|STRONTIUM DOG and related characters copyright REBELLION|
Are you all sitting comfortably? Good, then I'll begin. Don't be fooled by the intro though, for 'tis no fairy tale I'm about to relate, but rather the complete and unvarnished truth. When I began my full-time freelancing career in the world of comics way back in 1985, I was (depending on one's point of view) either lucky or unlucky enough to do so just as the old way of doing things was coming to an end.
Once upon a time, freelance contributors to IPC were paid on acceptance of their work. Once you turned in your job, the editor began the process which resulted in their accounts department sending you a very welcome cheque. It usually took around a week to ten days, a fortnight at the very most. Sometimes I hadn't even spent the previous one when the next one arrived. I was in Heaven, but it wasn't to last. As far as I know, editors could begin processing invoices through the accounts department almost immediately. It certainly appeared to be the case.
Also, if you returned a job on the 1st of the month, your invoice might not go to accounts (or perhaps just not be processed by them) 'til the 30th (or whatever date it was), and then you had to wait another 30 days to be paid. I can understand Maxwell wanting to keep his dosh in the bank for as long as possible in order to earn as much interest as he could, but he never gave a second thought to how that impacted on contributors.
It's all very complicated and maybe I don't (and never did) quite understand exactly what their method was, but I've tried to work out things logically and explain it all as best I can, however confusing it might sound. Maybe it was one factor of their system more than another, maybe all factors were equally at fault, but regardless of the cause, there's no denying that the end result was far too many freelancers having to wait to get paid for far longer periods than under IPC's regime. There was certainly never any dispute that there was a problem - it was admitted in several letters to freelancers. When I find them I'll add them to the post.
Now, before I continue, I should perhaps explain here that it was once a traditional practice in comics for all non-question sentences in comics to end with an exclamation mark - sometimes even several. The reason being that full stops didn't always reproduce properly, resulting in confusion to the poor readers, who found themselves reading two or three sentences as one. And so it was ordained that all statements should end with what those in the trade call a 'screamer'! That tradition had abated in recent years, but I wanted you to understand the reasons behind my thinking in what transpired next.
Rather than have to double-check every sentence as I lettered, to save time I simply ended every statement with a screamer. My heart wasn't in the job and I found it difficult to apply my full attention to it. Questions still ended with question marks, but sentences that ended with full stops joined the ranks of those that concluded with a screamer. At the end of the day, it really didn't make any difference to the meaning of the script. Readers would've been none the wiser. Surely it was no big deal? Mr. Bishop seemingly thought otherwise. "It took Kevin Brighton (art assistant) two hours to go through the strip and white out the exclamation marks" he said. Now, with all due respect to Kevin, if it took him two hours, he was ripping the piss! It was a ten minute job at most. It probably hadn't even taken me two hours to letter the full story, and it was done to my usual high standard (which by that time came naturally to me) - except for a few extra exclamation marks. (Not more than one per full stop sentence though.)
Now, in regard to Mr. Bishop's editorial 'qualifications', I found myself unimpressed. Apparently he's also a writer, but not ever having read any of his stuff I can't say whether there's any merit to his work or not. On the comics he edited though, it always struck me that he was filling the position of nothing more than 'traffic manager' and making sure they got sent to the printers on time. Scripts he sent me often had spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, and punctuation oversights. I corrected them all automatically, but informed him whenever I did so. Never once did he ever take issue with me saving him the time or trouble of getting Kevin (or whoever) to fix what he should have spotted before he sent me the scripts (that was part of his job, after all). In fact, there's no guarantee he'd have spotted them after I returned the jobs, even had I left them uncorrected. (He's credited with 'discovering' new talent, but he'd have had to be deaf, dumb, and blind not to, as 2000 A.D. and the Megazine were the only real game in town when it came to UK action/adventure comics. That's where talent naturally gravitated to.)
Anyway, I patiently listened to Mr. Bishop's pompous lecture, and had I simply said something like "Sorry, it won't happen again" it's more than likely it would've been the end of the matter. However, let me tell you something about Mr. Bishop - his smug tone annoyed me. He was enjoying finally finding fault with a strip I'd returned after all the times I'd found faults in the scripts he'd sent and was determined to rub my face in it. Did I lose my temper? Did I insult him or question his parentage? No, I merely said "I don't know why you're making such a big fuss over such a trivial thing, Dave. One mistake measured against all the times I've spotted and corrected yours, thereby saving Kevin having to do it, surely outweighs my uncharacteristic lapse in this one rare instance? Gimme a break - my father's just died and I've got more important things to be concerned with!" You could have heard the proverbial pin drop. Mr. Bishop curtly informed me that he would no longer be availing himself of my services and hung up.
So there's gratitude for you! And don't be fooled - it wasn't because I'd added a few extra screamers on what turned out to be my last job for him - it was because I ruffled his feathers by pointing out that he made far more errors as an editor than I ever had as a letterer. His vindictive spite not only caused him to stop supplying me with work, but also prompted him to spread his not quite accurate version of events as to why. Other letterers made mistakes that I'd sometimes had to fix (when I was down in London), some even lost artwork, but none were ever 'let go' because of it.
Well, there you have it! The real reason why my freelancing career for what was by then know as Egmont ended. Steve MacManus was kind enough to supply me with a contact number for the team producing Warhammer and one or two other publications, and I got quite a bit of work from them for another couple or so years, but I'd started to become disenchanted with the comics 'industry' by then. For nearly 15 years I'd invested so much enthusiasm and hard work into the periodicals I worked on, only to find that, at the end of the day, it was all for naught and that my livelihood was in the hands of some jumped-up little pip-squeak who'd no appreciation or gratitude for all the work I'd put into making him look good (or at least adequate).
And friends... the story is true. I know, because I was that