Monday, August 25, 2008

Casualties Of Comics

The Scott that Colleen Doran refers to in this and this blog post -- brought to my attention by yesterday's LITG -- is not unknown to me. He was one of my ex-roommate's best friends, and while I never hung out with him per se, he hung out with people I used to hang out with when I was in my late teens/early twenties. He called at the house for my ex-roommate many times, and I've seen him at several events.

The portrait Colleen paints of Scott in her posts is pretty depressing; and if I had to guess, I would assume most or all of it is true. Ditto concerning the "Warren" stories, which I used to hear about in great detail before I ever worked in this industry at all.

But, since his first and last name is now out there connected with a litany of unsavory anecdotes, I just wanted to give a little extra perspective.

I've known a lot of aspiring comic book artists and writers when I was younger -- and most of them are in their 40s and even 50s now. They often used to hang out at the same comic book store. If you've followed "Goodbye To Comics," you might be familiar with it.

These are people who lived their lives for the moment they would become professional comic book creators. I mean, really lived for it. Lived for their comics, too. If they had to choose between rent and comics: comics. Food and comics: comics. Like that. When you're in your twenties this might be a little charming. They were fanboys, sure; but they had a bit of that arty 80's punk edge to them. To a young fangirl, it all seemed rather cool.

And they knew their share of people in the industry. Like I said, I was hearing these industry stories way before I was ever in it (or thought I could even be in it).

Nobody in my circle really "made it" in comics. Some gave up at some point, and some didn't. It became this magnificent dream for some that turned into a nightmare when they found themselves middle-aged, without a savings, without health insurance. Most had parents who could kick a few bucks to them, but these people were now in their 70s and even 80s. How long could that last?

You could look at them and sneer and say "how pathetic." The other side of the coin is, there's a lot of people out there like this from that era. There's a lot of people in the gestation stages of this situation now. Fans, convention patrons, assistants in comics studios, friends of friends of friends in the industry. Heading into the other side of middle age; big comic collections, poor health, tons of sketchbooks and spec scripts. Sometimes small, cramped, bug-ridden apartments, fire-hazards, stuffed to the gills with comic books.

As Colleen pointed out in one of her posts, Scott's art submission was wrong on so many levels. Certainly, including rambling lines of old poetry in your introduction letter will not score you any points. But it was obvious just from that alone that he was troubled. It's very clear that to hold him to a measure of proper comic book submission procedure is pointless.

What's that line from Death of a Salesman? "He's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him"?

And I don't know what the answer is. Obviously, people like Colleen shouldn't have to deal with it. Her concerns are valid. I can't deal with it, either. I tried dealing with somebody like this for a long time. I've seen the long slide. You do what Colleen did in her post -- try to break it down rationally. It doesn't work. You gotta just let them live their lives, even if it seems like a bit of a train wreck.

But I also can't let this go as just a big grotesque joke about a loser when the entire perspective on the story is not there.

Scott worked many, many, many years as an inking assistant to professionals. He's filled in the blacks and done clean-up on a lot of books that made it to print. This might be the limit of what he can contribute to Big Comics. The drive is still there to submit samples, and to expand his range. The presentation in doing so -- whether in person or electronically -- is not great. The company he chooses to keep is not great. Judging by Colleen's "Warren" stories, and my own run-ins with obsessive people who were good friends with Scott -- well, there is obviously a pattern here.

But people like this, without the intervention of family and (good) friends, will end up in a bad place. That's all I'm saying. And some might say, "well good for them," but I'm saying that they too are part of the fabric of this industry's and fandom's history. They may not qualify for the Heroes Initiative -- but they might very well end up elderly, sick, and destitute in the decades to come. Trust me when I tell you this will become a problem. Trust me when I tell you that more and more in the future this will become a problem.


  1. This industry just chews up people at an alarming rate.

    I knew someone like this Scott about 10 years ago. Although he didn't share this Scott's less savory tendencies, he was someone who had always dreamed of being a professional comic book artist.

    Sadly, he just didn't have the skills.

    But he kept trying and working at it and sending in submissions and talking to anyone he could. Until his health kept him from doing so. He ended up having to sell off all of his prize possessions (a few friends of mine and I bought some even though we couldn't afford it much more than he could) and ended up living in a YMCA with no health insurance, no savings and bad health. He ended up dying there from a heart attack.

    Truth was, he wasn't a horrible artist. He wasn't an Eisner or a Kirby but he knew his way around a pencil. Problem was that he just wasn't good enough and no one could bring themselves to tell him. Who were we to crush his dream? Which is why he died lonely and unpublished in a YMCA.

    And that's also why I work as an accountant today because, as much as I wanted to work in comics, I didn't want to go out that way.

  2. sorry, but the guy sounds creepy. admittedly, he could have been unaware of the exact nature of the stalker, but it still seems creepy. quoting project runway: "a sister gotta keep one eye open is all i'm saying".

  3. Why are there so many mediocre artists that hold out hope that they too can be published? Simple -- because so many mediocre artists are published.

    I can remember when I was 12 years old reading a Hulk comic and thinking,"wow, this art sucks." And yet the artist had a long career in comics.

    Marvel and DC have always had a mediocre artist assigned to a book in the hope, I suppose, that they would turn in to a superstar, but it often didn't happen. Todd McFarlane developed a popular style, but Don Perlin never got any better.

  4. "sorry, but the guy sounds creepy. admittedly, he could have been unaware of the exact nature of the stalker, but it still seems creepy."

    He seemed to always become the middleman for stalkers, whether unintentionally or not. I've kept my distance, to an extent -- because I've kept my distance from a lot of that old crowd in general, it just wasn't a healthy environment. But I understand the origins and crisis of his current situation, and how goddamn common it's becoming.

  5. You are a compassionate person, Val. I say that sincerely and with admiration.

  6. I could be mistaken, but I think the blog mentioned by this "Elektra" person in the comments for this post might be OS. Not trying to make something of it here. And again, I may be COMPLETELY off here, but just thought I'd mention it.

    On another note, reading the posts made me think (as seeing such trainwreck-like behavior normally does)...

    Did I ever behave myself in what could be construed as "poor-etiquette" on my comments here, Val?

  7. Yeah, I'm gonna say no. It's not the comic book industry that made these guys the way they are. It didn't help, that's for sure, but they have undiagnosed mental illnesses that need to be dealt with. At some point, people go off the rails, and it wouldn't matter if their life was perfect.

  8. Anonymous12:11 AM

    At the end of the day, people are responsible for themselves. The circumstances which made them the way they are may be sad. The outside forces that conspired to produce their wretched states may make them objects of pity. But in the end, people represent themselves with their actions, and no amount of rationalization or reasoning for why they behave so appallingly will excuse it.

  9. What are the percentages of women to men in the comics industry versus the percentage of women to men in the financial sector?

    Surely there are people like this that dart in and out of all professions. There are people who never find their professional focus just as they never find their social aptitude -- it's not unique to the comics industry. It's not unique to the world.