This was originally in the comments thread of a 2009 post about Marvel publishing Marvelman/Miracleman. Considering how many comics readers are unaware or uninformed of the history and details of Marvel and DC’s abuse of creator rights, I thought it deserved its own post.
The history of the “Big Two,” is a history of lies, betrayals and broken promises. It’s very easy today to say “maybe he should have had the insight not to have worked with them in the first place,” about Alan Moore and a thousand other creators who have been screwed, blewed and tattooed (as Mom used to say), but the fact of the matter is that it’s far more complex than that, and if you truly have an interest in the subject, then you owe it to yourself to do some research.
Just one example, relevant to this post: Are you aware that, prior to Watchmen, no superhero graphic novel (and there were few enough of those anyway) was ever kept permanently in print? And that DC’s contract with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons said that the rights to the work would revert to Moore and Gibbons once the book had (as all superhero graphic novels had in the past) gone out of print?
Then the work proved to transcend all previous precedent, and instead of keeping with the spirit of the written contract (there was absolutely NO historical reason at the time not to think Moore and Gibbons would not be given ownership of the work under this contract: it’s what Moore and Gibbons AND DC all expected to happen), the company kept the book in print, so far, quite permanently. To the extent that that goes, that’s understandable enough; it’s a hugely popular work. Where DC falls down in this example is in not somehow compensating Moore and Gibbons for the unexpected success of the work that changed the conditions under which the contract was written. Legally, of course, DC had the right to do what they wanted. But from a business and ethical standpoint, what they did was monumentally stupid: They permanently soured Moore on working for them (through this and many other actions — look up the “promotional” Watchmen watches, or the pulping of an issue of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, or the Tomorrow Stories story that Top Shelf had to publish because DC didn’t have the courage — which I believe is how Moore ended up there; anyway, LOOK STUFF UP AND FIND OUT FOR YOURSELF).
Dig out some old Comics Journals, Google creators rights, read some interviews with the injured parties, find out for yourself what those of us who have been watching the industry for decades are talking about.
Find out what happened to Marv Wolfman when he made a claim to ownership of Blade. Find out how vague and meaningless the idea of “Copyright,” in comics was, especially prior to 1974. Do you know about the back-of-paycheck agreements the companies made creators sign in order to get paid? Did you know some of them regularly crossed it out, because they didn’t agree with it? I could go on all day.
A lot of injustice and malfeasance has been committed by corporate comics companies against the very people who make it possible for them to exist, but if the readers who enjoy their product would make an effort to understand the long and thorny history of corporate comics and creators rights, maybe those readers would think twice about blindly supporting the large corporations that have done so much harm to the people who created the very product in question.
— Alan David Doane
This was originally in the comments thread of a 2009 post about Marvel publishing Marvelman/Miracleman. Considering how many comics readers are unaware or uninformed of the history and details of Marvel and DC’s abuse of creator rights, I thought it deserved its own post.
Lance Parkin has written the definitive biography of Alan Moore in the thick new hardcover Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore, published by Aurum Press. Moore is one of the most celebrated figures in the history of comics, and many good books already exist that explore the man’s life and works. So I was pleasantly surprised to find how much insight and nuance Parkin brings to the subject.
Alan David Doane: Magic Words paints as complete and objective a picture of Alan Moore’s career as I have yet read, and I’ve been fascinated with the man and his work since around the time his Swamp Thing began here in the States. Tell me how immersing yourself so completely in his works, his life and his worldview has affected you as a writer and as a human being.
Lance Parkin: Thank you. I’ve also been following Moore’s work since the dawn of his career. And you’re right to identify that a project like this will affect me as a writer and the way I see the world. Scrutinising his life, I see parallels with mine. He had a very similar upbringing to my father. Moore and I have written a lot of stories set in shared universes. He’s British but married to an American.
Writing a biography makes you think about how your own biography would read, makes you realise that it would be a story, not a life. I’m not summing up the full life of a human being in 400 pages, I’m providing a narrative, one that’s hopefully insightful and sees things from a few interesting angles.
And his career begs interesting questions about any type of professional writing. When do you compromise? What fights are worth having? What’s important? What’s fair? These aren’t questions with easy answers, or necessarily the same answers in all circumstances. Alan Moore has always gone bold. Never accepted laziness or mediocrity in himself or others. Which isn’t to say that everything he’s done is 100% perfect in every way. But he’s never gone ‘oh, people are just buying it for the logo or because they already like the character’. He knows that a certain number of people – enough to make any project viable – will buy anything with his name on it. He’s taken that as licence to produce weird, new things, not cruise along singing his greatest hits.
You go to great lengths to explore Moore’s interest in and practice of magic, starting with his announcement that he was becoming a magician and then looking at how Moore’s magical worldview has informed his work ever since. How do you view the impact this development had on Moore’s writing?
I’m going to be honest, I’m not in any sense a spiritual or mystically-minded person myself. That’s not to say I dismiss or mock anyone who is, least of all Alan Moore, but writing that chapter was more like a mapping expedition than me preaching the gospel. My instinct is to dismiss it, to note that if you take hallucinogenics, you’re going to hallucinate. My ultra-rationalist interpretation says more about me than Alan Moore, though.
When Moore says ‘magic’ he usually means something most people would call ‘creativity’, or a gift of expression, of art affecting the way we experience the world. He’s summed it up as saying that art does all the things magic spells are meant to – want someone to fall in love with you? Write them a love poem. Want to conjure up a million pounds? Write Watchmen.
I find it very easy to gloss ‘magic’ as a strategy for Moore to shake up his writing techniques. Writing’s all about finding new ways to say things, or it should be, and it’s easy to fall into self-parody, to find yourself repeating yourself. Moore’s got a system to avoid that.
At the same time, there’s clearly more to it. Like Philip K Dick and others before him, Moore’s had mystical experiences that he can’t get his mind around, least of all describe in words. There’s something deeply personal – unique – in his head, it’s clearly something he believes. He, more than anyone, appreciates how silly it sounds. I do not have the gift of telepathy, and I’m humble enough to admit that if Alan Moore can’t find the words, it would be a fool’s errand for me to try. My arch rationalist side looks at the stuff he’s produced under the influence, and concludes that whatever he’s on, it seems to be working.
Promethea is gaudy, convoluted and based on a philosophy that seems to be the direct opposite of the way the real world functions to the point at times it insults reason? Well, yes, but if we’re counting so’s Captain America.
Moore’s iconoclastic personality and powerful ethical philosophy has led to his falling out with some publishers and colleagues, and yet other relationships creatively and business-wise have continued for many years. What do you believe is ultimately the deciding factor in whether a creator or publisher is able to stay simpatico with Moore and work with him again and again over time?
Trust him, and - for the love of all that’s holy - hope that he doesn’t lose trust in you.
Personally, I believe in editors. I’ve been lucky to have a handful of great editors, starting with my first, Rebecca Levene at Virgin Books and including Sam Harrison who edited Magic Words, who understood my books better than I did, who could read a manuscript and find things already in there I hadn’t seen, to help me draw those things out and polish them up. I see editors as being a cox or a boxing coach. Their job – at the creative stage, this is, which is the bit I see - is to make my book the best possible expression of my vision. Not to help throw the punches, but to get me to direct my punches more forcefully and accurately.
I think Moore sees editors completely differently. This isn’t an analogy he’s ever used, but I think he sees them as more like gallery owners, something like that. He’ll bring the completed work, their job is to provide a great space to display it to best advantage and to sell the tickets. He’ll do the art, they’ll do the business. And if a painter shows up to a gallery and discovers that the owner has altered one of the pictures even slightly or is selling postcards of it when the painter asked him not to, then that painter would be perfectly within their rights to never put on a show at that gallery again and to loudly and frequently express his displeasure. Particularly if the gallery never gave him his paintings back, like they said they would.
The way to reconcile those two models is just thinking of it in terms of a good editor being someone who has respect for the artist, and an understanding that a writer has made artistic choices and made those specific choices for a reason.
I was delighted to see you used a quote from my own 2004 interview with Alan Moore (available in Avatar’s Yuggoth Cultures trade paperback or download the MP3 version here) as part of what had to be an exhaustive research process. As I said earlier, I’ve been following Moore and his work since the early 1980s, and feel a great appreciation for his body of work and admiration for the ethical stances he’s taken over the years. I will say that as a writer about comics, seeing Moore’s side on ethical issues has often led to disagreements between myself and members of what I’ll politely call “comics fandom.” The acceptance of Before Watchmen by comics as a business and a culture for me was a real breaking point, in that I felt the utter wrongness of DC and the creators who worked on the project should have been roundly rejected and reviled by every thinking human being, and the fact that didn’t happen really made me want to distance myself from comics as a whole. While you present the issue fairly, I have to ask, what are your thoughts as far as what the existence of Before Watchmen mean for comics as an industry and a culture?
Yeah, there are a number of distinct issues and perspectives, there. Deep breath …
Alan Moore is hardly the greatest victim the comics industry has seen. I’m a freelance writer, and the idea of having a book in print for twenty five years, selling two million plus copies, on a 4% royalty, with a big movie version … I’d take that deal. (That said, when I interviewed him for Magic Words, Moore told me he wasn’t entitled to anything from Before Watchmen). I think in his specific case, the issue is that Watchmen started life as a creator-owned, self-contained thing. It makes it different from Superman or Iron Man – which were not stories, they were characters, designed to have a tale that grows in the telling. What’s a fair way to treat creators and their estates when it’s fifty or seventy five years later and those characters are global multimedia brands in their own right? It’s an interesting question, but not quite the same question raised by Watchmen.
Was Before Watchmen a conscious attempt to shift Watchmen from an authored work to being a much more nebulous ‘brand’, like Batman and Superman? Was the plan to be able to say ‘oh, there’s more to Watchmen than Alan Moore, he’s just one of the writers’? I don’t know. Whatever the case, Before Watchmen seemed to miss the main selling point of the original series, which was that you could just buy one book and read it, and that was that. And that it mattered who wrote and drew it.
I didn’t read Before Watchmen beyond a couple of preview pages, but I really don’t think ill of the writers and artists for taking a high profile gig. They made some comics, it’s not like they played Sun City.
I admit I felt the same way you felt there, though, that it was a step too far. ‘Breaking point’ is about right. It wasn’t the first blow. I’m a DC man through and through, but the New 52 is just too monotone and po-faced for me. Raising the prices and cutting the pages just means comics are terrible value for money. The other day I was reading a comic with my headphones on and got through a comic in less time than it took to listen to one song. It worked out at about $1.50 a minute. And, sorry, but as entertainment products go, that’s more than the going rate for a Pink Floyd concert. And, you know, I’m 42 years old, perhaps it’s healthy that I’m not all that bothered who the Joker’s Daughter is or about the final fate of the Blue Lanterns. I’m quite prepared to concede it’s my problem, not DC’s. At the same time, I love Mind Mgmt, East of West is great, I found Battling Boy utterly thrilling (and can’t wait to re-read THB next year). I love what David Liss is doing with The Spider. I can go back and endlessly re-read the Wolfman/Perez Titans or Nemesis the Warlock or Luther Arkwright and it’s not purely because of nostalgia. I still like good comics.
Eight Before Watchmen series, or whatever it was, a dollar more than regular comics, one a week for six months, just seemed like an unusually blunt cash grab. It felt like something the marketing department came up with. Yes, all comics are designed to entice me to part with my money. They’re usually a little more subtle than that, though. I don’t want to be fed an endless supply of Watchmen, I want to be fed an endless supply of challenging, well-made comics.
The ‘fandom’ reaction baffled me. I mean, obviously, it’s a subset of fans, it’s not all comics readers speaking with one voice. And internet debate polarises and exaggerates. There was a strain of fan almost gleeful that Alan Moore didn’t want it to happen. Is that tribal loyalty to DC? If pressed, I’d say I had tribal loyalty to DC. But there were people who were going ‘yeah, right, this’ll stick it to Alan Moore’. And … stick what? Again, I can’t speak for him, but he didn’t seem angry about it, it was more that he thought Before Watchmen was a little sad.
I think it comes down to ownership – I think fans believe they have some sort of stake. You see that around V for Vendetta a lot. A lot of readers have taken the politics of the book and the (different!) politics of the movie to heart. So when Alan Moore says the movie script sucked and he doesn’t have the graphic novel in the house any more, to those fans it sounds like he’s saying he rejects them as human beings. I don’t know. I think it’s common across a lot of fandoms. I think ‘Star Trek fan’, ‘Star Wars fan’, ‘Doctor Who fan’, these are functionally the equivalent of ethnicities at this point, in the sense that it can be at the core of how some people identify. I’m 3/8ths Scottish. I don’t feel Scottish, I don’t feel the urge to return to the Highlands every seven years to mate. I am a Doctor Who fan. I would be a very different person, with a different career and social circle if I’d never been one. And it sounds silly to say that, it sounds like I’m trivialising, but something like comics demands an investment of time, of money, of intellectual energy, you need somewhere to store all those boxes. But it provides a common culture, and a community. When Alan Moore ‘rejects comics’, there will be people who take it personally.
What are your five favourite Alan Moore works, and why?
Thank you for this question, because I think at heart the most important thing about Alan Moore is his writing.
THE BALLAD OF HALO JONES still does it for me. It has energy, it’s clearly had so much thought put into it, but equally clearly it was written week-by-week so a lot of the time it’s just finding ways the move the story along. It was originally meant as a counterpoint in a very male, very violent anthology comic, so it’s almost a different thing as a standalone. You can see Moore straining against the limits of the form, and Ian Gibson’s art just rather effortlessly keeping it all together.
BIG NUMBERS is the great ‘what if’? Only the first three parts of it have (or will) ever appear, we also have Moore’s giant chart plotting out what would have happened and a couple of long interviews about it. I think it’s the one point where Moore bites off more than he can chew. It’s this entirely new kind of thing, but wrapped up in a story that looks entirely mundane. And we only have the beginning of the story. So it’s something that’s very hard to grasp. It feels like an example of what Iain M Banks called an ‘excession’ – something that appears one day that just shatters all your assumptions, but is so big and weird and advanced there’s not much you can do about it.
The performance piece the BIRTH CAUL is available (kind of, it’s hard to find) on CD and much more readily as a comic strip adaptation by Eddie Campbell. What I like about Moore is that he can take visceral, hindbrain stuff and connect it up to an almost Vulcan, crystalline structure and you can’t ever see the join. Birth Caul is Alan Moore at his most personal and intense.
Controversial one, here, but WATCHMEN’s good. I’d read it countless times in the past, I read it three times during the course of writing Magic Words. Every time, I’ve seen something new or something’s taken on a new resonance for me. And it’s funny, which I spend a chapter trying to convince people of in Magic Words.
If I had to pick one thing, again, it would be something very obvious – the Valerie chapter of V. That, to me, should be required reading for … well, I was going to say anyone making comics, but any human being, really. The subject matter and the moral … yes, they’re weighty and important, and emotionally affecting. It’s self-explanatory, which is good, it’s always nice to just hand something to someone and say ‘just read this’. But just look at the way Moore and Lloyd compose it. Look at what they convey and how. It matters who wrote and drew it. It works because of them.
Buy Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore from Amazon.com.
The Albany Comic Con returns to the Holiday Inn on Wolf Road in Colonie, New York this Sunday, June 16th from 10 AM to 4 PM. The show has grown larger and attracted a more impressive list of comics professionals with each passing year. This year’s lineup includes J.M. DeMatteis, Todd Dezago, Fred Hembeck, Joe Jusko, Rick Leonardi, Ron Marz, Matthew Dow Smith, Joe Sinnott, Joe Staton, and others.
The Albany Comic Con always features benefits for local charities, and this year there are two to raise funds for the Albany Ronald McDonald House. The first is a charity art auction that takes place at the convention, as artwork created by the pros attending the con will be auctioned to bidders during the show. All of this year’s pieces are based on Marvel’s Avengers movie. The second fundraiser is the Albany Comic Con sponsoring the Tri-City ValleyCats (the Class A affiliate of the Houston Astros) game Saturday, July 6th, at Joe Bruno Stadium on the campus of Hudson Valley Community College in Troy. Albany Comic Con will honor legendary comics artist Joe Sinnott. Dubbed “Meet Joe at the Joe,” the event will give fans a chance to meet Sinnott, receive an exclusive baseball card, and get autographs from Joe and other local comic professionals. Albany Comic Con will be selling tickets to the July 6th baseball game during this Sunday’s convention. Tickets are also available at Excellent Adventures Comics in Ballston Spa, Comics Depot in Saratoga Springs, and other local comic shops around the Albany area. Game tickets are $5, and come with the Joe Sinnott baseball card. Proceeds from the tickets will benefit the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Albany.
In this edition of the Five Questions, Albany Comic Con organizer John Belskis weighs in with his thoughts about what has become an annual Albany tradition.
1. What is your overarching philosophy or vision of the Albany Comic Con?
To provide the regional area with a convention based on comic books and comic book art, that can be affordable and family-friendly. I think most of the larger shows have become major media events that have left comics a distant second. They can also be tremendously expensive to attend, especially for a family. Our show is more intimate, and even though smaller, is well-attended enough to give it a real sense of what a bigger convention is like. We also have kept our prices affordable which allows for a more family-friendly environment.
2. What have you learned from the past few years of holding conventions in the Albany area?
How talent-rich this area is. I’m amazed at how many professional comic book creators live within a short drive of Albany, and how willing they are to attend and always contribute to the convention. I’m also grateful to all of the local stores who help promote, and attend the convention. Many shows use the city’s name they are located in, but have many vendors from outside the city, and little support from the local shops. Our show is truly Albany Comic Con, with a local following that’s hard to match, anywhere else.
3. What one thing would you like someone to know, if they’re considering coming but have never been?
If you’re a comic fan, then this show is for you, but even if you’re not a comic fan, this is six hours of fun and nostalgia, and it’s all for only $5.00. It may also inspire your kids to want to read. What parent wouldn’t feel good about their children wanting something to read. People who have never explored comics would be amazed at the variety and complexity this hobby has to offer, for kids, and adults.
4. What is the most fulfilling thing about organizing this show year after year?
Seeing kids loving the comics, and the convention. Comics today sorely lack a next generation to continue reading and loving them. There is so much competition for the attention of kids these days. Our show in its small way gets the word out that comics are still alive. Hopefully we are inspiring another generation that will want to keep buying, reading and collecting them, for many years to come.
5. How would you like to see the show evolve in future years?
I’m happy with the slow and steady growth the show has had. I like the idea of more smaller events throughout the year, than just one large event once a year. I don’t know if we will ever grow into a major multi-day convention, but if we get there, it will happen when the time is right. I would be happier, if in 20 years, the Albany Comic Con is still going strong, with two or three shows a year, that everyone can still attend and enjoy.
— Alan David Doane
It isn’t a story, it’s the bare bones of an idea for a plot that a story could have been built on (but was not). What you describe (“shape-shifting aliens invaded years ago”) is what Gaines and Feldstein called “springboards,” and they kept them on 3x5 cards at EC Comics so they had a place to start. (Pro tip: a story doesn’t fit on a 3x5 card — not a multi-issue epic story, anyway.) That’s the problem with Bendis and many corporate superhero comic book “writers,” these days — they consider the job done when they have a nugget of an idea, rather than blowing it up and exploring it and revising it and making it into something well-written, professional and occasionally even memorable, like Moore, like Morrison used to do, like Gaiman and Ennis and Ellis are sometimes capable of, like Millar and Straczynski had the potential to do before they disappeared up their own asses, like Hickman and Snyder might be capable of in another five or ten years if they don’t get better-paying jobs writing even worse-reading material outside of comics. Story is what the original Image creators thought either didn’t matter or they could fake on their own. Erik Larsen faked it until he made it, the rest hired other writers, some of whom knew what they were doing, some of whom were Jeph Loeb.
A story by definition has a beginning, middle and end, with structure and character arcs and theme and other stuff that someone who didn’t drop out of high school and then college (like me), would be better capable of mapping out.
Story isn’t that fucking Robert McKee book, and it isn’t something you can do just because you READ that fucking book. Storytelling is a skill and an art; it’s something you can learn, but the passion to do it is something you’re born with or at least is evident very early on. It’s something, honestly, that I personally don’t have in me, but I fucking well recognize it when I see it, and Secret Invasion ain’t it. A missed opportunity? Yeah. A huge disappointment? You bet. A story? Hell, no.
— Alan David Doane
|—||Steve Ditko on Amazing Spider-Man.|
I understand completely why Grant Morrison is so insecure about his place in comics history in comparison to Alan Moore, but someone should really explain to Morrison how much weaker and more inferior he ironically makes himself appear with such verbose defensiveness. The work of the two writers should speak for itself, Grant, and let history decide how much you did or didn’t matter. This piece reminds me, more than anything, of Straczynski’s desperate, pathetic need to justify his participation in Before Watchmen by tearing Moore down, despite the fact that the worst thing Moore ever wrote is twice as interesting and enduring as the best thing Straczynski ever did. The last couple sentences of this article at The Comics Reporter really say all that needs to be said.
— Alan David Doane
The idea behind Kickstarter seems very 21st century, does it not? As we become one global village, constantly connected by iPhones and Twitter and that new one where you pin stuff to your computer (which seems to me like it would damage the screen, but what do I know?), more and more we’ve seen people use technology to reach out and hit somebody up for a buck or two. In the internet age of comics, we’ve seen publishers successfully use the World Wide Web to ask for a hand up when times were tough, by posting special sales and spreading the word on websites, blogs and social networking sites. Hell, I’ve held a few fire sales on my websites myself, turning to my readers when times were tight and asking them to consider buying stuff from me to help me keep the sites going, or keep my kids fed, and if you have a website that operates at or near a loss, you know at the end of the day the lines blur and it all comes under the heading of cash needed to continue operating as usual.
People looking to publish their comics with financial help gained through Kickstarter aren’t, as a rule, looking to maintain their operations, though. They have some new idea or new iteration of an old idea, and they work up a presentation with various levels of participation, and then they make their pitch for all the world to see. In this changed financial environment we now inhabit (and have since at least 2008), it’s not just newcomers to the industry who are looking to crowdfund their project, but even names you know have raised their flag to see who salutes it. The idea seems to have created a division in comics, from those who see it as the ideal expression of the intersection of creativity and technology, to those who frown upon it with great disdain. I guess I’m in a third camp, in that, like the majority of people living on the planet, I don’t much care about Kickstarter comics projects one way or the other. I figure, no matter how you fund your comics project, if it’s good enough, if it will appeal to me, eventually I will hear about it.
The truth is, and this is the dirty little secret of many comics critics, I don’t care about 95 percent of the “projects” that I see. The majority of the review copies I get from would-be “indy” comics creators demonstrate an overabundance of funding and a staggeringly underwhelming amount of talent. In this era of capital contraction, many wannabe publishers are relying on PDF files instead of sending out hard copies of their comics, and that’s beneficial in a number of ways. First, it costs them less. Second, it takes critics much less time to evaluate whether the project is worth reading in full. And third, it’s better for the environment, go hug a tree and congratulate it for still being alive, yay the environment.
As long as I have been writing about comics, and that goes back to the latter days of the Clinton administration, there have been too many people dying to get into comics, and too few with anything to actually say within the medium. And I think that’s where things often break down for these untested, unseasoned hopefuls. They grow up on a steady diet of professional comics, and they are absolutely dying to get into the industry and make a career out of it, but they have little life experience to inform their comics and even less talent with which to express whatever minor thoughts or ideas have shot across their brains in their fervor to “be a part of comics.” The very worst, most discouraging review copies I see are from people who have huge ambitions to be comics creators, apparently hundreds or thousands of dollars to spend sparking their little dreams, and little to no talent with which to pry their way into an industry that is already chock-full of mediocre hacks. See, for example, the recent documentary Comic Con Episode Four: A Fan’s Hope to see the sort of energy people with no real hope of ever making a splash in comics devote to, well, trying to make a splash in comics. And when one ponders what a miniscule portion of the overall entertainment dollar that comics manages to seize every year, it’s a wonder that the obituary columns in newspapers across the country aren’t filled to bursting with tales of would-be creators who decided to end it all rather than continue not living the dream.
I don’t understand it, I really don’t, this impulse to swim upstream against the surging tide of disregard and rejection that sweeps thousands into the vast ocean of never-gonna-happen every year. I think deep down I suspect that if you truly do have the talent to write or draw comics that are better than mediocre, that eventually you will find your way in somehow due to nothing more than the quality of your work. It seems to me, and this is advice I have given more than one wanna-be comics creator, that if you truly get down to it and practice your craft, if you keep making your comics and focus on making them as good as they can be and as powerful an expression of your inner voice as you can, that eventually you will have samples that are so superior to those of your competitors in the slush pile that publishers will be knocking down your door to let you have a seat at the table.
In the old days, the big publishers had anthology titles in which starting creators could hone their craft and experiment with styles and approaches until their true gifts became apparent. There’s a reason no one publishes anthologies like that anymore, and that’s because they sold poorly, and that’s because they pretty much sucked. I’m thinking of the old issue of Weird War Tales that I spent months tracking down and scores of dollars to buy because Frank Miller had one of his first handful of professional jobs in it. Yeah, it really blew. And these days it probably goes for a buck or two.
I don’t begrudge anyone trying to raise funds for their project on Kickstarter, or anywhere else. Presumably most people doing so are sincere in their efforts, and nobody is holding a gun to the heads of the people lining up to donate their fifty cents, or fifty dollars, or whatever the going rate is. I assume the system will eventually find out who the fraudsters are on there and treat them accordingly. But for those who really, really want to get into comics? If you have something to say within the comics medium, then say it. That doesn’t mean you have to immediately get it published, or even just posted to the internet, but if you must do the latter, I guess, go ahead. But be aware that almost no one’s earliest work is worth looking at, and that the more you practice, the better you’ll get, and eventually, if you’re good enough, say, five or ten years down the line, you might be good enough to get published. If that’s not good enough for you, if you want more and you want it now, then good luck to you, but you’re probably not going to make it, and your eagerness probably outpaces your talent by a ratio of 100 to 1. But go for it, because the recycle bin for my email account is emptied every day, so there’s plenty of room for your must-see project.
— Alan David Doane
Sometime this year, and I am not exactly sure when, I passed a milestone of having read comics for forty years. The first time I remember being given a stack of comic books was at the age of six, recovering from having my tonsils out. Ice cream and comic books in the recovery room — yes, America, our health care system has really deteriorated since 1972.
Over these four decades, some comics have blurred into obscurity to me. I am pretty sure that that first stack included Spider-Man and Archie titles, but I can’t pinpoint which particular issues they might have been. I suspect the Spider-Man was an Amazing Spider-Man in the 120s, but that’s as close as I can get it.
Other comics stand out in my memory like they came out yesterday. Some because they were so good, others because they were somehow significant in some way to my development as a comics reader. Here are the most memorable of those comics.
* Daredevil #181 - In the 9th grade, my best friend Donny and I shared a love of comics, and there was no comic we looked forward to more every month than Frank Miller and Klaus Janson’s Daredevil. Miller had begun drawing the book with issue #158, really started to cook art-wise around #164, and when he took over as writer with #168 (first appearance of Elektra, true believer) Miller began a long ramp up to the explosive, apocalyptic #181. I remember the cover blurb word for word — “Bullseye vs. Elektra…One Winss. One Dies.” And for once, it wasn’t just hype.
Bullseye had bedeviled Matt Murdock since, I think, #159 (back when Roger McKenzie was still writing the book), and the climax of this issue sees the assassin murder Daredevil’s first love Elektra in as brutal and final a manner as had probably ever been depicted in a Marvel comic up to that point. Elektra’s death, brief as it was (she was resurrected in Miller and Janson’s last issue together, #191), felt much more realistic and portentous than the usual superhero comics death, and although she’s died and come back a number of times since, no one could ever hope match the visceral gut-punch Miller and Janson delivered with this issue.
Additionally, with a few decades reflection, I’ve come to believe that this issue marks Miller’s absolute peak as an artist (his peak as a writer was either Batman: Year One or Daredevil: Born Again). After this, every comic book Miller drew seemed to be an exercise in experimentalism, or just seeing how far he could get his head up his own ass (culminating in the graphically bankrupt Dark Knight Strikes Again). These days I can’t find any interest at all in anything Frank Miller is involved with, which is amazing to me when I look back to Daredevil #181 and remember how very much it seemed like a new high for comics, and certainly a signal moment for Frank Miller as a writer/artist.
* New Teen Titans #1 - To say I was a huge fan of George Perez in the late 1970s and early 1980s would be a colossal understatement. The only two comic books I ever subscribed to through the mail were Avengers and Fantastic Four, both at the time being regularly drawn by Perez. So when he moved to Marvel and overhauled Teen Titans with writer Marv Wolfman, I was all over that book from the moment the preview story appeared (in DC Comics Presents, I think?), and my interest really sustained itself for a good long while — certainly through The Judas Contract, which had the somewhat shocking revelation (for a DC comic of that era) that the 50ish Deathstroke was sleeping with the 15ish Terra.
If you were the right age and reading comics, it was almost impossible not to fall in love with Claremont and Paul Smith’s Kitty Pryde, or Wolfman and Perez’s Tara Markov. The difference was, of course, that Terra was designed from the get-go to turn on the Titans, and Wolfman’s long-term planning of Terra’s story arc struck me at the time (I was in my mid-to-late teens) as extraordinarily sophisticated for a superhero comic book. When New Teen Titans split into two titles, one in the regular format and one in the Baxter Paper format, I think my interest began to wane, and by the time Perez left as artist, I was gone too.
But for quite a few years, New Teen Titans was THE monthly superhero book, stealing a lot of thunder from Marvel in the fan press and in the minds of readers. These days the books seem hopelessly overwritten and the melodrama is all a bit much, but the truth is, those comics were written for 12 year olds, and as such, they provided an exciting, seemingly more mature look at what was possible within the superhero sub-genre.
* Reid Fleming, The World’s Toughest Milkman #1 - “78 cents or I piss on your flowers.” If that means nothing to you, you weren’t there, and I can’t help you. Literally the funniest thing ever published in a comic book, and that line sticks with me, all these years later. David Boswell was an outsider artist creating a comic unlike any other before or since, and Reid Fleming’s world needs to be experienced by everybody, everywhere.
* Uncanny X-Men #137 - My first issue of Uncanny X-Men had been the one where Mesmero brainwashed the team and turned them into carnival acts, with Magneto showing up at the end in probably the most impressive full-page panel I had yet encountered — I mean, dude looked scary. I had very little clue who most of the characters were, but I was instantly engaged by Claremont’s writing (slightly better than Wolfman’s, but certainly as wordy if not moreso) and more urgently by the artwork of John Byrne and Terry Austin.
Although the team was around a few months after #137, this double-sized issue really was the climax of the Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne/Austin era, with stunning superhero battles, heartbreaking drama (I was hugely invested in Scott and Jean’s relationship, for some pathetic adolescent reason) and a sense at the end that a genuine drama had played out and a price had been paid. I was fascinated a few years later when Marvel released the original version of the story in a Baxter Paper edition (also included in Marvel Masterworks: Uncanny X-Men Vol. 5) including a roundtable discussion among the creators and then-editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, who had demanded that Jean Grey be punished for her misdeeds as Dark Phoenix. I never get tired of re-reading such Claremont/Byrne/Austin classics as The Dark Phoenix Saga and Days of Future Past, and apparently neither does Joss Whedon, who pretty much borrowed those storylines whole for his TV shows Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Dollhouse, respectively.
* Thor #337 - In my early years reading comic books, it was a fascinating process to learn to discern different art styles. Gil Kane and Vince Coletta were two I learned to spot almost immediately, one because he was so dynamic and skilled, the other because he turned almost everything he touched to shit. I’ll let you guess which is which, although it should be said Coletta Thor appropriately rustic natural blah blah blah BULLSHIT oh my, God, Colletta was a horrible fucking inker.
But anyway. Walter Simonson and Howard Chaykin I noticed both about the same time, from their work on DC books, and in Simonson’s case, especially on Manhunter with writer Archie Goodwin, which, just, there’s almost no words for how good their Manhunter was. Almost the perfect comic book story, regard in its time as a classic and it has only improved with age, a claim few other series from the 1970s can claim. So by the time I heard Simonson was taking over Thor, I was ready for some gorgeous comics. What I wasn’t ready for, had no idea I’d be getting, actually, was the wit and invention Simonson brought to the writing end of his writer/artist tenure on the book.
There was buzz on #337 from the moment it hit the stands, and I can remember having to search high and low to find a copy, I think, in a drugstore somewhere in Saratoga Springs. The book sold out fast, and for the first year or so, Thor became something it had never been, the toast of superhero comics readers everywhere. Simonson is a talent that has continued to grow in his decades in comics, never soured like Frank Miller or gotten too baroque for the audience like Chaykin has sometimes managed to do. Thor #337 was a big, dividing moment in 1980s comics. There was everything before, and there was everything after.
* Nexus #1 - This one came seemingly out of nowhere. I had never heard of the publisher, the writer, or the artist. Even the format — oversized, like a magazine, for the first few issues, and black and white to boot — sent a message that Nexus was not your average superhero funnybook. But for all its more mature concerns — betrayal, obligation, fascism — Nexus felt very purely like comics, in the same way Lee and Romita’s Spider-Man did, or Englehart and Rogers’s Batman. If I could go back and whisper in Baron and Rude’s ears, I would say things like “Never use a fill-in artist,” and “Never renumber the book.” If, retroactively, I could make those things happen, I probably would always have kept up with the adventures of Horatio Hellpop and his wild gang of friends and enemies and frenemies. But no, somewhere what made this book got lost, and I lost track of it, and we’re probably both the poorer for it, Nexus and I.
* Cerebus #1 (Counterfeit) - This was probably the single most significant single issue of my formative comics-reading years. In one weird moment, my interest in artcomix, my fascination with the Direct Market and my love of comics in general all came together. Cerebus had been gaining in popularity for a while — I think around this time it was in the mid-20s to mid-30s numbering-wise, and everyone was reading it. There had never been anything like it. I can’t remember if the Swords of Cerebus collections had begun yet, but the early issues were going for serious cash on the back issue market. A plot was hatched by unknown conspirators who went from one northeastern U.S. comic shop to the next, telling the same story to each shop about how they had stumbled across a stash of Cerebus #1s. (I know Roger Green will correct me if I get any of the details wrong here.)
It wasn’t long before the shops realized they’d been had, that the books were fake, and they were stuck with God only knows how many copies of Cerebus #1, The Counterfeit Edition. In a move that could never, ever happen today, my local comic shop, I believe with the consent of Dave Sim, offered up the fake #1s (with signage making it clear they were fake) for, if I recall correctly, ten bucks each. Later there would be guidelines that became known so buyers could determine if a copy was real or a phony, and these days I don’t have either, but I kind of wish I had held on to my counterfeit Cerebus #1, because in all my four decades of reading comics, I think that was the strangest and most surreal incident I can recall. And also the one that really clued me in that comic shops were businesses, and businesses obviously vulnerable to fraud and wrongdoing, at that. Previously I had just thought of them as a little slice of Heaven, right here on Earth.
— Alan David Doane
"Scrampance," a former colleague once told me, was her mother’s word for what was for dinner when the cupboards were nearly bare and you were down to nearly nothing.
Tom Spurgeon’s latest Five for Friday asks, essentially, what are the last five comics buying impulses you would give up? In other words, if you had just about lost all interest in comics, what would be the last five habits you would be holding on to? I didn’t send in any responses, because I was quite sure I am already down to less than five.
My current pull list of floppies (that is to say, whatever is left of the traditional comic book) is Daredevil (for Mark Waid’s writing), Spider-Man (I hated the One More Day reboot, but I have to admit Dan Slott’s writing a character I can actually recognize as Spider-Man, unlike most people who’ve written the character in the past 15 years), Fatale/Criminal/Incognito (because I will buy anything Brubaker and Phillips create together), Star Trek (because it’s stories I recognize as Star Trek and it feeds the hunger for more left in the wake of the 2009 movie), and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
LOEG is written by Alan Moore. The fact is that Moore is the best writer to work in comics in my lifetime, probably ever, and his work has never let me down, with the exception of a couple of Image miniseries that I don’t think he’d mind my not having enjoyed. But the recent anti-Moore tsunami on the part of comics fandom is a disgrace, and has even affected how I view comics as a whole. As an objective fact, it is wrong that DC went ahead with Before Watchmen, and the failure of the market to reject it utterly has left me more disgusted with comics as a whole than I have ever felt in about 40 years of reading them. Knowing that comic shops are carrying Before Watchmen makes me not want to step into one. Knowing readers are buying it makes me want to not ever have any contact with those people at all. Actually seeing the comics on the racks requires an enormous force of will not to pull out a lighter and set them on fire.
So my comics buying impulses are down to these: Buy anything by Brubaker/Phillips; buy anything reprinting EC work by Harvey Kurtzman, Bernard Krigstein or Wallace Wood; buy anything by Alan Moore.
Pretty much anything else I am reading now is subject to whim. I know creative changes or editorial fuckery could have me cutting Daredevil or Amazing Spider-Man from my pull list tomorrow. As much as I am enjoying them now, we’re still talking about comic books. Creative changes and editorial fuckery are as common as days that end in the letter “Y.”
This isn’t to say I won’t buy any comics in the future that don’t quite fit these criteria; there are a few critics I trust implicitly who could easily convince me I am missing out on something I would like. But after 40 years of reading comic books, my buying impulses these days are very, very mercurial. I am not at all interested in the digital strategies publishers are exploring, and I am not much interested in mail-order. Maybe it’s the contrarian in me, but in my world comic book stores should have rack copies of every new release, and I don’t and won’t go to the bother of pre-ordering everything anymore. I tried that model, and frankly, fuck it. There are a few things on my pull list, but for the foreseeable future I won’t be adding anything new to my regular purchases unless I find it first on the rack of some comic shop smart enough to have comics on the rack for people to browse. I like the thrill of the hunt. I like flipping through a book until I know for sure if it’s destined to come home with me or stay behind on the stands for someone else to buy. I don’t like flipping through Previews every month (it literally gave me a headache every time I did it, and I did it for years, like a fucking fool), and I don’t much care for hunting for stuff after-the-fact on eBay or Amazon, although I will and have done just that, because it’s less aggravating than the Previews pre-ordering bullshit.
I realize I am way, way off the reservation on this. There may not even be one other person who reads this who feels as I do. But after 40 years of reading comics and over 25 years of almost always having a regular pull list somewhere, I am sick to death of the whole rat race. I just want a few good comics that entertain and fascinate me, and I want them on my goddamned terms.
So when someone as smart and canny as Tom Spurgeon asks what my final five comics buying strategies are, I have to honestly admit I’m down to fewer than five. I’m nearly down to scrampance. I don’t necessarily like it this way, but as Walter Cronkite said for many, many years, “That’s the way it is.”
— Alan David Doane
So you want to make comics. A lot of people do, but only a few are ever lucky enough to see their stories get into print. There are few storytelling mediums as visceral and exciting as comics, and nothing as satisfying as seeing your own stories come together and entertain an audience, so if you are thinking about creating comics, here are some points to remember along the way.
How do you get started creating comics? The best thing to do is simply make comics. All you really need is a piece of paper and drawing supplies, or a computer, or some combination of all of those or any other art supplies you can muster to create your story in words and pictures. I have nearly zero talent for drawing and almost as little desire to write stories, but even I have created comics in this manner. Your supplies matter, but nowhere near as much as your desire to create comics.
There are numerous books that will tell you a lot about how to make comics, but usually those books are skewed to creating the sort of comics that the creator of the book is known for. If you’re looking to be the very best comics creator you can be, the best way to achieve that is just to assemble your tools and start creating stories. Do your best to improve your craft, whether it’s writing, drawing, or both. Tell stories that have the most personal meaning and importance to you as a human being, whether they are autobiographical or fictional.
It’s a truism in comics creation that everyone has to create 1,000 bad pages before they start creating good ones. The more comics you create, the better a feel you’ll have for what types of stories and storytelling modes work best for you. When you feel you’re ready for some input and criticism, show the comics you’ve created to trusted friends, and let them know you want their honest assessment of what you’ve created. Listen to both the positive and negative feedback, and understand that every comment you receive on your work will help you better understand your own creative process and how to improve it.
Compare your work to professionally published comics in similar genres; if you feel your work has honestly reached a level where it might be ready for public consumption (and this evolution could take months or years), then you may be ready to assemble a portfolio of your best pages (editors and publishers want to see examples of your storytelling, not pin-ups and poster shots) and bring them with you to comics conventions in your area. If there are no conventions in your area, check the websites of publishers you are interested in working with, learn their submission guidelines, and follow them to the letter. Be warned that some publishers are not interested in receiving unsolicited submissions, while some are eager to find new talent.
It is crucial that you educate yourself about the pitfalls of working in comics. Since the very beginnings of the industry, creators have suffered low pay, loss of creative rights, few or no benefits, and other unfair practices. Be sure you always watch out for your own best interests. If a publisher offers you a contract, go over it with your own attorney to be sure your interests, and the interests of your family, are protected in the longterm. Corporations will always protect and promote themselves over the interests of any individual creator. This doesn’t mean “don’t work for corporate comic book publishers,” it just means “know what you’re doing before you do.” An informed comics creator is far better prepared for a long career in the industry with fewer heartbreaks along the way.
— Alan David Doane