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Issue #49

What's wrong with you people?

Seriously.

Okay, maybe not you in particular, but some folks that post comments on message board - some some "fans."

I was informed about a thread on some web site that I'd never visited before and I was taken back when I read about an account of my behavior at a comic book convention. Man, what a dick I was to that guy! I can't believe I'd do such a thing!

And there's a darned good reason I can't believe it...

It never happened.

Yep, you heard right - this guy flat out made up an encounter that never occurred, not in this universe or any universe.

I know how it goes - somebody's badmouthing somebody else and others want to join in and feel as though they're part of the gang. Pretty soon a bunch of jackals are going on at length about what this guy did and suddenly imagined slights are concocted. It escalates from there and after a while these guys have all convinced each other that some made up story is the God's honest truth.

This industry is built on lies and filled with liars. There are those that would say the industry couldn't exist without lies.

"I'll have it to you on Thursday" is, more often than not, a lie. "We need to have it in on Thursday or the book will ship late" is often a lie as well.

The thing is, not everybody can be late. Even if it's possible for a book to squeak through if the pages get there Friday, they can't all squeak through if everybody gets their pages in on Friday. So, Thursday it is.

Deadlines are often padded. Sometimes ridiculously so.

When I started getting regular work at Marvel years ago, I drew the "Punisher" for Carl Potts. Carl was one of those guys that was a real ball-buster when it came to deadlines. I drew five issues of the "Punisher," got good and sick of it and quit before any of them had even come out! I left to go write and draw a Nova serial for "Marvel Comics Presents" (which ultimately fell through), but ended up drawing an Excalibur serial instead for "Marvel Comics Presents."

The editor on "Marvel Comics Presents" was Terry Kavanagh. Terry was slightly less on the ideal schedule than Carl, but still well organized and his books came out when they were supposed to. I drew my eight-part serial and when I was through, I landed in Jim Salicrup's office on the "Amazing Spider-Man."

Jim Salicrup needed help. The "Amazing Spider-Man" was running late. He needed a quick fill-in and I was able to help him out. After I'd finished my issue, I visited a buddy of mine up in Canada - a fellow by the name of Todd McFarlane. Todd was still drawing the issue before my issue. I helped him pencil in a few characters here and there. I'd drawn the first real appearance of a character named SOLO in my issue (he'd been seen once before, from the back, in a single panel of a different Spider-Man title) and so penciling in his costume helped Todd make his deadline.

The point is all of these editors gave me deadlines and all of them were padded. The books I did for Carl came out around the same time as those I did for Terry and those I did for Jim and every one of these editors made it sound as though the heavens would fall if I missed my deadline. It turned out that none of them actually needed the pages when they said they needed the pages.

But that's hardly the end of the world, right? Padding deadlines is a harmless lie and freelancers routinely blow deadlines so it's a necessary lie, right?

I'm helping put together a book right now and only one of the freelancers who had committed to work on the project made his deadline. Freelancers often take on more work than they can reasonably do and hope the stars somehow align themselves. Sometimes I wish it was that easy!

Prior to the "Punisher" and "Marvel Comics Presents" and "Amazing Spider-Man," I was working at DC on "Doom Patrol." While working on that title, I got a call from an editor at Marvel. Todd McFarlane (yeah, that guy again) was leaving the "Incredible Hulk" and they needed a warm body to do a fill-in while the next guy drew his yarn. The editor was hoping Todd would draw the issue, but Todd couldn't do it. Todd was under the gun elsewhere and needed a break. Ever the pal, Todd recommended me for the job.

Now, I loved the Hulk - I wanted nothing more than to draw the book - but I had a regular gig at the time and I couldn't spare the time.

The editor was desperate.

Eventually, I agreed under a few conditions.

  1. Todd would provide thumbnails so I wouldn't have to lay out the story.
  2. The money they paid Todd would come out of Marvel's pocket, not mine. I wanted my full rate (which was, at that point, pretty low - I figured they'd end up saving money).
  3. I'd have some control over who inked the book. Bob Wiacek was inking a lot of Walter Simonson stuff at the time and I figured he'd do a bang-up job on my stuff. I recommended Bob.

Todd cranked out the layouts, I cranked out the pages. I kept in touch with the editor and time after time, he assured me he was "working on Bob."

I continued, penciling like a demon. I was nearing the end of the issue when I talked to the editor once more. I knew that, by this point, they really needed to have an inker working on those pages - the deadline was getting tight. He said to me, "I'm 95% sure that Bob Wiacek will ink these pages."

I hung up the phone.

The phone rang.

It was Jim Sanders.

Jim said, "I'm really having a great time inking these pages."

Jim was, of course, talking about inking the very same pages that the editor I'd just talked to a heartbeat before had claimed would, almost assuredly, be inked by Bob Wiacek. Upon further questioning, I found out that Jim had already inked half the issue so there was no chance that the editor in question didn't know about it.

This did not fill my heart with glee.

It's not that Jim was bad (I later recommended that he ink my final issues of "Doom Patrol," in fact) he just wasn't Bob. And it irritated me to no end to be lied to like that.

I got my full page rate, however. That part of the bargain, at least, was kept.

A year later, a royalty check arrived.

And from that check was subtracted the money that Todd McFarlane was paid for drawing thumbnails for that issue of the "Incredible Hulk," a final twist of the knife from the guy whose ass I'd helped save.

"That's the way it goes," I was told and, sadly enough, that's often the case. Some editors will say anything, promise anything, if it means getting the pages they need in their hands.

But it gets to a guy.

And I can't help but think of the lies told to Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster about sharing in profits from their creation and the lies told to countless others who were similarly screwed.

I have a hard time dealing with liars.

And sure, folks have their reasons for lying - they want to keep people working and motivated, but these lies, ultimately, come back to haunt them because freelancers have memories and mouths and these sorts of things tend to make the rounds.

A deadline isn't a lie - not really. A deadline is simply an expectation - a due date established in order to keep work flowing smoothly. Saying a book "will miss shipping if it's not in by a certain date" may be a lie, but that's something else again.

I had a friend years back that was a habitual liar. He lied about everything - even things nobody cared about, even things that didn't affect anybody. He was an artist that later got in a position where he could give people work. He lied about his birthday because he wanted to still be one of the young guys in comics - he lied about jobs that were never mailed and checks that were never mailed and he left a path of destruction in his wake. He'd tell fans that he'd hire them in order to get them to leave him alone during a convention and then he'd conveniently lose their phone numbers and never take their calls. He'd promise huge page rates and not come through with the money. He'd hire folks to output film and stiff them. He'd go from one printer to the next leaving unpaid bills behind him. His sunny smile and boyish charm got him more second chances than any thirty men deserve. And what could these guys do? Living in Canada, it was a hassle to sue, so they'd take pennies on the dollar when it was eventually offered.

This buddy swears, to this day, that he left our company of his own free will even though the rest of us know otherwise. He left, like Richard Nixon left, when the writing was on the wall and there were no other options. He claims otherwise, but some folks at this outfit are notorious pack rats and it might surprise him to find a phone bill from a party call and a faxed resignation with a date attached in our possession that clearly indicate that he is being less than truthful.

What's the point? What was gained?

This fellow used to solicit books and he'd decide whether he should draw them based on the orders they received. The 90-day return policy comics had at the time was used and abused by this individual.

Like I said, I had a friend. And when this friend started spreading lies about me, I made an effort to distance myself from him. He's still a fun guy to talk to, but he's not a person that I'd trust to do anything that he promised to do.

But I get it - as a freelancer it's hard not to lie sometimes.

You start out with the best intentions. You mean to get something in the mail on Monday, but something crops up and then something else does and pretty soon it's the following Monday and it's still not in the mail!

Every month I solicit a comic book, it's with the best intention of getting it out on time. This year has been better than most. Last year was a disaster.

But here's the thing, solicitation copy has to be written months before I draw the comic in question and while I know what I'd like to have happen, I can't say with 100% certainty what will happen in any individual issue. Luckily, for me, my readers have grown to love the surprises I've thrown their way and they are fiercely loyal so sales don't fluctuate a whole lot when a story runs into the next issue or gets ditched entirely. Solicitation copy has ended up being a "best guess" for me, I'm afraid. It's like the weatherman - he can tell you what the weather is "likely to be" the day before it happens, but to really know for sure, you're better off sticking your head outside the next morning.

I try my best, I really do.

I've seen the damage lies can do. I've seen the rise and fall of editors and friends and colleagues. And it's really impossible to keep your story straight time after time once you start up that slippery slope. So I try my best not to lie so I won't have to cover my ass with another lie and eventually paint myself into a corner that I can't get out of. Writing inaccurate solicitations is pretty much the extent of my lying and even then it's never intentional.

And then sometimes folks don't intend to lie or even think they're lying - they just get things wrong and fail to fess up.

For some reason, long forgotten by me, a certain comic book creator made a big stink about having met my "background guy." Now, I've never had a background guy. My studio mate Pete McDonnell helped me draw a motorcycle in one panel years ago, but that's about it. I've used clip art once or twice as well, but I paid for the book that I clipped it from so that's acceptable behavior. The thing is, my backgrounds are, frankly, not that impressive. Why anybody would think I'd pay anyone good money to draw cars this badly is anybody's guess. In any case, this individual claimed to have met my "background guy" at a comic book convention and that this "background guy" had showed his work to those in charge at the con in order to "get in as a professional" or so this fellow claimed.

I couldn't understand why this guy would make such a claim. Did this "background guy" exist? Who could he have been? What evidence could he have possibly produced? Or was this simply a mean-spirited lie concocted by this certain comic book creator in order to make me look bad?

And then it dawned on me.

Savage Dragon was a cartoon. This guy must have drawn backgrounds for the Savage Dragon cartoon and when he said that he drew backgrounds for the Savage Dragon, this grizzled pro assumed that that meant the Savage Dragon comic book. Mystery solved.

Not that this guy would ever admit it.

In addition to the casual liars, the vindictive liars and the habitual liars are those sorts who will insist on "never being wrong." Now, this sort of individual is only fooling himself because eventually they will be proven wrong about something and they'll look and sound pretty ridiculous insisting that Iraq had something to do with 9/11 or that the blue in Spider-Man's outfit, years ago, contained a percentage of yellow in it. Both are, by the way, untrue and insisting that they are true will only make you seem like a ninny - or a liar.

And nobody wants to seem like a liar - not even a liar.

So don't believe everything you hear. Some folks will promise the moon and never deliver. Some folks will spin tales of meeting folks they never met in order to seem as though they're "in the know." Others will just get things wrong. Just because it's in print, it doesn't mean it's the truth.

I've been interviewed dozens of times over the years and I've yet to read a report in a newspaper involving comic books that didn't include at least one glaring misstatement of fact. If these guys can't get a story about comic books right, how are we to trust them when it comes to accurately reporting on politics or other news that impacts everybody? I'm sure they're not intending to lie, but their words get read by millions of readers and those words get repeated as though they're accurate regardless.

I'll do my best to be accurate here. You might not agree with every opinion that I have, but you can rest assured that I'm not going to lie to you. But I still wouldn't bank on my solicitation copy being so precise.

But that's just one fan's opinion. I'm willing to concede that I could be wrong.

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