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Unemployment Assurance

Not being completely "up" on who's writing and drawing what in comics these days, I'm startled — in a kind of Tex Avery "take" way — to hear that Jerry Ordway is not getting nearly enough work. I could understand that of some folks of his experience. There are talents in this business who get steady work for a time…and then maybe their work atrophies or they stop growing or maybe they just plain aren't as good as most of the new entrants. But then there are also folks like Jerry who have done consistently fine work and always been professional about it…and when one of them isn't turning down assignments, something is wrong.

Is it ageism? Could be. There are those in power not just in comics who are told they have to lure in younger customers…and they really don't have a clue how to do that. Really don't. So they opt for engaging younger talent, which isn't really a solution but it kinda looks like one. In fact, it looks enough like one that they won't get blamed too much if it doesn't work.

Over the years, I became friendly with — or at least interviewed — most of the comic book writers and artists whose careers predated or coincided with mine. Some managed to remain "in demand" as long as they were able to write or draw or wanted to work. Others hit a wall they'd never expected — one they'd once been more-or-less promised would never be there. A number of very fine, experienced creators in the last decade or two have been told things like, "I'd love to give you work but they tell me here I have to look for the new, young 'hot' artist."

Usually, it isn't that nakedly admitted but sometimes it is. Not that long ago, a veteran artist came to me and asked if I could help him get work…which he needed the way anyone might need work. I knew of a comic that a major company was about to launch and phoned up its editor to suggest the older guy would be perfect for it. The editor replied, "You're right. He would be. I wish I could use him." I swear: "I wish I could use him" is a verbatim quote.

I could almost forgive this attitude if it did yield a significant sales advantage. Some editors will quietly admit to you that, no, it really doesn't. In this particular case, they found a new kid, he drew the book…and it was a rapid cancellation. It wouldn't have sold any worse with the veteran — and might have sold better as he was a much better artist.

There's no question that some of the newer writers and artists are very good and that their work is commercial and popular. No one is saying they shouldn't be engaged and given every opportunity; just that the Jerry Ordways of the world deserve the same. I don't know the particulars of why Jerry isn't working, above and beyond what he states in his courageous essay. I'd guess it has something to do with disappointing sales on a Shazam! series he did not that long ago. The property has never really sold no matter who did it and this business does have a tendency to blame talent for not being able to resurrect the dead.

I'm not too worried about Jerry. He's very good and some smart editor (there are such people) will snap him up one of these days. I am worried when the industry seems too quick to dispose of talented folks and it becomes impossible or even just difficult to make a long-term living in comics. I think that would be very bad for the business. When good people come along, you don't want them to think of their time writing or drawing comics as temp work that will only last until someone younger comes along with impressive samples and no grey hair. If today I was considering a career in comics, I don't think I'd expect it to be a very long, stable one.