Mark Waid Warns of Comic Book Industry Bullying

Mark Waid Warns of Comic Book Industry Bullying

In an open letter, comic book veteran Mark Waid gives advice to freelancers while criticizing the "chimpanzee" editors who abuse them.

Comic books may be the birthplace of modern superheroes, but behind the scenes, the industry has its own share of controversy. Between Alan Moore's long-standing feud with DC Comics and Batwoman's creative team stepping down over editorial interference, it's clear that many creators aren't satisfied with how publishers currently treat them. Now former DC Comics writer and editor Mark Waid is adding his two cents with an open letter to comic book freelancers, warning that editorial bullying is rampant and that creators must stand up for their creative integrity.

"There are a lot of good comics editors out there, probably more than ever, and I applaud them," Waid writes. "But there are, likewise, a growing number of (1) good editors who are not allowed to be good editors by their bosses, and (2) outright chimpanzees.

"What I see a lot of freelancers going through today in the work-for-hire arena is just unreal, and the horror stories of personal and professional abuse I'm hearing from the trenches on a regular, almost-daily basis are mind-blowing to me - not only because I'm sympathetic, but because every single one of their experiences is utterly antithetical to the creative process."

As a 29-year veteran of comic book publishing, Waid's experience lends significant weight to his words. The full post elaborates his thoughts in detail, but what's unique is that Waid isn't just lashing out in vitriolic anger. He seems to be seeking a middle ground, pointing out that editors have a valuable place in the industry and warning that creators can't sacrifice professionalism for righteous indignation. At the same time, he stresses that comic book freelancers have very few people standing up for their rights, which puts the onus on them to speak for themselves.

"If you feel like you're practically being hazed, you're not struggling through Business As Usual," Waid says. "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.

"I can - purely off the top of my head - think of at least a dozen freelancers who hit every impossible deadline ever asked of them ... who were pleasant to work with and always professional even if their editor was a jerk ... and who always did exactly what their editors asked them to do, even if it was obvious to a blind man that the quality of the finished work was lessened, because they were trained to believe that their first priority was to serve their editor and do so in a timely manner, and whatever creative voice they brought to the table was secondary. They were good soldiers. They were great soldiers.

"All of those people have been unemployed for years. The quality of your work is all that matters."

Source: Thrillbent, via Bleeding Cool

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some monkeys managed to write their magnum apeus, though..

image

I take Mark advise in pretty high regard, he has what 20-30 years as a Writer and an Editor and has worked for many publishers, I hope none of this falls on death ears.

DC editorial is so bad that even video game websites are beginning to pick up on it. Sheesh.

This applies to making videogames too. If all you can do is follow instructions then you are completely expendable.

Well, never encountered any of those thing from editors, not once...

Maybe that's why I'm applying to shelf stacking jobs and barely create at all these days, hay ho, at least I never threw anyone out the window.

Captcha: on cloud nine, oh piss off.

DVS BSTrD:
If all you can do is follow instructions then you are completely expendable.

Is that the developers or the players?

That applies in virtually any create-for-hire environment.

I was once hired as part of the semi-regular team behind a campus-distributed Fantasy literature fanzine. The editor-in-chief didn't pay his staff regularly and sometimes didn't come up with themes for the following issue any earlier than a month before the expected deadline. We'd all scramble to put stuff together and in some cases, he'd intervene. I dismissed a lot of my colleagues' claims regarding interference, until it happened to me.

What started out as your average assignment ended in the kind of comments that honestly go way beyond constructive criticism. I rewrote a single short story five times in a week and occasionally had to cancel appearances for a few numbers because the idiot wasn't willing or able to tell me exactly what the Hell it was he was expecting. My syntax was fine, my grammar was spotless, my characterizations were fine but instead of giving me an honest answer along the lines of "I just don't like it", he jerked me around with weeks, sometimes months of "Gee, dude... I really don't know. Can I come back to you on this?"

If he came back, the criticism was sometimes so dense, so unhelpful, that it was generally easier for me to start over. I gave him six months - that was twelve issues, bimonthly - until I basically threw my towel and fucked it all to Hell.

Lo-behold, two weeks after my resignation? A piece that reads almost like one of my own stories, word for word, by said douchebag editor. I didn't even bother to try and call him out on his bullshit, knowing him to be crafty enough to go so far as to copy and paste the entire thing in a new document, just so creation dates would match his story.

Not that it mattered, the guy had lost basically any and all credibility he'd ever had, with myself and the other jilted and as-of-yet untouched writers pretty much agreeing to stop collaborating with him. We were all busy, so we didn't try and start over with one of our own gang as a new editor for a new fanzine.

God knows how his fanzine is doing, today. My guess is it died in a ditch after he tried glory-hogging the last of his collaborators.

To be fair, chimps are way more intelligent than the average editor or higher-up working at DC Comics these days.

Its very sad to see the comics industry have to suffer this kind of horse-crap. Even worse when its happened to a company that use to put out great books until the new management took over. This is one of many reasons why industries like comic books and video games need a union or a voice to unite those who have suffered too long because of "business as usual" nonsense that is more harmful to the genre than helpful.

Hmmm, well, my opinions are mixed. To be honest comics has become a huge business which is now about multi-media more than the comics themselves. While it was always about money, the bigger comics and associated properties have gotten, the more it's become about turning out a product for the masses rather than the quality of the work, as those masses get bigger things tend to get worse as mass appeal becomes increasingly important. Among the biggest problems of course (which has been there for a long while now) is the appeal of an established, ongoing universe that gets bigger and bigger, compared to wanting to reboot everything for the current audience and what's hip at the moment. I'd imagine right now in particular half the problem facing creators is that the big comic companies want things to be similar to the movies that the masses are familiar with, often at the expense of continuity or creativity. Someone say reading "Iron Man" who got interested due to the movies shouldn't pick up a comic and go "WTF is this?", which is odd given what a butcher job the movies were compared to the real depth of the character they were loosely based on (even if entertaining in their own right).

The thing it though that creators and artists tend to get just as bad as the worst editors and producers when left to their own devices. We've seen several "industry revolts" with artists and writers collecting the funding to start their own titles. For a while these companies have even created some great stuff, but inevitably it all becomes about the masses and bigger and bigger products. "Image" was started largely by one of these rebellions and despite some shaky writing to start produced some cool stuff... before eventually winding up with Mcfarlane holding all the cards, fighting with his writers exactly the way the guys they all set to get away from did, becoming concerned about non-comic spin off products like action figures above and beyond the comics themselves due to the profits involved, and similar things. A lot of this came into the spotlight recently with the whole "Angela will be in Marvel!" thing not too long ago which was a big deal because she was an Image character connected heavily to Spawn that Mcfarlane didn't like going to another company with it's creator. Even worse is perhaps what happened with "Crossgen" which produced one of the most involved shared universes and metaplot set ups ever, but then stopped dead apparently due to a cash grab at the top, causing a lot of really good series to just end. Then of course there is the saga of Jim Lee's "Wildstorm" which produced some of the best comics of the 1990s, before wrecking itself with hair brained stunts like deciding "hey, let's redo "Gen 13" with an entirely new group of characters and call it the same thing..." and then wondering why it crashed. It wound up selling out to DC officially, and then being strangled out of existence, with a few of it's properties, now mere shadows of themselves, being brought into the main DC continuity.

The point here is that I don't think it can be any different at this point. At the end of the day no one producing a product like this is going to be content to simply make a fair profit and focus on the quality of the work. It's always going to be about going for more money, more exposure, bigger distribution, and more readers. That means that no matter how it starts it's eventually going to wind up with bean counters making decisions based entirely around "up to the moment" predictions of what will sell. Forget someone planning out a storyline months or years ahead of time, it will be what the market seems to want right then and there. Not to mention the better financed the company gets and the more profitable the properties, there is always going to be the temptation for the guys at the top to simply grab as much
as they can and run, or try and contractually gain control of everything, even if they might believe at first they are doing it for the best interests of the majority.

Mark Waid is one of the best Comic writers currently working (I read his Eisner-winning run with Daredevil) and I totally agree with what he said. The problem with big comic publishers is that yeah, a big shared universe is all jolly good fun, and the creative staff are friends and fans of each other's work, but it needs editors who allow the writers to do what they do best and stop them from doing something stupid. The trouble with editing is that what's stupid and what's not is subjective and a matter of personal opinion.

rhizhim:
some monkeys managed to write their magnum apeus, though..

"magnum apeus" not sure if it's a play on words or couldn't spell 'opus' correctly. But I like your term, that's going into my vocabulary.

MAGNUM APEUS - 1. the magnum opus of terrible artists that shows just how terrible they really are. Can still be enjoyable.
2. The Lowest point in an artists career.
examples: Plan 9 - Ed Wood, ASBAR - Post Sin City Frank Miller, Battlefield Earth - John Travolta

So, is this a problem just in DC comics or is it a problem for Marvel and others, like Dark Horse or Archie, too? I'm curious.

Beyond that, yeah it takes a delicate balance. Star Wars was the work of George Lucas and his creativity and probably made a masterpiece thanks to the help of others. The prequels are the result of the creator not having an editor, so to speak.
Full Disclosure: I don't hate the prequels for the most part and can even enjoy them. Anakin was annoying, though. VERY annoying.

It's kind of hard for freelancers to stand up for thesmselves when their livelihoods are based on one-shot work and reputation. If you have a reputation for fighting the system, you're not going to getting much freelance work. It sucks, but that's how it works.

 

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