MICHAEL DAVIS: The Boulevard Of Burning Bridges
I’m about to put together a major deal with a powerhouse entertainment company. I’m putting a group of people into that deal and I have a bit of a problem. I know this guy who is MAD talented. He’s a superstar professional and I have known him for years. Bringing him into this deal would help him get to the next level in his career. It would be great for me also but I’m thinking… is he too much trouble?
I have a pretty good idea what most people think of me. I have a reputation of being brilliant or lucky. People are always amazed at what I manage to get myself into. Some people love me, some people hate me. I once cared about what people think about me, now I just don’t. Why people, why any person would spend his or her time thinking about someone else’s demise is beyond me. You know what I think of those people who wish me ill?
I don’t think of them. It’s too much trouble.
For my entire career I have said that DC Comics does the best books in the industry. Mike Richardson would disagree with me and Dark Horse has done fantastic books but I just think that DC does the best books. I am and will always be a part of DC’s history. Milestone, Static Shock and being the illustrator on the first ever project from Piranha Press makes me part of their history.
I will most likely never work with DC again.
Not because I don’t want to, but because they see me as too much trouble.
I’m lucky enough – no that’s not right; I’m good enough not to have to work with DC. I have put together some major deals that have to be respected regardless if you like me or not. I think my résumé should count for something at DC. It doesn’t. Would I work with DC if a deal made sense? Yes. Would they work with me? Most likely not. Why? Long story, not important – let’s just say that we agree to disagree. Just so we are clear – I have a great deal of respect for DC Comics and their chief Paul Levitz. And here’s the thing about Paul you never hear if you disagree with him he’s man enough to listen even if he thinks you are wrong. I think Paul will go down in comics’ history as a great man.
For whatever reason, DC Comics thinks I’m too much trouble and they have every right to run their business without me and I respect that. I think it would be too much trouble to try and convince them to be in business with me. So we won’t work together. That’s cool – as I said I’m good enough with what I do to not need DC comics. I could be wrong about why we won’t work together but with all due respect to the powers that be at DC they could be wrong also. So I will most likely just have to enjoy what I consider the best books in the comics industry from the cheap seats. They on the other hand will not have the benefit of my ability to do what I do. I’m not vain enough to think they need me.
But here’s what I don’t do, I don’t make it a point to dishonor my relationship with them. Like it or not, I am a part of their history. Why talk smack about something I am very proud of? Maybe one day I will be able to work with them – in 2008 we may have a black man or a woman President so anything could happen.
The issue for this column and my problem with the creator I’m hesitant to bring into this new deal is constant in the comics industry. What often happens with comic book creators is they give little or no respect to how they do business when there is a problem. By that I mean how they specifically act when it comes to being paid late or delivering late with their work.
There are a lot of companies who do not pay in a week like DC or Marvel. Some of these companies have a 30-day turn around or even a 90-day turn around. Yes, any company that makes a deal with you should honor that deal – just like you should honor your side and meet your deadlines. But let’s say they don’t or you don’t…
When is someone or something just to much trouble?
As I said at the start of the article, I’m putting together a big deal with a major entertainment company. I have the opportunity to put others in this deal. I am fighting with myself over one really talented creator.
Here’s my issue – he is a pain in the ass.
I know about pain in the asses – I can be one. I have been one, and if I feel passionate about an issue I will be one again.
I recently worked with this person on another deal. He did great work. The problem is he was always looking for an advance from the company and if his check was a day late from the company he would bitch like his child needed a heart transplant. When I pointed out that the company had advanced him money (against their policy) he could care less he wanted his money and he wanted it now!
Now, let me be crystal clear. If you do the work then you should be paid under the terms of your agreement. That said, some creators shoot themselves in the foot by demanding payment in such a way that burns bridges. This guy I’m talking about asked for an advance right out the box at the start of an assignment and got it – why then did he act like a mad man when his next check was a day late?
This goes on all the time. Comic book creators are notorious for not handling money well. I’ve been there, I’ve been guilty, and I know what it’s like. If a company is late in paying they must be held responsible. Why then if you are late with your work, or have gotten an advance on that work would you not handle your angst in another way?
The person I am talking about got a huge advance from this company. The company was a little late with their next payment and he went crazy. Then I had to deal with explaining to the company why this guy is so hard to deal with. The company was not late because they did not have the money – they were late because of a bookkeeping issue. It does not matter why they were late – if you do the work you should get paid, but why burn bridges for something like this?
So many freelancers don’t think about the future. Companies have an obligation to pay you for your work. If you think a company is cheating you then that’s another issue – but if the company has a history of paying you and every so often is late then temper your response so you can keep the deal. Now if a company is always late, then you have to decide rather or not you want to continue to work with them. If you decide to keep working with them you have made a choice to do so freely – why then talk smack to others about how bad this company is while you continue to work with them?
Now I’m faced with an opportunity to bring this creator into a major deal and all I can think about is how he has acted in regards to the last deal I put him in.
Motown records is the most famous record company in the world. Everyone has heard of Motown. Most record companies are known for their bands and not their brand. Answer this question – what record company is U2 on? I have no idea and I worked in the music business at Motown. Being a worldwide brand I was pretty sure Motown would pay me when I worked with them.
When my Motown deal was completed it took them a while to get their payment system established and I was not paid for close to three months. Was it a big deal? Oh hell yeah, I had bills to pay like everyone else. What did I do? I told them on a number of occasions in a very professional way that I had not been paid. I never once had a fit, I never once said anything to anyone about how messed up they were. Was I mad? YES! Was I frustrated, YES! Did I make a million calls to them and yell at them… NO!
When I finally got a check, I had received more than money. I now had amassed a huge amount of goodwill. My actions at that time also gave me something that a lot of comic freelancers take for granted. If I needed time on something, Motown would have no choice but to consider how I acted when they messed up. Or let me put it another way, if you lend someone $100 dollars – how will they treat you when you ask them for a loan later?
Everybody who does work deserves to be paid and in a timely manner, period. But there will be times when it will not happen. During those times how you deal with that problem may go a long way in determining how a company treats you when you mess up.
If for some reason you do not like the way you are being paid, you have the right to stop working for that company. With that in mind if you are late and cause the company money they have the right to stop working with you. Your actions when there is a problem will sometimes dictate rather or not someone will work with you again and this is the problem I am now facing with this creator.
Yes your money is important. Yes you have bills to pay. Yes, you did the work. Yes, they were late. But on the other side – they advanced you money. You were late with the work; you caused them delays and money. Can the company not falter also?
Marvel and DC are the market leaders. They have set the standard for the world with their comics. They have also rewarded lateness and bad behavior by letting creators get away with murder. We all know some editors who will “hook up” their friends with advances and payments for work that is not done or on time. We all know that Marvel and DC will pay you like clockwork when you hand in your voucher. What do you think would happen if Marvel decided to not pay you unless your book shipped on time with no exceptions? What would happen if DC decided to pay you half of your page rate if you hand in work late? In the real world you try being constantly late in any other field but comics and see how long you keep that job.
So, I ask again – when is something or someone too much trouble?
It’s not just money that can be problematic with a business relationship. There are many ways that you (or the company) can make mistakes. How you (or they) deal with those missteps will resonate for a long time. You actions stay with you your entire career. I had issues with DC Comics in the early nineties; I have no doubt that I would have a better chance in cloning a sheep with a Xerox machine than getting a deal there. And you know what? That’s OK. I will settle for just being able to hang out at the DC booth at ComicCon and being the butt of some Bob Wayne jokes – both of which I look forward, to by the way.
Now in regards to the deal I am putting together at this entertainment company and rather or not I will include the person I have been talking about – I have to go with no.
Here’s why – this is a new relationship with this entertainment company. They will want to meet everyone in the deal. During the first meetings in any new endeavor you have to be on your game. To be at your best you should have a positive attitude especially when the relationship in new. To go into a meeting with any negative energy is not good. Worrying about someone’s behavior before the deal starts is a sure indication that trouble will follow. And this sucks because he would have brought a great deal to the table.
I wish the creator well. He does not need me to continue to do good work. I’m sure he will continue to be a major force in the industry. There may be an opportunity to bring him in at a later date. You know, he may not even have wanted to be part of the deal. I’ll never know because I won’t ask, it’s simply too much trouble.
Michael Davis is a comics creator and the founder of the Guardian Line series of comics as well as being a television producer and writer. He was a co-founder of Milestone Comics and his artwork has appeared in Wasteland, Green Arrow: Shado, Green Hornet and The Question, among others.