This is a tough one to write. I wrestled with my conscience and my
“not actually a journalist” ethics on whether or not I should write
it. But, as I believe the good I might do today outweighs the bad
that might follow, I’m going ahead with it.
Here are the caveats for today’s bloggy thing:
Several people brought a situation to my attention, but, while they
gave me enough information for me to realize that something of an
unsavory nature was going on, none of them would go on the record
with their information. So I won’t be naming names today and will
exclude any specific information that might point to a perpetrator
I don’t know how often this scam has been attempted or how often it
has succeeded. I believe it succeeded at least once to the misery
of its victim. I believe it was attempted at least one other time,
but the intended victim was smart enough to ask around before going
forward. Good for that person.
So what I’m giving you today is this: a speculative profile of the
scam. Based on the information I was given and my own hard–learned
experience of how such schemes work and my considerable knowledge
of human behavior, this is how I think the scam could and maybe has
worked in the past. I present it in the hope that, if someone now
tries to pull this scam or something similar, the intended victims
will recall or maybe be directed to today’s blog.
You’re a comics creator. Maybe you started working in the field in
the 1940s or 1950s or even 1960s or 1970s. Maybe you’re getting on
in years. Maybe you’re just not getting hired. You’ve been going
through some rough times.
Someone comes along praising your work. That means a lot when you
have begun to wonder if all your good days are behind you. Maybe
that someone writes about you glowingly on a website. Maybe that
someone says they would like to write a book about you. A chance
to be remembered for your good work? Maybe a chance to remind the
industry that you’re still around and ready to work again? Maybe,
at least, you’ll make a few bucks from the book and, if you’re an artist,
you’ll get more commission gigs from your fans.
You spend a lot of time being interviewed by this person who seems
to be your knight in fannish armor. I’ll bet this person spends a
lot of time talking about how capable and professional and so forth
that they are, building your confidence in them. You’re so looking
forward to this book.
If you’re an artist, or even an writer, maybe the person requests
you send them original art for the book. Not just scans - because
the person wants to show your work in the manner it deserves - but
the actual originals. Maybe the person even offers to buy the art
from you...if you’re willing to send it first and give the person
some time to pay you.
That’s when things start not working out exactly as the person had
led you to believe. The book doesn’t find a publisher. The book
will be self-published by your champion, but, of course, that can’t
happen overnight. The original art doesn’t get returned. Nor do
you get paid for it. Some of it turns up on eBay without you
ever seeing a dime from the sales. Those tough times don’t get any
less tough. They might be getting worse.
You’re depressed. You’re embarrassed at being taken. You do not
have the energy or the means to fight back. Maybe you press on and
write it off as the cost of learning lessons. Maybe those tough
times get so bad that you never bounce back from them. The story
doesn’t end well. Indeed, it ends as "not well" as humanly possible.
As I said, I believe the above scenario - some details were altered
or omitted - has happened at least once. What advice can I give to
prevent it from happening again?
The first and most important advice I can give is this: If someone
has contacted you about doing some work for them or letting them
write a book about you or buying art from you, Google them. This
won’t catch everyone - not every scammer out there will have left
behind a trail - but it’s a start.
A sub-clause to the above is: if some opportunity sounds too good
to be true, it probably is. If you have professional contacts, ask
around about the individual contacting you. That’s what the comics
creator who did not get taken did and, fortunately, that comics creator
knew people who steered him away from entering into any agreements
that would not have benefitted him.
If you’re a comics creator from the 1940s or later and you don’t
have professional contacts, get some. You can always e-mail me for
information and, if I know whoever wants to do business with you is
a good and honest person, I’ll tell you that. If I don’t know the
“whoever,” I’ll try to send you to someone who does. I believe we
protect one another most successfully when we share what we know.
Predators try to cull their next intended meal from the rest of the
herd. Don’t be a scammer’s lunch.
The above column leaves me unsatisfied, but, given the information
I was dealing with and the situation at hand, it represents my
good-faith effort to caution comics creators in such matters. If
anybody brings me documentation of wrongdoing or is willing to go
on record with their certain knowledge of wrongdoing, I’m not at
all adverse to revisiting this topic.
One more thing. I’m not about to let this blog be used to indulge
in guesses as to the identities of any of the parties involved. I
recently watched as the author of a book about a comic-book legend
tried to pump up his sales with sensationalistic revelations about
the creator and, without naming names, those who might have been
involved in something that did not reflect well on the creator he
was writing about. His giving some information and holding back on
the rest resulted in a number of unfair speculations about who the other
parties might have been. It struck me as something of a witch hunt
and, to the extent I can avoid it, I won’t be involved in that kind
of exploitation here.
My solution? All comments to the blog for the immediate future will
need to be approved by me before appearing. If you want to engage
in guessing games, do it elsewhere...though I respectfully request
you not do it at all.
If you ask me for the identities of anyone you think I am writing
about here, you’ll receive no comment from me. If you think I am
writing about you, you’ll receive no comment from me. My aim was
to offer a cautionary tale, not an expose.
The history of the comics industry is largely the history of comics
creators being screwed over by publishers and others, including, I
regret to say, their fellow comics creators. There is too often a
price to pay when you choose to create this art and entertainment.
I think creating comic books is a noble endeavor. I wouldn’t have
devoted my life to it if I didn’t. I treasure those creators who
have given me so much joy and insight. I get angry when they are
abused or cheated.
Hill Street Blues remains one of my favorite TV shows of all time.
There was a moment in most episodes when the sergeant cautions the
officers going on duty. He says:
“Hey, let's be careful out there.”
It applies to comics and life in equal measure.
I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.
© 2011 Tony Isabella