This. A Hundred Times This.

I’m having the hardest time even picking what to quote from Mark Waid’s An Open Letter To Young Freelancers over on Thrillbent, and I could probably spend days trying to pick the best one, so we’ll just throw a pin at the board and start here:

Know that, five years from now, as fans or prospective publishers are looking over your published pages, no one will care that the comic they’re reading sucks because the publisher moved the deadline up or because the editor demanded you work an android cow into the story. All anyone will care about is the pages they see in front of them, and they will hold you responsible for them, no one else. Mediocre work will follow you around forever.

Trust me, there’s so very much yes: this at the link that you should click it and read the whole damn thing. Now. Seriously. I promise what follows will still be here when you get back.

I’m generally a cynic, truth to tell. I’ve strained my eyes more than once rolling them at someone’s inspirational speechifying, especially when delivered by people who have “made it.” But even my cold heart dripped a bit reading this one.

It’s still hard to read, of course. For all that there are other avenues for art, the fact is there’s still a pretty good stranglehold to be had by the bigger publishers. And when the firing of an industry veteran just results in casting aspersions on that veteran’s ability to tell when he’s fired, when critically lauded creators leave over poor treatment and there are so many eager replacements lined up that their final issues are scrapped to make room for the new shiny, it’s difficult to imagine hard choices leading to great outcomes.

What I think makes this work, though, is that it’s not just a bunch of high-minded rigmarole. Waid starts with–and follows through on–the premise that work-for-hire is just that. You’re producing your work for a client. That gives your client certain rights. You have agreed-to obligations in this scenario, and Waid isn’t suggesting that you don’t. This isn’t about saying that writers and other artists are beyond reproach and How Dare Editors Edit. No. It’s about saying that being contracted to produce artistic work isn’t the same thing as indentured servitude. Paying clients are only paying for so much, and expecting you to do triple backflips with complete, from-scratch rewrites at the last second for ill-formed or spurious reasons: not okay.

I think that’s where it all falls into place for me, why it goes beyond being a piece of cheerleading to a mass of good sense. Collaboration is about push-and-pull, and pretending it’s not– because you’re an Artist and above such concerns–isn’t worth the effort it takes to bring you back from the land of talking unicorns. It is important, however, that there is both push and pull going on there.

For the hay-penny it’s worth, my own little When To Walk Away story:

Back in the day, there was an artist online who wanted some scripts to practice on. He held a little contest, asking for short scripts (five pages) that involved Batman and Blade, because he thought they were both cool. Surprisingly enough, he picked my script. Even sent me two pages of pencils.

Then he did a pinup of The Hulk, and decided he liked him more, so could I write him a little Hulk script, instead? He’d still do the pages. He just wanted to change the character. No big. I wrote a little bit of that for him. And he was really excited, and he’d be sending me pages soon.

Then he wrote that he wasn’t too into the Hulk pages, but did I have anything else that might be fun to draw? I sent him my pitch and overview for Spotlight, and I believe one or two other ideas, though it’s been long enough that I only recall that one. He sent me some feedback on that, and I intimated that I’d like to make sure there wouldn’t be rights issues if things fell through, since, well, this was our third go-round for five pages.

Before he’d even finished any back and forth on that, he had some other projects he was trying to work up, and would I like to take a look and think about treatments / writing them? Okay. Sure. I’d never had luck attaching an artist to anything, and if it was his idea, that seemed like something that might keep him interested enough to fini–

Oh, actually, nevermind on that. He wanted to do Spotlight after all.

By this time, however, I was justifiably gun shy and a touch dizzy. So, I asked if maybe we could just start with the five pages I had “won,” so I could see that he was actually interested in sticking to an independent project and finishing. I’d even write yet another five page script if he wanted different subject matter.

There followed a fairly terse exchange by which he proved he was a professional because he was getting paid work. And he was. He didn’t have time for “games,” so was I in or out?

I passed, obviously. It’s not like I’m making money of any kind off Spotlight, so the wisdom of that decision is up for debate. Hell, it turned into a prose piece, which is arguably against its best interests, but, hey, it’s only lost in limbo now if I don’t finish it. Which is kind of satisfying in its own way, at least.

I never did get those five pages I’d “won.”

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