All The Rage: Talking To Joe Illidge About DC Comics
All The Rage: Talking To Joe Illidge First published on October 9th, 2000.
Joe Illidge was an Associate Editor on the Batman group of comics at DC. Earlier this year, as part of the infamous article Bad Mood Rising, I wrote about his demotion from the Bat-books. Details were sketchy; all I heard was that he wrote a letter to Paul Levitz that was well worth reading.
Joe's recently resigned from his position at Licensed Publishing. His last day at DC was a week last Friday. A week ago, he e-mailed me, complimenting me on my original report and saying that he wanted to talk. I listened. Emphasis on the 'listen'. As a result, is not so much an interview, more transcribing the thoughts of a man who has a lot to say. You'll see me comment when I think there's a point to be made, but otherwise I'm happy to let Joe speak.
Know this the following story is one man's opinion, although it's an educated one. He is also now an ex-employee of DC, one who feels he has been hard done by the company. There is clear personal bias in the stories, and Joe sets out his good guys and bad guys along the way. Never has the rumour warning on this column been so relevant. Do not take what you read as the gospel truth. If it were the word of God, your face would have melted off by now like in Raiders Of The Lost Ark. These are the words of one man. Use your own judgement, and don't take anything you read at face value, melted off or otherwise.
Right, enough of the banter, fractal geometry. Are we all big fans of it? Good. The layman's takeout of fractal design is that the details mirror the shape and structure of the whole. And while this thought may be far from Batman readers, Joe would like you to keep this concept in mind as you read.
We start the story in the first few months of this year, with Denny O'Neil as king of Batman, group editor of the Batbooks and a long history of work on the character behind him.
Joe tells me "When we found out that Denny O'Neil was leaving the Batbooks, there was a big question about who would take over the Bat books. It was soon clear that it would be Bob Schreck, not only as senior editor but group editor. I didn't find Bob easy to deal with and there was certainly tension in the beginning."
During this time, Joe tells me that Bob Schreck generated a memo, detailing a dozen "fuck ups" concerning Joe's work. Joe felt that while a couple were fair and he took responsibility for them, the other ten weren't. But since a couple were true, he felt he was being judged as if all of them were true. Joe says that despite this, Bob told him he was great at his job but that there were problems that needed to be dealt with. "A few weeks later, clearing Denny's desk, I saw this memo. And saw for the first time that it was actually an exercise in character assassination against me. I didn't say anything at the time."
Eventually the tension hit fever pitch, and Joe tells me he confronted Bob about the memo. He says he felt he was harshly judged and at the time hadn't been given a chance to defend himself. "I told Bob "I don't like you, the reason I do this is not for you, it's for the fans. They're the only ones who tell me they appreciate the good work I do.""
Joe says "I told him I wanted to defend myself. Bob said he didn't want to hear what I had to say. So I spoke with Mike Carlin, had a really good talk. He told me that he understood I had emotional attachment to the work and to Denny but things were changing. I had to work with Bob and make it work."
After that weekend, Joe says that's what he did. "I came back next week full steam ahead, to work as an ally to Bob, to make the whole thing work. He's a man of vision and experience and I appreciated that."
The Dark Knight Returns
Joe Illidge continues, saying "So I worked with him for about a month and a half, keen and in good spirits and then went on vacation for a week. I came back on May 23rd and everything seemed hunky dory. I was finding out what had been going on, catching up on books, talking to freelancers. So Bob leaves a message on my phone saying he needed to talk with me at 4:30, and I should block out a period of time."
"So I go to Bob's office, and there's the manager of human resources in the room with a new list of about a dozen fictitious fuck-ups I'm supposed to have made."
Joe says "the manager of human resources told me I could make a rebuttal to Bob, and carbon-copy it to anyone I wanted to. So I wrote out every point that night, and then called my lawyer. We had a meeting the next morning on May 24th. I had typed out a memo, what I was going to say to Bob and to superiors."
"My lawyer told me I had one memo when I should have three. The first should say I want to be transferred from the Batbooks to the Superbooks because I have irreconcilable differences with Bob."
"The second should be a public rebuttal to Bob, challenging claims made against me."
"The third should say that based on the advice of my attorney, I ask to be transferred from the Batman department to the Superman department."
"So, I send out these memos. The first one was sent to Paul Levitz, Jenette Kahn, Denny O'Neil, Mike Carlin, Terri Cunningham (VP- managing editor) Deborah Stegman (HR) and Marc Young (manager of HR), carbon-copying Bob. The second e-mail I sent to Bob Schreck, and carbon-copied all the others. And the third I sent to all the others and carbon-copied Bob Schreck."
Joe has a couple of examples of the statements he said he remembers making in the memo to to Kahn, Levitz, Carlin, O'Neil, Stegman, Cunningham, and Young, cc'ing Schreck.
Joe says one of them involved the Batman/Manbat book, and that Brian Stelfreeze walked off the book, because he never received the script to work from. In it, Joe says he asked Bob Schreck about the project on an average of three times every two weeks, after which he says he asked to Brian to call Bon. Joe says Brian didn't receive a call back, only responding to an e-mail Brian later sent.
Joe says that Brian had to turn down work while he was waiting to hear about the project for over a month and lost both income and the good feeling about DC Comics and so walked off the book. Alarmed, Joe says he talked to Chiarello, the Art Director, about the problem and only then did Bob Schreck call back Brian, an hour later.
Joe says that this was the first time Brian had heard Bob's voice, and that Joe had done his job, worked with Brian and informed Bob of his inquiries.
Then there was matters about work effort.
Another is that Joe says he repeatedly gave Bob Schreck advice for the Batman book, involving character integrity and continuity, and was ignored. Only when artist Scott McDaniel wrote a detailed 5-page memo about issues 575-580, and threatened to quit the book, did any significant change happen. Joe says that aside from reading scripts, he do about 85% of the work on that book, and the same on Nightwing – even more so on the Hunt For Oracle crossover."
"These all went out by e-mail in an 8 minute period. 45 minutes later, and after I was only two days back in the department after a vacation, Mike Carlin came into my office and said I should take some time off. I told him I'd only just gotten back here. He said that it was clear I was very angry, and had strong feelings about this and he couldn't see how Bob and I were going to be able to work together for the next few days. I said I didn't care about that. I was here to put out books and to do good work. On my part, that wasn't going to change."
"Mike told me that the recent events with the demotion and resignation of Maureen McTigue had caused a bad feeling in the DC offices and he had to bring back some kind of peace."
"I asked when I could come back? Would I have to sit by the phone waiting to find out? Mike said that with the office closed for Memorial Day (May 29th) and with Paul Levitz back from vacation on Tuesday with a lot to catch up on, Joe could come back on Wednesday. They could sit down with Paul Levitz and maybe Eddie Berganza (Superman group editor) and see what could be done."
Joe says he asked "Is this the beginning of something?" and Mike replied "It's the *beginning* of something, I don't know what but it's the beginning of *something*."
Joe says took the finished pages of Birds Of Prey 22, handed them in and left quietly. When people at DC asked about his whereabouts, Matt Idelson reportedly said "I can't comment on that at this time"
Joe says he returned a week later and that Paul Levitz's secretary called him to arrange a 2 o'clock meeting.
The Killing Joke
Joe goes on, "At the meeting with Paul Levitz and Debbie Stegman (Head of HR), Paul produced a memo, the gist of which said "it is clear your assessment of your job as associate editor is not our assessment of what the job entails. We are not moving you to the Superman department, historically the Batman and Superman departments get along well and with the tension between you and Bob Schreck, this doesn't make sense.""
Joe says he wondered if he could be moved to JLA or Vertigo. He tells me he was told he'd be offered a position in Licensed Publishing, with a new supervisor and new challenges. Apparently he was told "the position would give him the opportunity to work up to the standards of the company."
Joe was miffed to say the least. He says he emphasized that he'd worked under Kevin Dooley, Eddie Berganza, Denny O'Neil, Darren Vincenzo and more and that his opinion of the job and his ability hadn't changed. He says he asked if suddenly he was not working up to the standards of the company?
Joe reports he was told "yes".
Joe then says he told them he'd been instrumental in guiding Batman through No Man's Land and the year 2000 relaunch. He says he asked if after all that work, this is what they really thought of his performance?
Again, he says he was told "yes". Joe says he asked when he should give them an answer. Joe says he was told to take a few days off. Again.
No Man's Land
Joe decided to take the new job and says he informed Debbie Stegman of this by e-mail. Joe says she congratulated him. However, Joe tells me he recognised there were catches with the job. "Firstly, I'd need HTML computer knowledge in my new role that I didn't have and that licensed publishing was the department where traditionally former DC editors were relocated to, and then resigned."
Nevertheless Joe says he asked if he could start tomorrow. He says Debbie told him that this was fine, but he'd have to sit in a room with Bob Schreck for a few hours it's customary when moving positions to give your previous supervisor any information they might need to keep the department working smoothly. Joe says he told Debbie he wouldn't do that, but he'd talk to either Denny O'Neil or Frank Berrios. This was agreed.
However when he turned up at DC again, he says the department wasn't ready for his arrival and the required meeting was never arranged.
But the Batman department wasn't finished with him. While in his job, Joe tells me had agreed for an inker to take on part of a Nightwing book and that Joe had told everyone what was happening. After Joe's departure, he says that inker had a number of pages taken away and was told it was Joe's incompetence for assigning the work to them in the first place and not informing anyone. According to Joe, a penciller with concerns over the production of artwork in another Batbook was told that the fault lay at both Denny and Joe's door. Joe felt he was being used as a scapegoat for every little foul-up on the Batbooks.
Joe says he told his Licensed Publishing supervisor Greg Ross that this had to stop as the character assassination could cause difficulty with some of the same freelancers he still worked with in the new job.
Joe tells me Greg advised that Joe take his concerns to Dorothy Crouch, his boss, head of Licensed Publishing and a Vice President. Joe thought this shouldn't be a concern for someone of that stature.
Nevertheless Joe says that Greg insisted and that Dorothy told Joe to try and ignore the Batoffice as they were trying to push his buttons, and he should just go on.
A Lonely Place Of Dying
And so Joe continued in his job. But he began to believe that what happened at the Batman department was symbolic and systematic of the whole business philosophy at DC. That a certain business philosophy, working practices and by-products this created, invaded every aspect of the company creating a negative vibe. Joe says "There's no way I could work there and feel comfortable."
And so Joe Illidge, as prophesied, resigned, taking up a new job in book publishing.
So, we have the first Black member of the Batman editorial group removed from his position for doing his job badly. Joe says "I don't believe that Schreck's calculated attack on me had anything to do with the colour of my skin. I may not think highly of the man, but I don't believe he's a racist." Joe simply refutes the allegations he says were made against him. But is there a pattern here?
Joe tells me about how LA Williams was dealt with by DC, taken from a number of close sources. Joe tells me that when Maureen McTigue was demoted and then resigned from DC, she was co-editing Secret Files a monthly book with a reputation of being hard to edit with multiple creative teams. Joe says his book was offered to LA Williams to take on. Joe reports "LA said that if he took it on, he'd be the editor of two books. Following DC procedure, an assistant editor of two books is promoted to associate editor with both title and pay increase. If he took on Secret Files, he asked if he'd receive promotion and pay? He was told no. So LA declined to take the book. After which, his group editor told him in confidence that if he didn't take the book and sales of Impulse continue to decline and is cancelled as DC expected, it doesn't bode well for his career in the department."
The character of Impulse lives in Manchester, Alabama. The decision was made to see if the actual governor of Alabama could make an appearance in the book. According to LA Williams via Joe, "LA spoke to a representative of the office of the governor, and received an approval from the office of the governor."
Joe continues "So LA went about producing the book. The black and white artwork was produced and circulated throughout DC. The book was produced, supervised by Dan Raspler who was supervised by Mike Carlin. LA handed over a finished copy of Impulse to Dan Raspler but didn't receive any feedback. The book went to the Comics Code, which also meant a trip through DC legal and editorial administration, without any feedback. The book was solicited with an announcement that the governor of Alabama would appear, in Previews, two months before printing."
"Someone from DC's marketing dept. was even quoted in an Alabahma newspaper over the story. And nothing was seen to be amiss."
"Now, DC gets copies of all their books one week before shipping. LA was called into a meeting with Paul Levitz, Debbie Stegman, Mike Carlin and Dan Raspler. He was told what happened was wrong and he should have worked through proper legal channels. LA said that he'd given Dan Raspler a copy of the book. Dan stated that he'd told LA he was concerned about an element of content and that LA should go to Paul Levitz about it. LA disagreed with this and stated that if he had been told to do so, he would have, but even if Dan did have an issue with this, DC protocol and practice is very strict. Protocol dictates that information should be delivered through chain of command. So if a group editor like Dan Raspler had concerns, he should have taken it to the executive editor, the exec editor should have taken it to the exec VP and somewhere along the line a decision should have been made. All two months before printing."
"LA Williams was told he could work for DC as long as he wanted to but would no longer considered for promotion to associate editor. And that Impulse was cancelled. Once LA left DC, the book was handed to Cavalieri and DC opted not to cancel it."
So we have LA Williams, a prominent Black editor at DC removed from his position for doing his job badly. According to Joe, LA refuted the allegations Joe says were made against him. But is there a pattern here?
Black And White
LA Williams, Ali Morales, Frank Berrios and Maureen McTigue were a group of four assistant editors at the same time at DC. According to Joe, Ali had been in editorial the longest, Frank and LA had also been there a while, Maureen had joined from Marketing and Joe was also fairly new. Joe, LA, Ali and Frank were all either Latino or Black. Maureen was a white woman. All were rare species at DC Universe editorial.
Joe tells me that when Paul Kupperberg left, this group of Assistant Editors were each given a book to edit to judge their performance on. Frank was given Resurrection Man, which was cancelled one month later. Joe says Frank asked for another project, but had to wait a while for Relative Heroes, a mini-series that had already been through 2 editors and Frank had no real opportunity to make his mark on it.
According to Joe, LA was given Impulse, one of DC's 3rd or 4th tier characters and Ali never was given a book.
Joe says he too was never given a book. He says he was told by Mike Carlin that this was because he was new and didn't know how things operated at DC. He found this strange as, at the time, DC was happy with his increasing workload on the Batbooks.
Joe says Maureen was given one of DC's 1st tier icons, Wonder Woman, to edit and that a few months later she received the much-coveted promotion to Associate Editor. According to Joe, this was seen by some as a racially interesting decision, to only promote the only white candidate.
Joe says "I have nothing but RESPECT and HIGH REGARD for Maureen McTigue. She was the hardest working, most dedicated person I knew at DC. She was a one-woman enthusiasm squad, and I do not mean to imply that she didn't deserve her promotion, editorial opportunities, and good rep around the company. I'm just saying that her peers deserved some of the same as well."
Not too long afterwards, she was demoted due to a common editorial practices reported on comicon.com at the time and soon resigned. Indeed, I wrote an article about how some people at DC saw this as a sexually interesting decision, demoting the highest placed female in DC Universe editorial. Maybe another conclusion is that DC just can't win? Anyway, back to Joe…
When Joe Illidge left the Batbooks, he says that Frank Berrios (of Latino background) did both his and Joe's jobs and managed to do them well. Joe reports that Frank was only an Assistant Editor; he asked about being promoted, but was passed over for the new associate editor Michael Wright (of Caucasian background) pulled over from DC's trade paperback division. While both jobs dealt with interior content, Joe believes that the job requirements of TPBs are different than monthly periodicals on a weekly basis and that Frank was, by far, better qualified for the position.
Joe tells me "The only way to get on at DC is by creating quality product from DC that will impress everyone. When anyone wants to start a project at DC, it has to go through the editorial tribunal. At the time, the tribunal consisted of Mike Carlin, Dan Raspler and Denny O'Neil. Each proposal would receive a reply within a month either a rejection, a request to revise and resubmit or an acceptance."
"Ali Morales had made repeated attempts to get projects done. Two or three would have been written by Brian Michael Bendis! One of which became Powers, now a success for Image and optioned as a film by Columbia Pictures. All of Ali's projects were rejected, save for The Conjurors, a safe Chuck Dixon Elseworlds mini-series."
Joe's only real success was a Batgirl/Catwoman/Oracle mini-series. One of the many failures was a proposal created with John Francis Moore, which would have been a massive Batman project, Batman: Family. A 10 book series it would have involved the entire Bat cast, introduced a new roster of enemies, and a new continuing antagonist. A proposal was submitted, and returned with a 'revise, resubmit' note. Joe says the board didn't like that the main villain would discover Bat's identity they felt this trick was redundant in the new Batman mythos. But Joe says that Mike asked if it could be a fifth week event, so Moore and Joe did a second draft. Two months later, it was lost. So Joe says he resubmitted another copy of the second draft. A month later, he says he asked for comments that hadn't come through and was told to revise it again. Joe tells me he went into Mike's office with pad and pen, and asked Raspler and Carlin to go through any problems point by point. So a Joe says a third draft was submitted, eight months since the first.
Doom That Came To Gotham
At this time, Bob Schreck was slowly coming in as Group Editor of the Batbooks. Joe says that Schreck asked for a digital version of the proposal to be e-mailed to him and that the proposal was then forwarded to Greg Rucka and Devin Grayson, the Batman writers. Joe says he was told by Bob Schreck that they had concerns about the series and that it would be a disturbance in the current continuity. But months ago, Joe says he had sent Greg the first submission saying that he and John would be as accommodating as was necessary, didn't want to impose and that Greg could call John if he wanted to talk about it.
Joe tells me that Mike Carlin said that it would be a problem to produce the series for the November 2000 fifth week event in time. Additionally Joe reports that Bob said the villain was not fully fleshed out. Joe says he told Bob that John would do a fourth draft of the proposal with a complete fleshed out section on the new villain to give to both Bob and Mike. John and Joe did so. And that was the last Joe says he heard about it.
So now, despite the Batman department not requesting a fifth week event, Joe says that DC blamed them for not getting it turned round in time for one and Green Lantern: Circle Of Fire quickly took its place.
Joe reports that John Moore was then told by Mike Carlin, after Joe had left, that he didn't really like the idea anyway, just that it was a good way to introduce a whole number of super villains for Batman. Joe feels both his time and John's had been wasted especially at a time when John had been kicked off X-Force for the Ellis Revolution and was looking for work to prove himself.
To add insult to Joe's injury, he says he saw that projects he'd sent in that had been rejected, were then given to other editors to work on. He says he saw another Batman project, Batman: Hunters about Bruce Wayne's days in the FBI hunting serial killers on Bob Schreck's desk after previously being rejected, with notes on how to make it work.
Joe says he's based his view on racial relations in the comics industry on history he's learnt and personal observation. He believes in some contexts, Latinos and Asians are invisible or are very visible, and that Blacks are always visible in the comics industry as a whole. Joe tells me "The machine is aware. The only Black person now in DC editorial is Harvey Richards, assistant editor to Andy Helfer and Joan Hilty – hardly the most high profile of positions. It just makes me wonder and helps me perceive a pattern in mode of behavior."
He has a couple other examples to fit his pattern. Joe says "The Batman department wanted to give the Robin book to black comics creator, ChrisCross. Joe admired the work he'd done for Xer0 and the New Year's Evil: Dark Nemesis book. Matt Idelson liked the idea. Writer Chuck Dixon approved the choice. Denny O'Neil too. Mike Carlin said no. This was about a chap with seven years in the business, with a funky youthful vibe to his work who had even drawn X-stuff at that point. So Marvel snapped him up and gave him Captain Marvel, a Peter David book that they then promoted well."
"Darryl Banks is the Green Lantern monthly penciller. He's been on the book since issue 51 and the book is now in its 130's. It's a top selling book for DC, but he's never been offered the next step up. Jordan Gorfinkel wanted him for the Batman books during No Man's Land. Editor Kevin Dooley said that Darryl was caught up in the Lantern book at the moment but, never wanting to stand in the way of talent he cares for, he was happy to talk about a transfer in the near future to a high profile Batman project. Unfortunately, it never came to pass."
Joe sees this article as "not about revenge, just that lots of people want to get into comics, many of them are Black, Asian, Latino, whatever. I just want them to know what kind of arena they might be entering."
The Holy Terror
Joe also has a few things to say about Christopher Priest, one of the relatively few black writers in mainstream comics. "Christopher Priest's career spans twenty years as both editor and writer. Mark Waid shares a similar history and they are both good friends, who respect each other's level of writing skills. Both are excellent writers, there's no judgments to be made. I respect Waid because he doesn't just say there's problems with the state of the industry, he's heading up a writing department at CrossGen to try and do something about it."
"But Waid gets good jobs and Priest doesn't. Every project Priest does is cancelled, and not due to inferior work on Priest's part. But Mark Waid gets prime books to work on, like JLA. Hawkman was canned 3 issues after Priest began. Priest joined Steel with issue 34, then almost instantly its paper quality was reduced, its price upped, a crossover arranged with the Millennium Giants event to spike its sales at issue 50, which it did, and then the book was cancelled with issue 52. Xer0 was a great book that only had enough time to get a quarter of the initial proposal published. Morales edited the book but was taken off. I hear she was told she wasn't trusted with the book and it was given to Dan Thorsland. Dan resigned around the time I heard speculation he'd have be let go by DC at the time he was editing Night Force, Scare Tactics, and the latter issues of Challengers Of The Unknown. And then Xer0 gets cancelled at issue 12."
As to what problems Joe sees at the Bat department since his departure, he gives away a few news stories in the process. Joe tells me "Greg Land is leaving Nightwing he's signed an exclusive contract with CrossGen. Now, Greg is a practical man, with a family. Jordan Gorfinkel worked with him to develop him within the Batman department, everyone loved him there. His move to Nightwing was very much a promotion- but he just wanted to know if he'd still be working with Chuck Dixon. It was the job he loved. But these days? Suddenly, it's not enough. A great new DC talent – but DC can't match CrossGen? That's insane. He was happy working with Jordan, Denny, Darren and me… now he's leaving. One example."
Care for another? Joe has plenty, "Catwoman is being cancelled and relaunched from issue 1, Ed Brubaker's writing. Bronwyn's been taken off. But Catwoman was fine all through No Man's Land, Bronwyn already took the book in a new direction, with Catwoman finally getting caught and dealing with the repercussions. If there's a problem with a book, you should work with the existing talent if you have a conscience, move closer to consumer, retailer or editorial needs. But a complete relaunch is seen as a lack of faith in existing product. It's an industry scam, the kind of thing Marvel did in the bad old days. Catwoman was a seven year book, this prevented it from getting to 100 issues. One example."
Joe continues, telling me "Freelancers work, mostly, from their home. Their contact with others is diminished, it's much more solitary. They need contact and positive reinforcement from editorial staff. Take Butch Guice, artist on Birds Of Prey. I'd stay in constant communication with him and him with me. After I left, I saw he was working on an Earth X Spider-man book, so I called him up. He told me he was no longer being called to say his work was being received and liked. Now all he gets is calls asking when he'll be done with whatever issue he's working on at the time. One example."
"Devin Grayson, a rare example of a top female writer in an industry that needs that viewpoint in its comics. She's great at challenging the status quo and did loads of great work under Denny. She's not getting her calls returned or getting them really late. She's getting delays on her payments. She's not involved in the Turning Points event. Ed Brubaker is, but Devin isn't. This is a major new direction for the Batman titles, and a monthly Bat-writer isn't involved. One example."
"Gotham Adventures is written quite well by Scott Peterson. Bob Schreck recommended to give Ed Brubaker the book. On the Batman: Turning Points event, the main writers are Brubaker and Rucka. One of the ancillary spinoffs is by Nunsio DiFilippo. Who? Well, he writes Arliss for HBO. He's never written comics before. Now, before I was moved, Bob Schreck suggested to Matt Idelson to use this writer as he's a good friend of Greg Rucka. Is this wise? At the time I disagreed, saying the learning curve to write comics was too long for the time frame we had and Mike Carlin agreed with me in e-mail. But now he'll be writing an issue of Detective comics. And after this and Deadenders, Brubaker will very likely be the regular Batman writer."
"John Constanza has been lettering books at DC, Marvel, and other companies for 20-odd years. Before I was removed and Denny eclipsed by Schreck, John lettered Batman, Batgirl and Nightwing. John is a professional, a good guy, a hard worker for DC comics and very reliable. Now, letterers need a lot of work to survive. DC had taken Cartoon Network away from him and recently taken him off Wonder Woman. But after I left, he was taken off Nightwing and replaced by Sean Konot, who Bob knew from Dark Horse."
"Now, John's style was a real aesthetic element of Nightwing and he was very reliable. But with Konot, I believe his style is inferior. Now I'm almost positive that John has been removed or will be removed from Batman very shortly and replaced by Sean Konot. Now, John's been working hard and very well for years but is losing work for no good reason. One example."
"Look at Detective Comics. The back-ups starring The Jacobian are lettered by Ken Lopez. Again, reliable letterer, quality worker, he does JLA. He's been removed from the assignment and replaced by Sean Konot. Again, I believe Ken is a better letterer. One example."
"Usually industry patterns dictate that to get to work on the top books, good talent has to work its way up. Greg Rucka did a lot of work to get his spot on Detective Comics, as did Jeph Loeb on Superman. Brubaker didn't."
Okay, at this point I'll step in. Ed Brubaker's work has been critically acclaimed for years before he joined the Batbooks, I was a fan of his indie stuff well before any of the majors came sniffing around, and when I heard he was writing the Batbooks, I was pleased for him and that his talent had been recognized. He's been multiple nominated for Eisners and Harveys. Even now, his Deadenders series for Vertigo is becoming a surprise hit that may go the way of Sandman and Preacher. I've certainly been a fan for years and it's clear Bob knows Ed's a good thing when he's on to one. But I can see how his sudden move up the Bat-hierarchy might have ruffled a few feathers.
And as to Sean Konot, yes he's known for working with books Bob Schreck is connected with, both at Dark Horse and Oni. But it might also be worth pointing out that he was Eisner nominated for his lettering in 1999 for Grendel: Black, White, and Red, Star Wars: Crimson Empire and Nobody. So some people certainly think he's great.
And while I'm on the subject, Bob Schreck. Schreck's work at Dark Horse and Oni has been enviable. He's put out projects that have transformed the medium and worked with some of the best creative talent in the business. When I initially broke the rumour of his move to the DC Batbooks, I mourned the loss for Oni, but could see DC picking the best editor talents from a number of companies. Anyway, back to Joe who's making a point here.
Brubaker and Rucka are also known for their association with Bob Schreck, at both Dark Horse and Oni Press. Joe says "nepotism to improve books makes sense. Rucka's a great writer and he's earned his spot. But if the editors employing nepotism don't improve the quality by doing so, it can ruin books and ruin relationships."
"Do you see the patterns? Patterns of nepotism, I believe a lessening quality of product, hard working quality freelancers being removed from assignments or their involvement diminished. Coincidentally, DC seems to be having problems maintaining creator relationships."
Joe digresses by telling me about a book he's been reading, Adventures In The Screen Trade by William Goldman. It details similar activities to those he's described at DC all across the film industry. The difference is, according to Joe films make money but comics aren't lucrative. "It's probably the only non-growth industry in the USA. People stay because they love it, not to get rich." And if people stop loving working in comics, they may well just go elsewhere.
Joe concludes "While I have brought out implications about an aspect of DC's business philosophy and attitudes (more specifically, as it relates to the DCU Editorial Group), my feelings are not extended to every, or even most, members of the DCU team. I know that people such as Senior Editor Eddie Berganza, Editorial Art Director Mark Chiarello, and Vertigo Executive Editor Karen Berger will constantly make a difference by producing high-quality work that will push the envelope or rip right through it."
I am also not trying to suggest that people not buy DC Comics. Lord knows I'll still be buying 100 BULLETS, STARMAN, and PLANETARY every month."
"I simply could not, in good conscience, walk away without commenting on some things people have been wanting to hear and wanting to say. It was my attempt to try and do something instead of just bitching about it. I'd like to thank Rich Johnston for his professionalism in this matter, SilverBulletComicBooks.com for being the forum for it, and the many professionals for contributing their time and opinions to the volatile and controversial subject matter contained in this article."
"I hope all my friends within the industry (you guys know who you are.) are still my friends."
"I really don't care about anyone else."
I'd like to thank Joe for giving his time and for being so frank about his personal feelings. And to the readers for making it this far. I'd also like to remind All The Rage readers, again, that these are one man's opinions and should be read as such. There are many more opinions out there and you're about to read some of them.
Talking To The Comics Industry About Joe Illidge
There's been plenty of informed and uninformed pro reaction to the Illidge article, despite the following memo being sent around DC.
Many of you have received emails from Rich Johnston asking for your comments on an upcoming article featuring an interview with Joe Illidge. In general, we ask that you not comment on this or any other topic without my consultation. In this specific case, DC as a company does not intend to comment.
If you feel it necessary to comment, particularly if you might be included in the article without your cooperation or endorsement, please work through me on how best to approach the matter. We may be able to have any specific references to you or your experiences expunged or have included that they are without your consent or endorsement.
Let's work together so that such matters provide only a minor distraction from our greater goal here of producing good comic books.
Indeed, I was able to work with DC and Joe Illidge over one employee's concerns about one of the stories concerned.
As reported, DC's official line was "no comment" and Bob Schreck told me straight out "Thanks for your concern. I have no comment on the subject. Best, Bob Schreck." This is an understandable decision, any involvement might be seen as recognising and drawing attention to DC's claims.
But a number of people had a lot to say. One pro source told me "I've never worked at DC, but it's a company run by a woman, and I know a lot of gay people that work there, I know a lot of jewish people, fat people, and ugly people that work there… I also know of a lot of straight white men that have been canned from there… seems to me that to work there, you have to be good at your job… that's it."
"I can't help getting the feeling that at its core this is just another clash of egos, as is all too common in ANY industry where creative people are also in the position of making managerial decisions: A guy thinks that HIS vision and HIS creative offerings aren't getting a fair hearing from the bosses and he reacts badly. The bosses, for their part, are looking for people whose vision and creative offerings are more in line with their own, and the inevitable result is that someone has to go. And it's NEVER the bosses."
Another industry source told me "What seems to be standard operating procedure when DC management takes a dislike to someone is to produce a memo outlining all sorts of "failures" by that person and going over it in a meeting which includes Stegman and Levitz. In many cases, the person involved is asked to sign the memo acknowledging that they have received it with the assurance that it doesn't mean they're saying you agree with it. If the person refuses to sign, Stegman signs it stating that the person did indeed receive the memo."
"The advice Illidge got from his attorney about sending a response memo (or three, in his case) seems standard for this type of situation as well. In one similar case a few years ago, the response memo was ignored for months; then a meeting was held and virtually everything that was discussed and agreed upon in the meeting was later ignored by the management side."
"Having Stegman or someone else from HR present is also s.o.p. for Warner Bros. It has been said that the higher-ups don't trust DC personnel to conduct such meetings without saying something they shouldn't and that Stegman is there to "correct" any misconceptions the employee might get."
Changing Of The Guard
Mark Luebker, willing to go on the record told me, "When the old bosses step down and the new bosses come in, it's pretty much expected that the new bosses will want their own people and their own team around them, and those employees with close ties and loyalties to the old bosses are methodically weeded out. It strikes me that Joe Illidge simply may have had the misfortune to be attached to a boss whose star was setting, rather than rising. So if I had to guess, I'd bet that being close to Denny O'Neil is what got him tagged for the outbox."
Another source tells me ""As to Schreck; you would have had to be BLIND not to know that he was hired to replace Denny…. I have recently been told that Bob does not want to, or cannot stomach working with ANYONE, that worked with/under Denny O'Neill as the Head Bat Fuck-Up In Chief! Matt Idelson came in late to the game, so I guess he was not in this group. That includes his former assistants, freelancer's, etc… so that would explain the turn over in new people now working on the Bat books."
The source elaborates, "Bob was hired for 1 reason, containing 2 words: FRANK MILLER! It's been quoted that Frank has said he would NEVER do Batman again as long as Denny O'Neil was the Editor of the Bat books. Well, he's not, and now look…Frank Miller returns to the Dark Knight. DC knew that Bob and Frank had a working and friendship that would easily be a bridge to get Frank on Batman again."
An industry source writes "Joe… impressed me with his immaculate good manners. In comics, we tend to be rowdy and casual with each other, telling crude jokes to people we just met. But Joe wasn't like that. He respected boundaries. He respected people."
"As long as American culture, especially the corporate culture of the entertainment industry, is racist and sexist, DC Comics will also be. It's not a conscious choice I don't think anyone decides to oppress anyone else — but it's not consciously rejected, either. Let's face it — if you go to the ladies' room at DC, you'll see, on the door, a drawing of Catwoman or Wonder Woman. Both drawings have huge breasts. In any other office, these would be considered harassment. At DC, they're art. Needless to say, there is no equivalent picture of a DC character with an enormous penis on the men's room doors."
An anonymous source told me "I was at a party and got into a conversation with Bob Schreck…seemed like a very nice guy."
The source continues, "I asked what happened to Joe, and he said (paraphrasing from my memory – liquor was had) that Joe wanted his job and wrote a letter to Jennette and Paul telling them how awful Bob was, thinking it would get them to fire him, but it backfired."
This may be an unreliable report, and remember, Bob Schreck isn't wishing to comment on anything in this article, but Joe Illidge wanted to make a quick point when he read this. "I did what I did to MOVE TO THE SUPERMAN DEPARTMENT and work with one of the best editors in DCU. Only an idiot would think that Little Joe Illidge would try to get DC to fire the guy that's bringing them Dark Knight 2 and Kevin Smith's Green Arrow. I'm idealistic, not stupid."
One pro source simply said "Joe had a real bad temper…real bad……" Another says "Joe was always exceedingly nice to me." Another says "he was one of the worst FUCK-UP's DC ever hired since Denny O'Neil…oh…wait…Denny hired Joe…nevermind. He alienated so many people in such a short time."
One pro differed about Bob's motivations but backed up Joe a lot. "I think Joe's entirely on the money, except for one thing, a new editor often cleans house on his books and brings in new creators, and *of course* those creators will tend to be people he's worked with before. I don't see anything wrong there. That said, Joe is a hardworking and competent editor. Any criticism of his *ability* to do the job is nonsense. Do keep in mind that *none* of the black editors recently released from DC were ever full editors."
One of the more controversial areas of Joe's opinion is to do with the company's racial stance. It's something that made uneasy reading, it's something that has been discussed between pros, and it certainly doesn't seem like a conscious choice on anyone at DC's part. But it is fair to say that the comics industry as a whole does not seem to have a proportionate record in hiring black staff or freelancers. If anything, DC's record on face value seems to better than most. But that doesn't mean it's perfect. A lot of people had a lot to say.
One source says "Why the seemingly blatant elimination of minorities from higher positions within editorial office? But it is hard to believe that DC could be racist like that. A company so huge, and that has done a lot for multiculturalism in comics (ie. Milestone, Vertigo, etc.) would pretty much be shooting itself in the foot by this type of behaviour."
Another source tells me "The Production/Manufacturing area of the company is one area where there is no bias evident. In recent years, managerial staff there has included… an African-American woman, a white woman, a Hispanic man, a gay white man, and a straight white man; assistant managers were an equally diverse group."
One pro writer was quite virulent in their opinion, "This should bring the scalp of a couple of those fuckers because I know for a fact that DC (especially DCU) is both racist and sexist. DC insiders have talked about a lot of this for years. It's GREAT that this is finally getting out there."
But another prominent industry source saw the opposite. "If the guy doesn't actually state what these alleged fuck-ups actually were and refute them, or state exactly what his problem was with Schreck and how he tried to resolve it, how are we supposed to judge him?"
"He's just saying he "did a good job"… but he's hardly likely to say, "actually I did a fucking lousy job, I'd have fired me" is he? Maybe it IS all an anti-black/women/whatever conspiracy, but he needs to make specific allegations before those allegations can be discussed. Everything else is just bullshit."
One industry source talks about Milestone, a superhero line published though DC with a far greater racial diversity in its characters and creators. "About Milestone, I heard incredibly racist opinions of the comics, the creators and the audience. If a Milestone editor or creator had a problem… the kind of problem that DC editorial and marketing had routinely, the unspoken assumption was that Milestone was being 'uppity' (the word may have been spoken, but I can't swear to that) and ungrateful."
Another source says "When Joe was hired to work on the Batbooks, I was pleasantly surprised. Not that Denny would hire him — Denny is one of the most decent, principled men in comics — but that he was allowed to hire him."
"I don't think Bob Schreck is a bad guy. He's done brilliant work, and I like and respect him. I think he's entitled to hire his own assistant. DC should have promoted Joe, moved him from the Batbooks, and let Bob work with an assistant of his own choosing."
"Scott Peterson, Jordan Gorfinkle and Darren Vincenzo were all promoted after working on major Batman events. I don't know why Joe wasn't."
"By the way, it's DC tradition to blame every problem on whoever last quit or was fired. That's not unique to Joe."
Another pro told me some other stories they'd heard. "DC's first black full editor, Jim Owsley (now "Priest"), was forced out several years ago because he was suddenly declared incompetent, after many years of satisfactory work at both Marvel and DC. More recently Rob Simpson, another black editor, came to DC Comics (already highly regarded from the world of prose science fiction publishing), I don't remember if he ever made full editor. But in a story remarkably similar to L. A. Williams', Rob was accused of somehow releasing an objectionable book that no one noticed until after it was published. He was summarily declared incompetent and transferred to – you guessed it – licensing. He too, left DC shortly thereafter. It may be that no black person at DC has ever been good enough to get a promotion, or keep his job. It may be that there's no one out there they could recruit who could fill the bill. But I'm more inclined to believe that there is a pervasive culture at DC Comics that is producing these results we've seen over and over again. DC's very top management see themselves as being progressive on this issue. I think they need to take another look at the company they've built and reconsider."
Joe read all the comments I've printed and wanted to add a small epilogue. "I am glad to see people in the industry bringing their opinions and observations to the table. Change begins with discussion. Let's hope this brings about positive change."
My take? I find it very hard to believe DC can be a racist and sexist organisation. The people I know who work there seem to be the complete opposite. While I've seen plenty of decisions made on personality or politics rather than what I'd see as logic, this seems to be on another ballpark. As I said earlier, overall DC seems to do a better job than many other companies in this area.
But, yes, circumstantial evidence when selected and grouped together in this manner does seem suspicious. What does concern me more is the politics at play here. I see them in companies I've worked for, and they bring good people down. Joe Liidge, Maureen McTigue, Lateef Williams, whoever – they seem to have skills that DC could have used better. But remember – these decisions were made six months ago. Since then, mood seems to have improved at DC. There was a time when every week I'd be forwarded reports of DC staff problems. But no longer. Even Quesada's head-hunting seems to have rallied the troops in places and Marvel's rebirth seem to have given DC a kick in the right area.
Maybe this article might help do the same too. It's just a shame it's too late for Joe…
Right. Now, where were we? Ah yes, rumours about Mark Millar. Just when will Mark Millar leave Authority? He isn't saying. The rumour, still doing the rounds come back to me. "Mark Millar and Frank Quitely are leaving the Authority with #25. Quitely will actually leave a little before that. I know that Millar denies that he is leaving, but I hear that he is. Why? Beacause he's hot shit now. And Marvel is kissing his ass trying to get him over there. Brain Azzerallo has been offered the book. But I do not know whether or not he'll take it."
There was no response from Mark Millar, but letter on the Wildstorm Authority message boards, he wrote "As for me and Frank, regardless of what you hear we're BOTH leaving at exactly the same time." He also said "I'm not saying The Authority die in #22, but as of #22 there's a WHOLE NEW TEAM!"
Then when asked about rumours of a 6-months on, 6 months off writing relationship with Garth Ennis on the Punisher, wrote "As for Punisher, Marvel have yet to make an announcement about the on-going so I can't say… which possibly answers your question."
He also mentioned "starting a big Marvel Knights project" possibly the much-rumoured Nick Fury/SHIELD project.
And finally, when asked about Jenny Sparks' relationship with Indiana Jones, mentioned in the Sparks mini-series, he wrote "Yeah, Jenny shagged Indy."
Remember last week when I wrote about Diamond UK's new prices and the shock it caused many retailers? Well, word is the prices have changed back a bit after complaints from retailers and US publishers, especially Marvel and DC.
On the 5th of October, Diamond UK sent out a new list of prices to retailers. Unfortunately for them, the e-mail also contained a string of dialogue, back and forth between Diamond UK employees that, presumably, involves the new letter sent to retailers. The gist shows that DC have to approve such letters before they're sent out, presumable due to contractual agreements, that some Diamond employees aren't exactly happy about this whole situation but are making the best of it and the retailers are causing a ruckus for them.
Nothing too damning there, but its interesting to see a company reacting so quickly to customer concerns over policy change and then amending the policy, despite the other pressures they're under. It might raise the question about the involvement of external forces, such as DC, but generally I think a "Well done Diamond UK" all round is in order…