Friday, July 04, 2008

Attack of the Giant Leeches

Years and years ago I was knocking at the doors of various comic book publishers, trying to find employment selling comic book scripts. It was a tough job trying to get in the door, as most of the larger publishers were being run in a kind of professional nepotism between the editors who worked there. It was difficult to find an editor who didn't play by those sick incestuous rules.

But I did manage to place a script here and there. Most notable of these was a brief tenure at the Marvel Comics sub-imprint Epic Comics on the title CLIVE BARKER'S HELLRAISER. The editor had heard about me through, I think, Steve Bissette's TABOO anthology. I was asked if I'd be interested in writing short scripts based on the ideas presented in the movie HELLRAISER. I'd never seen it, so I had to go out and rent the two films that had appeared by that time. I found them to be silly, nihilistic, and...well, I didn't care for them.

However, the money for writing the scripts was quite good and I felt that I could find purchase in the original concept to create some stories. So I did that, presented them to the editor (Dan Chichester), and sold three scripts. Unfortunately, Chichester left his position as editor, was replaced by a member of the editorial circle-jerk, and the door closed.

But, as promised, the money was good. I even earned some nice royalty checks, as sales on the early issues were hefty. At the time, the comic book business was going great guns and Barker's name propelled some import among the geek community. But, the fad waned and the title eventually was canceled. I heard no more of it until someone told me that Marvel/Epic had come out with reprints of the books in limited hardcover editions. "Swell," I figured. "I'll be getting reprint checks." Alas, no. When I inquired as to why I would get no money for the reprinting of stories dreamed by me and written by me, I was told that the hardback reprints were "merchandise" and as such, only Marvel/Epic and New Line Cinema and perhaps Clive Barker himself were due any additional payments. I never received a dime, nor even a contributor's copy. Those went for about $50 each, as I recall.

I laugh. Painfully, but I laugh.

Fast-forward more years. The Hellraiser trope is dusty and tattered and only low-budget movie producers and twisted fanboys bother to recall it. One day I'm surfing the Internet and happen upon an outfit called Checker Books who are reprinting the HELLRAISER comics in trade paperback format. I search the site and discover an email address and write asking if there are plans to reprint any of my own stories and, if so, will I receive payment for such. An editor actually wrote back to me and hinted that, yes, they were thinking of reprinting at least one of my stories and, yes, they would "try" to pay reprint funds.

Fast-forward more years. They did indeed reprint at least one of my Hellraiser tales. No, I did not receive any money for that. When I search their website now, there is no listing for any way to get in touch with these folk.

Again, I laugh. Painfully, but I do manage a chuckle.


Wayne Allen Sallee said...

Oh, I have my tales, some of which you've yet to hear. But one of the main reasons that comic shop I worked in neglected to stay in business was because at the time of the Barker books, specifically the only with Marilyn Monroe's tongue slipping inside her eye, doing big sales, I was requested by the owner to move them aside for the Garfield magazine, it being a family neighborhood and all.

HemlockMan said...

Most comic shops went out of business during the comic book implosion when sales plummeted. As a retailer it was horrifying to watch sales dwindle to almost nothing. Even X-MEN, which I sold to the tune of about 800 copies per month, were down to around a few dozen copies per month. I saw the end coming and closed up shop before I ended up like so many other comics hock up their necks to their distributors.

Stuart Gardner said...

Slimy bloodsuckers. The shamelessness of thieves can floor me. The sheer gall of stealing openly and not minding a damn what anyone sees, thinks or says. In middle age I should have grown accustomed to it ages back, but I never will. Being slow has its advantages!

I read this expecting an essay on the film, with the thought of telling my Yvette Vickers (a star of AotGL) story (we were friends), but I'll share it another time.

James Robert Smith said...

Yes, I'd like to hear an Yvette Vickers story, for sure.

Apparently the HELLRAISER concept was all just merchandise. However, there was a contract that Marvel belatedly sent out after my stories had appeared asking for my signature. I didn't sign it. However, I've been told that the fact that I cashed my checks from them assured that New Line could claim ownership of my stories. I wouldn't know, but those cats do seem to cover their asses in more than one way.