Posts Tagged ‘Comic Artist’

Old School Comics

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

Popular, classic and brilliant comic book artist, Jerry Ordway, whose work throughout the 80’s and 90’s defined the DC Universe recently wrote a heart wrenching essay, Life Over Fifty, describing his current professional situation which is unfortunately comparable to that of many of his peers.

If you are in the comics industry or aspiring to work in the field, this is an honest and fair observation of the  current state of the industry that you must be aware of and willing to change if you ever hope for  a secure career as a comic artist.

Jerry asks a simple question toward the end of the essay that is at the heart of his discontentment.

“Getting back to the beginning of this essay, and to the artists I loved as a kid, all I ask is for some of the same consideration my generation of creators and editors gave to the older guard in the 1980’s. My work is still sharp, my mind is still full of stories to tell, and I’m still willing to work all hours of my day to meet my deadlines. Why am I out of work from the publishers? Why are my friends, people who turned in great work, worthy of hardcover and trade paperback reprints, not able to get work? “

The answer is simple and unfortunate. It can be summed up in a single word. Disrespect.

Disrespect in the comic book industry is a cancer that threatens to destroy the fabric of the industry that has now survived an average person’s lifespan. It is a cancer that has always been there and just as it seemed curable it mutated into a uglier threat.

The comic book industry itself struggled with disrespect from its inception. As a product, comic books were the bottom feeders on any magazine rack; cheaply made, poorly printed, sold to children. Comic books originated as a disposable, impulse purchase. Nobody expected the cultural impact they would have or the durability and value of the character trademarks in the market.

Early comic book creators and publishers had little respect for the industry, themselves. Work in the comic book industry was considered an underpaid stepping stone to a future in some other graphics or communication field. Few admitted to working in the field and fewer stayed to make a career of it.

Those were the few that had respect for comics as a medium and as an industry. Those few became legends and solidified respect for comic books and comic book art. In the 1960’s Julie Schwartz at DC and Stan Lee at Marvel created environments that, for the first time, made the idea of a career in comics attractive and secure.

The creative legends of comics came together and made DC and Marvel commercial powerhouses that propelled their trademarks into the forefront of popular culture. Writers, artists, editors and even production people gained respect and credit for their work. And they worked, well into retirement.

All was not perfect. Creator’s rights became an issue. Work for hire contracts were viewed as a necessary evil but the legends didn’t seem to care so long as there was work doing what they loved. It was just part of the industry they knew and had built. It supported them and their families.

As the legends grew old new generations of creators came in to fill their shoes and carry the mantle, insuring that the quality and integrity of the trademarks remained intact. The Big Two had distinctive “styles” that set them apart from each other.

When Jack Kirby defected to DC after establishing himself as “King” at Marvel, editors at DC would paste house style faces of Superman over his stylized work to maintain their preferred look of the character. Kirby understood.

There was respect for creators, the characters and the companies.

Jerry Ordway is from the last generation of creators that held that respect and he had hoped to retain it himself, but times have changed. Disrespect has gained a foothold again but different than before. Creators now are cut-throat and disposable. Editors have no loyalty. The companies have no respect for the trademarks other than the bottom line.

The style sheets that one time served as bibles have been tossed aside. Entire universes are rebooted from scratch establishing new versions of old characters that are barely recognizable. The comic books and to some extent the films, thumb their noses at classic, established trademarks that are cultural icons. Why wouldn’t the industry “flip off” the creators that for decades diligently maintained the integrity of those characters?

Those iconic trademarks are now derogatorily deemed “Old School” by the new elite powers of the industry and grown, snot-nosed fans, long weened from the classics, who prefer their superhero comics gritty, racy and violent.

Ironically, the old classic trademarks hold their value with licensees who plaster the images of them on every conceivable piece of merchandise. Images by Jack Kirby, Don Heck, Herbe Trimpe, Sal Buscema, Dick Giordano, Jonny Romita, and Jerry Ordway skim the surface of the list of classic comic book creators whose work continues to generate huge revenue in forms of royalties, royalties that neither they nor their heirs see a lick of.

In the meantime the trendy, “new look” reboots of the comics struggle to sell the most modest of numbers in a perpetually shrinking Direct Comic Book Market.

If DC and Marvel respected their product and their trademarks, there would always be work for creators like Ordway. They would be necessary as mentors to insure that the integrity of the trademarks is passed along to the next generation of creators.

Kevin Tsujihara

There is hope at Marvel, now under the wing of Disney which is rigorous about preserving the iconic looks of their trademarks.

Maybe DC, under the guidance of Warner Bros new, traditionalist CEO, Kevin Tsujihara, will see the light and re-embrace that which has stood the test of time. Maybe the Old School will get the respect it deserves.

Making Comics Because We Want to,

Gerry Giovinco

Encouraging Comics

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

Last week in the blog I made mention that, back in the day, comics had a long running stigma as the ghetto of the art world and was not a career that most talented illustrators aspired to. The art educators that I encountered were usually very quick to dissuade anyone expressing interest in comics. This caustic atmosphere made it difficult to maintain an enthusiasm toward a medium that was so poorly regarded. Fortunately much of that attitude has changed.

Regardless of all the detractors I encountered as an art student I could not deny that comics was where my heart was and I continued to focus all of my energies on the pursuit of a career in comics.

I chose to ignore the unenlightened and gravitate toward those that offered encouraging support. My experience was that people outside of the arts community were much more impressed with the idea of me wanting to be a comic artist.

Comics is a medium that everyone can relate to simply because it is hard not to understand a message delivered by both words and pictures. It also helped that the most successful comics usually dealt with universal themes that most people could relate to. I always felt that this was my attraction to the medium, that it was a medium for the masses.

Growing up I was always able to find encouragement from family, friends and school teachers. In 1978 during my junior year at Bishop Kenrick High School I had a unique experience that had a solidifying effect on my cartooning interests.

Sister Henrietta

My Algebra teacher at the time was an extremely elderly nun named Sister Henrietta. She was a lovely woman but had lost control of the class partly due to her feeble old age. The kids in the class were so bad she would douse us with holy water each day in an effort to exercise the demons from the room!

I was shocked one day when, despite the mayhem that was the general conduct of the class, Sister Henrietta, signaled me out for doodling in my notebook and ordered that I see her after class.

Expecting detention or at least demerits for my infraction I was delighted to find out that, instead, Sister Henrietta was a fan of my handmade comics that I frequently distributed around school.


Little did she know that she would eventually become a character in one of my creations when I would parody the entire Math department in a comic titled Mathmanauts inspired by one of my favorite comics of the time, Micronauts by Bill Mantlo and Michael Golden.

Inspiration fot The Mathmanauts

Sister had much more up her sleeve than respect for my work. She had a deal in mind. The same deal she presented to a former student of hers who she wondered if I might know.

Bil Keane 1990

Decades prior, the great Bil Keane, creator of the iconic Family Circus daily comic, was a doodler in her class and she let him off the hook with a promise that he would pursue his dream and be a successful cartoonist.

We all know that Bil lived up to his end of the deal, still creating his comic now with the help of his son, Jeff.

Sister Henrietta had stayed in touch with Bil Keane over the years and, shortly after I had agreed to the same promise, she rewarded me with a piece of original art and an encouraging critique received from Bil himself in response to some samples of my work that she had sent to him unbeknownst to me.

Bil Keane Letter

Delivering on a promise

Bil Keane’s shoes are nearly impossible to fill but I was anxious to be included in the pedigree of Sister’s success stories. In 1982 I rushed to the convent to personally deliver a copy of my first published comic work that appeared in Comico Primer #1. Bedridden, it was clear that Sister Henrietta would not be with us much longer but she found great comfort knowing that she was still able to encourage the dreams of her students.

That Family Circus original still hangs by my drawing board as a constant reminder of my deal made with Sister over thirty years ago. It has come to my attention that she made that deal with every doodler she encountered though I like to think that I am one of the few that have such a precious memento and actually delivered on my end of the bargain.

Original Bil Keane

When I was informed recently by my friend and former student of Sister Henrietta’s, Aaron Keaton, that Sister sprung that deal regularly in her day, I dropped a quick email to Bil Keane letting him know how she had used his example to keep us hack doodlers in line all those years.

Bil simply responded, “That sounds like, Sister!

I have a few more great stories like this that include encounters with Arnold Roth, Rudy Nebres and others that have offered moral support to me when when I was a budding comic creator which I will share in coming weeks.

If anyone out there has similar tales I would love to read them! Send them along as comments on the blog or directly to me by e-mail. I’ll be happy to share them here.

Encouragement makes a huge difference, especially to a young creator seeking creative direction in their life. I make it a point to be a positive influence on a young talent every chance I get and I hope that other comics creators do the same.

Influence is a legacy that can rarely be measured but its impact is universal.

Making Comics Because I Want to.

Gerry Giovinco

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