When Art Commissions Go Bad: Michael Golden

The image you're looking at cost art collector Gerry Turnbull $537 and several months of his life to get. Like most people Gerry has always had admiration for Michael Golden's work. It's hard not to admire Golden's work, personally I love it. In my own opinion he's an incredibly talented artist. I grew up reading his Batman stories and thinking that they were the best things ever. His use of colour to compliment his art is nothing short of amazing to my eyes. One thing I have been aware of over the years is that he doesn't meet deadlines easily and that's always been the excuse as to why he's not done more work in the comic book field. He makes a decent living via advertising work, comic books are a sideline. However when all is said and done Michael Golden is one of the masters of the comic book industry, talent to burn and indeed talent oozes from his artistic pores. Golden is also the subject of a recent 'book' about him, published by TwoMorrows. I use the term 'book' lightly as all it is is a standard, and not very long, or insightful, interview with Golden, with some art, between covers that costs $14.99. No offence, I support the TwoMorrows range and so far the Modern Masters series has been admirable, but I've seen more content on web-sites for no cost to the reader. After recent, meaty volumes on Alan Davis, Walter Simonson, Kevin Nowlan and Jose Garcia Lopez, this volume is a definite let down, but that might have more to do with the publisher than Golden himself.

Does talent give a person the right to be an arsehole though? My answer is no. So let's look at that image. Recently on the comic art mailing list there's been some heated discussions about Michael Golden and his lack of ability to deliver pre-paid commissions on the dates that he promises. It happens. Artists are often late. Usually they give out good excuses, sometimes they don't. I've had two late commissions in my time, one took about 8 months to deliver after the due date, the artist kept emailing me and told me that he was late due to an unexpected heavy work load. No biggie, when the art arrived it was more than I expected to get. I was happy, still am. The other artist took my money and just vanished. After nearly two years it took a few collectors who'd also paid him money and the threat of public exposure for him to send my art - which I'd paid for. Even then he shorted me, but I let it go. The rumblings about Michael Golden and his agent, former Marvel editor Renee Witterstaetter have been growing and to that end a group of disgruntled collectors decided to do something about it. They gathered forces and presented a united front to Golden and Witterstaetter. No threats, just a question: where is the art that you took the money for and promised to deliver. In return Witterstaetter, protective to the end, has proven to be somewhat belligerent in her dealings, if the messages are to be believed.

Then one of the collectors got his art, the image above. In Gerry's own words the following happened, "Thru his agent, Renee Witterstaetter, I commissioned a piece from Michael Golden last October (2006). I was promised, in writing, a delivery date of a month and a half. Since then I've received another four promised delivery dates, all of which have failed to materialise.

"Since finding out that there was a lot of us in the same boat, a few of us got together and as a united front we were all given firm promises of a delivery date. My art came today. To say I'm annoyed is an understatement. This cost me $537 (and he can't even spell 'virtue'). I phoned Renee today, who got quite heated, stating she hadn't seen the art as Golden had shipped it himself. It's her signature on the customs declaration!"

The art speaks for itself. It's downright rude for an artist to take money, keep pushing the delivery date back and then finally deliver a piece as insulting as that. If I'd paid $537 for that then I'd be knocking on the Golden door demanding, not asking, but demanding my money back. If you look at the definition of the word, 'virtue' (let's forget that Golden has spelt it wrong here), then you'd see the following; "moral excellence; goodness; righteousness, a good or admirable quality or property". That Gerry hasn't called the police in for fraud shows that he's displayed an extreme amount of virtue. That Golden has seen fit to insult him in such a manner shows that the lack of virtue, in this case, is on the other foot.

In a recent public email Witterstaetter made the following point in regards to Golden being late when it comes to delivering commissions, "It doesn't mean that your commissions are not important, but publishing deadlines are publishing deadlines." That's a fair comment, but, and correct me if I'm wrong here professional artists, writers and agents, once someone accepts money for a job then they have to deliver. What makes a publishing deadline more important than a job that's already been paid for? She went on to make another pertinent point, "As with any artist, regular assignments and con appearances take place over other work being done in the studio." Again, fair point. In which case DON'T TAKE THE MONEY UP FRONT! Tell people you're busy or take, as other artists do, a deposit and when the art is ready ask for the payment in full or no art. People will accept this as it is becoming common practice with several artists. I know that I've commissioned pieces in the past and paid up front, luckily, (barring the two previous examples) they've all come through on or near the due date. Other artists have finished the art, sent a scan and an invoice. Works well for everyone.

Witterstaetter's other key comment in her email was, "Everyone that has received their commission so far, seems pleased." I'd be curious to know what she intends to do with the one person who now is anything but pleased.

As it stands someone has stepped up to the plate with this. John Byrne, someone I have been openly critical of in the past, has offered Gerry a free Byrne page to make up for his treatment by Michael Golden. Byrne pages don't come cheap and if anyone knows the value of his art it's Byrne himself. I'm always one for giving credit where it's due, so John Byrne, take a bow. You've done a damned decent thing without being asked to.

Meanwhile I hope Golden takes the $537 and buys himself a decent dictionary. Such a shame that he couldn't get a spell checker on his own writing. In this case, anyone wanting to get a Golden commission, fair warning. You're better off either buying one from eBay or directly from Michael at a convention, and even then make sure you pick it up at the convention itself. Such a shame really as, despite this, I still admire his art. As always, if either Michael or Renee wish to comment then I'll be more than happy to put their side onto this blog. I don't expect that happening soon though.

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