Looking for Magic Carpets

An Open Letter to My Fellow Writers (& Artists)

On September 2nd, I was asked, via a comment to the Myrant Gallery (that I didn’t approve as to spare the writer embarrassment, which I hope they’ll understand and appreciate):

“Love the artwork. I have a project that I need an artist for — it’s a ——- for a screenplay I wrote about ———-. It will be entered into a contest with a big money prize for the winner. Would you be interested? If not, do you know someone who might be?”

Coincidentally, during the same week, I was asked by not one but two filmmakers/writers whose work I love if I wanted to consider doing graphic novel adaptations of a script they could picture as a Bissette-drawn graphic novel.

They could practically see it in their head…

Sigh.

Here’s an edited version of my long, and definitely loving and well-intentioned, reply to one of the above.

I post it here to share, to make it clear what the core issues are, and why I gracefully (I hope) decline every time…

______

First of all, never be afraid to ask me anything. There are no bad or stupid questions.

On to graphic novels and novelizations: short answer: I’m flattered, but if I had such time/wherewithal, I’d pour it into getting back to work on Tyrant, my dream project (I managed to get four issues done and self-published before the market/marriage collapsed in the mid-1990s; happy to mail you a set).

Long answer: I am literally asked what you’ve asked me WEEKLY, seeking either me to engage or for me to steer some other cartoonist or CCS student (as if they’ve nothing better to do, like, oh, their own work plus the education they’ve paid for) to a similar task, and have been since about 2006.

What nobody (or precious few) seem to realize:

(1) It takes years to do a good graphic novel; Maus took over a decade to complete, as did From Hell; Howard Cruse’s Stuck Rubber Baby was one of the faster ones at 5+ years, and all required multiple funding sources, grants, and/or multiple publishers to complete. It’s a bear.

Yes, many lesser graphic novels are done in months; most of those show it.

(2) Cartoonists have their own projects they’d dearly love to afford to do, many of those lengthy works.

We rarely get to them due to the eternal question: How do I eat/pay rent/mortgage while dedicating my life to this venture?

(3) Now, taking on adapted and/or collaborative graphic novels, sans a publisher footing the financing, complicates it all multifold. I now have to introduce letter sections into the outline answer:

(a) Who owns it? Co-ownership is sticky: if you are the source author (as in this case), you’re not going to want to give up ownership/proprietary rights; but if I’m not in for 50%, why pick up the pencil?

If we co-own, what’s the split of ownership (just ownership, mind you—we’ll get to payment and royalty sharing shortly)?

(b) Drawing—not counting lettering, toning, coloring—is, necessarily, a more time-consuming/demanding proposition than writing.

I’m not being judgmental or unfair—remember, I’m a writer myself, with many books to my name in print/in stores—I’ve written as much or more than I’ve drawn for print, and take my word for it, it’s the fact: the drawing takes more time.

For instance, when John Totleben and I were doing Swamp Thing, it was all we had time for. Alan Moore finished a script for Swamp Thing, for the most part, in one week; that gave him three weeks per month to do, oh, Watchmen, V For Vendetta, various one-shots and back-up stories, etc., and build a formidable career during three-four years in which John and I could only do Swamp Thing.

Few writers understand or want to understand (much less concede) that point.

And in the legal ownership negotiations, many writers resent the artist pushing for even 50/50 split of ownership.

In adapted works, this is even more problematic: the author does have a firm claim to greater rights (there would be nothing to adapt without their source material existing). For you, as a filmmaker, you legally must maintain a greater ownership share, so you’re free to negotiate for funding without the complications of an equal partner butting in. But then, again, why would any artist pick up a pencil, given their lesser earning/proprietary claim to work yet to be done?

I’ve seen many collaborations break down over this. Recently, an ongoing collaboration in progress is about to terminate because the writer is now demanding, mid-way, a higher percentage of page rate and ownership (as any good attorney would advise)—but, hey, it’s a two-edged sword. Without an artist, you don’t have a comic page to publish.

Yes, the words are primary, essential.

But the time-factor involved, and the fact that in most cases a credible art job on something as substantial as a graphic novel (again, not even counting the time-consuming rigors of lettering, toning, coloring, book design, and all the other graphic elements) will always take more time than the writing, can and often is a very real issue—for the artist, and, inevitably, one way or another, for the writer.

(c) Visual design of characters/environments/”the look” presents another ownership issue. In short, once an artist brings their visual design skills to the characters, settings, etc., they are fully co-creators—and, arguably, more essential to the sale of a given story property as a film than the writer is.

(d) Even when ownership issues are settled, how to divvy up page rate can also be problematic—when, that is, there is a page rate (see 4, below). Royalties are another issue, but royalties are also nothing to count on, ever (any more than “winning contests” are to be counted upon for payment in the end run).

Yes, there’s nothing to draw without the script. Remember, I am a writer; I grasp the arguments, I’ve heard them, I acknowledge them.

But having done all parts of comics—including publishing—I know how unforgivably (1), (2), and (3, b) assert themselves in short order. I’ve even seen the long-term results: my late writer friend Steve Perry convinced one artist/collaborator in the 1980s that he (the writer, and initial creator of the concept) should be paid higher than industry standard as writer of the project. The artist agreed.

However, the longer time it took to physically draw an issue Steve could write in two weeks took a toll quickly: the artist needed to hire assistants to keep up the schedule (bimonthly), and his much lower pay rate meant the artist was paid little and earned less to continue working on the title.

In the end, Steve‘s fond plan for a group of us collaborating on one issue led to difficulties when all involved saw the bigger bite Steve had claimed of the page rates—everyone still saw it through, but it left a sour taste that really cost Steve professionally in the short and long run.

Decades later, this continued to be an issue. Believe me, it’s bad voodoo.

In the case of one of the writers who offered me an original script for Taboo needing an artist to work with, the initially amicable relations frayed over minor issues. They resolved those, but after the second installment, the artist very acrimoniously terminated the collaboration (it came down to, “I don’t want this in my head any longer!”). The writer asked me to help him find a new partner to draw his scripts, and I did, but after one installment (and a great one), that artist also severed ties abruptly. The author was gobsmacked; he’d done nothing wrong, he’d been forthright and friendly, but it just wasn’t working.

I advised him immediately to give up the serialized graphic novel (already truncated and fragmented by the striking difference in art styles), and just write it as a novel—something he fully controlled, fully owned, and could see through without such eternal strife.

If what you write is near and dear to you, don’t seek collaboration in other media. If you do, be prepared for anything.

(e) In the case of a filmmaker/author, I’d assert the legal need for a work-for-hire relationship with an artist—to move on a film, you can’t have complicated, compromised legal proprietorship—but that leads to many ethical issues and conflicts inherent in any such working relationship, immediately and most emphatically to:

(4) WHO PAYS to make a script into a graphic novel?

Taking all of the above into account, how does even the most enthusiastic/passionate/committed-to-your-vision artistic partner afford the time necessary to draw an adaptation graphic novel?

We’re talking about a major investment of money to sustain even rudimentary living while working—you know it well from making movies. All the same issues apply.

If the writer has a publisher willing to fund such a venture, that can be resolved.

And we’re not talking, oh, a few hundred dollars. Can you or the publisher really, really properly fund six months of work? A year of work? Two? More? Can you spare that time without a book out, recouping that investment and money?

An artist can’t provide dedicated focus of energies and time for nothing.

And if they say (fantasize) they can, believe me, reality comes knocking on the door with the landlord/bank/bills, every three to four weeks.

(5) But then: who OWNS the work? If the writer lands the sale, shouldn’t they claim a larger share? Their agent (who likely would play some role in landing a publisher, in many cases) would argue that—immediately making the artist the hired hand, and little more.

That’s fine, too. That’s how most cartoonists working the graphic novel field are doing the work these days—negotiating for the highest “page rate” they can, knowing nine times out of ten that’s all they’ll ever see, anyways.

These things do have solutions. There are agents. There are publishers. There are template contracts for every imaginable variation, from complete and fully equitable co-ownership to the most direct work-for-hire-lock-down-all-rights possible.

My friend Neil Gaiman has been a terrific, ethical partner even with his book illustrators (note Charles Vess, another friend of mine, being treated incredibly fairly, in terms of participation, rights, and payment—including equal share of the movie rights/earning—on Stardust, for instance).

It can be done, and it is done.

But it takes care, clarity, attention to detail, the desire and ability to do the tough business and negotiations with skill, diplomacy, and aplomb, and sticking by your partners.

That’s rare, I’m afraid.

But I’m glad it can and is done.

(6) Trust me: in most cases, making the graphic novel see light of day is as hard and fraught with obstacles as making a movie from the same script.

You would think otherwise: I mean, filmmaking requires the collaborative effort of way more professionals, way more volunteers, and WAY more money (even at dirt level filmmaking, budget-wise). I have no illusions about that.

But in some ways it’s tougher to initiate, sustain, and maintain to completion (publication) the relationship and bankrolling of one collaborative artist’s undivided attention/work time for the time it takes to create a decent graphic novel. Four months, ten months, two years, ten years—how does the artist (not to mention the writer) eat to sustain that work effort?

If subsidized by a day job, the work slows, the duration extends—it’s all math, in one way, measured in days and dollars… just like filmmaking.
_____________

Please, understand, I am not being adversarial, but I rarely get to discuss this with someone asking who has really thought it through.

I’ve spent way longer doing so with you than I ever do.

(7) There is a fond, very persuasive, very pervasive fantasy right now in the minds of writers, agents, editors, publishers, and the public that graphic novels are magic carpets.

That they are magic carpets easily, cheaply, quickly woven.

And that artists are (a) dying to do them, (b) dying to do them working from other’s scripts, or in collaboration with others, and (c) DYING to do them for little or no money up front, and that (d) graphic novels=movie deals, so just saying, “Hey, I’ll let you adapt my idea into a graphic novel and we’ll share the money from the movie!” is somehow inviting to starving artists, and we should be thankful to partake of such sterling opportunities (instead of, like, continuing to plow away on our own projects we subsidize by working dayjobs, teaching, or working freelance on other projects to buy a day a week to work on our pet personal projects).

Most of us who draw comics have no shortage of our own ideas.

(Maybe we’d rather hire you to write our idea, or help us do so. In that case, see all of the above; it cuts both ways!)

Even if we agree that yours are better, more attractive, alluring, visionary, and/or sellable, circumstances must be unusually fertile for us to be able, willing, and truly dedicated to seeing through your project, whatever its scale (however modest or grandiose), instead of ours.

So, make it worth our while.

Make it worth the reason you’re asking for our talents to fuse with yours.

And don’t expect any free magic carpet ride.

And please, don’t waste our time.

We do that just fine ourselves, left to our own devices, without any problem.

(8) We have our own ways of seeing, doing things.

We are rarely “just” hired hands.

We are certainly never just your pair of hands, to be ordered to adhere to your vision.

In fact, I presume you’re asking because you want my particular way of seeing, doing things.

Understand, it may not be the graphic novel you have in your head (much less whatever your agent has in their head).

Collaboration is a two-way relationship—if it isn’t, you’d best be prepared to (a) pay way more money than you initially intend, (b) make sure you’re not presenting any obstacles to seeing “your” vision through, and (c) have a back-up plan if and when the artist you start with finds more lucrative, attractive, or less troublesome collaborative or solo work elsewhere.

(9) Legally, morally, ethically, it’s way easier to just be responsible for our own babies.

Trust me on that.

That’s a lot of work in and of itself.

But there are solutions; there are countless solutions, any number of relationships ratified by contracts that are completed and seen through, as countless comics and graphic novels are collaborated on, created by creative teams. It is possible. It happens every minute of every day.

Your request/invite (which, again, is flattering, and I am honored you thought to even ask me) is one I’ve often been approached with (no kidding) almost every other month.

I’d love to read the script.

But, frankly, if I had the time (which I don’t), I’d be working on my own baby, Tyrant, which I had to dock in 1997.

Forgive me for going on at length, but I want you to completely understand the issue(s) at hand, and my reasons for gracefully declining.

And believe you me, I’ve been brief.

There’s more, lots more, that needs to be sorted out, were we to collaborate.

Of course, writing out this long-form answer also takes care of my blog post for today (without citing/naming you, or your invite; this isn’t meant to embarrass, just explain in detail).

Thanks much, much love, and never be afraid to ask me anything.

Just be ready for the possible answer…

________

Essay ©2011 Stephen R. Bissette, all rights reserved. Permission to reprint/link, in full, granted, only with proper copyright notice (my own, and that below) visible and in place.

Photos are from two classic movie versions of The Thief of Bagdad (1924, 1940), © their respective current owners; used for metaphoric illustrative/educational purposes only.


Discussion (52) ¬

  1. Ben Trafford

    Question:

    A lot of what you discuss above speaks to the idea of a 50/50 split — but what if the writer said, “You get paid full page rate and royalties, but I retain full ownership.” Basically, the writer is backing on the idea that he’ll make his money back in merchandising and other forms of IPR sales and such, while the artist gets paid up front. How would that fly? Or is the creative work as much a long-term investment for the typical artist?

  2. Nigel-63

    mm… I was back and forth ‘twixt Brisbane and Sydney in the days when Eddie was doing “From Hell”, and knew him and the guys who were helping to do some of the b/grounds (Westminster/Parliament House, Georgian architecture with lots of shadows and columns and windows, etc) – and, blimey, wasn’t there whinging about “all the work” they did but Eddie got all the credit!

    … contracts and clear communications about monies and responsibilities – it’s the only way… even if that way ends in a grumbly ‘no’ now (which can be repaired) as opposed to a “I wouldn’t p*ss on you if you were on fire – and I’m currently holding matches, you pr*ck!”
    … I’ve been on the losing side of that ‘relationship’ more than once (as an actor)…

    … thanks for that, Steve… it should be a Primer in Art Colleges…

    cheers,
    Nigel.

  3. Bob

    That’s a great article. I’d recently responded to an ad of a guy looking for someone to storyboard his movie. Long story short, he ended up trying to get me to do it for “credit”. Between the fact that I’ve never watched a movie and wondered exactly what else the storyboard guy did for other projects, and the fact that there are lots of things closer to my heart I could be working on, I told the guy “no” (unless he paid, of course).

    Anyway, I’m really glad to see that I’m not the only one that thinks that whole situation is wrong. If I’m going to work for free up front, I’m working for myself or with friends that I work with for the hell of it, not doing the heavy lifting for some guy.

    Until I can get a guy to fix my truck for “credit”, a pro bono storyboard ain’t in the cards.

    Thanks again.

  4. Glenn J. Smith

    Oh.My.God. Thank you. long story VERY short, ran into this with 1st gent who’d been told by agent 2 get a rewrite. enter me. had lots of little things 2 spice up the tale, fell in love w/ the potential. -but- it was “spec”, & he was on about it constantly, however many times i ‘splained the ‘need 2 pay bills 1st’. i created & wrote intro scene 100%. would have dialogued probably 90% of project; saw his intention was not so much as an “additional_____credit or assist; NADA. so-pfffft. These days, as i contemplate the chance to collaborate (& i dearly want to), the issues you so beautifully explain roll thru my head in a much clumsier fashion. Dude, thank you so much 4 writing this.

  5. Carrie Q. Contrary

    GREAT post! Very informative, hope it gets around.

  6. msbissette@yahoo.com

    @Ben: See point #5, “These things do have solutions. There are agents. There are publishers. There are template contracts for every imaginable variation, from complete and fully equitable co-ownership to the most direct work-for-hire-lock-down-all-rights possible.” I know of arrangements such as those you’ve suggested that have yielded published work.

    ANYTHING is possible.

    But the payment must reflect not just scraping-by living, but more than that. Selling off one’s rights completely in work one does has a price tag in and of itself, above and beyond a page rate or advance or fee for the work itself being done.

    And you get what you pay for—and don’t get, in most cases, what you don’t/won’t pay for.

    Again, please remember, I’m daily working on BOTH sides of this fence (and there’s more than two sides: I’m also a packager, working on a collective comprised of work by others on my characters, with TALES OF THE UNCANNY and the N-Man, Fury, Hypernaut, Sky Solo material). I’m not “taking sides.”

    There’s as many way to skin these cats as there are cats, so to speak.

    Just being aware of the bare-bones issues I’ve outlined herein, hopefully, is helpful.

  7. Denise Dorman

    I Tweeted a link to this Open Letter – you worded this just perfectly!

  8. Glendon Mellow

    Wow.

    After seeing this on Twitter and G+ a doezen times today, I’m really glad I read it and you wrote it, Steve.

    This needs to be seen by as many people outside of illustration as possible. You said it all.

  9. flynn_the_cat

    A really useful post – I’m nowhere near that level (nor may ever be), but knowing about this kind of thing before it ever applies saves us newbie artists a lot of stress.

    Case in point: I just got a comment today asking if I can help them with a picture – by drawing it for them.

  10. msbissette@yahoo.com

    See that, Flynn? You’re already at “that level.” Voila!

  11. Al Wesolowsky

    An excellent essay, epistolary and otherwise. And not least because you point out how these collaborations can succeed as well as come to grief. As you say, there *are* ways to hammer out agreements, but there are many factors to consider in addition to page rates and royalties, especially in re: ownership of story/collective work/art/characters and the sooner these factors are resolved, the less chance of being surprised later on.

    Your post was well worth the time and effort you took to compose it, and the even tone makes it all the more effective. I hope you’ll consider simply printing it out and distributing it to your classes at CCS, just to make sure they get the message. As you say, everybody seems to want art, but few seem prepared to pay for it.

    And what you say about the relative speed of writing vs drawing is spot on. I was examining some freshly-inked-and-lettered boards of my own, and realized that one panel just did not work. How could I have missed this earlier? I went through a circus of thoughts about how to fix it via just the lettering, or a small change to the art, but finally bit ye olde bullet and redrew two panels to fix the problem. For a writer, this would have taken ten minutes tops; for the artist, several hours of work with one eye on the ticking deadline clock.

  12. srbissette

    This was posted to my bio page, so I hope there’s no objection to my posting it here. See my reply, below:
    ___________

    Richard P. Clark
    [ID info withheld by SR Bissette to protect privacy]
    76.15.96.172
    Submitted on 2011/09/09 at 9:02am

    Steve,
    Looking for Magic Carpets brilliantly articulates points I’ve been making to filmmakers/authors/novelists for years now. I would like to discuss printing a few copies of this article to have on-hand when I’m at NYCC this October to hand out to prospective clients.
    Having made a living as an illustrator for the last 18 years, I would never abuse your copyright and use this work of yours without permission.
    Would love to hear back; thanks a total million for such a succinct telling of many truths.
    ________________

    Certainly; keep my copyright affixed in your printout. Go to it.

    And see Part 2, later today/tonight, for more analysis of the issues via the POV of a writer/artist (me) who has also seen plenty of artists (myself included) derail the best attempts of writers to be fair in all such dealings.

  13. msbissette@yahoo.com

    @Al: always heartwarming to see your comments here. Thanks for the kind words, and to your comment particulars:

    For those writers-only bristling at any of my essay, please note Al’s insightful, straightforward assessment of our own daily writer/artist decisions:

    “…For a writer, this would have taken ten minutes tops; for the artist, several hours of work with one eye on the ticking deadline clock….”

    That’s it, that says it all in terms of the time-frame arguments.

    In another frame (panel?), vet cartoonist John Severin once said to me (during a conversation during the Northampton, MA Kevin Eastman comics museum celebratory dinner John, Joe Kubert, and others were at): “You know, the writer in me takes seconds to type out, ‘the entire Apache nation rides over the hill.’ But the artist in me hates to type the line, because I know how long it’s going to take to research and draw that panel!”

  14. Michael Kraiger

    Steve.

    Much like you The Kubert School gets constant requests for artists to work for credit, or those 50/50 splits or, you know, because the student could use it in their portfolio.

    You’ve done a wonderful job of touching on so many of the points and pitfalls that need to be examined each time this type of request occurs. I think I will be directing a lot of people to this posting.

    Michael Kraiger
    instructor/job placement coordinator
    The Kubert School

  15. keviemetal

    Brilliant essay sir. Much more illuminating than my standard, “thanks, but I’ve got my own stuff I’d rather lose money on.” I’m going to forward all such requests to this link from now on. So get ready for your traffic to spike to the tune of one, maybe two extra hits a year!

  16. Donna Barr

    I’m so stealing this link for my website. To all you writers: us drawn book authors are like the whole film crew. You’re just the guy with the script. And find THAT in the credits, if you can.

  17. Jeff P.

    Hi, Steve, Jeff Pert here—I met you a few weeks ago at the bookstore in Freeport. It was a great pleasure encountering you wholly by chance.

    Wonderful piece! I’ll be sharing it (w/ full credit, of course) artist friends.

  18. Gerry Mooney

    Steve – very insightful article, in fact I’ve used it as the basis of a graphic novel script. Since it’s your article, you’d draw it for me, right?

  19. srbissette

    Gerry, high hilarity all around. You’ll be hearing from my lawyer shortly, and the Graphic Novel Gestapo will be kicking the shit out of your door before midnight tonight.

  20. srbissette

    @Donna: Since I quote you in my classroom (via the HOOKED ON COMICS interview), it’s my pleasure to be ripped by the She-Wolf of the Desert Peach!

  21. srbissette

    @Jeff: See your email, and check your mail! It was a great, grand pleasure to meet you a couple three weeks back. Let’s stay in touch.

  22. srbissette

    @Michael: see your email, too. It’s an honor and a privilege; my deepest love and gratitude to everyone at the Kubert School, particularly Joe, Adam, Andy, and to Mike Chen. Salute!

  23. Mark Oakley

    My favorite recent version of the, “Will you draw my script” came from a thirteen year-old boy whose mom, enamored of her son’s abilities, sent him over to my table and had him make the proposal while she watched on imperiously.

    Yikes!

    “Sorry. I’ve got too many of my own scripts I’m working on. One day when I’m dry on ideas but still want to draw, I’ll let people know, but that hasn’t happened yet. Oh, also, if you have thousands and thousands of dollars to pay me to put my schedule on hold to draw your script, I might consider it. Do you? Have thousands and thousands of dollars? No? Yeah, me neither. But thanks for thinking of me, and don’t stop developing your ideas! If they’re big and beautiful enough and you love them dearly and really, really want them out there and if don’t stop working hard at it, then you’re on the right track to making it happen. But also. . , if creative madness doesn’t suit you, don’t be ashamed of being a plumber. –They make more money and have less stress. And everybody loves a plumber. When your pipes blow, the plumber is like a heavenly messenger come to deliver you from the flood. Though, actually. . , maybe don’t tell your mom I suggested you become a plumber. Hm. Here. Take a free comic. Keep on writing. Is it getting warm in here. . ?”

  24. Danny Fingeroth

    Links to a couple of relevant Mark Evanier columns:

    http://www.povonline.com/cols/COL210.htm

    http://www.povonline.com/cols/COL224.htm

  25. arlen schumer

    Steve–I just discovered this thru Facebook and am BLOWN AWAY; it is EXACTLY what I’ve come into contact with from clueless writers/editors,book packagers–as well as being excellent ammo for my upcoming AUTEUR THEORY: IN SUPPORT OF JACK KIRBY panel I’m running at the NYComicom on 10/15; here’s the official panel description: “In the wake of the Jack Kirby estate’s recent court loss vs. Marvel Comics/Disney, comic book historian Arlen Schumer (The Silver Age of Comic Book Art) and Randolph Hoppe (Director of the online Jack Kirby
    Museum) present their theory that, just like a film’s director, not its screenwriter,
    is considered its true author (auteur in French), so should a comic book artist be
    considered the auteur of any comic book work done in collaboration with a
    writer (or a script in any verbal form), and is therefore a de facto co-creator and
    co-author, with the credited writer, of that work. Joining them on the panel
    discussion that follows will be editor/publisher John Morrow (TwoMorrows
    Publications), publisher J.David Spurlock (Vanguard Publishing), and other comic book industry
    luminaries to be announced.

  26. Henry R. Kujawa

    Great stuff, Steve. Would you believe? I turned someone down just a couple days ago. Here’s what I said…

    “That I’m afraid I’m gonna have to pass on. I’ve just got too many of my own stories that may never get illustrated, especially if I let myself get involved in someone else’s projects again.

    Strange as it may seem, my long-term goal is actually to be able to hire someone else to to the finished illustrations for MY scripts. I don’t need anyone to do layouts, and I could even do my own pencils, but inks, colors, etc., that stuff all just takes too damn much time.

    Of course, the worst thing for the last several years is all the stress related to money. The last time I had a decent-paying job, which is longer ago that I care to think about, I was actually knocking out some of the best art I ever did after work.

    Eventually, what I need to do is to find at least 2 agents… one to hook me up with a publisher who’s well-connected for doing graphic novels, and another to hook me up with movie studios for my scripts. I started tentatively looking into that some months ago, but haven’t gotten very far with it yet.”

    I did spend too much time a few years ago working “on spec”. I’d hoped it would lead to bigger and better things. I’d hoped the guy I was working with meant what he said when he kept saying “You’re a real friend.” But when it became obvious that A)he didn’t really know what he was doing, and B)he insisted on things being done his way, even when he kept not knowing what he was doing, and C)he decided, a YEAR after a book was completely finished BY ME that he “would prefer it never be published” because he’d “lost control of it”… that was it for me. (I’m not naming names here. He’s VERY well known in the comics biz.)

    Henry

  27. Jim Keefe

    Thank you for writing this!
    Another great post that I’ll be circulating.
    Thank you – Thank you – Thank you!

  28. patrick ford

    Steve, Another very well presented post on a topic needing attention. A very similar idea was presented recently here:
    http://hoodedutilitarian.com/2011/08/sublime-capital-kirby-lee-the-worth-and-the-worthy/
    Arlen, Looking forward to reading about the panel discussion. Of course Steve could probably attest that while the artist is very often not given the credit they deserve, working with a detailed script from Alan Moore isn’t the same thing as Kirby creating a story from scratch, and turning it over to Lee. While I don’t think Lee deserves any credit for the story Kirby gave him, Lee does deserve the credit (or in my opinion the blame) for the stories published in the newsstand comic books. What Lee did to the stories Kirby gave him is where Lee’s job began. In the case of Marvel you have two stories. The stories Kirby wrote, many of which have been described by Mike Gartland who studied the margin notes, and did other research. And you have stories which are often very different which are the result of Lee stuccoing over top of the story Kirby intended.

  29. msbissette@yahoo.com

    Look, there’s another side to this, which I’ve been working on steadily and I’ll be posting this weekend. It was to always BE part of this, and will be directly linked once it’s up. Writing takes time (drawing takes more time usually, but writing still takes time).

    “Artist vs Writer” dualism accomplishes nothing (nor was that my point)—and as plenty of concrete examples prove, artists have often stymied the best-laid plans of ethical, fair, productive writers, too.

    Let’s not use the legitimacy of my arguments in THIS post to propel a simplistic screed demonizing writers. As I’ve emphasized, I’m a writer and an artist—comics needs BOTH, working in harmony and together, whether those functions are embodied in a single cartoonist, or the result of a fruitful collaboration. I was incredibly fortunate to have been able to work with so many wonderful writers over my comics career, from Robert Kanigher to Alan Moore and beyond, and such excellent editors as Joe Kubert, Archie Goodwin, and Karen Berger.

    I must distance myself from Arlen’s panel—I’m not a participant, and while I’ve made my own views about the Kirby/Lee judgment abundantly clear (and will continue to articulate that view in future posts and possible events), I also don’t want that unique case history to become a launching platform for a general movement against ALL writers/editors, writers, and editors.

  30. Rob O.

    Wonderful article, Steve. I can attest that I’ve had these offers as an illustrator, and while it’s flattering to be asked, I’ve always felt a bit strange being treated like some sort of rare but fungible commodity instead of as a creative person or even (gasp) collaborator. In the sense of someone writing some superhero story and thinking, “I should find some artist to draw this.”

    I’ve actually taken up some people on this kind of offer, however, and my one term for even starting this sort of project has been that they provide a full script for even so much as an issue’s worth of storyline plus clear descriptions of characters and settings. I can tell you that not one person has actually delivered on this.

  31. Max Miller

    Wow! Many have already said it, but I just wanted to add that you’ve really articulated the problem a lot of us creative types/illustrators have had to deal with. Thanks for the well thought out breakdown Mr. Bissette.

  32. Moeskido

    Excellent post. Reminds me a little bit of a much less diplomatic presentation given a few months ago by Mule Design cofounder Mike Monteiro about working on spec, among other things. The title is less than polite, as is much of his experience-informed rhetoric.

    http://www.vimeo.com/22053820

  33. msbissette@yahoo.com

    @Rob: “I’ve always felt a bit strange being treated like some sort of rare but fungible commodity instead of as a creative person or even (gasp) collaborator…” PERFECTLY articulated.

    @Moeskido: Thanks for sharing that link; Mike Monteiro’s talk is excellent, and speaks clearly and candidly to the hard business aspects of these matters. THANKS, really; that was new to me.

  34. Henry R. Kujawa

    Rob O. wrote:
    “I’ve actually taken up some people on this kind of offer, however, and my one term for even starting this sort of project has been that they provide a full script for even so much as an issue’s worth of storyline plus clear descriptions of characters and settings. I can tell you that not one person has actually delivered on this.”

    DAMN!!! I sure as hell would, if I could afford to hire someone’s services. I’ve got a growing stack of full scripts building here, and most of them contain detailed page and panels breakdowns, camera angles, even a page of thumbnails so I can visually keep track of what happens on each page and how many panels are on each page.

    I’d draw the stuff myself… except it just takes too much time!!! This may be why I’m slowly beginning to write “short story” form, so some of these things might see publication without any illustrations at all…

    : D

  35. Rob O.

    @Henry Kujawa:

    I’m actually open to the possibility of a collaborator, if I can find a project worth participating in and, as Steve pointed out, someone might be willing to share rights and control of the project. And I’m willing to do so for basically no up front cost.

    The biggest red flag for me has always been offers that my collaborator will pay me out of pocket. This usually indicates a few different things:

    -The other person usually doesn’t know one thing about comics publishing,

    -The other person has no idea what competitive page rates are (a thirty second Google search can turn up examples), and is offering much, much, much less than even a between-friends, discounted rate might be–IF they pay up at all.

    -The other person usually has an idea that is disorganized, incomplete, or just plain lousy.

    Part of it is that it takes a reasonable amount of talent to be a graphic artist who can create a complete project, and it’s going to be obvious very quickly if you’re a crappy artist. However, it doesn’t take a lot of talent at all to write a crappy script, and a crappy script isn’t always immediately obvious.

    So, my big red flag in being approached for collaboration is offers of payment. I just run the other way when that happens.

  36. Mars Will Send No More

    So glad you posted this, Steve – since I just hired an old friend to draw a 6-page story from my plot and storyboards!

    Knowing the POV of professional artists will help me look less like a total idiot should I attempt to pitch the concept to pros in the future. Plus, I feel more confident that the short form will be a bonus all around in that regard, not a liability.

    Now get back to drawing Tyrant #5 :-)

  37. msbissette@yahoo.com

    The short form: simpler, cleaner, quicker, happier, and it’s how we ALL learn and build our chops. Working short form with a multitude of writers and creative partners taught me almost everything I know about storytelling.

    It’s a pity the anthology format has been essentially abandoned by the “mainstream,” but it’s alive and well in the true independents—and an essential tool at CCS.

  38. msbissette@yahoo.com

    Since I discussed it at length in my COMICS JOURNAL interview (#185, 1996), I didn’t get into here the sometimes crippling dynamic of “employer/employee” that kicks in, too. I’m convinced it played a major role in many fecund, marvelous creative partnerships I saw evaporate over the years, and I’ve seen it actively abused in others—whoever is ultimately in control of cutting the checks, or the revenue stream, is inevitably the projected “employer,” whatever the contractual or creative roles actually played.

    In this, we all inevitably project our old baggage/tapes (choose your metaphor) connected to parents, employers, gender roles, etc. It’s no accident that a woman—Karen Berger—got my best work out of me for the longest stretch in my mainstream comics career. None of the old “I’m working for/with my Dad” tapes “played” with Karen, and difficult though those years often were (for my conduct, for DC’s conduct), Karen was steadfast and helped all go smoothly.

    It also meant that in Alan’s and my relations, NEITHER of us was “employer”—a dynamic that changed definitively once it was TABOO and 1963 we were working on.

  39. msbissette@yahoo.com

    Followup post goes up later today; I’ll post the link.

  40. Henry R. Kujawa

    Rob O. wrote:
    “So, my big red flag in being approached for collaboration is offers of payment. I just run the other way when that happens.”

    Interesting. I suppose it depends on the type of project, but… in the last 2 weeks I’ve gotten involved with 3 “commissions”, all of which involved a specificed dollar amount. Of course, these are VERY small jobs– a company logo, a pair of political cartoons, and a cover illustrations. A long-term committment would be something very else entirely.

    By the way, if anyone’s interested, that complete book I did (which the creator-writer decided he would rather “never be published”), I posted in its entirety at my website, so people could read it FOR FREE. No way I was gonna do all that work FOR FREE and not have it see the light of day at all…

  41. Donna Barr

    @msbisette I’m so afraid you might have actually SEEN that movie. And anything any of us can do to make drawn book people stop cringing just because — oh noes! — we might have the chance to be PAID as proper members of the entertainment industry is getting my vote. Re employer/employee and copyright — if they can’t afford to pay you, they can’t afford to sue you. Do you know the number of dollars I haven’t gotten because I’ve refused to be treated like dirt? I’d be rich and famous today if I’d just bent over enough and spread ‘em wide enough.

  42. srbissette

    Donna, I not only saw it, I OWN it—vhs and DVD—and use/abuse it regularly. Whatever your squirm factor about my seeing it, remember: James Sturm co-founded CCS, and I DO show his clip in my classroom annually (much to the delight of our students).

    Hey, some of us DID habitually spread ‘em. Rich we’re not. Keep legs crossed. Live and learn.

  43. Rob O.

    @Henry Kujawa

    Of course, commissions are a separate matter entirely. What I’ve been offered on a couple of occasions is to be paid out of pocket to illustrate someone’s comic book series by the project’s writer, where they’re using money as a lure for me to join an otherwise uninteresting and unattractive project, and they don’t realize they’re establishing a work-for-hire agreement at that point. It’s surprising that I’ve had this kind of offer so many times, and I respect that these people think they’re doing the right thing by me, but as I’m sure all would agree, I’d rather collaborate with a writer with no money up front, and reap the rewards later when the book sees publication (if it does, of course).

  44. Henry R. Kujawa

    I agree with you completely, Rob. I have collaborated for no money up front, several times, but the last time, not only did my “collaborator” keep insisting things be done HIS way (he repeatedly would take 6 months at a shot to realize my advice was actually better than his own ideas), but a year after I finished the book, he decided he’d prefer it “never” be published. To think this man used to be a professional EDITOR at 2 well-known publishers boggles the mind. (Honest, if you go to my site, you’ll find his work in the “Comics” section… the name of the book starts with an “M”, and that’s all I’m gonna say here… heh)

    My fantasy is to have ENOUGH money so I CAN do a “work for hire” deal up-front and PAY someone more than they’re worth to get exactly what I need done. I believe there are “illustrators” out there with no interest in writing their own stories who’d be happy with such an arrangement. Let’s face it, guys who have their own stories to do, WHY would they want to draw someone else’s stories– UNLESS it was for decent bucks?

    GREAT thread, isn’t it?

  45. Frank Santoro

    Man, why do you bother with these comment sections…?Yeesh. You could draw a graphic novel in the time it takes to read these things….

  46. ChrisW

    I’ve been mulling this over for a while. Here’s my response.
    http://chrisw-chrisw.blogspot.com/2011/09/response-to-steve-bissette.html

  47. Adam Pasion

    I think it’s important to make a distinction between writers who honestly don’t realize what they are asking for, and predatory writers who want to get something for nothing. I have run into both. This open letter is very even-tempered and written very gracefully, so I assume it is meant for writers who do not know better, with the purpose of educating. For people asking for free work, I think its a waste of time to tell them to piss off. We would be much better served simply educating young artists to NEVER, EVER do work on spec, for credit, or for the most toxic word of all “exposure.”

  48. Henry R. Kujawa

    Since my el cheapo website has been down for some time, I thought I’d post a new link to that story I described above, at my BLOG (which is free)…

    http://professorhsforbiddenzone.blogspot.com/2012/05/moonie-quantum-queens.html

  49. Bill Volk

    These writers should consider getting into prose, or some other art where they themselves can finish the product. Or to they gravitate toward comics because they see it as a springboard to a multimedia empire or something?

  50. Henry R. Kujawa

    That’s a very good observation, Bill. Last year I surprised myself by writing my first novel. I was actually surprised that writing in that format turned out to be MUCH easier than writing a comic-book script (no worries about page count, panels per page, camera angles, etc.). Since December, I’ve been contacting a growing number of literary agents. If the thing sells, it can always be turned into a graphic novel– or feature film– LATER.

    I can see myself at some point re-writing my own home-made comics or full scripts as novels (or short story collections).

Pings & Trackbacks ¬

Comment ¬

NOTE - You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>