Monday, 30 September 2019

SAID THE LETTERER TO THE BISHOP...


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.

Lucky perhaps, in that I had at least a taste of how things had been for decades, unlucky maybe, in that around two years later, it all changed for the worse.  What happened?  Robert Maxwell happened, that's what.  He purchased IPC's Youth Group from IPC, and from that point on, the decline of a once-proud comics industry accelerated in its head-on collision course with and to oblivion.  Robert Maxwell may not have started that decline, but he sure as hell did nothing to stop it.

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. 

Once Maxwell was in charge though, contributors were paid on approval.  That meant an editor, if he was busy, might stick your recently returned job in his desk until he had time to 'approve' it, which could take a couple of weeks depending on his schedule or how concerned he was with making sure you were paid in a timely fashion.  But there were other problems, namely that Maxwell's accounts department felt that contributors having to wait 30 days to be reimbursed for each job was no great hardship.  To clarify, that was 30 days between each job, even ones submitted within a few days of each other - or even on the same day.

So if a contributor turned in three separate jobs over the course of a few days (or, as I said, even on the same day), the first might take a week to receive approval, which, added to the 30 days it took accounts to pay, meant that you could be waiting over 5 weeks to get paid for one job.  The second job might not get approved for yet another week or even longer, but even if they were all approved on the same day, it didn't seem to facilitate a speedier settlement.  Further complicating matters was that I believe there was a schedule as to when editors could submit invoices to accounts.  If so, I don't know the precise details, but let's just say they were told to send up invoices on the 30th of each month. (Or maybe their accounts department just wouldn't process invoices before that [or another] date, regardless of when they received them.) 

Either way, that meant that if you returned a job on the 29th, even if the editor submitted your invoice right away, if another job was returned on the 31st, payment for it wouldn't be processed until the following month - meaning that you could be waiting two months for that particular payment.  Even if three separate invoices were submitted to accounts at the same time, they'd process one that month, the second the month after, and the third the month after that.  This meant payment for a week's work could (and often did) be spread over three months.  They seemed to think that as long as they were paying you something every 30 days or so, they were fulfilling their obligations. However, when you add in the sheer incompetence of Maxwell's accounts department, not even that was ever certain.  And having to wait a month or more for £100 when you'd earned maybe £300 in one week on different jobs doesn't pay the bills.

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.  

Up until then, I'd never had an overdraft in my life, but because of the sporadic nature of payments, I had to open an overdraft facility at my bank in order to ensure that I had funds to return jobs.  (And eat, and pay the rent, etc.)  The bank eventually refused to give me overdrafts because, whenever I assured them that I'd been assured my payment would be in my bank account by a certain date, 9 times out of 10 it wasn't.  On one occasion I even had to ask an editor to 'phone my bank to assure them that the cheque (or bacs payment) would be in my account by a certain date, so that I could go into overdraft mode in order to return a job.  (It wasn't.)

Like I said, I have letters sent to all freelancers by editors, apologising for the ineptitude (my word, not theirs) of their accounts department, and page rates were even raised by way of compensation.  As I remarked when I detailed these events in a previous post, that merely resulted in us waiting for higher amounts of money that never came by the due date.

So why am I telling you all this again?  It's context for what I'm about to tell you next. Steve MacManus, then editor of 2000 A.D., once told me in the pre-Maxwell days, that, even though I was mailing my jobs in from Scotland, I was more reliable at meeting deadlines than some other lettering artists who returned their work in person.  I was very proud of this fact, and when my ability to maintain this eventually became threatened by tardy payments, I was extremely concerned.  My freelance work was my only source of income at that time, and I had no wife's wages to rely on to tide me over.

Here, due credit should be given to Alan McKenzie and Richard Burton (then on 2000 A.D.), who allowed me to use IPC's Red Star account to return jobs when my payments were overdue.  This wasn't something that could continue indefinitely however, so I bombarded Maxwell's accounts department with earnest entreaties to try and sort out their payment system.  I knew that unless things changed soon, my career was likely to take a downturn.

This now brings me to one David Bishop, and why my freelance work for Judge Dredd Megazine came to an abrupt end.  I was continually chasing payments and having to remind him that my ability to return jobs was dependent on being paid in a timely manner.  This was a genuine expression of concern on my part, not a threat to withhold jobs unless or until I was paid.  In other words, I feared that I might eventually find myself in the position of being unable to return jobs if I had no money, not that I'd be unwilling to.  This did not stop Mr. Bishop from later spreading his own disingenuous version of events.

He even had the temerity to say to me in a letter that my "continual inability to meet deadlines" was a "constant frustration" to him.  If it were true, I can see why he'd be frustrated, but he was confusing my continual expressions of concern about missing deadlines with the act itself.  I believe I missed a deadline on only one occasion, and that was due to illness.  I had 20 pages to return to him (not all the one job), but I contracted either Blepharitis or Conjuctivitis (forget which - I suffered from both on occasion) in my left eye and simply couldn't work.  I was supposed to have the pages in for a Friday if I recall correctly, but didn't manage to return them until Tuesday. Are letterers the only people who are not allowed to be ill? Furthermore, several of those pages were given to me only because he couldn't get anyone else to do them (all too busy apparently), so I was trying to do him a favour by helping him out.

Missing an occasional deadline can be less of a problem than it sounds, because editors usually always leave themselves some spare time with deadlines, in order to circumvent any difficulties caused by them not being met.  "I'll say Monday, but I don't actually need it 'til Thursday or Friday" was their way of thinking.  However, in the interests of full disclosure, I did tell Mr. Bishop that there was one job which wasn't a priority with me in returning, and that I'd send it back when I could.  Sounds bad, doesn't it?

Except for the fact that it was a job I was re-lettering for free out of the goodness of my heart, and which had already been published.  Here's what happened.  I think it was a Strontium Dog story that I'd been lettering, could've been some months before.  Due to one episode arriving too late to send to me (or maybe because it was more expedient), it was given to Johnny Aldrich to do.  I had lettered all the episodes up to that point, plus also the ones which followed in regard to that particular storyline.  Whenever the story came to be eventually reprinted by Titan Books, the episode by Mr. Aldrich would've stuck out like a sore thumb.  I therefore volunteered to re-letter the episode gratis so that it would be consistent with the others on either side of it.

There was no definite schedule as to when it would be reprinted and it had already appeared in the comic, so its immediate return was not essential.  I therefore told Mr. Bishop I'd return it at the earliest opportunity, but wouldn't be able to do so until I had my hands on some cold, hard dosh.  No threats to withhold it involved, contrary to Mr. Bishop's later spurious claim.  With hindsight, my offer to re-letter the strip was probably pointless, as the expense of re-shooting the negatives was unlikely to be approved by the higher-ups, but my heart was in the right place.  In the end, I returned it as it was, having become disillusioned by the editor's lack of good will.

If you haven't bailed out by now, I salute your fortitude, but we're in the final stretch now.  One day, my father did something thoroughly selfish and inconsiderate - he died.  I then had to look after my mother and ensure that she was coping, and try and make life easier for her my taking her breakfast up to her in bed, doing the shopping and keeping the house tidy. When a parent dies, it reminds you of your own mortality, and you tend to find such thoughts weighing on your mind.  I found it difficult to apply myself to anything with the same diligence as previously, and returned one job to Mr. Bishop in which I had ended every sentence (except for questions) with an exclamation mark.  Mr. Bishop wasn't happy. He certainly wasn't incandescent by any means, but it provided him with the opportunity to revel in his 'editorial authority', so he took it.

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 soldier letterer.          

13 comments:

AirPiratePress said...

Not issuing freelancer cheques in a timely manner was a constant frustration to me when I worked at Fleetway. It always struck me as a bit ironic that management wanted the editors to clamp down on "freelancer lateness" as they saw it, but never saw the payment of those freelancers as a priority. I had been a freelancer myself, and always believed that the freelance, sole operator suppliers should be the first to be paid, as they have rent/mortgages to pay and food to put on the table (quite aside from maintaining enough money in their accounts to return the jobs they had worked on). "Why can't the writers/artists/letterers get their work in on time?" management would whimper. "Why can't our accounts people pay them on time?," I'd retort. All that said, I can't remember a time when you were ever late with a job, and indeed there were many times where you (as last man in the chain) saved us from late-running artists. Which is why you were my go-to letter for much of the time.

Kid said...

Thanks, APP, that means a lot to me, and I must say that I don't think I ever enjoyed working with or for an editor as much as I did you. You were always gracious and understanding, and never 'lorded' it over anybody. I don't know if you'll remember, but it was yourself who I asked to 'phone my bank (as recounted in the post) so that I could secure a small overdraft. You did so perfectly willingly, without regarding it as an inconvenience or intrusion. John Tomlinson was another good editor who was very supportive, and I think back on my days working with and for you both (and others) with great fondness. God bless ye, Guv'nor.

Colin Jones said...

That might be the longest post ever written in the history of the internet!

Kid said...

Waa-heyyy, another record for me! Could be worse, CJ - you could've said it might be the most boring post ever written.

Julius Howe said...

As someone who had the misfortune to read Dave Bishop's frequent stories in the early Megazine (always fun when an editor commissions their own work), I found him to be the worst writer they ever had.

Kid said...

I don't even remember if I ever read them or not, JH. I wonder if I ever lettered any of them?

Christopher Nevell said...

I’ve been reading Pat Mills book on 2000AD and clearly he’s another not to rate Bishop.

Kid said...

He wasn't a popular chappie amongst quite a few people from what I've heard, CN. However, I'll leave it to them to tell their own story. (They can do it here if they wish.)

Jock Savage said...

Ellie De Ville seems to have lettered most of Bishop's strips. Your name doesn't appear on any of them.

My only (indirect) experience of Bishop's abilities as an editor was through the strips he commissioned for the Megazine and 2000ad.

Your description of his behaviour suggests there was a direct correlation between his qualities as a manager and his ability to spot creative talent and commission material.

Nice to hear from Alan McKenzie, for a change ^

Kid said...

Regarding your third line, I'm not quite sure if you're praising or damning him, but either way, you're certainly entitled to your opinion of his 'qualities' and 'ability'. Personally, in regard to his attitude and treatment of myself, I think he was just looking for an excuse not to have to wrap up artwork and send it to Scotland. And it's always nice to hear from AM.

Kid said...

Oh, go on, let's have a bit of fun...

Said David Bishop to the Kid, just get thee gone, I shall be rid
of endless carping 'bout late cheques, it mists the lenses of my specs.
And chasing payment's not my place, so just stop getting in my face.
Of your complaints I've had my fill, from now on I'll use Miss De Ville;
prettier and so much sweeter, and her lettering is neater.
You're nothing but a grumpy Scot (your name in comics is a blot),
whose Glasgow tones give me the cramps, and with you gone I'll save on stamps.
What's more, you've got a head of hair, whereas my follicles are bare.
Success for me means you must fail, your protests are to no avail,
so sod off now and don't come back, my motto is 'I'm all right Jack!'
Hah! All for one? I so agree, but only when that 'one' is me.
Must be gone, I cannot dither, time to gaze into my mirror!

Anonymous said...

A good insight into the industry that you gave 15 yrs of your life towards. It does sound like a power struggle evolved over time, and that was never going to end well

TG

Kid said...

Thanks for your comment, TG. There was no power struggle going on in my mind - I simply wanted to make the comics as good as they could be, hence my bringing any mistakes he'd overlooked to his attention (and fixing them). Maybe his own insecurities made him feel threatened in his position and were what prompted him to try and put me in my 'place'? Most other editors seemed to welcome my enthusiasm and my going the extra mile. If they didn't, they never said anything.