Having said all that, feel free to read on or ignore the following, a couple of old men hammering at one another. Seems best to just wade through this, be thorough, and get it over with. It hasnít gone away, and Iíve no reason to imagine it will. Here we go:
First of all, dear reader, a handful of people in my mind have the right to say anything they want to or about me, and Dave is one of them. Iíve got a thick skin, lots of callouses, and a bony skull, and I can dish it as well as I can take it. Dave offered me more time, respect, regard, concern, care, generosity, support, ire, fire, and attention than most people in this world have ever directed my way, and he can say whatever he wants, whenever he wants, about me. Iíve never backed out, down, or away from engaging with Dave in conversation or debate, however in-my-face it got, and he made a huge difference in my art, my work, and my life. I owe him, and always will (in part because he wonít let me pay him back -- I know, Iíve tried twice, in terms of the money he pumped into Taboo).
That said, Daveís rubbing my nose in a reality-check, while tossing down the gauntlet, and Iíve got to do the same.
Re: My opening comment Al placed before my interview, and your comments:
"Well, in all deference to Steveís trademarked level of outrage here talking about the year 1999, this was about four years after he had released his last issue of Tyrant which had left everyone who had supported the book in the lurch."
It was actually about two-and-a-half years after Tyrant and SpiderBaby Comix were no longer being published. Tyrant #4 came out the winter of Ď96, SpiderBaby Comix #2 February of Ď97, about three months apart. Tyrant #5 was never solicited, though I had the solicitation and cover prepared; I canceled SpiderBaby #3 once my Diamond rep Mark Herr called me with the projected numbers. He also informed me that Diamondís decision at that time was to no longer permit relisting. Relisting had become instrumental to Tyrantís growth and profitability (more on this below). Without Capital, half my circulation was simply gone, virtually overnight; without relisting as an option (a decision Diamond later changed, as I was informed by Mark later in Ď97, after Iíd opted out of the market), the deck-of-cards collapsed. More on this, below. To complete the chronology: I was out of self-publishing by spring of Ď97, informing Mark Herr at Diamond of my decision as soon as it had been made. Nothing further was solicited from SpiderBaby, period. I formerly retired from comics at the end of Ď99.
Re: Dave, you continue:
"One of the key elements that I see in the Bill of Rights in retrospect is that there should have been an accompanying Bill of Obligations with prominent mention of the Obligation to deliver on your promises and to stick to your publishing schedule. Late delivery of work has become far more the norm than the exception in recent years and, personally, I find that unacceptable."
In principle, agreed. But this is inherently at odds with your views that artists "had the right to unilaterally break a contract." I refer, again, to your editorial in Cerebus #141: "On the contrary, I believe we have exactly that right...," and you went on to detail the Bill Loebs/Journey/Aardvark-Vanaheim/Fantagraphics case history. If you are insisting upon my Ďcontractí being with the market -- Tyrantís readers, retailers, distributors -- then yes, I broke that contract. I didnít do so without good reason. The market irrevocably changed; in my situation at the time, Tyrant was no longer viable; it was my decision alone to make, concerning my creation & property alone; I made my decision. I live with it daily, and, unfortunately, everyone else has to, too. If that is, per se, my breaking an unsigned, intangible, but binding contract with the market -- hence, your proposed conceit of a Bill of Obligations, if you will -- so be it. You canít have it both ways, nor does the almighty justification of the creation being elevated above all (in this case, Tyrantís needs above those of my family) carry any fucking weight with me. My comics work, Tyrant included, is all paper and ink and dreams, thatís the frailty and beauty and durability and utter disposability of it.
My family is flesh and blood.
Confronting my ongoing inability to reliably deliver work in a timely fashion was key to my decision to retire from the industry after 24 years of struggling with my own inadequacies in that regard (having labored to dig myself out of sketch commissions, too, with 14 left to deliver out of over 150 commitments, I no longer do sketches, either). Being raised a good lapsed Catholic, I of course agonize over this duly from time to time. But in 1997, the situation was crystal clear: Due to my private demons, my personal situation, market forces (the very real implosion of the direct sales market), and the slow pace of my work, Tyrant and self-publishing was no longer a viable means of support, nor self-supporting. In business terms, having lost half my income and the ability to relist (explained below), I did the responsible thing and promptly removed myself from the market. I did so by the rules of that market. My eternal apologies to everyone who supported the book and my work; it was indeed a let-down. In personal terms, at the key juncture of 1997-99, my core obligation as a human being was to my family, period. Whether you accept my decision was based on abject failure or the realities of an imploded market matters not a whit to me; the reality was, Tyrant was no longer going to support me or my family, and to cling to it would be grossly irresponsible. I was in the middle of a divorce, supporting two children and two households. There were legal issues and a massive acquired debtload that had to be tended to as well. I abandoned comics for good, and completely realigned my life, work, and priorities to a field where I could reliably deliver on my promises and obligations, and have no regrets.
Now, letís get into the nitty-gritty, Dave. Re:
"Iíve said for some time that Vermont had, between Rick Veitch and Steve Bissette, one good self-publisher. If you could have combined Veitchís reliability on Rare Bit Fiends with Bissetteís sales on Tyrant, youíd have had a major hit on your hands."
And one ug-a-ly Vermonter. Youíve said this for years, in person and in print, and Rick and I still refuse to genetically merge. Besides, what an insult to Rick!
"Steve has always been a procrastinator and it was that level of procrastination that did him in. If you donít draw your pages and deliver your book, you donít get paid and if you donít get paid then you have to find freelance assignments that you can get an advance on and then you have to do those instead of your self-published book. You get further and further behind schedule and it becomes impossible to get caught up. Youíre back in the "advance game" before you know it."
Thatís not what happened, Dave, but Iíll accept your brand of "procrastinator" at that time of my life at face value (see below). What did me in was one thing, what did Tyrant in was the double-whammy of the direct sales market collapse and my divorce. Tyrant was never going to be a monthly, bimonthly, or quarterly, period. Tyrant #4 shipped without penalties within the Diamond time-frame determined by its one-and-only solicitation. It took seven-to-twelve months to finish an issue of Tyrant, including research, typesetting, production, etc., and the commitment to being a single father half of each week. After working through the process on issues #1-2 with Alan Goldstein, I was typesetting my own text pages by #3, and my only outside interfaces relevant to production were shooting photostats/screens locally, paying Diana Schutz for proofreading, and working with Kim at Preney Print. I was finally, essentially, self-sufficient. At a pace of getting one issue out a year -- essentially, Charles Burnsí schedule on Black Hole, which he just completed, bless him -- Tyrant was viable in the two-major-distributor marketplace, due to the ongoing success with relists of prior issues with the release of each new issue. Relists were critical to both my finances and expanding Tyrantís reader base (with relists accompanying the releases of #2, 3, and 4, Tyrant #1ís initial 20,000 sales had expanded, via three print runs, to 32,000 cumulatively). I could have continued, had that economy been sustainable, even at my snailís pace.
I would still (and forever) be too slow for you and taking my lumps for that, but had I stuck with it, Iíd just be releasing Tyrant #12 or #13 this spring, and have one collected volume in print (which Iíd projected in Ď97 to contain Tyrant #1-7, ending the first day at the T. rex nest). SpiderBaby Comix would have run its course, completely reprinting my catalogue of material I own and co-own and yielding at least two trade paperback collections. Three self-published trades of my work, one of them being Tyrant, and a dozen issues of Tyrant in periodical form might or might not sustain me and my family in the present market. Itís hard to say, but itís conjecture in any case. Thatís not how it went down.
Prior to my decision to abandon self-publishing in 1997, no outside freelance was necessary. I declined all but the occasional writing overtures, by and large, and only those I wanted to (I love writing, and it regularly recharged my batteries to write about films for Video Watchdog and other venues; this was part of my personal Tyrant-sustaining ecology, if you will). Then the market reality changed, profoundly. Capitalís collapse instantly cut sales numbers in half, and that was a blow. Tyrant #1-4 (and the cumulative sales from the relists) yielded two major paydays 30 days after shipping: the Diamond check, which paid all printing and production costs, and the Capital City check (and the misc. smaller distributors), which were pure profit. The latter supported two householdís worth of bills (Marlene and I separated in Sept. 1993, half-a-year before before Tyrant #1ís release) -- until Capital Cityís collapse. In the wake of Capitalís disappearance, I worked and studied the numbers and realized if I released collections of my work in periodical format (not Taboo format, but Tyrant format), and kept up relisting Tyrantís back issues with each new issue, I could survive even the losses suffered when Friendly Franks et al went under owing me money. Hence, SpiderBaby Comix #1 and 2. It was going to be tight, but I could do it. I continued work on Tyrant #5 and 6 (the one issue planned grew into three; that particular story arc would end with #7).
Diamondís post-Capital-City-absorption decision to no longer allow relists was a second major blow. Even graver was the dawning realization that the Ďlostí Capital City numbers were not recoverable: that is, sales via Diamond did not reflect a measurable acquisition of what had been Capitalís share of the market. Those numbers were just -- gone, as if half of the comics shops in North America had simply closed their doors overnight (they may well have). This was counter to the schemes of all those who colluded with Diamond, publishers who signed their respective Ďexclusivityí contracts, all of whom expected Diamond would simply absorb the entire playing field, including Capital Cityís ongoing accounts and market share. Thatís not what happened, much to the chagrin of all. The dissipated new reality wasnít just reflected in my numbers (on SpiderBaby Comix) -- which could be chalked up to my slow pace, though SpiderBaby shipped on time and I didnít stick with the market long enough to see what Tyrant #5 would have yielded, as that was a luxury I couldnít afford -- but from across the board, from all self-publishers and publishers. The market had genuinely imploded.
Still, at a projected 10,000 sales (give or take) on Tyrant #5, I might have been able to make ends meet. Profit was seriously diminished; I would not be earning enough to continue supporting two households, or subsidize work on Tyrant alone. Losing the vital relist option was the decisive blow, at a most vital point of vulnerability. SpiderBaby #3ís numbers were less than half of #2ís (again, SpiderBaby 1 and 2 shipped on time; that was not a factor), which I would have accepted were I not getting reports from other self-publishers and publishers that their respective preorders for that month were also almost half their previous sales. The after-effects of Capitalís collapse were clear. Hence my decision to pull SpiderBaby Comix #3, though I already had completed seps, typesetting, and all boards; any further production on that title, or a stepped-up schedule, would only cut further into my Tyrant workload, with clearly diminishing financial returns.
In the immediate orbit of my decision to pull the plug on self-publishing, I was also watching Rick Veitch (who was always, absolutely, 100% on-schedule with all his self-published title and graphic novels) struggle for a full year with Diamond to sort out confusion over, and collect payment on, a single shipment. His ordeal was sobering; it crippled Rickís King Hell operation (and all over, it turned out, a mis-shipment and subsequent confusion in which neither Rickís printer or distributor were communicating clearly as to what, precisely, had been shipped & received). Simply put, with my familyís well-being and the pending divorce the primary personal reality, I could not have all my eggs in one basket with the just one distributor standing. I was two-three issues away from arriving at the first viable Tyrant collected -- not the sure bet Dave portrays it to be (given the sorry numbers friends and associates were seeing with their trade paperback preorders: well under 1000 on most books, even on Robert Crumbís Kafka book), but my magic carpet into an entirely new, untapped market: natural history museum Ďdinostores,í which didnít want Tyrant the periodical but would carry Tyrant the trade paperback. Further complicating matters, I was amid a difficult divorce process in which my cumulative copyrights and trademarks were the only shared legal property on the block (per Vermont law, anything created while Marlene and I were married was half hers, too). When it got to the point that my attorney was sternly advising me to (a) do only work-for-hire work, so as to stop adding to the cumulative legal properties on the divorce chopping block, and (b) my attorney was getting more confrontational about, "What are you going to do when a judge orders you to get a 40-hour-a-week job?," as SpiderBaby assets and income were dwindling in an imploding market, it was time to get real. As my friend Tom Roberts at the University of Connecticut put it, making comics was becoming the equivalent to manufacturing buggy whips in the Henry Ford era. With two children and two households (until the divorce was resolved) to support, I made some tough decisions and Iíve lived with them. Itís too bad that I "left everyone who had supported the book in the lurch," but having to choose between those folks and my family, my own children and my imaginary child Tyrant, I did what I had to do.
"Steveís problem was self-discipline. When he put his mind to it he turned out amazing pages in jig time. I remember him coming up for a visit and me explaining to him that Ger and I work all day. We break for lunch and we can talk then, but in between times, you can either do work yourself or read a book. In that one day, I think he produced four tight penciled pages sitting on the love seat in my studio with a lap board."
In prepping my papers for the Henderson/HUIE collection, all my travel documents (covering the entirety of my comics career, back to 1976) showed that I visited Kitchener almost annually from 1986 to 1995 -- seven or eight trips in all -- initially in connection with work on Taboo, sometimes bankrolled by Ted Hainesí conventions (which would at least get me to Buffalo or Toronto), sometimes aided by your gracious hospitality, Dave (putting me up more than four times at the local hotel). These visits ran anywhere from one day to a full week. During my early visits, I used to either work with Karen McKiel (first and second visit only, I think, learning the ropes necessary to distributors, paperwork, handling orders, etc. on Taboo), enjoy reading, researching at your local library, or wandering Kitchener during the work hours you and Ger kept. In later years, Iíd come up with work ready. I completed half a 24-hour comic one visit; subsequently, I made two visits during Tyrantís short lifespan, and indeed cranked out pages -- having completed all necessary research on the relevant creatures and vegetation, rough layouts, and (when I was working on Tyrant #4 at the Aardvark-Vanaheim studio) even inked the majority of two pages in three days.
Now, you are absolutely right, Dave, that self-discipline was always an ordeal for me as an artist. Always. It still is. Hence, my decision to write rather than draw for part of my living, and not bank my living on drawing at all. But please donít underestimate the prep time I poured into those pages you saw me tackle "in jig time." The myth of how speedy I "could be" has grown over the years into something monolithic and quite unrealistic. To paraphrase Frank Zappa, "I are what I is, I ainít what Iím not."
That said, again, I absolutely agree that self-discipline as an artist was a constant demon for me, as all accounts make clear. Iíve publicly fessed up to that for at least 15 years. Hence my decision, after wrestling with that fucker for a quarter-century, to embrace that which comes more naturally and pleasurably -- writing -- causing grief for no one.
Re: "And, of course, Steve could pick up Tyrant whenever he wants and get back on schedule. All it takes is self-discipline."
Assuming I even want to "pick up Tyrant" again, "all it takes" is (a) being realistic about my productivity -- when I was in my prime, it took me seven-to-twelve months to do an issue, and to get back "in shape" would require one helluva wind-up (and fiscal cushion) to even approach the facility and skill I was savoring with Tyrant #4 and up -- and (b) a viable market, Dave, which ainít there any longer, as far as I can see. "All it takes," too, is wanting to return to a lifestyle and business environment I ultimately found toxic, abusive, and no-longer-tenable.
The numbers I get from (a) my quarterly DC statements and (b) those I see from time to time from those still in the game do not have me entertaining any delusions. Tyrantís 1994 numbers outstrip sales of many post-1997 Vertigo titles; realistically, I have to wonder what sustainable (if sustainable they were) numbers would exist in the current market. While it mattered to me as a barometer, Spawn retained its #1 to #3 spot on the Diamond top-selling-comics lists from 1993 to 1999 while plummeting from sales of approximately 700,000 copies sold per issue to 70,000 sold per issue. Six years later, is it any better? Speculative calculations of getting by on Tyrant sales of 700-2,000 copies sold in the present marketplace, and feeling thankful to have those numbers if I got Ďem, is not prompting me to gamble the mortgage on the first home Iíve ever owned in my life during the Bush-era of Enron-economics, with a major Depression in sight.
So, we get to the crux of the matter, Dave, in terms of your assessment of me and my failures:
"So, yes, I tend to see the article he gave up on [the proposed 1999 Comics Journal article on Creator Rights] as his excuse for not delivering what he had promised and what would have beenóand could still beóan extremely lucrative book."
Ah, I see -- so, youíre wrapping up my decision to pull the plug on one non-paying, proposed article for The Comics Journal -- an article that was not a firm commitment but an exploratory proposal, for a publisher with whom Iíd had a less-than-rosey relationship over the years anyway -- as just another "excuse for not delivering what he had promised," and within the same sentence tie this to Tyrantís non-existence.
"I tend to see" your judgments of me at this point as pure projection and extrapolation, founded on your impressions of me circa eight years ago.
For what itís worth, the article for TCJ wasnít a firm commitment or assignment or job, it was a proposal, and I kept Gary posted throughout the process. It emerged from an ongoing phone-and-FAX exchange over Marv Wolfmanís Blade legal proceedings, which fascinated me. I sent Marv a couple of letters of support, monitoring his situation through mutual friends and, once Gary proffered the transcripts of the legal proceedings, via exchanges with Gary. I recognized the conundrum of Marvís -- and his generationís -- plight, and empathized, though I could see, too, how firmly the deck was stacked against him, in part via his own culpability in defending the Ďstatus quoí of Marvel and DC policies when he was an editor/writer for each, which you so succinctly summarized in your letter. While others were obviously savoring the tragic spectacle, I was weighing the possibilities of writing about the Blade issues in the broader context of the Creator Bill of Rights, and the state of affairs regarding creator rights in the redefined post-direct-market-implosion/comics-to-major-studio-movies culture. I proposed working up an article around interviews with creators from Marvís generation, my own, and the current generation circa 1999. After a fruitless two weeks of circular conversations, aversions, and outright rejections, it was obvious no one WANTED to talk about the issues, so I contacted Gary and pulled the plug on the article. He found my phone message hilarious and told me he played it for anyone at Fantagraphics who came by his office. Aside from that high hilarity, it didnít impact on TCJ a whit.
"But, taking it at face value Iíd have to say that if it really hit him that hard he was taking other people too seriously."
Well, though I have become a pretty inventive writer, if I may say so myself, a proposed interview-based article becomes pretty unsustainable when no one wants to be interviewed. My anger wasnít based on that -- I mean, I had nothing invested in writing for TCJ, having proposed it primarily to address the Marv Wolfman/Blade situation in a more historical context -- but rather on my disgust with precisely what you state, below: "I tend to give them honest reactions to whatever theyíre whining about as Iíve done here." I had been doing the same over the years, and simply didnít care to engage in any further discussion of any of these issues with anyone in comics by that point in time. Itís a position you know well, Dave, from personal experience (I now know how generous you really were being in the 1990s, fielding my intrusive calls). The few calls I made fishing for the proposed TCJ article were infuriating in and of themselves. Enough was enough. I was as angry at myself for trying to solicit conversation as I was at those who thought nothing of bitching about whatever was happening to them on a given project or transaction without engaging with the core ethical issues. So, fuck it -- which is what the paragraph Al took out of the context of a private email letter was expressing (he did so with my permission, though it puts a spin on the interview I hadnít initially intended -- whatís done is done, Iím glad Al suggested it, and the sentiments are still valid).
"Most people donít want to talk about ethical conundrums. It just makes them feel bad. Most people prefer to whine and encourage other people to whine. One of the reasons that people donít stay in contact with me for very long is because I tend to give them honest reactions to whatever theyíre whining about as Iíve done here."
Hell, Dave, thatís one of the things I treasured most about our relationship. You kicked my ass up and down the street on things that mattered, and I donít believe I ever backed down from a conversation. When I had reasons to go at with you over something youíd done or said that I took exception with, you would fully engage. I acted on those conversations. As for my not staying in contact after Ď97, understand that I drifted from everyone in comics after the spring of 1997, not you -- go ahead, ask around. I barely see Rick any more, and we live half an hour apart. I missed and miss you terribly, as I miss all my comics amigos and associates and miss comics, but my life had less -- and eventually nothing -- to do with once-binding common interests once my decisions were made.
"Steve blew it by not staying self-disciplined and doing the book that he knows he was born to do. He let himself be distracted by everything under the sun. But thatís Steveís fault, not the fault of everything under the sun."
I wrote:"When the direct sales market collapsed, it was no long feasible for me to self-publish."
"No, when Steve Bissette refused to produce any more than two pages in six months of Tyrant it was no longer feasible for him to self-publish. The direct market didnít collapse, Steve did."
Both collapsed, Dave. I was producing about fifteen pages in four-to-six months, tops, truth to tell: fifteen pages featuring the most accurate depictions of animal and plant life from the Cretaceous era I could muster, researched as thoroughly as my layman access could sustain and rendered as accurately, lovingly, and expressively as possible. A key component of Tyrantís modus operandi was the careful fidelity to the existing paleontology and fossil record, a self-discipline of research necessary to the venture. It was stated as such from the first ashcan, press releases, and issue, it was reflected in every page of every published issue, though you and others may see it only as a self-erected obstacle to imagined productivity levels.
I had written in my original letter: "And at that point in the industry collapse, Tyrant was no longer a means of feeding or sheltering my family, nor was working in comics at all when it took nine months to be paid for work completed (again, by one of the celebrated Ďcreator friendlyí publishers)"
"This is too clever by half. Steve was always paid within thirty days for the Tyrant issues that he shipped. When he puts his mind to it he is as fast and brilliant an artist as there is working in the medium so he could easily have done Tyrant at least bimonthly and the book was selling as many back issues as it was of its current issue."
Yes, to the 30 days payment -- save for occasional glitches -- until the collapse of the market, at which point that payment constricted terribly when it was down to just one distributor. How long it took to get checks that would no longer sustain the project is a moot point, but I take your meaning. BTW, thanks for the compliment, but I was never, ever "as fast and brilliant an artist as there is working in the medium," and there was never, ever a time in my life when I could have "easily done Tyrant at least bimonthly." You must be thinking of Devil Dinosaur, not Tyrant -- I didnít draw a single page from the seat of my pants. An all-out Ďthe hell with ití action-dino-monster comic would have come out more often, but thatís never what Tyrant was intended to be. That was not my contract with the reader, the market, or myself. I was engaged in a process of seriously reconstructing prehistoric life, and painstaking research was more than half of the workload. It was a part of the project I lovingly embraced, tapping as it did my childhood dream of being a paleontologist. Well, Iíll never be that, Iím an avid layman science-reader at best, but I found enough real paleontologists who had dreamed of being comicbook artists that, thanks to Michael Ryan, I had an active network of interest and support from that community. My work in that regard become solid enough to merit inclusion of some of my illustrative reconstructions in one of the Ďofficialí paleo textbooks of the time. It was a workable arrangement -- until the direct market implosion -- and very fulfilling.
Tyrant was selling well, but youíre exaggerating slightly, Dave: relisted back issues were cumulatively selling about one-quarter to one-half of current issues. Still, that put 1, 2, and 3 into three printings each, and it sure helped, until Diamond, suddenly the only game in town, nixed that by forbidding relists.
"It was only when he stopped producing issues and went elsewhere to do freelance work that he was not getting paid for nine months."
True -- though one had nothing to do with the other. The decision to pull the plug on SpiderBaby Grafix and self-publishing was one decision and event; the second, seeking freelance as an adjunct to working full-time in the video store, was a separate and later event, motivated in part by the stern advice of my attorney to only do work-for-hire until the divorce was settled, motivated in part by my desire to continue working in comics. That wasnít viable, either. I took personal responsibility for the situation and found another way altogether to make a living, an utterly pragmatic solution to the problem. Both matters were neatly settled about the same time via the completion of two divorces -- one from Marlene, one from the industry of comics. Both were sound resolutions.
"His conscious decision not to stay on schedule with Tyrant was what dug the hole for him. All he had to do was to say to Nancy/Marlene: "I can cover your expenses and the kids, too, but Iím going to have to work twelve hours a day seven days a week on Tyrant to do it. Itíll be tough for a few months, but the money will be there. But, if you donít leave me alone to write and draw Tyrant, the money definitely wonít be there. Tyrant is the kidsí, yours and my best shot.""
Now who is being "too clever by half"? Youíve posited a schedule I never announced or pretended to, asserted it via your mere statement of it as somehow fact, and taken me to task for a "decision not to stay on [a] schedule" that-never-was as what "dug the hole for" me. As for "all [I] had to do was say to" my now ex-wife what you would have said -- good one, Dave. You arenít me, and itís not that simple. Spoken like someone whoís never been a parent, though I know youíve been through your own divorce. Your presumptions are too numerous and out-of-synch with the reality to go into. The foremost presumption that has nothing to do with my life is that I would be walking away from Maia and Daniel for Tyrant. I was never, ever an absent father; working "twelve hours a day seven days a week" wasnít an option with two children, period; and merely covering expenses wasnít the be-all and end-all, though it was vital. In a separation-to-divorce that was not antagonistic, where we both placed Maia and Danny and their needs first and foremost (equal time with each of us, every week, from the week we separated, etc.), and child custody was not an issue, it still took six years to resolve the legal issues and wait the prescribed period required under Vermont law until the divorce was final. The only shared property on the block (no disputes over houses -- we both rented -- no cars -- we each had our own -- no stocks or savings, nothing material) were my copyrights and trademarks, which in the end I fully retained as my own, though it was a long, hard negotiation that took years, working with professional mediation (and yes, my current wife Marj and I married with a pre-nup in place; both coming off of previous marriages, weíd both lived and learned). I must add, after Capital Cityís collapse, I wasnít for a moment convince myself that "Tyrant [was] the kids,í [Marleneís], and my best shot," for all the reasons detailed above. Quite the contrary. Quit fantasizing, please!
Again, in my original letter, I had written:"One of the primary lessons I learned from Dave was self-publishing is a lonely path."
"Self-publishing is an "alone path". "Alone" is a statement of fact. "Lonely" is a self-pitying way of viewing that fact."
Well, OK, I didnít learn that from you. You indeed taught me self-publishing is an "alone path," and I subjectively projected my own situation onto that sentence. Apologies for inadvertently misrepresenting your teachings. The following isnít whining, though I know it addresses issues youíve personally dispensed of, by and large, per my reading of Cerebus and your writings. I was fucking miserable at the time, going through separation and divorce and being a single parent, which pretty much prescribed and defined my social life. Iím a social being, Dave, always have been. I was lonely. It was lonely. Hence, to be precise, self-publishing wasnít per se "a lonely path," but I pursued it wholeheartedly at a time when I was lonely. Agreed, that doesnít per se mean "self-publishing is a lonely path," acknowledged. But me, I was fucking lonely. The only adults I interacted with were other school parents, most of whom looked at me as a completely suspect alien life form. That my emotional life hit bottom at the same time I entered self-publishing was a fortunate and unfortunate conjunction of events: fortunate in that I could lose myself in the work, unfortunate in that I was fucking miserable. The work did not sustain the entirety of my being, emotionally. Itís the rare individual capable of the virtually monk-like existence you came to embrace in Cerebusís home stretch, Dave, and Iím not one of those rare individuals. If thatís a weakness worthy of harsh judgment, so be it. From you -- and you alone -- Iíll take it. Iím not looking for pity, much less from myself, and Iím a happy camper now that Iím well out of it, though I still am not (and never will be) productive in the manner or on the projects you and others wish I were.
Your stern comments are tempered, however, in that they are coming from someone who didnít walk the "alone path" entirely. You had what Iíd have killed for: a skilled collaborator and fully-engaged, dedicated, trustworthy business partner (post-McKiel era) like Gerhard. If I had the power, Iíd nominate Gerhard for Sainthood, and Iíve always said so. In the best of all worlds, I needed a paleobotanist who could draw -- wasnít there, didnít exist, didnít happen.
I wrote: "I feel we have a generational obligation to improve conditions for those who followóthat was no longer the case."
To which Dave responded, bending the conversation once again back to my sorry ass:
"I beg to differ. If you canít get anyone to agree with you or even discuss these issues with you, then you need to lead by example. Get Tyrant out on time and show the next generation that it is possible to produce your own work and control it and derive the benefit from it and to ignore DC or Marvel when they come calling. However much theyíre paying Steve to work in that video store I canít imagine that it is a patch on what he would be making right now selling two Tyrant trade paperbacks of 500 pages each which he could easily have accomplished if he had just put his mind to it and stuck to it.... Danny and Maiaóunless my math is way off: Nancy/Marlene was pregnant with one of the other when I met Steve in England in 1986óare either in their twenties or soon will be. Even if theyíre going to college and Steve is paying the whole shot, someday that too will come to an end and Steve will only have himself and his alimony payments to worry about. At that point I hope heíll choose to do the right thing and finish the great story that he started with Tyrant."
I couldnít care less if anyone agrees with me or wants to discuss these issues. My last emotional investment in the Ďcomics communityí went out the door with the whole DC/ABC fiasco, and I cared about that only because friends were involved. Since then, phhht, Iíve no emotional investment in any of it.
Reality-check: First off, working in that video store, however ignoble the comics world considered it (and some pretty savage and sorry shit has been said about it in public venues over the years), saved my life. Once I took on the job, I always had the key to the door of that store, which is more than I can say for the comics industry, where gaining access to oneís own workplace and earned paycheck was constantly a matter of further negotiations -- and yes, that included distributors, once I was publishing and self-publishing. I was paid only for work done, and always on time (both the work and the paycheck). Though I had already been a shareholder at First Run Video since it opened its doors in November 1991 and worked at a decent salary as marketing and promotions manager (the job that subsidized all my work on Ď1963í), at my own insistence, I restarted at minimum wage as a clerk, and worked my way up to management chores (and salary) over two years; it was important to me to be a peer with all my co-workers, and to have competently done every job, earning my steps up to management. I also wanted to learn the totality of the retail video market, from end to end, as best I could. Furthermore, it was work that paid me well enough, dependably, and I was treated with mutual respect by my co-workers, which is again more than I can say for the comics industry. It was work that provided health & dental care I otherwise couldnít afford, sheltered me and my family through a tough stretch, provided the stability necessary to see through the divorce, and allowed me to work my way out of debt without having to declare bankruptcy (hence protecting my copyrights and trademarks). In conjunction with the freelance work I did continue (writing for markets other than comics), it engaged my interests fully for a few years. This included engagement in a larger media arena, working with filmmakers struggling with self-distribution, and rolling up my sleeves with the New England Buying Group and working through some rough distribution issues (working from the retail end this time, including some intensive closed-door meetings with studios in the heat of exclusivity Ďwarsí where my comics business experience proved invaluable and most relevant). In this manner, it was also an extension of many of my interests and struggles in the comics years, particularly once the same distribution issues asserted themselves, at the time in a market that was much more viable, amid a retail community with a spine. It was, until the past year or so, quite worthwhile in every way, and still afforded me time to work creatively (my annual book illustration gig, and lots and lots of writing), which was necessary for my own reasons. , I have consistently ignored DC and Marvel when theyíve come calling, which is thankfully less and less as I have ignored or gracefully declined for years. When DC/Vertigo/Helix editors Axel and Stuart contacted me in Ď97, I pursued the possibilities in part to find out at last what the much-touted "Vertigo deal" was, in fact. I was sent a sample contract and enjoyed some conversations about what their parameters were at the time. As I expected, despite responding to their overtures with proposals when invited, there was no real interest in anything I wanted to do (including Swamp Thing). When Neil came calling at the beginning of 1999, I indulged the "Jack-in-the-Green" ten-pager for Midnight Days, essentially to work as an artist for the one and only time with Neil, who was and is a friend, and to work, one last time, with John and Swamp Thing. Go ahead... call me sentimental! I couldnít imagine a better farewell from mainstream comics, and it ended up being a personal work, too: coincidentally, Neilís almost 15-year-old script eloquently summarized all my feelings at that time toward the comics industry (bid your farewells, bury your friendships, torch the plague-infested shithole, and get the fuck away). For the record, there was a curious courtship last summer with Byron Preissís iBooks and the possibility of my writing a proposed three-novel Swamp Thing package, but I said "no" after my own good-faith initial progress when it became obvious "negotiation" of the contract wasnít going to happen and the paltry initial advance proffered for six-months+ of work-for-hire writing didnít equal even two months worth of part-time employ in the video store. Itís handy to have that kind of brass-tacks yardstick at hand. Rule of thumb: if it isnít worth the publisherís time and money, it sure isnít worth mine. And that, I must say, has been true of every single overture to me from the industry since 1999: none have been worth anyoneís time.
Third, your math is fine concerning Maia and Daniel, except you and I met at Mid-Ohio con in 1984, and again in the UK in September of 1985, not Ď86 (Dan was born in December Ď85, and weíd already continued our UKAK conversation of September Ď85 at the Mid-Ohio con in November of Ď85, with work beginning on the "Untitled Horror Project" by spring of Ď86; my files and travel records back this chronology in spades, and I didnít go to UKAK in Ď86). Maia indeed just turned 22 and has been living on her own since she was 18, by her own choice, and Daniel just turned 19 and just recently began talking about moving out on his own. A time of change is indeed here for me, and weíll see where it leads -- wherever it leads, I can rest assured that since it isnít Tyrant, you and most of the readers of this rambling will consider it a further waste of my time, but thatís not my concern.
Also FYI, I never had alimony payments, I had child care payments, which ended last spring, and "unless my math is way off," Dave, had I stuck with Tyrant, Iíd have about 275 pages of Tyrant in print (per projections already cited, above), which would yield at perhaps two modest 125+ page Taboo-format trade paperback collections, which would be nice, but that didnít happen.
Itís a nice fantasy... which brings me, at last, to the crux of this personalized exchange, and my reason for replying at length to your comments, which echo so many others, from others, over the years.
Reality vs. fantasy: like my friend Rick Veitch and others, all of whom I know mean well, Dave is addressing some fantasy about who I might be (should be, in his mind) as opposed to who I am, what Iíve actually done, what Iím actually capable of -- of my life vs. some imaginary life Iíve never lived.
Itís mark-to-market accounting, pure and simple -- in your mind, I should be doing this at this rate, hence earning this profit, hence Iím the one at fault that it isnít there -- and itís utter bullshit that I put up with for years, but no longer do.
Note that at the peak of my professional youth, when I could work till all hours of the morning in my early career -- significantly, working from a script already written by other hands, penciling, just penciling pages for someone else to letter and someone else to ink and someone else to do production on and someone else to publish and deal with distribution and bookkeeping and all that shit -- it took me five to six weeks to finish 23 pages. Of pencils. On a monthly book. Do the math. That was the Swamp Thing era, and my lateness and the headaches and heartaches I caused my editors and friends and collaborative artists is legendary. I will forever live in that shadow; I made my bed, and thatís that. So be it. But that body of work is still in print, around the world; it was and remains good work, and itís outlived pages cranked out by others by rote during the same period. It was the best I could do, always. But I could not pencil -- just pencils, mind you! -- a monthly comic, and that was 23 years ago.
[An aside: I did all that Swamp Thing work with Maia a newborn as we started on the title in 1983, and Danny born two years later, and me the parent at home as Nancy/Marlene went to work at Green Meadows School for 40 hours a week. Only after he and his wife Michelle had their first child did John Totleben say to me, years later, "I know we all gave you a ration of shit, Steve, but hell, how did you do it?" Only a parent can know how tough it can be, and Iím not fishing for sympathy here, just spelling out the reality. Unless youíve been there, you havenít a clue.]
I have not gotten any faster in the meantime. I never work with an assistant, other than the five weeks in 1984 when I hired Gary Johnson to help on Swamp Thing #29. It didnít work out, through no fault of Gary or myself, and Iíve never toyed with the prospect again. Iíve just turned 50, and Iím not going to get any faster. Itís not out of laziness -- I am very productive, Iím just not producing what you want me to be producing, at the rate everyone thinks I should be producing it. Besides, Iím selfish: my time with a given drawing/page/story/project is my only time with the drawing/page/story/project. Itís mine until I let go of it. Itís your after Iím done with it. Why rush? When Iím enjoying myself with something, leave me alone. If itís a deadline issue, thatís my problem, not yours, unless youíre the one waiting for it. I made sure no one in comics would be waiting for me ever again. That a dwindling market could hardly yield enough income to make it worth my while is no longer of consequence.
If speed matters to you, Iíve had a couple of good runs during the 24-year arc of my life in comics, for which Iím appreciative. Scott McCloudís 24-hour comics challenge yielded a sprint and a 24-page comic story; and for a delicious, brief week in the early winter of 1992, I actually penciled more pages than Rick Veitch in our shared Ď1963í studio, working from a plot by Alan, pages requiring no reference or research whatsoever: it all flowed out of my head and hand. It was a short marathon, but it tasted good. Iíll never taste that again. Sometimes, when Iím in the head or correct venue, I can crank out marker sketches at a fast clip, sans the need for reference or anything save what comes to mind. But those are exceptions, not a rule. That has never, and never will, translate to my cranking out comics pages. Never has. Never will.
I have never, nor will I ever, write/pencil/ink/letter/produce/publish/self-distribute a bimonthly book. Ever. Never did, never got close.
Tyrant was never going to be bimonthly, and never could be. As Iíve stated, part of the very real work on Tyrant was intensively research-oriented. Working as I chose to, alone, meant I did everything, and savored each task. Self-motivated six-month crash-courses on paleo-embryology and researching the minutiae of the world I was working so hard to recreate on the page wasnít an excuse for slow work, it was part and parcel of the journey Iíd undertaken. The contacts I cultivated in those four years in the professional paleontology environments progressively streamlined much of that end of the equation, but it was still time-consuming (and quite pleasurable).
Throughout all this, Dave, you pressed me to become more productive. The 24-hour-comic I did was printed in part in Cerebus as a preview (of Taboo 7ís showcase of the full 24-hour comic), with an intro by yourself proposing how surprised Iíd be if I just cranked out a 24-hour comic a month. Well, that didnít happen; the 24-hour comic, in principle, became something everyone who took a swing at it just did once, with precious few exceptions. When I was struggling with the transition from Taboo and Tundra to I-didnít-know-what, and pestered you via phone or FAX too often to bitch and whine and complain, you were among the few who had seen my initial work on what I was hoping to call Tyrant (including finished pages for an imagined issue that eventually became, redrawn and rewritten twice, Tyrant #3), and you called my bluff. Taking a day off from Cerebus, you lettered and drew and FAXed me, page by page throughout the day, a complete pep-talk in comics form, pointing out that all the time wasted on the dead-ends of Tundra, Taboo, and bullshit phone calls would yield Tyrant if redirected to that energy. I took that to heart, though it took Ď1963í to provide the material-world financial parachute necessary to making the decisive leap. As I said above, with the possible exception of Rick, in all of comic-dom no one has been more attentive, generous, and supportive than youíve been, Dave, and I mean that.
Once Tyrant began, productivity remained the core issue. Before the market collapse, I felt Iíd resolved those issues enough to maintain a credible and lucrative-enough income from my labor on the project: in the direct-sales market that existed in 1995, Tyrant as an annual (or, occasionally, twice-a-year) publication would have sustained me. The results -- the issues themselves -- were reflecting the intensive work, and I began to see some acknowledgement from others that yes, perhaps, this was worthwhile and sustainable. You may recall, Dave, the kind, lengthy letter you FAXed me in 1997, in which you compared what I was doing to a deep-sea exploration -- well, that was incredibly insightful, you finally were accepting the reality. But once disaster struck, I canceled the expedition, and havenít been back to explore those lovely reefs.
Iíve struggled with the time and productivity issues all my life, and, more to the point, the perceived gap between what others -- my father, my priest, my guidance counselors, my college advisors, my teachers and professors, my peers, my friends, my associates, and people I donít even know -- see as what I should be doing, and how I should be able to do it. This has meant, too, that as a writer, my writing compadres look upon my comics work as a waste of time and talent, as my comics peers look upon my writing as a stupid lark and waste of time and skills, while both groups see my working in video as a waste, even as my video industry associates are confused by and resent the time put into creative work, and so on (at least, in the video realm, my job performance was never perceived as being negatively impacted by those befuddling diversions). In the most telling chronicle of these vicious circles and this eternal conundrum, Eddie Campbellís brilliant autobiographical graphic novel about his years in comics cruelly caricatured me as sitting at my board, producing nothing, absolutely nothing, for years. In the same work, though, Eddie portrayed Paul Gravett as a publishing dynamo, dashing about, a tornado of productivity, clutching pages and publications, embodying the fruitful editor at work. The contrast in these caricatures, however lovingly intended, was cruel indeed. During the very time period Eddie depicted me for the ages in his auto-bio doing absolutely zero, pathetically paralyzed before a blank page, I had been doing just what Paul Gravett had been doing -- I edited, published, and co-published ten volumes of Taboo, which included considerable labor on behalf of Eddie and Alanís From Hell (who always received their checks on time, post-Aardvark One Inít and pre-Tundra included). I also edited a few issues of GoreShriek. I may have, as an editor, yielded as much published work in terms of page count as Paul had at that point in time -- I donít know, and I donít care to inadvertently slight Paul while discussing Eddieís portrait of yours truly. It doesnít matter: clearly, Paulís efforts were respected and important to Eddie. Mine, apparently, were not. Never mind that during the stasis Eddie attributes to me, I continued to draw comics (including penciling Ď1963,í which I also co-edited, a bit of Taboo and GoreShriek material, and the initial stages & pages of what became Tyrant), and primarily explored my writing, yielding a Bram Stoker award-winning novella, Aliens: Tribes; co-authoring Comic-Book Rebels; solo-scribing an unpublished non-fiction book, We Are Going to Eat You!, which was subsequently edited down and published as a lengthy piece in The Deep Red Horror Handbook; a column in the newsstand magazine Gorezone along with regular articles for Video Watchdog, Deep Red, Fangoria, Etc, Ecco, and others, which were received well enough by that community to prompt the invitations, and my contributions to, Cut! Horror Writers on Horror Films and The BFI [British Film Institute] Companion to Horror; and many comic scripts, including those for Swamp Thing now in the collected editions. I was also illustrating at least one book (novel or short story collection) per year, toured with my "Journeys into Fear" lecture, raised all the money I could for the CBLDF with my work, sketches, donations of books, and personal donations of money, and did it all while working part-time at the video store. What a lazy, pathetic, paralyzed, sad little sot I was. Though Eddieís public damnation/dismissal stung -- I mean, how would you like your children reading/seeing that kind of portrait of yourself immortalized in print, preserved in a graphic novel? -- I took the lumps. My work, I assumed, would suffice to counter the caricature, and got on with my life.
Still, I struggled with the stigma. To prove myself "worthy" to myself after the momentous 1997 decision, struggling with misgivings about abandoning self-publishing (which Iíd worked 20 years to get to!) and the often-difficult personal transitions I was working my way through (coming out of Ďthe trance,í as Iíve written elsewhere, to function in a typical 40-hour day job), I accepted the opportunity to write a weekly video review column for the local newspaper, The Brattleboro Reformer. These werenít capsule reviews, they were full reviews -- 1500 to 2600 words. They paid little, and I did them while working 40+ hour work weeks managing the video store (while juggling the occasional freelance gig besides). I did one a week, every week, whether I was home or traveling, and never missed a deadline for the duration of my tenure with The Reformer, almost two years. About once every two months, I also pitched, sold, and wrote an additional film or media article to The Reformer on top of that. It was my personal marathon: could I do it? Could I maintain the schedule, never miss a deadline, keep doing solid work? I did it, damn it, and I donít care that only the Reformer readership had access to it. I didnít do it for them, or anyone else. I did it for me.
The demons that plague me whenever I sit down to draw arenít an issue when I write -- so, I write now. It flows effortlessly, even when it involves a lot of groundwork en route (research, interviews, whatever). I begin writing almost every morning by 5:30 to 6 AM, and write through the day and into evening when I can. It only occasionally pays, sometimes handsomely, sometimes not, but I donít care: it gives me the pleasure drawing once did and hasnít for years. I am much healthier, happier, and less troublesome to everyone being a very productive writer instead of an unproductive, never-gonna-please-anyone artist.
In 1997, I did what I did. It was my creator right, my decision to make, it affected me alone and my work alone. If you see that as abject failure or betrayal, so be it. Having to be utterly realistic about my entire situation -- including the time it took me to complete an issue of Tyrant -- I made my decisions and proceeded accordingly.
Taking full responsibility for my failures and failings, for the "lurch" I left others in and the pain Iíd inadvertently caused as a result, I packed it all in and retired from the field. I cause agony for people when I work in comics; I leave hungry fans and readers "in the lurch" when I donít work in comics. Itís a lose/lose proposition, isn't it? I retired in 1999, six years ago, and the only professional Ďcommunityí response that prompted was either Ďwe donít believe it, you donít mean ití and/or a collective jack-boot to the ribs on the way out the door. It matters not to me -- Iím gone. So, while Iíll occasionally tolerate and even reply to the digs from the handful of folks Iíll take that crusty old shit from (Dave and Rick prominent among that select crew), it is necessary to remind all and sundry that six years have passed since my retirement from comics, Iím indeed gone, and further berating and belittling only validates my decision to be gone. In one deliciously delirious conversation about "the good old days," one of my compadres painted a portrait in which everyone scrambled to prop up my sorry self, neatly evoking a completely dysfunctional clusterfuck I would be an idiot to be wistful about, and utterly self-destructive to return to or long to return to. Itís a bit like a high-school reunion where people are unable to see you as anyone other than who you were in high school; why put myself through that ordeal?
Iíve completely avoided taking any personalized pot-shots at you, Dave, or at Scott and Rick or pretty much anyone else, though I do name names in my reveries and comments. I do so not to put anyone on the spot or target-practice, but to detail experiences, observations, and provide clear identification. Ad hominem attacks are a low tactic in debate, even in the debased nature of what now is allowed to pass for Ďdebateí in our country, at least (like, ahahahah, "The Presidential Debates," which were a spectacle but hardly debates). I donít make assumptions about Scott, Rick, or you, Dave -- who you are, who you might be. Iíve fallen out of touch with all but Rick, as Iíve fallen out of touch with everyone in the field, by and large; I welcome the reestablishment of contact, even via this venue. The truth is Iíve known you a bit, Dave, for almost 20 years. I donít believe Iíve ever stooped to caricaturing you or your positions by falling back on who you were at any point in the time Iíve known you, which embraces many phases in an adult life. As an attentive and engaged Cerebus reader alone, I know the behavior patterns of the Dave Sim I met in 1986 is a far cry from those of the Dave Sim who wrapped up Cerebus #300 and is writing today. I expect, at least, the same courtesy. If the final judgment of my relative merit is only to be measured by what I did or didnít do with Tyrant, I can guarantee Iím never going to come close to that issue #300 mark. However, I did, in my 24 years, work every side of the industry one time or another, and thatís something unique to this circle of conversationalists, if nothing else.
Iíve left the industry, not the medium. My primary interface with comics now is via my private sketchbook work (which most likely will never see print in my lifetime), as a historian, a writer, an occasional lecturer, and via an ongoing commitment to teaching. The CCS experience is ahead of me this fall -- I began as a student at the first-year-ever of the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon & Graphic Art, and it feels right joining a grand new experiment with the Center of Cartoon Studies as an instructor (teaching the history of comics; youíve seen my slide lectures, Dave, and know I have the chops). I realize you most likely consider that a waste of time, too, though perhaps that will get me drawing with something like my old love for the process. Iím taking a card from Eddie Campbellís and Chester Brownís deck and carrying around index-card sized individual panel boards, and drawing stories via that method, panel by panel, for paste-up compositions/completion as story pages later. That work may or may not ever be seen, outside the circles at CCS and my immediate life. As I wrote earlier in this missive, "thereís always work involved with creating -- and play..." The play is necessary to creating. Once comics became not only no longer viable economically, but no longer fun on any level, it was just a matter of time. With distance, as I found after my post-Swamp Thing/DC era burnout, drawing may become fun again -- but this time, itís staying fun, first and foremost, which may mean Ďnot for publication,í either. Time will tell. I feel no obligations to publish anything other than what I wish to, can afford to, or find a home for, and no one has come knocking at my door with any serious offers in the meantime.
I have retained and renewed the registered Tyrant trademark, a trademark kept active via back-issue sales and occasional one-off items. At the end of Ď99, negotiations to settle the divided 1963 ownership also left me with the rights to The Fury, N-Man, and the Hypernaut, sans permission to reprint the 1963 material already published (I might add that various unsolicited domestic and foreign overtures to reprint 1963 have to date led to nothing). The only overture Iíve received in the ensuing years from a publisher to put the existing Tyrant back into print was laughable ($1500 for all English and Spanish language rights, in perpetuity), certainly no incentive to abandon -- or, conversely, reengage with -- self-publishing. Self-publishing in the current market is hardly alluring with Diamond still the only game in town in a depleted market. I have no intention of engaging ever again with the existing industry players (save, perhaps, Top Shelf, if the project fits their needs and Chris will have me), and the book market is as risky and expensive a proposition for self-publishing as ever it was.
That said, I am experimenting with print-on-demand books as a writer/editor (via a book series Green Mountain Cinema; others, including collections of my comics historical writings, will follow). The graphics are the least satisfying aspect of the finished print-on-demand product thus far, including the novel I illustrated last year for a young writer, so thatís an obstacle. Digital reproduction of my work in any form has always left me cold. In any case, I am exploring the possibilities. Itís hardly profitable, but itís satisfying, and has gone well enough for me to experiment further -- as a writer, for now -- in the form. If I can afford the equipment & learning curve, and teach myself enough computer graphics skills to apply my art to this possible venue, weíll see.
In the meantime, Iím happy to continue this conversation via this venue Al has opened up.
All the best, always,
As for And Tom Spurgeonís Comics Reporter comments of May 4, "Creator's Bill of Rights Remembered," Iíll comment only on the final paragraph: "Personally, I don't find the Creator's Bill of Rights all that fascinating a document, except in a fun, dormitory hallway discussion kind of way. In fact, I've always thought conceiving of rights in that manner a potentially harmful thing, and therefore question its usefulness."
Personally and professionally, Tom, those of us who make livings or partial-livings as creators have to move beyond "dormitory hallway" discussions on these matters at SOME point. That you havenít isnít indicative of the relative worth or worthlessness of the Bill. A small group of us did move beyond "dormitory hallway discussions" back in the 1980s, and precious few seem to have taken it much further. That isnít indicative so much of the wisdom of our conclusions or the Bill as it is the paucity of attention or discussion since, which seems to me rather astounding and unconscionable given the accelerated, measurable value of intellectual properties and unslakeable appetite of ever-consolidating corporate entities since 1986.
If you require cultural validation before moving this Ďchatí beyond that "dormitory hallway," when as slight a confection as the Malibu-published Men In Black can provide the source material for a feature can finally redirect the entirety of the Marvel stable of properties into the top-ten boxoffice draws in history, the rights and fates of those who conceived of those properties are certainly deserving of scrutiny -- as is the potential of any property. Men In Black was less than a footnote in comics before the movie; how, then, can you rationally argue that "Universality can loosen the tether from historical circumstance in a way that lifts the discussion of rights out of the real-world dialogue that gives it power and immediacy." Hopefully, this discussion is lending some "real-world dialogue," and hence context, to the Bill and its relevance. The fact that there is considerable weight to your next sentence -- "In economically exhausted circumstances, creator rights thus too frequently becomes seen as something to bargain away rather than as effective, worthwhile and even just circumstances for which to fight" -- doesnít mitigate the necessity for discussion and debate; it in fact begs the question, "Why arenít YOU invested in this discussion?"
If nothing else, the lowest common denominator is that the Creator Bill of Rights provides a previously nonexistent Ďchecklistí of rights sold in most creative/business transactions, and that alone is of great value as a barometer and/or negotiation tool. Pragmatically, youíve got a point: still, if "economically exhausted circumstances" lead a creator to sign anything to land the overdue rent check in exchange for work completed (as I did with Marvelís blanket work-for-hire contract in 1978), itís still worthwhile for identifying what one has parted with, and hopefully wonít again. In that regard, the only power the freelancer maintains is the power to say "no," and walk, the Creator Bill of Rights be damned.
Iíd welcome more discussion of your concluding brush-off -- "I thought it was a somewhat dubious rhetorical tool back in 1988, and still think so today. I'd rather we'd had the manifesto" -- if only to define "rhetorical tool," and why it was and is of dubious value; your just saying so tells me nothing, save your opinion, making you the "rhetorical tool," if you will. I also want to remind you that the manifesto did see print, should you care to revisit it. It was greeted with deafening indifference and silence, outside of those who subsequently joined the fray and rolled up their sleeves to work on the Bill.
Though I know full well I now sound like (shudder) a Republican senator, letís see your manifesto, Tom, please, or at least articulate your views more fully. Your ongoing dismissal of the Creator Bill of Rights as somehow inherently inert and beneath notice, sans meaningful debate or any proposition from anyone of anything comparable in almost twenty years, is indeed typical of "dormitory hallway discussion." After all, weíve all been living out of the dorms for decades, havenít we? In the real big bad world, the Creator Bill of Rights is still as valid and relevant as ever.
Finally, Gary Grothís comments at The Pulse deserve a response: Gary wrote:
"I just wanted to gently dispute Steve Bissette's characterization of my attitude toward publishing my interview with Steve and Scott McCloud about the Creators' Bill of Rights (Journal #137, September, 1990). "Scott and I had to fight for that Comics Journal interview," he says plaintively. "Gary Groth was not interested." I very much like Steve personally and I'm often sympathetic to his activist positions vis-a-vis the comics industry, but he is often quite simply factually wrong ó especially when it comes to me or Fantagraphics with which he seems to have, at best, an ambivalent attitude."
Dispute all you care to, and thereís nothing gentle about your comments. Gary, you were happy to publish the interview, once it existed. Thank you for that. Your enthusiasm kicked in as the interview was underway, but Scott and I did have to make our case first, which was fair enough: you were editing a magazine, and didnít want to waste your time. It took some effort to convince you the interview was worth conducting. Scott and I proposed it, briefly campaigned for it, and I drove myself the two hours to his and Ivyís apartment outside of Boston, Massachusetts to ensure a single event to complete the interview. Once it was underway, you were satisfied it was of some merit, and you and TCJ did a sterling job expanding upon it. I painted a cover and provided an introductory article/text and some editorial cartoons, offers I had proffered beforehand. But it took some convincing you at first; no shame in that, and itís got nothing to do with your being "considered impure, excommunicated, and badmouthed forever."
Thatís my memory of events, which thereís no way of proving "quite simply factually wrong" unless youíve kept a phone log (I do, but didnít consistently in the 1980s). Iíll not drag Scott into this, unless you do or he cares to weigh in of his own accord.
As for my "at best, ambivalent attitude," consider that as a customer of Fantagraphics, Iíve been a devoted TCJ reader and subscriber for decades, literally, and have a personal collection of TCJ (which Iíll be using extensively teaching at CCS) dating back to the point when you assumed the helm around just before the first issue in my collection, The Nostalgia Journal #27. Check your own subscription records if you doubt me (I tend, however, to buy Fantagraphicsís books from retailers, to support retailers, too).
I am not ambivalent: I am a dedicated Fantagraphics reader, customer, and aficionado who has been crystal clear, in private conversation with you and in public venues when relevant, that there is to my mind an unreconcilable conflict-of-interest inherent in being a competitive publisher (of "The Best Cartoonists in the World!," no less) and either a journalist or journalistic publisher. This seems painfully self-evident to me, but you strongly disagree, and so it stands since we last discussed this face-to-face about eight or nine years ago. The narrowing of the market has done nothing but similarly consolidate that inherent conflict-of-interest, as you compete with the other publishers in the bottle-necked arena for the same creators and consumers. BTW, that is proffered as my opinion alone, not a fact.
I very much like Gary personally and I'm often sympathetic to his positions vis-a-vis the comics industry, and I enjoy most of what he publishes, but he is often quite simply factually wrong:
Re: "My favorite solecism was the time Steve claimed that Fantagraphics was so cheap and unprofessional that we paid employees by giving them used cars. (We don't.)"
A-mazing, Gary. Why would you even bring this crap up? Who fucking remembers? Who fucking CARES? Is this the only ad hominem barb you could bury in your post? I didnít spread shit, you did -- see The Comics Journal #161, August, 1993, "Fantagraphics Sue Ex-Comics Journal Editor," pp. 11-17, specifically pg. 11. Iíll save you the embarrassment of quotes from the humiliating article you yourself for some reason decided to publish, in one of TCJís sorriest moments. This hasnít anything to do with me whatsoever. I havenít thought about this in ages, much less spoken of it to anyone, and whatís in the issue of TCJ is more damning than anything I could invent. You want to dance around this non-event, proceed. But why embarrass yourself further?
"At any rate, I don't remember Steve and Scott having to fight for this interview. As I recall,"
Remember. Recall. Itís what we both have to go on, Gary -- your venom is misplaced, at best. Continuing:
"one of them contacted me after we ran an interview with Dave Sim where we talked about the Creators' Bill of Rights; they either objected to or wanted to amend something Sim said; it's possible they thought Sim distorted their own respective positions. Anyone who knows me or the Journal knows that I hardly have to have my own twisted to stir up the shit."
I have no problem that we old codgers have different recall, Gary; Ďthe fact isí is a dubious claim when thereís no records, reducing it all to what we indeed remember. So, OK, weíre in Rashomon territory; youíre an old Kurosawa fan, you know it well. Daveís interview was in #130 (July, 1989), Scott and I were in #137; we were indeed prompted by Daveís interview, some of Daveís statements (which Scott took exception to and/or wished to clarify as Ďcreatorí of the Bill), and the relative lack of discussion of the Creators Bill of Rights following. Frankly, itís not that important to me, much less now, but at the time it was important to me. The Journal ignoring and never printing my letters on the respective Night of the Living Dead or Rawhead Rex debacles led me to subsequently expect nothing of you or TCJ. In the then-immediate context, it had already prompted Michael Zulli and I to contact Don Thompson at The Comics Buyerís Guide on the Barker project, though Eclipseís misrepresentation of the situation was allowed to stand in TCJ (FYI, Don ran our letters and an extensive selection of our Rawhead Rex designs, affording Michael and I some measure of protection that whatever finally saw print from Eclipse would not copy our efforts; all relevant letters, FAXes, sketches, and clippings are in the HUIE/Henderson collection). Apparently some shit, for reasons unknown to me, was beneath stirring, but thatís OK, itís your magazine, itís your business. It did mean, however, that when I subsequently wanted your attention on something, I fought for it if I felt it was worthwhile. In the case of Scottís and my interview, it seemed necessary at the time to strongly state our case for an interview; if you forget your initial reluctance, Gary, thatís not intended as a slight against you. It was at best a two or three phone call exchange, followed by the interview, but we did have to be pro-active to make it happen. The fact that we came to you and TCJ should be a point of pride, not indignation.
"As a result, I not only interviewed Steve and Scott, but devoted the whole issue to creator rights and gave them the cover. Not that I expect so much as a scintilla of gratitude from Steve, mind you, but I'll be damned if I'm going to sit back and watch Steve distort my own commitment to creator rights and mischaracterize my interest in covering the issue in the Journal."
Hey, whoís distorting your commitment to creator rights? Letís get into something of substance. There is plenty to chew on besides this perceived slight, meaningful now only because itís all you found worthy of comment at all in the entirety of Al Nickersonís venue and four interviews and subsequent comments on the Bill of Rights.
In the meantime, Gary, you want more than a scintilla of gratitude? Hell, Iím grateful you exist. Iím thankful TCJ exists, however compromised its ethics -- itís all there is, most of the time, save for the few academic journals on comics worth reading and subscribing to. Iím grateful I can still subscribe, and I was one of the pros who was grateful for the comp subscriptions back in the old days (how many stayed on as subscribers? I havenít missed an issue!). I send my check every time my sub is winding down, and that ainít cheap; in this depressed economy, you need more gratitude from a subscriber? Iím grateful for your agreeing to do the interview with Scott and I back in Ď89, and I said so then. Here, Iíll say so again: "Gary, THANK YOU." There, Iíve said it twice in sixteen years -- thatís a lot of gratitude. Iím grateful for the opportunity to do a second TCJ cover painting for you for very little money or barter, while still owning the rights to the painting 100% so I was able to revamp it slightly for use as the cover of Comic Book Rebels, for which I was paid much more. Iím grateful that, when DC Comics wouldnít let John Totleben and I paint a cover for Swamp Thing, TCJ "gave" us the cover of TCJ #93 when we offered to do a full-blown painting (for very little money or barter), which led to our being permitted by DC to paint a couple of collaborative Swamp Thing covers for very little money and subsequently keep John painting covers for lots more money in the decades since, and thereby make painted covers a standard of the Vertigo line for even more money to their respective cover artists. And to think it all started with TCJ #93ís cover, which it did. Thank you for that. In fact, Glenn Fabry should thank you, too, as should Karen Berger and Dave McKean and the entire Vertigo line and its readers. Iím grateful for every fucking thing Fantagraphics does of interest, and regularly demonstrate my gratitude with hard-earned cash and occasional critiques. Iíll be using a lot of what you publish in class at CCS, and Iíll be grateful every time I do. Iím grateful youíre still stirring up the waspsí nests -- but Iím disappointed you find it necessary to attack me, especially for this unintended slight.
Iím being arch here due to the ridiculously petulant tone of your post; the gratitude is genuine.
Jesus, Gary, if thatís all that got your dander up from my interview and initial response, you arenít paying attention, are you? Maybe some of the latest exchanges will give you something more substantive to sink your teeth into.
"Not interested indeed. Steve and the whole creator rights militants remind me of the Communist Party in the US in the '20s and '30: one step out of orthodoxy and you were considered impure, excommunicated, and badmouthed forever. I should probably count my lucky stars that I didn't suffer Trotsky's fate and wind up assassinated, but to the best of my recollection, the only assassination that was publicly contemplated (by Dave Sim) was of Steve Geppi. Ah, those were the days."
"Not interested indeed" -- nice Hardyism (as in Oliver, not Thomas). The only assassination here is you doing in your own character. Címon, Gary, youíre better than this. What utter nonsense.
Next: Al's Letter to Dave Sim 2 Al Nickerson's letter written to Dave Sim addressing the continuing discussions of creator's rights and including the topic of working with other comic book creators.