Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Ketchup Kontinued -- Part One for Tuesday/Wednesday

OK, I'm reconstructing the lost post of Monday AM -- now more relevent than ever, given Mark Martin's engaging with the discussion, thanks to his exchanges with Al Nickerson. Links to follow; I'll be chipping away at this through the day, posting as I go, so please bear with me.

Dave Sim's latest letter on Al's site touches upon some of my posts on this very blog, and prompts a reply. Mind you, I'll be addressing the broader issues in a longer letter intended for Al's site -- hosting the ongoing discussion of Creator Rights -- but this seems as good a time as any to get into a few issue-specific points.

Here's an excerpt from Dave's letter, specific to my prior posts on this blog:

"Yeah, I think this might have done it. Driving away what limited participation we had from the creative community. The mythology that the major company contracts have just been getting better and better (“EVERYthing's fine now.”) takes a direct hit in finding out that seven years earlier Bissette got the same one I got. Plus, for a lot of guys with stars in their eyes the fact that Steve Bissette can't get a foot in the door at Vertigo is like finding out that Paul McCartney can't book recording time at Abbey Road studios. I mean it doesn't surprise me.  There's the “ins” and the “outs” at the companies--'twas ever thus--and the Neil Gaimans are the rare exceptions and not the rule. But it is very hard on the perception that runs very deep in the comic-book soul that all your hard work for DC and Marvel is like money in the bank not only while you're banging out your pages but that there's a Long Term Good Will Jackpot once you've served up a hit for them. “What have you done for us lately?” unfortunately is always more the company attitude. After all, this is the generation (or the generation right after the one: generations come and go so fast these days) that was weaned on Moore, Bissette and Totelben's Swamp Thing and would be starting from the baseline assumption that Bissette is the problem. If he would just get over his crankiness and his belligerence and let bygones be bygones and go and visit Karen Berger and his long-lost Vertigo family he'd be welcomed back with group hugs all around and given carte blanche to do whatever he wanted and a nice fat happy Neil Gaiman contract to boot. I'm not really being facetious, I don't think. The fact that Steve was given the same “take it or leave it” boilerplate contract for his proposed projects that I--as a marginal presence and first time potential participant--was given for the proposed Fables short-short speaks volumes about the non-Neil Gaiman end of Vertigo and of DC and of mainstream comic books in general. And those are volumes that creators don't want to read, unfortunately. I mean, heck, Steve Bissette is the absolute toppermost of the poppermost cutting-edge guy when it comes to comic-book horror--still!--just on the basis of what he did with Swamp Thing and Taboo and he can't get a project green-lighted at Vertigo even under their crap work-made-for-hire terms? That's just too sad. But look at the reaction of the comic-book field: given the choice between thinking badly of Steve Bissette or thinking badly of Vertigo, it's a no-brainer. If Steve Bissette is right (which he obviously is) then the average creator following in his career footsteps is walking into a potential death trap where they could end up as he did--producing hundreds of pages of top-flight well-thought-of work and ending up like Jerry Seigel. Except nobody offered to buy Bissette an overcoat after they kicked him out the door. Maybe if he got a job as a messenger in Manhattan?"

True enough, Dave. As Dave knows from personal experience, it's no fun being a pariah, but so it goes. With few exceptions, the pro realm of comics was just as glad to see me go. For my own part, I uprooted, I got on with it, found other ways to get by in the world, and have been much happier since. Since being a messenger for DC isn't on my future job agenda (nor is returning to mainstream comics), I'll get by just fine without comics.

As far as DC goes, from the time I departed from Swamp Thing as penciller, the only door that occasionally opened was as a 'guest writer' for that title in the fairly immediate wake of that departure. I followed that through to the work Keith Giffen and I did on a proposed Eclipso project, which actually got all the way to a contract negotiation -- deep-sixed by a low script rate and DC's negotiation "tactics" of the time (their way or the highway). I persevered nonetheless throughout the late '80s and 1990s; I didn't write off DC. My files harbor a fair number of project proposals I prepared or was involved with (including fairly polished and extensive proposals -- including scripts, full issue breakdowns and completed covers -- prepped with folks like Tom Veitch, Rick Hautala, Michael Zulli, Jack Butterworth, etc.) that were offered to DC and Vertigo, all for naught. Oh, well; no worries. I kept working on other things, up to and including Tyrant, and remained productive until deciding to step away from comics altogether at the end of '99.

Corporations do hold grudges as well or better than many frail mortals, and aside from the legal redirecting of creator ownership (relevent to the character of John Constantine) that emerged during my DC years, I've never directly benefitted from the hard-fought 'rights' battles fought with DC during the 1980s. As I've said here and elsewhere, I believe my role in those battles is part-and-parcel of the reasons I'll never benefit from the "new DC" era; it's been made quite clear to me there's no open doors there, even when the doors were tentatively teased opened (last in 1997-98). No love lost, but the belief, as Dave so neatly puts it, that if I would just "let bygones be bygones and go and visit Karen Berger and his long-lost Vertigo family [I'd] be welcomed back with group hugs all around and given carte blanche to do whatever [I] wanted and a nice fat happy Neil Gaiman contract to boot" is a tenacious one in comics fandom. It malingers to this day -- I just got an email from a fan to that effect on New Year's Day! -- and my stating otherwise is seen as just further evidence of my crabby disposition, ironically reinforcing the illusion that this is a situation I fomented and somehow cling to.

But that doesn't change the fundamental issues, nor the comics environment. Though I've been out of the old circles now for over six years, all evidence is that the old status quo holds. The fact that the Vertigo contract I was given a peek at in 1997-98 was something I wouldn't have agreed to on my own pet projects (but would have on the Swamp Thing-related projects I was invited to propose and did propose, including a Nukeface miniseries and an original Swamp Thing miniseries) is relevent, but that wasn't the insurmountable obstacle at that juncture: something "else" was going on, as Neil himself found out when he proposed the one-shot ten-page story we (Neil, John Totleben, and I) eventually completed for Neil's anthology Midnight Days.

Still, that Vertigo contract is a telling document. With the notable exception of the very different realm of mainstream book publishing, where the newer generations of comics creators are thankfully yielding some measure of acceptance along with venues and benefits denied all prior generations of comic book creators (note, I am citing "comic book", not comic strip) -- a realm closed to most of my generation of creators, and that's just how it is -- the Vertigo contract Dave posted is a pretty eye-opening dose of reality for many.

Until or unless other Vertigo folks step into the conversation, the contract Dave posted on the Creator Bill of Rights site stands as representative of "the deal," and as previously noted on this blog, that agreement is identical to the sample contract I was mailed in 1997-98.

[to be continued later today & tomorrow...]

5 Comments:

Anonymous RAB said...

"...my stating otherwise is seen as just further evidence of my crabby disposition, ironically reinforcing the illusion that this is a situation I fomented and somehow cling to."

For whatever it may be worth, no one who has actually read your discussion of this topic could possibly get that impression of you. And anyone who passes that kind of judgement without even taking the time to read what you've said on the subject is a total fool and doesn't deserve a second thought.

1/10/2006  
Anonymous James Hudnall said...

As one of those creators who were around back then (I started working in comics in 1985), I watched a lot of this stuff going on. I have my own stories to tell. But you and your set where in the eye of the hurricane. It's interesting to read all this now, in retrospect. I think we all learned a lot from those days, even those of us more removed from the mix.

1/10/2006  
Blogger SRBissette said...

James, you have MANY tales to tell! You shared a few of your comics adventures and misadventures with me from time to time. As one of those who had the much-wished-for-by-most-comics-folks brushes with TV land and Hollywood, it would be illuminating to hear some of 'em.

1/10/2006  
Anonymous James Hudnall said...

Yeah, I should do some on my blog sometime. My friends used to get a kick out of these tales of woe I would do as group e-mails. Though I always found these things kind of like adventures. Characters in adventure stories never complain how shitty things get, they just plug away. So I always try to cop that attitude.

1/11/2006  
Blogger SRBissette said...

Thanks, James. I'm not pushing anyone -- experience has proven to my satisfaction that silence on these matters, though, pretty much guarantees someone else down the road will go through precisely what you (we) have, and worse.

I understand that others don't subscribe to this view, and simply choose not to engage in discussion of business matters in public venues. Others will, but stick to generalizations and comfortable distance from real-life experience. Seems to me experience speaks loudest, and the devil in these matters we're discussing always lay in the details -- thus, my candor and detailed discussions of such matters as an imperative.

I'm for sharing one's life experiences, particularly when generational issues -- passing knowledge on to one's children, or on to the next generation in one's chosen profession or path -- apply.

1/13/2006  

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