I have three rules.
1) Don't fuck with my wife.
You hurt her, that's the same as tangling with me.
2) Don't fuck with my kids.
You do, there's probably going to be trouble.
3) And three, Don't fuck with my books.
And if you don't do any of those things, we shouldn't have any problem at all. We might even get along famously.
– Don McGregor
Nothing is more important than family. Nothing. And when someone fucks with your family, they should expect righteous fury to come flying down upon them. Or at least the wrath of Michael Netzer.
Don McGregor’s family—which encompasses a large part of the comics industry—regard him as one of the smartest, kindest, most passionate creators to have worked in comics. Don's love for both his fans and his characters is legendary, exceeded only by his love for his immediate kin. It’s not hard to see. Don wears his emotions right on the surface, which well up from deep in his heart. You see his passion in every word he’s written—hear it in every personal story he’s shared.
Don adores his wife Marsha, his son Rob, his daughter Lauren. So when Don and Lauren were able to work together on a special comics project, the two embraced the work with a level of intensity you seldom see in any medium, let alone the low-paying comics industry.
Don was engaged in a passion project at the long-forgotten Topps Comics. For a while during the '90s comics boom, Topps had been a good place to work for many longtime comics vets. The company paid a fair wage; they respected the men and women who had grown up in the industry, and they cut good deals for those men and women that allowed them a good living wage and honest rights to the characters they created while working there.
At Topps, Don was able to work on one of his all-time favorite classic heroes, Zorro. Don’s breathtaking writing pushed the classic swashbuckler into some incredibly intense adventures – maybe the most intense escapades since Zorro first appeared in 1919. Don also created an equal companion for Zorro, a tough and passionate fighter for everything that was right and just and important in their world. That companion’s name was Lady Rawhide. She suffered no fools. She was tough as nails. And she was a complicated person.
As Don reflected:
When I was writing Zorro, [editor] Jim Salicrup once said to me, "You really believe all this, don't you, Don?" "I may not always live up to it, but I wouldn't write it, if I didn't believe it."
When Zorro Productions wanted to bring suit against Queen of Swords they came to me.
I took a great deal of care with Lady Rawhide, to protect her identity, coming up with a way she could dye her hair, change her voice. I never could understand how in costumed hero series, you put on a mask and even people who know you intimately haven't a clue who you are. And in Lady Rawhide's time, a male family member, even a brother, could have a woman confined to a Nunnery if they thought she was acting immorally. Read that, if she had any sexuality. And in comics, it's always sex that gets you into trouble. Not violence.
Lady Rawhide had a remarkable resemblance to Lauren McGregor.
Don loved to work the convention circuit when he was younger. He would often ask Lauren and Rob to come along with him to hang out and meet the fans. Who wouldn't want his own cherished kids to spend time with him at conventions?
Especially since Lauren loved to cosplay as Lady Rawhide. She enjoyed hanging around Don's tables at those conventions, her energy and passion bringing the fanboys past the table in droves to discover the amazing characters Don created. Don didn't ask Lauren to do dress up in that skimpy costume – she and Marsha came up with the idea and made the costume themselves – but Lauren looked fantastic in her Lady Rawhide gear and appreciated the chance to spend some very special time with her beloved dad.
PROMOTING LADY RAWHIDE at Comic Conventions with my lovely daughter, LAUREN, dressed as Lady Rawhide. Not my idea. But I'm so glad she still liked to be with her dad.
There was only one problem with Don creating Lady Rawhide: she was part of the Zorro universe. Don didn’t control her destiny. He owned every aspect of other characters that he created and owned like the characters from Sabre or Detectives Inc., but Lady Rawhide was part of a larger world outside of Don’s control.
And when Dynamite Comics announced that they would be publishing a new Lady Rawhide solo comic later this year, it's understandable that Don took that news personally. Not just because he created that character, and not just because he needed to guarantee that he would receive his fair share of royalties. He can use the money, of course. Rent in Brooklyn is not cheap, and Don wants to stay in New York if he can. But it’s not all about the money.
No, this was more important than mere money.
Because Lady Rawhide represented Don's family. And Don wanted to guarantee that his family was treated correctly.
One small tangent here, and I hope Don won't mind me saying this: he's been distracted lately. Don's wife has been receiving a lot of medical care recently, and unfortunately Don isn’t doing that well these days either. Don's also been distracted by all kinds of other things in his life, especially the return of Sabre, a character that means a tremendous amount to him.
Michael Netzer is part of Don’s extended family of comics friends. Netzer is a passionate advocate for creators’ rights and the fair treatment of creators in this industry – with a passion stoked by his own stories of terrible treatment by members of the comic industry. Michael Netzer is good people. He remembers his friends and will fight relentlessly to help them when he feels like they're treated badly. Netzer needed to use every tool at his disposal to make sure that Dynamite remembered that Don has partial ownership of his beloved Lady Rawhide.
Netzer succeeded in that goal. He made his point well known, advocated strongly for what was right, and made the right people pay attention to the story of Lady Rawhide at Dynamite. Maybe more importantly, Netzer made sure that everyone considered the abysmal ways that creators have been treated in the comics world since the "original sin" when Siegel and Shuster were paid $130 for the rights to Superman:
At the risk of being somewhat politically incorrect in the eyes of everyone who saw the process as a mob-mentality lynching of the publisher, which I think is an exaggeration considering that the percentage of supporters wasn’t exactly in our favor, I think that forum members at Bleeding Cool, comment makers at The Beat and Facebook friends, who rose above the barrage of criticism and spoke their mind – these are the champions who’ve helped bring some comfort to Don McGregor by their show of support. I’d like to think that something will move toward the better in how creators are thought of by people who might hire them or use their work, but I’m not sure this can be the case because it may come down to a deep inner mechanism driving most everyone in such a position, and I don’t think such personal mechanisms inherently change.
Absent that, I’d hope that a growing general concern about due regard for creatives in comics might become more automatic, if only for concern over public opinion fallout, at least so that admitted mistakes like the ones made in this case aren’t made more frequently.
In the end, all was certainly well that ended well. Nick Barucci of Dynamite apologized sincerely for not giving Don the attention he deserved. Don received some much-deserved and much-needed attention. Michael Netzer came across, at least for me, as the hero of this story because of his intense pursuit of justice.
My son, Rob, and I at the toy convention with Lady Rawhide
The real winner of this story is the attention that was paid to the vital issue of creators' rights. It doesn’t matter how often we’re reminded of the appalling ways that some of our greatest creators end up living; no matter how often we remember Dave Cockrum, living in a filthy VA hospital years after creating Nightcrawler and Storm; or Gene Colan, struggling to make ends meet in his final days because he received no part of the copious royalties from the characters he helped bring to life; or Jack Kirby, maybe the greatest of them all, the co-architect of the most amazing universe that has ever graced cheap newsprint never receiving a dime of the billions made by the Fantastic Four, Captain America or the X-Men; no matter how many times we remind ourselves the stories of these men and more, somebody always forgets the lessons.
The creators almost always get screwed. That’s the oldest story in the creative arts.
It’s wonderful that Don was able to negotiate royalties for Lady Rawhide and that he’ll be able to net a few dollars from a character that’s like family to him. The shame of this story is that there’s absolutely no way that Don can regain ownership of any of his other cherished creations. Marvel will always own Don’s magical Killraven and its amazing supporting cast despite the fact that Don really brought KR to four-color life. Even more tragically, DC will probably never give up Don's Nathaniel Dusk, the gritty 1930s private eye. Don had the misfortune of placing Dusk at DC before the rise of creator-owned books. DC apparently doesn't care about Dusk and likely will never reference him again. Yet Dusk remains tantalizingly out of Don's reach.
In the real world we all take victories when and where we can. Michael Netzer and a legion of friends have ensured that the great Don McGregor will be able to keep one of his most cherished creations, a woman as close to him as his own beloved daughter, near and dear his heart. What man wouldn't want that as he reaches his late 60s?