“As a comic reader and customer, the publishers use our older work in collected editions, for what they call first copy royalties, no reprint fees. They publish the All Star Squadron trade, for example and you buy it for whatever the cost. My royalty is maybe a couple hundred dollars, if I'm lucky, for 11 issues worth of work. On a recent Absolute Infinite Crisis hardcover, I had 30 odd pages reprinted in there, a book that retailed for over a hundred dollars-- a book that DC never even gave me a copy of, and the royalty amounted to a few dollars, I couldn't buy a pizza on that windfall. I want to work, I don't want to be a nostalgia act, remembered only for what I did 20, 30 years ago.”
Earlier this week, veteran comics artist and writer Jerry Ordway posted a blog explaining the difficulty he’s had getting work from his old employers despite still being vital and still at the top of his game. You’ve probably seen this re-posted hundreds of times already; I’m still playing catch-up from Emerald City Comicon, so I’m just getting to sharing my thoughts. I left a pretty lengthy comment on Ordway’s blog post itself, so this is basically just an edited version of that. But go read his blog post first.
Judging by the outpouring of love and support over there (to the tune of dozens of comments), I’m pretty sure Ordway’s lack of work has little to do with what DC editorial thinks is “in demand.” I also don’t understand why some of his peers (such as Alan Davis, Barry Kitson or Dave Gibbons) are still considered “headliners” while others such as Ordway have been marginalized. I’m sure it’s MY own age showing, but when I think of DC, I think of Jerry Ordway. And vice versa.
To be fair, yes, Ordway’s style has a classic look that, to some, I suppose is “dated” (as one commenter pointed out in less kind terms), but the fact is that unlike the 1990s, there is not dominant visual “style” in mainstream comics right now. Some artists are doing minimalist work (such as Chris Samnee). Others, photorealistic (Alex Maleev). The point is, there’s plenty of room for all types of styles, and Ordway’s illustrative, true-life-inspired comic style is definitely not something that would look out of place, especially not on, say, the iconic DC titles he helped make successes in the ’80s and ’90s.
Marvel & DC may be reluctant to be associated with anything “old,” which … I guess is very much indicative of comics becoming just like every other entertainment medium. And, not coincidentally, more about the names attached to the product and not the product itself.
On the plus side — and this is no help to Ordway and those in his situation at current — for the most part, the newer generation of creators? They won’t find themselves in the same place 20 years from now. Because like Neal Adams and the like before them, they wised up to the reality of the work-for-hire industry, and that’s why for every DC or Marvel superhero book people such as Mark Waid, Mark Millar or Jonathan Hickman writes, they’re writing/creating five more original properties of their own, properties from which they’ll profit on long-term, especially if translated into other media. And it’s also why talented people stopped creating new characters at the “majors” about 10 or 15 years ago. There’s no point in creating something dynamic and new under a WFH contract. Nobody wants to be the guy who gives away the next Venom, Cable, or Deadpool.
*Note: I had a poorly worded sentence in this commentary originally asserting that Marvel (and to a lesser extent, DC) were hiring new talent from countries with lower pay thresholds on their lesser-selling titles in lieu of forking out more for “established” (and therefore costlier) talent. But I meant it speculatively and was writing from assumptions based on hearsay (and personal experience outside of said companies). Doesn’t mean it’s not true: It makes plain economic sense. And it’s also good for the industry to have new blood (Lord knows we need MORE fresh faces!). But just like any other business, dealing with “old” and “new” talents both have their own benefits and drawbacks.