Friday, November 6, 2009

Gordon Gekko Was Right

The first issue of Chris Roberson's Cinderella: From Fabletown With Love came out two days ago and has been garnering some well-earned critical attention since then. So just an hour or so ago Chris was gracious enough to publicly thank me, via the (possibly insidious -- we'll see) vehicle of Twitter for "handing (him) a comics career." His words, not mine.

But of course, as generous a notion as it was, Chris was dead wrong. No one gets handed a comics career. As tiny as the comic book business is, compared to the TV or movie business for example, it's a popular one, so much so in fact that, for every available job in comics, there are literally hundreds of people who would love to have it, and a large percentage of those who'd trample their dear old granny to get it. Our racket is tough and competitive. If you can't cut it, there's someone ready to step into your shoes right now. As a result there's zero room in it to hand out a single career as an act of charity. (We won't even get to the fallacious notion that I'd somehow have some ability to give them out, if such gifts were possible.)

Chris got his comics career because he can do the job. Period. In fact, I've known for years what a rare few knew: that he was one of the most qualified persons for a career writing comic books that wasn't currently doing so -- an oversight recently corrected. The truth is, Chris came into this business years later than he deserved. Anyone familiar with his far too numerous prose novels and short stories could see that he was built for writing funnybooks.

So then, what did I do? Not much. When some work became available and I was asked for my opinion on who we should get to do it, Chris was first on a list of a very few names that I rattled off.

When I pointed this out, Chris, ever the gentleman, thanked me again, for at least "holding the door open" at the opportune time, and that's a pretty fair assessment. I'll cop to that.

Now why bring this up at all? Is the purpose of this post to demonstrate what a fine fellow I am?

Not at all. Since the oft-stated purpose of this blog is to discuss the art and craft and business of our profession, I think there's a larger observation to be made here, one worth pointing out.

Basically, I told you all of that to tell you this:

Helping a fellow storyteller get work in the same field, provided he's a gifted one (and he is), isn't an act of charity, or generosity, or selflessness, or largess of any kind. It's a quite premeditated and entirely selfish act of self-preservation -- it's long range career planning.

Follow me on this: In order to make a career telling stories (and after a quarter century in the business that's all I'm qualified for anymore) one has to have (meaning cultivate) a large and dedicated readership. Now here's the thing. Readers read. They read a lot. They read much more and much faster than any one writer (even Geoff Johns -- hi, Geoff) could ever produce material to sate their hunger. Therefore it's in my interest to do everything I can to keep the field stuffed with good writers, who want to write the same or similar sorts of stories I produce, so that my readers are kept happy, so that they'll still be around to read what I produce, when I am able to produce it. Like any species of critter, readers who aren't kept fed will wander off to other fields.

Those who know me well know that I am a dedicated capitalist, with all that implies. I could have rewritten Gordon Gekko's famous "Greed is good" speech so that it made sense -- so that anyone could see that capitalism, done right (meaning hands off, you pinko do-gooders) is not only a compassionate system, it's the only compassionate system. So believe me when I say that I wouldn't go out of my way to create competition for myself. But giving other writers a chance to create stories in the same genres and mediums I do isn't creating competition, it's growing the overall readership, which redounds to the benefit of all. Ever hear the economics proverb, "A rising tide lifts all boats?" It's true. It does. And it applies in this case.

So, finally, here's the lesson:

If you want to make it long term as a writer in the funnybook business (and I suspect this applies to other mediums, but I won't pretend to be an expert in other mediums), you need to write terrific stories, you need to have a herculean work ethic so that you can actually produce said terrific stories on time, and then do it again and again, you will need to be able to resign yourself to the fact that you will never ever again be "off duty" (which I understand actually occurs in other careers, but it's too glorious a dream for me to quite believe it), and when the chance occurs, you need to be ready to give the next guy a hand through the door, for your own sake -- because he may just be the guy that keeps enough dedicated readers hanging around that you can have occasional access to them.

So there. Greed really is good.


  1. lovely post Bill. As a moderate pinko leftie I disagree with some of your conclusions, but whole hearedly agree with your sentiment. I would say pleasure rather than Greed, but I've always been a fan of that great philosopher Epicurus.

    I think captialism has many valuable qualities that are important, but capitalism is the start of the conversation not the conclusion. Have you seen Geoff Mulgan's talk? I would link to it if I could but alas I cannot seem to copy and paste here. You might enjoy him.

  2. But first and foremost, lovely post.

  3. Thank you, Elizabeth. I haven't seen Geoff Mulgan's ted talk, but now I will. By the way, is it Mulligan and you just typed wrong, or is it Mulgan? And thanks again. You're too kind. And two kind too.

  4. I'm in favor of any system that gets more people reading Chris. And you can couch your generosity in terms of pure self-interest, Mr. Scrooge, but I'm not buying it. It ain't that pure. You may deny it, but I believe you have a kernel of altruism in your heart that you haven't extinguished. I also have a video of you petting a kitten.

    And anyway, doesn't pinko do-goodism follow exactly the same logic as writers helping other writers? It's to my benefit to live in a society that encourages food banks and subsidizes social security, medicaid, and some day, universal health care. It makes my life safer and healthier, it provides a safety net for my retired parents, and it makes my children's future a little more secure.

    Plus, every child that gets a public education, free vaccinations, and three squares a day is much more likely to become one of our readers. Dead kids almost never buy the second book in a trilogy.

  5. Basically, Daryl, I believe there are better mechanisms for each of those goals. Taking wealth by force from some to give to others isn't the way to do it. Government by Robin Hood isn't my cup of tea. But I realize we differ on that.

    And I have no idea what kernels of anything still exist in my heart, since Amy ripped it out of my chest back in 1984, ate it a bit, stomped on it a bit, and never returned it.

  6. 'tis Mulgan. And now I can copy and paste, I must have had browser issues. Here it is

  7. See? You CAN do nice things, you old dog kicker,you.

  8. Ah, how fondly I recall our glory days of dog kicking off of the seventh floor balcony of my apartment in Center City. Those were indeed the days, Dan.

  9. But let's not lose the point I was trying to make, which was, we are not in competition with each other. We are in conflict with those who don't read and the only way to win is to turn them, vampire like, into new readers. Chris is just one of the better new bloodsuckers in our ranks. And now I will attempt to end this ridiculous (and now oddly inappropriate) metaphor.

    Blame the too much wine at the bonfire at casa Willingham tonight, and the frisky blonde someone brought along.

  10. Bill, you know the old chestnut about villains: the reader knows it's okay for a villain to die if we see him kicking a puppy.

  11. I should have mentioned that Liz Argall, who graciously lets me call her Elizabeth, was transported OUT of Australia recently after she was caught rather boldly smuggling national treasures, ancient maps to be specific, on her clothing. She now is forced to live as a refugee in California in a fabled underground community they call Oztown.