The Exit Interview: When Disgruntled Creators Speak Their Mind
If you’re a disgruntled creator, the internet in 2010 has several outlets for you to vent your displeasure. Facebook has a personal and private feel, despite being open to several hundred thousand of your closest friends. That illusion of privacy makes it easy to say things you would normally keep to yourself, or only mention in private company, to everyone in the entire world. Twitter is up to two or three meltdowns from comics pros a week at this point (see: the recent Tony Harris flameout), partly because Twitter’s immediate feedback and conversational tone encourages the kind of poorly thought out, sweeping proclamations that can reflect badly on the speaker.
Message boards and interviews, however, are the best delivery system for comics beef. Message boards let creators converse with fans in an informal and usually friendly setting, lowering defenses and increasing a willingness to sometimes spill secrets. Interviews let pent-up anger or stress spill out, sometimes accidentally, and immediately broadcast it to comics fandom at large.
Sometimes venting involves stealth disses, where no names are named, but those who are or were involved in a situation definitely know what’s going on. Other comments are a bit more forward. Creators hit ‘em up, Tupac-style, giving interviews where names are named, called, and dragged through the mud. Full-blown career ending interviews tend to be rare, since the comics industry is still pretty small and full of people with long memories, but occasionally creators feel compelled to put their feelings down in print and start a fire or two.The past couple years has seen a rise in those fires. A number of creators have left the Big Two, meaning Marvel Comics and DC Comics, under less than friendly circumstances. These creators also felt comfortable enough in their career to fire shots back publicly at the company that they felt wronged them. While the two companies have never released a statement about the dismissals and accusations, having several angry ex-freelancers talking about their practices in public likely indicates something going on behind the scenes.
Of course, sometimes the complaints are just silly, such as when Erik Larsen, creator of “Savage Dragon,” told the entire world that letterers and colorists do not deserve royalties. His position is that only writers and artists can have an impact on sales, so they are the only ones who deserve to reap the benefits of good sales. Dave McCaig, Kurt Busiek, and several colorists disagreed with that statement, some vehemently.
But, other times creators may have good reason to tell tales. Colorist Moose Bauman found himself booted from “Flash: Rebirth” early last year with no notice. A couple years before that, Devin Grayson had put eight months of work into developing Batwoman’s ongoing series, only to find out that she’d been kicked off the book by reading the newspaper. John Rogers, co-creator of Jaime “Blue Beetle” Reyes, noted on his blog that the book was cancelled on the night that Blue Beetle appeared on the new Batman cartoon, with some sharp words for the way the comics industry works.
When writer J. Michael Straczynski left “Amazing Spider-Man,” he’d just wrapped up “One More Day,” a story that saw Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson
Parker selling their marriage to the devil to save Aunt May’s life. Fans hated it, and apparently JMS did, too, judging by these comments posted on Newsarama in 2008 after the series wrapped up:
In the current storyline, there’s a lot that I don’t agree with, and I made this very clear to everybody within shouting distance at Marvel, especially Joe. I’ll be honest: there was a point where I made the decision, and told Joe, that I was going to take my name off the last two issues of the OMD arc. Eventually Joe talked me out of that decision because at the end of the day, I don’t want to sabotage Joe or Marvel, and I have a lot of respect for both of those. As an executive producer as well as a writer, I’ve sometimes had to insist that my writers make changes that they did not want to make, often loudly so. They were sure I was wrong. Mostly I was right. Sometimes I was wrong. But whoever sits in the editor’s chair, or the executive producer’s chair, wears the pointy hat of authority, and as Dave Sim once noted, you can’t argue with a pointy hat.
JMS kept his remarks mostly civil, but he makes his position clear: Creators do not own the characters, and the companies do. So, the amount of control you have as a creator is simply the amount of control that someone else is willing to give you. When they say “jump,” your only choice is to say “how high?” or “I quit.” After Joe Quesada gave an interview explaining his side of the story, JMS sent another email to Newsarama, this time saying that “One More Day” was “[...]sloppy. It violates every rule of writing fiction of the fantastic that I and every other SF/Fantasy writer knows you can’t violate.”
JMS isn’t the only creator to have a sour experience when it comes to shepherding characters. Mark Waid’s interview with Ain’t It Cool News is the stuff of legends. He drops bombs regarding how his work on “Legion of Superheroes” was undercut and mismanaged. He stops short of calling it “sabotage,” but if you read between the lines… yeah. He obliterates Mark Alessi, founder of Crossgen, when he calls him “a spoiled eight-year-old with a checkbook, and [...] the biggest bully I’ve ever met in my life.” Here’s an excerpt on his time at DC Comics working on ’52′:
EIC Dan Didio, who first championed the concept, hated what we were doing. H-A-T-E-D 52. Would storm up and down the halls telling everyone how much he hated it. And Steve, God bless him, kept us out of the loop on that particular drama. Siglain, having less seniority, was less able to do so, and there’s one issue of 52 near the end that was written almost totally by Dan and Keith Giffen because none of the writers could plot it to Dan’s satisfaction. Which was and is his prerogative as EIC, but man, there’s little more demoralizing than taking the ball down to the one-yard line and then being benched by the guy who kept referring to COUNTDOWN as “52 done right.”
Ouch. And Waid also spoke on the subject of his brief dismissal from “Fantastic Four” courtesy of Bill Jemas over at Marvel:
Brevoort and I were just gobsmacked by this. Just speechless. And there was no arguing with Bill–he wanted the MUNDANE FOUR because they’d be more “relatable.” BUT–he was the boss, and Marvel owns the characters, not me, so we actually took a stab at trying to give Bill what we thought he wanted without destroying the FF. We planned a story arc in which Reed had been forced to brainwash the entire family, including himself, into this basic scenario for reasons I forget. It was actually a pretty elegant workaround–I can’t remember the details, but I promise it was better than it sounds–but Bill decreed that it was too little, too late (three days later was “too late”) and one Friday, poor Brevoort called me to tell me that I didn’t have to bother with the next script because Bill had already written it himself and had dropped it on his desk. I was fired. I had never been fired off an assignment before. I was stunned. Artist Mike Wieringo was asked if he’d stick around, but in a gesture I thanked him for till the day he died, he told Jemas to take a hike.
When Waid and Mike Wieringo’s exit from “Fantastic Four” was announced, the comics side of the internet cracked in half. They were in the middle of a high-profile and extremely well-received run, one of the best since the original Stan Lee/Jack Kirby comics, and no one well no one but Bill Jemas, liked the idea that they would be replaced.
Writer Dwayne McDuffie had a similarly high profile firing from “Justice League of America” after discussing the problems he ran into with editorial. He was open and frank about the issues on DC’s own forums for a couple of years, until DC noticed and kicked him off the book. Later, when talking about the aftermath of his firing, McDuffie said that DC Comics “never really wanted to publish the Milestone stuff, they wasted my time.” They wanted to get Static from “Static Shock,” instead. From still another post:
DC has also given the go ahead to a major project about their black characters and their place in the DCU, but I’m no longer sure I want to do it as I’m increasingly concerned about their posture on racial matters. I hope I’m wrong.
The book about DC’s black characters has yet to surface, but regardless, McDuffie is gone, and the two issues of “Milestone Forever” were altered without his knowledge and for no immediately apparent reason.
Sean McKeever went from the go to guy for quality writing about teenagers to the head writer for DC Comics’s “Teen Titans” during a series of increasingly dire stories. Last week, he talked about his experiences for the first time, saying:
I’m not a big fan of airing dirty laundry, but I figure a year’s gone by so I can say a little bit more.
You’ll note that a couple issues are listed with an altered credit for me; that’s because my approved-and-drawn scripts were altered by other parties to my dissatisfaction.
Then there’s “Deathtrap”, which wasn’t anything I was at all interested in writing, outside of the opportunity to do a crossover with TITANS and work with Marv. The story wasn’t ours from the get-go. (I was initially only set to write the one TT issue of the story but then I was asked to come over to TITANS and write the bulk of the crossover.)
Add to that that the book had 4 editorial teams in my 22 issues, and other “creative differences” that I won’t get into here, and you get a fairly good idea.
Since leaving DC and returning to Marvel, McKeever’s done the “Nomad: Girl Without A World” miniseries, a backup featuring that same character, and is about to launch “Young Allies,” another series that looks pretty good. “Teen Titans” is still riddled with depressing stories about dead teens. Just sayin’.
Let’s keep it on the Marvel side of the street again for a minute and talk about Jim Shooter. He began writing for DC Comics at the tender age of 14. Twenty-six years later, he became the Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics, and began a run that saw an unprecedented amount of creativity, quality, and sheer anger at Jim Shooter. He ruled Marvel with an iron fist, so to speak, but oversaw the Chris Claremont/John Byrne “Uncanny X-Men” and the Frank Miller/Klaus Janson “Daredevil.” Come 1987, Shooter began arguing with Marvel’s upper management over whether creators deserved royalties and other issues. Eventually, he was fired. He went off and formed Valiant, in part because no one would hire him. Years later, he was given the boot from there, too.
Jim Shooter recently returned to the series that gave him his big break, “Legion of Superheroes.” After a somewhat rocky run on the title, he gave a 2008 interview with Comic Book Resources that detailed exactly what went wrong on his run. Shooter on Francis Manapul, the artist on his run:
As soon as Francis groks what business he’s in – storytelling – as soon as he realizes that conveying the story and information clearly, at a glance, is first priority, he’ll be a contender. It’s not just about making cool shots that vaguely relate to what was asked for in the script. It’s about thinking things through until you can come up with just-as-cool shots that effectively deliver all the content required; about making the visual storytelling ‘read’ effortlessly. Francis is incapable of drawing a dull picture, so if he ever really grasps the importance of the story and science of storytelling, he’s going to be a hall-of-famer.
That statement is half-throwing Manapul under a bus and half-complimenting him, isn’t it? While it’s mean, Shooter is a real judge of talent, so the compliment buried under all of that much is probably a genuine one.
More recently, Mark Millar took to the internet last month to complain about a new Marvel event. When Marvel announced that the X-Men were going to be fighting, and possibly turned into, vampires this summer, Millar asked if Marvel had “[...]just swiped my upcoming “‘Vampire X” arc?” This controversy was relatively short-lived, however, as Millar soon calmed down and spoke to people at Marvel, instead of the internet. His complaint holds no water anyway, as Funnybook Babylon’s Chris Eckert proved in a particularly pointed post about vampires and superheroes.
One of the other latest, and possibly greatest exit interviews, is Joe Casey’s interview with Comic Book Resources’s Tim Callahan. Several months ago, in an interview with Steve Sunu, Casey expressed shock that his run on “Superman/Batman” was going to have an “Our Worlds at War Aftermath” trade dress. That spoke to a disconnect and something fishy going on behind the scenes. When Callahan followed up, Casey pulled no punches from the first answer onward:
Yeah, that wasn’t the best time I’ve ever had writing at DC. Far from it, actually. Well, I should amend that…the writing itself was good fun. The published product, especially the last issue, not so much. I’ve never denied my love of those characters, I know how to write them, but that whole thing ended up being quite the debacle beyond anything I could control. I’ll certainly survive, but I do feel bad for some of the people involved, not the least of which being the readers of that series. They deserved better than what they ultimately got. Then again, so did I. But, what can I say, I was just the writer-for-hire. And barely that, in this particular case. If nothing else, it really helped to point me back in the direction I need to be aimed in right now… which is full-on, creator-owned work.
He talks about art troubles, how his “Superman/Batman” run was “mangled,” why event comics tend toward the uncreative, and how he handed DC a golden concept that they just sat on. Casey later says that he wrote a full script for the final issue of his “Superman/Batman” run, but that the latter half of the published issue was written by someone else entirely. He describes his experience on “Superman/Batman” as “getting jerked around by some editor at a big publisher,” but maintains that he doesn’t take it personally.
The reason why he doesn’t take it personally is the same reason why everyone I’ve mentioned thus far has felt comfortable speaking out. They have other sources of income. McDuffie and Casey are sleeping on beds packed full of “Ben 10″ dollars. Waid is the Editor in Chief of Boom! Studios and part of Marvel’s “Amazing Spider-Man” brain trust. McKeever was handed an ongoing series less than a year after returning to Marvel, along with several one-shots. They have nothing to lose by tweaking someone’s nose.
It’s terrible that these creators went through situations that made them feel like they had to speak out, and while they may be telling tales out of school, isn’t it better that somebody know what’s happening behind the scenes? While staying silent might be considered more professional, shouldn’t there be some kind of accountability for when people are wronged? Actual people make the comics go round, so shouldn’t they be treated with respect — even if they insist upon it publicly?