Recently, Image Comics publisher Eric Stephenson talked about the bullying of comic creators by big companies.
Mark Waid, ex-DC editor, ex-Boom editor-in-chief, current Thrillbent publisher has written “An Open Letter To Young Freelancers”. It’s hard not to see it as a criticism specifically of reported DC Comics editorial actions of late, a publisher who Waid has been an ardent critic of, of late, but it could apply to a number of publishers over the last century. A few choice quotes, you can read the full essay here,
What I see a lot of freelancers going through today in the work-for-hire arena is just unreal, and the horror stories of personal and professional abuse I’m hearing from the trenches on a regular, almost-daily basis are mind-blowing to me–not only because I’m sympathetic, but because every single one of their experiences is utterly antithetical to the creative process.
If you’ve done work based on reference supplied to you, upon agreements made with your editor, or upon approved outlines and then been asked to make major, time-consuming alterations because “things have changed,” you should be entitled to charge for rewrites and redraws. If you’re discouraged from standing up for yourself under threat of losing future work–and so many of you have been and are–that’s unacceptable behavior, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
If you are being bludgeoned with non-disclosure agreements–not just asked to sign one as a matter of course, but having them lorded over you threateningly like a caveman swinging a club–that’s unacceptable. That comes top-down from a place of fear and a pathological need for control, and I don’t have to tell you how poorly fear and control facilitate creativity.
I can tell you without hesitation that if I were just starting out today and had to deal with half of the nightmare stories I hear from you guys about what it’s like to work at certain places–executives flat-out lying to your face, higher-ups demanding loyalty from you while offering none in return, editors calling you at the eleventh hour to demand 180-degree changes in stories that have already been approved and then acting as if the fault is with you–if that had been the Way Things Were 29 years ago, I’d just be getting out of prison about now.
I can–purely off the top of my head–think of at least a dozen freelancers who hit every impossible deadline ever asked of them… who were pleasant to work with and always professional even if their editor was a jerk…and who always did exactly what their editors asked them to do, even if it was obvious to a blind man that the quality of the finished work was lessened, because they were trained to believe that their first priority was to serve their editor and do so in a timely manner, and whatever creative voice they brought to the table was secondary. They were good soldiers. They were great soldiers.
All of those people have been unemployed for years.