Ashes to Ashes: Alex de Campi responds to Jimmy Broxton's tale

ashesfirst2201 Ashes to Ashes: Alex de Campi responds to Jimmy Broxton's tale
The Beat has now received Alex de Campi’s rebuttal to James Hodgkin’s statement on being fired from ASHES, the graphic novel project they got funded on Kickstarter for $32,000.

I said I would have my comments, and they are sad ones. I’m an admirer of both creators involved here — professionally and personally. But if there was ever a case of he said/she said this is it. “Creative differences” indeed. The whole thing reminds me (for the old timers out there) of D’arc Tangent, a long ago collaboration between Phil Foglio and Freff which dissolved into “creative differences,” never to be seen again.
201201190050 Ashes to Ashes: Alex de Campi responds to Jimmy Broxton's tale
Since that strip was created, Foglio has gone on to pioneer to print-to-web publishing model, win a shelf full of Hugo Awards and develop a devoted following. Freff (Aka Connor Cochran) — didn’t do quite as much, although he pops up now and again with this and that. I guess he wasn’t cut out for the cartoonist freelance life.

The saddest part is that this project still looks great—Hodgkins pages look stunning, even if they didn’t follow the script, and it would be great to see de Campi’s writing unleashed again.

De Campi and Hodgkins are both incredibly talented people who will be heard from again–hopefully they’ll be able to let their work do the talking in the future.

Here’s Alex De Campi’s response to James Hodgkin’s statement which we ran yesterday—these comments have also been posted on the private Kickstarter page for backers.
____________________
I am sad that James continues to seek attention for being asked to leave my book. I cannot see how this will benefit him, me, or the book.

James completed 10 pages of finished art for the book, and 10 pages of sketch inks. Even as he turned in pages in bits and pieces, he was extremely resistant to notes on them or discussion of revision… or even showing me pencils before delivering a final piece. This became worse rather than better as the Kickstarter funding rose and publicity around the book grew. James’ tone in emails became actively aggressive and abusive towards me. It was almost like dealing with a schizophrenic or a bipolar person. Any polite request to look again at something was furiously turned down.

It got to the point where, after a particularly bad disagreement in late November, about 85% of the way through the Kickstarter, I had resigned myself to not saying a single thing about pages he had turned in, and I would just let my book be drawn however he wanted it to be drawn, even if it meant the script I had worked so long to bring to life became a disappointment to me. At the same time he was sending these aggressive emails (and not drawing more of the book), I was working 4-6 hours a day on the Kickstarter by myself to raise tens of thousands of dollars to support him — a condition he required in order to take the book on.

So, aside from interacting with backers, the Kickstarter generally for me was a complete misery. Did I express to Jimmy my unhappiness? Yes, but — and maybe this is part of being a female — when a man shouts at you whenever you say “um, I’d like some say in the way the script I wrote is drawn” or “hm, the way you’ve changed this from the script isn’t really going to work in the context of the scene”, you stop saying the thing that gets you shouted at.

Everything came to a head a week after the Kickstarter ended, when something delightful happened — I was contacted by a large US business magazine, who wanted to commission James and I to do a two-page comic about our Kickstarter experience. What an opportunity! First, it paid well. REALLY well. And as James had said he was very short on cash and had no other work on the horizon, this news was well received by him. (James at this point was also pressuring me to send him all the Kickstater money in advance, rather than in tranches as he finished chapters. This made me very nervous, but I agreed and began the process of withdrawing the Kickstarter money from Amazon Payments. Luckily, he never got round to invoicing me).

So, the business magazine commission. It paid GREAT, wasn’t much work, and was going to get copied and cross posted to the moon. Great exposure for our book! And potentially leading to a lot more work for both of us. I turned around a script quickly, and it was approved by the magazine’s editor. They loved it! I sent the script to James. Unfortunately by this point his ego or whatever had gotten so out of hand he was completely unable to listen to and/or respect anything I said. James took a long time to draw the two pages, causing worried queries from the editor, and the sketch he finally turned in took a lot of liberties with the script (as he had been doing with Ashes). The editor was displeased. I was forced into an intermediary role, as furthermore the editor did not hit it off with James and basically didn’t want to speak to him. I consulted with the editor at length about what he wanted (basically, he wanted the script drawn as written) and I worked out some notes to give James so he could quickly turn around an amended sketch for approval.

James ignores the notes and several days later sends a sketch which departs even more radically from the script. The client hates it and emails me, basically going “WTF?!”… print deadline was mere days away at this point. I have long email conversations with Jimmy, basically guiding him through taking his first sketch, changing some transitional elements, and making it work. Basically, I am trying to make it fast and easy for James to get a new sketch in as I can see this gig evaporating before my eyes. James is like OK GREAT! and then sends in a third pencil sketch, on the day of print deadline, that ignores all the notes. All he had to do to make this client happy was just to draw the script they approved. A client who had already said they loved what I do and wanted to give me (and therefore James) more work. When I point this out to him, he becomes extraordinairily aggressive, telling me he is 100% in charge of all visuals for my projects and I have no say whatsoever in what he draws or how he draws it.

Folks, I cried. I’m a girl. I do that sometimes. I completely broke down in front of the laptop. Not only was James making the execution of a book I had gone to Herculean lengths to get off the ground into a living nightmare of abuse where I felt afraid to email him about pages, he had just totally destroyed an easy gig with a major, major client because he would not draw the approved script. And then he abuses me via email about it, after I say I am finding a new artist for the 2-pager so I can try to save it. I cried, poured myself a glass of wine, went and found my big girl pants, and told James I would need to find someone else for Ashes.

As for the contract, we did take an investment from an outside source. James was asked about this and approved it before the investment was finalised. I then drew up a contract addressing the division of ownership in the completed book, not the script, which remains 100% copyright me. If James does not complete the book, he does not come into his share of it. The finished graphic novel’s ownership was always meant to be shared with the artist, in recognition of the tremendous amount of work and commitment the artist would have to provide to complete the book. This is only fair. What Jimmy seems to think he has — something for no work — is not fair, nor in the spirit or letter of the contract.

James says that the $3k to Valentine was a surprise. If so, he hasn’t read our Kickstarter project’s own project page, which has said as follows since launch: “If in some crazy world we manage to raise more than our minimum, the first thing that will happen is Jimmy will get a raise, so he can go from Sainsbury’s Value Meals to Taste the Difference. Then any excess money beyond that will go towards publishing the long-awaited trade of Alex’s webcomic Valentine “.

As for the big business magazine gig, thanks to some really lovely people helping me out on Twitter, I got in touch with Pia Guerra who worked all night and nailed the sketch on the first go — she drew a wonderful sketch that the client loved. However after all the drama with James they had decided to drop the piece from the magazine as we had missed the first print deadline. We may still have it in their digital edition; I am waiting to hear.

Once again, I’d like to apologise to our backers for all this drama. I had hoped that the creative split could be handled quietly and professionally but it appears that will not be the case now. I hope you will forgive me and understand why I had to find a way out of a situation where I felt bullied.
____________________

We sent the above to Hodgkins, who responded:

I have made my position clear and outlined the facts of this unfortunate situation. Alex has a wildly different interpretation of events, and says some very harsh things about me, things I naturally dispute. I have attempted to be calm, reasonable and professional, to draw a line under this, I’m accused of being abusive and of being a bully, I’m neither of those things, you will be the judge of who is telling the truth, if anybody cares enough, I will gladly make available all of the correspondence between myself and Alex. It speaks for itself. For now, I’m walking away from this, I have learnt a valuable lesson, I want to move on, and hopefully start work on new projects. I want to thank all who have shown support for the project, I sincerely hope you get to see Ashes at some point in the future, please keep your faith in Kickstarter, Alex and I dropped the ball here, not them, it remains a wonderful platform for supporting and funding creativity.


And there let it lie.

Comments

  1. Wow. I only raised around $1200 with my Kickstarter project, and it was all on my shoulders and mine alone. So no arguments or abusive emails (except the ones I sent myself at three in the morning). But I felt like that was a ton of other peoples’ money at stake. With $32k I’d have had a heart attack.

    Working collaboratively requires a ton of flexibility and willingness to pick your battles. I don’t envy either of these creators. A shame it played out in front of everyone like this.

  2. Joe S. Walker says:

    “Folks, I cried. I’m a girl.”

    For somebody with the reputation of being tough, she doesn’t hesitate to play the victim card.

  3. El Tiburon says:

    What about the rumors that both creators are involved in an enterprise that smuggles Dr. Pepper and Cherry Dr. Pepper into Peru?

  4. You would cry too if it happened to you.

    Human beings cry. Even tough guys cry.

  5. El Tiburon says:

    One time I saw Jason Statham cry.

  6. Snikt Snakt says:

    Man, if what Alex says is true, I feel bad for her. :-(

    Knowing from experience, dealing with someone on a professional basis (a co-worker or boss) who is a raving lunatic is pure HELL on Earth. Something I don’t wish on anyone…

    The choices I found were either stand up to the lunatic or flee the situation. I chose to stand up for myself. This was by far the harder choice to make…

  7. Matt Adler says:

    “You will be the judge of who is telling the truth, if anybody cares enough, I will gladly make available all of the correspondence between myself and Alex. ”

    Given the seriousness and specificity of Alex’s allegations, I find it troublesome that Jimmy chooses not to address them. I’m not sure if this offer to disclose the correspondence is for real, or something thrown out there to deflect questions but will never actually happen.

  8. The Beat says:

    Jimmy/James is a long time comics professional, with 20 years of work behind him. It’s not like he has a track record of being a raving lunatic. He and Alex seem to have had horrible chemistry, but other writers he worked with recently had a great time.

    So, YMMV.

  9. I live in Peru and have zero access to Dr. Pepper.

    WHERE IS MY CHERRY DR PEPPER?

  10. Nawid A says:

    Honestly from what I see here both creators are at fault.

    James, just from reading your messages it’s clear that you are a weak communicator. Fix that.

    Alex, it’s clear that this was not done in a very professional manner. For something done completely over email like this, there should be a clear contract. And the fact that you were continually raising money while knowing this was going on (without notifying us) is not cool at all. Also, you would think this would be something worth mentioning on your Twitter (given that this is more important and relevant to people following you than most other things). Some of us have backer update emails disabled (you get too many if you back more than one project). For someone who constantly gives out industry advice that is quite a poor showing.

  11. Chris Hero says:

    @Gianco

    I heard from a kid on the street they were smuggling the Cherry Dr. Pepper inside stuffed panda bears. So, you may want to check a taxidermist.

    But yes, the issue remains – how will they respond to the Dr. Pepper rumors?

  12. I suppose it may not be entirely coincidental that Warren Ellis talked about scripts this week:

    “Even if you and the artist have previously agreed on content and scenes and set-pieces, clear and specific notation of the mechanics of the comic is down to you. You are telling the artist what to do. The trick is to get the artist to like it.”

    http://www.warrenellis.com/?p=13633

  13. Sounds like both of those involved were just too temperamentally disparate. It happens and its unfortunate.

    Probably best if both parties left things where they now lie and move on. This kind of public mud-slinging makes everyone look bad. Publishing emails isn’t going to help things: from my own experience dealing with any kind of artistic project over emails, it’s often difficult to distinguish tone and sometimes things can be misunderstood or inferred in a manner wholly different to how they were intended.

    Like any relationship that doesn’t work out – artistic or otherwise – it’s best to just accept the situation as unworkable, learn from your mistakes and move on. They’re both talented individuals who clearly have a lot of respect in the industry and this kind of thing doesn’t do either of them any favours.

  14. jacob goddard says:

    I’ve always figured he said/she said bickering and breakdowns happened on a regular basis with comics like this.
    I certainly don’t understand the ins & outs, and I don’t want to pick sides considering I don’t know anyone involved personally, but it seems to me like Ms de Campi hired a collaborator for little money and expected him to act like a work-for-hire illustrator making a lot of money.

    If you have a clear and specific vision in your mind of what you want and you don’t want it messed with, you probably shouldnt bring in a creative collaborator.

  15. Nawid A says:

    Also from James I’m hearing this:

    I’m displeased but good luck with the project.

    From De Campi I’m hearing this:

    James is a fucked up individual who made me cry through the internet.

    Given that James doesn’t have track record of being a lunatic (and the shady moves De Campi has pulled) it’s clear (to me at least) who seems to be at more fault.

  16. Alexa Cook says:

    “For somebody with the reputation of being tough, she doesn’t hesitate to play the victim card.”

    Yeah. That’s how I read it too. As well as pulling the gender card which I find even more desperate and offensive.

    After reading both responses I tend to think Hodgkins was more,um…genuine. He seems pretty up front about the more contentious elements of their relationship and admits hey, we had problems but we worked them out and had some great creative moments too.

    Had Hodgkins tone been less level headed and honest and less self depreciating and more beligerent, then I suspect that de Campi would have continued on with the “I remain above the fray and classy in my silence” tact.

    Instead, in light of Hodgkins actually sounding reasonable and casting her position as more suspect, she goes the full blown victim route where everything was his fault and none of it was hers, even going so far as to write off her mistakes to her “girlyness”. In fact, de Campi pulls every “but I’m a GIRL!” trope short of saying “I was on my period and didn’t have any chocolate”. Casting Hodgkins as some sort of bully due to his maleness, just stopping short of implying (oh hell, who are we kidding here, she does imply it) that Hodgkins is some sort of misogynist, bi polar brute bullying women and somehow she was like a victim of spousal abuse or some such thing.

    I find this attempt on her part to cast Hodgkins in that light, as well as her pathetic attempts to say he is bi polar and has some sort of mental problems, to be pathetic, shameful, disgusting and incredibly offensive and will be withdrawing my money from this project as well as doing my best to warn others off of supporting her work. I was a big supporter. After this? Not so much.

  17. Will Naslund says:

    “but it seems to me like Ms de Campi hired a collaborator for little money and expected him to act like a work-for-hire illustrator making a lot of money.”

    Except that Broxton/Hodgkins was going to get the lion’s share of the Kickstarter $$, and de Campi wasn’t going to take any for personal compensation. That sounds more like a WFH situation for Hodgkins (albeit one that included equity in the book as part of the terms) in which de Campi was his putative employer — putting together all the financing herself with no upfront compensation.

    If both creators were putting Ashes together on spec and the KS money was only for production/marketing/etc. expenses, then it would be an equal partnership where creative control could reasonably be expected to be negotiable. But given the terms as described by both de Campi and Hodgkins, de Campi should have had final the editorial say. Even her offer to hire an outside editorial consultant seems like an unnecessary concession in that context.

    Paul Cornell and Mark Millar have both gone on record saying Broxton/Hodgkins was a pleasure to work with, so I have to wonder if his behavior here due to his thinking that his equity stake in the project entitled him to full and unimpeachable control over the visuals — or if he simply thought he could ‘bully’ a less established talent like de Campi with relative impunity.

    I like Hodgkins’ art and hope to see more if it — but mostly I hope de Campi can find a talented artist willing to make a good faith attempt to realize her script as written. That really doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

  18. @Chris Hero

    Thanks for the tip. I’ll be on the lookout for stuffed pandas.

  19. Ugh.

    Like I said on a previous post, I am not friends/fans/all that familiar with either person in this case. de Campi could be Satan incarnate,sacrificing babies and drinking their blood and Hodgkins/Broxton could be the type of guy who will take a bullet for you, but not before calling his mom to say goodbye first. So, I am not making any judgements either way based on preconcieved notions about either party. Just using all of these statements as a guide. And this is the way I see it.

    Ashes was a sequel to DeCampi’s Smoke. I’d imagine it was a personal project to her.In other words, Ashes was her baby, not Hodgkins/Broxton’s, no matter how much he was sharing in the profits. This wasn’t two creators, coming together on common ground, creating a property from scratch. This was a writer working with an artist to continue a story the writer previously created. This is in all intents and purposes was a work-for-hire situation, which should have been clarified by all parties at the get go. This whole rigamarole shows that it wasn’t. If this was clear, this whole mess could be avoided.

    However, just because someone is a writer doesn’t mean they do not have a vision for their work. They might not have the skill or ability to draw what they are envisioning, but that doesn’t mean their vision is faulty or shouldn’t be followed.

    Regardless of whether or not Hodgkins/Broxton was abusive everytime he pushed back against de Campi and her requests for changes or alterations is inconsequential. de Campi wanted the book to look the way she wanted it to look, whether it was to match up in tone with Smoke or because she just knew what she wanted a page to look like. Unless I missed it, de Campi never said that the art was bad or awful or unprofessional, just not what she told Hodgkins/Broxton she wanted. He was not willing to budge, kept giving her push back, so she fired him to look for someone to work with that would be less of a struggle.

    Not to say that Hodgkins/Broxton is the bad guy here. If he thought that he was an equal creative partner, he probably knew the best way to present a scene and wondered why de Campi was giving him such a hard time. I can see this as being a ‘you do your job, trust me to do mine” situation. Again, if there was better communication on both ends, the role of each in the creation would have been clearer and this situation could be avoided.

    I do find the aftermath interesting though. I have to take issue with Alexa Cook’s comment:
    Had Hodgkins tone been less level headed and honest and less self depreciating and more beligerent, then I suspect that de Campi would have continued on with the “I remain above the fray and classy in my silence” tact.

    There is truth to that. But if Hodgkins/Broxton didn’t reply AT ALL, de Campi would have also continued to remain above the fray. You can argue about Hodgkins/Broxton’s “level-headedness” through all this (I point to his first Facebook screeds in particular), but de Campi said that he was asked to leave over creative differences. It was Hodgkins/Broxton who took this to another level, trying to spin the situation to where he was the good guy. To think that de Campi wouldn’t counter with a spin of her own that makes her look like the good guy (woman?) is terribly naive. You can apply your own opinions and points of view to whether either one is more sincere or more genuine. But the likely fact is that they both believe that they themselves are 100% sincere yet are trying to do personal damage control with all their might by putting a spin that will show them in the best light.

    There is a lesson to be learned here. If you are engaging in a creative partnership with some, make sure everybody knows what’s expected of them and what role they are expected to play before hand, not just contractually but also philosophically.

  20. jacob goddard says:

    This particular project potentially had tens of thousands of investors. somebody eventually had to say something. De Campi was the one who brought up an unrelated project into the conversation (for some reason).
    Seems to me, just from what I’ve read in these two posts and nothing else, that Hodgkins/Broxton commented first because lots of other people’s money was involved and he was, understandably, worried that his fairly decent professional reputation would be damaged by this.

  21. GossipQueen says:

    I seem to remember Di Campi on a gossippy comics message board describing her disappointment at the Vertigo office when she went there looking for work. The way the Vertigo editor dressed and wore her hair completely offended Di Campi, who spoke at length about this editor’s lack of style and attractiveness as some sort of detriment to her character and profession. It was almost as awful a thing to read as her public excoriation of this artist dude.*

    *I really have no idea who this artist is, and I’m barely aware of Kickstarter, and I’ve never met or dealt with Di Campi in any way, nor have I read any of her work (especially not after reading her posts about visiting Vertigo and being way too cool for them ugly dorks). I saw an article here about Di Campi poppin’ sh*t and felt compelled to point out a history of odd mean girl behavior getting in the way of work, as it’s probably relevant to this.

  22. Anyone who is judging the situation based on these two comments alone is going to get the wrong idea. Bill Gatevackes is dead-on. De Campi wanted to leave this entire drama alone, it was Hodgkins who pulled the jerk card first by posting angry comments on Facebook, and then going public with everything. Just read her first message to the backers:

    “Hey, Ashkickers. Alex here. I’m sending this update out because I want you to find out from me rather than social networks and/or news sites.

    It’s been a hellacious week. Jimmy and I have had an irreconcileable split over creative differences, with the result that yesterday evening I asked him to leave Ashes. I have no desire to hang out dirty laundry in public so I hope you don’t mind if I leave the explanation at that.

    Where does that leave you and me? Well, I’d appreciate if you can give me a couple weeks to look for a new artist. I have been struggling to get this book made for five years, and although this is a heartbreaking, devastating setback for me, it is not the end.

    If you only pledged for the book because of Jimmy, or if this announcement otherwise colours your desire for the book, please contact me to say so on alexdecampi@gmail.com with your kickstarter backer name and I will refund your pledge immediately and in full.

    Likewise, once I find a new artist, if his or her work is not a style you like, you may also contact me and be immediately refunded for your pledge.

    Folks, I am so committed to making this book. I am so sorry for this drama, and I hope you will find it in your heart to bear with me for a little longer while I straighten this out. Please be aware that the money you have pledged is still YOUR money (none of it was ever going to me anyway, it was all for art and print/reward fulfilment) and I will be respectful of your wishes as to where it will go.

    Once again, please accept my apologies for this disruption in plans. I wish it did not have to be so.

    – Alex”

  23. Nawid A says:

    The original message that kicked it off (the Kickstarter) still leaves James in a negative light. I can see why he would want to respond.

  24. I read these two sides of the discussion and shake my head.

    We never seem to learn.

    Before anybody commits to anything in a collaboration, the working details and approval process simply needs to be discussed and agreed to, much like a prenuptial agreement.

    Boundaries need to be set, and when somebody steps over the defined lines, the response can always begin with, “We agreed that this was how we were going to do that.”

    Most of the collaboration issues between writers and artists could be addressed by this approach.

    Like many here, I have my own view of where this collaboration went south, but that really did end up being a collaborative effort…mostly because ground rules weren’t established and agreed to.

    Next time, I hope Alex demands the final decision, while simultaneously promising to listen to ideas that will make the drawn version of the story better.

    That will drive most of the Jimmy’s of the world away, and, for this project, that’s a good thing.

    I hope Alex will insist on seeing thumbnails, or it’s a deal breaker.

    That will drive the rest of the rest of the Jimmy’s away.

    I hope Alex will let the next artist offer any different ideas, but only at the layout stage, and then she can decide what works.

    When two people aren’t simpatico, and most aren’t, guidelines help define what is and isn’t our job.

    Even the magazine assignment part of the story is a result of this.

    It is pretty obvious that, for all aspects of the art, Jimmy thought he was the dog and not the tail.

    And, for whatever reason, he was allowed to think that from the beginning, or this partnership would never have gotten going.

    I look forward to seeing this book, and I want Alex to be proud of it.

    But it will need to be drawn by an artist who realizes that he needs her to get to say, “Okay,” rather than an artist who takes the position of, “I’m the artist, so I should make all the art decisions.”

    As I mentioned, this is a collaborative mess.

    Hopefully, moving forward, each will have learned how to make adjustments so this won’t happen again, or at least not to this degree.

    –Lee

  25. The Beat says:

    Just to reiterate, I am in awe of the talent of both Alex and James.

    Both should be in a position to let that talent shine.

    And that said, I think both Kurt and Lee have summed it up and I am closing this thread.