25-06-23 | Greetings my friends! Two weeks ago #ComicsBrokeMe trended on Twitter following the tragic passing of Ian McGinty. He died after being driven to his physical limits by publishers. What followed was an outpouring of horror stories on Twitter, on how other artists were mistreated by editors and publishers. One particular #ComicsBrokeMe tweet that got to me was posted by artist Siobhan Chiffon. She related how her mother was dying from Sepsis, which left Chiffon ‘begging to take time off to fly out and be at her bedside in case she died, and my editors said nah.’
Though my current interest is self-publishing comics via this website, my story began way back in 2019, when I worked on physical comic books as a legitimate publishers. Reading the many tweets that flooded Twitter, I realize once more how fortunate I was. Most of the people working within the Dutch/Flemish comics industry are incredibly kind, passionate and generous individuals. When my company was launched in 2019, quite a few of them helped me out with no favours asked in return and encouraged me to stick with the medium.
Mind you … I’ve been burned a couple of times. My first distributor in particular made things difficult for me as our working relationship progressed. He messed up my Bol.com listings (the Dutch equivalent of Amazon), and bluntly refused to rectify them, making my carefully crafted books look like amateurish crap. This seriously hurt my sales and therefore my ability to continue physical publishing, which ceased in 2022. When all the guy had to do was flip a proverbial switch on his computer and the online listings would have turned out fine. But I guess he didn’t feel like it that day.
It’s what I like to refer to as ‘the conquest of the useless’, a term coined (to the best of my knowledge) by Werner Herzog. The big man tramples on the little man, just because he can. To the little man, the consequences are catastrophic. To the big man, it makes no difference whether he tramples on the little man or not. But he’ll do it anyway. Just to show who’s boss.
Siobhan Chiffon’s publishers gain NOTHING from having her in emotional distress over the potential loss of a parent. Marvel gains NOTHING from having Dennis O’Neil meet his deadline for Daredevil, despite of him needing time off for life saving heart surgery. It’s Marvel Comics, for Christ sake! Don’t they have other writers? And it’s Denny O’Neil, people! Uncle Batman! Don’t you want to keep him happy so he’ll write more marvellous Daredevil stories?
Of course not. For these are the bullies, the gatekeepers, the producers. And if they can mess with you they must. Or else they cease to be relevant. I’ve heard it over and over again, and not just within the world of comics. I have many friends who pay the rent doing creative work, ranging from musicians, animators, writers and graphic designers. And each and every one of them has horror stories about the man. Me included. Comics may not have Broken Me, but filmmaking very nearly did on several occasions. If you’ll allow me to bore you with an anecdote: only once have I been invited into the offices of a major Dutch broadcaster. And the conversation I had was downright surreal.
A former teacher of mine, Banno Bruntink, had hooked me up with the then head of children’s programming at a public broadcaster, feeling I had something to offer them. The conversation derailed almost instantly, with the producer bluntly stating immediately that she had only invited me to do our mutual friend Banno a favour. I had been asked to pitch some podcasts, which I promptly did. Again I was interrupted, with the producer stating that without some sort of video pitch I would not even be considered. Then why ask me to pitch, I quietly thought to myself. And maybe request those videos ahead of our meeting?
Anyway … I change the subject to alternate video concepts which might be of added value to her platform, but when I attempt to show her some pilots I had made for other producers she rudely interrupts me to state that she really didn’t have time to watch 60 second videos. Despite asking for one a mere 10 minutes ago. This bizarre meeting took about an hour, with the producer trying to break my spirit at every possible opportunity. The most miserable single hour of my working life.
Now let’s get one thing very straight. Artists do not expect things to be easy. Hard work is hard. Critique is something you have to deal with. Deadlines have to be met, especially when you’re spending somebody else’s money. And given that creative work is scarce and artists are common, being underpaid and underappreciated goes with the territory. All the above I accept and welcome. Not cheerfully, but it’s part of the deal.
However: what I find increasingly difficult to swallow is people who are mean. For the sake of being mean. The TV producer I just mentioned doesn’t have to become my best friend. We don’t even have to like each other. But why do people like her go out of their way to be vile? Why does a great illustrator like Siobhan Chiffon have to put up with this shit? And how do these people sleep at night? Please don’t go and see your dying mother, ‘cause our quotas are more important than real life. And even if you do meet our standard, Siobhan, we’re still going to be mean to you! Because me big and you small!
Personally, I don’t deal with bullies. Life’s too short. If you’re an asshole to me for no good reason, I walk away. I feel no shame in distancing myself from a fight I cannot win. More to the point: I will not legitimise your fight by engaging in it. This very website allows me to pursue the work I love. A domain where I can do whatever I feel like doing, without having to explain myself every three seconds. Here I prove I’m a writer simply by writing. And who knows – maybe I’m doing it wrong! But I’m doing it my way. And doing it my way feels good. So come at me, gatekeeper. Tell me I’m doing it wrong. I dare you. I’m doing what I love. And there’s not a soul who can stop me.