On Sunday, 3/3/13, Jerry Ordway, self made legend known for always being on time no matter what, posted a heartfelt, and somewhat disconcerting, essay centering around difficulties he's sustained recently after decades of company loyalty. Jerry is one of the most respected artists in the game, and being a personal fan of his growing up, I still cherish his works in my collection.
As a fan. As a creator, I can't help but notice something more lurking in all this...
Tonight, PLANET GRIFFIN reprints Ordway's post in it's entirety. Consider this is cautionary tale of sorts...
First off, I want you all to understand that I welcome , nourish and encourage new blood in the comic book world. I think it's healthy for any industry, to be welcoming to new talent. When I started in comics, in 1980, many of my artistic heroes were in the same age group I myself am in now. I was thrilled to be in the same club as Jack Kirby, Gil Kane, Gene Colan, Joe Kubert, Curt Swan, John and Sal Buscema, John Romita, Don Heck, Gray Morrow and many many others. They were all valued for their skills, and their experience, and most if not all all worked steadily into their 70's, or until they passed away. (All valued, helped build and maintain the 2 largest industry foundations in the world, and not even a Timex for a retirement gift)
In my own experience, I have worked most of my years for DC Comics, and that was by choice (different mode of thinking back then). The people who worked there were good people, and I still call many of them friend. Like any young artist, I had offers to work elsewhere, and occassionally dipped my toe into other company's ponds, but always came back to DC (Time Warner was ruling the roost at that point in time). At DC, I have had many successes, and opportunities. I was thrilled to help establish the All Star Squadron and Infinity Inc with Roy Thomas. I was thrilled to be part of the original "Crisis" as well as "Zero Hour" and "Infinite Crisis," all major DC character event comics. I was thrilled to help DC share in the success of the 1989 blockbuster "Batman" movie by drawing one of the best selling comic book movie adaptations ever (note that NO residuals were ever given during that time--- just a page rate).
I poured my heart and soul into reviving the character of Superman, working alongside John Byrne and Marv Wolfman at first, later graduating to writing Superman's adventures alongside people who became my best friends. I left the Superman universe at a time when our successes paved the way for a TV series, "Lois and Clark" as well as an unsuccessful attempt to bring the Death of Superman to the big screen with Tim Burton and Nic Cage. Superman as a property was revived, and led to a ton of Death of Superman merchandise, a higher profile in the public eye, and renewed interest among kids. A cartoon series did make it on the air, and was terrific. Smallville the tv series owes a lot to what happened when I was involved in the comics (again, no residuals or bonuses, but then, Ordway didn't wanna do custom art--- like storyboarding, for example) .
I moved on to pouring my soul into reviving Captain Marvel, and it was a wonderful experience that lasted through an original graphic novel, and 48 regular issues of the monthly comic plus an annual. After that, I seemed to suffer from the cancellation of Shazam, and a firing from the Superman books I had been invited back to, before I even started. Bad feelings ensued, and I stopped working for DC.
I returned to DC as well, drawing Wonder Woman with Walt Simonson writing, and then fell into the situation (almost like a 'work for hire' situation) of being a "fill-in" artist, jumping from title to title, sometimes drawing a whole issue or two, sometimes drawing only a partial issue, when the regular artists were either in deadline trouble, or unavailable. I was offered, and accepted an exclusive DC contract (wait for it...) in hopes that this would somehow help me to land a regular assignment, and steady work. After 9 years ( waaaait for it...) of being the guy who was thrown at late deadline material, I was still not any closer to getting regular work, nor was I being treated by the company as a valued employee (Sadly, Ordway was not alone here--- ask the Kirby or Siegel/Shuster heirs). In my last year on exclusive contract, I was starved of work (Boom). Kind of hard to believe, but there it was (Sadder still, he didn't fully entail the contract because he was obviously assured and didn't have to read the fine print).The contract had no clause to require DC to give me a minimum amount of work (the fine print), as this problem never happened in the past, and could have happen, or so I thought at the time (proving the point of knowing and assuming). I drew the last two issues of JSA so that the regular artist could jump onto one of the new "52" comic launches. After that, I spent the summer trying to use whatever connections I had to get work-- any work. I was finally given a short Batman themed story to draw, a story that was never published. Dan Didio kindly invited me to join him on a new Challengers story, and Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Grey asked for me on their Freedom Fighters re-launch. That manifest itself as the now concluding Human Bomb four issue series, done after my contract expired, but promised while the contract was still in effect.
I am thrilled to be well remembered, and respected in the comic book community, and to have fans willing to pay me to draw commissions, but I got into comics in order to tell stories, not to draw custom art (no, custom art is creating something new by design). I still feel vital, and still want to be at that table (In most people's eyes, he's allowing others to sit and make deals at a table he helped build and maintain). Do I think DC comics owes me anything? Yes and no. (At this point, I'd love to hear Alan Moore's rebuttal to such a question. But, y'know...) I understand that no company owes anything that isn't contractually stipulated, but in my heart, I think I deserve better than being marginalized over the last 10 years (Stan Lee is dealing with a similar situation with Disney over Marvel). I'm not retired, I'm not financially independent. I'm a working guy with a family (Amen! So say we all!), working for a flat page rate that hasn't changed substantially since 1995. I may have opportunities at smaller companies, companies that pay less per page than I made in 1988, with no royalties or ownership of any kind (Own up and create). I'm not at all looking down at that, but it is hard to reconcile, as I can't work faster, and refuse to hack my work out to match the rate. I have pride in what I do, and always have (this IS what made Ordway great in the first place) . As to my part in the history of dc for the past 33 years, I was a highly visible and successful part of it, not a minor footnote. (Yet many of the giants of the industry were reduced to that by the end of it all. Yes, they're hailed as Champions by the major industry, but notice that the majors did it only AFTER keeping the royalty, the rights, and pawned the belt!)
Getting back to the beginning of this essay, and to the artists I loved as a kid, all I ask is for some of the same consideration my generation of creators and editors gave to the older guard in the 1980's. My work is still sharp, my mind is still full of stories to tell, and I'm still willing to work all hours of my day to meet my deadlines. Why am I out of work from the publishers? Why are my friends, people who turned in great work, worthy of hardcover and trade paperback reprints, not able to get work? (Here's where their game must change)
As a comic reader and customer, the publishers use our older work in collected editions, for what they call first copy royalties, no reprint fees (Yet the books are ALWAYS reprinted! Regenerable income). They publish the All Star Squadron trade, for example and you buy it for whatever the cost. My royalty is maybe a couple hundred dollars, if I'm lucky, for 11 issues worth of work. On a recent Absolute Infinite Crisis hardcover, I had 30-odd pages reprinted in there, a book that retailed for over a hundred dollars-- a book that DC never even gave me a copy of, and the royalty amounted to a few dollars, I couldn't buy a pizza on that windfall. I want to work, I don't want to be a nostalgia act (many artist's say this near the end. Nostaglia has been the industry's MAIN MARKETING TOOL for years; and the BIGGEST reason why so many artist's still wanna draw Batman and Superman), remembered only for what I did 20, 30 years ago.
Older fans need to voice their opinions (We hear you, Jerry), and ask the various companies why (fill in the blank) person isn't drawing or writing comics for them anymore (It's called a change in style, Jerry. Plus the old guys wouldn't take such garbage since their stamps on most of those characters came first before any of this generation). If you like the Superman books enough to spend a hundred dollars on a volume, I don't understand why your buying power can't wake the companies up to the fact that they have a willing and able talent pool idling (Because after all the arguing, bitching, and moaning, people just want their books on time in a reasonable fashion. The escape, after all, is more fun than dealing with the realities).
Oh and put in a good word or two for me as well, why don't you:)