Sunday, December 4, 2011


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
or perpetrators.

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.

We begin...

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


  1. Thank you for sharing this cautionary tale. Hopefully it will serve its purpose of warning those creators who may be approached by those who are out to scam them.

    I, too, have heard several sad tales (which I got from a very reputable source) of creators being taken advantage of, largely because they were nice guys who wanted to take someone under their wing and share their experiences and art.

    Makes me want to get up a posse and hunt some of these weasels down!

  2. I'm new to your Blog and today's topic is especially interesting because of why I'm searching for African American Comic Book creators.

    At the risk of sounding like I fit the profile you just wrote about, let me float an idea.

    If an artist has an archive of digital material already published online; maybe there is a way to re-purpose that content to his own benefit.

    Why not offer a serialized version of work that has already been released -- but use African American Newspaper web sites as an outlet. Part of the deal you'd cut would be their agreeing to link back to YOUR web site, where you could market your latest PAYING project.

    Also, format the comic page to include paid advertising on each side of the art panels. One side goes to the local newspaper and one side to the artist. It won't be a lot of money but it is something. The real prize is the increased traffic to your own web site.

    The television industry does this all the time. They call it a Barter system when they split commercial inventory between the local station and the syndication company.

    Black newspapers are struggling and could benefit from fresh and unique content.

    Imagine a consortium of artists, each re-purposing some of their older work for limited runs. If the stuff is already out there at least you'd have the opportunity to create a broader audience.

    Jus' Sayin'

  3. I don't know you, Matthew, so I can't vouch for your history of working with creators. But I will say that, if your business models actually brings money or exposure to the creators...and they understand there are no guarantees...and if there is some way for them to verify the amount of money collected from their work...that it's not remotely like the scam profile I was writing about.

  4. There's no reason for anyone today to provide one-of-a-kind images by sending the actual original item. I'd think asking for such should be a huge warning to anyone being asked to provide it. In the past, yes: That was pretty much how publishers had to work. These days? There are scans and copies of photos, etc. - all available in sizes that will permit appropriate reproduction in publishers' projects. I just bought a backup hard drive that will hold a terabyte; worst-case scenario, material can be scanned with a fine enough dpi that it'll be better than a printer needs to reproduce.

  5. This is a good tale Tony, the sad part is, that these scammers also make it harder for honest pros/fans to pursue ideas to produce similar projects idolizing the comics heroes that inspired them. A good caution is that someone who knows what they are doing and has half a brain about the reality of handling original work, won't need or want to handle the original art. If someone on the artist's side can provide a good scan that should be all you need.

  6. I think you did a great job of explaining the idea of the scam so that everyone can keep an eye out for things similar. It doesn't matter that you did not name names. We have the info we need to be on alert, and that's all we need.

  7. Three cheers Tony. I truly feel this was one of your Edward R. Morrow moments. May the predators in this field learn to fear something in the night. if not a real-life caped crusader, perhaps simply... truth.

  8. Tony, this is the first time I've visited your blog even though I've seen your name around since the heyday of the independents in the 80's. I'm sorry it took so long! That being said, I have been a "victim" of sorts. I won't name names, but I worked in good faith with a publisher that paid me in the past, but concerning a more recent job, I had to wait almost 2 years before getting paid. In fairness to the publisher I WAS eventually paid, but as we all know the economy is very bad right now and I could have used that money on time to avoid some difficulties I had to endure because of the delayed payment.

    The publisher's excuse was that the economy had affected him as well and he was unable to pay me on time as promised. How does one argue with that if you live it?

  9. Reading this made me feel I'll for the poor creators that have been taken by whoever this con man is.

  10. This is truly horrible. So many creators who should be cherished for their contributions to the industry we love are in dire need of help because the industry will not or cannot care for them. That alone is sad enough. That someone would prey on them in their time of need is so sad.

    Tony, as an attorney with a big firm, I am limited with regard to how much I can do for free and I am really a litigator, not an "agent." But if I can help in some way, please let me know (you can do it through facebook).

    Andy Turk

  11. Maggie Thompson said...
    "There's no reason for anyone today to provide one-of-a-kind images by sending the actual original item. I'd think asking for such should be a huge warning to anyone being asked to provide it."

    Maggie, yes of course...but in the situation Tony references, the creator was elderly and essentially computer illiterate (you knew him) and he had no idea that scans or even good photocopies were as sound as original art.

    By the time he learned that, it was too late. His work had been shipped overseas, most of it never to be seen again...except on Ebay.

    Mark Ellis