Author Topic: Steve Bissette's letter: Dave Sim and 1963...  (Read 73577 times)

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Al Nickerson

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Steve Bissette's letter: Dave Sim and 1963...
« on: October 29, 2006, 07:17:16 PM »
Below is a letter from Steve Bissette addressing Dave Sim's June 17, 2006 letter concerning Rick Veitch and Steve Bissette's exchange on their comic, 1963. I received this e-mail letter from Steve on October 29, 2006.

Steve's letter was originally posted online here.


Dear Dave,

Iím not sure how to rationally discuss the issues raised in your June 17th letter, Dave, but Iíll do my best, if only to bring some conclusion to this diversion from the broader concerns of the Creator Rights forum.

As Al can confirm, I had a rough draft of this lengthy reply in Alís email box within a couple of weeks. I then decided to table this reply for some time; some friends urged me, personally, to just ignore and walk away from all this online shit. "These are friends of yours?" one of my closest amigos said. Returning to this months later, it still reads pretty well, and I am now comfortable with Alís posting of this reply, in part due to my own decisions to bring all this, as best I can, to some resting point once and for all.

So, back to your letter of June 17th --

While I could just flippantly thank you and Rick for evoking "Dostoevsky and Tolstoy" in conjunction with my name and leave it at that (and what role, pray tell, did Rick play in that imaginary Russian novel he ascribes to my career?), your letter requires some further response, as now itís here and "out there" (as they say about the virtual space weíre corresponding in).

Itís apparent that my initial request that our postings to this site not become too personalized has fallen on deaf ears, to the detriment of everyone.

Please note that the "exchange on 1963" youíve responded to did NOT appear in the context of this site; on the other hand, I of course canít blame you for responding to something Al sent you in the context of Alís site, or seeing it as relevant herein. Nor will I fault Al for presenting it to you, as thatís in part how this siteís discussion has been sustained. Alís presentation of it to you per se places it within the context of this site, now, so thatís what we have to work with.

Still, ignoring for the moment the fact your next-to-last letter was so specifically targeting myself, I fail to see how character assassination of this order (however "well intentioned") advances the Creator Rights discussion one iota, save to lionize me as a poster child of failure in that arena.

First off, your reading of ""Steve and Rickís exchange on 1963" is completely out of context, passing harsh judgement on me based on what is essentially a fragment of an ongoing, decade-long back-and-forth between Rick and I, both public and private. I can fault neither Al for sending it to you, nor you for taking it at face value, but I canít abide it be taken as either accurate or definitive, much less in and of itself, nor can I abide your fundamentalist/absolutist assessment of it or myself being in any way valid.

That said, let me attempt to address your letter without causing any further harm or hurt to anyone, if thatís possible.

Re: "I have to admit that alarm bells were sounding when Steve posted his "Rick, no crying Ďvictimí hereóIíve taken full responsibility in the end by leavingÖetc." that seemed to cut to the heart of my own reluctance to venture too far into the Creatorís Manifesto. I wasnít going to say anything but I think Rick nailed it pretty good with his "But the reality of it, to my eyes anyway, had all the tragic-comic complexity of a Russian novel. Reductionism just doesnít do it (or you) justice." Well, yes, exactly. How do you take full responsibility by leaving? "The Buck Stops Here, But Iím Going Back to Independence, Missouri. Good bye, All". What is that?"

First of all, letís be blunt: all this shit happened 13 years ago. My retirement from the comics industry -- announced but ignored -- was almost 7 years ago. This is old, tired stuff, and water long under the bridge for me. These rare letters have nothing to do with my life since, save my increasingly rare interactions with former friends/peers/associates from my life prior to 1999 -- interactions which take up a fraction of time. The nature of these interactions, rather neatly summarized by your own judgemental missive, always ensures they become rarer still. Iíve moved on.

Furthermore, my reference to "no crying Ďvictimí here" was in direct response to Rickís prior statements. If anyone cares to, they can track Rickís and my dwindling exchanges in such arenas since 1998; they are infrequent since a 2002 exchange (in which I called the entire Jim Lee/ABC Line Ďdealí upon the carpet) really upset Rick, and I chose to cease posting on almost all boards or venues save my own. Simply put, it had become impossible to discuss the business of comics without upsetting someone, somewhere, and I wished to upset the few friends I had left from my comics days least of all. So, fuck it.

The conundrum of being constantly asked about Alan Moore in an environment where I am only supposed to say cheery, upbeat, positive things about a former friend and associate who exiled me completely makes it easy to simply avoid any such exchanges; any attempt to engage with the substance of just the public issues (made all the more public by the recent V FOR VENDETTA movie tie-in announcements by Alan) were interpreted as sour grapes by some, so I avoided any such discussions in public venues.

Almost exclusively since 2002, Rickís and my own precious few public exchanges have been over this malingering 1963 Annual matter, to no resolution. When any post of any context immediately prompts a retort from Rick portraying me as crying "martyr" or "victim" for clarifying issues relevant to the Annual or my decision to retire from the comics industry, the context has become almost entirely defined by that caricature. Inadvertant or not, this sort of ad hominum dismissal has effectively defused my desire to address any aspect of this controversy in any public venue; if it was Rickís intent, mission accomplished. Your letter, in which I am now judged by God, is the proverbial icing (in all aspects of the term).

As to the broader tenor, tone and conclusions of your letter, Dave, to presume Iím even the same man I was over a decade ago, after separation, divorce, retirement, two subsequent careers (the second ongoing at this writing) in other professions, and the raising of two children (now adults) is simply absurd. I find it increasingly amusing that those who insist others recognize and respect their own personal transformations -- like yourself -- insist, like high school reunion classmate, to fix the rest of us in the amber of decades (and careers) past. I donít presume for a second youíre the same man I knew in the 1980s and Ď90s, nor would I (or have I) flaunted any perceived past indiscretions on your part as a basis for a public portrayal of who you might be now -- much less arrogantly and egocentrically claim to see "deeper into Dave Sim than I think even Dave Sim is capable of going" (to paraphrase one of your more audacious assessments of yours truly). To do so would be neither fair nor rational; to decisively "judge" you, as you have quite publicly judged and reviled me, would be a gross injustice.

Taking any one partyís perceptions at face value in this -- in this case, your complete acceptance of Rickís perceptions of a tangled multi-party partnership as fact, and somehow the sole and indisputable fact, placing me completely at fault sans context -- is myopic at best. Rick arguably has a stake in supporting (or, at least, avoiding criticism of any manner of) both Alan and Jim Leeís reputations, as his employ and a portion of his work since 1999 was dependent upon both. I am not so cynical as to presume that is a motive for Rickís harsh judgements, as Rick and I have been friends since 1976, and our own relationship certainly invites such judgements based on earlier experiences. Thus, I chose (via my final post from the material Al shared with you) the gentlemanly route of not questioning Rickís motives, while making it politely clear I do not share his perception of those long-past events. Diplomacy prompted the decision to simply not engage in the public discussion any further after almost a decade of this back-and-forth, as I wished and wish to not cause Rick or anyone any further upset.

Perversely, the only reason I posted the comments that led to Rickís response you are quoting, and from which this entire unpleasant exchange has arisen, was to (apparently quite wrongheadedly) defend Alan, in absentia, from a post basically blaming Alan completely for the 1963 Annualís absence. I suggested Jim Lee was more or as much at fault, having (with Rickís and my stupid verbal agreement, for which we are forever responsible) "taken" the Image stewardship of the Annual away from 1963 series "godfather" Jim Valentino in an opportunistic move during the very 1992 San Diego Image panel the series was announced at. Rickís immediate response to my 2006 comicon discussion board post defending Alanís reputation was to reassert I was at fault -- so much for my acting on the impulse to defend Alan in the public sphere; Iíll not do that again -- while tearing into me with his evocation of my career, life and decisions having "all the tragic-comic complexity of a Russian novel."

So be it. Rickís opinion in this matter continues to fault me for choosing to step away from editorial chores (while ensuring I would fulfill my pencilling commitments) on the ill-fated 1963 Annual after, and only after, both Jim Lee and Alan Moore had evidently stepped away from the project. I say "evidently" because neither said they were doing so, nor would either communicate with either Rick or I about the project at the time, even after key deadlines had passed and it would have been impossible to complete the Annual as scheduled under the best of circumstances. Rick seems to hold neither Alan or Jim culpable, and I am handily publicly scapegoated once again -- a caricature your even harsher judgement perpetuates and not only reinforces but renders absolute.

In the case of the 1963 Annual debacle, I, at least, announced my intentions to my partners -- Rick, Alan, Jim Lee, Jim Valentino -- clearly and in writing, the very morning I made the decision. My decision was not at the time irrevocable; I was hoping for at least some discussion from our partners, but no such thing happened. There were no subsequent questions, appeals, or conversations from or involving Alan or Jim; Rick responded, understandably pissed and perturbed, but I never heard a whisper from the others. Any other options Rick or I might have verbally discussed at that time were rendered moot by the absolute silence from the other two parties who were most essential to the project -- it could not, in fact, be completed without them.

Thus, my letter of "resignation" (an apt enough characterization, as I was by this time quite resigned to the non-involvement of either Jim Lee or Alan) was evidently accepted at face value -- again, I say "evidently," as there was no formal or informal response, inaction in this case continuing to speak louder than words -- and no further activity on the Annual followed as far as I ever saw or was ever made aware of.

[Without going into minutiae already discussed at some length in a variety of venues over the past 13 years, but to fairly assess the context of the wellspring of all this shit, I was in the spring of Ď93 reacting to a vacuum, on a project by Alanís design and our tacit agreement necessitating the active involvement and/or approval of almost all the Image partners. This vacuum occured at a point in 1993 when (a) work had to begin on the Annual in earnest or we would never get the book out during the year 1993, and certainly not on time, as that deadline was long past, (b) the Image partners in-fighting was making their own planned creative cooperation increasingly unlikely, and (c) my marriage was falling apart. Increasingly frustrated with the situation and lack of response of any kind from Alan (increasingly busy with writing other Image projects, as far as I could see, and unbenown to me until almost eight years later, Alan was suffering his own personal crisis) or the Jim Lee camp (who in fact announced in the COMICS BUYERS GUIDE a week before my letter was FAXed to my partners that he, Lee, was taking a sabbatical from comics), I made a rational decision to make my editorial impotence at least concrete and real by stepping away from co-editorial duties. In my letter, I limited my involvement in the Annual under the circumstances, which I had not precipitated, to pencilling my portion of the Annual. I responsibly notified my partners immediately and in writing of my decision. After weeks of no response from either Annual publisher/ígodfatherí Lee or increasingly preoccupied writer/most-desirable-creator of the Ď63 team Moore, I simply didnít see how I was even in a position to pretend to be co-editing anything. There were other factors I wonít go into, but Iím happy to discuss this further with you, Dave, off the public record if you ever care to, though I donít see where itís of any importance unless it will clear some air between us.]

Re: "Well, yes, exactly. How do you take full responsibility by leaving? "The Buck Stops Here, But Iím Going Back to Independence, Missouri. Good bye, All". What is that? So much of what Steve says just doesnít add up although obviously it does to him and that is definitely a quality that Dostoevsky and Tolstoy were noted foróboth in their writings and in their livesóthe level of monstrous self-deception at work in the human soul and how that quality reveals itself like the peeling of the layers of an onion."

How am I to respond to that statement, coming from a man who has (evidenced by his own writings over the past decade) chosen to retreat from the pleasures of the flesh and hubbub of the modern world to embrace a monk-like existence?

I accept and champion your personal life decisions, Dave, though they are alien to my own experience and path.

I have not nor will I ridicule your path, as you have in your actions during our years of association been nothing but honorable to me.

And yet, "what is that?" etc. ruthlessly caricatures my own rational decision to retire from the comics industry (a mere industry, not a mode of living or belief system) as being not only defeatist, but a form of monstrous and utterly unconscienable self-delusion.

Iíve detailed the particulars in prior writings; I shanít go into the tedious details again. Again, should you care to discuss this in detail, you know my phone number.

In absolute hindsight, the decision to leave comics was both wise and prudent. I was at the time negotiating my way through a personal and professional minefield defined by the legal issues relevant to my divorce, the collapse of the direct sales market TYRANT and I was utterly dependent upon, the need to provide steady income satisfactory to a court of law despite self-publishing a successful title (in terms of sales numbers) I was producing at a rate of one to one-and-a-half issues per year (about the pace Charles Burns maintained with BLACK HOLE, youíll note), and the need to provide a stable home for a pre-teen son and a teenage daughter. I have never regretted that decision, nor has anything in the subsequent seven years done anything but reinforce the wisdom of that decision.

The ongoing assumption that I should have chosen to support my "paper child" TYRANT rather than the flesh-and-blood children I was and am responsible to simply isnít a sound one. TYRANT was not, in the post-Capital collapse, going to feed us. Only a non-parent could reasonably present such an argument, though it would hold little consequence as a non-parent really hasnít an idea what parenting involves. Youíve said before, in this venue, I should have simply placed my ex-wife and children at armís length and dedicated my life entirely to TYRANT to support two households -- a strategy imcompatible with a caring, attentive parent with whom the two children lived half of each and every week.

Thus, a day job was required, a new career path found and embarked upon, and a means of stable and steady income established and maintained.

The argument that TYRANT, post-Diamond monopoly, would have continued to provide a means to support my flesh-and-blood children is absurd, period. Discussion of "if I had been further along," "if I had been more productive," "if I were a faster artist than I am," etc. are based upon wishful fantasy and/or projections, not reality, and certainly not the reality I was facing post-1997. I was never that conjectured cartoonist of your or anyoneís dreams, nor shall I ever be.

To act otherwise WOULD have been delusional and self-destructive, in a manner that would have negatively impacted my family.

Who isnít facing reality? I made an utterly pragmatic, real-world assessment of my capabilities and situation, took responsibility, and proceeded accordingly.

I wonít go into the realities of the divorce legalities I was also faced with, as I do not wish to discuss its particulars in light of your own clearly articulated views on such matters. I also donít care to tangle on those issues because I do not wish to inadvertantly cause upset to either my now-adult children (who might or will read this) or my ex-wife, with whom I remain friends, any more than I wish to inadvertantly upset or harm Alan or Rick over 1963ís past history.

I hope youíll respect those parameters; again, should be wish to get into it via personal rather than public exchange. happy to do so.

Thus, I took responsibility for my life, responsibility to my childrenís needs (material and emotional, as best any parent ever can in a divorce situation), dealt responsibly with my financial debts, and saw through the divorce process to its conclusion sans ire or rancor (and retained my copyrights and trademarks, the only shared legal property under VT marriage law we had to deal with). Furthermore, did everything I could to ethically and legally retire and/or redress my creative partnerships and associations via the retirement-from-comics process.

I responsibly worked quite diligently, and against opposition both passive (e.g., the desire not to engage) and aggressive (e.g., the refusal at one point of a past partner to even speak to a legal representative, after agreeing to resolve the legal issue at hand), to tie up all legal loose ends relevant to any and all comics projects or properties I had been involved with during my 25 years.

To the best of my ability, any & all TABOO legal or proprietary issues were resolved (including the cutting and return of all negatives/film, though some original art remains here, as all attempts to contact the few remaining respective creators having been unsuccessful); I resolved all legal issues with Mirage (thanks to Peter Laird, this effort was completed in 2005); the resolution of the 1963 property ownership was resolved at last in 1999, thanks to Rickís willingness to engage (however reluctantly) and the help of Jean-Marc Lofficier; etc.

Relevant to one issue still under discussion, when Rick and I began getting overtures from various overseas and domestic publishers in 2002 seeking to reprint 1963 (always with the caveat of Ďfinishing ití to supplant the lost annual), we consistently worked together to see through the process, including working through various viable resolutions/solutions to the concluding chapter(s) that addressed Alanís needs (e.g., not having to ever deal with me directly or indirectly). That none of these manifested a collection had more to do with the paucity of publisher will (e.g., no realistic publishing deal) rather than our own ability to solve these problems a decade later. Rick and I are confident we will one day see this through, putting all this at last to rest once and for all to the benefit of all.

Iíve also maintained and renewed when scheduled my registered trademark on S.R. BISSETTEíS TYRANT (R), having maintained enough annual sales to keep the trademark legally active. I have thus been responsible to myself, my character and concept, and my children (who may after all have some use for all this once they inherit it down the road), despite my tabling the project as an active concern.

Iíve also consciensiously seen to royalty-sharing for decades, primarily proper sharing of my SWAMP THING royalties. I voluntarily and diligently cut personal checks to folks (including Rick Veitch, but also various folks who had done panels or images, like the child drawings in the "Demon/Monkey King" three-parter) since 1983 for their fair share of any payment or royalty earned from SWAMP THING and Constantine-related payments that involved work they had done (e.g., pencil work on pages, panels, whatever). I did this though I had never received any such payments from others involved in SWAMP THING for my part in their earnings (e.g., issues Iíd co-plotted, contributed pages/panels to, whatever). I didnít expect reciprocation, nor did I receive reciprocation. After doing this for over 15 years, I decided at the end of 1999, once my living was no longer earned in the comics field, that 16 years of that one-way arrangement was enough, and ceased that practice. During those 16 years, I always publicly credited those people for that work whenever the opportunity presented itself, occasionally argued with DC to permanently credit them accordingly (DC politely declined every time); with the construction of my personal website this year, I will again post that information publicly. I did my best, but enough is enough. Iíll post final corrected credits in the one public arena I have some measure of personal control over, so thatís that.

If these are the actions of an irresponsible buffoon, please say so, if only to spare future generations of cartoonists giving similar care to their passage.

I have done my best to take responsibility for my past indiscretions, failures, missed deadlines and bad rep, and have openly acknowledged and discussed those issues. I did so not out of some misbegotten masochistic streak or desire for matyrdom, but because I think we owe it to the next generation of cartoonist to be forthright.

When I thought I or those once close to me were being maligned in some arena, I weighed in whenever I determined it necessary; I have done so both publicly and privately, whenever possible resolving such matters politely and privately (e.g., Paul Jenkinsís online interview about Tundra some years ago, which ended up providing an opportunity for Paul and I to at last resolve some issues amicably). A willingness to discuss and/or give thorough analysis in an era of sound bytes may yield tedious reading at times (if this is boring, leave!) or erroneously be perceived, misconstrued or caricatured as being defensive or (as Rick caricatured my response of note here) crying Ďvictim,í but that simply isnít the case.

Finally, by 1998-99 I didnít see any future in sticking around, Dave. I had retired TYRANT, was dealing with a legal conundrum in which my divorce attorney was instructing me to only take work-for-hire freelance -- after Iíd worked so long to get out of work-for-hire -- until the divorce-related ownership issues concerning copyrights and trademarks on my existing creations was legally resolved.

Even in the best of situations, an aging comic book freelancer in their mid-40s traditionally often finds it difficult to land work, sans ties to an established publisher. Rick and I saw this firsthand via our instructors (and, hell, via the treatment afforded Joe Kubert himself) at the Kubert School. Iíd worked aggressively to sever those work-for-hire freelance ties for almost a decade by that point. Iíd been an outspoken public critic of many industry practices, and had saddled myself with a bad rep for deadlines -- and the market was imploding. No surprise, then, that pickings were meager and I was mistrusted; the few gigs I secured were so unpleasant (e.g., payment 6 months after completion; contract broken by the publisher two weeks into the job; etc.) that the day job I was already more than a year into was by far the preferable and more stable investment of my time and energy.

I was already either a pariah or an embarrassment to former allies and friends.

Leaving was a completely rational and healthy decision.

Comics was, for me, a toxic and non-productive environment. My efforts were more rewarding and better rewarded elsewhere.

Iím not complaining, just outlining the reality of Ď98-í99, and the reasons for retiring.

Thus, yes, I think I acted responsibly, as in "take full responsibility by leaving."

Hence, my saying so.  

Re: Your more audacious passages beginning:

"And I think that touches on self-publishing for obvious reasons. I often wondered if Steve naming his dinosaur comic Tyrant wasnít an unconscious swipe at me from his innermost soul..."

TYRANT was named TYRANT because my protagonist was a Tyrannosaurus rex, hence "King Tyrant Lizard", hence TYRANT.

Still, your psychoanalysis is compelling, for reasons others than those most apparent to you; Continuing:

"...because I had backed him into a corner, in a lot of ways arguing him into self-publishing by swatting aside all of his "Yes, butÖ" rationalizations and defence mechanisms. "Yes DC are bastards, butÖ" "Yes, I want full creative control, butÖ" "Yes, my dream is to draw and write my own dinosaur comic without interference, butÖ" I think Steve consciously wanted that and by the time he was done counter-punching with Dave Sim, king of the intellectual club fighters (you can cut me up as bad as you want, Iím just going to come wading back in and if I get a shot at you itís going to have the kick of a Missouri mule: in the intellectual boxing ring, you can run but you canít hide) he had no "buts" left and only "yeses". And I quite agree that thatís tyrannical in its own way."

No, Dave, it was one of the most generous and selfless acts I experienced in all my years in comics, and I thank you for that.

And Iíve always savored the intellectual club fights, particularly with you, hence this response, per usual.

Re: Continuing:

"What business did I have backing someone into self-publishing? And as Rick hints, I think the answer to that goes deeper into Steve Bissette than I think even Steve Bissette is capable of going. I was proven right. Bissette certainly had the sales for his dream comic (alas, if only Rick had had the sales for his literal dream comic)."

Sales, yes; stability and productivity to yield ongoing results, no.

First, however, your "backing me into" scenario ignores the five years experience Iíd had with TABOO, and the fact that the 1963 series was a conscious (and fortunately successful) bid to finally break from TABOO/Tundra and earn the nut necessary to making the leap into self-publishing.

Youíd made your case, reality had reinforced your arguments, and I worked hard to achieve the launching platform for TYRANT and that wonderful couple of years dedicated to its creation and publication.

I have the greatest respect in the world and boundless admiration for the Dave Sims and Terry Moores and Jeff Smiths of the world who stuck it through to completion, though I lacked the bedrock (enough issues done to collect) and the support networks (e.g., stable partners/home/financial bases) they had in place. I consciously refuted the Ďumbrellasí (e.g., Image) some of them (Jeff, Colleen, etc.) embraced during the meanest year(s) -- simply put, after the 1963 Annual experience (and other things), I didnít trust Image as an alternative (though I hasten to add Jim Valentino was nothing but honorable in his dealings with myself throughout the entire Ď1963í run).

Real world factors arenít excuses, theyíre reality.

As the direct sales market imploded in 1996-97 (and it did) post-Capitalís demise and my divorce situation asserted its reality, I assessed my situation and made my decision. You may not agree with the decision(s) I made, you certainly can dissect them and question their validity, but youíre caricaturing, belittling and ridiculing them and me, Dave, and that I object to.

You are doing so in part by validating only your (in your view) perceived central role (a megalomaniacal conceit, for sure) as the be-all and end-all of MY existence. That is patently absurd, and skews everything else youíve written on this matter around such an ideosyncratic and narcissistic reading of a life outside of your own -- ahem, my life -- into even more absurdist extremes.

Continuing:

"And, yes, that assumes the parameters of a Russian novel. Dave Sim arguing Steve Bissette into self-publishing and Steve Bissette brings along his friend Rick. "Rick is a most astute fellow and will assist our discussions!" And unconsciously what I assume Steveís innermost self was thinking was "Letís bring Rick. All heíll talk about is DC and the companies and how to fix them and maybe that will shut up this tyrant. Because I can feel that if someone doesnít shut him up, heíll convince me to self-publish and that will be a disaster." Which it was as I suspect only an innermost self would know."

Huh. This is, plain and simple, horseshit -- and a gross and highly inaccurate caricature of Rick, my assessment of Rick as a man and an artist, and our relationship at that time.

Rick began his career in the underground comics scene (long before I was in the field, long before he and I ever met), wherein creator ownership was a given, far from the mainstream industry plantations.

Rick and his brother Tom co-created and completed the gem TWO-FISTED ZOMBIES for Last Gasp in the Ď70s; it was in fact TWO-FISTED ZOMBIES and the indiciaís revelation that these Veitch boys were from Bellows Falls, VT that prompted my having the confidence to at last pursue my own career in comics, a couple of years before we met.

Among Rickís key early works were many stories and three graphic novels (ABRAXAS AND THE EARTHMAN, THE ONE, and HEARTBURST) that were creator-owned works Rick completed under the editorial helm of Archie Goodwin during Marvelís fleeting creator-owned first Epic period -- all of which predated Rick being brought into the Creator Summits. His credentials as creator-ownership cartoonist were impeccable, and outstripped those of far more prominent comics superstars of the day.

From the time Rick and I first met in September of 1976 to the present, a key component of our relationship has been our ongoing discussion/debates over creator ownership, publishing, and -- yes -- self-publishing.

Rick was and is the right compadre to pull into that circle at that time. He has lived it and practiced it better than I, agreed (hardly grounds for scourging and villifying me as a man, however).

The proofís in the pudding: Rick remains a viable self-publisher to this day, quite effectively juggling work-for-hire and various publisher ownership contract jobs with his ongoing King Hell self-publishing of his graphic novels and collected works.

And whatever our differences -- which are legion -- we remain friends, forever honoring our own agreements regarding one anotherís right to reprint our jointly-owned collaborative ventures (save those involving other creators, complicated by those partnerships: e.g., 1963).

Al Nickerson

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Steve Bissette's letter: Dave Sim and 1963...
« Reply #1 on: October 29, 2006, 07:18:55 PM »
[Steve's letter continues...]


Continuing:
"And if youíll forgive me for pulling the camera back even further to include God, I think that was Godís overall point to me. "Iíll give you Bissette and Veitch as self-publishers and hope you learn the lesson that there are many reasons not to be successful at self-publishing and more of them than to not be successful as a freelancer. Bissette will always get in his own way and undermine his own best efforts. If you eliminate his excuses for not being successful youíll leave him no recourse but to quit completely because thatís who he is." In that contextóignorant as I was of Steveís innermost nature and thinking that everyone can be reasoned with and shown that self-publishing is the best routeóyes, I was a tyrant."

Funny, God told ME to take care of my children, first and foremost.

Shall I quote chapter and verse? Jesus is on my side with this one.

Nothing, no one, on Godís green Earth or in His heavens was more important to me, Dave, than my kids. That remains true to this day, and will always remain true.

"Taking care of" them, in the context of this venue and discussion, didnít mean pushing them away to focus exclusively on TYRANT. You once wrote that TYRANT would have financially yielded plenty for them and Marlene and me -- but that isnít parenting. "Taking care of" them meant being their father, being present, being there with and for them as well as providing for them.

If the core issue -- my "Sophieís Choice," if you will -- was TYRANT over Maia and Danny, that was no choice at all.

Maia and Danny won, they will win every time.

You want to dance that around, Iím game.

This is the central misreading of TYRANT youíve concocted here: you may recall the first image I drew for TYRANTís narrative, in 1992, was that egg, buried in the dirt (which became #3ís splash page).

TYRANT wasnít about you, Dave -- it never was. TYRANT was about my kids, and me, and parenting, and our life. Parenting and survival, in its most primal state. My Id, pen brush and ink on the page.

From #1ís first page, first panel of that slightly distorted profile of Earth (calculatedly arced to suggest a pregnant womanís belly in profile), TYRANT was my meditation on parenting. The content told, tells all. No mistake that it reflected and meditated so urgently upon my situation in life: nesting, feeding myself and my young, the stress and anxieties of parenting, etc.

Itís all there, if you can just pull your head out of your own head long enough to consider, for a nanosecond, that TYRANT was mine, about me and mine, and a clear transcription of my internal landscape -- in which Maia and Dan were primary, front and center, my little Tyrants.

But since God is talking to you just now, letís continue:

"And in many ways even worse because without me, Steve would never have had the taste of what it was to do his dream comic without interference and to have that comic be a runaway success. From that point it was a straight line trajectory where all Steve had to do was to avoid outside entanglements,..."

Like divorce, lawyers, parenting, and market implosions?

To paraphrase something you once said to me, "Is the grass green where you live, Dave? Is the sky blue?" The entanglements were unavoidable.

"...get his work done, stay on schedule,..."

Blew that.

"...keep the story in print..."

Which I did quite successfully -- until Diamond, in one of its first revisionist market decisions after absorbing Capital, decreed relistings were no longer permitted.

Iím told by Rick they revised that decision a year later, but by then I was gone.

I had done a pretty good job of keeping all issues in print (three printings each on #1, 2, and 3) and relisted when permitted, which was supporting my scheme even with the every-9-months publishing schedule (again, Iíll note thatís what Charles Burns maintained with BLACK HOLE). But once Diamond pulled that support strut -- and I wasnít yet at a viable collected-album point (I discussed a collected TYRANT 1-3 with Diamond as a possible alternative, with new material, but they shot that down -- "too recent material, too short, and still in our warehouses as comics"), which was a huge factor in my decision.

"...and make a living at the thing that he loved most of all."

The above, and my attorneyís advice to restrict myself to work-for-hire until the divorce was resolved regarding legal ownership/dividing of my copyrights and trademarks (it took six years, but I retained them), were critical in my decision of Ď97.

Take it as you wish, Dave; I really donít care, though I hope we can see through this non-conversation amicably.

I do advise all young cartoonists, male and female, to (a) think this through before marriage and (b) get a pre-nup on creative ownership issues, just in case. When I remarried in 2002, my wife Marge and I did just that; my copyrights and trademarks are mine, period, just as all she brought to the marriage remains hers.

Re:
"But I think he hadóand no doubt still hasóa desire for entanglement and complication and that was part of my tyranny: that I was taking away his other greatest love which is to be immersed in fifteen different things all pulling him in different directions and all requiring hour-long phone calls with like-minded people to address and which allowed him to stay away from the drawing board for extended periods."

No, the end result -- much to your and Veitchís frustration -- is the fact that I took your most constant advice to heart, Dave.

"Simplify," you said to me, year after year.

You were right.

I have simplified my life quite elegantly, and am much the happier for it.

Unhappily for you, it was comics I removed.

I divorced comics even as my divorce was finalized.

Thus, in a single stroke, I jettisoned the phone calls, the distractions, the diversions, the drains, the abuse and the baggage -- I focused on my kids. It was a simpler and kinder existence, and eventually matured into a very rewarding life with them and with Marge.

I havenít regretted leaving the comics industry for a moment.

Damn, you were right again.

My not making the decision you wished I would have isnít an issue. For me.
                                                                                                                                                                 
Re:

"I had dismantled his argument and left him with a barren life that consisted only of what he, ostensibly, wanted to do."

You empowered me, and were instrumental in my efforts to leave work-for-hire plantation life behind.

I accomplished much (TABOO, 1963, the launch of TYRANT and my writing career), but not all that Iíd hoped.

It was hardly a barren life.

Your constant equation of parenting with "a barren life" speaks volumes.

Iíll leave it at that, for now.

[To be concluded...]

Al Nickerson

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Steve Bissette's letter: Dave Sim and 1963...
« Reply #2 on: October 29, 2006, 07:24:01 PM »
The previously mentioned Rick Veitch and Steve Bissette's exchange on their comic, 1963 can be found here; while Dave Sim's June 17, 2006 letter can be found here.

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Steve Bissette's letter: Dave Sim and 1963...
« Reply #3 on: October 30, 2006, 09:55:10 AM »
Yep, if you want to discuss this, this is the place. I won't be posting comments on this matter on my blog after posting the link -- this is the place to chat, if anyone cares to.

Please place LINKS here, too, if any response to Dave's or my letter appears elsewhere on the internet, blogs, etc. -- including Dave's, which I've yet to visit (and have no idea where it is).

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Steve Bissette's letter: Dave Sim and 1963...
« Reply #4 on: November 01, 2006, 02:10:45 PM »
Hi Steve.  Glad to see you're back on this forum.

No point a rookie getting caught between the discussion of two respected seasoned veterans, so I'm going to keep my comments short.  

When reading Dave's last letter, I didn't see his comments as being a personal attack, but rather as a "friendly jab" by someone who would like to see more Steve Bissette comics.  Of course, it isn't for me to say if that was the intention or not.  But it is the way I interpreted it.

As a father of 3 myself, I understand, and share, your view on family.  I also understand what Dave has said about a family being a distraction that can take an artist away from his art.  It is one of the reasons why I consider myself lucky to print even just one issue of Spy Guy a year.  The "Married with Children" situation is one I walked into with my eyes open, and I wouldn't change a thing.  Though it IS a fact that having a family can limit one's artistic output.  

When it comes to making a choice between your children and your work, I think an honourable person would always choose their children every time.  In fact, a person who would NOT chose their children over their work should probably NOT be having children to begin with.  Once you create life, you create another level of personal responsibilities.  


In regards to the Creator's Rights discussion; I am especially curious about the 1963 Annual.

I had mentioned in a previous post how a personal collaborative project suffered a similar fate, and the only options I could see in resurrecting it would be: One, to retrofit the characters into all new characters.  Or: Two, to use the Creative Manifesto template to properly compensate the original collaborators, and continue the project as intended.

In your experience with the 1963 Annual, could there have been a pre-arranged agreement that would allow the project to continue until completion despite the collaborators fragmenting into different directions?  If so, what would it be?  Would a Creative Manifesto template agreement have helped to avoid the project being ultimately abandoned?  Do you have any other advice to up-and-coming funny book creators that would help them avoid similar circumstances?

I think that would go along way in steering the Creative Manifesto discussion to the next stage in development.


Oh, and for the record:  I would like to see some new Steve Bissette comics as well.  Sorry... it had to be said.

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Steve Bissette's letter: Dave Sim and 1963...
« Reply #5 on: November 02, 2006, 03:47:23 AM »
Thanks, Mike -- funny how this all works out, in't it?

As for new Bissette comics, you haven't been paying attention -- I packaged and worked with a CCS student team to create the JERSEY DEVIL minicomic packaged with the new DVD release THE LAST BROADCAST, I've done two short pieces with/for my son this year thus far, both still in print, and also with Dan created a faux-Christian tract comic that figures (essentially as a character) in Lance Weiler's new feature HEAD TRAUMA, which is now out on DVD. All that info, with links, etc., has been on my blog since January of this year; as yet unannounced are two new stories I'm doing with my now-adult kids, Maia and Dan, for an upcoming 2007 UK comic, and an expansive project I'm scripting for one of my old comics buds of yore (announcement forthcoming in 2007, when that bud is good and ready). And I'm drawing lots of comics at CCS only the students see in the course of our classes.

In short, my kids and CCS are getting me back into comics (outside of my sketchbooks, my private comics), and out of all this may emerge something of substance down the road.

If you mean "comics" as in DC, Marvel, Image, Dark Horse, etc., my retirement from that cesspool stands firm, and as stated, nothing, but nothing that has happened in the subsequent 7 years since my announced retirement from the US comics industry has done anything but affirm the wisdom of that life decision. An almost year-long spin with the late Byron Preiss and iBooks over a proposed three-novel SWAMP THING series was the closest I've come -- though my outlines were accepted by DC (nice to talk to Karen again after so many years), and I had convinced Byron that John Totleben would be an ideal choice for illustrations and cover art -- but that was neatly deep-sixed by Byron's absolute refusal to negotiate on the contract (though I'd accepted the work-for-hire terms, there were two key points that were irreconcilable) and notorious penny-pinching ways in the eleventh hour (e.g., refusal to pay an adequate advance on the agreed-upon-from-the-start payment for the three novels). Sadly, as it turned out, walking away from that project was for the best, too, though it's been heartbreaking to see what went down after (e.g., Byron's death, the auctioning of iBooks contracts). For a brief couple of months, it was fun toying with the ol' Swamp Thing universe again; I mentioned to Karen, in our last conversation, I'd be happy to do it instead for DC (scripted for comics), but that fell on deaf ears, per usual -- and that's for the best, too.

So, you'll NEVER see Bissette back in comics, if your only view of what constitutes comics is whatever Diamond distributes month to month. I'd rather do comics with Dan, Maia and CCS for no pay than muck around with the life-sucking void that is the US comics industry ever again.

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Steve Bissette's letter: Dave Sim and 1963...
« Reply #6 on: November 02, 2006, 04:32:49 AM »
Quote from: "Stephen R Bissette"
As for new Bissette comics, you haven't been paying attention -- I packaged and worked with a CCS student team to create the JERSEY DEVIL minicomic packaged with the new DVD release THE LAST BROADCAST, I've done two short pieces with/for my son this year thus far, both still in print, and also with Dan created a faux-Christian tract comic that figures (essentially as a character) in Lance Weiler's new feature HEAD TRAUMA, which is now out on DVD. All that info, with links, etc., has been on my blog since January of this year; as yet unannounced are two new stories I'm doing with my now-adult kids, Maia and Dan, for an upcoming 2007 UK comic, and an expansive project I'm scripting for one of my old comics buds of yore (announcement forthcoming in 2007, when that bud is good and ready). And I'm drawing lots of comics at CCS only the students see in the course of our classes.


...err ... I guess I really haven't been paying attention!
Looks like I'll be blog surfing this morning...


Quote from: "Stephen R Bissette"
In short, my kids and CCS are getting me back into comics (outside of my sketchbooks, my private comics), and out of all this may emerge something of substance down the road.


Here's to hoping for it!


Quote from: "Stephen R Bissette"
If you mean "comics" as in DC, Marvel, Image, Dark Horse, etc...


Oh God, no...  What I actually meant (or at least was thinking in my head while typing) was TYRANT!


Quote from: "Stephen R Bissette"
I'd rather do comics with Dan, Maia and CCS for no pay than muck around with the life-sucking void that is the US comics industry ever again.


Maybe it's just me, but personally I think that is what comics, heck - not just comics... ALL art should be about.  My "Clark Kent" day job is doing animation for feature fims (side note:  I actually animated some of those demons in Constantine) so I understand how, what should be considered an art form, turns into a life-sucking void.  I think the only hope for any art is the grass roots, self-published, "doing it for love", D.I.Y.'ers.  THAT is what art should be...  This is a snipet from a previous blog post where I think I managed to word it better:

Quote from: "Mike Kitchen"
The best hope for entertainment is in the creation of creator owned and controlled properties. By artists that have a burning desire to create them. The arts are a part of our culture. If corporate culture dominates the mainstream with their empty candy coated fluff, whoís only purpose is to maximize the stock of rich corporate investors, then I think itís time to start nurturing the counter-culture.


My humble opinion.


Oh yeah... if you have any ideas on the 1963 Annual vs. Creative Manifesto II thing, I'd still like to hear them.

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Steve Bissette's letter: Dave Sim and 1963...
« Reply #7 on: November 02, 2006, 05:20:25 PM »
Ah, TYRANT... we'll see. I've some plans, we'll see if it all pans out; keep an eye on my blog for any announcements down the road. As noted in my initial response to Dave's June letter, I have kept the registered trademark protected and current.

Thanks for all the kind words, and appreciate the appetite for my work. Sorry I've kept you and others hungry, but life is -- well, more important.
_______

Re: Al wrote me: Rick speaks out...

http://www.comicon.com/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f=1;t=011652;p=4

Since I'm keeping my posts on this topic here, rather than elsewhere:

Two responses:

Yep, Alan indeed scripted the initial chunk of the Annual (I saw 17 of those pages), but the expansive plan to work with Image is what was completely derailed -- sans Jim Lee or Alan's DIRECT involvement, it became impossible to make any headway. I vividly recall a phone conversation with Larry Marder when I was expressing frustration prior to my decision to step away from Annual editing chores, referring to Rick and I as tugboats trying to pull two ocean liners into port that were already out to sea.

If I may elaborate a bit, it soon became clear that the Image partners were involved not to work with Rick and Steve, but to work with Alan -- and between Alan going incommunicado, while scripting a couple of key Image partners/participants's own titles (like McFarlane, thus making the Annual a distraction from bigger fish they were frying with Alan rather than the creative collaborative contact point with Alan via the '1963' Annual, as originally planned in summer '92), and Jim Lee's unannounced but effective departure from helming the Annual creating a complete vacuum on the Image end, that simply wasn't happening. There were other factors I shan't go into (among them '1963' being low on the 1993 Image totem pole and reduced to an afterthought by that spring; our sales, though phenomenal to US, were low in Image terms circa '92-'93). All that matters in regard to my involvement is I couldn't see any way sans Alan's direct involvement to reconcile the chasm betwixt lowly Rick and I in VT and the utterly distracted, already in-fighting Image team, whose involvement was necessary and built into the Annual.

That said, I understand Rick's attitude to this day, but I don't share it. All that matters, in 2006 and hereafter, is that IF the opportunity DOES present itself to someday resolve this matter via a '1963' collection with a new finale, Rick and I HAVE worked out a number of strategies to achieve that closure. Someday, time and luck on our side, it'll all work out.

My reply to Rick's second comment at the above link Al sent me:

Nah, it wasn't a cry for help.

To paraphrase one of Alan's own classic comic lines, "Just say Uncle."

Al Nickerson

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Steve Bissette's letter: Dave Sim and 1963...
« Reply #8 on: November 02, 2006, 05:55:24 PM »
Quote from: "Stephen R Bissette"
That said, I understand Rick's attitude to this day, but I don't share it. All that matters, in 2006 and hereafter, is that IF the opportunity DOES present itself to someday resolve this matter via a '1963' collection with a new finale, Rick and I HAVE worked out a number of strategies to achieve that closure. Someday, time and luck on our side, it'll all work out.


Yeah, it's not always easy working with other creators. (However, I have had great fun working with some of the other guys like John Gallagher, Greg Hyland, and Joe Staton.) So, it doesnít surprise me when I learn more about how '1963' fell apart. The whole Jim-Lee-penciling-the-'1963'-Annual really astonishes me.

A '1963' collection with new material would be totally rockiní! Lets see this done. Whoís got Alan Mooreís phone number?  :D

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Steve Bissette's letter: Dave Sim and 1963...
« Reply #9 on: November 04, 2006, 08:13:45 AM »
Clarification: It was my understanding that Jim was going to helm the Annual as Image's in-house coordinator, not penciller per se -- Jim Valentino only worked on one of the '63 titles (Johnny Beyond) as an artist, he was the Image 'Godfather' on the rest, which is the role Lee usurped from Valentino on the Annual at the '92 San Diego Con. Jim may have been involved as an artist -- Alan's plan was to have the Image partners draw their respective characters, while Rick and I pencilled and Dave Gibbons inked the '63 characters, the clash of imagery being part of the point of the Annual -- but not pencilling the entire Annual, per se.

You see how vague it all was? This may have, in hindsight, disenchanted Lee, but he never articulated anything to me or Rick at any time, to my knowledge, after sending one FAX with a cool drawing of The Planet -- after San Diego, that's all I saw or heard from Jim Lee's camp. Period.

And note, Al, the work on the books was BIG fun, by and large. The collaborative process creatively was a blast; it was the business end, and the reluctance of some to engage with that necessary aspect of what was a pretty momentous undertaking, that precipitated problems and eventual disaster. But the creative part was a pleasure.

And patience, Al, on the collected. Please hold off on calling anyone -- much less Alan! -- as noted, when and as the time is right, Rick and I have our plans in place. Patience, grasshopper!

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Steve Bissette's letter: Dave Sim and 1963...
« Reply #10 on: December 02, 2006, 10:35:32 AM »
Dave Sim posted a response to Steve Bissette's letter at his blog...

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/cerebus/message/103644

"Al also sent a very long letter that Steve Bissette posted to the Creators' Bill of Rights discussion group. I'll admit that I probably had very little idea of what I was talking aboutÖand what I was mostly talking about was how "Those aóholes in Vermont" (in Jim Valentino's immortal phrase which is far more affectionate on my part than I think it was on Jim's part when he delivered it back in the 1963 dust-up time period) looked to me from hundreds of miles away than how they actually were.

I was struck this time by Steve's reminder that his divorce lawyer had told him not to do anything but work-made-for-hire until his divorce settlement was finalized. I don't know if that was, indirectly, the straw that broke the camel's back but it certainly seems like a skuzzyóthough financially sensibleóthing to tell an artist to do. If he had told me that part before, it hadn't registered. Obviously I think that we would live in a much better society if creative freedom wasn't specifically targeted by family law in that wayÖand I can understand that Steve's priorities were different from my own.

This is really all I'm going to say on the subject: two things 1) I hope Steve does Tyrant again someday 2) Danny and Maia are great kids."



This looks like a nice ending to some of the more personnel issues that have come up in our discussions on Creatorís Rights. :)

On the same blog posting, Dave mentioned a recent phone chat that we hadÖ


"So [Alís] phone number is right there. It's 9:30 on a Friday night and where is an enterprising young comic-book inker going to be at 9:30 on a Friday night? You guessed it. Right next to the phone."


Iím too busy for fun. I think my party days are over. :D

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Steve Bissette's letter: Dave Sim and 1963...
« Reply #11 on: December 03, 2006, 01:34:35 PM »
Nice to see Dave's reply, thanks for the link and posting Dave's response here, too, Al.

Since I see life as a never-ending debate on multiple levels, I never shy away from these things -- nor, bless him, has or does Dave. However strident we may seem, however strong our exchanges, it's all done with spirit and the best intentions, I know.

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Steve Bissette's letter: Dave Sim and 1963...
« Reply #12 on: June 10, 2007, 04:50:28 PM »
Update: Though my blog regularly posts updates, and my new website (http://www.srbissette.com) will be doing the same, I figured it worth a quick post to note my ongoing support of the new generation of cartoonists, at times in published venues (outside the US comics industry, natch -- that retirement stands). My primary focus remains my family and the extended family at the Center for Cartoon Studies pretty exclusively, but note the following, which emerge naturally enough from the family and CCS connections:

* The Accent UK anthology ZOMBIES debuted in May at the Bristol comics show, featuring a cover by yours truly, a four-page piece by yours truly and my son Daniel, and some new work by CCS students/artists I had a hand in getting to the Accent UK folks (implemented via my offer to contribute to the anthology).

* I just completed and delivered a two-pager for the upcoming New England TREES & HILLS anthology, by the Trees & Hills cartoonists collective; that will be for sale at MoCCA.

* I've also contributed some work to CCS graduate Sean Morgan's new mini-comic, which will also be for sale at MoCCA.

Keep an eye on my blog -- http://srbissette.blogspot.com -- for updates, and for the current series of interviews with young cartoonists, promoting their current work which they'll be selling at MoCCA. (No, I won't be there.)

Thanks -- and thanks, per usual, Al, for this venue!

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Steve Bissette's letter: Dave Sim and 1963...
« Reply #13 on: June 10, 2007, 06:24:09 PM »
Quote from: "Stephen R Bissette"
Thanks -- and thanks, per usual, Al, for this venue!


You're very welcome, Mr. Bissette. It's great to see you continue creating comics. Also, I am happy to see you share your wisdom with your students at the Center for Cartoon Studies.  :D