The other day here, I showed you a 1099 form that I received from DC Comics in 1972 for $15.00, which was for my first "sale" directly to the company. I did some work for them before that but that was through Jack Kirby and he paid me.
A couple of folks out there have been trying to figure out what the fifteen bucks was for. I think I know. In '72, my friend Mark Hanerfeld was working as an assistant to DC editor Joe Orlando. DC was increasing the number of "weird" books Orlando edited. Ghost anthology titles like House of Secrets were selling decently — not great but decently and were making a profit. Much of that profit was due to the sudden and recent availability of comic artists in the Philippines. Because of the different standard of living betwixt there and here, it was possible to pay those guys a lot less (like a tenth) of what American artists were paid. The catch was that their work didn't seem to lend itself to super-hero comics and was most commercial in America on the "weird" books. Orlando suddenly had to ratchet up production on them. Put simply, he needed a lot of scripts to send off to the Philippines.
Hanerfeld suggested me as a writer and showed Joe a manuscript I'd written for another, never-published comic project. Orlando called me and asked me to submit ghost comic plots. He'd pick the ones he liked and I'd turn them into scripts and be paid DC's beginner rate, which I think was $12 a page or so. That was less than I was then getting for writing Daffy Duck and Woody Woodpecker for Gold Key Comics but it seemed like a decent starting place to do more work for DC apart from Mr. Kirby. I sent in three plots the next day and didn't hear anything for a few weeks.
Mr. Orlando finally called and said he had good news and bad news. Usually when folks say that, it means they have a lot of bad news but they've figured out some tiny silver lining they can say is good news to take the sting away from the bad news. The good news was he liked one of my plots very much. The bad news was that he'd been told by the folks figuratively upstairs that he couldn't buy any scripts from new writers for a while. The company had contracts with several writers who were guaranteed certain amounts of work. Because various projects had been axed or postponed, a couple of writers needed assignments and so Joe had to give them the work he was going to give me. What he wanted to do, he said, was to pay me $15 for the plot and then have one of his contract writers write the actual script.
I said okay. I thought it was actually a wee bit unethical — I wouldn't have written the plots on spec if I'd known that I wouldn't get the full assignment and I thought the money was low for doing the hard part — but I decided to go along with it. There was no point in alienating Joe Orlando over something like that. So the $15 was for plot of "The Death Clock," which appeared in House of Mystery #214 (June, 1973). When I read it in the comic, I felt no connection whatsoever to it other than that my name was on the first page. Oh, well. That always made my father happy.
Later on, Mr. Orlando offered me a lot of work on these books and some of his others but by then I had other work that paid better or interested me more. One year on a convention panel, I was among a bunch of writers who were asked to describe the moment that we first felt like real professionals in the comic book industry. The person to my left said it was the first time he got a check from DC Comics. I said it was the first time I turned down work from DC Comics.