the New 52 would be a preserved history of DC concepts from the World War 2 era onward, though i do understand their wanting that to be a reimaging to fit into the 52 concept. From my POV as a long time comic reader, I would love a preserved alternate Earth where the old continuity could reside, and new tales could be told. Who knows-- that could be in the plans as well. Any makeover as big as the New 52 must have a loophole, or reset button built in. The perception of the marketplace nowadays seems to be that readers need an annual jolt to keep their interests. That may be true if you're trying to service the whole line, but many individual 52 books have interesting storylines running, that don't need the company-wide jolt. That was the case in the 80s and 90s too. During my run on Shazam we had to rearrange storylines to accommodate Inferno(Underworld Unleashed) One Million, Final Night. Maybe I'm getting those titles wrong, but it was a pain to change direction on your book, to fit in that stuff, all for a couple thousand sales bump that went away when the crossover was done.

Robert Greenberger said...

When I was editing and then was Editorial Coordinator it became my sad duty to sit down with veteran talent and explain why there was dwindling work for them or why there would be no future assignments. Tastes had changed and their style wasn't in vogue, their own work had deteriorated with age, or they were no longer reliable with deadlines. The hurt look in their eyes or strain in the voices over the phone was heart-breaking.

These were the first and second generation of artists in our field, guys whose work I grew up enjoying. I considered myself incredibly fortunate to be able to meet them and even assign them work.

Here we are thirty years later and now we're that generation whose style or work ethic or storytelling sensibilities are no longer in vogue. It's a sad, but inevitable, cycle.

Thankfully, though, today you can self-publish or work with small presses and continue to create. Back then, these men had no option. The commission market hadn't developed yet and too little of their work earned them royalties or reprint fees, leaving them scrambling for cash.

jerrytoons said...

Jerry, you have no idea how many times my friends Bruce and Don and I have lamented the nosedive DC comics has taken over the last several years.

I loved your artwork on Superman by the way.

I haven't bought a comic book in years now. I think the new 52 Superman is a joke. He looks more like a cheap knock off than anything like the real deal.

I hate that DC has dumped on you, but comic book companies are notorious for doing that to their talent, as you are well aware.

I really don't know what the answer is. I think DC is desperately trying to grow it's readership by trying to appeal to teens and adults who aren't really comic book readers in the first place. They may go to superhero films in droves, but could care less about reading a comic book.

In the process they've abandoned loyal fans without so much as a tip of the hat.

I wish you well and success in whatever you do. Like I said, I don't know what the answer is when it comes to the comic book industry. They've lost my support and my money quite some time back, and I don't envision anything changing that in the near future.

Lightning Man said...

Thank you for your last two essays. For the longest time I would say that they don't make music that interested me anymore. Then I found out through the internet that they simply didn't promote the music that interested me anymore. I have a feeling that comic books are the same way. I need to find guys like you, Dixon, and the like doing stuff that isn't for the big two and buy it. I'm going to start now. Thanks.

Kennnn said...

I appreciate this and your previous essay. That said, I'm afraid I'm going to stay 90% on the sidelines and bemoan the state of the industry. I'll keep buying the few titles that have, barely, piqued my interest. But they are very few and far between.

If there are books starring super heroes that are, well, heroes, people to look up to out there, paragons, I haven't found them.

I'm of the opinion that not only have DC and Marvel decided to stop using the talents of ages past, but they've decided they don't want the money of the fans of those ages.

I understand new attitudes getting in new readers, etc. But targeting an entire company's output toward that one demographic, and telling the extant fans to go away and b****r off. That's no way to run a business.

ACC said...

Jerry - should you ever do a Kickstarter for something you create, one of the first pledges will be from me. And that's a promise.

Lance Roger Axt
The AudioComics Company

Dale said...

I also would contribute to a Kickstarter project with you involved.

I am also very interested in getting a commission done by you.

Anonymous said...

Listen to your fans. Create your own IP and launch it with Kickstarter!

Anonymous said...

Listen to your fans! Create your own IP and launch it with Kickstarter!

Larry Hama said...

I'd work with you any time, Jerry. But the times may have passed us by. Many years ago, Mark Gruenwald told me that my stories were "old fashioned," and when I pressed him for details, he said, "your characters are likeable, and your plots make sense."

Gal Schwartz said...

Hi Jerry,

I really didn't know how to address your original message,
I was probably too shocked by it, as I just couldn't believe
DC wouldn't want you all over their books.

It doesn't help any, but be sure you're in my "top 10"
(top 5 to be more accurate) living artists.

I'm a freelancer artist in another field and I feel your pain.

You there are only a very few who have such a gift as you have,
and I'm sure/hope you'd have a big workload soon enough as you
have legions of fans.

Thank you for years of inspiration,

Simon Williams said...

Hi Jerry,

I just wanted to say that as a long time fan of your work, I'm rooting for you all the way. What you've written is honestly the way a lot of us feel. Like yourself, I hope that someday the DC continuity that your worked so hard on makes a welcome return... and more importantly that DC will be gracious enough to have you part of it.

I'll share this post around, as it's something ever comic fan/pro needs to read. :)

Best wishes,


TheAnatomyLesson said...

I agree with Warren, Marvel & DC have been garbage in my eyes for several years now. The only ties I had to either company was Vertigo and that's gone now.

They could use a little nostalgia right about now since their comics haven't been great since that older era they seem to intend on separating themselves from. Honestly what made DC great (once) was their history!

Make mine Kickstarter!

Dwight Williams said...

Still looking for stuff I like, Jerry.

And if I might suggest a writer outside the comics field who might be good for the industry and artform to see you to collaborate with?

Chris Haddock. The creator of the TV series Da Vinci's Inquest, Da Vinci's City Hall and Intelligence.

You'd be a good fit on a Da Vinci comics project.

Felicity Walker said...

My room-mate had a good idea on how to send a message to the publishers. Start a Facebook page or group for Jerry Ordway, and have it say that everyone who has joined this page intends to buy whatever Jerry Ordway draws. When the publishers see the page and see that 100,000 readers will buy anything Jerry Ordway draws, they won’t be able to claim that there’s no demand for his style.

I do support whatever my favourite artists draw. If a new comic comes out drawn by Jerry Ordway, I’ll buy it. I have a Google Alert set for “Jerry Ordway” so that I hear about anything that’s coming out.

The thing is, most new comics art is bad, and I do wish we could have 1980s comics again. I do find myself buying a lot more used comics at the local bi-monthly comic convention than new comics off the rack at the local comic shop. It’s very tempting to give up and say that comics simply do not speak to me anymore.

The problem is that comics don’t look like comics anymore. Between changing styles, computer inking, computer colouring, and computer lettering, it all looks flat and low-grade. I primarily blame the style change; computers are not inherently bad if used properly, as labour-saving devices to do a job of equal quality to the old method.

Felicity Walker said...

PS: Earlier today I was thinking that comics are naturally aimed at teenagers and their tastes in art because they have the most freedom to spend their allowance or part-time job income. Fans 30 and over, OTOH, have had to learn to budget, and will not buy every X-title or every part of a summer crossover just to keep up with the storyline. We’ve become selective. (Even 30-something fans that still live with their parents still have to make their money stretch to the end of the month!)

Sounds like an explanation--at first. But that would imply that people over 30 have no disposable income at all, and that nothing is ever sold to them. And that’s obviously not true. It’s that the comic industry has chosen to ignore the mature customer, while the clothing, sports, car, food, and electronics industries have not.

There are all these extra people who could be reading your comics, industry. Don’t you want our money?

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