Monday, June 17, 2013

I’M GRUMPY AND I KNOW IT

I’ve worked very hard to create as stress-free a life for myself as
possible.  While I do my grumpy old man routine as well as anyone
and better than most, I’ve determined bugling veins on my forehead
are not a good look for me.  For the most part, you won’t see much
political commentary in this blog.  Those of you who agree with my
political views, marvelously intelligent beings that you are, don’t
need me as a cheerleader.  Those of you who disagree with my views
aren’t likely to achieve political enlightenment because I can turn
a mean phrase.  Comics is neutral territory.

But not always.

When I learned a higher court had overturned Marvel’s “Ghost Rider
victory” in the lawsuit brought against the company by Ghost Rider
creator Gary Friedrich, I was delighted for Gary.  Commenting on my
Facebook page, I wrote: 

I hope Disney/Marvel does the right thing. There is money enough in
these characters for the creators to receive a fair share. For good
will alone, Disney/Marvel should settle with Gary and recognize his
creative contributions with an ongoing commitment.


Yesterday, I posted this:

It took less than 24 hours for some ignorant, uninvolved so-called
fan to post the usual pro-corporation and anti-creator nonsense on
a mailing list of which I’m a member.

I told myself I wasn't going to comment, but the ignorance of the
uninvolved always gets my goat. So...

Just because a publisher claims something was work-for-hire doesn't
make it so.

In my case, my creation of Black Lightning was not work-for-hire.
I created the character and formed a partnership with DC Comics.
That DC violated that partnership agreement is the major bone of
contention between me and the company. Back in 1976, I thought the
agreement was fair for both DC and myself. I still feel that way
and would honor it today...if DC would honor it.


The next ignorant question, which I've answered many times before,
is “So why haven’t you sued DC?” That action is never far from my
thoughts. But any decision I might make has to be weighed against
factors like...

Do I really want to devote a significant portion of my life to such
a lawsuit?

Do I want to devote significant income to such a suit when I still
have a child in college and many other expenses?


Would my health permit such a lawsuit, given DC's blatant attempts
to wear out Joanne Siegel with frivolous depositions?

Putting aside the merits of my case, DC has thousand-dollar-an-hour
lawyers. It would be like my bringing a plastic knife to an atomic
bomb fight.

The courts, wrongly in my considered opinion, have been treating
corporations more fairly than they treat individuals. Corporations
aren't people. But some judges act like they are and, indeed, even
more deserving of protection than actual people.

It always saddens me when comics fans support corporations over
creators. Why don't such fans just admit they are pathetic junkies
and graduate to heroin?


Harsh words? They were and they were intended to be harsh.  When I
write about anything, I write from my heart, I write from my head,
I write from the fire in my gut that makes me take strong positions
when I believe strong positions are required.

This makes me more friends than it does enemies, but I’d be foolish
to pretend my manner doesn’t make me enemies.  It’s stressful, but
I think holding back would be even more stressful for me.  I gotta
blow off some steam every now and then.

Some people take pride in having enemies.  I’m not one of them.  I
am, by nature, a very forgiving man...if and when those who wrong
me admit their wrongdoing, make an effort to make amends for their
wrongdoing and honestly seek my forgiveness.  Even when they don’t
do any of those things, I don’t waste any time thinking about them.
Indeed, pretty much the only time I think about any of them is when
I’m writing about my career and my life.

If I’m writing about past wrongs, I will often soft-pedal details
to protect those who may have wronged me but towards whom I hold no
ongoing enmity.  Yes, they wronged me.  Even basically good people
do the wrong thing sometimes.  I try and usually succeed in getting
past such ancient wrongs to live my remarkably full, good and happy
life.  I don’t sweat the small stuff.

Are there “enemies” I can’t forgive?  I guess I’d find  out if they
were to seek my forgiveness.  I’d like to believe that forgiveness
is in me, but I won’t know for sure until I’m tested.

A couple times per month, I receive hilarious communications from
an anonymous coward who may or may not live in the Cleveland area.
Trolls like him or her are why comments to this blog aren’t posted
until I approve them.  Let them have whatever pleasure they receive
from trying and failing to get to me.  Maybe it’ll make up for the
obvious fear they have of me and envy of my life.

In one such communication, my devoted troll tried to ruffle me by
writing about how one of my “enemies” had turned around his life.
I confess that I would have a hard time forgiving this particular
individual as he was, hands down, the worst human being I have ever
known.  If I were to write my autobiography, it would take a full
chapter to cover the terrible things this man did to others and did
or tried to do to me.

I hadn’t thought about this guy in years until I came across thick
file folders filled with depositions, letters and threats from our
past association.  I moved those file folders to an inactive drawer
in my file cabinet and promptly forgot about him again.  Until the
troll mentioned him in one of his communications.

Did my “enemy” turn around his life?  I don’t know.  I could easily
verify what he was doing these days and, on the surface, yeah, it’s
possible he has.  But he was in positions of authority when I knew
him back in the day and abused those positions.

If he has, indeed, turned his life around, that’s terrific for him.
It doesn’t change what he did or tried to do to me, but I’m in no
need of closure.  If he’s no longer doing evil, the world is better
for it.  That’s good enough for me.

Getting back to Black Lightning - mostly because I don’t think that
I should be speculating on the Ghost Rider case at this time - one
of the other members of the list asked a question in a somewhat
challenging fashion, “So Trevor [Von Eeden] had nothing to do with
the creation of the character?”

My lengthy response to that question:

Everything important to the character was created before I brought
Black Lightning to DC.

In the past, I have very generously credited Trevor as the primary
designer of the original Lightning costume. However, his claim of
having come up with the costume on his own is false.

Trevor was one of five people in the room when the original costume
was designed. He was the one doing the drawing, but he was working
from group ideas. Some of the key elements of the costume came from
others.


Bob Rozakis, who was supposed to be the title's editor, came up
with the Afro-Mask. It should be noted that Trevor, who raised no
objection at the time, now claims to have always loathed the mask.

Joe Orlando opened up the shirt to show more skin. I thought that
was silly, but said nothing. I didn't think it was a big deal.


I specifically asked for the lightning bolts on the sleeves and
what I called the Captain America boots. I can't recall who came up
with the idea of extending the lightning bolts to the chest. It
might have been Trevor.

Save for Trevor, every still-living person in the room confirms my
version of the design process.

All other characters in the first series were described by me in
the scripts. In a couple cases, Cleveland friends did the original
model sheets and these were sent to DC for Trevor to follow.

I'm pretty sure Jack Harris came up with the design of the original
Black Lightning logo. I designed the logo of the second series,
which only used designs from the first series in its rare flashback
scenes.


 Eddy Newell designed the Lightning look in the second series,
working from nothing more than my wanting it to look like something
Jeff Pierce could make on his own.

The flashing lightning eyes were my concept. I'd read of a bank
robber who disguised his features with Hollywood-style scars and
boils and the like. All witnesses could recall was how ugly he was.
I figured people who saw Lightning in action would only remember
the lightning shooting out of his eyes. Nothing else.\

Eddy created the look of the second series and its new characters
from my brief descriptions. I credit him as the visual designer of
the second series and he remains my favorite Black Lightning artist
of all time.


My original agreement with DC - the one they have failed to honor -
recognized me as sole creator. This was several weeks before I ever
heard of Trevor. Indeed, DC assigning Trevor as the artist violated
my agreement with DC. I had been working to get one of the artists
I knew from Marvel. Perhaps I should have insisted, but Trevor was
so enthusiastic that I didn't object. But enthusiasm does not equal
co-creation.

DC didn't retroactively decide Trevor was a co-creator until a
couple of years after the first BL series ended and I inquired
about buying out DC's share of the character. That's also when they
started giving him half my incentive/merchandise/royalties money.
There have been incidents when they gave Trevor all that money.
When I found out about this, it took up to two years for me to get
my money from DC.


Currently, DC has not paid me anything on Black Lightning for over
two years. Despite my creation appearing on clothing, on other
merchandise and on TV. My e-mails requesting payment have been
ignored and remain unanswered.

I admire Trevor's abilities. I tried to work with him on a project
as recently as three years ago. That didn't work out and that was
more on him than me.

Although I still felt Trevor was getting half my money, I suggested
we share royalty statements to make sure we were both getting what
DC claimed we were entitled to. I suspected he hadn't received
payment for everything I had. Trevor took this as an insult.


I have stated in my blog that, should I ever regain Black Lightning
from DC, I would continue to pay Trevor what DC currently pays him,
if, indeed, they have continued to pay him. Trevor was insulted by
this statement as well.

I also stated Eddy Newell would receive equal payments to those
made to Trevor. I don't know how Trevor feels about that because I
haven't had any contact with him in two years. However, when an old
friend asked me about Trevor, I recommended him for the project
under discussion.

I’ve never wished Trevor less than the very best, but he is not and
never was a co-creator of Black Lightning.


 Another poster pointed out that, while my situation with Lightning
was not clear-cut, DC probably owns all rights to Black Lightning
art done by Trevor, Eddy and others.

My response to that polite comment:

If I were to regain control of Black Lightning, there's nothing of
Trevor's art from the first series that I would want to use.


Obviously, I'm much more fond of Eddy's work, but I never expected
to keep that look either.

No, if I were to regain Black Lightning and bring it to the current
marketplace, I’d reinvent it. Just as I reinvented the character
and concept for the 1990s.


This bloggy thing is way too long for a Monday morning.  However,
with my being a guest at this year’s Comic-Con International in San
Diego, I wanted to (once again) answer the usual Black Lightning
questions as thoroughly as possible in the doubtless vain hope that
I will not have to answer them (again and again) at the convention.

Keep watching the bloggy thing for updates on Comic-Con, my garage
sales and other Isabella appearances.  I’ll be back tomorrow with
another friend-winning piece on why I don’t celebrate Superman.  If
I have any readers left after that, I’ll get back to writing mostly
about things that delight me.

© 2013 Tony Isabella

3 comments:

  1. I do have one question about this that I wonder if you would answer for me. Did you have a written agreement with DC spelling out the rights of each party as regards the ownership of the character? It may seem obvious, but I wish you would settle my mind on this as you have never explicitly referred to a document in your narrative.

    I also look forward to your piece on Superman as I had planned to go to the Akron Public Library on Wednesday for such a celebration. Who knows, perhaps you will change my mind.

    Thank you for your consideration of these matters.

    ReplyDelete
  2. As I've stated in the past - although I should have mentioned it again here - my deal with DC (Sol Harrison and Joe Orlando) was a handshake deal that was supposed to be put into writing and never was. After the meeting, publisher Jenette Kahn asked me if I was satisfied with the agreement and I told her I was, adding that I thought it would be a good template for DC's future deals with creators. So, while I don't have a written agreement with DC over my creation of Black Lightning, DC doesn't have a written agreement with me for my creation of Black Lightning.

    For future reference...and with rare exception...I will no longer be approving comments from people who don't sign their names to them. Even if you don't have an account that automatically gives your name, you can easily sign your name in the body of your post. I sign what I write. I expect anyone who comments to do the same.

    ReplyDelete
  3. late night FerengiJune 17, 2013 at 1:19 PM

    When I think about what happened to the creators of Superman,will anyone make a documentary about what happened to the families of these creators? There was one such documentary in the works for awhile and I never heard anything about it. Does any of the readers of this blog know what happened to this documentary?

    ReplyDelete