Monday, 2 May 2016

Vertigo Contracts

Swamp Thing #21: The Anatomy Lesson (DC Comics, 1983)
by Alan Moore, Steve Bissette and John Totleben
(© DC Comics Inc)
(from Al Nickerson's Creator's Bill Of Rights Blog, 27 December 2005)
...The mythology that the major company contracts have just been getting better and better ("EVERYthing's fine now.") takes a direct hit in finding out that seven years earlier Bissette got the same one I got. Plus, for a lot of guys with stars in their eyes the fact that Steve Bissette can't get a foot in the door at Vertigo is like finding out that Paul McCartney can't book recording time at Abbey Road studios. I mean it doesn't surprise me. There's the "ins" and the “outs” at the companies -- 'twas ever thus -- and the Neil Gaimans are the rare exceptions and not the rule. But it is very hard on the perception that runs very deep in the comic-book soul that all your hard work for DC and Marvel is like money in the bank not only while you're banging out your pages but that there's a Long Term Good Will Jackpot once you’ve served up a hit for them. "What have you done for us lately?" unfortunately is always more the company attitude. After all, this is the generation (or the generation right after the one: generations come and go so fast these days) that was weaned on Moore, Bissette and Totleben's Swamp Thing and would be starting from the baseline assumption that Bissette is the problem. If he would just get over his crankiness and his belligerence and let bygones be bygones and go and visit Karen Berger and his long-lost Vertigo family he'd be welcomed back with group hugs all around and given carte blanche to do whatever he wanted and a nice fat happy Neil Gaiman contract to boot. I'm not really being facetious, I don't think. The fact that Steve was given the same "take it or leave it" boilerplate contract for his proposed projects that I -- as a marginal presence and first time potential participant -- was given for the proposed Fables short-short speaks volumes about the non-Neil Gaiman end of Vertigo and of DC and of mainstream comic books in general. And those are volumes that creators don't want to read, unfortunately. I mean, heck, Steve Bissette is the absolute toppermost of the poppermost cutting-edge guy when it comes to comic-book horror -- still! -- just on the basis of what he did with Swamp Thing and Taboo and he can't get a project green-lighted at Vertigo even under their crap work-made-for-hire terms? That's just too sad. But look at the reaction of the comic-book field: given the choice between thinking badly of Steve Bissette or thinking badly of Vertigo, it's a no-brainer. If Steve Bissette is right (which he obviously is) then the average creator following in his career footsteps is walking into a potential death trap where they could end up as he did -- producing hundreds of pages of top-flight well-thought-of work and ending up like Jerry Seigel. Except nobody offered to buy Bissette an overcoat after they kicked him out the door. Maybe if he got a job as a messenger in Manhattan?...

(from Steve Bissette's Myrant Blog, 10 January 2006)
...True enough, Dave. As Dave knows from personal experience, it's no fun being a pariah, but so it goes. With few exceptions, the pro realm of comics was just as glad to see me go. For my own part, I uprooted, I got on with it, found other ways to get by in the world, and have been much happier since. Since being a messenger for DC isn't on my future job agenda (nor is returning to mainstream comics), I'll get by just fine without comics...

...Corporations do hold grudges as well or better than many frail mortals, and aside from the legal redirecting of creator ownership (relevant to the character of John Constantine) that emerged during my DC years, I've never directly benefitted from the hard-fought 'rights' battles fought with DC during the 1980s. As I've said here and elsewhere, I believe my role in those battles is part-and-parcel of the reasons I'll never benefit from the "new DC" era; it's been made quite clear to me there's no open doors there, even when the doors were tentatively teased opened (last in 1997-98). No love lost, but the belief, as Dave so neatly puts it, that if I would just "let bygones be bygones and go and visit Karen Berger and his long-lost Vertigo family [I'd] be welcomed back with group hugs all around and given carte blanche to do whatever [I] wanted and a nice fat happy Neil Gaiman contract to boot" is a tenacious one in comics fandom. It malingers to this day -- I just got an email from a fan to that effect on New Year's Day! -- and my stating otherwise is seen as just further evidence of my crabby disposition, ironically reinforcing the illusion that this is a situation I fomented and somehow cling to...

Stephen R. Bissette is best known for his collaboration with Alan Moore on Saga of the Swamp Thing from 1983-87, and for his self-published Tyrant comic, the portrait of a Tyrannosaurus Rex in the late Cretaceous period. He also edited the ground-breaking horror comics anthology Taboo, which launched From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell. He co-authored the books Comic Book Rebels and The Monster Book: Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and his novella Aliens: Tribes, illustrated by Dave Dorman, won a Bram Stoker Award in 1993. More recently his articles on horror films have been collected in the Blur series published by Black Coat Press and Steve currently serves on the faculty of The Center For Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont.  


Tony Dunlop said...

Oh my Lord, that page. I'll never forget that night in what, 1983?...sitting in my dorm room...a friend shoves that issue of Swamp Thing into my hands and says "You've GOT to read this." He'd just bought it at a drug store on a whim.

Ibis said...

That is one hell of a page.

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

One thing that's bugged me about every reprint edition of this issue is the panel where Swampy kills Sunderland. In the original issue (and, as far as I'm aware, only in the original issue) we get a shot of Sunderland's legs dangling, and blue sur-print legs showing the motion of Swampy shaking him. In reprints, we just see the dangling legs. The original panel seems so much more violent to me. Interesting what a small detail can do.

-- Damian

Travis Pelkie said...

That could have been a coloring thing. From what I understand, the way ST was colored was printed differently and when the reprints started happening, the same type of presses weren't used so much, so that could have been a detail inadvertently lost.

If I'm understanding things right, which is certainly not necessarily the case. I'll have to dig out my copy of the "Vertigo First Taste" book that reprint this issue...gee, 10 years ago or so? Take a look at that, and look at the HC.