Previously in Tony Isabella’s Bloggy Thing: Just read what I posted
yesterday and you’ll be pretty much up to speed.
Words fail me for the second time in recent memory. I can’t fully
express how much I truly loathe having to write today’s blog. It’s
almost as much as I loathe those usually anonymous trolls who pull
blatant nonsense from their asses and attempt to pass it off as the
truth or who parrot the misinformation spread by comics publishers
in their neverending spins of reality.
Digression, of which I’m sure there will be many. Do not take the
above as a blanket condemnation of all comics publishers in every
situation. Some try to do the right thing and sometimes succeed.
Some want to do the right thing and haven’t figured out how to do
that yet. Some follow a long tradition of being dicks. It’s more
like the “real world” than many fans and some professionals want to
believe. End of digression.
My gut tells me to ignore the trolls. Not one of them has created
anything. Not one of them have achieved even my modest success in
the field. Not one of them has a life as good as mine...and I can
say that even at the present time when I’m just about unemployed in
the comics industry. They are petty jealous ignorant trolls who hate what
they cannot be and what they will never have.
My heart? That’s a different story. I’m painfully aware how often
comics publishers attempt to spin and even rewrite history to make
themselves look noble...and to deny credit and proper compensation
to creators. When faced with lies spread by publishers or trolls,
lies I absolutely know to be lies, I feel compelled to at least try
to set the record straight.
Here are some Black Lightning facts.
Black Lightning was not a work-for-hire creation. I entered into
a partnership agreement with DC Comics to produce comic books with
my creation. It was supposed to be an equal partnership with both
sides making all decisions jointly to our mutual benefit. As part
of this deal, I was to receive 20% of all monies earned from Black
Lightning except for the profits from the traditional comic books
we would be creating. I would receive my cut from merchandising,
from other media use, and, though it was a very small part of the
industry at the time, any hardcover, paperback, or trade paperback
reprints of material featuring Black Lightning. This was a simple
straightforward agreement which DC immediately violated.
The first time DC Comics violated our agreement was when it named
Bob Rozakis as the editor of Black Lightning without my approval.
However, since I liked Bob, thought he’d be a good editor and knew
(or thought I knew) that I’d still have creative control of the
title, I didn’t object. After the sometimes malicious chaos I had
to deal with at Marvel after Roy Thomas stepped down as editor-in-
chief, I was eager to make my new relationship with DC work. They
loved me, right? They wouldn’t hurt me.
The second time DC Comics violated our agreement was when it hired
Trevor Von Eeden to draw Black Lightning without my prior approval.
It had been my intention to recruit one of Marvel’s young artists.
DC wanted me to bring that “Marvel magic” to their comics, so that
seemed like the way to go. But, after meeting Trevor and seeing
his enthusiasm, I was okay with him drawing Black Lightning. He
did good competent work drawing my scripts. It wasn’t outstanding,
but it was good.
It is an utter falsehood to claim that “Tony took an idea to DC and
Trevor helped flesh that idea out and bring the character to life.”
Everything important about Black Lightning was created before the
series had an artist. Trevor never contributed to the plots or the
scripts. He was given full scripts and he penciled them. That’s
a fact that can be backed up by Jack C. Harris, who became editor
of the title after Bob Rozakis moved to production.
Trevor did play a primary role in designing the original costume.
He claims he came to that design meeting with the costume already
designed and has shown a page of drawings as proof of this. I’ve
been accused of calling him a liar on this matter, which I’ve never
done. What I have done is state that my memories of that meeting
aren’t the same as his.
My memory is that I talked out the costume with him and Rozakis as
he drew the costume, much as if he were a police sketch artist. I
didn’t remember his page of drawings and neither do the other two
living people - Rozakis and Harris - who participated on that day.
I didn’t call Trevor a liar. I said our memories differed on what
happened that day.
Coincidentally or not, the original Black Lightning outfit bears a
strong resemblance to the uniform worn by Richard Roundtree in the
movie Earthquake. I didn’t realize that until decades after Black
Lightning #1 (1977) when someone sent me a still from that movie.
Trevor says he hadn’t seen the movie and I have no reason to doubt
him. But, creativity and subconscious being tricky things, it is
possible he saw Roundtree’s outfit in a trailer. I don’t see that
as calling Trevor a liar.
I consider Trevor the primary designer of the original costume, but
key elements of it were suggested by others. Rozakis was the guy
who came up with the Afro-mask. Joe Orlando asked for Lightning’s
shirt to be more open. I asked for “Captain America boots” because
I wanted my creation to be as inspirational as the creation of the
esteemed Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. That’s four designers at work,
even ignoring the Roundtree outfit and accepting Trevor’s drawings
as the initial visuals of Black Lightning.
Although some churls would cast me as Bob Kane screwing over Bill
Finger, I don’t accept that view. Although it is now standard to
credit both writer and artists as co-creators of a character, that
wasn’t the standard at the time I created Black Lightning and not
the sole credit called for by my agreement with DC. Indeed, I was
credited as the sole creator for the first several years of Black
Lightning’s existence. That’s a fact easily verifiable by looking
at the original comic book stories.
Does Trevor deserve co-creator status? No one at DC ever tried to
make that case to me. The company simply retroactively granted him
that status and, allegedly, started giving him half the money that
the agreement called for me to receive. All of that violated the
Because I pride myself on fairness - that was the motivation for my
working on so many black characters - I struggled with my position
about Trevor’s co-creator status. Outside of drawing characters I
described in my scripts, he didn’t “flesh out” my ideas and didn’t
inspire my stories. I could make a stronger case for Eddy Newell,
the artist who drew my second Black Lightning series, inspiring my
writing because Eddy’s gritty and realistic approach allowed me to
follow the stronger vision I had for the character in that second,
highly acclaimed series. Ultimately, I stand by my position that
Trevor is not the co-creator of Black Lightning. That status is a
falsehood put in place by DC Comics.
The Trevor stuff is complicated and the aforementioned churls do
a disservice to him and me by misrepresenting the situation. All
I can do is write about the things that I know to be true and, on
those occasions when I’m unsure of my memory, either reach out to
other participants to those events or state the uncertainty of my
memories. I’ve done both in past blogs.
I object to Trevor’s co-creator credit, but the only reason I have
a problem with his receiving payments is that DC takes the money
out of my cut. If DC feels Trevor deserves compensation for his
work on the first Black Lightning series, the money should come out
of their end.
Digression. Several years back, when DC Direct - I think that was
the name the company used - manufactured a spiffy Black Lightning
action figure, they didn’t pay me. At least not initially. When
I inquired about this payment after waiting patiently for a year,
DC’s representative looked into it and told me the company had paid
all the creator royalties to Trevor by mistake. I can’t verify if
this was true or not. DC did eventually pay me what they owed me
on the action figure and I reported that in my blog. They have not
paid me on many other items, but today’s blog is already running
too long. Another time.
Digression. Last year, before it became impossible for me to have
any discussions with Trevor, I suggested we copy each other on the
royalty statements we received from DC. From past conversations,
I was pretty sure he wasn’t getting paid on everything that I was
getting paid on. If DC was going to take half my money and give it
to Trevor, I wanted him to get all of that half. Trevor declined
and even took offense at the suggestion.
I have been respectful to Trevor and his talents. When DC okayed
my second Black Lightning series, he was my choice to draw it. I
was told he wasn’t available and/or wasn’t interested. It must be
hard for DC's representatives to keep their stories straight when
lying is their corporate way of life. Which is one of the reasons
I strive to write about this stuff accurately and truthfully.
Several years back, Trevor and I met for the first time in decades
at the first East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention I attended.
We shared a table and talked about all sorts of things. He showed
me that page of Black Lightning drawings, which, both then and now,
I don’t recall having seen before. When he misplaced the page in
his portfolio, he came very close to accusing me of having stolen
it. That was awkward.
At the same convention, realizing I would likely never write Black
Lightning for DC Comics again, I suggested to Trevor that he make
a pitch for the series. I knew he respect the character and, if I
couldn’t do it, he might as well take a shot at it. To the best of
my knowledge, I have made this same suggestion to only two writers:
Dwayne McDuffie and Gail Simone. That I suggested it to Trevor is
evidence of my respect for him and his abilities.
I’ll have a bit more to say about Trevor in tomorrow’s blog. Yes,
I know that means there will be no “Rawhide Wednesday” this week,
but I want to get through this stuff as swiftly as possible without
posting the equivalent of a novel online.
Godzilla help us, I’ll be back tomorrow.
© 2012 Tony Isabella