Life certainly has taken a few interesting turns these past few months. As I'm starting a new job (working from home), my wife has started her own business
(I worked on the website of course), and as new comic opportunities are beginning, one unfinished chapter has been nagging at me for quite some time...
Around the time Fablewood was just hitting store shelves, and my involvement in Popgun was coming to light, I was approached by a writer whose work I admired, and asked if I'd be interested in drawing a kid's comic for him. Now for anyone starting out, this seems like a golden opportunity. You get your name out there, you get tons of exposure, and your just steps away from quitting your day job. Right?
I have to be up front and say that I was never that naive. I loved the idea of having a whole book that I drew up on my shelf. I enjoyed this writer's work, and it would have been great to be involved with a project he was putting together. I had no allusions that I'd be rich and famous making this book. I know for every Walking Dead, there's hundreds of creator-owned books that only make a few issues before folding, if they even get off the ground in the first place.
A pretty common thing new (and old) artists in comics will see is writers approaching them promising half the rights to a creation if they'll just draw the book and get it out there. When the book isn't making any money, this is 50% of nothing. Now, I'm not necessarily against this out and out. There are different situations, different people involved and different factors in all situations. Were you to write, draw, color, and letter your own creation, and it still didn't make a cent, you'd have 100% of nothing. Sometimes, the collaboration can be a learning experience, sometimes having a team to promote something lends some synergy to the project, sometimes the project just sounds awesome. I believe it's your right 100% to be paid for the work that you do, but I also believe that waiving that right or potentially postponing it is well within reason as well. I will always entertain a pitch if it's with people I admire and respect, even if there's no money up front to do so. It's never black and white, as they say.
The other thing I have to be honest about is the fact that I worked slow. Working a day job, and having a semblance of a life means that you don't have time to sit and draw everyday, all day. Some pages can take me 5 hours, some pages can take me 10 hours. If you only have one or two hours spare time at night, well that's a snail's pace. The one thing I have always been, however, is honest about that. Whenever I enter into a new project, I let people know that I'm still working a full-time day job, and that will effect my output. So this project saw about 25 pages completed over the course of 2 years. I wasn't proud of that fact, and I'll own up to that being disappointing. To be fair, about half way through, I started to get the wind knocked out of my sails which may have slowed me down, but I'll get to that later. Recent stresses at my previous job have also been the reason the site hasn't been updated in quite a while. I think that's a fact that's shaped my style a bit. I could work day and night, trying to be as detailed or amazing as Jim Lee, but the fact is I'll never have the time. So I focus on stylizations that are perhaps easier and more natural for me.
So, as this project progressed, it became clear to me that the writer was very put upon. The whole world has conspired against him; all of the talented artists he's worked with have disappointed him, and he'd be a famous writer by now if he didn't have to deal with all the nonsense around him. There was not a pleasant thing to be said about anyone who he was working with at the time, some of them artists I've admired for years. In fact, he had had (and has had since) some pretty public falling outs with artists he's worked with. Now, I'm a huge fan of music, and I've always said that there are artists whose work I'd buy sight unseen, but I'd probably never want to meet them. The art can sometimes be sullied by the personality. That's what happened to me. The idea of completing this project, with someone who didn't seem like he wanted to be there, who didn't have a single encouraging thing to say (I can only imagine what was said about me), was waning. So I manned up, and bowed out, freeing the writer to find someone else to complete the project. Quite a bit of vitriol, and threats of finding some kid out of college who could complete it in three months, and I was free to move on. So I did.
Some time later, as positive press about the writer's other books was coming out, I dropped him a note, asking how things were and congratulating him on everything that was coming out. Again, I always did enjoy his work. What came next shocked me. I was offered a "work for hire" arrangement to move the project forward (something I had just assumed had happened without me). This took the shape of 5% of the movie rights to the project, or $100 to sign over the concepts and character designs I had come up with. I was stunned. First, I couldn't imagine a new artist wanting to come on board and not take a crack at their own designs: I didn't create Spider-Man... these weren't iconic designs, just some people, locales and creatures I was personally proud of. Next, I was insulted. Doing the math again, 5% of nothing is still nothing, and $100 hardly seemed worth it. So I declined, explained I'd rather just hang on to the designs for the creatures etc., and that a new artist would probably be chomping at the bit to start over. A lot of the concepts I came up with actually influenced and changed key moments in the story. I know a lot of artists would love that opportunity.
The response I got was expected, but disappointing none the less. I really hadn't emailed to drudge up all that nonsense again, just to pass on my congratulations. I recognize that passing those designs on would be a great wrap up point and way to allow the work done not to be wasted. However, I took issue with the fact that that work could be so under valued. I offered to discuss a reasonable value for those designs, as well as the concepts I contributed that helped shape the story, but received no response.
I sat on those concepts for over two years. It wasn't until the writer made headlines this past March with some shady Kickstarter practices around another one of his other projects, and that I saw how he had respected that artist (of whom I'm a huge fan), that I decided to put up my concepts, designs and finished work for everyone to see. I can't see why I should let the work I did go to waste, just because of the sour way things went down. I may re-use some of the creature designs I did in future stories. A lot of the design work was done independent of any story elements laid out. It was done more as a world building exercise than as a direct result of the script (of which there was only 10 or so pages at the beginning). I also ran with some concepts based on the ideas of the book, sort of suggestions for locales or characters met along the way.
You can view everything in the comics
section of the website under "Unfinished Comics" (hopefully the only entry going forward), or by clicking here
As I'm moving forward with life, and enjoying the experience, it is nice to get this weight off my chest and some of this work that I've always been proud of out in the open.
Labels: comics, Escalator, the future