MICHAEL DAVIS: Bad Boys For Life
I was talking to Kevin McCarthy a day or so ago about writing another book for me at The Guardian Line. He’s doing a fantastic job on The Seekers and has done great work for most of the major publishers in comics for a while now. If you don’t know Kevin’s work, you should. He is without a doubt one of the most talented and original people working in comics today. He is a GREAT writer and just as talented as an artist. In fact I would say that Kevin is on the leading crest of creators today.
While talking to him I realized that one of the things I don’t do enough of is talk to creators about the process. I miss the days when I could just sit down and make up a universe or develop a story line. I spend more time dealing with the “deals” in comics and television than I do actually working on the “idea.”
The single greatest thing about working in any creative field is the creative process itself. To sit in a room and just make things up is so unbelievable cool that words fail to describe the feeling when things are just right. Talking to Kevin made me wish for the days when I could just sit down and write a story. This got me thinking about just how long I have known Kevin and how we met. We met because someone introduced me to him and he became part of my life and I his as a mentor.
Late last week I sat down with Marv Wolfman and Len Wein to talk about a business deal. Sitting with us was a young lady who was taking notes. I am a mentor to this person. She asked some really great questions and had some real cool insights. Marv, Len and I were happy to have her there but she was ecstatic about sitting with legends…and with me. Truth be told, at that time during that meeting we were all her mentors and she appreciated our knowledge and was humbled in our presence. OK, she was humbled in Marv and Len’s presence and I just happened to be there…it was my house.
This young lady will soon turn the world of comics and illustration on its ear with her original take on the medium. Like Kevin McCarthy she is a fresh face with fresh ideas that our industry needs. It’s amazing to think that Marv and Len have created some of the biggest icons on the planet between them and they still take the time to share that knowledge with younger people.
Over the years I have seen these guys take the time to talk to many young people about the industry. I have watched time and time again how their information lit up the faces of those they were talking to. I’ve been around a bit but there are some people I still consider mentors: Paul Levitz, Mike Richardson, Mike Gold and Jim Shooter to name a few.
Each of those guys has taken me aside on more than one occasion and shared their valuable insight with me. I remember one Comic Con years ago I was standing with Paul Levitz in a hotel bar when a young colorist confronted me. He told me that I was an idiot for letting a writer go on a project and that I was using his (the colorist) name to promote myself. He said some other things that were just as bad. I was about to respond like he was a Crip and I was a Blood when Paul placed his hand on my shoulder and quietly shook his head “no.” When the colorist walked away (like the little bitch he was, yes I’m still pissed) Paul said to me, “It comes with the job, Michael. The bigger you are the bigger the target on your back becomes.” He was so right.
At the time I was President and CEO of a division of Motown Records and attacks on me were commonplace. What Paul taught me with a small shake of his head was this: Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff. I also learned from Paul that sometimes doing nothing is the right move to make.
Another occasion I remember that doing nothing was the right move was when I was sitting with Terry Stewart at a Final Four Game in Seattle. Terry at the time was Chairman/CEO of Marvel and we were working on a deal together. Earlier in the day I had gotten a frantic phone call from my assistant about a big problem. Well I thought it was a HUGE problem so I called my boss Clarence Avant who was Chairman of ALL of Motown. I could not relax and watch the game while I waited for Mr. Avant to call me back. Finally he called and I told him what the problem was. I will never forget what he said to me. “Did anyone do anything illegal? Any money missing? Will this affect the project?” I answered “no” to all. He then said to me “Then what’s the damn problem?” and hung up.
Both situations with Paul and Mr. Avant took place when I was a grown man with a great gig, so age and position is not a factor. At anytime at any age a mentor can be of help.
The meeting with Marv and Len and the talk I had with Kevin got me thinking about mentoring in the comic field. I was a mentor to Kevin and it was so cool to talk about the creative process with someone I have seen grow up in the industry.
The role of a mentor is varied. It’s not just to teach a skill or give advice, it’s also the ability see in someone something that they may not see on themselves. If you are a good mentor eventually you will learn something from the mentee. Or to quote Marlon Brando from Superman The Movie – “The son becomes the father, the father the son.”
Hopefully this will happen before your planet blows up and you are standing in your Fortress of Solitude freezing your ass off.
Back in 1987 I started a mentor program called Bad Boy Studios. This was before P. Diddy. In fact, I had another division called Bad Boy Entertainment. My program started in a school in Harlem New York called The Children’s Art Carnival. I was running a after school and Saturday arts program there and soon realized that the students needed a bit more attention than the few hours at the school. So I invited a few students to my home studio on Thursday nights. Those few students soon became the entire class from the carnival. The program became so huge in fact that at one point we were having classes at DC Comics and The Pratt Institute as well as The School Of Visual Arts (SVA). The core of the class was still taking place in my studio.
I did not teach the students art so much as life skills. Bad Boy Studios was about learning how to be a professional above all else. The student’s only textbooks were Emily Post’s guide to etiquette and they had to subscribe to a business magazine. That may not seem like a big deal, but to a starving art student plunking down $40 bucks for a book on manners is a real big deal. The point was not only to get them to read the book so they knew how to act in a social or business situation but to also see their level of commitment.
That level of commitment was very important. As the program grew I was approached by more than one corporation offering me funding. I have never taken any money for my program: if I do, then it’s not my program. I also never charged a fee. That was for two reasons – the first reason is it’s a mentor program. No real mentor takes money to do the right thing. The second reason is there is no reason I can’t kick your butt out if you don’t pull your weight. Over the years Bad Boy Studios has seen it’s share of superstars come through the program. Among them, John Paul Leon, Bernard Chang, Adam Pollina, Kevin McCarthy, Ali Morales (DC Comics first Latina editor) Walter McDaniel, Steve Harris, Chris Sotomayor, Jason Medley, Shawn Martinbrough and Brett Lewis.
If you are a Bad Boy alum reading this and I did not mention you, sorry, but space does not allow me the luxury of listing the zillion others who came through the “class.”
The “class,” as we called it, was more than a meeting place where artist and writers came in every week to show off their work. It was really a family. Like any other family we did not always get along in fact there were some real knock down drag out moments, like the time at SVA where a desk was turned over in a fit of anger. That was an extreme moment but on the flip side we had a lot of fun also, like the time I had super Walter Simonson fan Chris Sotomayor answer the door to my loft in his bare feet. Standing there was Walter Simonson! Chris who did not know Walt was coming to the class that day to lecture, handled the situation like a pro: he slammed the door on Walt and went to hide in the closet. Yes, this is what one of the best (if not the best) colorist working in the industry today did to his idol!
Another fond memory I have of Chris is when he confronted two gang members who were about to rob me in San Diego years ago. I had a bunch of Bad Boy alum come to Comic Con to work the Milestone booth. We went to a seedy place to have lunch when I stepped out of the restaurant for some reason I don’t recall. These two guys were right about to roll up on me when Chris showed up at my side and they thought better of it.
Now that’s family.
Over the years some of the biggest names in comics and illustration have come and shared their experiences with my students. Chris Claremont heard about Bad Boy Studios and asked me if I knew someone who would make a good assistant. I did and Ali Morales went to work for Chris. Now that was her dream job! I’m sure Chris spent many an hour with Ali talking to her about the industry as her mentor. How am I sure? I’m sure because everyone in the class became a bit tied of Ali’s constant “Chris said this.” I remember once just saying to Ali, “Yeah Chris is all that, but he also killed Jean Grey!” That shut her up.
The great thing about mentoring is you get to see these young people grow and in turn you get to learn from them. I have had more than one conversation with Kevin in which his suggestions have been right on.
There are bound to be a few people who have a problem with mentoring. They may think it’s too much trouble or that they don’t want to share their knowledge with some young whipper snapper who will use that knowledge to take their job. Well if that’s your worry, maybe you should rise your game buddy.
I can tell you from experience that the kids out there who want to learn will return the favor ten fold when their time comes. And believe me their time is coming rather you help or not. The creators coming up today are some of the best talent this industry has ever seen and we owe it to them to be of help like the guys who helped us. I know I would be dead or in jail if not for my mother and my cousin who mentored me.
So where are the mentors out there? I would really like to hear from those who are doing it. If you are considering doing it-then by all means do! It’s the greatest feeling in the world to help someone who wants your help.
Got to go. There’s a knock on my door. Hey Chris, get that, will you?
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.