That line has nothing to do with this column. I just love starting a piece with “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” I mean how cool is that?
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
I started to look at comics differently. Up until that moment, comics were just a great vice in my life. Sure, I wanted to work in comics. Sure I loved comics but until that moment, comics to me were a simple, can’t do without, pleasure.
But… One day I was sitting in my study…what? yes, I had a study! That’s where I went to… study. So, one day I was sitting in my study when a bat smashed through my floor to ceiling window. At that moment I knew my path. My path was clear… That freakin’ bat must die!
Have you any idea how much a floor to ceiling window costs? A lot!
The bat was bouncing off my very expensive walls! Hey! When you see this shit in the movies and by this shit I mean people chasing a bat, rat, bird or whatever around their house, it’s all bullshit. In the movies the point is to get rid of the nuisance and provide comedy relief. The reality? It’s about killing the nuisance and avoiding bat blood on the walls of your Manhattan loft. After securing the bat, I started to…
Oh, you want to know what happened to the bat? Look, PeTA would be up my ass if I wrote what happened to that bat. I really don’t need to hear from those people so I’ll just say this, my .38 is missing a bullet and replacing a door is not that hard.
However, none of that is important. What is important is, at the very moment when my bat problem was over I realized that comics were not just a way to spend another lonely night after masturbating.
What? Oh, like you don’t!
At that moment I stuck upon an idea.
The Art Of The Deal.
To put it another way, a step-by-step overview of a comic book deal.
So… starting next week I’m going to share with you in detail the inner working of one of my comic book deals. From idea to printed graphic novel.
I’ll use an existing but not yet finished deal from start to finish so if it goes south you will know why.
So fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a realistic ride.
Once more, I’m Not Michael Davis and I’m getting pretty tired of people thinking I am.
Allow me to explain…
Some years back I received a call from news outlets asking for my response to Tom Cruise’s winning of a lawsuit.
For those of you who may not know this, I’m the last person who gives a darn about what any celebrity does. Unless I know the celebrity personally and I know quite a few, I just don’t care and it’s not worth my time. If it happens to be someone I know I still don’t give a hoot unless it’s wonderful or horrible news.
Wonderful, like Wayne Brady being nominated for an Oscar or horrible like Bill Duke voting for Herman Cain. That sort of thing I would care about because those are friends of mine and I’d like to share in Wayne’s happiness and Bill’s drug intervention.
Do I care what Wayne has to say after being caught by TMZ coming out of Starbucks?
Errr, hell to the no.
People who care about every little thing a Hollywood star does are, in my book, idiots.
“Is Paris writing you a check? Is Britney checking out your blog? If you died of a drug overdose would Kim keep an all night candlelit vigil at your freakin house?”
The above is pretty much my response when people try and bring me into a conversation about some well know person who would not know me if I stalked them.
I say “pretty much” because “freakin” is not the word I would use. I’m really trying to cut down on my swearing.
A guy told me the other day that my swearing while speaking at the Hollywood Black Film Festival was “ghetto.”
And you know what? That bitch was fucking right.
The fact that he was in the audience to see me is ample reason for me to stop being me.
Note to self: Tell Stevie Wonder that being blind thing of his is ‘ghetto.’
Oh-if you ever have a chance to attend The Hollywood Black Film Festival you should go. It’s great. Yes, they let in white people.
But (sorry peter) I digress.
I told the reporter that I was really flattered (and I was) that they wanted my opinion but that I had no opinion on the Tom Cruise lawsuit win and in fact had no idea what the lawsuit was about.
Remember this was a serious news outlet and I was not going to give them my standard “Why the FUC…FREAK should I care? Is Tom Cruise writing me a check? Is he checking out my blog? If I died tonight of a hot threesome with two Asian girls (I say no to drugs), would Tom Cruise hold an all night vigil at my house?”
I was in a hurry so I politely got off the phone and went back to my dates, Katsumi and Asuka.
Not twenty minutes later while deciding between scented or unscented baby oil, my phone rung again and lo and behold it was another news outlet call. Let me be very clear: it was a different news outlet. The first call was from a TV news reporter and the second was a journalist from a serious newspaper. My mother did not raise any fuc…darn idiots so I listened to this guy and realized why I was getting these calls.
It turned out that Tom Cruise had won a $10,000,000 lawsuit against (you guessed it) Michael Davis. Michael Davis claimed he had a videotape of Tom getting busy with another guy. I explained to the guy that I was not that Michael Davis. We both had a good laugh and I hung up the phone.
By the way, all this really happened. All I’ve done is change the names of my dates. O.K… technically, one was my date and the other was her hot friend who came to dinner with us. In the man rulebook that makes them both my dates.
So I share the story with Katsumi and Asuka who both get a big laugh about it and Katsumi (my official date) and Asuka (her hot friend) begin to tease me about being gay and say I have to prove I’m not…
The next day…what?
What happened? Nothing that affects the story so I’ll just move on…
The next day at some goddamn…oh, sorry, some gosh darn unholy hour in the morning I get another call from a different news outlet and I just hang the fuc… fish up.
The asshol…the inconsiderate reporter who I had just hung up on calls me back. I scream into the phone, “I’m Not That Michael Davis” and hang up. He calls back…
Now I’m really pissed.
Yes! But I’m Not That Michael Davis!!!
Sir, this is not going to go away I’d like to give you a chance to tell your side of the story.
I’m not that Michael Davis! I work in comics!
Is that how you want to play it? O.K, I’m a comic book fan. What comics have you done? Tell me that and I’ll leave you alone.
L I G H T B U L B ! I say nothing. I just let the question sit there.
Who’s Stan Lee, Michael?
I say nothing, let another long moment pass and then I say…
You won’t edit me so I look like an utter fool?
No. I’ll paint you in the best possible light.
Tom was here last night. In fact he left his wallet and one of the Polaroid’s.
You have his wallet and a photo? What’s the photo of?
You (slow sing-song voice) know…
Can I come out and talk to you?
I told him sure and set up to meet him at Jerry’s Deli, a popular but not nearly as New York deli as people in L.A. think it is.
I don’t go and about an hour after I was supposed to meet him I get a call asking how much later would I be, I told him I’d be right there. I never showed up and he never called back. I assumed that was the time when his fact checkers discovered I was not that Michael Davis.
Yesterday, I get an email from one of the biggest agencies in Hollywood. I’ve been represented by two of the biggest agencies in Hollywood and every so often some agent at another of the biggest agencies in Hollywood tries to recruit me.
Yeah, it boggles my mind also. Hollywood. What a bunch of morons.
So getting an email from a huge Hollywood agency is not new to me. This email was a dream come true. It was about a movie deal.
I’m written TV. I’ve written books. I’ve written comic books. I’ve written for magazines. I’ve illustrated books, comics, magazines, etc.
I’ve hosted my own syndicated radio show. I’ve designed toys (out in Feb 2012; plug) I’m on the net. I’ve even designed stage sets for big name music artists.
I’m my own “King of all Media” just like my hero, Howard Stern.
I’ve never had a movie deal.
I’ve sold a screenplay but that as they say is that.
Everyone who works in comics wants a movie deal. I don’t care who they are, they want a movie deal.
I really want a movie deal. I want to see my work on the big screen. I don’t care if it’s a huge hit or a dismal failure, either way I’m golden.
If it’s a hit then I have a hit movie. If it’s a dismal failure then Hollywood fuc… fowled up my creation. It’s a win win!
My dream had come to pass! This huge hollywood agency was emailing me to tell me that I was going to direct my movie!!
Wait a sec…what movie? Wait another sec, me direct? A movie? I’ve got as much chance of directing a film as Herman Cain has of becoming black.
Not going to happen.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve directed hundreds of films. In fact Katsumi and Asuka starred in a one called “Two minutes and finished.”
It was a thriller.
So I am a movie director (my medium is video…sometimes hidden video) but as good as I am there is no way anyone is going to let ME direct a big Hollywood movie.
Then it dawned on me. I’m not that Michael Davis. I’d had meetings with the big Hollywood agency from which the email was sent and they must have gotten me mixed up with the Shoot Em Up director.
So, no movie deal for me. ;-(
It was an honest mistake. These things happen. The agent who sent me the email was quite nice when we met and perhaps one day this will be the agency that does do my movie deal which I know is going to happen!
You doubt me? Don’t. The world is littered with many who have doubted what I can do. Like my illustration teacher at Pratt who years ago told me in front of the entire class that as good an artist as I was I’d still never amount to anything because of my personality.
Less than ten years later I reminded him of that little fact when he tried to submit his work to Motown Animation and Filmworks where I just happened to be President and CEO.
I love that story.
Hey Gerry, how you living? I’m good! We should have lunch! I’ll pay. Call me! If you don’t get me at my home in NYC call my home in L.A. Yes, you can call collect!
I tend to hold grudges against people who are dream killers. And no, I’m not working on that. I’m keeping that personality trait.
Just to recap, when it comes to Tom Cruise, gay porn and mega movies deals I’m not Michael Davis. Like I said, these things happen and unless you are a complete idiot and refuse to believe I did not claim I had Tom Cruise on tape having a nude swordfight without any swords I will continue to laugh these things off. Hey, at least for a few seconds I knew how it felt to get a big Hollywood movie deal!
It’s good to laugh!
Now if a huge check shows up from a major movie studio and it’s the director’s fee from the next big budget Michael Davis movie I’m going to laugh at that also, all the way to the fucking bank!
Fuck that guy from The Hollywood Black Film Festival. I am THAT Michael Davis.
Comics made the mainstream news only with some event regular folk could understand and think was worth going into a comic book store for the first time…ever.
Superman is dead.
Superman gets married. Which is the same thing as being dead.
Spider-Man gets married.
Spider-Man becomes Latino and black.
Spider-Man gets divorced (because he became Latino and black).
Archie kisses a black girl.
Archie is booted out of the Tea Party (you know why).
The news that DC is being kicked out of major bookstore chains because of an exclusive deal they made with Amazon is messing with my head.
That’s not the only thing either, I read an article in Wired magazine recently that stated that iPads could both revolutionize and destroy the industry.
Again. My head is being messed with.
I don’t want to see mainstream media talk about comics unless it’s a new comic book movie, Comic Con or Archie uses the ‘N’ word during a argument with his black girl friend.
Yes, I know I’m being naïve. Yes I know that comics are a business and change is inevitable, yada, yada, whatever. I get that.
I long for a return to the good old days when the press would make a big deal out of The Death Of Superman and regular folk would be naive enough to buy dozens of copies because it never occurred to them that Superman would be back.
“It’s a comic book you moron.” I said to about a zillion people who were shocked that Superman was not dead forever so the 50 copies they purchased along with the 50 billion sold would not be so valuable as to put the kids through college.
I remember a “regular folk” about to pay a retailer $40 bucks for two copies of The Death Of Superman at a NY Comic Con when the very same issue was cover priced at a newsstand in the lobby of the Javits Center where the con was being held.
I told the guy about the newsstand price and assured him they still had plenty of copies left. He thanked me like I just handed him a winning lottery ticket. Man, was he happy!
The retailer, not so much.
Yes, mainstream press, give me that kind of comic book news and keep your gloom and doom for what you do best: Lindsey Lohan.
Maybe, just maybe Grell wouldn’t ask me. I mean he had yet to speak one single word to me in the two plus hours I was in his room.
No such luck. After Grell asked everyone in the room he turned to me.
“What did you think?”
All I had to do was lie. Why didn’t I? I didn’t because lying to me is never an option. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not because I think lying is such a terrible thing, it’s because I have a horrible short-term memory. I’ll never be able to support a lie once I’ve committed to it.
In other words, if I lie about something and the subject ever comes up again I won’t remember what I said originally.
“It’s not like me to sleep with a man on the first date,” said the very beautiful woman.
“It’s not a first date if I’ve known you forever.” I said with my best Billy Dee Williams voice.
“We just met yesterday.”
“But in my dreams I’m known and loved you forever.”
“You…you love me?”
The next morning I said goodbye and said I would call later that day so we can have dinner and talk about our new life together.
Two weeks later…
“Why haven’t you called me??”
“Who is this?”
Now, here I was faced with lying to Mike Grell a man whose work I loved. I thought long and hard about simply saying I liked the movie. I mean what did I have to lose? I’d most likely never see him again. He was not nice to me at all when we first met and the show did suck.
Then I thought about what Denys Cowan told me about Grell when I told him I was invited to watch Sable in Grell’s room. “Mike Grell hunts.”
“Really? What does he hunt?” I asked wanting to know every thing about the idol I was about to meet.
“It’s not what he hunts.” Denys said. “It’s what he hunts with.”
“Grell hunts with a bow and arrow.”
I didn’t (still don’t) know a lot about hunting but I instantly recognized just how bad ass you have to be to hunt with a bow and arrow.
So now I’m scared as shit to lie to Grell.
What would happen if I said I loved the show and then someone asked me the same question later and I told them the truth and Grell found out, hunted me down, choked the life out of me and then shot me with an arrow?
Hey, stranger things have happened to me.
I decided not to lie. He asked again, “What did you think?”
“I like the comic book better.”
Yeah, sometimes I’m a fucking genius.
“So do I.” Said the man who would soon become my close friend, he added, “Let’s get something to eat.”
So, there I was at dinner with Mike Grell (sitting right next to him) John Ostrander, Kim Yale, Denys (who finally showed up) and tons of other comic professionals that I was totally jazzed to meet.
I was in Heaven. During dinner, Mike and I talked and after finding out I was an artist he asked to see my portfolio.
The next day changed my professional life.
I showed Carol Kalish my portfolio and she gave me a cover assignment for Marvel’s Open Space anthology. I then met with Mike Grell and after showing him my work he made a call to Mark Nevelow. Mark was the brand new editor of Piranha Press, DC Comics new mature reader imprint.
I’ve always been smart when it comes to seeing and seizing opportunities. That doesn’t mean I have not blown some opportunities. Just because I have a knack for spotting them and acting does not exempt me from screwing something up. Been there done that…often. Not this time.
I was to spend another two weeks in Ohio hanging with Denys at a friend of his house. I cut my trip short so I could get back to New York to work on the Open Space cover and meet with Mark Nevelow. I met with Mark and was commissioned to do Piranha’s first project, ETC.
I mentioned in part one of this series that I was about to accept a position running the Art Department of a prestigious prep school. When Mark gave me ETC I changed my mind. It wasn’t just the project that changed my mind, it was the people I met at that Mid-Ohio Convention and my unchanged love of comics I’ve had since I was a kid. The people I met were so wonderful to me that I decided to take a leap towards the dream I was right about to simply let go.
Denys Cowan invited me to The Mid-Ohio con. I met Carol Kalish who gave me a cover assignment and became a great friend and adviser. I met John Ostrander who invited me to meet Mike Grell. Kim Yale kept me from fleeing Grell’s room. Mike Grell called Mark Nevelow on my behalf. Mark Nevelow gave me the ETC series.
I decided to stay in New York and work in comics.
The people above are whom you can blame for me working in comics.
I wrote this with young artists and writers in mind.
Most of you have no idea what I’ve done in comics because I don’t illustrate many comics. The fact is I’m known mostly as a deal maker in the industry. You may not know me but I’m quite sure you know some of the creators that have come out of my mentor program or some of the work I’ve done in TV or The Black Panel.
Or maybe not.
Here’s what you should know if you really want to have a career in comics.
Talent is great.
Desire is wonderful.
Having a dream and sticking to it, priceless.
None of the above will matter if you don’t try and build relationships with good people. I’ve said it a zillion times, I know good people. I’ve pulled off some unbelievable shit in my career but without good people in my life it most likely would have still been shit but that’s about all.
Myr. Grell, Mr. Ostrander and Mr. Nevelow my sincere thanks to you kind sirs.
Ms. Yale and Ms. Kalish, you will never be forgotten and my thanks to you as well.
To every young creator, I leave you with this:
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover”
Please take a look at last week’s installment before continuing on…
As I said, I’ve had a very interesting career in comics.
Denys Cowan and I were biding time until the premier of Mike Grell’s Jon Sable series on television. I’d been invited to watch it in Mike Grell’s hotel room and I invited Denys.
We were wandering around the 1987 Mid Ohio Con and I was on Cloud 9 thanks to John Ostrander, who issued the invite. While Denys was looking at comics at a retailer booth I moseyed over to a creator’s booth. As I mentioned before I talk to everyone and the thought of looking at someone’s work while they stand there and watch me look at their work is just crazy to me.
So, being me, I started asking questions about the copies of what looked like a quickly Xeroxed and even more quickly stapled comic book. One of my pet peeves is presentation. I don’t care how good an artist you are if the presentation of your work sucks I simply don’t want to look at it.
Hey, I don’t care how good a chef is in the kitchen or how good the food is, if I see a roach I’m not eating in the restaurant. I mean who the Hell wants a haircut from a barber who’s own hair is a mess?
Not me my friend, not me.
The book I was gazing at looked homemade – but – the two guys behind the table were cool as shit and the comic was the most original thing I had ever seen in comics before.
The artist and writer I was talking too were Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird and the book was Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles.
I’ve done some pretty interesting things in my career. Co-founded Milestone Media, created The Action Files, the only line of comics taught as a curriculum in the school system and created another universe, The Guardian Line, for African-American churches and Christian book stores.
When DC comics launched Piranha Press in 1987 I was the artist chosen to illustrate the first series for the line. The Black Panel, a comics and entertainment forum I started over a decade ago, is now in development as a TV show as is The Littlest Bitch (TLB) a book I co-wrote with David Quinn.
David and I first conceived TLB as a graphic novel on the New Jersey turnpike almost 20 years ago. We were driving home from The Kubert School where I was teaching a master illustration class and David was my guest speaker that day.
Speaking of TV, Static Shock, based on the character I co-created, can still be seen on a Disney channel, which cracks me up because Disney turned it down quick, fast and in a hurry when we pitched it there 10 years ago.
I’ve done some other pretty note worthy things (I think) in comics but I’m most proud of my mentor program. Some of the biggest names in comics have come through my program. I won’t bore you with the names but I will say that because of my self-funded mentor program I have four city proclamations and a school auditorium named in my honor.
I’ve also managed to carve out a bad boy type of reputation in the industry. That reputation has many origins, depending on whom you get the story from but that story is for another time. I will tell you this: when it comes to getting that bad boy rep, I have no one to blame but myself.
I don’t tell you some of what I’ve accomplished in comics to impress you but rather to impress upon you that is there is plenty of blame and help to go around and there lies within a tale, which just may help someone who’s trying to break in now. Sooo…
In 1987 I was offered and was right about to accept a position overseeing the art department at a very prestigious prep school. This was a dream job. They were going to pay me a fat salary, give me an on-campus apartment as part of my compensation package and all my meals were free. The only thing I had to pay for was my phone bill as there was also a clothing stipend.
That was a dream job, so why didn’t I take it? Those of you who hate me are thinking ‘Oh why, oh why, did that loud mouth mofo not take that job?’
In fact, I was going to take it. I had started packing my bags when Denys Cowan talked me into going to the Mid-Ohio con with him. As fate would have it I went to the Mid-Ohio Con to attend a very small but very cool comics convention.
It was clear when we got there, Denys knew everyone and everyone knew Denys. I did not know a soul there. Denys would often leave me alone to go and talk to some one, which left me to wander aimlessly around the convention. It was during one of these aimless walks that I met John Ostrander.
Wait a sec-before I go on I should let you know that I was (still am) a comic’s geek. Although I had a very good career going as an illustrator it was my dream to somehow work in comics.
John and I hit it off very well and before I knew it he was inviting me to Mike Grell’s room to watch the Sable pilot. I thought I had died and gone to Comic Book Heaven. I adored Mike Grell’s work. At the time he was my favorite artist on the planet! Later when Denys arrived I causally mention that I was going to Mike Grell’s room to watch the premier of his new TV show.
The look on Denys’ face was priceless. It said “how the hell did you manage that?” We still had some time (I told Denys he could come as my guest; you should have seen that look) so we decided to browse the convention floor.
If you know me, you are well aware I talk to everyone. I mean everyone. I’m just wired that way. Standing at an artist’s table looking at their work without uttering a sound is just freakin crazy to me.
Little did I know the two guys I was now chatting with would go on to change the industry in a huge way!
Editor’s Note: This originally appeared at www.michaeldavisworld.com on January 28, 2011. It is being reprinted here without permission. It’s been reformatted to meet ComicMix’s high editorial standards.
A long time ago in a galaxy, blah, blah, blah…
…Denys Cowan, Bill Sienkiewicz and I shared a studio next to some creators who are all legends now. It was the second silver age of comics and we were in the thick of it.
Howard Chaykin was doing American Flagg!, Walt Simonson was on Thor, Al Milgrom was doing Spider-Man. Jim Sherman was in the studio but I forgot what he was working on, I do remember it was bad ass.
The studio where all those superstar upstarts were was called Upstart Studio.
Also at Upstart was Frank Miller who was doing Daredevil and about to do Ronin. I seldom saw Frank but when I did more often than not he would ask what I was working on and was just a great guy. I remember being a bit jealous when Bill and Frank started working on Elektra and for the life of me I can’t remember why.
All that said, how’s that for a line up?
Those guys (Denys included) sounds like a comic fan’s dream team even now. Speaking of my best friend Denys a few years forward in time from our studios days would see him nominated for an Eisner for best penciler… twice. People forget just how badass Denys Cowan is.
Our studio never got an official name although Bill liked to call it Bill and his little helpers… the bastard.
As far as what we were doing at Bill and his little helpersStudio, Bill was working on Elektra and The New Mutants; Denys was doing The Black Panther for Marvel, V (the comic adaption of the original TV series) and Vigilante for DC.
What was I doing? Nothing great in comics, that’s for sure.
I was working on children books, movie posters, etc. I had one comic book assignment for the Marvel magazine Epic. The assignment was given to me by the late great Archie Goodwin. I made an appointment with Archie hoping for a cover assignment I never dreamt he would give me an interior job.
I loved comics but I was trained as an editorial and mainstream illustrator. I never learned to do comics like, say, a Denys Cowan who can imagine and draw anything from his head. I need reference, I need to look at stuff, and I need dozens of layouts before I start a finished piece. Comics that are fully painted and tell a non-liner story at that time were rare. I was always jealous (still am) of guys that can do that make it up from nothing jazz.
Dwayne McDuffie recently commented on multitalented guys that can write and draw. Truth be told Dwayne, just as a writer, is light years away from where I will ever be as a visual storyteller. That, to me, is multitalented. When Christopher Priest was the editor on the Spider-Man book he once dissected a cover painting I did for him like he was a high school science teacher and I was the frog. He’s also a hell of a writer and just as good a musician. Reggie Hudlin glides between producing and directing movies and TV shows to writing some of the best comics I’ve ever read. Those guys are multitalented.
20 or so years ago, except for Heavy Metal and a few other outlets, painted comics were few and far between. The graphic novel as a fully painted editorial piece of art and content was not quite there yet. It was about to come into its own lead by people like my brother from another mother Bill Sienkiewicz. The work of Kent Williams, George Pratt and Dave McKean was just around the corner as well but not there yet.
Howard Chaykin saw over 20 years ago where comics were going and produced a few painted books before just about anyone did.
Like an asshole, I tried to do comics the way Denys, Walt, Howard and Frank did. I was too stupid to listen to Howard Chaykin when he told me, “Do what you do, the industry is changing and you can bring something new to it.’
Some of the best advice I’ve ever been given. It’s right up there with, put your hands on the wheel and answer in a civil tone of voice, “Yes officer, whatever you say officer.”
I wish I was joking about the cop advice, but I assure you I’m not.
I did not listen to Howard. Years later Mike Gold told me the same thing after I delivered a Wasteland story, which was not my finest hour. I didn’t think he would but Mike gave me another Wasteland story and said, “Do this like any other illustration assignment.” The story was about South Africa and I nailed that mother.
Of all the high profile regular illustrations gigs I was doing (Newsweek, NBC, etc.) the assignment I was the most excited about was Epic. It was a six-page story I was writing and drawing and taking forever to do because I wanted to do it like “regular” comics artists did. Could not do it then, can’t do it now.
Long story short, I will never forget those late night talks with Howard, Bill, Frank, Jim, Al and Denys. It was indeed the second silver age but for me it will always be my golden age.
Bill and his little helpers. Somehow that does not brother me anymore.