Something Like an Ending, Part 2

Wrapping Up the Wreckage

A bit more on 2011, before we slide into 2012…

First, the hard lessons.

First and foremost, know that we had it good; we’ve had it easy.

[Left: Main Street Museum, August 2011, the morning after Hurricane Irene; photo ©2011 Matt Bucy]

Seeing the real devastation caused among our friends and neighbors and families in 2011 by fire, flood, tornadoes, poverty, unemployment, homelessness, and lack of effective health care (or, more to the point, abandonment by that system), believe  me, I’m thankful for all we have, and all our blessings.

Keeping perspective is essential.

So, look.

Whatever follows, know that we’re good. We appreciate that we have it good.

We’ve been lucky. We still have our lives, our health, each other, a home, our now-adult children, and our jobs.

2011 was a kind year to us here, while it played hell with lives and deaths of many people we know and love.

[Right: Springfield, MA after the June tornado hit; photo ©2011 Marjory Bissette]

If 2010 was a year of hard lessons—from the terminal illness and violent death of my old friend Steve Perry, to the ultimately fruitless seven-month-dance with Image Comics over a planned project, to the kinder & gentler lessons of my pal, employer, peer, and CCS-cofounder James Sturm reaping far more international internet attention and points for staying off the internet than I’ve/I’ll ever earned/could earn for posting daily—2011 was full of far tougher life lessons and refreshers.

Let me just share a few of the lessons of 2011, and leave it at this.

Mind you, it was indeed a good year, in many ways (more on that in the next post).

Then again, it was full of life-changers, too.

Personally, it was at times a rough year.

However brutal the passage of Steve Perry in the spring of 2010, the far more direct, intimate process of being with another close friend Mark “Sparky” Whitcomb (again, since the Johnson State College days, and, like Steve Perry, one of the four people who convinced me to seriously pursue a path in comics instead of minding the family store in Colbyville back in 1976) every week through a long, lingering illness literally to his dying days in the spring of 2011 cut deeper. Man, I loved Sparky; seeing him go at all was a heartbreaker. Seeing it all go down as it did, despite the loving care he received every single day, was soul crushing.

After much deliberation, I made Sparky‘s life, our relationship, and his passing central to my graduation speech to the CCS Class of 2011, which helped me get my own head around what burned in my own heart and head, and state in no uncertain terms the life-and-death nature of pursuing a creative path in life… or, conversely, refusing it.

Despite our many 2011 blessings, we survived the loss of many loved ones.

Sparky was one of ‘em. There were others. Such is life, especially once you’re in your 50s…

That kept everything in perspective on my meager “career” concerns, which necessarily took a back seat to the life-and-death demands of 2011, among other speed bumps. Let me just cite one example.

Building on the James Sturm/Slate/offline lessons came the decisive 2011 ride involving Alan Moore and the wake of the final stroke in the remnant of that relationship. It’s a shadow I’ll forever live in, since some of my best work in comics from 1983–1993 was done with Alan; and so the dance went on, over what had been, what almost was, and what I’m able to make of what was 1963, and what I actually own of the wreckage.

[Left: Cover, April 1993 issue of Inside Image; Mystery Incorporated is © and TM Alan Moore and Rick Veitch; art by Rick Veitch and Dave Gibbons. Posted for educational/archival purposes only; fair use laws apply.]

Oh, the lessons Alan has taught me… I’ll be discrete, and polite, and frame it as succinctly as I can.

Like many people in comics, I owe a lot to Alan. I paid all the debts I could to him over the years we worked together, as best I could. But it’s been a curious relationship, more curious still since he exiled me from his life in 1996.

The man who told me via phone in 1992 that his goal was “to become invisible” remained as visible and omnipresent as ever—a powerful form of invisibility, that, but what less to expect from a shapeshifter and shaman?—though for what it’s worth, much of his hold over me and mine ended resoundingly in 2011.

After working hard all through 2010 with former 1963 creative partner(s) to arrive at a planned (with Alan‘s permission throughout 2010) reprint edition of the original 1963 series (circa 1993) that would adhere absolutely to Alan‘s demands—including that of not using or mentioning his name or affiliation with the project (yes, we found a publisher despite that)—it all ended in a heartbeat early in 2011.

Alan simply pulled the plug, and thus it was all over but the tears.

So, an end to it. And, as a result, I no longer care about mentioning or not mentioning his name. That ended with the 1963 project, save for the legal agreements I signed in 1998 concerning my share of the 1963 properties. There’s no appeasing Alan; that dance is over.

For what it’s worth and not worth, 1963 will never be legally reprinted in any language in our lifetimes.

Maybe, after we’re gone, our now-adult kids will be able to sort it all out.

So, consider this:

In creator co-ownership, one partner can forever and willfully deep-six any future in any co-owned work—even completed, published work, that still has perceived or potential market value.

That, too, is part of creator ownership, and co-ownership, and creator rights, and must be taken into account in any discussion of the subject.

All of us who worked hard on 1963 back in 1992–93 earned whatever we would or will ever earn from that work back in 1993, and that was that.

We will never see a dime from any of that work again, while the quarterly royalties from the DC/Vertigo collected Swamp Thing editions (for which I wrote two book introductions in 2011, more on that in a moment) and John Constantine/Hellraiser arrive, for the most part, like clockwork.

[Above, right: Swamp Thing, Book Six, 2011; Swamp Thing® and ©2011 DC Comics, Inc./DC Entertainment, Inc.; cover art by Thomas Yeates. Posted for educational/archival purposes only, fair use laws apply.]

If you had told the Bissette of 1990 that he’d never see a dime on any work done with Alan save the work-for-hire collaborative ventures we’d already put behind us by 1990, the Bissette of 1990 would have laughed and spit and ranted about the evils of work-for-hire.

Given the past decade’s long-distance and close-range spectacles related to Alan wanting to remove his name from, and/or the existence of, key collaborative works from prior decades, and experiencing first-hand the repercussions of his doing just that (with 1963), and surviving first-hand being exiled forever by said previous pal and creative partner, the Bissette of 2011 can only thank his lucky stars that he did his most extensive and lasting work with Mr. Moore under work-for-hire conditions for DC Comics.

For any who choose to take offense, rest assured I could (but won’t) say more, much more.

Suffice to note, the ironies cannot be overstated.

__________________

That said, one of the quiet joys of 2011 was writing that final introduction for Swamp Thing: Book Six. I got to send a fond and proper farewell, there, to a lot, in a venue that will (hopefully) outlive 2011.

Headway was also made with Tales of the Uncanny, what I’m building (still) from the wreckage of what was 1963. More on that in 2012.

So, in a world where not being online draws more attention than actively engaging; in a world where creators who refuse to engage online and wish to be invisible are more visible than ever; in a world where I’ve hit ceilings and walls I can no longer test, some has been lost, some has been gained—much has been learned.

I’m walking away from some wreckage, repairing what I can, giving up at last on what I can’t.

I’m leaving behind some worthwhile and productive experiments by applying the hard-earned results, and moving in what I hope will be more positive and rewarding directions for 2012.

More shortly…

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Discussion (15) ¬

  1. Roger Green

    It was a year, wasn’t it? My mom died in February, my wife and daughter were trapped in NC, safe but with no way to get home save by plane because the rail and road routes were washed out.

    Glad you got peace over 1963. Copyright law is fascinating.
    I was wondering what you thought (if at all) about

    1. SOPA/ProtectIP, which seems like a massive govt overreach and
    2. DC’s apparent attempt to have a Watchman sequel, obviously sans the aforementioned Alan Moore. there’s some Internet petition against it, BTW.

  2. Steve Sullivan

    Yeah, the irony runs very deep — especially since my own experience has been completely opposite. My well known work-for-hire novels in Dragonlance and the Legend of Five Rings series remain now (and possibly forever) out of print because the “owner” chooses to neither reprint them, sell them back to me, or even license them to me so I can do it.

    Happily, my Twilight Empire collaborator & friend (John Hebert), chose _not_ to do what Alan has done, and thus I reprinted TE in a collection this year (from which both of us should benefit). But, had he said “No,” I’d have been up the proverbial creek, though the project originated with me. All I’d have had left to publish would have been the scripts — or that novel I keep meaning to heavily revise.

    Of course, collaboration trouble (not with John) was one of the reasons I don’t do many comics any more, and moved into writing novels. Nothing worse than doing a shitload of work on a project only to have someone drag their feet on a key piece needed for making it fly. In novels (and other prose), I have no one to blame but myself.

    And that’s especially true with e-books and POD. I may never make the kind of money I did with WOTC or Marvel & co., but at least the work is my own to do with as I will.

    So, sorry for the hard luck on this, old friend. I’d have loved to buy that collection. Now I’ll have to just hang onto the originals (and watch for e-pirates, I guess).

    I guess this is why Dave Sim created that “we both own it, together and separately” agreement he had with Gerhard, eh? (Assuming I understand what he did correctly.)

    Best wishes for a great (and better) 2012!

  3. James Robert Smith

    I think Alan Moore can do the things he does with projects like 1963 because he is quite well off, financially and professionally. Even if he did somehow manage blow all of his money, a single phone call to a single publisher would result in a suitcase full of cash advance. It’s easy to let your old pals starve when YOU are not starving. (Well, some people can do that.)

    He’s a brilliant bloke, apparently, but is only kind to the folk who enjoy frenching his anus. The sniffers of magus farts, as I like to call them.

    I’ve read that article/interview with you that apparently upset him so much and I can’t figure out why he allowed it to get under his skin like that. I can see where he might have taken issue with a minor point or two…but to let it eat at his brain after this long…well, there’s a great lot of words for that, none of them very nice.

  4. William Noetling

    I’m so looking forward to whatever you end up making from the 1963 fiasco, if for nothing else than curiosity, but more for your being able to make something good out of something so bad (not that the original comics were bad, but the situation).

    Also, YEARS ago at SDCC you did a really nice sketch for my book, which I think rivals the ones you sell on your site. Thank you again for that all those years later, and no I don’t expect you’ll remember. However I will post a pic at some point.

  5. Mike Pascale

    Great post, Steve. So sorry to hear about the negatives. My condolences to you and yours. I lost a couple close friends myself this year (Gene Colan and a wonderful girl I grew up with, Lyn Clark) to cancer, so I can at least sympathize. That in addition to all the Golden and Silver Age greats we’ve lost, some of whom I’d always wanted to meet and never did.

    Unaware of the Moore-mentioned interview or issues between the two of you, but sorry to hear about the plug-pulling. Egad! Bizarre. Though as an artist, I still don’t see why you couldn’t publish your ART from that series, in addition to your prelims and pencils (the kind of stuff I eat up like candy, sometimes more desirable than the finished work). Surely Alan has no claim on the visual end, and if he did, so what? Would he honestly fly out here to sue you for selling a magazine or Kindle version of a sketchbook for a few bucks a pop? Just thinkin’.

    Anyway, glad to see a fellow Kubie doing good, learning and moving forward. I may not agree with some of your politics or philosophical views, but I do know you’re an ethical, generous guy, a helluva artist and a good soul…And that you deserve the best always.

    Thanks,
    Mike

  6. Roger Green

    This is just bizarre to me – an article, heavily quoting you (indeed, this very post), and concluding pretty much contrary to what I understood you to be saying:
    http://blog.newsarama.com/2011/12/30/the-rare-case-against-creator-owned-comics/

  7. MrJM

    Perhaps the moral of the story is: Try to avoid entering business agreements with crazy people or with people who may one day go crazy (admittedly, the second part may be a bit tricky)

    – MrJM

  8. Patrick Jarrell

    Who did you talk to at Image? Erik Larsen is saying on his board that he doesn’t know anything about you talking with Image

  9. srbissette

    I’ve never dealt with Erik Larsen at any point; no axe to grind with Erik (and I’ve always quite enjoyed his work, particularly SAVAGE DRAGON, FYI).

    The contact was with Eric Stephenson, who I’ve heard from since my recent CR interview with Tom Spurgeon was posted. I replied to Eric’s email. There’s nothing personal in all this; it’s business. I don’t take it personally, at least. I can’t speak for anyone else. Not much more to say.

    Again, none of this was intended as an attack of any kind directed at Image—just an assessment of what happened in 2010, nothing more. What was done was done; what wasn’t done, wasn’t done. It was what it was; it is what it is.

  10. NAHALKIDES

    “In creator co-ownership, one partner can forever and willfully deep-six any future in any co-owned work—even completed, published work, that still has perceived or potential market value.”

    Prior to reading this, I would have been sure that co-owners would both be eager to exploit (in the best sense of the word) the value of the co-owned property. Obviously, I couldn’t have been more wrong. With this post, you may have saved some people a lot of grief – you’ve certainly given me something to think about.

  11. srbissette

    Remember, however, that this situation is unique in a number of ways.

    1. We negotiated, drafted, and cosigned an agreement dividing the creative properties back in 1998. It is that agreement, and not just copyright law (which would, legally, arguably allow for the reprint to exist as long as Alan were paid his fair share of the income, whether he wished it to be reprinted or not—IF a publisher could be found willing to invest in a reprint under those conditions, sans Alan’s signature/contractual involvement), that determined the fate of “1963.”

    2. Comics are a collaborative work beyond, for instance, the co-authoring of a novel by two writers. In this case, much of 2010 had been spent tracking down almost all the various creative partners in “1963″ and arranging for permission, pending contracts, to proceed with the reprint. For the record, we tracked down and were granted permission by all but two letterers we could not reach—and all concerned gave permission, pending final contracts.

    3. In this case, the most marketable, “powerful” member of the creative team was, from the beginning and in the end, the writer. Finding a publisher willing to proceed without permission to cite or even infer the writer’s name was in and of itself an almost insurmountable obstacle; however, even having that, once the writer deep-sixed the project, that was that—due, again, to the conditions of our 1998 agreement, not simply standing copyright law.

    These three conditions are unusual, and make this a decidedly unique case history.

  12. srbissette

    PS: For the record, the conversation Patrick refers to is at Erik’s discussion board (http://www.savagedragon.com/); can’t link you to the specific thread, but it’s under the “Ask Eric” thread, pp. 14-15, and the relevant portions read:
    ________

    Thu Jul 21, 2011 9:39 am

    John Pannozzi wrote:
    What do think of Steve Bissette (your arguments over the Neil and Todd controversy aside, I don’t want to get into that here)?
    He seems to dislike Image for reasons that completely elude me, and he mentions trying to get a project going at Image a few years back that didn’t work out. What exactly happened?

    [Erik's reply:]
    I have no idea. I’ve never talked to Steve about doing anything at Image. Not sure what went on there.

    _________________

    Stefan
    Post subject: Re: The “Ask Erik” ThreadPosted: Thu Jan 05, 2012 7:07 pm

    Location: Germany
    Wasn´t he talking about 1963?

    _________________

    Erik Larsen
    Post subject: Re: The “Ask Erik” ThreadPosted: Thu Jan 05, 2012 8:56 pm

    Stefan wrote:
    Wasn´t he talking about 1963?

    [Erik replied:]
    Not to me. As far as I’m aware–he had a falling out with Alan Moore. That has nothing to do with me.
    _________________

    JayWicky wrote:
    Maybe Bissette was talking about his sort-of-sequels to 1963, the ones *without* the characters Moore owns (they cut the cake in two, I believe Bissette still owns Hypernaut, N-Man and maybe the disc-throwing Spidey knock-off, but I’m not sure – the rest is Moore’s). I remember seeing this new project mentioned on CBR and whatnot a couple years back, but nothing happened since then. Maybe he tried to get it running at Image and it didn’t work out?

    As for Splitting Image, I guess Don Simpson and whoever worked on this should own it, since it’s parody. Similarily, I guess Giarusso could run his Image United parody as a back-up to one of his G-Man trades if he wanted… or not? Do you have to change the characters’ names (with puns or something) to be safe?

    [Erik replied:]
    Generally–it’s fine. Asking never hurts.
    ____

    Stefan
    Post subject: Re: The “Ask Erik” ThreadPosted: Fri Jan 06, 2012 5:50 am

    Location: Germany
    Yeah, that´s how I understood it as well. Still he said something like waisting seven month talking to people at image.

    *Shrugs
    _____________________________

    “Shrugs” pretty much sums it up.

    First, yes, it was the N-Man, Fury, Hypernaut, Sky Solo project about which I entered negotiations with Image Comics with in 2010.

    For the record, it’s “fan think” that my candid assessments, occasionally made public, about what happened in 1993 with “1963″ and, now, what didn’t happen in 2010 with Image somehow adds up to “He seems to dislike Image for reasons that completely elude me…”

    I don’t DISLIKE Image. Image Comics has done a ton of good in this field. Image Comics, via Jim Valentino, initiated the project (“1963″) that rescued many of us from a post-Tundra Comics “recession,” honored their agreements concerning the existing six issues, and earned me more income in a single year than I have earned the entire rest of my life put together.

    I don’t DISLIKE Image Comics. That’s completely inaccurate, and (all due respect to the person who posted that on Erik’s board), a more than glib and rather stupid statement.

    I don’t dislike Image Comics. They saved a number of my friends in comics from pretty dire circumstances in the mid-1990s implosion; they’ve done a lot of public and private good, as a publishing collective. I wish I could work with Image Comics. I tried again in 2010 to work with Image Comics.

    My statement was clear: for whatever reason(s), my attempt to work with Image in 2010 resulted in seven wasted months. That doesn’t mean I DISLIKE Image Comics; that means, frankly, Image Comics didn’t really want to do business with me.

    Does that mean “Image Comics dislikes Steve Bissette, for reasons that completely elude me”?

    I suppose, in “fan speak,” it might.

    Of course, in Image fan speak, that cannot be tolerated: Hence, Steve Bissette must be at fault, hence “He seems to dislike Image for reasons that completely elude me” makes sense to some people, for reasons that don’t elude me (Image=”good,” anyone stating something vaguely contrary to that view=”bad,” or at least “suspect”).

    I don’t speak “fan speak” when I speak or write; I’m a 30+ year vet of the comics field, I’m a working professional, and this is a business.

    I don’t dislike Image Comics. For whatever reason(s), Image chose not to do business with me in 2010; I had no control over their end of things, but it was what it was. We couldn’t do business together in 2010. But I didn’t and don’t take that personally. If circumstances were appropriate, I’d happily work with Image Comics down the road (but if it took over six months to simply negotiate a contract, I’d have to seek work elsewhere, and we’d likely not do business again; that’s up to Image, not me).

    I have, however, candidly discussed (and will continue to, when so inclined) a number of issues relevant to Image’s history and its partners, which I understand (even if some fans don’t) DOESN’T per se involve Image Comics, the publishing collective, but rather issues connected to individual members, past and present (i.e., Jim Lee’s role in the “1963″ Annual that led to its demise; the ethics of studio arrangements—which, I hasten to add, does not extend to Erik Larsen’s body of work in any significant way, though it did to former Image pioneer partner Rob Liefeld, and did and does to Todd McFarlane—and the sad, unfortunate case history involving McFarlane, Neil Gaiman, ANGELA, and MARVELMAN/MIRACLEMAN, which is, to my knowledge, the only aspect of an Image partner’s legacy Erik and I have publicly disagreed about; Erik is dead wrong, by the way, on that matter, which isn’t a personal matter for me, as I don’t have a dog in that race, so to speak).

    For the record, Erik’s spot on: I never spoke to him—in fact, other than his agreeing back in 1992 to draw Savage Dragon as part of the planned “1963″ Annual, which we MAY have spoken on the phone about, I don’t believe I’ve ever spoken or had a conversation with Erik. I love his work.

    Also for the record: I didn’t have a falling out with Alan; Alan took umbrage with something (I still don’t know what) I said in my COMICS JOURNAL interview back in 1996, and never spoke to me again. That’s, technically, Alan having a falling out with me, if you will. I still have no idea what it was really about.

    [In "fan speak," of course, or those who still work with Alan, that must mean "Bissette had a falling out with Alan," once again disposing with the "inconvenient" element [i.e., me] in the equation; I must have been at fault. Shit, I “dislike Image,” so it must have been MY fault then, too!]

    Erik’s right, that had nothing whatsoever to do with him (or Image).

    Per usual, my thanks to Erik Larsen for his candor, speaking his mind, and not fomenting all kinds of craziness over the questions that were put to him. Thanks, Erik.

  13. Messenger
  14. srbissette

    My reply to Gary’s post:

    Actually, Gary, I’m right.

    Alan, Rick Veitch, and I negotiated and co-signed a binding contract in 1998 dividing the properties between the three of us.

    One of the terms I agreed to was to never reprint any of the existing material; that agreement, circa 1998, supersedes any prior right I would have had to authorize or participate in a reprint without Alan’s permission.

  15. Henry R. Kujawa

    “I didn’t have a falling out with Alan; Alan took umbrage with something (I still don’t know what) I said in my COMICS JOURNAL interview back in 1996, and never spoke to me again. That’s, technically, Alan having a falling out with me, if you will. I still have no idea what it was really about. ”

    Would you believe, I’ve had this happen to me with several people over the years? I happen to say something, quite innocently, and someone I know gets PISSED off and just stops talking to me, forever. WTF? As someone I once knew once said, the word “friend” gets abused and misused a lot. REAL friends don’t act like this.

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