About six months ago, when I decided to step away from the relative security of an exclusive with Marvel and into the wild and wacky world of full-on freelancing, my only real concern was finding enough work with a smaller publisher to allow me to keep the lights on while I got some creator-owned projects off the ground. That, as it turned out, really shouldn’t have been a concern, at all… if anything, I’ve been offered too much work (not that I’m complaining), and by several different publishers.
What I should’ve been concerned about is how I’d manage all of this work when each individual publisher not only doesn’t care about other publishers’ projects involving me, they’d really rather they not even exist.
Here’s how it goes (via simulated e-mail exchange):
Publisher: Hi, Dan! Sorry this has taken so long (got tied up with con drama) but the outline looks good — can we get the first script in by the end of next week? We have an artist all lined up and we’re concerned that we’ll lose him if we don’t get him something to draw ASAP.
Me: Great! Can’t do end of next week, though — I have another project that I have to put to bed first. I can PROBABLY get you a first draft the week after, though. That work?
Publisher: I understand, but we really want to get rolling on this. Can you get us a few scenes, at least? That should be enough to get the artist started.
Me: I totally get what you’re saying, but I really don’t like doing partial scripts because lots of times I’ll move scenes around, condense or expand them… sometimes get rid of them, entirely. I can’t do that if a scene’s already drawn, y’know? And then I end up having to write around it and that just makes the whole process more difficult. Besides, I really like this project and I don’t wanna half-ass it by just hacking something out.
Publisher: Understood. Okay, we’ll try to find something else for him to do in the meantime but if you can get us something — anything — by the end of next week, that’d be helpful. We can’t expect this guy to wait like this on every script, though, so can I at least tell him that he’ll have the next one by, say, end of the month?
Me: I’ll try my best.
And that’s really all I can say. Why did the other project have to be “put to bed first?” Well, probably because I had to bump it back due yet another project at some other publisher suddenly jumping to the top of the pile. And why did I do that? Well, to be brutally honest, sometimes it all comes down to — you guessed it — money. Some gigs just pay more and, as a one-man operation with a limited amount of time, it falls on me to make the decision between creativity and capitalism.
And that fuckin’ sucks.
During my ten-plus years working with Marvel, I never had to make those calls because I was never given the opportunity to make them. If a project was highly profitable or had a high profile, that was the priority; they literally wouldn’t accept anything else. It’s not like Marvel didn’t let me do any so-called “vanity projects” (“Starr the Slayer,” “Hit-Monkey”) but it was always made very clear to me that my involvement in such things should never, ever cause money trains like “Wolverine: Origins” or “Deadpool” to run late. Ever. In other words, anything that had to get bumped got bumped for me.
There’s a very good chance that, at this moment, you’re thinking to yourself, “This is a problem you’ve brought upon yourself, Dan. You over-committed and now you’re whining about having to face that fact.” If so, congratulations; you’re right. There is, however, also a very good chance that you don’t realize freelancers like myself have to over-commit and, if you’ll be patient, I’ll tell you why in a future column.
Nowadays, everything on my plate is top priority. No publisher is going to say to me, “Oh, that other gig with that other publisher pays more? Yeah, you should go ahead and do that first. It’s cool. We’ll wait.” Nor should they; publishing is a tough business and there are very few publishers — if any — who can afford to miss a shipping date. I understand that. And I’m not saying that anything about this is unfair. All I’m saying, again, is that it sucks.
Because it’s a situation where telling the truth doesn’t help you in the least… if anything, it works against you. When a company makes a decision based upon profitability, it makes them look smart. But when a guy who writes comic books for a living does it, it just makes him look like an asshole.