MICHAEL DAVIS: The Real World
I am lucky enough to know some pretty influential people in the entertainment world. When I say “influential” I mean people who have positions where they can “green light” work. They can give the “yes” to make your idea a reality or hire you to work on an existing project.
I have been fortunate in my career to “green light” some things. I have tried to give as many talented people as I can opportunities to take their ideas or talent to the next level.
We all know that the comic book community is responsible for some of the greatest creative endeavors in the history of the world. That’s right, I’ll say it again, the comic book community is responsible for some of the greatest creative endeavors in the history of the world… of the world.
I am very proud to have contributed in a small part to the industry and even prouder that my mentor program has produced some amazing talent.
What burns me is the lack of foresight and professionalism by some of the best in the industry and what really burns me is the new guard coming up who have this terrible work ethic. One glaring example of that work ethic: lateness in the comic book industry has become a standard practice.
Blowing deadlines has been a staple of comic book business for decades. I have blown a few myself. When I did ETC for Piranha Press DC’s ‘mature reader” imprint (way back when DC liked me) I was so excited that I got that gig that I was determined to do the best work ever! ETC was a five issue 52-page (per book) mini-series that was to be the first thing out from Piranha. You would think in all my excitement I would have taken it a bit more serious.
I thought I did take it serious. I thought. I was wrong. I was stupid.
I spent way too much time doing “research” and such. So after two months I had no finished pages. Oh, I had done something on all 52 pages. But with a week left on my deadline, I had NO finished pages.
I hated the way that book turned out. The funny thing about ETC is it was almost universally hated… except in France. I’m not kidding. I still get fan mail from France on that book.
The French… go figure.
Over the years I have toyed with the idea of asking Paul Levitz at DC to re-release ETC with all new art. New art I would do for free, with back end participation :). I don’t think that’s ever been done. I would even go so far as to do some samples for Paul and his editors to look at so they could see what I had in mind as far as the art style. Alas, I don’t think they would go for it.
To bad. ETC was a great story but I fear the art did not do it justice. I would love to make it right but politics as they are will most likely prevent that.
The next book I did was Shado again from DC. I had some issues there also. Again I was late but there were circumstances beyond my control but I take full responsibility. This time instead of ducking my editor as I did on ETC I kept my editor (a real pain by the name of Mike Gold) informed. I’m OK with the way Shado came out except for the color in the first two books. I would also love to do that book over but… well you know.
Those projects were over ten years ago. Since then I have prided myself on never missing another deadline…ever.
I was trained as an illustrator and my career was flying high before I got into comics. To underscore that point, you can make a lot of money in the entertainment business and I have made a lot of money over the years (some years I have made zip, nada, zero) but my best financial year ever was as an illustrator, so it wasn’t like I sucked.
I just sucked when it came to those comic projects.
When I first did comics I made a lot of mistakes, one of the mistakes I made was thinking I could do comics like Denys Cowan and guys like him did.
The way Denys was trained was not the way I was trained. Another thing I did wrong was I spent way too much time “researching.” Which is freelance for “bullshit.”
Both ETC and Shado came out late and it was my fault. I wasted a lot of time and it showed in the work. Now that I think back it’s amazing I was not fired, especially when you consider my background was in commercial art and advertising. The word “deadline” in that field means just that – you miss it and you are dead.
I have not drawn a comic book in over ten years. I really miss it. Most of my career now is deal making. Love me or hate me, people can’t deny that I’m good at that.
Heck, I’m real good. How good? Let’s just say that I have pulled off some HUGE deals in my time. I’m asked all the time what do I do for a living as it seems to some that I’m just hanging out. As large as my mouth is I seldom talk about what I have done but here’s how I do what I do.
The best way to describe it is this, I create entertainment content that is positive and features (but is not limited to) people of color. I work in comics, mainstream publishing, education, medical, religion, music, TV, film and video. The budgets I control average between two and sex million dollars. Sometimes more, sometimes less.
This is my process:
1) I come up with an idea.
2) I research what company would be most likely to buy into it.
3) I write a business plan.
4) I present it to the company.
5) They buy all or part of it and I get paid.
Sometimes I’m the CEO of the company that was created from the business plan, sometimes I’m just the idea guy. When I did my deal in education, my card said “creator.” THAT was cool-nothing like walking around with a card from a Viacom Company that said creator.
Anyway. That’s my job.
What I have learned from working with companies like Viacom, NBC, Motown, Polygram, Universal Urban Ministries and others is this, as we say in the hood… they don’t play.
A deadline is a DEADLINE.
Look, I love the comic book industry but the comic book industry is the only industry I know where lateness and unprofessional behavior is a standard practice.
That said, I do love the comic book industry.
I’m not just saying that, I LOVE this industry. I love it, Love it, love it, love it!
I love the conventions. I love the people, I love the gossip (the good gossip. You know the stuff like Frank Miller is about to direct Gone With The Wind 2. Not the malicious gossip that I think can kill careers). I love the fact that there is more talent in the comic book industry than the television industry and movie industry combined. I honestly believe that. Hey, how many times does the comic book industry look to TV and movie guys to do comics? Now look at how many time Hollywood comes knocking on our door.
Maybe one of the reasons why comics are not as revered in America is because of the work ethic of some publishers and creators.
Especially creators. Look, I’m the first one to admit (as I have many times in this column) that I am flawed. Those two comics projects I mentioned are examples.
I came to realize that there is a much bigger picture than my part in any project. I see the big picture and now I am never late and I have also raised my game. The work I am producing as an illustrator now is what I do as an illustrator. I’m not trying to work like Denys, because I can’t.
I learned my lesson and I’m doing the kind of work that I can be proud of, the way I know how to do it. Trust me when I say the next wave of Michael Davis artwork will be fantastic.
No, don’t trust me. Let me prove it to you.
And there in lies the rub. I’m willing to admit I messed up and want to prove that I’m all that now. There is a breed of comic creator who simply does not take responsibility for their actions. I mean come on dude, how many times can your grandmother die?
I was talking to a friend of mine who runs a major division at a major film company. He gave some young comic book creators an opportunity to have their own show. These guys were late and when they finally delivered the work was not up to par. The excuses were many and varied. Well they blew that deal…big time.
What’s the difference between them and my past transgressions? Well I now understand and have for over ten years that there is something bigger than just being late, something bigger than just blowing the deal. That something is what happens next.
This is what happens in the entertainment world when it’s not comics.
1. You come up with a great idea.
2. You sell it to a network or studio.
3. You miss deadline after deadline.
4. You come up with the same excuses that work in comics.
5. You duck the studio or network .
6. You finally deliver and the work sucks.
7. THEY take you off YOUR project.
8. THEY put the word out that YOU are a problem.
9. You never get another shot at that level.
10. You go back to missing your comics deadlines and start blaming your woes on the studio or network executive who you now tell people screwed you over. You start drinking, your wife or husband leaves you. You lose your house that you brought with the money you thought you were getting from the TV show. No spouse, no home, no friends… but there’s some good news. You are no longer late on your comic book deadlines! That’s because you lose your comics job, being homeless you have no place to work. Years later as you watch the TV show you created but sold the rights to win Emmy after Emmy you realize that perhaps if you would have taken it a little more seriously then you would be on that red carpet with that supermodel. But no, there you are living in a box downtown wondering what time the shelter opens.
I am not naïve enough to think that everyone is like this. There are many, many talented professional comics creators who treat this as a real business and not an extension of their childhood dream to draw comics.
The point that some comic book creators don’t get is you can’t pull this stuff anywhere but comics. The real world does not tolerate the stuff that is commonplace in comics. Another thing that seems to not register with young creators is the amount of people who are affected by their bad decisions. It’s not just you, it’s the person who hired you that has to deal with your professionalism or lack there off. He has a boss also. So every time you are late or our work is suspect he has to deal with his boss. In most cases your boss has a boss who has a boss.
Most entertainment companies have a lot of turn over. Those people who leave a company (fired or voluntary) will most likely end up somewhere else, and when they do they will take their opinion of you with them. Let me clue you in to something I’m sure you already know: bad lasts a lot longer than good. Think not? Then name two Miss Americas.
I can almost guarantee if you could name two, one of them was Vanessa Williams. That’s the only one I can name. We all know why we remember Ms. Williams short reign. Now name two artists that have preformed in the Super Bowl halftime show. Is Janet Jackson on your list? I bet she is.
The comic creators who had the shot at the TV show may recover and get another shot. I hope they do, I doubt they will.
This is an industry wide issue and I think publishers have to address it as an industry. I don’t know how you do that but I’m sure a high profile example may help. Something needs to be done, maybe then we will have a chance to be taken a little more seriously as an industry.
Maybe we should do some research?
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.