How do you measure success? Depending on the definition you prefer, there are many possible units of measurement: your bank account, the kind of car you drive, the title of your job, or your relationships with friends and family. In the comics industry, I have heard many writers say they won't feel like a success until they've penned one of the industry icons: Superman, Spider-Man, Batman, etc. It's fairly obvious why they feel this way, too. These are the writers most comic fans know-- the ones that jump out at us when we flip through the latest issue of Previews.
What about those writers delegated to the back half of Previews though? These are the ones that write the "independent" books for smaller publishers. What would it take for them to be deemed a success by themselves and others? This is one of the questions that crossed my mind when I began to write this article - an article that began with the May 2005 issue of Previews.
I was going through the back half of Previews (as all good comic fans should) when I noticed an interesting solicitation under Arcana Studios' books. It was for a comic called "Criss Cross," which was to be a tribute book for the writer who passed away. The writer's name? Doug Miers.
As much as I hate to admit it now, I wasn't familiar with this name. A quick Google search, and I discovered a man whose life was dedicated to comics. Here is a person who worked as a comic retailer, comic publisher, comic writer and as an agent to aspiring comic artists. I had never heard of him. How was this possible?
I contacted Arcana Studios to find out more about Doug and they thankfully put me in contact with his daughter Valerie. She is the person who oversaw and edited this final publication by Doug and she was more than willing to talk about her father. In hearing about his life, it quickly became clear that Doug was a person who followed his passions.
When asked what a movie of his life might be like, Doug was quoted as saying, "My life would be directed by Rod Sterling and would appear as an episode of the 'Twilight Zone,' starring Racer X as myself."
His interest for comics began at an early age. In that same interview, Doug explained, "My mom thought it would be intellectually stimulating for us kids if she removed all the televisions from the house one summer. She was right. When I wasn't out getting into trouble around the neighborhood, I was grounded, during which time I read a lot of comics. Don't ask me how I could afford comics at that age, I'm not sure about the Statute of Limitations.
"I read all the Marvel stuff when I was a kid. I thought I was too old for them in high school (but even then I read 'Heavy Metal,' which at the time seemed more sophisticated to my sophomoric eyes than it does now). Then one of my frat bro's in college [Doug attended Stanford] turned me on to a stack of 'Power Man and Iron Fist' and I was back in the game."
Doug first began writing comics in the late eighties. Like most, he tried to pitch DC and Marvel at first, but ended up writing for many of the smaller publishers of that period. A book which is an interesting footnote in Doug's career is "Grips Adventures" #7-8 (Greater Mercury Comics). This was published during the Gulf War and Doug had his protagonists going head-to-head with an insane Saddam Hussein and his army.
Eventually, Doug founded the direct-sales shop Comic Conspiracy in Sunnyvale in 1993. He wasn't content to just sit behind the comics counter though and sold the store several years later in order to work full-time on comics. Unfortunately, this was around the same time as the comics market took a sharp downturn.
As anyone who has tried to make a living as a writer knows, it's not easy. Usually, some sort of side job is required. In Doug's case, he managed to stay involved in the comics industry even in this area of his life. In one of his occupations, he worked as an agent at Studio 3, where he represented many international artists whom he successfully introduced to publishers, such as Marvel, Image, Chaos, and Avatar.
Doug was never wealthy, but he managed to make a living within the comics industry. This was a fact he was quite proud of. He once said, "I've never worked for a corporate entity, never had to put on a tie for work, never did time as a forty-hour wage slave. I believe that would have burned all of the creative energy right out of me. As it is now, I'm one of the oldest teenagers you'll ever meet. And no, I didn't inherit anything; I've always made ends meet as a freelancer."
Eventually, Doug began self-publishing through a company of his own creation - Comics Conspiracy Publications. He managed to put out many titles, including "Paratroop," "Operator 99," "The Taxman," "The Exec," "Beelzebob," "Ochlocrat" and the "Generic Comics" series. The most well-known of these is probably "The Exec," which was optioned by Warner Bros. for director Christopher Nolan ("Memento," "Insomnia," "Batman Begins").
When asked which book was Doug's favorite, his daughter Valerie responded, "I really think he loved all of his creations equally. He really loved 'Operator 99,' 'The Exec,' and 'The Taxman' for their conspiracy theories and how they all worked into one another yet stayed one-shots. He also really loved the 'Generic Comic' series because he enjoyed making fun of the bigger comic corporations. 'Beelzebob' was special because it was his first full-length color book. Each title has its own reasons for being great. It's in all of these titles that he started developing his own style of writing."
"Criss Cross," Doug's final publication, continues with a theme that can be seen in many of his books: amazing people in extraordinary circumstances. Valerie explained, "'Criss Cross' is Doug's last work and is the tale of a modern-day Robin Hood. Natalie (the main character) steals from thieves, humiliates rapists and lures murderers to their deaths. It is somewhat sad to see it come out, but I thank Arcana for seeing his final book published."
In discussing what Doug liked and disliked about the comics industry, he once said, "I love the medium. It's the ultimate marriage of text and images-- a unique literary form in its own right. I hate what greedy publishers and retailers have done to take advantage of their fans and turn many away from the industry. Things like expensive exclusive variant covers and special print runs, mega-crossover extravaganzas, price gouging and the useless proliferation of opportunistic spin-off titles…I may not work for Marvel or DC or Image, I may never work for those guys, but right now, knowing what I know, that doesn't matter anymore."
Towards the end of his life, Doug was represented as a writer by Circle Of Confusion (who also manage Brian Bendis and The Wachowski Brothers) and as a screenwriter by the William Morris Co. (one of the biggest talent agencies in Los Angeles). None of his scripts ever made it into production, but had he not passed away, I have no doubt Doug's tenacity would have enabled him to break through here as well.
Of his unproduced comic works, Valerie mentioned a script that she hopes will eventually be published. "One book that did not make it out before his passing was 'American Inquisition.' I really think this would have put the icing on the cake. He was especially proud of that story."
Doug passed away on January 31, 2005 in San Jose, CA, the city where he resided. He had just finished rollerblading with a friend when he suffered a heart attack. He was 42 years old.
As for that definition of success I mentioned earlier? I think a person who does what they love and shares that passion with others absolutely fits every possible definition of the word. In trying to think of another person who dedicated their life to the comics medium but never wrote any of the industry icons, one other name popped into my head: Will Eisner. Doug is definitely in good company.
I thought I'd conclude with a quote from Doug. In an interview, he was asked what words he lived by. He offered the following: "Everyone has their hands out, but the ones with their hands out to hug you are the important ones."