Trevor Von Eeden was one of DC Comics’ earliest black artists, hired full-time by the publisher in 1975 when he was only 16. He is also co-creator of Black Lightning, DC’ Comics first black superhero lead character, with Tony Isabella.
He gave a career-spanning interview recently to Comics Creator News. There’s plenty to talk about in it. From his early career, his first proper girlfriend Lynn Varley (and how she left him for Frank Miller), to his relationship over the years with publishers and creators and the way they treated him, as well as hislatest comics work that really excites him. He also gives an unforgiving account of the pressure he felt at DC Comics, his failure to deal with it well, and his troubles since.
But one detail is a Black Lightning/Superman comic book called Sources commissioned by DC Comics, written by new Batman writer Tom King especially for Von Eeden to draw when he was both undergoing and recovering from cancer surgery. However, he believes that Superman Group Editor Eddie Berganza disappeared on him in the middle of it all.
In a letter to DC co-publisher Dan DiDio, quoted in the interview, Von Eeden wrote,
First, Harvey Richards (Andy Helfer’s Asst. Ed on the LOTDK series, now a full-fledged Editor) had me draw three Hawkman sample pages for Bob Harras’ approval, back in Dec. 13—and then promptly refused to return any of my phone calls or emails after being informed of my subsequent diagnosis of cancer in Jan. ’14! (I sent him an email reminding him that cancer was not contagious—but don’t know if he’d read that one, either…)
Then, shortly after beginning my cancer treatments in Feb. ’14, I heard from Eddie Berganza that he was having a Superman/Black Lightning script written for me. Needless to say, I was overjoyed! I finally received the 20 pg. script in October, and began work immediately. Eddie’s response to my pencils was quite positive—“Awesome”, “great”, etc…
However, shortly after my final surgery to remove the cancerous tumor in March of this year (and while I was still in the middle of penciling the job), Eddie also inexplicably chose to stop all communications with me, as soon as DC left New York for Burbank! To this day, I have no idea why—unless he was afraid that I’d lower myself to some sort of physical retaliation had he done the deed while still in NYC (you know how stereotypically violent we black guys are supposed to be…) I can honestly think of no other explanation for his bizarre, and highly unprofessional behavior.
Fortunately, thanks to my contacting Andrew Marino, I was able to finish penciling and inking the job—which I did in four weeks (i.e: the inking), while recuperating from the final surgery—and receive a paycheck for my efforts. To this day, I’ve still not heard a single word from Eddie Berganza, despite sending him numerous emails.
Trevor finished drawing the comic a year-and-a-half ago, and was fully paid for that work, but heard nothing from DC Comics. I understand, though Von Eeden may not have been aware at the time, that this was intended as an inventory issue for the publisher, to be used to fill in schedules and not be published right away. However, as time goes by, the topical references in the script will become less topical. He told CCN,
since the whole point of the script (which referenced both the shooting of the also unarmed Michael Brown, and subsequent Ferguson riots) was that certain members of the police force in America need to both confront and overcome their irrational fear of black people, an issue unfortunately more topical and relevant now than it was over a year ago—remain unanswered.
Bleeding Cool has been able to acquire pages of both script and artwork, to confirm this. Legally we are limited to what we can show, I repeat, this is work that has been commissioned and paid for by DC Comics. But under fair use guidelines, we can show these limited excerpts of both for purposes of editorial commentary.
The comic, Sources, takes the events of a shooting and the hospitalisation of Black Lightning. And the many different narratives that emerge from it, as Clark Kent interviews the witnesses of the shooting and the subsequent protest, and riot.
That is certainly a topical issue, and the year-and-a-bit since it was written, hasn’t dulled that, more’s the pity. The comic starts with a suspect being interviewed by the police, with a number of different perspectives, including that of the arresting officer.
The intervention of Black Lightning in the increasingly stressed situation saves the man with the gun aimed at him, but dooms the superhero.
PANEL 3: Big panel. Black lightning lying in the street. He’s been shot three times in the chest and stomach as he’s bleeding all over the place.
CAPTION: “When I turned, I saw it.”
CAPTION: “And I knew, right? I saw it and I knew, right?”
CAPTION: “They finally did it! They shot Black Lightning!”
We then see the public reaction, “managed” by the police. The distinction in expression is telling, just in the art. The protest signs, details in the script below would also have been rather newsworthy I expect.
PANEL 2: We’re in the POV of the police. Night. Large protest outside a hospital in Suicide Slums. Crowd is largely black. Holding signs and shouting at the camera.
CAPTION: “A 4-7 permit was not filed with MTA as is required under M.C.O. 1.54.”
PROTEST SIGN: How much is a black life worth?
PROTEST SIGN: Who shot Black Lighting!?
PROTEST SIGN: When are you going to kill Aquaman?
PROTEST SIGN: Who shot Black Lighting!?!
PROTEST SIGN: Where’s justice now? Where’s the Justice League now?
The scene that follows is rather impressive in terms of detail and action, as Clark Kent talks to an analogue for Representative John Lewis
I hear he’s got a comic out. And now, the heavens part, the arrival of Superman. It is a beautiful scene. And no one notices…
Not the crowd. And now it seems, not DC Comics readers either.
Superman/Black Lightning: Sources has a clever, thought-provoking, balanced script with excellent structure and some killer lines. The artwork is accomplished, Trevor Von Eeden on form, with touches of Alex Toth, of Will Eisner, of Todd McFarlane and a crowd scene as detailed and varied as that of George Perez.
I understand DC Comics still intend to publish the comic. And while the specific references may be dated, it is likely that the general content will tragically remain just as relevant as ever.
I have also seen correspondence between Von Eeden and executives at DC Comics, which do seem to attempt to draw some reconciliation and compliment his work. There is even talk, initiated by DC, of reviving the Thriller comic with which he made his name with at DC, working with Dick Giordano. But Trevor seems jaded by his experiences and with DC Comcis specifically and feels he has been hard done by.
He talks about that further in this whole interview, there is a lot to take in. Trevor has also finished the first two issues of The Hard Code with writer Ramon Gil, being Kickstartered into publication here.
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