It’s no secret that ever since the New 52 relaunch, DC Comics has been hemorrhaging talent. Not just nobodies but comic legends and award winners, due to their, and in many cases parent company Warner Brothers’, heavy handed interference causing massive rewrites and art changes at the last minute, sometimes seemingly arbitrarily. Comic legend George Perez was driven off of ‘Superman’ after working for the company since the seventies and co-creating the groundbreaking and best selling ‘New Teen Titans’, the publisher’s best selling book for several years. And most recently, and perhaps most controversially, J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman walked off the two-time Eisner Award winning ‘Batwoman’ after a story that had already been approved and set in motion was ordered changed after the first several issues of the story arc had already been published.
It’s become impossible to ignore “the man behind the curtain” anymore. Warner Brothers has clearly buckled down on getting its characters into other media, after Marvel’s runaway successes in recent years. As a result, they’ve put DC under the microscope and rather than letting creators tell the stories they’re paid to tell, have decided to dictate what they want.
Mark Waid has had enough. The comic book jack of all trades published “An Open Letter To Young Freelancers” on his current company, Thrillbent’s blog. He pulls no punches in calling major publishers out (though he doesn’t mention DC by name) but more importantly, he stresses to young writers and artists breaking into the field the importance of quality over ridiculous editorial dictates.
The entire letter should be read in full, but here are some important excerpts.
First, if you feel like you’re practically being hazed, you’re not struggling through Business As Usual. If you’re fairly new at this, do not let anyone tell you that bullying is excusable in any way whatsoever or that it’s part of any “learning curve” or “breaking in.” This is a business; you have a right to be treated professionally. If you have produced a script or artwork in good faith that was accepted but, a week or two later, the editor calls you to ask for some minor revisions, give him the benefit of the doubt that he’s not trying to annoy you but is just sincerely trying to hone the work to everyone’s benefit. On the other hand, if approved work, through no fault of yours, suddenly became retroactively “unapproved” and needs a heavy rewrite or a total redraw, a lot of you are being required to do that work for free, over and over again, desperately racing to get to the end zone before someone moves the goal posts again. That’s bad form; when you’re not at fault, you’re supposed to get paid for substantial revisions. Your time is valuable. If you’re not being compensated for redo after redo after redo on that has nothing to do with quality and everything to do with editorial whim, that’s unprofessional and unacceptable and you’re being taken advantage of.
Along the same lines, he continues:
Similarly, if you’ve done work based on reference supplied to you, upon agreements made with your editor, or upon approved outlines and then been asked to make major, time-consuming alterations because “things have changed,” you should be entitled to charge for rewrites and redraws. If you’re discouraged from standing up for yourself under threat of losing future work–and so many of you have been and are–that’s unacceptable behavior, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Be professional. Be a problem-solver. Be willing to compromise in the face of a solid argument. Be willing to lose sometimes because you’ll learn more that way than you will by always winning. Ultimately, if a client is paying you for your services, he or she has every right to set the specifications, just as you have a right to your integrity.
Have a sense of humor and maintain a cool head. Pick your battles, but don’t pick fights–even if you’re in the right–because it’s easy to get a reputation (even when you’re punching up, not down) as a loudmouth who can’t go on the internet and tell anyone what time it is without it being characterized as “another rant.” (So I’ve heard.) Take the notes sometimes, even if they seem to be change for change’s sake, be genial…but always protect the work. Know that, five years from now, as fans or prospective publishers are looking over your published pages, no one will care that the comic they’re reading sucks because the publisher moved the deadline up or because the editor demanded you work an android cow into the story. All anyone will care about is the pages they see in front of them, and they will hold you responsible for them, no one else. Mediocre work will follow you around forever.
There is much, much more, but ultimately it boils down to this:
The quality of your work is all that matters. That’s what buys you longevity. You’re sweating the future because you had one disagreement with your editor?… You’re being given an absurd deadline and you think you’re better off turning in crap than being late? We used to literally stand over the fax machine at the DC offices while Neil Gaiman sent in his Sandman scripts in batches of exactly one page. Not admirable, but twenty years on, no one remembers how slow Neil could be, just how phenomenal the stories were.
Now that Waid is publishing his own work, he’s free to sound off against the corporate machine comics have become. Unfortunately, for those who have been in the game for less time and are still struggling to make a name… and a living for themselves… it sounds like they are forced to stretch themselves to impossible limits to accommodate whatever some suit from up on high makes up after all their work has been completed. He both calls out the companies for such unprofessional behavior, but offers constructive advice to those forced to endure it.
Give the entire thing a read. Trust me, this was just a sampling.
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