Thursday, December 06, 2007

Original Art Stories: James Kemsley, Don Perlin & Norm Breyfogle

What do James Kemsley, Don Perlin and Norm Breyfogle have in common? More than you might think. I first interviewed Don Perlin in 2003 and during the course of the interview he mentioned he that he wanted to use the interview as an on-line ad for his 2003 Tourettes fund raiser. That was more than fine with me, so off we went and each time I plugged the interview I also plugged the web-site where Don would be doing his auctions. Don emailed me later and told me that it'd be a raging success, and that made me feel fairly good, which proved to be important as it was a time when I was feeling fairly bad.

Fast forward a year. In mid 2004 Don Perlin had asked me if I knew any artists that I could approach for donations for his then annual Cavalcade Of Comics auctions. We spoke about the artists I then knew, a lot of them Don already knew and had already approached, with varying degrees of success, but three names came out of the hat - James, Norm and a Legendary Artist who'll remain nameless for reasons that will become painfully obvious very shortly. I warned Don that I'd not be pushing the issue, if they said no then so be it, and to be honest, I didn't know Norm all that well at the time as we'd just begun emailing each other and establishing a solid friendship that not only persists to this day, but has grown stronger than I think either of us expected. James I had spoken to in depth in regards to the Sunday Mail situation, but, and again I warned Don, James had told me that he didn't draw sketches of Ginger Meggs because people always asked for them. Thus if he began to draw them that's all he'd do and he did have a daily strip to produce, with a Sunday strip on top. The Legendary Artist I knew was virtually retired and was busily doing commissions and odd jobs and had told me once that he spent the bulk of the day doing warm up sketches. I figured he'd have a fair few sketches around the place. With all of that in mind Don agreed that he'd leave it to my best judgement.

My first stop was James. I emailed him and he phoned for a quick chat about the auction. He listened closely and asked a few questions, would he have to send the art out? I responded that no, I could send it as I was going to be sending Don a few Bonzer books so he could auction them, so I was happy to piggyback the art onto that package. James agreed that was the best course of action and stated that he'd get the art to me asap. I told James that there was no pressure, and he laughed again. "No worries mate," he responded, "I was going to send you something anyway so I'll throw it in the same package." That something was my own Meggs sketch. The package arrived early the following week and the whole lot (minus my sketch, of course) was in Don's hands a week or so later.

My next stop was Norm. Now I had no idea how to approach Norm about this, or if he'd even be agreeable, so I thought the best approach was a simple email, explaining what Don was doing, that it was a major event, how Neal Adams, Jack Davis, the Kuberts (Joe, Andy and Adam), Bob Hall, Bob Layton, Bernie Wrightson, Will Eisner, Terry Austin and more had donated art and how Dick Giordano, Alex Saviuk, Layon and others would be doing a sketching/signing session on the day of the auction. Norm was upfront and said that he didn't have a lot of really good Batman art left as he'd sold it over the years, but he dug around and sent Don the Aquaman splash page you see, a book that had just seen publication. I apologised for approaching Norm but he insisted that if he'd heard about it he'd have sent Don something regardless. No apology necessary.

So far I was two from two. I phoned the Legendary Artist who'd raved about Don previously, about how both he and Don went back to the 1950s when they first met and about how he always liked Don. He'd tell me that he always loved working with Don throughout the '60s, '70s and beyond. Armed with this I thought it'd a walk in the park. I don't think I've ever been more wrong on anything in my life.
"No," he said, "I don't do charity. Waste of time. People have asked me over the years and I always say no. Then I tell them to stop calling me." I pointed out this wasn't a dubious charity, this wasn't someone phoning him wanting him to donate to a fake charity. I explained that it was his good pal Don, about why Don was doing this, where the money would go. I explained how Neal Adams, Will Eisner, John Romita, Joe Sinnott and Jack Davis had donated art. I spoke for a good fifteen minutes uninterrupted, probably the longest I'd ever spoken to the Legendary Artist without being cut off. It fell on deaf ears.
"Who cares?" he replied, "If Adams wants to give his shit away then good for him and frankly Eisner is an idiot for doing it. He should know better. Anyway I'm not doing it."
"It's just a sketch," I replied, "surely you've got plenty of them lying around the place."
"I have tons of the stuff. I've got piles of sketches and bits of art around the place that I know I'll never be able to sell. But I'm not interested. I never give any art away free. I'd rather burn it or throw it into the bin than hand it over for nothing." (That's a logic that I've never understood. If you're going to throw something out then why not give it away to someone who can use it? I'd love for someone to explain it to me)
"Well that's not exactly true," I said, "I know you've gifted art before to different people."
"Only if they buy up big. If Don wants to buy some art then I'll send it to him."
I pondered this for a second and said, "Doesn't it defeat the purpose of a charity auction if Don has to buy art to sell? He might as well just channel that money into the charity."
"That's his problem." With that the subject was closed for the time being.

I couldn't understand the attitude, after all here was a guy who raved about Don. How much he liked Don. How he'd do anything for Don. A guy who'd asked for Don's phone number so that they could reconnect after all of these years. And here he was dismissing Don's good cause. I couldn't let it lie. I waited for a bit and asked,
"Ok, if I buy the art and flip it for the charity, how much would it cost?"
"Full price. No discount." The Legendary Artist then went on a sales pitch and told me about some of the great art he had on hand that he was happy to sell me there and then. After twenty minutes of this I decided that it'd be better to just send Don the money and be done with it. The funny thing is, when I remembered this exchange it made a lot of other things make perfect sense later down the line. I still like the Legendary Artist but I did lose some respect for him, but then liking someone doesn't always mean I have respect for them. I never did tell Don about the reasons why the Legenday Artist refused his request, I just never mentioned it.

In that month the good guys were James, Norm, Don and everyone that donated art (I wish Don would run another one as I'm sure that I could get a few more artists into the fold). The Legendary Artist went on his merry way, doing his thing and seemingly not caring what damage he left behind him. I have no idea what Don thought. I mentioned it to another artist friend of mine who simply said, "Yep, that sounds like the Legendary Artist alright. He's a bastard, but hey, that's how he operates." What surprised me most was that there was no malice in his voice, it was very matter of fact as he recounted a few other home truths about the Legendary Artist and his way of operating. You can't win them all.

(Speaking of which, I'd love to find out who bought that Meggs sketch above. If they read this and want to get in touch then please do, I'd love to buy it myself.)

2 comments:

inkdestroyedmybrush said...

let me explain it for you, even though I think that the reason is bullshit.

If you ever give art away, it becomes lessened in the person's eye. Preceived value. If something knows that it has been given for nothing then they respect it less. As one of my university instructors said, "It is easier to sell a $20K painting that a $2K painting. Why? Because the person dropping the $20K believes that he really has something." Any art that the artist, who generally has spent his lifetime being told that his or her art isn't worth that much (after all, its just a drawing, how hard can that be?), can't simply give it away. It would be a confirmation of everything that they always feared: its just a doodle, and its worth nothing.

I think there are a lot of roots of that, in non-caring parents or spouses, being surrounded by people when you're younger who could care less, and so the artist has to bolster himself by building up his own worth to get him to the point that he can start to make money for the art. Perhaps a whole host of reasons. Still, its pretty sad.

Danny said...

You're right, it is a bullshit reason, but I can understand it. However you're also giving away art for an auction to benefit someone - does that make your art any less valuable? Not to me, the casual buyer. To me it's just as good as if I bought that piece from you, even more so because of where the funds are going, plus the goodwill that you build up by donating the art.

In short the Legendary Artist was just a tight person is all. It's funny, because every piece of art that I own that was drawn by him I paid for, and when I tell people that they're stunned into silence.