End of 2010 Spin with Sim
Breaking Up Is Hard to Do, The Big Pass, & More!
* Once again, continuing and picking up directly from yesterday
Dave concluded his December 20th FAX letter to me with the following:
* Whatever went down between you and Gerhard is your and his business, Dave. I’ll only say my piece because you brought it up.
I’m sorry it was acrimonious. I’ll say only that Gerhard should have attained some level of sainthood in comicdom for his sticking with you and Cerebus for the duration (and putting up with you, man!), but it must be said that it was quite a ride, too, and that Ger savored far, far better conditions, travel, and renumeration than any other co-creator from his publisher (you) in all of comics history. That said, what little I know of your own ups and downs in the years I’ve known you both testifies to Ger‘s personal loyalty, stamina, work-ethic, and perseverance, too.
I’ve stayed in touch with both of you off and on over the years, and love you both; I also understand (from painful first-hand experience, post-Swamp Thing) Ger‘s dread of anything to do with comics and drawing since the separation. Peter Laird went through something similar around the time the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie exploded, and I’ve seen it in other comic book industry “casualties” in all walks (including retail, publishing, etc.): a complete paralysis. It’s something only those who have experienced it can grasp, and I suspect it’s a form of post-traumatic stress, actually.
Well, I’ve already said too much. Back to your letter.
You were wise to let Gerhard name the sum, and to accept it.
It won’t stop the brickbats (the Comicon.com board already brought one sailing in, with the expected peanut gallery). Your flat, utterly pragmatic statement, “Right now I have a deadline crunch on a commission that will put me “over the top” for Gerhard‘s 2010 payment. Four years down, one to go,” prompted:
“Dave, are you actually complaining in public about having to live up to your financial obligations to another creator, particularly the one man who stood by you for decades, through good times and bad, making your comic book look substantially better than it would have without him? That’s not very classy of you.”
You were smart. It’s the same reason I made Kevin Eastman name the sum I owed and paid him at the end of 1993, for Tundra‘s outstanding investment in Taboo and any other project Kevin thought I owed him for. He named the amount due; I paid it on the spot, and went home with a receipt. Smartest move I made that year.
Kevin naming the sum due made it firm that I’d paid him back whatever was due, and that no one from Tundra or Kitchen Sink or post-KS-whatever-it-became would be knocking on my door or that of any Taboo contributor, period (the documents and cancelled check is in my papers in the Bissette Collection at the HUIE Library, Henderson State University, Arkadelphia, Arkansas, should anyone ever question this transaction).
Do what you have to do with Ger, and bless you for (as expected) not fucking over your long-term creative partner (your second divorce).
And a hearty pre-emptive “fuck off” to the peanut gallery for any potshots taken now or in future. They’ve no idea.
* Peter and Kevin‘s separations got a pass from the press; in fact, as I’ve often stated in the past, the whole of Mirage Studios got a major pass from the press, including the so-called comics journalists, since its inception.
It’s frankly absolutely astonishing to me to this day how little attention or public scrutiny was ever, ever paid to the whole of Peter and Kevin‘s operation in Northampton, MA (including Kevin‘s detour with Tundra, which at least received the public airing of three interviews in The Comics Journal—Rick Veitch‘s, mine, and Kevin‘s, all of which substantiated one another—but little else). You’d have thunk the most expansive self-publishing-turned-publisher-turned-licensing-monolith operation in the whole of comics history would have prompted some curiosity, some wee attempt at investigative journalism—but, no. Peter and Kevin‘s luck holds out to this day. What a story it’ll make, if ever it’s tapped; but already, post dissolving of Mirage, the key players and elements are cast to the winds. (The made-for-TV movie version, if it ever comes, will never come close to capturing what went down.)
* I agree fully that no creator should ever be divested fully of a share of what they created, and I believe it should carry over into the next generation(s).
If it’s good enough for lands, titles, and estates of the aristocracy under English Law, why shouldn’t the real and current coin of the 21st Century realm—licensable conceptual properties—fall under the same province?
In my worldview, that which the corporate world so ravenously covets clearly is of great and lasting value, and given the contracts I see regularly, there is nothing so coveted as creative property at the present time. The current contracts presented to creators seek to claim rights in perpetuity and beyond, in all media formats known or as yet unknown in the known and as yet unknown universe forever, or at least for the duration of the life of the copyright. They’ve neatly contrived since 1976 (via the so-called Sonny Bono Act) to alter North American copyright law so as to ensure the life of that copyright extends for 75 years after death of the individual, but 150 years for the corporation.
So, yes, creative work is of great value. They say so themselves, with every contract issued.
But my metaphor clearly implies once sold, a “plot” of conceptual “property” is sold, all rights transferred, and the heirs will be the ones complaining about the “family legacy” sold and lost forever.
And that, after all, is what you’re talking about, Dave.
European copyright law refers to these as “moral rights,” and they are implicit and non-transferable. It’s been amusing to see the contracts from North American publishers that acknowledge “moral rights” only to insist that those, too, are fully transferable and must be the property of the corporation in exchange for whatever meager advance monies or page rate or royalties only are being paid (or promised to be paid).
My most recent experience relevent to your final paragraphs was the agonizing process of 2009-2010 of helping my late friend Steve Perry divest himself of whatever shared copyrights and creative properties that were left to him. Dying of cancer, utterly impoverished, raising his five-year-old son under the constant spectre of homelessness, Steve was beyond desperation; and among the precious few assets left to him were his co-ownership of his 1980s comics co-creations: Time Spirits, Salimba, and a clutch of stories he’d scripted for/with me and for Rick Veitch. When it became crystal clear Steve would sell those rights to anyone off the street for a pittance, I leaned on Tom Yeates (Time Spirits co-creator) to make sure he somehow dealt with Steve and came through wholly owning Time Spirits (though Tom, like the rest of us, had precious few financial resources to tap or offer).
I’d already bought out Steve‘s share of our collaborative work earlier in the decade, but I acted like that hadn’t happened, and bought them out again, making sure notarized contracts were generated, signed, and exchanged; and I did the same on behalf of Rick Veitch, essentially brokering that transaction so Steve was paid and the rights signed over to Rick. Nat Gertler was the lone publisher to come through for another property, Salimba, which creative partner/artist Paul Chadwick generously deeded to Steve amid this ongoing crisis.
[Note: I in no way am villifying Nat or the Salimba project; I in fact was very supportive, urged Steve to follow through, and contributed illustrations to the book. Nat came through honorably for Steve, and provided a venue for Steve's final short work of fiction, the original Salimba short story "Baby." See Nat's comment on this post, clarifying his position and specifics of this transaction, in the comments thread, below.]
Every penny helped Steve and his son get through another day, week, month; but it was never, ever enough, and it was a horrific, soul-grinding process. It was Steve stripping his heirs (including his five-year-old son) of their legacy, of all he had left to give them, and I felt filthy, corrupt, and hyena-like every painful step of the process. After Steve was gone, it was also left to me to tell Steve‘s oldest three sons—who I’ve stayed in contact with over the years, along with their mother—that it was all gone, Steve had sold it all. Nat, bless him, saw to it the family received comp copies of Salimba; I’ll do all I can over the coming years to ensure that the boys get copies of all their father’s past published work, and Rick and I (should we ever manage to get our collaborations with Steve back into print) will always be cutting Steve‘s royalty share due to his heirs, but it was a terrible process to be involved with first-hand.
It’s something the corporations do daily—every nanosecond, in fact—without a thought, much less a pang of remorse or regret.
I have come to really loathe that which massed fandom fawns over—the Marvel and DC movie franchises—knowing they exist without even a fraction of the fucking catering budgets going to the creators or their heirs.
What galls me more is when “fandom” spurns any thought, or pang of remorse or regret; it is “business as usual” in the 21st century, as it was the previous century.
Disney, the empire erected on the sham of “family values,” is merrily paying fortunes upon fortunes to teams of lawyers to crush Jack Kirby‘s heirs in the wake of their purchase of Marvel, and too many passionate “fans” argue that is as it should be. What did Kirby‘s heirs do to “earn” anything?
What a fucking world.
Bless you for seeing to proper dealings with Gerhard, however acrimonious those were, and good luck in whatever the future brings on that front.
And a heartfelt Happy New Year, Dave!
Tomorrow: Part 5 of Dave’s Chat with Moi…