Sunday, May 12, 2013

It Wasn't As If I Wasn't Warned.

Around the time that I was selling the stories to Marvel, I was asked to submit a pitch to a gaming company that was doing role-playing games that would be combined with comic books. This actually sounded like a lot of fun to me because I had been involved for a time participating in and studying role-playing games and I figured the two would be a good fit. So I submitted a pitch.

The editor was a well-known comics writer who had landed the gig of editing for this new enterprise. If my memory serves me, that would have been Steven Grant. (Again, so much water has passed under the bridge since that it might have been someone else...but that's the name that is foremost in my mind. I have exchanged email with Grant about this--and he says that he indeed worked with TSR-West, but as a creative director and not editor.)

Portrait of the author as a young man (taken around the time this stuff was happening).

I pitched a Lovecraftian work that I called "Void's Herald". The editor (whomever he was) liked what he saw and asked for a script. So, I got to work on that and wrote a script for the first installment which was approved. Contracts were drawn up and I was waiting for delivery. The pay rate for this one would have been $20,000 for me. That might not sound like a ton of money, but it was 2/3 of what I was making at my regular job at the time (operating comic book shops), so to me it was a lot of money. I figured it would get me closer to my goal of being able to go full-time as a writer.

Then, one day as I was working on the project, the phone rang. It was the editor. He told me that the editing biz was not for him and that he'd turned in his resignation. But that I shouldn't  worry because my contract was on his desk and the new editor would be sending it right out.

One thing that I definitely do recall is that the new guy in charge was Roger Slifer. He never did send that contract. I finally got in touch with him (after some difficulty) and he told me that he was not going to go with the script and pitch and that I was not going to receive the contract. I asked for a kill fee for the time and effort that I'd put into the project, and he told me he'd look into it, but that never happened either. And, of course, this is where I first learned about the world of the professional circle-jerk:

These are the cliques of writers and editors who routinely passed work from one to the other, keeping the game a closed system. This was a particularly severe problem at Marvel. It was hard to make a decent living just being an editor at some of these firms (including Marvel) so the editors (almost all of whom were either writers or hoped to be writers) passed gigs among one another to generate more income. Because of this, it was extremely difficult to break in at places like Marvel--due to the editorial circle-jerk being played there. I had been fortunate in meeting Dan Chichester, who was actively looking outside the New York area for writing talent for HELLRAISER. I was about to get a sick lesson in this situation.

Soon, Slifer had handed off the writing jobs to established professionals with whom he'd worked before. The circle-jerk was on. I was out.

Shortly after this, Dan Chichester called to let me know that he, too, was giving up the editorial gig at Marvel. But he assured me that the pitches I'd made for more HELLRAISER yarns were in the new editor's hands and he was sure things would be okay.

They were not.

The new editor never responded to my pitches. The later jobs seemed to be going in-house, and I stopped paying attention.

In the meantime, I had also made a number of pitches to both Marvel and DC and Harris Publications on several established titles. JONAH HEX, SWAMP THING, VAMPIRELLA. I came close with HEX, but the editor with whom I'd been speaking was cut loose and I found myself talking to a stranger again, who was not interested in talking to a writer who was farther away than the next cubicle.

A good opportunity did arise when I was offered a shot at writing the comic book adaptation of INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE. I spoke with the editor and expressed interest and enthusiasm (I'd genuinely enjoyed the novel when it first appeared). So I wrote up a pitch which was accepted. I then began the process of breaking the novel down into sections to be scripted and was in the midst of that when I opened a trade journal one day to see an ad for the upcoming title...which was being scripted by someone not named James Robert Smith. I tried to get in touch with the editor to ask what had happened...but the calls were never returned.

As you can see...Things were not going well.

Along the way I was trying to keep my hand in wherever I could, and sold scripts here and there to other small publishers. Scripts were still being produced and I was still making a little money from the form. But it looked as if the dream of working full-time as a writer was just not going to happen.

And, of course, Stephen Bissette had warned me all along about the comic book industry. I had been told about the way things were run, and the way companies treated their creators. Yes, it didn't matter how bitterly men like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko had been treated, there was always new talent ready to leap for the chance to work on the things that had been stolen from those men. I knew this because...Hell! I was one of those guys! There was nothing I wanted more in those days than to write stories based on the creations of Jack Kirby!

And it was about this time that I got a rude lesson in what corporations can do to creators. Even minor ones such as myself.

Continued tomorrow...

The 9th and final issue of TABOO. Edited by Stephen R. Bissette and published by Denis Kitchen. This issue contains my story "The New Ecology of Death" which is the basis for my next novel (appearing soon) of the same title. Steve Bissette is the only person with whom I worked in my time in comics who had any sense of decency at all. Publishing in general is a tough business, but the comics industry is a cesspool of liars and thieves. To have worked with Stephen Bissette was a great pleasure and a genuine stroke of luck. The rest of them were, basically, criminals.


dogboy443 said...

Shit! Is that Tom Selleck? Look at the guns!!!

James Robert Smith said...

Ah, my youth. In the midst of an extreme exercise/diet regime. I was in really good shape for a few years.

Kirk G said...

You must have been the envy of all the girls around you...

James Robert Smith said...