Saturday, May 25, 2013

So You Wanna' Be a Comic Book Artist, Part Two...

I'll be honest, for a shamefully long period of my career, I wanted to be rich and famous. I'm not proud of that, but it is what it is, and what it is existed for a reason -- Image Comics.

At some point in the comic book boom of the late 80s and early 90s, when sales were going through the roof, something unexpected happened... people were making lots of money making comics. If you were drawing a big book like X-Men or Superman, you were getting royalty checks with a previously unheard of - in the comic book industry, at least - numbers of zeroes on the end.

Some of those artists with all the zeroes decided that it would be better if instead of some of the zeroes going to the companies that were publishing the comics they were getting royalties from, they started their own companies, made their own comics and got all of the zeroes themselves.

There was more to than just money, of course - creative control, owning the characters you created - but the end result is that they made a lot of money. Lots and lots of money.

And suddenly, they were rockstars.

There'd been superstar creators in comics before, but not like this. These were gods, with big houses and flash cars. Well, I'm assuming flash cars, but you get the point. To comic book fans, they were celebrities, and they were getting a lot richer than the generations of creators that came before them.

Soon, the superstars who created Image started creating superstars of their own, a new generation of talent that were becoming nearly as famous as the creators they worked for, and with page rates that would make most people blush. You started seeing creators described as "Hot New Artist" and "Superstar Creator", you saw them mobbed at signings and conventions, and they saw their bank balances grow.

It was a time of rockstars, but like the voice always says in those old "Behind The Music" documentaries, the good times wouldn't last long.

I did my first professional work in comics in 1994, right in the middle of this new Golden Age. Comic creators had gone from dedicated men in ties churning out glorious pulp for next to nothing to artistically adventurous dreamers churning out medium-expanding stories for slightly more than nothing to superstar millionaires printing their own money in comic-shaped wads.

They were crazy times, where the number 1 on the cover of a comic meant the kind of royalties older creators could have retired on. The idea that you could become rich and famous making comics wasn't a pipe dream anymore. Every comic you made was a potential winner in the four-color lottery.

But the really big money was in Hollywood, where there was a feeding frenzy for comic book material to turn into movies, cartoons, TV shows, anything. Movie companies optioned everything they could get their hands on with the hopes that it would lead to the next Batman franchise or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

There were constant stories in the comic book press about comics being optioned, movies being made, and the success of the creators involved. Comics were big business, on their own and hand in hand with Hollywood, and new creators were coming into the industry with visions of creating their own money-printing machines. All it took was one good idea and you too would be driving a Porsche and living in a mansion.

And then there was the ultimate sign of success, a group of fans and creators crying 'sellout' at anyone who got a comic optioned or made a lot of money. Hard to be a sellout when there isn't money and fame on offer, and fame and fortune were in the air. We were all the next Jim Lee or Kevin Eastman. All we needed was that big break.

And then it all came crashing down.

NEXT TIME: Coffee and Health Insurance

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