Wednesday, December 16, 2015

It Sells!

Years back when I was still working in the comics industry I had been hired by a successful small press publisher to plot, write, and dialog some of his titles. I got busy on the job and was soon making decent money delivering the scripts based on characters that belonged to the publisher.

One of the books was a title about vampire teenagers that I quickly grokked as being a theft of the basic premise of the movie The Lost Boys. He had a very derivative title--a riff on the movie title--but I did my best to make it different and create something new. The artist on the book was a then-unknown Eric Powell. 

I was also writing another title for the publisher based on the idea of a demon in Hell. When I read the source material he gave me I was apalled at how stupid and disgusting it was and asked if I could have some creative freedom to reinterpret. He agreed to the request.

While I was working on the scripts one of my comic artist pals asked me what I was doing in the industry and I told him. "You're working for that guy??!" He was horrified.

My response was that he was paying pro rates and on time, plus giving me creative freedom to interpret the properties. "Have you seen the sick shit he's publishing?" I had not.

Said friend proceeded to find some books and showed me what the company was putting out. I had to admit that it was sobering. Hyper-violence. Torture-porn. Violent female bondage. Splatter. Gore. Some of it was akin to a comic book snuff film. It was pretty damned disgusting.

"Well, I'm not writing that kind of thing," I told my friend.

"Yeah, well, stink rubs off when you step in shit," he told me.

He was right.

Some time later I got a call from an editor working for this publisher. They were having money troubles and needed to cut the rates they were paying. By half. I shrugged, told them okay, and that I'd finish the two series that I'd started. "Thanks. Everyone else is pissed off," the editor told me. Well, I had a day job and I knew what it was like to run a small business. You just could never tell.

That obviously made the publisher very happy. He called me a few days later to chat. During the conversation I mentioned some of those titles he was publishing and the content. Just offhand. I'm not generally that judgmental.

"Yeah," he agreed. "That is some sick shit. But sick shit sells."

Aha. So it does.

Then, after a few more days, I got another call. The publisher couldn't pay, at all, for the work I'd just turned in. He was having money trouble. So I stopped working on the issues I had yet to deliver. He was stuck without scripts for them. He was angry that I wouldn't finish the work for free (and a promise of pay at some later date). "I don't write for free," I informed him. Not for anyone. Not for any reason. This really pissed him off.

"Well, no one can understand your stories anyway! I can't figure them out!"

"That's because you're not only a crook, but you're stupid," I told him. (I like to immolate my bridges when the time comes.)

And it went downhill from there.

I told him not to print anything I'd written for him for which I had not been paid. Further, that if he altered my scripts and put my name on them that I would sue him. The books I had written never (to my knowledge) appeared. I was told by someone that some kind of graphic novel using part of one of my scripts had been published, but without my name on it. I never saw it, so I can't say.

The thing that I was left with--more than the crooked aspect of most comic book publishers--was the willingness of them to publish "sick shit" because "that sick shit sells".

These days I see some of the small press folk with whom I've worked doing similar things. They sell books that are basically Fascist, neo-Nazi, racist gun porn and are fine with that. It sells, and they make no judgments because "that sick shit sells" and it lines their pockets.

For myself...I've decided to walk away from the publishers of that sick shit. Two of them actually promote racist (but popular) books as templates for what they are looking to publish. Ugh. Permutations and severed accountability.

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