Originally Posted by Fans of J. Michael Straczynsk
ItÆs not usually my practice to get into every hot-headed or hare-brained thing thatÆs said about me on the nets, but it looks like IÆm going to have to do so in this particular case: a comment that has been taken out of context and used as a bludgeon by some folks, especially and most recently Eric Stephenson, one of the heads of Image Comics, who should know better. But first, the statement I made at C2E2 that has engendered all of this.
"Did Alan Moore get a crummy contract? Yes. So has everyone at this table. Worse was Siegal and Shuster. Worse was a lot of people."
This is what Mr. Stephenson had to say about the foregoing:
ôThat's J. Michael Straczynski essentially telling not just Alan Moore, but any creative person who believes he or she should be dealt with honestly and treated fairly, to just accept that the world isn't like that. (snipped for space) ...the thing that really bothers me about that particular quote is that it's emblematic of a growing mood, not just in comics, but in our overall culture that no matter what is going wrong, we should just accept it. That's just the way it is, so deal with it, because nothing's ever going to change.ö
There have been editorials haranguing me over this comment, bloggers puffed up like pouter pigeons proclaiming their outrage that I could or would say such a thing, claiming that I am shilling for corporations. They have yelled, carried on cranky, net-hung me in effigy...they have grabbed for every stick within reach.
With one exception.
Was what I said true? Drop the blustering, the posturing, the fainting couch...was what I said true, or was it not true?
Every writer, artist, performer or director understands one cardinal rule of making a living in this business: the first contracts you get are not going to be terrific. Not to put too fine a point on it, theyÆre going to suck. You go along with it because when youÆre at that stage of your career, and even for a while thereafter, you donÆt get a lot of choice in the matter. YouÆre going to get screwed.
IÆll give you a prime, personal example. When I sold my first novel, the publishing company sent me their contract. There were a number of clauses I thought were not appropriate, and indicated as such. Called them. They faxed back another version of the contract within the hour not because they revised it but because they had that revision already sitting in a drawer, ready to go if I managed to find the disagreeable sections. And you can bet there was another draft sitting right behind that one.
You ask for what you think you can get, and at the end, you do one of two things: you take the contract that is the best contract you can get at that point of your career, or you walk away. ThatÆs pretty much it.
Ditto with Babylon 5. When I signed that contract, I knew I was being screwed. But not having run a series before I knew that it was the best contract I could have gotten AT THAT TIME. My options were to take it or walk. I took it, knowing that though I was getting screwed on this deal, the next one would be better...and so on.
The idea, the hope, the goal is that your second contract is better than your first; that your third contract is incrementally better than your second; and so on.
ThatÆs. How. The. Business. Works. It works that way for every artist, every writer, every actor in the business. There are no exceptions. YouÆre screwed in the first part of your career, but as you continue, becoming more successful, the contracts improve.
If someone wants to dispute this, then find me one artist, actor, writer or director who got as good a contract on his first novel as he got on his tenth. Just one. Go on. Take your time. IÆll wait.
DidnÆt think so.
That was the whole point of my comment, reproduced at the top of this note. Nowhere did I say what is sideways-attributed to me: ôthatÆs just the way it is, so deal with it because nothingÆs going to change.ö
I didnÆt say that, didnÆt intend that, didnÆt mean that and I sure as hell donÆt support that because itÆs not only illogical, itÆs untrue. ItÆs a matter of putting words in someoneÆs mouth so you can then yell at them for something they never, ever said.
Of course it changes. It changes as you get more credits, as your work improves, as you become more successful. Mr. Stephenson, was your first contract as good as the one you have now? No? Why is that? Is it because you are now more accomplished than you were then? More respected? More bankable, for lack of a better term? Of course it is, because you are those things.
In 1985, when the Watchmen deal was drafted, Alan Moore was not A*L*A*N M*O*O*R*E as he is regarded in 2012. He was acknowledged as a good writer, and would eventually become a great writer, but in 1985 he had only been with DC for about two years. His run on Swamp Thing was terrific, and Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow (my favorite comic of all time) was about to come out, but AT THAT TIME he was just one of many DC writers doing really great stuff for the Vertigo line and elsewhere.
So, as with me on Babylon 5, and as with Len Wein and the other writers on the DC Before Watchmen panel alluded to several miles of verbiage ago, which was the whole POINT that I was making, they offered Alan what was presumably the best contract he could AT THAT TIME. I say ôpresumablyö only because Alan has stated that he a) never read his contract and b) never bothered to get an attorney to look at it on his behalf.
(Personally, if someone asks you to sign a contract for anything û a book, a TV show, a house or a car û and you donÆt bother to read it or have it vetted, what follows after isnÆt someone doing something to you, itÆs a self inflicted wound...but leave that aside for the moment.)
The A*L*A*N M*O*O*R*E of 2012 can get the contract that Alan Moore of 1985 could only dream about. Because heÆs earned that right.
So let me go back to the comment I made that started all of this outrage: "Did Alan Moore get a crummy contract? Yes. So has everyone at this table. Worse was Siegal and Shuster. Worse was a lot of people."
I repeat the question: was what I said true, or was it not true?
Or is the problem that I simply said what was true and some folks just donÆt like it? Like the bloggers who donÆt actually write for a living, who get to complain about how this is terribly unfair and wrong and it shouldnÆt be this way, which is fine for them because they donÆt have to actually deal with any of it. Unlike actual, working writers. Which theyÆre not. TheyÆre loudmouths with keyboards.
But Mr. Stephenson should know better. Or would Mr. Stephenson make the same deal with first-time writers as he would with, say, Grant Morrison? If he would, he should say so, and put it in writing for all the fledgling writers out there eager for such happy news.
Again: take your time. IÆll wait.
Of course not. Further to the point, having worked with (and at times negotiated with) Image, I know that even with successful writers their contracts are not universally the same, they range quite a bit depending on what the writer is willing to share, or pay for, or accept, or commission from artists. This is not stated as an indictment, merely to point out that Image also has a sliding scale of contracts that vary depending on circumstances.
Writers, artists, actors and others in the entertainment field get routinely screwed in the first parts of their careers. This is not an endorsement of corporatism, not a way of saying that contracts have to be the same in 2012 as they were in the 30s, and itÆs sure as hell not a statement of ennui or surrender. IÆve been fighting for the rights of writers since I got into the business. But we all start out in any field being screwed and gradually improve to being treated with some measure of respect, which is how the process has worked since time immemorial.
It doesnÆt change because the times change û writers advances on first novels were ridiculously small in 1985 when I sold my first book and they remain small today û it changes as the artist, actor, writer or other professional changes. The business doesnÆt become more fair to first-timers or early-stage artists. It will never be fair. You have to force it to be fair to you by being successful. You have to grow big enough to wrestle the machine to the ground and force it to respect you. There is simply no other way to get it done. Never has been, and despite the whining of those bloggers who are blissfully free of obligation and ability, never will be.
So to those who have been dog-piling me online about this, how about you try this approach: next time you want to engage in this sort of calumny, try making it about something I say that is actually untrue, not something you donÆt like because you donÆt like it being said out loud.
I said that every person on that panel had, at some point, gotten screwed in a contract And they had. Gradually, they accumulated enough credits, enough of a body of work, enough respect, to be better treated. I spoke truthfully. The process is painful and agonizing. It sucks.
But we all go through it.
ALL of us.*
Which was the entire freaking point I was trying to make.
Consequently, I stand by every word, every syllable I said on that panel.
And to Mr. Stephenson, who as I said at the top should know better, next time you want to take issue with something I've said, try calling me directly to discuss what I actually said, and meant, rather than tee off on some idiot's deliberate mis-characterization. It demeans you and elevates the buffoon.
*(Except the aforementioned loudmouths with keyboards who can decry this all they want because they donÆt actually have to DEAL with it for a living.)