Thursday, 13 November 2014

Borderline Press Blog #27: Revisionists

I've had to revise plans all year. I should have expected that with the responsibility of becoming a publisher it would also involve lots of unavoidable setbacks and delays. I just expected the world to work at the pace I thought suited the business; little did I suspect that a lot of the world of commerce moves and works at a sloth's pace unless it wants something.

I think in many respects 2014 has been a horrendous year and the fact that Borderline Press has just released its 8th title in the last 12 months (9th if you include the free comic) should be considered a great success; but what about Santa Claus versus the Nazis? Robotz? Or some of the other projects we had planned? I had expected having between 10 and 12 titles out between the release of 566 and what might have been a Christmas Ghosts Anthology.

I feel bad for the people who I let down. I let people down all the time, yet sometimes not turning up for a beer isn't the same as not publishing something someone or ones who have worked on a project for a long time. I am also aware that, yes, someone else could publish them, they could do it themselves, etc etc ad nauseum - doesn't make me feel any better and it doesn't make me want to be particularly nice to cowboy printers and the various other things that have helped screw up the year.

The current state of play of Borderline Press is quite chirpy - good reviews, steady sales, distribution deal and a series of signings and convention appearances... We also have 898 copies of our latest release sitting in a warehouse in China because I am not being held to ransom by arseholes any more. I could bore you all to death with how one Chinese printing firm has systematically attempted to shaft me, every step of the way, for the last few months, but the truth is this printer has moved the goalposts, pushed me around, threatened me and abused me and with absolutely no comeback by or from me because, frankly, I wouldn't know where to start! Perhaps a few emails to the Communist Party?

The printing learning curve this year hasn't been pleasant, nor should it have even happened; what we've made up for in lesser production costs we've paid for in time, shipping and cowboys. The one valuable lesson I've learned from this is I should have stuck with the people who were a little more expensive but delivered promptly and with no fuss.

I hope that Seth & Ghost doesn't turn into a huge collectors' item because there are only 102 copies in existence. I sincerely hope the printer doesn't just chuck them in the South China Sea, like I suggested he should, but I'm not going to take any more of a bath on this project than I already have. To give you just a rough idea, I've already paid over $1000 more for this job than I should have and now they are asking for another $1000 or they won't ship the rest. I told them to fuck off.

So, Seth & Ghost is the final Borderline Press release of 2014 or it might be the first release of 2015 - that my friends is in the hands of a man called 'Jacky'...

Obviously, kicking this off with mention of a 'revised' schedule and having the title 'Revisionists' might suggest there's something else on my mind. There is.

When Dez Skinn took me to San Diego in the early 1990s there was a lot about the trip that has been since said, but one of the nicer moments happened when I was introduced to Julius Schwartz, who was, I think, pretty much in his late 80s at the time. It was a fleeting meeting and we both moved on to whatever we were supposed to be doing.

On the Saturday - the main day - I've spoken of my unbelievably ridiculous decision to walk - crosstown - through San Diego to get to the convention centre, while wearing an English suit and carrying a briefcase in 100 degrees of summer heat. It's a recurring theme in my life - when in strange city, walk until you get lost, but ensure the weather is at some kind of extreme.

When I got to the convention centre, essentially as a big bag of sweaty water - my friend Christina took me to a cafeteria and plied me with water and left me to rehydrate. Sitting at the table next to me was, an also rather deflated looking, Julie Schwartz and he smiled and made some comments about Brits never getting used to the heat in San Diego.

He remembered who I was and where I'd come from.

This was the first convention where Frank Miller had got on his horse about conceptual copyright owning and how Jack Kirby had been shafted by Marvel, Stan Lee and every one else. We all know the story, it's been revised to suit Kirby and his followers.

I was trying to remember the link that got me and Julie talking about ownership of Marvel's characters and I'm sure it will eventually come back to me, but the upshot was he said to me that he'd known the original Marvel bullpen people for years; they'd all worked with each other or around each other, drank beers and ate with each other and they would often discuss their work.

I remember him saying to me something that had much resonance with me, "If you come up with the name or the idea of a superhero and your friend comes up with how he looks - who owns it?" Both of them obviously, I said. He went on, "During the early Sixties there were half a dozen friends sitting in that Marvel bullpen and they were each coming up with ideas - not just Lee and Kirby, but Marie Severin, Flo Steinberg, even Martin Goodman, everyone contributed to the creation of the original Marvel heroes, the same way we developed new ideas at DC. It was a rare thing in the 1960s for anyone to come to the table with a fully-developed character - no one did it because creation was by committee. Nothing sinister. That was the way it was."

How come I never see this argument floated around when people argue that it was Jack Kirby, alone, who created all of Marvel's classic oeuvre?

I believe Marie Severin stated a few years back something along the same lines and was systematically ignored by the industry. It didn't fit with what they wanted and Marie was in Stan's camp, obviously.

In 1983, I created a character - a cartoon character, based entirely on my curmudgeonly personality, my acerbic wit and my propensity for getting myself into scrapes of my own making. I even have the clay model of the character sitting in front of me - he even looks a little like I did in 1983 and his first name was 'Fil'.

I don't own him though. Despite creating the idea, writing all the strips he appeared (or would have appeared) in and knowing that all my mate did was caricature me - he owns it and in the eyes of most of our peers he owns it. Why? Because he drew it. He did all the donkey work. All I did was come up with the words, that took no time at all.

I'm serious here.

I would concede that we maybe co-created it, but only because I can't draw. My 'co-creator' didn't see it the same way; he viewed ownership as not the original concept but the amount of time you spent on it. he could never have worked for Marvel and DC as he would have believed that whoever he was drawing would have become his by default after a couple of months. None of our 'friends' seemed interested in my arguments - that sounded, to be honest, like sour grapes; they all accepted the character was the artist's because he spent more time on it.

In the end I gave up all rights I had. The artists did five more strips, they weren't funny - in the slightest; he wasn't a writer. He had no real idea what to draw; he had no direction, no input. The cohesion that was there was now gone. He moved onto an idea of his own, that was a repeat of the previous failure.He gave up and as far as I know doesn't do anything remotely artistic now.

That is a damned shame.

The problem with the history of Marvel Comics is simple - too many are dead; the ones that remain either don't talk or have a Hollywood opinion of it. Stan Lee is as much a trade name or brand now as Marvel or Disney is and all that is left is anecdotal 'evidence' from people who worked there after the event.

I'm sure that Jack Kirby probably created everything and the chair he sat in to work and I'm sure that there are many out there who would like to see Lee erased from everything; he probably just made the coffee and lived off them and their genius.

The interesting thing is over the years whenever I've heard a veteran, with no vested interest, talk about those days, the story has always pretty much been the same - it was a bullpen.   Bullpens are bullshit sessions or brainstorm time, where ideas and thoughts are thrown around without fear of ridicule - it was a practice developed in the USA during the late 1940s - it's how things get developed.

I'm sure someone will put me right and show me some unimpeachable bit of evidence, but until then I'm inclined to think no one person created anything from Marvel in the early 1960s. Some might have had more influence than others and maybe, as the years advanced, some of the characters were maybe 95% created by the artist (or the writer). I just get fed up with the way that Stan Lee has been cast as some far more pernicious villain than he could have created.