Recently the newspapers, especially the New York Post, have been running articles about the case between Nancy Silberkleit and the other executives at Archie Comics. And how Nancy has been barred from even entering the offices, initially over allegations of sexual harassment of staff, then for breaking that court order. So what the hell's going on? And is it as one sided as the reportage suggests?
And can there may any hope, the day after Valentine's Day, for the two sides to make some kind of reconciliation?
I've been asking around, and found some widely differing versions. This is an attempt to paddle my way through the murky waters.
Originally, Archie Comics was founded by Louis Silberkleit, Maurice Coyne and John Goldwater. Silberkleit and Goldwater eventually forced Coyne out of the picture. But this union between Louis and John was shortlived – especially when their families were concerned.
In the late seventies and early eighties their sons, Michael Silberkleit and Richard Goldwater replaced their fathers as head of the company, as co-owner and publisher, and co-owner and EIC respectively, along with Victor Gorelick VP, managing editor, Fred Mausser VP, director of sales and circulation and Ed Spallone VP, finance and accounting. As well as the Archie Comics, they also had a licensed line of comics, working relatively autonomously. Add in the support personnel in accounting, admin and production and you had roughly twenty people working at Archie any given time. Then there was Company attorney / business manager Chuck Grimes…
In 2007 Richard Goldwater died. Shortly afterwards, Michael Silberkleit discovered Chuck Grimes not only represented the himself, and company, but also the estate of Richard Goldwater. With conflicts of interest in the air Silberkleit filed a lawsuit against the estate of Richard Goldwater and Chuck Grimes for control over the company and everything went to hell.
In June 2008, both Victor Gorelick and Mike Pellerito were deposed for this case, with Fred Mausser waiting to be deposed two days later. That didn't happen, a settlement occurred the next day to the tune of around half a million dollars paid out over five years. It helped that Grimes knew about the buried bodies at Archie, and has successfully stopped a number of sexual harassment cases within the company going public.
In August 2008, Michael Silberkleit died. The estates agreed to elevate Gorelick and Mausser to become co-presidents of the company, and raise Pellerito to VP and one trustee each were appointed to oversee the Goldwater and Silberkleit interests.
But prior to his death, Silberkleit had a codicil drawn up for his will, specifically leaving his second wife Nancy and their daughter his share and control of the company. Nancy is a fiduciary, looking after her daughter's interests until she reaches the age of forty, around fifteen years from now. Whether it was included in the will at this time or settled after his death, his three children from his first wife were not bequeathed anything having to do with the company, but from what I'm told after suing they received a financial settlement in place of any shares of the company.
Jonathan Goldwater, Richard's brother, bought into the company for $2.5 million, granting him a 25% share of the ownership. The estate of the late Richard Goldwater owned the other 25% of the Goldwater half to the company, which Jon holds the proxies. Nancy controls 50% of the company outright.
And this is the problem. Archie has increasingly become a hotter brand in recent years, no longer running the conservative safe storylines of the past, but under the direction of John Goldwater, exploring gay issues, race issues, taking the characters into marriages, many possible marriages, death, politics, grabbing the headlines along the way and expanding into digital. Archie Comics is hot. And Jon Goldwater to looking to expand further, and get new investors to do so.
And Nancy Silberkleit is in the way, with that pesky half control. And she does not want added investment, she believes the plan is for John Goldwater to sell Archie. And that's is the reason behind the allegations and attacks, to legally remove Nancy's veto in the way the company operates. The only official comment on the situation that Archie Comics representatives would give me is that "The company is not for sale."
Nancy denies the allegations and I have heard from those who cannot believe such statements would have come from Nancy's mouth. However the independent Human Resources report that started this whole thing, based on interviews with the majority of the staff, from executives to middle management to entry level employees, concluded that Nancy was a danger to the company and should be removed. This report was included in the company's initial filing against Nancy, and eight employees gave sworn statements agreeing with the case. Indeed, some have stated that they will resign from the company, or sue them, if Nancy is still involved.
If every word alleged against her is true, calling someone a "penis" pales in comparison with the alleged actions of other Archie executives that were hushed up. Richard Goldwater was specifically referred to as "a walking lawsuit", though he was never sued. That's not happening here. Whatever the reason, whatever means they take, the Goldwaters wants Nancy gone, And she has no intention of going. She seems insistent that everyone can just get along if they try. But not everyone feels that way.
Nancy didn't have day to day involvement with the output of Archie, she concentrated on the educational outreach and the theatrical licensing, indeed, that's what her employment contract limits her to, but she has also stick her oar in to the rest of the publisher's activities from time and time, and it's that that seems to be an issue for the Goldwaters as well.
Despite controlling half the company, she's seen as less deserving, a nuisance, someone to be pushed to the side- and that she's standing in the way of investment is intolerable. Now that she has been found guilty of contempt of court by a New York judge after violating a restraining order, they have a far better case. But it will still be a fight.
Now it is clear that some things have changed at Archie. Heidi MacDonald talking to John Goldwater reported
"I can't speak for things prior to my being here," Goldwater says, "but things that have gone on previously with how artists were treated has nothing to do with where we are now. We support every artist, every writer, every employee of Archie. They are valued. They are treasured."
Ex-inker Al Nickerson disagrees. He wrote;
Comixology.com is selling a downloadable version of ARCHIE ALL-STARS VOLUME 3: THE CARTOON LIFE OF CHUCK CLAYTON,… which I had inked. I contacted Archie Comics to see if I'll be receiving any royalties from these sales. I was told: "No, we do not pay any royalties."
Well, I don't feel "valued" or "treasured."
Steve Bissette has talked about Archie now, saying "There's still plenty of working creators laboring under work-for-hire, under terms with precious few perks or benefits; make no mistake, the plantations are alive and working."
Colleen Doran has stated "I'd be even happier if Archie Comics actually did value and treasure its creators. They have one of the worst work for hire agreements I have ever seen. I refused to sign. Because I have too much respect for myself, not to mention Dan DeCarlo."
I hear from comic book creators who complain about never getting a raise in their decades at Archie, then founding themselves kicked to the curb without any payment for their work used. Of how inkers didn't receive original artwork, and had to rely on the generosity of pencillers. An, repeatedly, creators discovering they will receive no payments, royalties or otherwise, for the continued reprinting of their work.
However I also talk to current creators working now, who have nothing but good things to say. Creators who do feel valued, inkers who do get pages back – and while they know their work is as work-for-hire as it gets, they seem happy. Archie Comics is a one of a kind, the only publisher putting out kids comics like this with such regularity, and in such a prominent fashion, and also taking the progressive line in their work, pushing against the very conservative thinking that it still, in many ways, embodies.
But the current legal situation looks like it will only get worse before it gets better. As ever, when relationships go wrong, it ends up in the court.