Sunday, October 19, 2008

More Masterworks Fun: The Mystery Of The Vanishing Comp Copy

When it comes to me commenting on the line of Marvel Masterworks it's been a while between drinks. However every so often something I see just makes me scratch my head and wonder if there's anything loyal, or decent about these reprints. We now know that a good percentage of the material reprinted isn't the original art, alternatively it's art that's been re-drawn by artists who remain in the shadows when it comes to proper credit. Stories signed by Gene Colan, Steve Ditko, Dick Ayers and even Jack 'King' Kirby are anything but. In some cases they're reconstructed with some lines fixed, in other cases they're totally new creations that have been drawn either freehand or traced from the comic books. Despite the protestations of a few who believe that the practice is not only moral but also decent and not to the detriment of the original artists, there's a larger number who disagree. For those who think that the practice of redrawing art without proper and due credit is right, consider this - go and watch Alfred Hitchcock's original Pyscho. Then go and watch the Gus Van Zant remake. The former is the original, the latter was made shot for shot, same locations, same camera set-ups, same script, same shooting schedule - the lot. Which would you prefer?

But enough of that rant. What's angered me now is the continuing practice by Marvel of refusing to issue even a single complimentary copy of a reprint to any inker. Once upon a time Marvel would hand out around 20-25 copies of each and every issue that an artist or writer worked on. Copies for the writer, plotter, scripter, penciler, inker, colourist, editor - you name it, if you worked on it then you didn't have to buy a copy. And fair is fair too. If I work on a book, or a magazine, then I fully expect a copy of the finished product to be sent to me. In some cases I expect more than one. Sometimes the only payment I've received is the comp copy and that's important. Comp copies, although they're not supposed to sold, are often unloaded as supplemental income. More often than not they're handed out to family and friends, and associates that have worked with you on the project. In the so called 'glory days' of Marvel employees and freelancers alike could wander up to the offices and take a few copies of the books that they'd worked upon. That's changed now. Dramatically. These days Marvel hand out three copies of a title to the penciler, a few to the writer and that's it. If they're lucky the inker and colourist get to fight over a copy each.

What happened? Downsizing? The company hemorrhaged money during the Ron Perleman days, nearly going bankrupt and totally broke. During that period, of the early 1990s, cuts were made all over the place, staff were let go, rates were cut and the cash cow that was Marvel all but dried up. Everyone was to blame for that but the people who ran the company, but that's another story. These days, however, the story is quite different. Marvel is as solid as it's ever been. Sales are reasonable and there's a very healthy income stream coming in via the movies and associated off-shoot sales. DC, while not as healthy as Marvel (or so you'd expect, after all without Batman and Superman what do they have in the cinemas?) still insist on sending out comp copies to everyone that works on their books. Sometimes it'll be up to 25 copies of each title. If it's a reprint, a collected volume, hardback or otherwise, the copies are sent out accordingly. DC don't cheap out on their obligations. What's the difference then? One artist recently reported that he, "...gets 25 copies of every DC book I ink, the Friday before it ships and then three copies, if I'm lucky, of the Marvel book I inked, 3 months late." If it's a hardcover reprint, forget about it. You ain't getting a copy. Despite this inker claiming that he sometimes got three copies of a title that was the abnorm, not the norm. Inkers generally get no copies of any title they work on. Another inker, and he's very much in demand and one of the best out there, recently had this to say, "I think this crappy policy is a hold-over from when Marvel was in bankruptcy. I still remember when they were told to get rid of the coffee makers in the office to save money. It got THAT bad. It was during this time that we stopped getting our comps. It wasn't the books they were spending money on. There are TONS of them sitting in storage. It was the postage they didn't want to pay." I'm not talking about poor selling books either, this is an across the board policy, so if you're inking Ultimate X-Men, Ultimate Spider-Man or any of the top sellers, you'll be getting the same amount of comp copies as the inker who works on the book about to be canceled. But by now you're probably hoping that I don't take this article where it's going to go.

Right around the time when Marvel stopped putting the inkers names on the front of the books they stopped shipping out comp copies to them. As such a book, like a Masterwork volume for example, might have several pencilers but one consistent inker credited, that happened with a title like Fantastic Four where Joe Sinnott did the bulk of the work over the years. Indeed it can be arguded that his ink line helped define the book and make the transition from Kirby to Romita to Buscema to Buckler and back a hell of a lot easier than it could have been. With some of the volumes a name like Joe, or Mike Esposito, or Chic Stone, or Frank Giacoia, or Tom Palmer, or Vinnie Colletta might appear more times than anyone elses. You'd think that after all of that work that they'd surely get a free copy or two of the Masterworks?

Think again. They get squat. I expect that Stan Lee gets a copy. I have no idea if the estates of pencilers get copies, I'd hazard a guess and say that they don't. But living inkers, especially veteran ones, get nothing but scorn. The people who work on the books and 'reconstruct' the art more than likely get copies, but the original artists don't. Part of an email that crossed my desk this week stated this, from a veteran inker in relation to volumes of Masterworks that he'd worked on from the 1960s through to the 1980s, "I called Marvel to ask if they could send the ones he needed - they told me that the "inkers" no longer get comp copies of the books. Only writers and pencilers! The inkers aren't as important to the book as the writer and penciler they said."

That means that Joe Sinnott doesn't get a single comp copy of any Marvel comic that he inked. Mike Esposito doesn't get a single comp copy of any Marvel comic that he inked. Same with Joe Giella. John Beatty doesn't get any work that he inked, and that includes the recent Punisher reprints, of which he is the only artist to work on all five issues. Bob Almond won't be getting any Black Panther reprints that he and Sal Velluto worked on. Terry Austin won't be getting any X-Men. Klaus Janson might not be getting any Daredevil. Frank Springer won't be getting any copies of the Invaders that he worked on over a number of artists. Tom Palmer won't be getting anything he inked over Gene Colan. You get the drift. Dick Ayers. Dave Simons. Bob McLeod. Dan Green. Dave Hunt. John see where this is going now. If they didn't pencil the book, or get a penciling credit, then no reprints for them, let alone a credit on the cover, no matter the contribution. Just wait until you buy the Marvel Masterworks X-Men volume credited to Chris Claremont and John Byrne without mention of Terry Austin anywhere on the cover.

Hang on, you can buy that already. Byrne clearly inked himself on that run, that Austin guy just didn't make a contribution.

The policy of Marvel not supplying a single comp copy to any inker is wrong. Not only wrong it's an injustice and almost reeks of discrimination. Inkers like Sinnott, Janson, Austin and Esposito remained with books, often finishing pencils and only being credited with inks, while pencilers came and went. In most cases the bulk of the reprint work is the inkers work, not the penciler, yet Marvel continues to shut them out by refusing to send over even a single complimentary copy of their work. In the publishing world a publisher who refuses to send over a comp copy is generally looked down upon as being someone not worth working for. Marvel is worth working for. They're not that hard up for cash that they need to continue this practice, which appears to be a hold over from the bad old days of Perleman and Carl Icahn. They can more than afford it, so why not encourage artists to work for them, give out a little morale boost and reward those who helped make the company the powerhouse that it is today. Change the policy and send out the comp copies and give the proper credit to the people who deserve them the most - to all the artists who've worked on the books.

After all, goodwill isn't that expensive, but bad vibes are very, very cheap.


Tim said...

I don't get as worked up over this as you do, Danny. Mind you, I am in agreement with you that it is wrong, but that's just how it is in the good ol' US of A. They use you up and throw you on the trash heap. It'll never change.
These creators need to start thier own publishing house if they want any kind of control over thier work.

Mark Luebker said...

It seems like the comic industry--at least Marvel--doesn't want to pay any attention to the kinds of best practices and team building that are taken for granted in just about every other industry. Is it any wonder it always seems to be either feast or famine? Act dopey and run the company to the brink of extinction, then have someone come in and haul it back from the edge, only to single-mindedly start heading for the cliff again.

inkdestroyedmybrush said...

agreed. they don't have any idea of what it takes to get good will, and thats because, as always, they have the toys that most artists want to play with. Comics has always used people up and spit them out. Marvel's policies are easy to take given that they don't need those creators anymore. Kirby, Colan, Ditko, and all the rest aren't working for them anymore are they? So why be good guys and do anything nice?

I recall them underprinting the Grackle #2 and having to run all over Manhattan to get any copies of the book. Took about 10 comic shops to find three copies. I was pissed that they had no comps for any of us, Mike Baron, paul gulacy or myself.