R.I.P. Dick Giordano

And: Forgotten Comics Wars

Or: How Angry Freelancers Made It Possible for A New Mainstream Comics Era (Including Vertigo) to Exist, Part 12 (Conclusion)

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It is with a very heavy heart that I note this morning the passing this weekend of Dick Giordano.

Dick passed away on Saturday in Florida due to complications from a brief, recent illness; Dick was 78 years old.

My Kubert School pioneer classmate Ken Feduniewicz emailed our fellow classmates the following (which I’m posting here with Ken‘s express permission):

“Dick Giordano, long-time comics artist, inker, teacher and editor (first at Charlton, then DC Comics) passed away on Saturday in Florida from complications stemming from a recent, brief illness. He was 78.

XQBs (ex-Kubert-School-students) need no intro to Dick, who was a beloved first-year instructor at the Kubert School. Sal Trapani’s more-famous cousin was an artist and editor at Charlton Comics in the 60s, until Carmine Infantino pulled him over to DC, along with young guns (at the time) Denny O’Neill and Steve Skeates.” [Note: Ken adds in a followup email: "...it may have been Joe Orlando that hired Dick away from the Santangelo family, and not Carmine. I can't remember exactly when Carmine was replaced as DC's publisher (1970?), but it feels like Dick was already part of the DC family BEFORE the turn of the decade...so that would have put the smart-move under Infantino's aegis...credit to Carmine." I welcome any clarification or correction of this aspect of Dick's history with DC Comics.]

A decent artist in his own right, Dick REALLY got noticed as Neal Adams inker on Adams’ more notable contributions to the DC pantheon: the Green Lantern/Green Arrow series and some of Adams’ work on Batman. Partnering with Adams at Continuity Studios propelled Giordano to super-stardom; from that point on, his place in the “fan-fave” firmament was fixed. Approachable, friendly, and good-natured to begin with, Dick’s popularity only grew exponentially from that point onward. During his DC editorial heyday, he was famous for getting up at around 3 a.m. and pencilling and/or inking for 3-to-4 hours BEFORE boarding a train from his Ct. home to the NYC DC offices…and THEN putting in a full day at the office!

Within the past decade, he retired and moved to Florida; in recent years, partnering with Bob Layton and trying to launch a new comics line: one of his few failures, as the fledgling Future Comics group became yet another casualty of the weak US economy.

Aside from being a talented artist, Mr.G. was an inspiration. He WILL be missed. – KF”

This hearbreaking news necessitated a slight rewrite of the following concluding installment in this serialized essay; though Dick was front-and-center in much of the events of the 1986-87 I’ve been discussing the past two weeks, it’s not my wish to either play up or down, or inadvertantly malign, Dick‘s role or his memory.

To those of us who knew Dick throughout his management tenure at DC Comics, he could be as formidable a foe as he could be an ally.

But to those of us who knew him primarily as our teacher at the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, Inc., we have only fond memories of what Dick shared with us and the lessons we still apply in our own lives and work. According to Joe himself, Dick was among the first professionals to offer to teach at the school when Joe and Muriel were pulling it together, and Dick was among my favorite of all our teachers that momentous first year. Dick was nothing but generous, attentive, giving and focused in his time with us, even when we were ignorant, obstinant and bull-headed.

In the fall of 1976, it was Dick (in his inking class) and Joe Kubert who first put a brush in my hand — Windsor-Newton Series 7, Number 4 — that forever changed my relationship with a piece of paper and the fireworks that were forever detonating in my imagination.

That is a debt I will never, could never, can never, repay.

[Self-portrait, Dick Giordano, from Dick's own website "Commissions Gallery" page; click here for more. Artwork ©2005 Dick Giordano; Wonder Woman ® and © DC Entertainment Inc./DC Comics Inc.]

Dick was the first professional cartoonist to instill in me a fire for the advocacy of creator’s rights, beginning with his candid in-class discussion of his and Neal Adams‘s efforts in the mid-1970s to organize cartoonists into a guild to articulate and protect their rights. Dick, Muriel Kubert, and Burne Hogarth (in a speech we caught as students at the opening of a Frank Frazetta exhibition in Pennsylvania) were the primary powerhouses that put me on that path in 1976-77, and for that, too, I am forever grateful.

My first-ever published professional comics work appeared alongside Dick Giordano‘s serialized sf comic “The Smooth” in a creator-owned experiment in publishing initiated and helmed by Joe Kubert: Sojourn #1 and 2. Joe had told us Dick had jumped at the opportunity to be part of Sojourn and own his own work; he had earlier contributed a story or two to Starreach, if memory serves, and valued any venue that allowed him to own his own creations. It was a real point of pride to be part of that venture, and soon after Dick said to me, “Welcome to the club.”

Here I was, a newbie, being affectionately welcomed as a peer by my teacher! Dick had a big heart and could be incredibly kind and giving.

I must be candid, though: In subsequent years, I too often found myself at odds with DC Comics, and for much of my time working at/with DC, my old mentor and teacher was the voice, face and (at times) finger and/or fist of DC Comics. This was nothing Dick or I ever enjoyed or relished, and I wish it had been otherwise. It was clumsy and painful and difficult, and remained so over the years. But so it goes: it was what it was, we were who we were, we did what we did. Life changes people, as does respective conditions and positions of employment and the various roles we find ourselves in over the years. My respect, affection and admiration for Dick never flagged or faded through thick and thin, but I fear I was often a thorn in his side. 

So, that said — Please read the following in the context of the previous chapters and the spirit that initiated and (hopefully) enfused this effort, rather than in the immediate context of Dick‘s passing, which brings nothing but loss, grief and sadness.

All this makes this posting of this final chapter more than ill-timed, bittersweet and ironic, in more ways than I can articulate.

Again, please don’t misinterpret the following as being in any way mean-spirited or malicious; as should be obvious, I’d written most of this long before knowing of Dick‘s illness and his tragic death this weekend — and I see it through now in hopes of honoring that fire Dick himself instilled in a young, idealistic cartoonist struggling to learn his craft and find his footing in a classroom in the Joe Kubert School back in 1977.
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* In July 1987, DC Comics announced the launch of Piranha Press, a new imprint under the helm of a complete newcomer to comics, Mark Nevelow.

While touted as an alternative to the traditional DC line, and with Nevelow citing titles like Love and Rockets, Maus and Zot! as examples of the kind of material he intended to publish, Piranha Press was not DC’s answer to Heavy Metal or Epic Illustrated and Epic Comics: creators would not be owning the rights to their material, with the tradition of parent corporation Warner Bros. seeing comics primarily as fodder for licensing and merchandizing given as one of the reasons.

What, then, was Piranha Press for?

As Mark Nevelow made the rounds of the summer conventions courting creators and seeking projects, he found the ownership of rights a major stumbling block in attracting the very talent he craved to publish; the DC logo on his Piranha Press card was in and of itself a warning flag to many. That was certainly true in my circle of associates (but don’t take my word for it; see Thom Powers, “Newswatch: DC Aims to Take a Bite Out of Comics with Piranha,” TCJ #117, September 1987, pp. 13-14, which includes reactions from Gilbert Hernandez, William Messner-Loebs, Tim Truman, Donald Simpson and others).

* By the time the August 8, 1987 “Ratings and Standards in Comic Books” panel convened for one hour at the San Diego Comicon, it seemed the controversy was over.

After all, just weeks before (July 1987) Comics Buyer’s Guide headline announced, “The Rating Battle is Over.” The December 1987 The Comics Journal #118 dedicated much of that issue to an overview of the controversy and its conclusions (highly recommended reading if you want to know more, but bear in mind TCJ‘s prejudices: they were for labels, and belittling any real consequence of these events and the protest).

“In the end, DC pulled back on the ratings system and cancelled the ‘Universal’ label, though the guidelines would still seem to be in place on paper,” R. Fiore wrote in that issue of TCJ (“As The Dust Settles,” pg. 59), having earlier in the same article noted, “…books with ‘mature content’ were DC’s biggest money-makers over the last two years (a trend which continued with Mike Grell’s Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters), it’s hard to see why they would want to shut them down. Since the beginning of the year, there hasn’t been a notable change in the content of DC Code-approved books.”

[Image from the spring 1987 issue Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters #2, story and art by Mike Grell; this was published in the DC 'Prestige Format' sans any label of any kind. ©1987, 2010 DC Comics Inc./DC Entertainment Inc.]

Fiore continued, “Miller, Chaykin, and Wolfman are satisfied with DC’s actions and will consider doing new work for them….”

Note, please, which name is missing from the quartet behind the February, 1987 letter.

Alan Moore walked, and meant it.

That, in the end, was all that really prompted significant change in the industry and at DC Comics in particular, though no one cared to note this at the time — or later.

R. Fiore concluded, “Had the pressures on comic books been what people thought they might, the anti-ratings protest might have been very important indeed, and it might have been more intense than it turned out to be. As it is, it must at least be considered a fairly successful fire drill.” (Ibid.)

On that San Diego Comicon panel, DC Vice President and Editor-in-Chief Dick Giordano discussed DC Publisher Jenette Kahn‘s July 1, 1987 letter to freelancers and noted that DC‘s label plans were “implemented to the degree that ‘For Mature Readers’ has been appearing on comic books before the announcement was made, on certain books it still is…” and that the ‘Universal’ label was problematic for a number of reasons, “so we decided to abandon the ‘universal’ label and continue with the Code seal which appears on most of our books…” (Giordano, quoted by Thom Powers, “Newswatch: DC Changes Labeling Policy,” TCJ #117, September 1987, pg. 11).

The ‘Mature’ label had indeed been applied by August 1987 to over a half-dozen DC titles, beginning with our own Swamp Thing (switching from the vague ‘Sophisticated Suspense’ masthead over the title to ‘For Mature Readers’ with issue #57, cover dated February 1987). The other titles included the Swamp Thing spinoff Hellblazer – the maiden voyage in what was to become Vertigo, historically, under Swamp Thing editor Karen Berger along with the sui generis anthology Wasteland, and Vigilante, Sonic Disruptors, The Shadow, Slash Miraud and The Question.

At the same time, though, strong thematic and graphic content appearing in DC‘s so-called ‘Prestige Format’ publications was published throughout the period and afterwards sans labeling of any kind, a prominent case in point being that spring 1987 Mike Grell miniseries Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters. According to TCJ‘s Thom Powers, “DC’s marketing communications manager Peggy May told the Journal… comics in the prestige format containing adult content… have never carried labeling and will continue not to…” (Ibid.). 

Now, it’s not like the ‘Prestige Format’ was a venerable tradition at DC; it had been launched only a short time earlier with Frank Miller‘s Ronin. But it was apparent to DC itself that these works, and the format, was their entree into the bookstore market (see prior installments of this essay for the specifics), and such labels would be anachronistic, even a hurdle, in that marketplace. 

Dick went on to say the following on that panel:

“I believe what we did was honorable, I don’t think it was a moral issue at all. It was essentially a business issue. We felt it necessary to enter into the ratings system because we felt our products were aimed at different segments of the audience… One of our slogans for the last year was ‘DC Comics aren’t just for kids any more.’ We were trying to define different levels of the product aiming at different levels of people, of our audience. Somehow it became a moral issue, and I’m not really to this day, not really quite sure how so much was printed in the fan press. And if you’ll go back and look you can see how I did not respond to any of it. I couldn’t. It wasn’t an emotional issue for me. It wasn’t a moral issue for me and there was no way I could respond to people who were becoming so emotional about what seemed to me a very simple marketing device… essentially that’s what we were doing. Somehow it turned out the other way. I mean, you look on our product now and see the company has really changed. We haven’t been imposing undue restraint on anybody.” (Giordano quoted by Thom Powers, Ibid., pg. 12).

According to Thom PowersTCJ report, “Frank Miller later joined the panel from the audience and briefly discussed his feelings that the comics industry should stand up to outside pressure. He concluded by stating ‘I do not believe DC has a rating system any more… the issue is resolved.’…,” adding in a followup statement to Powers, [I]‘ve no longer ruled out the possibility of working for DC.” Powers added, “His reaction has been reiterated by Marv Wolfman and Howard Chaykin.” (Ibid.)

Only Alan Moore stood firm.

For Alan, not only was it a moral issue, but DC‘s method of doing business was in and of itself objectionable to Alan (as noted in the interview excerpts from #138 I’ve already cited, concerning DC‘s veiled threat about others working on Watchmen if Alan and Dave didn’t maintain good relations with DC).

That, in and of itself, was increasingly becoming an issue to many of us, myself included.

[My final Swamp Thing cover art, abandoned after pencils were accepted in February 1987, inks by Bill Sienkiewicz. Note the new "Suggested for Mature Readers" label now in place. Though I penciled a portion of Alan Moore's final issue as writer, Swamp Thing #64, as I'd promised editor Karen Berger and my collaborators Alan, John Totleben and Rick Veitch, I didn't draw Swamp Thing again until 1999, when John Totleben and I drew the Neil Gaiman script "Jack-in-the-Green" for Neil's anthology Midnight Days.]

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I always thought it unfortunate that Alan didn’t articulate his real reasons for leaving DC at that time and place, but that was and remains none of my business. I said as much to Alan directly at the time, but — well, more water under the bridge.

Throughout 1987, Alan would only address his reasons for leaving DC in the immediate context of the proposed standards and practices and ratings debacle.

He also didn’t share the distinctively American obsession with ‘victory’ — who had ‘won’ the debacle — however hard pressed he might be by an interviewer. Here’s what Alan had to say to Gary Groth in the summer of 1987 (published in TCJ #118, December 1987, pg. 61):

Later in the same interview — which is quite lengthy (pp. 61-71) — Alan also said:

“It’s mainly that I felt that DC had unfortunately created an untenable position as far [as] my relationship with them went, because they were including me in a decision that they were making reagrind the way that they were responded to the distributor’s letters, which I really didn’t feel that I wanted to go along with. Did I answer your question, Gary? I’ve lost track of it; I’m quite through.” 

‘Quite through’ with DC Comics, Alan meant — not with Gary. The conversation/interview continued for another seven pages.

“Since then, DC has made attempts at reconciliation. But, they’ve mainly been along… [elipses in original printed interview] I mean, we’ve [been] offered better financial deals which I found a little distressing because I wasn’t asking for a pay raise, and I would have hoped that no one though thought that I was asking for a pay raise. So, there have been various attempts at reconciliation since that point. But nothing has moved me terribly. And, there’s nothing that’s been effective, as far as I’m concerned. Like I said, this is a something of a dead issue. It’s a thing where I quit and that was a final decision. And nothing has happened between then and now to make me change my mind.” (Ibid., pg. 62).

Nor would anything change (as previously noted, it was only the extraordinary in-person efforts of Jim Lee over a decade later that led to Alan Moore again being published by DC Comics, via the mechinations of Lee selling the Wildstorm imprint and stable to DC Comics in 1998). 

Still, it was a relief to me to read three years later what the real moral issues were for Alan, and his real reasons for ceasing to work with DC Comics (in his previously cited and quoted interview with Gary in TCJ #138, October 1990, pg. 68):

And that, as they say, was that.

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The capper, if one was needed, was the September 22, 1987 bust of Comics Legends in Calgary, Alberta.

This three-store chain (a fourth store was to open the following weekend, until that landlord learned of the September 22nd bust and that, apparently, was that) exclusively targeted labeled comix, 15 titles in all including Zap #1 (published in 1967!), Weirdo #4, 5 and 15, Bizarre Sex #5, People’s Comics, Ban-Zai, and the Canadian underground title Beaver Comic. Vice Squad officers Al Stagg (!) and Dennis Moodie and an unidentified Royal Mounted Canadian Police Customs officer also confiscated copies of Snarf and The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, along with Evangeline, Matt Wagner‘s Grendel, and the now-oft-targeted Love and Rockets.

For the record, Comics Legends indeed limited the sale of all the cited underground titles (and all comics and comix labeled ‘‘Adults Only“) to customers 18 years of age and older.

Ya, labels — that’s the way to go.

(For what it’s worth, I never used labels on any SpiderBaby Comix product, though I did provide ample warning in all catalog listings to retailers and all promotional materials.)

The 1986-87 DC standards and practices and labeling controversy was soon forgotten amid the subsequent busts, the subsequent controversies. Frank, Howard and Marv indeed continued to work with DC (and Marvel), there were more comics shops busted (primarily of labeled comics and comix),

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund — originally funded, founded and helmed by underground comix publisher Denis Kitchen — became the primary industry advocate and venue for all of us who cared to continue the fight.

Many of us did what we could to get behind the CBLDF — donations, fundraisers, signings, convention appearances (I rolled out my horror comics history slide show, ‘Journeys Into Fear,’ for a full year at cons and gatherings to fundraise for CBLDF, as well as making personal monetary donations when I could afford to) — though it must be said that over the years Dave Sim and Neil Gaiman arguably stood and stand tallest among the many freelancers, creators and self-publishers to made sure the CBLDF coffers didn’t run dry. That is in no way intended to minimize the efforts of all others who pitched and still pitch in, but Dave and Neil raised and donated mighty, mighty sums to the ongoing legal battles that continue to this day.

The loose coalition of activist freelancers forged by the 1986-87 DC standards and practices and labels controversy went on to publish WaP! the following year, which I’ll write about in some depth at another time.

Many in comics ridiculed and reviled WaP!, too, if they noted its existence at all — just as prominent creators then and today ridicule and revile the subsequent Creator Bill of Rights which Scott McCloud proposed and a gathering of like-minded creators ratified in Northampton, MA in November, 1988 (that gathering being Scott McCloud, Ken Mitchroney, Mark Martin, Michael Dooney, Steve Lavigne, Peter Laird, Kevin Eastman, Ryan Brown, Michael Zulli, Richard Pini, Larry Marder, Dave Sim, Rick Veitch, Eric Talbot and Gerhard — oh, and me).

That, in its way, also grew out of the events of 1986-87, and all that followed.

  • As Scott McCloud notes on his own website, referring to that fateful November 1988 creator summit, and how his slightly revised draft of the Bill of Rights for Comics Creators reflected the times in which it was forged, “The original Summit version spoke of control of format and distribution rather than approval and included an additional article about labeling which had been a hot topic at the time, but should be adequately covered by format.” This serialized essay finally provides a proper historic context for Scott‘s Bill, and that specific statement on his site.
  • DC Comics didn’t care about that. Most everyone at DC forgot about it almost immediately, if they’d noticed it at all.

    But DC Comics did not forget Alan Moore walking.

    As I noted earlier, at some 1988 Warner Bros. Board of Directors meeting, hard questions had to have been asked.

    “How did you lose the man who wrote Watchmen?”

    And, “how can you get him back?” and “don’t do that again” or some variation thereof must have been said.

    That’s all conjecture, mind you.

    But you don’t lose a breadwinner like Alan Moore in a corporate entertainment empire and not have hard questions asked by someone in a position of power, and be left to ponder the consequences.

    Behind closed doors, policies subtly shifted.

    Even work-for-hire policies can be sweetened, more gracious relations established, nurtured and sustained, more favorable royalty plans and unofficial ‘we won’t mess with your characters/creations’ agreements tendered and honored.

    The next wave of British writers coming or already in the door — Neil Gaiman, Jamie Delano, Grant Morrison, Garth Ennis, etc. — and all who followed benefitted enormously, professionally and personally, from the stand Alan took at the beginning of 1987… as did DC Comics Inc.

    (Would DC have sought out all those writers — much less been able to accommodate them? — had Alan not left, leaving such a huge vacuum behind after his departure? Something to ponder…)

    It helped, too, that among their number was Neil Gaiman, diplomatic in all circumstances, who made it his mission to always give DC a way out — a way to save face — in whatever disagreements they might have over the years.

    I can’t overstate this ability, one of the key lessons I learned and still try to practice from my own friendship with Neil; I’d like to think DC has also learned, too, from their relations with Neil.

    From the ashes of the torched Moore/DC Comics relationship, Vertigo Comics was born in 1993.

    Again, that’s another story for another time and place; I don’t want to suggest or elevate Vertigo as being in any way as progressive as Heavy Metal and Epic Illustrated in the context of mainstream Manhattan-based comicbook publishing were before Vertigo existed, nor is this the time or place to get into what I find objectionable then and still about the ‘Vertigo deal’ (and I have major problems with the Vertigo contracts I’ve seen, and consider it another unfortunate beachhead in comics publishing history, despite it being a step up from the previous work-for-hire templates DC embraced and enforced).

    That, too, was a process, which also involved DC imprints Piranha Press and its successor Paradox Press.

    In time (Piranha Press lasted from 1988 to 1993), DC ceded some ownership of rights to creators — copyright, but not trademark — and two dozen titles emerged from Nevelow‘s imprint, including Kyle Baker‘s Why I Hate Saturn (1990), which was without a doubt the most successful of the Piranha projects (my personal fave was Marc Hempel‘s Gregory, 1989). Begun under the Piranha imprint but published as a Paradox Press book after the Piranha imprint was retired, Howard Cruse‘s extraordinary semi-autobiographical Stuck Rubber Baby (1995) was among the finest fruit of the experiment.

    By then, Vertigo had been launched (1993) under Karen Berger‘s steady hand, building on the bedrock laid by Karen‘s seminal work with Alan Moore and seeding the initial imprint offering with a handful of titles acquired from a failed Disney mature comics publishing experiment, Touchmark Comics, along with that aborted line’s editor Art Young. With a strong stable of existing DC ‘For Mature Readers’ titles (Hellblazer, Sandman, Animal Man, Doom Patrol, Black Orchid, etc.) already providing Vertigo with more momentum, popularity, stability and credibility than Piranha Press ever enjoyed, Vertigo proved to be the most durable and successful of all DC‘s late 1980s-1990s experiments with boutique imprints, lasting to the present day.

    But Vertigo — and the modified contractual terms offered to DC freelancers via that imprint — existed in part only because Alan Moore did what he did while he did write for DC Comics in the mid-1980s, and because Alan Moore did quit writing for DC Comicsand meant it — at the beginning of 1987.

    In subsequent months and years, DC quietly offered better deals to those who followed in Alan‘s footsteps, doing their utmost to ensure the Gaimans, Delanos, Morrisons, etc. of their freelance stable wouldn’t have reason to follow Alan‘s example.

    And that, my friends, was the real consequence of the DC Ratings Debacle of 1986-87.


    It’s about time that was recognized and acknowledged.

    All covers, artwork, text ©1985, 1986, 1987, 1990, 2010 their respective creators, publishers and/or copyright owners; all rights reserved to their respective owners. NOTE: All images are posted for archival and educational purposes only, under applicable US Fair Use laws.

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    For those who want to read and/or know more:

    An earlier, in-depth Myrant serialized essay detailing where Taboo came from — which covers in excrutiating detail the events framing and following this 1986-87 DC Comics standards and practices and ratings hubbub — is instantly at your fingertips by clicking the links below. It might answer many questions about what happened next, including the Aardvark/Diamond Comics controversy, WaP!, and what led to the historic Creator’s Summit of November 1988.

  • SpiderBaby Archives: Taboo Origins, Part 1 (which covers Dave Sim‘s experimental offering to creators he cherry-picked, and details the events of 1985-1986);
  • Taboo Origins Part 2 (horror comics and the birth pangs of Taboo 1, 1985-86);
  • Taboo Origins Part 3 (1st draft, the Taboo Manifesto);
  • Taboo Origins Part 4 (the Taboo Manifesto);
  • Taboo Origins Part 5 — here’s some meat & potatoes concerning the pivotal 1985 Mid Ohio Comics Convention, my meeting Frank Miller, and my departure from Swamp Thing and DC Comics;
  • (and this followup post on why I didn’t meet Frank in 1977 — I was to busy heading off to the movies!);
  • Taboo Origins Part 6“The Learning Curve; Or, How the System Worked, and How It Didn’t” — discussing the events of 1986-87, including Dave Sim‘s battle with Diamond Comics Dist., John and I leaving Swamp Thing, and John and Alan beginning work on their incredible Miracleman arc, which you can now read in the greater context of the DC Ratings Debacle of that same time period (I told you a lot was going on, didn’t I?);
  • Taboo Origins Part 7 — detailing Dave Sim‘s publishing experiment of 1987 that spawned a new book format ceiling for all comics publishers, as well as what Aardvark One International was meant to be, and what became of it, and why SpiderBaby Comix & Publications was born;
  • Taboo Origins Part 8 — the events of 1987-88, with a focus on Dave Sim vs. Diamond Comics Dist. and the shockwaves in the creative community that spawned;
  • SpiderBaby Archives: Taboo Origins, Part 9 (Conclusion) — which covers the events the led from Sim vs. Diamond to the first Creator Summits of 1988, and the first-draft ‘Manifesto for Creators’ — which culminated in the November 1988 Scott McCloud “A Bill of Rights for Comics Creators.”
  • Here is the Myrant post on WaP!, which I will be writing about in some detail later this year (once I excavate my full set of copies and have time to write a proper essay and do the necessary scans). WaP! is a lost chapter in 1980s comics history. As I found earlier this year …there’s absolutely nothing online about WaP! It’s as if it never existed.” Well, it did, and it’s an essential chapter in what followed the events of 1986-87.
  • Finally, here is Scott McCloud’s page on his own website concerning the November 1988 creator summit and his revised draft of the Bill of Rights for Comics Creators.
  • The serialized Taboo Origins essay will read quite differently now in the context of this expansive essay on the DC Comics Ratings Debacle, and provide interested readers with far, far more documentation and history to chew on.

    Essays ©2009, 2010 Stephen R. Bissette, all rights reserved. Permission to link, post pingbacks granted, but please do not quote excessively or post these essays on your own blogs, websites or venues; it’s not yours to play with. NOTE: All images are posted for archival and educational purposes only, under applicable US Fair Use laws.


    Discussion (43) ¬

    1. James Robert Smith

      This final chapter of the essay reminds me of the way that Alan Moore and Steve Ditko are so much alike. They take a stand based on well-considered principle, and they stick to it. The logic that formed their decisions is locked in and they are going to honor that decision because of what it means to them. I’ve heard Steve Ditko referred to as a “flake”, and on some level I have to agree. And I’ve heard Alan Moore referred to as a “clown”, and on some level I’d have to agree with that assessment. However, neither of those tremendously talented gentlemen could be referred to as sell-outs or professionally reactionary.

      One also has to admire a fellow like Neil Gaiman who has been far more pragmatic in his relationships with the big publishers. He not only fave DC a way to save face, he did the same with his own position in his glittering career.

      I’m not so sure that I would come to the same conclusion you did on the influence of Alan Moore’s “walking”. I think my own understanding of corporate psychology leads me to conclude that, in the long run, they don’t give the first molecular speck of a rat’s shitty ass if Moore walked. He was just one in a long line of infinitely talented artists who swim about in a sea packed gill to gill with fish to catch and fry. He got away? Big deal, as far as they’re concerned.

      The lessons learned seem to have been on the side of guys like Gaiman, Morrison, Brit crowd, et. al. They learned how to walk the edge of the line the corporation allowed them. I would guess that was Moore’s contribution.

    2. srbissette

      Bob, Neil has made it clear to me over the years that DC voluntarily — without Neil asking for or negotiating anything — offered increasingly beneficial terms for his Sandman (for instance) over the years, particularly in the late ’80s-early ’90s. There’s also the fact that to date, DC still hasn’t made the error on Sandman of putting other writers or creators on the character, which is unprecedented in that company’s history.

      THIS is what leads to my conclusion, and given more time (this has been an enormously time consuming essay to research, prepare and write) I’d have provided further evidence of that in this final chapter. As it is, this has gone on far, far longer than I’d originally intended.

    3. Robert Stanley Martin

      My recollection is that WaP! was largely reviled for an irresponsibly written gossip section that contained items ranging from the merely erroneous to the outright defamatory. I also remember Frank Miller getting hoist on his own petard of the sanctity of “creative freedom” with the final issue. He demonstrated that when he’s the one at risk of becoming a legal target, he’s not only in favor of another’s creative work being bowdlerized, he’ll do the dirty deed himself.

      The Creator Bill of Rights was not ridiculed or reviled by anyone. Some people didn’t treat it as a big of deal as you might have liked, but that’s not the same thing as attacking it.

      I really don’t know how Gaiman got a better deal on Sandman from a creative standpoint. I know he negotiated a more favorable creator royalty for the property, but that was in the confines of DC’s codified system for that sort of thing. He originally had a derivative-creation royalty and was able to successfully argue that he should be receiving the higher original-creation one instead. And this, by the way, was shortly after Sandman started publication–and a long while before it really took off.

      As for the property being unique in that subsequent creators were not assigned to it after Gaiman left, well, that’s not true. Other successful properties that DC has left alone by choice include Camelot 3000, Ronin, Watchmen, and V for Vendetta.

      By the way, I believe Gaiman has said that it was DC’s intention for quite a while to continue Sandman after he finished his run, but they changed their mind before he left.

      Gaiman has also said that he would be willing to do more with the property at DC, but they haven’t been able to come to terms. The sticking point, I believe, is that they want to pay him the same advance rate he received on the initial series, and that isn’t acceptable to him.

    4. Robert Stanley Martin

      By the way, didn’t Gaiman nearly quit Sandman about midway through its run? Karen Berger took an extended leave of absence at one point, and Gaiman couldn’t get along with the replacement editor? Berger came back before things completely boiled over, but Gaiman didn’t have the clout to insist the interim editor be replaced before then.

    5. srbissette

      Robert: thanks for the intensive comments.

      * WaP! did piss off some (TCJ especially) for its gossip column, but it was also dissed by freelancers who were miffed at their not being directly involved, and at folks at DC (who weren’t happy about the well-researched article on the 1960s writer’s strike) and DC in fact issued a new company newsletter almost precisely in the WaP! format (superficially) to counter it’s existence. There were some other upsets along the way, too. More on that, though, when I finally make time to write a proper post on the topic.

      * The Creator Bill of Rights was and is ridiculed and reviled; it was also ignored, which as you say is another matter altogether. But I’ve gotten an earful a few times over the years, primarily of the “who picked those particular creators to speak for everyone?” school — but don’t try and tell me it didn’t happen. Enough of it has been directed to me personally since 1988; I can only imagine what Scott’s had to put up with from time to time.

      * According to Neil, he didn’t negotiate a “more favorable creator royalty,” it was offered — and I can personally vouch for the fact that subsequent to that, DC extended similar improvement of royalty terms to other creators, including we lowly SWAMP THING pencilers and writers (the two aspects of that title I have contractual experience with, and ongoing participation with via royalties and the many reprint editions). The latter has also included incremental foreign royalty shares and occasional bonuses, all profered by DC — not asked for, not negotiated for. OFFERED by DC. It’s been quite generous over the years, and it’s nothing that was required of DC.

      This is why I conclude Alan’s departure prompted more lasting change at DC than any of us could have imagined at the time.

      * SANDMAN, as you note, is derivative of existing DC characters (Golden Age), and was a periodical. The other titles you list were not and are not; all were self-standing, self-contained mini-series, and one (V FOR VENDETTA) was previously launched outside of DC (WARRIOR). What makes DC’s honoring its commitment to Neil extraordinary is the fact that SANDMAN was a periodical (it was amazing to me they allowed it to end, a point I argued with Neil about for years, once in a comic strip written and drawn by yours truly) and a derivative of characters DC owns lock, stock and barrel — a very different context than that CAMELOT 3000, RONIN and WATCHMEN were created or published in.

      * Your “by the way” backs my conclusion. DC “changed their mind” in hopes of maintaining ongoing and future good relations with Neil — unprecedented behavior from DC, and again, evidence of a corporate change of policies post-1987 Alan Moore departure.

      * I wrote about “that sticking point” and Henry Wagner and I covered it with Neil in our exclusive interview with him for PRINCE OF STORIES: THE MANY WORLDS OF NEIL GAIMAN, so I’ve been absolutely aware of those circumstances for years now.

      * I don’t recall anything about Karen’s leave of absence or what you report about Neil, but it’s possible. I’ll ask him!

    6. Hart D. FIsher

      Great Job Stephen. Your writing is thorough, mature, and cuts to the heart of the matter. I’m going to start going through your other articles, especially on the origins of Taboo, which was highly influencial of the direction I chose to take with Boneyard Press and it’s lesser known experiments in the art of comics like Rectum Errectum (drawn by one of my russian print maker instructors at the U of I), the Gothic Red series or some of the serials I ran in Flowers on the Razorwire, publishing Michael Dianna’s work even after it was ruled obscene and been banned by Diamond Distribution.

      I would love to read your insight into the effect of the independent horror revolution of comics in the 80′s leading into the 90′s, like Fantaco, Dan Madsen’s Northstar shockfest Faust, First Comics, Eclipse, Twisted Tales, etc., etc, on mainstream corporate culture. I think these indie successes and wild dogs also had their influence on the formation of Vertigo and the very existence of a title like Preacher. I don’t believe that Preacher could have existed without the envelope pushing of veterans like yourself & Veitch, or the new wave like Dave Quinn & Tim Vigil or my own work over the edge at Boneyard.

      Keep up the great work Steve. I can’t wait to read the rest!

      Hart D. Fisher
      http://www.youtube.com/crimepayshart

    7. srbissette

      Thanks, Hart — more on the horror comics later this summer, as time permits. I can tell you Karen Berger said to me as she was formulating what became Vertigo (and I provided some creator contacts for same), “We want to do something like what you’ve done with Taboo, Steve, but obviously on a much larger scale.”

      This just in via email from Richard Arndt:

      “Dear Steve,

      Dick Giordano stated several times that he was initially hired at DC by Irwin Donenfield just before Carmine Infantino replaced him. Although he’s often credited with bringing Steve Ditko to DC at the same time, Ditko was actually already working there and it was Ditko’s suggestion that prompted DC to offer Giordano the job. Giordano did bring over Steve Skeates, Denny O’Neil & Jim Aparo but Sam Glanzman told me personally that Giordano DID NOT bring Sam over. Sam first applied to Bob Kanigher when he was editor of the war books but Kanigher and he did not hit it off. He approached Joe Kubert after Kubert took over from Kanigher and that’s how Sam got Haunted Tank and started up U.S.S. Stevens.”

    8. Joe Nazzaro

      Steve, thank you for a fascinating- and well researched- piece. Like some other recent visitors, I was tipped off by a link from Mark Evanier’s site and spent a big chunk of this afternoon/evening reading all 12 parts. I appreciate the fact that you refused to include your heresay comments where documentation wasn’t available, even when it was fairly obvious that you were in possession of first-hand knowledge. Would that more essayists exhibit that self-restraint.
      Regarding the recent posts about Alan Moore and his absolutism (is that even a word?) where a moral stand is concerned, I think his ethics are praiseworthy in a marketplace where it’s all too easy to back-track on one’s principles using a thinly-veiled rationale. That being said, I wonder if Moore has done himself a disservice from time to time- surely it would have been better to take the tens- if not hundreds of thousands of dollars of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen/V For Vendetta/Watchmen movie money and simply signed over the check to any number of well-deserving charities, thus giving an unfortunate experience into a marginally more worthwhile one? From my perspective, I would much rather those piles of money went to AIDS research or Amnesty International than seeing them remain in the well-stuffed coffers of Warner Bros or whatever studio was involved at the time. But that’s just me. It’s way too easy to armchair quarterback when one doesn’t have a financial or emotional investment.
      As far as Neil Gaiman is concerned, I agree with you Steve as well as the other posters that Neil’s way of doing business has probably held him in good stead as a freelancer. Having covered various aspects of the entertainment industry over the past couple of decades, I’ve seen many examples where one person- an actor, director, makeup artist or whatever- will more often get jobs simply because they’re more enjoyable to work with and be around. If you’re difficult or high maintenance, even if you’re the best, you might not get the call because it’s simply not worth the hassle. This is not to say that Neil is not immensely talented- which he is- but I think he has done his career a tremendous amount of good by being a pleasant guy while letting his representatives do the heavy lifting and acting as the bad guys from time to time.
      And finally, I seem to recall that Neil recently turned down the opportunity to another Sandman-related project because it wasn’t financially viable. I can’t remember if he wrote about it on his own website or not, but my recollection was that he could make a lot more money writing another novel in the time it would take to do another comic book project. As an alternative, he asked DC to revisit their royalty deal on the Sandman collections- which suggest that the money wasn’t as favorable there, despite the king’s ransom the company has made from them over the years- but I believe DC turned the offer down. Again, my memory of the situation may not be 100% accurate; perhaps somebody else will have a clearer recollection?

    9. Cory!! Strode

      I’m loving this series…and will be covering it in my podcast in a few weeks (no, I’m not plugging it) as I talk about it from a retailer perspective. Thank you for writing this, as it seems that huge swaths of comics history (RECENT history) is fading away, and once it fades, we never find it again, and it’s replaced with half-heard stories and the like.

      But the Giordano information is here:

      http://www.comicsreporter.com/index.php/richard_joseph_dick_giordano_1932_2010/

      He was brought into DC by the incoming Carmine Infantino in 1967 at Ditko’s suggestion.

    10. hemisphire

      Interesting interview from Neil last year in light of your conclusion:

      Would you ever return to the ‘Sandman’ universe?

      Maybe. I wanted to do a 20th anniversary story and it broke mostly because DC Comics would have loved me to do a 20th anniversary story at the same terms that were agreed upon in 1987 when I was a 26-year-old unknown. And my thought was, ‘You know what guys, it really doesn’t work like that.’ I wasn’t going to do a deal at the same terms we had in 1987 and they were not willing to do any better than that.

    11. srbissette

      Thanks for the kind comments and attempts at followup, all. Thanks especially for that link, Cory. I’ll leave it to the scholars to sort out this ‘when did Dick Giordano start working at DC?’ question.

      Also — please, DO plug your podcast, and DO post the link here, please and thank you!

      As for the SANDMAN issues — Forgive this crusty old grump, but:

      Oh, Jesus Christ — Is anyone paying attention?? Do I look like I just fell off the honeybucket?

      Look — Neil discussed many of these points, including why he didn’t do the 20th Anniversary SANDMAN, at considerable length with Hank Wagner and I in November of 2007, published in the PRINCE OF STORIES interview (a book that’s been out, in hardcover and paperback, for some time now: hardcover 2008, paperback 2009) before any of the online stuff being posted. We ‘broke’ the story, though anyone really paying attention caught bits of the latter news on Neil’s own online journal.

      I know ‘books’ are archaic information delivery devices and cost something, as opposed to all this ‘free’ online material, but please quit telling me what I not only already know, but was instrumental in sharing with the rest of the world via that book project!

      Since nobody seems to care about that reality, or take my word for it, I’ll excerpt portions of the raw interview text here, in these comment threads. Is that ‘real’ enough for everyone?

      These excerpts are ©2007, 2010 Hank Wagner, Christopher Golden and Stephen R. Bissette, and are from the raw tape transcriptions…
      ________

      On SANDMAN and DC’s indulging Neil’s ending the series:
      ________

      HW: So, when you started Sandman, were you just scripting issue to issue, or did you have that longer arc in mind?

      Neil: Yes.

      SRB: You did, because we actually had ongoing arguments –

      Neil: We had arguments?

      SRB: ‘Neil, they are never going to let you kill Sandman’ — we argued about that for years.

      Neil: Actually, the way the arguments would begin with me and Steve — I think Steve was one of the very, very few people that I briefed on the giant — I think you were the only one! In some restaurant or something –

      SRB: We went out and ate, and it was on the same scale as when Alan [Moore] laid out the whole of From Hell in one phone conversation — you laid it all out, this entire tapestry, beginning, middle and end –

      Neil: Yes, I remember briefing you up on it.

      SRB: I didn’t believe was going to let you bring it to a close –

      Neil: Well, you also didn’t believe they were going to stop the comic — so, ya. It’s so strange, the arguments I used to have with you and with Dave Sim. Dave was forever on me to leave DC because they would put this stuff out of print the moment my back was turned. The moment I that I stopped doing a monthly comic, they would automatically put this stuff out of print, despite having a ‘created by’ royalty, because I didn’t own it, I couldn’t control it –

      SRB: Well, it was a different era. I was coming from my experience with DC in the ‘80s, which was an obsolete view –

      Neil: Well, no, it wasn’t obsolete, and you weren’t wrong, but what I was essentially trying to do was play chess on them. What was really interesting, was, for example, I floated my little trial balloon along about issue 22, 23 — we’d been doing this for a couple of years, and I remember saying to Karen somewhere in there, ‘I think I’m going to want Sandman to stop when I stop.’ And she said, ‘you know that will never happen,’ and so on. And a few months later, I was having dinner with [DC publisher] Jenette Kahn, and during the course of the dinner, I said, ‘I think I’m going to want Sandman to stop when I stop,’ and she said, ‘oh, sweetie, you know, that’s not the way we do things in comics,’ and so on. And I said, ‘okay, not a problem.’ And I just carry on with my grand plan, and everything keeps going. And then people started asking me in interviews, what I’m going to be doing and how it’s going to work once Sandman stops. And I said, ‘DC will stop Sandman when I’m done, which I would really like, or they’ll carry on, and I don’t really have any control of it. Although obviously if they did carry it on, I would not do any further work ever for DC; if they stop it when I stop it, I will maintain a very cheerful business relationship with DC.’ And that’s basically what they did. Whether those interview quotes did any good or not, I don’t know, but it is very true that roundabout issue 60-ish , well over two years away from the end of Sandman, I remember Karen just saying to me at some point, ‘we really aren’t going to be able to continue this when you’re done, are we? We should just end this, and I said ‘Yes.’ And it was never more complicated or big or grandiose than that. Years had gone by, and honestly, it was now obvious, no one was thinking, we have to bring Paul Kupperberg in to take over, it wasn’t that thing.

    12. srbissette

      Neil on why the ‘Mature Readers’ label being obligatory on Vertigo titles is unfortunate:
      ___________

      Neil: In the same period, I was writing Sandman and Books of Magic. Books of Magic was another inherited thing, It was meant to be a Mark DeMattis project, drawn by Kent [Williams] and John [Bolton], about the DC magic universe. The brief is it has to be a guide, a who’s who of the DC magic universe. I turned that down, I didn’t think it was a tenable brief. I went to bed that night, lay in bed, almost drifted off, and I thought, ‘A Christmas Carol!’ I got up and wrote it down to avoid losing the idea forever, saw it the next day, thought ‘It works,’ and phoned Karen [Berger] up.

      I loved doing Books of Magic, I thought it was a great children’s story. My one problem with it was when the series became a Vertigo title, and was labeled For Mature Readers. I never thought that was right. I consulted on the book initially, but my involvement fell off. The biggest problem I had with being a consultant, was being consulted. ‘Do you like this?’ ‘No.’ ‘Okay, you were consulted, bye –.’ I would have loved to continue it. I know where I would have taken it. It would have been a story about him trying to cope with being twelve or thirteen, trying to cope with life, very Y/A [Young Adult], while trying to cope with the fact that you’re something bigger.
      __________

      On the narrative structure of SANDMAN, and how it wasn’t originally designed as a graphic novel per se, and Dave Sim’s pivotal role in the change in formats in 1988:
      __________

      SRB: One other aspect, this was also being shaped by graphic novel concept? Was their any conception of shaping the serialized arcs into the graphic novel editions?

      Neil: Not then, we had no idea that anything was going to be collected at that point. If we were, Dream Country would have been five or maybe six issues rather than four. We’re in a universe, where, by the time we get to The Kindly Ones, I know that I’m writing a series of stories that will be collected. By that time, I’m no longer hiding a flashback or a recap within the first three pages. I’m actually doing the no holds barred, take no prisoners kind of storytelling that I learned from watching Dave Sim in Cerebus. It was peculiar in that if you talk to people who read them monthly as they came out, they will tell you that’s the point I lost the plot. If you talk to those who read the graphic novel, it was brilliant, they loved it. It points out the problem with Marc Hempel’s art, that it’s not ‘normal’ comic art, like you’ve been reading elsewhere. As a great big book, it builds and builds, and pulls you in, and doesn’t let you go. That was a thirteen issue arc that was published over eighteen months. That was the only time I had to do a prose recap, story-so-far piece part way through, something that we haven’t included in the collection.

      SRB: People forget what it was like back then, particularly regarding Dave Sim and Cerebus. Dave broke the ceiling by self-publishing his 500-page Cerebus phone books, and did so at a time that the market initially rejected his expansion of the format: the size of the books, the $25 price tag. Before that, nobody was publishing that expansive a graphic novel; they were like glorified ‘giant annuals,’ at best. Dave changed everything.

      Neil: It’s frustrating…

    13. srbissette

      On the proposed 20th Anniversary SANDMAN project, and what really happened, and the reality of SANDMAN not being Neil’s property as his novels are:
      ________________

      SRB: You had a new Sandman project you proposed to DC Comics, which isn’t going to see the light of day. Would you care to talk about it?

      Neil: Well, there’s not really a lot to talk about. The Sandman’s 20th Anniversary is coming up, and I wanted to do — there’s a storyline I’ve thought about doing for years, which I’ve always called Sandman 0. It’s the story of what happens before Sandman 1. We learn in Brief Lives — we also learn it in the text piece in Sandman 8 — that he was on his way back from halfway across the universe, and was exhausted, and that is how he was captured; he is easy to capture because he is exhausted. So I wanted to do that story, because it is really cool, sort of know it, and it has some great scenes in it, and bits, and it would have been fun. I wanted to do it as six months of comics, then as a big book.

      SRB: Why was it passed on? It would have been a best seller for DC for years.

      Neil: It was passed on because I wanted a larger royalty than I got. I passed on it largely because I couldn’t afford to do it at 1987 rates and May 1987 royalties. There’s sort of a level on which it would take me about as much time to do it as it would to write a novel. I know what I get for writing novels, and I get a 15% royalty, and an incredibly healthy advance. I did Sandman: Endless Nights as my charity project; Sandman: Endless Nights was a favor to Karen [Berger], it was done at the 4% royalty I’ve had since the beginning, for a $20,000 advance, and I found the time, I fitted it in and I did it. It got them onto The New York Times bestseller list for the first time ever. For this one, I said, ‘Look, I can’t afford to do it. I can’t actually afford to drop everything,’ and I said, ‘but, I also know you’re not going to turn around and pay a million dollar advance for a Sandman book, nor would I force you to. So my suggestion would be, that you up my royalty on the entire Sandman line by 2%.’ Which, according to my calculations, in sixteen years, would me bring me up to what I would have made if I’d written a novel. And they said, ‘Wooo, we’ll tell you what, because we love you, we will give you that 2% for eighteen months, and then you’re back to your normal rate.’ And I said, ‘but, that doesn’t do it. It doesn’t do very much. Why would I do that? I’m saying, it would actually take me sixteen years to make that up. I’m not saying, give me more money now, I’m saying, look, over sixteen years — ‘

      HW: They’ve got a discount, too, by interest. I’m a tax guy so I –

      Neil: Well, ya, I understand that. Mostly, it was just sort of a pride thing; pride isn’t even the right word — a sort of saving face thing. I thought, well, ‘okay, this way, it barely appears on their balance sheet.’ I get to go, ‘well, even if it’s sixteen years, I haven’t actually really done this for free.’ In a world in which I make 11% more just straight royalty — I get a larger royalty on a single copy of Anansi Boys being sold in hardback than I do on The Absolute Sandman, which is a $100 book. And they said, ‘no,’ and I said, ‘okay,’ and that was it. And I genuinely don’t understand; I’m going, ‘but this would have been international news — ‘

      SRB: It would have been a money machine!

      Neil: It would have burst the whole thing up, it would been a money machine. It would have rebooted the sales on everything, and it would have — ya.

      HW: Plus the movie interest –

      Neil: I don’t care about the movie interest. On a weekly basis, Warner Bros. gets contacted by stars and directors, and have been for roughly seventeen years. People wanting to make Sandman movies, and they have no idea how to make the Sandman movie. A Sandman movie, as a proposition, is something that’s sort of $500 million up front, because you’d have to look at it as a three to four movie sequel thing, and the movie interest is neither here nor there. You know, Warner owns the — Warner options its own rights, which means every five years I get $10,000 or something. So, it’s irrelevant on sort of a cosmic scale. But the point is — I would have thought it would have been a sensible thing [to do Sandman 0], and I would have thought it would have been sensible from a financial point of view. I know that there was a very, very large contingent of people within the offices of DC who thought it made sense. I know there was a very very small number of people who vetoed it, with whom I’m still friends, because it’s a business decision. Whatever; I’ll write another book.

      One of the reasons that I have survived emotionally in the world of comics, when I have seen my friends and loved ones chewed up and spat out, emotionally destroyed or put through the wringer — I’m thinking of many ways, for me, it goes back to the conversation you, Steve, dramatized in the little ‘roast’ comic [ -- give source --], where you and I are driving, and I’m saying, ‘you can’t take it personally.’ There’s a level at which — they’re a company, they make business decisions. Some are good, some are bad. I personally do not consider that a terribly wise business decision. On the other hand, from a financial point of view for me, not having to find the time to write six issues of Sandman this year in 2008 is great. I will write a novel, and it will be good, and I will own it, and I will own the film rights.

      The film rights to Sandman are nothing. They don’t matter to me. In a world in which DC Comics ever turns around an makes an amazing Sandman — in a world in which they make an amazing Sandman thing, and the option gets exercised, I’ll see not much money from that under the terms of the 1987 agreement, and that’s fine. It doesn’t really — I don’t control it. Whereas, The Graveyard Book is mine. I own it, I’ve already got about five major film companies sniffing round it, and saying, ‘when you finish it, it is ours, right?’ I’m going, ‘well, let me finish it first, and we’ll see what happens when it’s done.’ But I own it. I try to get that bit, and that’s so important to me. That level of ownership, the level of non-compromise, and the amount of the thing that you get — the slice of the pie, I like.
      _______________

      OK, that about covers that.

      Note, too, that a work-for-hire arrangement whereby Neil will “see not much money from [a movie adaptation] under the terms of the 1987 agreement, and that’s fine” is still a considerable improvement over the work-for-hire arrangements/contracts of 1982-86 (contracts I signed, remember, doing Swamp Thing, so I am not idly speculating), in which a freelancer would have seen nothing for a film adaptation. I know this for a fact; remember, Alan, John, Rick and I got zippo for the Return of the Swamp Thing movie adaptation of our work. John and I got a $700 check for the appearance of our covers under the title credits (a courtesy from DC, not a contractual obligation); Len and Berni got a ‘bonus’ check (which, BTW, Berni generously shared with John and I, an amazing gesture from Berni).

      Thanks to DC revision of policy — which was (incredibly) retroactive — we (John, Rick, myself) earn a creator share of any and all HELLBLAZER activity, including receiving a share of the option money for the film CONSTANTINE.

      This, too, is evidence of DC’s improvement of work-for-hire terms later in the 1980s — terms that didn’t exist when we were actually working on SWAMP THING the comicbook.

      This verifies my point. It does not contradict my point.

      I chose Neil as my example to cite because (a) we are friends, and Neil has shared this kind of info with me over the years in a non-proprietary manner; (b) Neil was key among the writers to follow in Alan’s footsteps at DC, and that DC was keen to maintain good relations with; (c) Neil has discussed these issues on the public record; and (d) Neil has always honored Alan: the man, his work, and his legacy (which I cannot say about all the writers who followed in his footsteps and benefitted so enormously from Alan’s work and decision to leave DC).

      There’s much more I could cite, but — well, hopefully, I’ve sufficiently reinforced my point, backed with the further documentation offered here. Beyond that, go buy the book, or borrow it from your library or interlibrary loan. It’s not hard to get your hands on.

      For reasons of space and focus — the focus of this essay was, after all, 1986-87, with some followup on what followed — I chose not to bother Neil personally for further info, and relied on what I knew personally that wouldn’t betray private confidences, and what was already on the public record, including OUR BOOK ON NEIL.

      It’s a fact, as related to me by Neil personally, that DC improved the deal on SANDMAN incrementally over a period of time. It’s not enough to make a 20th Anniversary project viable, though — note Neil’s FULL CONTEXT of his current status as a novelist, where he owns his creative property — but that in no way invalidates my point: DC, without being asked or creators initiating negotiations, improved their work-for-hire terms over the years since 1987. I can further verify that via my OWN history with DC since 1987 in their incremental revamp of what they pay me for SWAMP THING reprint royalties and cocreating HELLBLAZER; the paperwork is in my file cabinets, folks.

      This is not conjecture.

      That said, keep the comments coming, please!

    14. srbissette

      Re: Joe’s comment:

      I can’t even begin to articulate my concerns about Alan and his stance. Alan has made it abundantly clear he wishes I didn’t exist, so I won’t antagonize anyone by stating my views on his behavior since we parted ways in the mid-1990s.

      That said, I still think it vital this moment in comics history (1986-87), and Alan’s pivotal role in it, is discussed and fully understood. You may not agree with all my opinions or conclusions, but I think Alan’s role is irrevocably part of the historical record, and what he did when he did it — and all that followed — has never been recognized, despite the incredible volume of material written about Alan since that time.

    15. Joe Nazzaro

      Steve, I think you did an admirable job of establishing Moore’s role in that period of comics history and using established sources as opposed to your first-hand opinions, which incidentally I think you’re entitled to, but you’re right, why antagonize anybody when it’s not necessary?
      Funnily enough, while there seems to be a very real cause and effect as far as Moore being a catalyst in terms of DC realizing there was a largely untapped pool of talent in the UK, which almost certainly led to them going after writers such as Gaiman, Ennis, Morrison, Delano, etc, but there was another link that slipped my mind for some reason until now. After your lengthy post this morning Steve, I went back and looked at an interview I did with Neil back in 1990 I think, where he talked about losing interest in comics as a teenager, because there were any comics being written for him at the time. “It wasn’t until I bumped into what Alan Moore was doing on Swamp Thing in 1983 that all of a sudden, somebody was was writing a comic book for me, and it rekindled all the desire I had to write comics. I was looking at this thing, saying, ‘This is every bit as mature and sophisticated as anything being done in mainstream fiction, or in wonderful wacky world outisde, and it’s comics!’ Suddenly the whole desire to do comics came back in a flood.” So there’s another very direct link between Moore’s 1980s DC work and what was to come later from at least one other well-known creator…

    16. srbissette

      I chose not to go there, Joe, but you’re right. I’m still contacted out-of-the-blue by comics creators I’ve never met who cite our run on SWAMP THING as the comic title that brought them back to comics — as readers, and (for some) as creators. Neil has told me that since he and I first met at UKAK back in the mid-’80s, and to paraphrase CASABLANCA, it was the start of a beautiful friendship!

    17. RCheli

      Terrific essay (all 12 parts).

      I remember this time well, as I was working in a comic shop and the owner was both strongly in favor of selling and promoting “adult” books but also fearful of some policeman coming in and arresting everyone in sight. With each article about yet another bust or those scary, ill-informed articles in the local paper about “Comics not just being for kids anymore”, everyone was at a heightened state of alert.

      Also, being out of the creator loop, and only reading about things in TCJ, CBG, and elsewhere, I never really got what everyone was thinking (on the surface, labeling a book “mature” didn’t seem so terrible to me), so this cleared many thing up (but also kept certain things still very gray).

      But, like you’ve said, this tumultuous time really did create a better atmosphere for creators at DC (Marvel… well… who knows), and there are now plenty of opportunities for artists and writers to work in their still-rigid system but also reap some long-term benefits without too heavy of an editorial hand.

      It is not ideal — and I don’t think it ever will be — but it’s vastly improved.

    18. Paul Riddell

      Thank you for sharing that _Prince of Stories_ excerpt: I have to admit that I hadn’t heard any of this, but then I’d dropped out of comics at the same time I quit writing. Sold off the collection, gave away the graphic novels, and told the crew at Keith’s Comics that I’d probably be returning once the Dallas Cowboys won a shut-out World Series. I can now go by the Graphic Novels section at my local Barnes & Noble without shuddering, although it starts again when I see that quote of mine on a “Transmetropolitan” collection (writing the column that the blurb came from is one of my two deepest and most bitter regrets, the other is having married my ex-wife, “the Nancy Spungen of fandom”). In a lot of ways, I understand how former soap opera fanatics feel about their former obsessions after a decade-long hiatus, because I take a look at that section and figure “I really don’t have the time to catch up.”

      With that said, I’ll have you know that I made one big exception, and that was in buying both of the prestige format “Saga of the Swamp Thing” collections out so far. I first started reading the original comics and started my experiments in horticulture at the same time in the spring of 1989, and it just wouldn’t seem right not to acknowledge that I wouldn’t be such a gardening junkie without having had that exposure back then. While I’m awaiting the next volumes, the current two are in a place of honor in my horticultural library, where they sit right next to Wyndham’s _The Day of the Triffids_ (unexpurgated version) and _The Poison Diaries_.

    19. pmpknface

      Steve, This was FANTASTIC! I think you should publish this extended essay in some format. It would be great if you could use the profits of this to help the CBLDF, for example, if not yourself! :)

      I look forward to other essays on thsi an other topics. – Jamie

    20. Stuart Moore

      Steve: That’s an amazing collection of artifacts and commentary. Thanks for taking the time.

      I don’t want to get too deep into the fray, but this is the first time I’ve heard the story about Neil almost quitting SANDMAN, and that would have been during my time there. I don’t think there’s anything to it. Karen had two maternity leaves during the run of SANDMAN; I think Alisa Kwitney covered the book during the first one, and I was involved in planning the CHILDREN’S CRUSADE event with Neil. The second one was right near the end of the book’s run, and I think Shelly Bond was handling it. I can tell you that both Alisa and Shelly worked with Neil after that — as far as I know, they’re all still on good terms — and, especially the second time, any problems would have eventually landed in my lap. By all means check with Neil, but I don’t remember this at all.

    21. srbissette

      Welcome, Stuart! I almost got into discussing the positive change I believe you brought to the mix at Vertigo/DC, but that’s for another time and venue. I appreciate your weighing in!

      I’m indeed going to check with Neil; I’ve never heard him say anything but kind things about both Alisa and Shelly, as far as I know they’ve all gotten along, too. Given all the sketchy rumors I’ve heard over the years about Neil, DC, Vertigo, etc. — 95% of which turn out to be just that, idle rumor — I’m not putting any stock in it until/unless I hear otherwise from Neil himself. I know during our interview for PRINCE OF STORIES, Neil was quite affectionate when he spoke of both Alisa and CHILDREN’S CRUSADE.

    22. Robert Stanley Martin

      I don’t have a copy handy, but I believe Neil made reference to the problems he had with a substitute editor in the cover-featured interview he did with Gary Groth in The Comics Journal #163. (As I recall, the trope he used regarding his dealings with this editor was “spitting tacks.”) Chris Claremont also mentions the conflict–although he doesn’t name anyone in his account–in his interview with Kim Thompson in TCJ #152.

    23. Robert Stanley Martin

      Stephen:

      While I take a great deal of issue with your view of DC’s conduct throughout the period covered in these posts, I have enjoyed much of your work as a cartoonist. I really wish that Tyrant had worked out for you–the third and fourth issues in particular were extremely well-realized, and I was eager to see subsequent installments. I have written extended, Pauline-Kael-style reviews of the Swamp Thing collections, and if you’re interested in reading them, please click here. Alan Moore comes in for most of the praise, but he wouldn’t have come off half as well if it hadn’t been for the efforts of you and the other artists.

      I’m thinking of writing out my own view of DC’s conduct at length at my own blog. If I do, I’ll post the link.

    24. srbissette

      Robert — interesting that you “take a great deal of issue” with my view of events; I’m being quite diplomatic and restrained. I’m writing from hard experience, for the most part, so I’d love to know what you take exception to — you’ve no idea how much I’ve withheld, for the sake of auld lang syne and not betraying confidences.

      That said, I’d love to read your own views (and documentation), and please do share the link once it’s up.

      I’ll give your SWAMP THING reviews a read this weekend, and thanks for the link.

      I also do have those issues of TCJ handy, so I’ll take a reread of both interviews you mention, and see what that turns up. It doesn’t alter what I’ve written here, but I will follow up on this comment thread as time permits. Thanks!

    25. srbissette

      PS: Coincidentally, having just read your latest blog entries, Robert — Kim Deitch is our visiting artist at CCS tomorrow! I’ve talked to Kim on the phone, briefly, in the past (the TABOO days), but quite looking forward to finally meeting him.

    26. T Lewis

      I arrived via Mark Evanier’s Blog out of idle curiosity and got sucked into a great read… It’s a personal timewarp to an era of coming of age in which I was mostly ignorant of all this going on the industry/creative side, for the most part. I’m somewhat even more out of touch with that milieu, the comic book store and industry, these days. It seems like video games have supplanted comics as the heralds of youthful corruption. I fondly recall finding an issue of Taboo at a Waco, Texas comic retailer, I’ve forgotten the place’s name, and marvelling at what an edgy comic was doing in the middle of such a conservative town, perhaps I’m showing my naivette then and now. Not much more to say than I appreciate this, as my eyes are currently bleeding out. Thanks.

    27. Charles Hatfield

      Great historical excavation, Steve, very much appreciated.

      I recall writing a long, in hindsight probably a very tedious, letter to DC protesting the proposed in-house ratings system. I received a form reply on DC letterhead from…damn, I’ll have to go dig that up and find out. Dick Giordano’s passing brought a lot of this up for me.

      I was in full-on DC fan mode at that time, and reading SWAMP THING regularly. I was also boycotting Marvel at the time, due to the Kirby art controversy (this only a year or two after getting back into buying comics, c. 1985). I thought DC was the cat’s meow back then. So I probably went on and on in my letter just to show my fan pedigree and to explain to DC why they shouldn’t shoot themselves in the foot, etc.

      I’ve long thought that the shift to “New Format,” and then the Vertigo line, were essentially alternate ways of having labeling at DC, that is, ways of laying that controversy to rest. The idea was to do it in a positive way, by creating some line identity, cachet, and sexiness around a “new format” and new imprint. I’m glad to see your informed insider take on these issues.

      I would love to see a smart scholarly book on Vertigo, its origins and impact, including frank consideration of all the issues you have raised in this essay series. I say this even though I doubt I’ve read more than ten percent of the Vertigo stuff, perhaps not even that, since the late nineties. It would be great to see Vertigo’s looming 20th anniversary used to bring out a book in which Vertigo was really a pretext for studying issues of creator’s rights, changes in the mainstream, etc. (This hypothetical publication, of course, could not be an “authorized” one!)

      Anyway, great series of articles, thoughtful and important. I’d love to discuss and debate this stuff with you at length.

    28. Nerve Jessen

      Steven,

      I really like this series. I remember this time vividly, even though I only a comc reader, but it left a lasting impression on me.

      One minor thing: You refer to the ‘Prestige Format’ debuting with Ronin. Ronin, although it had nice paper and color, was still a stapled comic book. If I recall correctly, Dark Knight Returns was actually the first ‘Prestige Format’ book for DC,as it was squarebound.

    29. Nerve Jessen

      By the way, as someone who purchased it when it was being published, thanks for the links to your Taboo related pages. I will certainly read them.

    30. Neil Gaiman

      Er…

      1) The stuff about me walking while Karen was on maternity leave didn’t happen. Stuart Moore and Tom Peyer did a fine job covering for her, but by that point Sandman was a machine that mostly happened between me and Karen’s assistants anyway. (Karen was off from Three Septembers and a January until a couple of issues into Brief Lives.)

      2) There’s a typo in the raw copy bit on SANDMAN; ENDLESS NIGHTS — I was paid a $20,000 advance for it, not a $200,000 advance.

      n

    31. srbissette

      THANKS, Neil — correction (2) made, apologies. Thanks for weighing in; I didn’t recall you ever having said anything about problems with DC with Karen’s absence, glad my memory wasn’t faulty on that. I really appreciate your correcting that rumor.

    32. Robert Stanley Martin

      I didn’t say Neil Gaiman’s issues with a substitute editor were a rumor, I said he made reference to them in a published interview. (I do think I erred about where it was published, though. It was TCJ #169, not #163.) However, I’m not going to ask Stephen or anyone else to do my homework for me. I’ll pull the issue out of storage when I get the chance and locate the quote. If I’m wrong, or if I’ve misrepresented anything Gaiman said, I’ll apologize. The situation was close to 20 years ago, so if he doesn’t remember it, I can’t say I blame him. It was a good while before Brief Lives, though.

    33. Neil Gaiman

      I’d love to know what I said in TCJ that would lead you to believe that,

      “didn’t Gaiman nearly quit Sandman about midway through its run? Karen Berger took an extended leave of absence at one point, and Gaiman couldn’t get along with the replacement editor? Berger came back before things completely boiled over, but Gaiman didn’t have the clout to insist the interim editor be replaced before then”

      The only editorial problem I ever had was with an assistant editor who worked on Brief Lives before Shelly Bond started, who screwed up some of the colouring. But by the time we realised how not-very good she was, she was gone and Shelly was there.

    34. Robert Stanley Martin

      Neil–

      I will provide the quote as soon as I get my hands on the interview. If I can’t locate the statement, I will apologize. However, please be patient. It’s probably going to be two or three weeks before I can do either.

      My first inclination is to back down until I can locate the quote. If this was a private conversation, I would certainly do so. However, this is a public discussion, and I won’t retract what I’ve said until I’m reasonably certain I’m wrong. That means checking the sources of my information. I am a member of the journalism community in the comics field, however modestly, and I think it’s better to look like a stubborn jerk for a few weeks than look like a flake indefinitely.

      I do apologize for bringing this up without having that source handy. Stephen’s knowledge of these matters appears to be fairly encyclopedic, and I assumed he would know what I was referring to. One should never take such things for granted, although I emphasize the fault was mine and not his.

      I did screw up the facts with the claim that you started with a derivative-creation royalty for Sandman and negotiated an original-creation royalty later on. According to your testimony in the McFarlane suit (published in TCJ #250), you receive a lower royalty for Sandman than you do for a completely original creation like The Books of Magic protagonist Tim Hunter. It appears to be different from a derivative-creation royalty, which, according to the testimony, is used for a character like Matthew the Raven and is significantly lower than the other two.

      Again, my apologies, and I’ll deal with the rest when I get ahold of the source materials in question.

    35. srbissette

      Thanks, Robert — no offense intended from my end, at any point; apologies if my reference to a rumor rankled, I was framing it in that manner due to more than just your post (emails I’ve received this week echoed your original post, hence my use of that term until we can sort all this out). That said, I was pretty careful about what I wrote, including comments, and my memory isn’t too shabby on these matters — and I DID check my facts for the essay proper.

      That all said, do follow up when and as you can — and again, thanks for seeing this through.

    36. srbissette

      THANKS, Neil, again, for taking time to weigh in and clarify points raised in this lengthy comment thread. More later!

    37. BobH

      I have a copy of TCJ #169 here, and while I don’t feel like reading the whole interview right now, the only relevant passage that jumps out from a quick scan is:

      “I really haven’t had, save for a few months when Karen went off on early maternity leave, problems with DC or with the people there. I suspect part of this is because a lot of the problems get sorted out by Karen. Occasionally I hear about things I would have wound up spitting tin tacks and firing off furious faxes about, which gets sorted out before they reach me.”
      [page 83]

      Don’t see anything about him “nearly quitting” over that one problem, which presumably is that colouring problem on Brief Lives.

      Maybe your memory is conflating it with his next reply does talk about how he might have been willing to quit SANDMAN in solidarity with Veitch over the Jesus incident if Veitch had asked, but Veitch didn’t ask, so it was just Gaiman and Delano advance quitting their planned post-Veitch run on SWAMP THING.

    38. Neil Gaiman

      Thanks, Bob.

      Robert, I don’t think you look like a stubborn jerk, or like a flake. I think you look like someone whose memory is playing tricks on him, and it happens to us all.

    39. Devyn

      I feel slightly out of place. I don’t have anything to contribute to the conversation, just wanted to give thanks for the interesting and educational series of essays (this all went down before I was born) and compliment that Swamp Thing cover. Its a really great cover.

    40. Sean Aaron

      Well, I commented very early on in the run (having read it long after it was published) and it’s wonderful stuff to read. I do remember the controversy as I was a patron at Dan Vado’s (Slave Labour Graphics) comic shop A World of Fantasy at the time and he would let all his patrons know what was happening and urge us to buy books like The True North because if we didn’t support retailers like him then the books we enjoyed like Swap Thing, Miracleman (or indeed, Omaha the Cat Dancers *ahem*) might disappear from his shop (or worse he could get busted).

      Today I still have a full bookcase of graphic novels, but I don’t keep up much (most of my spare cash goes to video games I will confess – how about Taboo: The Game, Steven?), mostly buying stuff I recognise like Busiek’s Astro City, stuff by Mssrs. Moore, Ellis (and Gaiman), but I’m starting to get turned on my Manga and opening myself up to a little Japanese Cultural Imperialism.

      Thanks again for a great read; some larger “History of Comics in the 80s” (you know a book printed on paper and stuff) would be great to see come of this!

    41. Robert Stanley Martin

      Thanks, Bob. That’s the quote I’m thinking of. For whatever reason, I really blew it out of proportion.

      Thank you, Neil. You’re very gracious. And I apologize for misrepresenting what you said.

    42. Cory!! Strode

      The podcast is done (right here: http://www.krayzcomix.solitairerose.com/?p=10), where we discuss what was going on with us as I was working retail for the latter part of the time being talked about. Just to warn people, it is very much a personal anecdote style podcast, and we have a lot of shenanigans and silliness, but we also talk about ratings and how we dealt with adult and mature comics.

      Again, this is an excellent look at what was going on from a creator perspective and I want to thank you for taking the time to write this up. I’ve always been fascinated by comics history, and this is a treasure trove of information.

    43. Scott Rowland

      Mr. Bissette, thank you for this very educational series.

      Any chance of pitching this as a book/putting it into print? I expect to wnat to refer back to it many times in the future.

      Also, any scans of WAP available out there somewhere? I’d love to read it.

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