If you’re reading this piece, then it means despite my best efforts, I lost an argument…
The following is one of those articles that I’ve been trying not to actually write the past couple weeks. It’s got some weight to it, least from a personal standpoint, but the tone ultimately clashes with a few rules I set for ’06, to limit the number of articles that address the whole professional writer thing, and the mixture of incredible highs and crushing disappointments that come along with it. Which is unfortunate, because that was the original mission statement, and part of the “appeal,” if you could call it that, but hindsight has shown that sometimes the more passionate material does my aspirations more harm than good. Cause those are the ones that stick in people’s heads, so the infrequent bursts of aggression become rule instead of exception, and further elevates the “angry black man” quotient of the proceedings, which is something I’ve been keeping a close eye on since the very beginning. The ‘net is filled with more than enough bitchin’ and I’ve never wanted to contribute to that week in, week out.
But, in very capital letters, I think this really needs to get out of my system, primarily so this space will stop being empty, and because it’s well, it’s interesting, even if not in a particularly good way. So, dancing between the razorblades, let’s talk about exactly where I am with this great dream of mine, how it relates to one of my more inflammatory diatribes, and how an unexpected reaction to it suggested I needed to break communications with most of my “contacts” at Marvel Comics.
Every 4-6 months, I’m forced to step back real quick, and take a very close, and often brutal look, at exactly where I stand. What’s cool, what’s extremely not, and with that assessment, being flexible enough to tweak the approach and tone for the coming months. Granted, since the beginning of the year, I’d had a fairly decent stretch. Got my very first royalty checks from the Marvel trades, scripted a few books for a couple indy companies, gotten dear Miranda Mercury ready to be presented, and in the hands of a company that Lee Ferg and I are incredibly excited about. Another two God Complex scripts almost wrote themselves, have a prose Phantom story due at month’s end, and I did somethin’ I’d never thought I’d ever be comfortable doing…going out and “speaking” about writing for half a living. Which is one of those things I believed was beyond my meager capabilities, but talkin’ with a college class about some personal experiences in the game, felt much less inappropriate than I’d imagined. All of that, would of course be the good.
The bad lies somewhere in-between, like admitting one of those indy scripts will probably never see publication, or that someone who’s been down since nearly day one, just casually disrespected me on both a personal and professional level, and had the audacity to take serious offense when called on it. Mostly though, a great deal of my present displeasure with things, involves the decision to close off one of my avenues, and not being particularly honest about the reason I did it.
See, flashback to last fall, and the somewhat infamous Black Like Me article, which garnered the most mail I’ve ever gotten, rivaled only by the Byrne thing with the racial slur in the title. Some of it was incredibly supportive, some of it almost the opposite, but only one messed with my head several months after I’d gotten it. Came from one of the people at Marvel that had been incredibly supportive of this burgeoning career of mine. Realize it sounds very “good vs. evil,” but it was someone I considered a major ally, a like-minded professional familiar with nearly every facet of my work, including the column, the handful of published comics, and even a bit of the creator-owned stuff only a few people have ever seen. So, this was someone I had an exorbitant amount of trust in and respect for, that had gone over just about every Marvel related pitch I worked up, even if the characters were inaccessible, or claimed by other current writers or staffers.
You might be able to understand my surprise and continued disappointment then, in a response to the column that at one end questioned my “credentials” for even making the argument, and at the other, referred to me as little more than “black writer.” Now, you probably don’t need me to mention this, but keep in mind this whole thing is colored through my perspective, and I really don’t believe this was meant as a callous, mean-spirited thing. However, considering this was easily the longest and most personal e-mail we’d ever traded, about anything, there was no chance of me discounting some of the points mentioned, or treating this differently than any other situation where someone went on too long, and said something they didn’t exactly intend. Far as I’m concerned, the combative nature of it said more than enough, and even if it was by complete accident, some truth leaked out.
Truth is, that the message began with a very relevant analogy that suggested when any creative person, belonging to this or any other similar entertainment industry, also belongs to a group very obviously under-represented within it, for instance, the “black writer,” their opportunities fall into that great power, great responsibility paradigm. That if someone is kind enough to give Brandon an assignment, as unfair as this is, he becomes a representative for not just himself, but an entire sub-category of creators. The future of black creators resting on the merits of a mini-series featuring Shatterstar, or any other gig I’ve been fortunate enough to receive. While decent and serviceable stories are enough for a less representative creator, for me they are a career kiss of death, and an understandable justification for my apparent lack of progress.
Now, let’s be real, a great portion of that is somewhat true, whilst it isn’t completely true. Some of it has nothing to do with me, and some of it owes a lot to this forum, which I’ve used, for better or worse, to expose others to my viewpoints, many of which involve subjects that make folks uncomfortable. And that I have a very personal stake in, honestly. Which I haven’t made many attempts to conceal, but none of this is even the point, really.
Here I am having a dialogue with someone working at one of the big two, with multiple years of experience in the biz, telling me, almost to my face, that the viability and acceptance of the black creator is resting on my incredibly green shoulders. Which is flattering and ridiculous at the same time. And more than just a tad insulting, considering the source. And considering the very personal and frank assessment of my work to that point, which I really had no huge problem with, only that it directly contradicted several conversations we’d had in the months leading up to this. All of a sudden, not only was I the most prominent black writer in town, but my solid work up to this point was hardly enough to persuade anyone that I might be able to handle something with an increased level of responsibility. Mind you, this is the same person that only weeks before, was passing around a proposal they were very excited about, so excited that I received a congratulatory e-mail about it, when it moved one meeting away from an official greenlight. So, I’m just a little turned around by all this, and then I get to thinkin’.
Couple of very immediate possibilities sprung to mind, and I probably went through most of them, given my suspicious nature, and you know, cause it’s what I do. Either this individual wholeheartedly agreed with every single word of this small essay I’d received, and their previous excitement about my work and development was somewhat fraudulent, or things were just a bit worse. That the opinion comes from another source, and pieces of it were just being repeated back to me, so I’d know the real score. Sounds more conspiratorial than probably necessary, but much stranger things have happened, and the complete reversal of tone from my homie could’ve meant anything. Even if it was just an entirely isolated incident, to call this exchange disappointing is the very definition of understatement. Disappointing is when the proposed fifth issue of the FF mini didn’t fly, when I had a cool Thing/Daredevil team-up planned. This was more like gettin’ hit in the face, and while I was expecting a certain level of resistance from the column, comin’ from this person, and the casual intensity of it, was completely deflating.
Worse was my direct response to the message, as incredibly limp, as it was overly diplomatic. There wasn’t much to even say to it, and if I was lucky, and this was just something personal between the two of us, flying off the handle was hardly the most mature reaction, and assurance it would turn into something larger. Still, felt like I got punked, and it was an argument lost by total default, even though it wasn’t an argument, and there was no “winning” to be had. Just a bad situation all around, and one I wasn’t prepared to largely circulate, so I gave up, simple as that. Because if the person most familiar with my work was willin’ to come at me like this, there was a good chance I was just beating my head into a brick wall. So, after years of makin’ sure some dialogue was ongoing between someone at Marvel and myself, I quietly cut ties, and went after other things. Which was huge, because for a long time, all I ever did was try to score gigs there, and develop creator-owned stuff on the side.
Really unfortunate, as the majority of my professional inroads are the result of Marvel, and having my name on a couple of their books is easily one of my biggest accomplishments. Joe Quesada put me in contact with a few of his editors ages ago, Millar got my name to the Epic crew, and continues to offer steady encouragement to this day, even though he’s been dealing with significant health problems. Hell, he was one of the few cats I took this too, and as usual, his advice was extremely solid, though this is probably the one time I didn’t follow his instructions to the exact letter. Ironically, this little fiasco did actually prove several of the issues raised in the column that sparked this.
Ultimately, maybe it was for the best. The insanely high level of competition at the bigger companies could be a losing battle, at this stage in my progression. Not takin’ any slots from the big guys, but even the entry level assignments are highly sought after. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with more Miranda Mercury and D. Cross, but the “victory” rings somewhat hollow, because of the circumstance.
Good news is that something like this has happened before, yeah, the specifics were different, but this isn’t the first time my frustration at this relentless pursuit has reached dangerous levels. Have been at this a long time, and every time, at the last possible second, something really encouraging comes along to get things back on course. The FF Tales thing was like that, a lightning strike that hit just a few weeks before I was planning to “quit,” whatever that even means. Expect a similar turnaround here, and until then, only thing I can control is how much time I spend in the notebook, and what I’m exposing myself to creatively. So, I’m still writing these columns, crossing my fingers on the Miranda prospects, reading great creative runs of comics over again (Bendis’ Alias, and Millar’s Ultimate X-Men) and watchin’ Buffy DVDs at a ridiculous pace. 52 and Civil War are both off to excellent starts (Civil War piece might come next), and con season is about to be officially on. Who knows what’s next, but I’m putting money on it being something good.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to hurry up and get this to my editor, before I change my mind about having it posted. Thanks for listening, and see you soon.