Although to many of you it was ages ago, I can still recall becoming an Art Design major at North Carolina A&T State University, circa 1991.  I had left the restrictive world of Architectural Engineering and was looking forward finally being able to fully utilize my full creative capacity among people who really understood me.  Most credits transferred, a few didn’t.   But I still remembered how to draw and paint and I was looking forward to my studio classes.  Ironically, the place where I should have felt most comfortable was also where I would continue to feel academic alienation.

I would constantly see non-art majors expressing their joy at taking art classes because it would be an “easy A”.  Mind you, none of these people could draw flies on a hot summer’s day, but they were enraptured all the same.  And once we were all in class together, I could finally see why.  I was up nights, working my butt off, to get proper perspective, foreshortening and proportions.  And after some nit-picky critique, I might earn a B+.  Ms. Non-Major would then stroll up, and because she had added arms and eyes to her stick figure, she would be gifted with an A+, based on improvement.  So, not only was she taught not to respect our craft, but I still had to do actual work to obtain A’s in English, History or anything else.  I was an A student.  I didn’t beg anyone for anything.  And there was my own department giving away our dignity like candy corn on Halloween night.

By 1994, I had matriculated and moved on to the Savannah College of Art & Design’s Sequential Art program.  I thought that would be it . . . An art mentality from every quarter . . .  Serious dedication . . . And in many ways I was right.  But Graphic Design and Video were among several majors that don’t require drawing.  However, it’s advisable for Video majors to become familiar with storyboarding, which is akin to drawing for graphic novels.  Many of these students had zero drawing experience and even less confidence in what they were committing to paper.  So, once again, I witnessed the “grading on improvement” model that essentially left studio classes with two grading scales.  It wasn’t quite as extreme, but, considering that we were all attending an art college, it got pretty ridiculous at times.

And while I was attending SCAD, it became glaringly evident that the comic book industry would be following suit with a version of the same behavior.  Comic book companies at that time were notorious for possessing the most nit-picky, shrouded in mystery, elitist process for acquiring talent that anyone had ever seen.  You could be buying a book for months and know for a fact that the artist drawing it was nowhere near your level of talent.  And the answer you would probably get upon showing your work would be: “But they know he can meet a deadline”.  As if he were born meeting deadlines; at some point, someone gave him an opportunity and he proved himself.  That’s how they knew he could meet a deadline.  It wasn’t magic.

But the insult to injury would be when top artists from other genres (novels, movies, video games, etc.) request entry into the comic book industry, they are ushered in untested and without question.  Now don’t get me wrong, some of my favorite works have come from the minds of Brad Meltzer, Greg Rucka, J. Michael Straczynski and Joss Wheadon.  But there is nothing about being highly successful in another medium that says you’ll automatically be successful in comics.  “But they LOVE comics!” you say.  Well, so do all those highly talented writers and artists who get turned away every day, while Batman and the X-Men et al. get drawn by people who shouldn’t be allowed to sharpen pencils, let alone get paid monthly to draw with them.

And here’s the kicker . . . even the top, most elite creators in comics don’t get a free pass into other genres because of their status within their own field.   Not one traditional publisher or movie studio has ever said, “I know your skill, here’s a blank check to our world.”  There are several movies I can think of that would have been much better had that been the case.  But even with full knowledge that the concept would never have existed and no one else would ever have known where to take those characters for 100 plus issues, a studio will take control completely out of a creator’s hands and never blink. And don’t even think that the fact that the collected edition of your Vertigo series is a top seller will get you a deal for your novel.  It won’t; not by itself anyway.  I may not be enjoying the sales of any major publisher at the moment.  But as a self-publisher, I can publisher what I want, the way that I want, at my own pace.  And it’s consistently in print for whoever wants to see it. Be blessed . . .


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