"Make Mine Me": Haspiel on the freelancer's life

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Once again, Dean Haspiel blogs about the difficulties faced by freelancers in the current event/editorially-driven superhero world in a piece plaintively called Make Mine Me:

Last year, a franchise editor agreed to read a mini-series pitch featuring A-list characters by me [an occasional franchise artist], along with another sanctioned/popular franchise artist, and a sanctioned/popular franchise writer. The three of us batted this pitch back and forth numerous times and once it was ready we sent it off and…never heard back from the editor again. The twisted part? The editor is the sanctioned artist and sanctioned writer’s regular editor! Still, we never heard one word about our pitch. Not even, “I’ll get back to you once I’ve read it.”

Last year, a different franchise editor was interested in my high-profile franchise concept and I secured a legendary comic book writer to adapt my plot and script it. Everyone seemed excited. The legendary writer has worked for the franchise editor and I had my own accolades to recommend me. Finally, my shot to draw my definitive high-profile franchise character tale. We pitched and…never heard back.


Yeah, that’s a little bleak.

Comments

  1. I had that happen twice in the past few years…and one editor had Justin and I come in and meet and discuss the project over and over, and we wrote up pitches and changed them to fit his needs. We finally were able to go and he said to us ” I am too busy to bother with this project, so I am dropping out and not going to do it…maybe another editor might want it” .

    Another project was an anniversary thing they asked us to pitch with a bunch of cool characters…and the editor had us re-work the pitch 5 times…even though I was responsible for the original concept we were celebrating. After all of this, lining up the artists involved…and going to script and re-writing again …they just killed it dead. Said it might not make enough money.

    Welcome to the business where you have to realize that the reality is most of the people hiring you dont really care. I say most…there are a few gems out there, and I am working with them now.

    Dean, you are not alone brother.

  2. Coming from incredibly talented guys like Dean and Jimmy, who have some TV credits in their portfolios, that’s actually kind of a scary commentary for the majority of funny book freelancers who are selling plasma to keep their rent paid.

  3. Chris Hero says:

    Comic book people…article writers…you guys aren’t alone in this. I’m an electrical engineer and I’ve seen this time and time again while contracting. Heck, even when getting a regular paycheck I’ve had a hard time getting management to respond to stuff they wanted done in the first place.

  4. Charles Knight says:

    This is not a comics issues, it’s simply a issue that exists in any labour market where there are more of you than their slots – as a freelancer even if you are successful, you are going to see a lot of stuff you’ve worked on come to nothing or the company changes direction on a dime and you are expected to change everything yesterday and you still might end up with nothing.

  5. Lannie says:

    Is the complaint that a pitch wasn’t picked up?

  6. No complaint, just telling people how an acclaimed, intensely pedigreed artist who has even won an Emmy award and has substantial cross-market appeal from past collaborations with literary stalwarts and comic greats alike has trouble pitching big series work, and that instead of eager young pups and kittens trying to break-in with their brilliant take on a Silver Sable/Howard the Duck series, should instead stick to creating something new and eventually they might get a chance to pitch NFL Superpro.

  7. @william owen

    But to be perfectly fair, any Howard the Duck is better than no Howard the Duck.

  8. >> Is the complaint that a pitch wasn’t picked up? >>

    No, I don’t think any working freelancer expects that everything they pitch will be picked up.

    The complaint seems to be that even when editors ask for pitches, they often won’t give the pitcher (who pitched at the editor’s request, after all) the courtesy of a response, not even, “Sorry, but this doesn’t work for me.”

    I’ve got a batch of those in my past (ahh, that great requested-and-apparently-never-read OMAC pitch…), but I think my favorite was the editor who asked me for a pitch that Alex Ross and I wanted to do together, only to tell me repeatedly that she’d given a copy to the editor-in-chief who’d lost it, and then passed along a new copy, and the EIC lost it again, and so on and on, while all the time she was plying Alex with pitches from other writers.

    Turns out the EIC never saw it at all, and the editor in question was simply trying to get Alex to do something I wouldn’t be involved in. But since it lead to Alex’s samples being shown to Clive Barker, and Barker showing them to Marvel, and Marvel asking us for a pitch that we did get to do, I’m not unhappy with the results.

    kdb

  9. >> But to be perfectly fair, any Howard the Duck is better than no Howard the Duck.>>

    No, it really isn’t.

    I believe the proper hierarchy goes:

    1. Gerber HOWARD THE DUCK
    2. No HOWARD THE DUCK
    3. Everyone else’s HOWARD THE DUCK

    kdb

  10. @Kurt Busiek

    Fair enough on the Howard hierarchy. I’m just trying to wrap my head around the idea of an OMAC story from you now.

    But in defense of editors in general, I really believe the job is the only socially-acceptable form of sadomasochism.

  11. Kurt Busiek’s OMAC?

    Drool…

  12. Al™ says:

    To be fair, can we hear from some editors? hello? oh, wait, they’re not returning calls.

  13. This is an odd thing in the comics industry. I write for TV, radio and film and it’s the the only medium where emails don’t get returned and pitches don’t even get a form rejection letter. Some companies are great but in in general it’s a bad habit comics should break.

  14. Chris Duffy says:

    I’m an editor!

    I think you guys are right–it’s a problem in comics. There’s not much I can add except that some editors are great at getting back to people and many are not.When I was at DC, Mike Carlin would even come in over the weekend to send responses to unsolicited SAMPLES! He would pick up his phone on the first ring. I’m somewhere in between the two extremes, for sure.

    Here are a few thoughts:
    *Culture matters. The aforementioned Carlin made it clear to those working under him that you called people back–that was just part of the job. It’s literally the least you can do sometimes!

    *Bad culture matters. If the boss acts like freelancers are to be avoided or if they don’t matter unless they are “hot” then many of those under him or her will do the same.

    *For editors, the needs of the day sometimes overwhelm. It’s a poor excuse, but what’s on the schedule, what’s just hit the desk, and what your boss has told you to do come first. Only an organized and/or experienced editor will, on his own, set aside time for long-term planning and responding to stuff that isn’t hot.

    *Speaking only personally, I try to make the deal clear from the start. I let a freelancer know my level of interest–whether it’s just a pitch I’m willing to read, or if I’m encouraging them, or if it’s an out-and-out commission. This seems important.

    There’s really no excuse for stringing someone along and then never getting back to them. It’s easy to understand, though. Who wants to encourage someone and then feel like a schmuck and tell them the project died? It can make the editor feel stupid and look powerless. But it’s worse not to get back to people–cuz the editor who feels bad still has a job and the freelancer who doesn’t know what’s up with a gig sees money flying out the window!!!

    I’m sorry I wrote so much. All pretty obvious, I’m sure. Now everyone I owe calls to will respond and I’ll be a laughing stock! What have I done!!!???

  15. RegularSyzedMike says:

    This is kind of standard across the board in business at this point. Contractors/Freelancers are a dime a dozen so companies don’t have to treat them well since they are hungry enough not to care later on. If you’re too proud to let it go later on then there’s 500 others who aren’t and will take your spot if it becomes open later.

    I think it’s bad business to string someone along like that but that’s kind of how business goes these days. I know I’d appreciate knowing ahead of time that there’s no guarantee of a final response. Actually responding to an email or calling someone back shows a real class act these days…which is kind of sad.

  16. Hey Chris!

    I’ll echo your comments on Mike Carlin. Mike always returned phone calls. When art arrived in the office (this was pre-email, of course), Mike would call to give his two cents worth.

    Too bad that not every editor follows the Carlini code.

  17. Dean, can’t tell you what salve to the soul your posit has been. I’m spreading it around. Thanks! -t.

  18. evan dorkin says:

    It’s not just at the Big 2. I was asked at a con to do a pitch for a book from one of the “Next Big 3″, came back to the editor the next day with an idea. Editor liked it, e-mailed me soon after for an outline. Cue cricket chirps. I’ve received two “sorry for the delay” in-between more cricket chirping, as well as an offer to write something else for the publisher. The outline? Wasted time and effort. And more issues of the series roll out, so the project isn’t dead. Just my story, and my patience with the editor.

    Editor at Boom, no longer with them, never called to let Sarah and I know our Donal Duck project was DOA because of Disney buying Marvel. We had to find out for ourselves months later. A wasted pitch, but it wasn’t the editor’s fault, so…why not call, say it ain’t happening, no one’s fault? Courtesy.

    When he was at Mainframe Dan DiDio never got back to me on a project mutual friends were involved with, friends who requested Sarah and I be brought in on the development end. The last I heard from him was, “I’ll call back with the budget”. Cue the crickets. You assume someone would call just to lower the (usually expected) book out of courtesy and professionalism. Years later he apologized, through a third party. Hearing he was becoming DEC’s editor-in-chief made me curse very, very loudly.

    It isn’t always comics. Funimation felt so badly about cutting Sarah and I from the Shin Chan writing staff they just decided…not to tell us! I had to chase them down at a con and then follow-up to basically confirm we were fired. But they said we were nice and felt bad! Two scripts worked on, wasted, but we made sure we were paid.

    It happens. But when an editor asks, they really, really, really, really should follow-up. End of story. They get paid that week for dicking around, freelancers don’t get paid to do pitches (usually). C’mon.

  19. evan dorkin says:

    Oh, and yeah, don’t bother with folks that don’t want you, sort of like how the old song goes. Time’s best spent elsewhere making things, not trying to make companies like you or the work you do. Find like-minded people to work with. Never work with people you don’t like if you can help it. Work for yourself if you have to. Know when to cut bait and run if the situation warrants it, and when to give up on a publisher, even if you adored their characters and comics as a kid. Stay away from and get out of bad relationships in business just as in life. Whenever possible (we’re human, after all).

  20. Viva los Fight-Man!

  21. Fred Schiller says:

    I was writing Rai for Valiant and Professor Xavier and the X-Men for Marvel when I signed to do a quick gig writing dialogue at a video game company. It was total shock and awe. Suddenly I was the one doing them a favor by writing for them. I was treated with a degree of respect I had never experienced working in comics. The money was better, contracts and invoices were turned around quickly, and I never had to suck up to anyone again. That’s why I stayed. I loved writing comic books and I miss it today, but I love having my dignity more.

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