Monday, May 07, 2012

The Lot of the Comic Artist...

Art and respect outside of comics...

Hi Everyone,

There is a world outside of comicbooks, honest...

I thought I would be a little controversial with my opening comment here today, for which the reasons will hopefully become apparent, as the tale progresses. This is especially so as the coming words seem to express the exact opposite of my current career position. 

I originally wrote this Blog a couple of years ago after I was involved in a series of conversations on a forum on the internet and although it was a broad subject, it contained some of the subject matter, which I have broached in my Blogs since I started writing them. I had intended on publishing this particular Blog as a result of those conversations an age ago, but the machinations of the previous two year’s events conspired against me doing so before now, until I had managed to proof-read it.

The conversations between several comics professionals and myself covered lots of ground during the time we spent in them. Some of the discussions covered positive aspects to the business, whilst others were not so. There are some home truths here in this Blog and I have chosen not to pull punches, but I have elected not to name and shame, the damage is done to those in the industry that will appreciate these words and also maybe there will be some folks that hear of this Blog and see the words and recognise themselves as guilty as charged, but somehow I doubt that will even occur to such folks.

Ask most folks inside of the business and you will hear the countless nightmare stories of artists (pencillers/inkers/colourists), writers, and letterers waiting for jobs to come along and then getting insane deadlines because folks had sat on the jobs, late payments, just because creative folks were looked on as last in line for payment (at best), and sometimes even a cut in pay from the start of a job, because the publisher hadn't made as much as they wanted/expected, etc.

Pieces of artwork, numbering in the hundreds, if not in the thousands (per artist in question) that have never been returned to the rightful creators and sadly there are many artists that can lay claim to this fact applying to themselves. This artwork not being returned due to the facts that either it was not the policy of the said publisher to return artwork (despite having already received artwork from them in the past), or having them mysteriously disappear into the aether – you may argue the semantics of that last one, some call it theft.

Stories of editors that looked at portfolios and asked for the entire contents to be sent through to their office, as not just they, but their colleagues would definitely be impressed enough to give the artists in question work reverberate throughout the halls of freelance-land. Back in the day before the internet this meant a costly exercise in copying and posting heavy packages and which usually proved a fruitless and expensive exercise in which the editor(s) saw no benefit and saw fit to ignore any amount of follow up letters, answer-phone messages, messages left with colleagues, or at reception, and later on with emails. The only thing it served to do was to circulate the industry like a virus, with distrust of certain editors and as a consequence a dent to their credibility.

The above served no purpose, except to perhaps feed their ego in some inane way, as comics creators sought favour with them, baring their souls to them whilst they did so.

There is also the practise with seasoned professionals, not just those wishing to break into the profession, who are forced – through the nature of the beast that is the comics industry - to produce “free gratis” samples without recompense, or indeed the sure knowledge that any work would lead from their production. My question is if the professionals in question are already capable artists can the editors not make a judgement about whether the artist is indeed capable? If a comic artist can draw then they can draw anything, they have to, in order to keep working in the business. If a comic artist can draw sequentially and at speed and to deadline then surely they are worth their weight in gold? In no other profession would you be asked to show a sample of your skills to obtain work.

Even in book publishing, cover samples are covered in the price. In other words you may do four to six sample covers in rough and the publisher/editor chooses one to be worked up as a final one and that is covered in the price of the cover. Whereas in comics even trying to get the work even for folks having worked in comics for 25 years and above they have to “try out” for each subsequent book and that means producing samples for free, which in most cases amount to nothing, except inordinate amounts of sample pages in portfolios.

My take on this for years has been to all professionals – if you have to the time to produce your samples for free on books you know in your heart-of-hearts you will not get then why not just produce your own work, for your own books?

Like I said in an earlier Blog some time ago, can you imagine calling a plumber and asking him to fit some radiators, only to stop him after the first one and say you don’t think his work is right for you and then to do the same all throughout the house until it is finished with other plumbers? Or testing a loaf in a baker’s until you find the one you like...? I think not.

Woe betide those who saw fit to gain employment with other publishers too, whilst the famine from one publisher existed, even though that may last for several months, or longer. Tales of loyalty on both sides are rife in the comics industry. On the one hand a comics creator is expected to wait idly by whilst work is not forthcoming and bills are mounting and yet a publisher is not required to give any reason for why work may suddenly dry up for a comics creator. Tales of questions of loyalty against the creator with no work from publisher ‘X’ who gains work from publisher ‘Y’, when neither publisher ‘X’ nor ’Y’ show any loyalty to that same creator abound in the industry and not many folks have not been victim to this kind of act.

These were not the only reasons for thinking no other job, except a replacement in the creative fields would ever expect the balance to be so out of kilter. There were and still are other embellishments too, but one thing is certain in the industry, not many deem it fit to be outspoken about such working conditions for fear of reprisals against such thoughts – after all if work can dry up for no reason at all, daring to discuss it, or worse still criticise it are tantamount to sacrilege in the hallowed halls of comicdom. In fact it is almost like looking at a precursor of the PC brigade’s tactics.

One of the reasons I, myself, got out of comics in 1999 was to get a better quality of life and to stop putting Margaret and the kids through the habitual garbage that came from working in comics. Please note here that I will not name any companies and will also add that some were brilliant to work for and little if any of the following are either relevant, or pertain to those companies. The only company I will mention as to not being a part of these criticisms for certain was Defiant, who in every way proved to me that the comic industry did not have to screw around with people’s lives, nay, good people’s lives, in any way to make a profit.

As soon as I did leave comics behind I noticed three things right away that were different from my time working in them, something, which my fellow professionals have heard me say a great many times throughout the years.

Those changes were:
  • The money was suddenly many times better, which was a massive change
  • I was suddenly allowed, indeed expected, to use my imagination and not just act as a pencil and/or pen for any number of writers/editors who couldn’t draw, like an extension to their hand/arm
  • The respect for what I could do was also suddenly far more apparent, in every way.
Now, because of the money, I was able to afford to sit back and spend normal amounts of quality time with my family. Immediately everyone saw a difference in me. Suddenly I was there all the time (although maybe they hated that, but just didn’t say...LOL). I didn’t need to draw and create things outside of the regimented hours of work, which in most cases were glorified office hours. Okay, I worked longer than necessary, but that was through choice and noticing that setting off earlier and later to the studios was far better, as I missed all the traffic jams at peak times.

There were no insane hours being worked, for less and less pay as the years rolled on. No begging for monies owed, making one feel like a pauper literally begging for money and feeling also like it was something, which the client was doing as a favour to you.

There was a salary, which miraculously appeared every month in your bank account and the money was such that you felt like every weight of stress, fear and worry was taken away, replaced by an ability to live outside the use of credit cards, etc. There was suddenly no worry as to if you would be paid, you didn’t need to contemplate whether there was money being paid into the account; it just did.

I was also more productive and began to feel great about the stuff I was now creating – this was why I had chosen to work in comics in the first place, but in the end I felt let down when I wasn’t allowed to express myself in any way whatsoever. The trouble was the medium was too constrictive between the times that I started and when I got out. I felt confined beyond reckoning with the constant dumbing down of content during my time in comics. It just went increasingly worse over that period. It also didn’t help at all when some of the editors despised their jobs and their creative teams more.

Now anyone that knows me will be aware I am totally up for creating all-ages comics, as they used to be, but I do not advocate the dumbing down of comics for kids, until here in the UK we cannot truly say we produce comics anymore, at least not in any quantity. Most of the stuff of recent years has been puzzle and features based, etc and even those are dumbed down.

I cannot understand the mindset, which delivers dumbed down content to kids with such a visually advanced expectance of quality through the DVD’s, 3D animation, high quality 2D animation, video games and all the high tech designed toys within their reach nowadays. This is shown for what it is when we look at stuff published back in the fifties and sixties (with a progressively active dumbing down process throughout this period to the present) which is far superior in content, illustrative quality and writing quality too, which seems to be strange when the visual stimulus was provided only by the comics, themselves, along with the books and the films shown at the movies and the limited children’s times on TV, of the era, which at best where primitive with all the wires and such.

How can anything less than the above be expected to work with the kids of today with all the high-end visual stimulus that bombards their cerebral cortex every day. To think it can be shows exactly why the industry is failing on almost every level in the UK and US markets.

I have to add here none of the above paragraph I hold as the responsibility of the creative teams, but with the publishers/editors.

As I said in my opening, this Blog was originally written a while ago and in fairness there appear to be a small number of new licensed children’s comics on sale just now, so there is cause for optimism at the moment again. So for me the jury is out…

My time in theme park conceptualisation served me in good stead for when I was headhunted to work in the animation world. This would have been too huge a gap to leap, if I had gone straight from the constrictive world of comic books at the time. That statement alone would have astounded me to hear, back when I aspired to work in comics as an art student, with its implications. Comics were the perfect vehicle to just let your imagination, unique to each artist and indeed writer, be unleashed, just like Jack Kirby et al had. Sadly that was suddenly not the case.

In both the arenas of theme parks and animation the respect I received was incredible. No one looked down on the abilities you were bringing to the table and everyone was listened to. As lead artist/designer that was even more apparent. I am not one of those guys that needs his ego stroking at every turn, but just hearing someone appreciate the time and effort and the creativity you have shown served to both make one feel appreciated and good inside as well as feeling more confident in one’s abilities and therefore better equipped mentally to produce faster, better, and be generally more productive and far more creative.

However, despite all the above it was when I was between projects and looking at what I wanted to do again that I decided it was comics, my first love, that really made me happy, but how to do this certainly without stepping back into the same old rat race? I had started to re-edit a novel, something I dropped at length in favour of looking at a concept I had created back in the mid/late eighties, which would eventually become my current priority one project.

It was whilst I was working on a few different TV projects that I was approached by three different clients all on the same day. I had been out that morning and upon arriving back at the studio listened to three messages on the answer phone. To cut a longer story short (thank God, I hear you all cry) one was the RSPB and wanted me to quote on a large format digitally coloured job. I had never quoted on computer colour before so contacted my great friend and editor-in-chief (at the time) James Hill and asked him what his company had to pay out to the computer colourists that they used.

James told me and then asked me if I was looking for work and I told him no, especially not in comics and this was despite my working on the script and characters for my graphic novel. James, however wasn’t taking no for an answer and I was asked to look at a script, or two for a set of comic characters for an original humour comic, written by Pat Kelleher, whom I always enjoyed (and still do) working with – well coaxed into checking it out that was the decider for me and I did some work for James for a while on Thor Losers and Sgt Minor for Lucky Bag Comic – returning to draw Hot Wheels a few years ago too.

It was at this same time when James “cajoled” me into returning to comics with the humour stuff, as I say, that I was working on developing a series of graphic novels, using a concept I had created and originally written the synopsis for and designed the characters for in the eighties. It was just something to do, on the side between projects, as the kids were now older and pretty much doing their own thing. James and I have laughed many times about this since. He either ruined me, or helped to make my mind up - I’ll leave that for the jury to ponder...

I needed a vehicle to create the books within, however, and I knew that no one in the mainstream (I hate that word) would even look at it, so I looked at the possibility of becoming the publisher too, something I had always intended to do, if ever the opportunity arose, from being a kid – I always saw me having my own version of Marvel, etc... LOL.

The only trouble for me for the past five years has been the inordinate amount of time taken up by the Wizards Keep project, which has seen a return to the working of insanely long hours, but this time with a difference.

Now at least I am in control of what I am producing and all the set up and business stuff from the inception back in 2005 has lead me to today and now it finds me working pretty much exclusively on Worlds End at last. The business side of things took over, as it had to in order for the project to work. The networking, emails, graphic design, meetings, speaking to suppliers, buying in of product and equipment, lecturing, working for other clients, etc, etc now need to take more of a side step for me to enable me to finish off the digital paints and graphic design and finally produce the graphic novel series. With the first book published I can move forwards more confidently.

During the conversations, which inspired this issue of my Blog one guy said something, which I feel was right when he said that just as I have done with my company, this is the way forward for us as creative people within the comic book field, certainly if you wish to create new worlds and characters – for me it was the only choice I needed to consider. It took a massive amount of money though, to achieve, that and the support of my wife, Margaret, my kids, Joanne and Simon, my Mum and Dad, my best friend, Paul, my friend and accountant, John, and the indispensable moral support of John Ridgway, as well as other members of my close family and friends, if only in their abilities to act as sounding boards in most cases, is something I am grateful for.

There are also the colleagues that have worked with me on projects since 2005, John Ridgway, Joe Rubinstein, Yel Zamor, Frank Zigarelli, Sean Green, Jeff Meckley, Choi Chow, Albert Deschesne, James Hill, Rob Sharp and all the many suppliers, printers and background folks that have helped me to get this far.

The reason for this post, which, as I promised the fellow professionals in the conversations I have enlarged and used for this Blog, I think is just to say that those guys are correct in assuming that the guys we have aspired to be as good as were also in the position of being chained to their typewriters and drawing boards, earning far less money than they deserved. There is, however, the potential for massive amounts of money to be made, ask the suits at the big publishers.

The one thing I want everyone to know is that despite my own experiences of the bad side of publishing and that of  my fellow colleagues, some of whom have had horrendous times, far worse than I, nothing has made me lose my love for the medium, my heroes and their work, which as served to inspire me over the years (some of whom nowadays I regularly speak to on FaceBook, etc) or the love of the new work I continue to find and look at for the first time and get that same buzz that I did as a kid.

In other words my return to the art of sequential storytelling is as fresh and exciting to me as it was when I first saw my first comic, when I had my first Harrier Comics work published in 1983, when my first story was sent into and published by Marvel in 1984 in Mighty World of Marvel issue #14, when my first Transformers story inking Barry Kitson was published in 1985, when my first commissioned work for Marvel, Zoids saw print in get the picture.

There is a difference, as I have said though and that is controlling the projects and the wonderful feelings that only come along when you are being truly creative. Now at last I am creating the worlds I have wanted to create since I first decided on my career path, after seeing the work of Jack Kirby as an eight-year-old kid.

Whether digital publishing will be the saving grace for us all, is out to debate, as we could just be looking at an exchange of corporations, The digital-based publishers and the like merely replacing the print-based publishers. I just hope the same lack of creative freedom is not the result of any such change

That would be such a shame.

The only worry for me in this is that this is business after all and in business the creative is open to abuse. 

I have to admit that the additional clout of turning up as a suited director/owner of a company commands far more respect than it would if I turned up as the writer/illustrator and yet the madness of it all is; it is the fact I am creating the stuff, which gains folk’s respect, so go figure that one – same guy different garb. It’s just like putting on a superhero costume...LOL.

I want to add here that things are remarkably different in Europe, where respect for the creators from both the publishers and the general public far outweighs that of the UK and US. The spectrum of genres is more far-reaching too. One can see an obvious love of the medium for all concerned including the publishers.

If nothing else I hope this Blog will serve to get your collective creative juices going. In other words don’t let the situation grind you down, be willing to take a chance in a slightly different direction artwork wise and be patient.

If you have worked in the business and feel let down and disillusioned, if you have worked in the business and had success working on characters created in the past by our heroes, if you have never been published before but want it so bad it hurts, then do it. Create new worlds, new stories, new characters, new formats, new media, but at least CREATE!

Things are changing and I am seeing more and more folks trying my chosen route. The Worlds End graphic novels are now my priority and now at last with it finally out there in the real world I can see whether the past five years have been worth the sacrifices.

The support from the fans out there and my fellow comics creators is more than positive and makes me feel all the more excited about the future releases. For me it has been a baptism of fire and I can now get on with volume II; for you guys it will mean you will get a chance to continue to see something different from me, something no one has ever seen me do before and hopefully it will mean enough to bring you back for more.

This Blog is meant to be a positive look at the changes afoot as you read it.

Back in the early 60s when the Marvel, as we know it today, was formed out of the ashes of the old Timely Comics it ushered in changes – much needed changes to escape the confines of the stale and the stuffy.

Today it is long overdue and the changes are being made, slowly, but surely.

People don’t like change in the main, but another word for change is progress and that progress has taken mankind from the caves to the stars.  

My next Blog will look at a growing number of comics creators doing their own thing. The changes have started and there is a shift in publishing as a result.

Anyone wishing to take a chance with self-publishing please feel free to get in touch for a chat. If I can help, I will, but it may take a while before you receive a reply, all I ask is a little patience. In the meantime continue to create your own new worlds and I’ll hopefully see your book out on the shelves too.

Until next time, have fun!

Tim Perkins…
May 7th 2010

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