From the E-Mailbag…
From a person who asked that I omit their name here…
It was with mixed feelings that I read your argument for why some smart editor should snatch up Jerry Ordway, who is not getting enough work drawing comics. During my time trying to work in the industry, I never achieved Ordway's position but editors did seem to think my work was good enough to use on occasion. It just never seemed to last very long. In my case, the problem had a lot to do with editorial turnover. Not long after some editor would take a liking to my work, he or she would leave the position and I would have to start all over, trying to get the attention of the new editor and to impress that person with my work.
Ordway has my sympathy for not having work at the moment but I also have to look at it this way. He got a lot more work than I did. I never got to write and draw Superman for years.
Well, I have no idea how well you write or draw but it's entirely possible, if not probable, that Jerry Ordway's a lot better than you are at one or both of those things.
There are a lot of things it helps to remember in a business like this and there are two allied concepts that are especially applicable in this situation. One is that no one is owed a career in comics…or any creative field. You may be owed specific work or a certain continuity of work due to specific promises, overt or implied, and it appears that to some extent, Jerry was. But apart from things like that, no one has a right to the career they seek.
And the other thought that's important to keep in mind is the sheer numerical reality of applicants versus openings. If at a given time, DC Comics is publishing enough material to keep 50 writers and artists comfortably engaged, and they get 600 submissions…well, a lot of folks aren't going to get work. Some of them would get hired if DC was publishing more books but that ain't the reality right now. You may think it's unfair and/or foolish of them to turn you down because you're so talented but the sheer arithmetic tells us that a lot of talented people are going to be turned down. There's no way to avoid it. In some ways, saying "That guy got to draw Superman…why can't I draw Superman?" is like saying "That guy won the lottery…why can't I win the lottery?"
Granted, that's not a perfect analogy since getting to draw Superman does depend on some editor looking at your work and thinking you're the guy, whereas the lottery is a random chance. But I don't think it hurts to remember that both are competitions in which basic math tells us that a lot of someones have to lose.
I think it's helpful to approach work in creative fields with a certain acceptance and even appreciation of how capricious gigs can be; how you often have no idea at all why you got Job A and lost Job B. The people I know who try to overthink these things usually only manage to frustrate themselves…or to build up some sense that they've been swindled out of hirings they deserved. If I meet with a producer or editor, I can certainly construct a logical, irrefutable argument in my mind as to why they'd be ninnies to not hire me on the spot…but why build my own expectations up to the point where I'll feel cheated if they don't arrive at the same conclusion? Most of the time, they won't.
And often, even when they want to, they don't because their plans fall through…for reasons that have nothing to do with me.
The secret, I think, goes back to something I learned from the actor Richard Chamberlain, as explained back in this post. He told me — here, let me copy-and-paste it into this post — "I don't consider myself a television actor. I'm an actor who is currently on television. I don't neglect the other things I can do and you shouldn't, either. It'll make you a better writer of anything you do if you broaden your horizons. It also means there will be more places where you can work."
So even though I at times tell people I'm a TV writer or a cartoon writer or a comic book writer, I don't think of myself as any one of those. I'm a writer who writes all those things plus other things that I feel like writing. In the case of comics, I started in '69 and I'm still at it. I'm writing an issue of the Garfield comic book today. In the past, there were months when I wrote five or six whole comics, times when I wrote one every so often. I've rarely had nothing to do in that form but there have been times I probably could not have made a living just writing comic books. So I wrote something else. It's important when you're a writer — or any kind of freelancer — to always have that "something else." In fact, even when I had multiple ongoing comics to write each month, I rarely did them all for one publisher.
The reason the Jerry Ordway matter resounds with some in the profession is that he's so well-liked and respected. There are other artists out there who wish they drew half as well as Jerry. And if he's not getting work, there's something really wrong there…not just for Jerry but for the industry. Maybe he needs to go off and write or draw in other fields…but if he does, it'll be comics' loss.