Cut Them Off At The Past, by Dennis O’Neil
And the Screen Writers Guild lurches into a tenth week and if there’s any end in sight, I haven’t heard about it.
Last time, I mentioned the Academy of Comic Book Arts and its failure to do any significant negotiating on behalf of its members. ACBA wasn’t the first attempt, though, to organize those glorious mavericks, the comic book community. In the 60s…
Wait! Better issue a warning before I go further. Do not regard anything that follows as gospel. (In fact, you might consider not regarding the Gospel as gospel, but let us not digress.) I have no reason not to believe what I’m about to tell you except one: About a year before he died, Arnold Drake, who was a busy comic book writer at the time we’ll be discussing, told me that the story I had wasn’t the whole story, or even necessarily accurate. I don’t know why I didn’t press him for further information, but I didn’t.
Okay, the story:
In the 60s, a bunch of comics freelancers – the guys who mostly created the superhero pantheon we’ve cherished ever since and so, indirectly at least, made millions for people who weren’t them – had a few informal meetings to discuss approaching management for some help in getting insurance. Somehow, the story goes, management knew what was up, and before any action could be taken, stopped giving assignments to these mild, non-confrontational rebels.
It gets worse, at least for me.
Dick Giordano was hired as an editor at DC and brought with him a few folk who had worked for him when he was honchoing Charlton Comics, among them Steve Skeates and me. I can’t speak for Steve, but I was thinking something like, those DCers must have seen what nifty work we were doing and decided to grab us. Uh…no. I doubt that the guys in the big offices knew our names, though again, someone who should know told me they did. What does seem certain is that the old-timers weren’t producing, for whatever reason, and Steve and I were warm bodies who knew how to type. So we typed – scripts, are what we typed, and for a handsome increase in remuneration, triple our Charlton page rate.
Were we scabs?
It seems likely that the answer is a qualified yes – qualified because we had no idea, really, why we were handed a chunk of the Big Rock Candy Mountain, albeit a tiny chunk. Scabs presumably know they’re being scabby. And if they don’t, they’re dupes.
So, instead of being a scab, maybe I was just a dupe. Why am I not feeling better?
I’ve been assured, and I believe, that this sort of thing could not happen today. But comics people still need the kind of help a union might provide.
I’m not optimistic about such a union ever existing. As I mentioned last week, creative people in general and comics people in particular are hard to corral. There might be another way of achieving a union’s ends, and if there is, please, let’s know about it.
Commenting on last week’s column, Elayne Riggs suggested joining the Freelancers Union, Graphic Artists Guild, or WGA. Those organizations might be an answer for some, and maybe should be investigated. And Rick Taylor mentioned The Hero Initiative, which I’ll tell you about later.
RECOMMENDED READING: Trickster Makes This World, by Lewis Hyde.
Dennis O’Neil is an award-winning editor and writer of Batman, The Question, Iron Man, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and The Shadow – among many others – as well as many novels, stories and articles. The Question: Zen and Violence, reprinting the first six issues of his classic series with artist Denys Cowan, is on sale right now, the second volume, Poisoned Ground, will be on sale April 30, and his novelization of The Dark Knight
Denny – Regardless of whether you may have FELT like scabs after the fact, I'm choosing to view the situation from this perspective. All of the talent brought over from Charlton at that point in history had actual TALENT. From a reader's perspective I truly liked reading the stories from you and Steve and the fresh style of Jim Aparo as well as others.Other editors brought Phillipino artist's over and those guys were clearly making less at their new gigs. THAT smells bad to me.Do we clearly need some sort of organization? Sure! But in this day an age we may be dealing with a concept that may exist in the past.Look at the attempt to dilute copyright ownership rolling out now. The businesses have a method to beat any attempt to give creators and talent and their will always be plently of fresh, new talent to replace them.You gotta make a living.
Absolutely – i loved their work at Charlton and (mostly) loved it at DC, too.I particularly loved Aparo's "Phantom Stranger"…
Thanks for the name-check, Denny! I think the potential ease of scabbing is one of the big reasons there isn't a comic book creators' union. There are so many folks willing to do this sort of thing for free, who are currently putting out web comics and self-publishing and whatnot on an amateur basis, that they'd jump at the chance to work for the Big Two and make some actual money. And largely due to the national mood against unions which started turning in full force with the Reagan era and the firing of the PATCO employees, it would be tricky at best to summon up enough of the feeling of solidarity to keep wanna-bes from becoming worker bees.
For my money scabbing only happens when you are brought in to replace someone else.Doens't sound like this was the case.But yes, a union is still a good idea.I loved Aparo's version of the Phantom and Wander at Charlton. I liked Pat Boyette's Phantom there, too.
Denny, Arnold Drake's fuller comments on the subject of the "writers' purge" (along with those of Bob Haney and John Broome) can be found in Mike W. Barr's article "The Madames and the Girls" from Comic Book Artist, and available for viewing on line athttp://books.google.com/books?id=18evuq_VXXUC&…+drake%22+%22comic+book+artist%22+purge&source=web&am…