3 Artists Who Got Screwed for Creating Iconic Characters
Have you ever looked at an outrageously cool scene in a superhero movie and thought, "How do they come up with this stuff?!" Well, the short answer is: they don't. If Hollywood is answering that question, it's, "Fuck you. Die, you ignorant turd. That'll be $25." Unlike regular action movies, which are usually conceived by snorting cocaine laced with the ashes of a ritualistically destroyed Die Hard VHS, comic book adaptations have literally thousands and thousands of comics to draw inspiration from, so they do. In fact, many of the coolest parts in recent movies come from a small group of comic creators and writers who were compensated with cosmos-sized middle fingers. For instance ...
Rocket Raccoon's Creator: Permanent Brain Damage and Left Penniless
Bill Mantlo came up with the idea of a raccoon who talks and shoots guns and lives in space, and for that alone he deserves every award. He and artist Keith Giffen then gave life to Rocket Raccoon, aka the best part about Guardians of the Galaxy, back in 1976, and it took 38 years for science to develop the technology necessary to put that much awesome into a movie without causing everyone's brains to explode. In the meantime, Rocket made occasional guest appearances in other Marvel comics -- "occasional" because he kept making the other guys look lame by comparison.
Rocket Raccoon doesn't need a helmet -- he's only wearing one to escape Hulk's armpit stench.
Speaking of which, Incredible Hulk was one of the few famous Marvel comics that Mantlo wrote over his career, the other ones being Amazing Spider-Man, Avengers, Captain America, Daredevil, Fantastic Four, Ghost Rider, Howard the Duck, Iron Man, Spectacular Spider-Man (again), Thor, Transformers, and X-Men. (Get it? I said "few," but it was "all of them.") He was also pretty good at taking random toys with no backstory and writing the equivalent of several Lord of the Rings-length novels about them. Remember the Micronauts?
Soon to be a J.J. Abrams movie, so expect lots of shiny lens-flare faces.
Mantlo saw his son playing with those things on Christmas 1977 and thought, "Someone should make dozens and dozens of awesome comics out of that." So he convinced Marvel to buy the licensing rights and became that someone. The comic was a hit and outlived the toy line by years. The same thing happened with ROM: SpaceKnight -- no one gave a crap about the toy, but everyone loved Mantlo's inexplicably good, 75-issue comic saga about it. In 1988 he wrote one of DC's best crossovers, Invasion!
In 1992 he was struck by a hit-and-run driver and left with permanent brain damage, in need of constant medical care for the rest of his life. In 1995 he wrote his last story as his mind slowly slipped away from him.
As Mantlo got worse, his insurance company decided instead of rehabilitation he needed long-term care -- which, shucks, they didn't cover. His brother, Mike, was forced to sell off his assets, including his personal comic collection, just to get Mantlo on Medicaid. For the continued use of his characters, Marvel gave him as much money as he was entitled under the work-for-hire contracts he signed: that is, "not enough to live."
In 2012, he ... wait, no, I'm sorry, I almost said "fell into a coma," but I was thinking of the other '80s comic writer who was struck by a hit-and-run driver and left with permanent brain damage: Roger Slifer, who created DC Comics' Lobo with Giffen. Hey, it's weird that two of Giffen's co-creators had similar accidents, right? It's about 2 percent as weird as the fact that they both created multi-million-dollar characters for Disney and Warner Bros.-owned companies and still had to struggle for cash to survive.
How You Can Help Him:
To be fair, Marvel has been cool to Mantlo lately: they started giving him more money, and they hooked him up with a private screening of Guardians of the Galaxy, which Mike Mantlo says was Bill's greatest day in 22 years.
Very nice, Marvel. But why does the movie have a watermark that says SUPER-TORRENTZ.RU?
And that's great, but it's hard not to be a little bit cynical and think that Marvel just learned from the PR disaster Warner Bros. faced when they announced the first Superman movie and Superman's creators were found to be living in poverty. As in, the two guys who came up with what is now a billion-dollar franchise couldn't afford to buy movie tickets. Anyway, Bill still needs as much help as he can get, so here's a link so you can help make his life a little better. And while we're at it, here's where you can donate to Slifer, too, since it could be a while before Guy Ritchie's Lobo movie gets made and DC is guilted into helping him.
Reinventor of Hercules Gets Screwed in Both Life and Death
Steve Moore is the British writer behind the Hercules comic that served as another excuse for The Rock to put on a man-skirt this year. Moore's greatest contribution to comics, however, is not Hercules but another crazy bearded bastard: he taught Alan "No Relation" Moore how to write, thus making him indirectly responsible for a good percentage of the best comics ever.
Steve Moore (henceforth known as just "Steve" to avoid confusion, not because we're buddies) managed to break into the British comics industry when he was still a teen, which was easier than it sounds because there wasn't much of a British comics industry back then. He was present during the early days of 2000 AD, Doctor Who Weekly, and Marvel UK, which is the British nerd equivalent of having played drums for The Beatles, The Stones, and The Who, but with only a fraction of the venereal diseases. He also created the U.K.'s first comics fanzine -- it was through this that he was contacted by a (presumably already fully bearded) 13-year-old wannabe writer called Alan Moore, who by his own admission, proceeded to stalk the shit out of Steve. Please imagine that.
"Jesus, Alan, don't you have school tomorrow? And how did you get inside my clothes hamper?"
They became pals, obviously, and at different points during their life-long friendship Steve taught Alan how comic scripts work, how to perform pagan magic rituals, and how to be bugfuck crazy in general. This is the Emperor Palpatine to Alan's Darth Vader, the Larry Rudolph to his Miley Cyrus. And then, after spending most of his career under the shadow of his namesake mentee, this year Steve finally got a chance to shine: he wrote a comic in which he revamped the boring old Hercules as a brutal mercenary who wants nothing to do with those pansy-ass gods. And Hollywood optioned it! They made a $100 million movie with The Rock about it! Of which Steve got $0.
He was paid less than the person who airbrushes The Rock's arm veins.
According to this interview with Alan, every contract Steve signed with Radical Studios, the publishers of the Hercules comic, included a clause saying he would get $15,000 if the thing was turned into a movie -- which would have come in handy, considering he lived modestly and a big chunk of his savings went into caring for his terminally ill brother. However, the clause was sneakily removed on the last contract Steve signed before the adaptation became official, because the two pointlessly evil old businessmen from the Eddie Murphy movie Trading Spaces are real, and they work in Hollywood.
Being Britishly polite and not wanting to make a fuss about it, Steve conceded he messed up by not reading the entire contract again, and the only thing he requested of the studio is that they please not use his name to promote their piece of shit movie. Unfortunately, Steve suddenly passed away in March 2014. And of course, the studio put his name on the poster.
"Oh, that's all you ask? How about go fuck yourself?"
How You Can Help Him:
You can't. Alan called for a boycott of the movie, which probably explains why it made $210,000,000 and not $210,000,046. So far, anyway. You can help it not make that much more, but it won't make a difference for Steve at this point.
I swear the next entry has a less depressing ending.
The World Unleashes a Goddamn Plague on Creators
OK, deep breath:
Gene Colan is one of the big reasons why any black actor who wants to play a superhero isn't shit out of luck: he co-created Blade (from Blade and Blade II and that's where the series ends) and The Falcon, Captain America's ass-kicking winged sidekick from The Winter Soldier. I guess even Zoe Saldana owes Colan something, since he co-created the original, non-raccoon-having Guardians of the Galaxy comic, too.
Featuring pre-diet Chris Pratt.
On top of that, Colan was also the artist on the first issue of Iron Man and drew Daredevil for 80 freaking issues in the '60s, when Stan Lee was the writer and "drawing" meant "writing and drawing." He worked his ass off during a time before the invention of stuff like scanners or art editing programs ... or "royalties for comic creators," for that matter, which is why he fell into financial troubles in the past decade as he was hit by a combo of liver disease and cancer.
Think of a superhero movie. Any superhero movie. Behind it, there's probably a shitty situation like that. Without looking too far: one of Colan's friends and collaborators was writer Steve Gerber, with whom he created Howard the Duck -- you know, the bird-thing that made civilians go, "Huh?" on the after-credits scene in Guardians of the Galaxy while comics nerds jizzed their pants.
Now that I think about it, maybe our priorities aren't all that focused.
I detailed Gerber's problems with Marvel and the hilarious way he took his revenge in another column, but left out the not-so-hilarious fact that he was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis in 2007 and couldn't afford to pay his bills.
Gerber also wrote an issue or two of Incredible Hulk, which I'm gonna use to segue into Hulk writer and Young Justice creator Peter David. David took the green punch monster when no one wanted to write him, because there are only so many stories you can tell about tanks getting smashed, and turned the comic into a critically acclaimed series. For 12 uninterrupted years. That's kind of his specialty: no one wants to do a Supergirl comic? He did one, and it was badass. Aquaman sucks? He made him not suck. I'd love to tell you more about how he did those things, but I have to get to the part where David had a stroke last December and his insurance doesn't fully cover his rehabilitation.
I could do this all day, unfortunately. Just one more: do you like the CW show Arrow? If you're in my Facebook feed, you apparently do a whole bunch. Then you might be interested to know that Mike Grell has written more Green Arrow comics than anyone else (besides greenarrowismyhusband79 at fanfiction.net). In fact, without Grell the show wouldn't even be possible, since he was the one who came up with Green Arrow's cowl costume and got rid of the stupid Robin Hood hat he had before.
Which basically made him ... well, Robin Hood.
You know what's next: in 2013, Grell came down with a bacterial infection that murders your skin ... and your wallet, if you're a comics freelancer who lives off art commissions and personal appearances, two things that are kinda difficult to do from a hospital bed. The shout-outs he gets in the show are nice and all, but they don't pay the bills.
How You Can Help Them:
Miraculously, you don't have to, at least not directly. Someone else has their backs: the Hero Initiative helped Grell and David pay their medical bills, and allowed Colan and Gerber to live their final years with dignity (and roofs, which are even more important than dignity). Or, more accurately: the fans and pros donating money through the Hero Initiative did those things.
Marvel, Image, and other comics publishers not named DC are part of the Hero Initiative -- hell, even Lee has pitched in (sorry for that cheap shot earlier, Stan!). But those are just the little companies printing the little superhero comics. The big-ass corporate juggernauts making the big-ass superhero movies still seem almost comically oblivious tp the fact that real people created those things. Gerry Conway, who wrote the comics the latest Spider-Man movie is based on, had to campaign on Twitter to get an invitation to the premiere.
You fool. They were trying to protect you!
Thanos' creator, Jim Starlin, had to pay for his own ticket to see The Avengers, after finding out through friends that his character showed up in it. Len Wein fucking invented Wolverine and The Punisher, and didn't see a cent for the first six movies about them. And so on. The lesson, according to Giffen (who in addition to co-creating Rocket Raccoon wrote many of the comics Guardians of the Galaxy directly adapted) is: "If you can help it, don't be a creator. Be the exploiter. They get rich. You never will."
The problem with that is that if the creators stop creating awesome shit (because they quit their jobs and became film producers, or went broke, or died), we stop having awesome shit to watch. How do we prevent that? I have no idea. So in the meantime, here's that Hero Initiative donation link again, if you were wondering.
Maxwell Yezpitelok is in Chile and also Twitter.
The comics industry is kinda evil. Click the Facebook 'share' button and spread the hate.