From The Dollar Bin. we have an interview with Marc Alessi. The multi-millionaire IT man behind Crossgen. A comic book publisher created at the end of the twentieth century that spent a lot of money publishing comics, getting some the best of the comic creators together, moving them out to Tampa, Florida as hired staff and publishing a fully cohesive comic book universe with the aim of making movies alongside the burgeoning Marvel and DC slate – but eventually the money started to run out, people stopped getting paid and the whole thing collapsed. Disney bought the company, principally for the rights to JM DeMatteis and artist Mike Ploog's Abadazad. Marvel tried to revive some of the properties a few years ago, but after soliciting them, a number didn't even make publication.
I was responsible for some of the word about CrossGen no longer paying its creators breaking out into the rest of the media, but plenty of people have kept up the pressure since. Mark Waid has been especially vociferous about his time there, with repeated references to the publisher, and CrossGen owner Marc Alessi.
That story also got expounded upon,
"Alessi was a spoiled eight-year-old with a checkbook, and he was the biggest bully I've ever met in my life–and, coming from a lifelong comic book geek, that's one hell of an indictment. I could make a fortune charging his employees for Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome therapy. He would, and I'm not joking, make (admittedly spineless) grown men stand in the corner when they displeased him… He'd punish guys who drew perfectly well without his help by focusing on some detail or another on one of 22 pages–some face that somehow wasn't exactly what he saw in his head, whatever the hell that was–by berating them at the top of his lungs and then sending them home for the day, 'and don't come back until you can draw it right!'"
"He would, and I'm not joking, make (admittedly spineless) grown men stand in the corner when they displeased him. I'm sure some of them still wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night hollering "Sir, yes, Sir!" His idea of creative guidance was to; quite literally, scream until he was red in the face that there wasn't enough detail on the page and that he wanted to see every single blade of grass, Goddamnit! … Despite his inappropriate behavior, which was deservedly notorious, there were some damn good Crossgen books put out–but I swear to you, none of them were issued by Crossgen so much as escaped FROM Crossgen."
So with investors in his new company googling his name and getting lots of Mark Waid commentary, Alessi decided that it was time to make a response. To set the record straight.
During which he personally insults people who worked at the company, including Mark Waid, Ron Marz, Josh Middleton, Scot Eaton, Steven Speilberg, Mike Beattie, Mark Atia, Bart Sears and many more, including Steven Spielberg. We;ll bold some of the more entertaining comments as we go through and you should listen to the hour-plus long audio in full for context. And for drinking games.
He basically wants everyone to know, tl:dr, that the bad stories aren't true, he's not a bully, everyone is mad, and he had a really big freezer in the Crossgen building and the creators and Spielberg are to blame for everything going wrong.
Alessi talks about how he started with over $30,000,000, but just before CrossGen launched, lost $27,000,000 of it due to the Californian energy crisis that his company Technical Resource Connection, Inc, and its purchaser Perot Systems Corporation got caught up in, which curtailed the initial investment plans in CrossGen and reduced the time in which it had to make money. It says was planned for CrossGen to burn through $15 million before it had to make money, but this was no longer possible.
He talked about how CrossGen paid full healthy salaries to their comic creators rather than a page rate, including sick pay, healthcare and dental.
"Most of our employees had never been to the dentist, though they took ample opportunities to go to the dentist under our plan."
But he expected creators to make a page a day under that, but it didn't work He talked about how, for 300 books, CrossGen never missed a publishing deadline. But he expected comic book artists to "get up and go to work" and some of them didn't..
"They can still bring in their bags of doritos and fast food which they've been living of for years"
He talks about CrossGen's cafeteria
"it had a gigantic freezer was filled with hundreds of microwave food, entrees, meals, side dishes, all free, did you know we had a giant refrigerator filled with every drink you could imagine, all free"
and a game room for creators.
"We paid for all those things and made them consistently available" so that people could arrive late, work late to catch up, and wanted to support them in that effort. "We moved them here, we gave them a full blown salary, sick of not, we gave them medical and dental, paid for travelling and lodging and per diem when they went to conventions, top of the line equipment, Sony Triniton screens when they just came out , we had booze, beverage, game room…."
He talks at length about a story I wasn't aware of, that there was controversy about CrossGen artist Scot Eaton, for his criticism of a drawing of a nose. "Everyone made this a criminal act. how dare you criticise an artist rendering of the nose?"
Alessi talks about when there was a "reign of terror sickness wise" and he hired a doctor's office for the company. Where they discovered that
"Scot's blood pressure so high, he was rushed to emergency clinic afraid he was going to die… What's more important, drawing a nose or saving a life. How many times have you heard that story?.. Would you rather get criticism about a nose or die?"
This fits into an obsession about getting the facts straight, telling all sides of the story, but frankly I'd never head the nose story myself and it doesn't come up on Google. The only one telling the nose story right now… is Marc Alessi. Also… I don't think you need to choose between nose art and death.
He talks about discovering Steve McNiven working as an art teacher in Canada
"I paid for two years of his salary and moved him here, eventually got his own book and turned him into a star and what did he do? Went to work for Marvel. He let all the people down… we lose somebody that talented. But he wasn't very talented for the first two years. We had to have a chat with him and say if you don't start getting any better, we can't carry you forever, this is not an education programme."
"Ron Marz, may he be the most cowardly son of a bitch I've ever heard of, because he insulted my wife in a New York convention, 10 years after CrossGen, I can assure you if I'd been standing at the end of the podium, the chance of Ron Marz saying what he did about my wife would be unlikely, actually, I'm sure it would have not have happened because he is by nature both an emotional and convention coward, he gave us advice on a lot of people. Some are good, some were terrible."
"Bart Sears, tremendous technician, Bart Sears, unbelievably bad manager, spending most of his time, purportedly, purportedly chasing women employees and staying with them while he's just had a new baby. He averaged a brand new child per company…. He works for a company his wife now runs which he met at our firm."
But it wasn't just the bad. He wanted to apologise to people whose talent and skill were underutilised and underappreciated at the company because he listened to the wrong people, naming
James Bretibiel, "smart guy, worked hard"
Ian Feller, "smart as a whip, creator of Code 6 comic, never got enough support and respect from me",
Barbara Kesel, "she was terrific but because the guys wouldn't adapt easily to her, I took parts of her role away and diminished her in the process of diminishing myself, when if I had any courage and integrity and I used to have before Crossgen, I would have said the people who don't like Barbara Kesel in change of writing should not consider employment here"
Tony Bedard and Chuck Dixon "probably the two best writers in the entire stable. Barabra wpuld have been a better manager but they were great managers,
Rick Magyar," inker, just a study in where can I pitch in where can,"
Mark Pennington," inker, knowledgeable about everything, great leader, should have been in charge of the art world,"
Don Hillsman "good attitude, good guy"
Mike Perkins, "inker, gifted communicator"
Karl Moline "who I stole from a Joss Whedon book, tremendous talent, wish I could have watched him grow the way he could have and should have"
Scott Pelletier, "terrific, terrific guy, Rob Hunter, you know."
But then onto Mark Waid, brought in as a "name" brought on to write Ruse, to "truly extend his writing abilities."
"He's a psychopathic megalomaniac in my opinion. Did anyone ever tell you about the fit he threw in the building, we had to ban him from coming in from coming into Crossgen?"
"Sixty witnesses. He got into a pissy fit, which was more the norm than not, went into his office, punched four or five holes in the wall (how could he miss all of the studs), broke all his little toys all over his office from DC and Marvel, and stormed out of the building. "We left the office that way for months and months and month to remind people that this is not tolerable. He had to meet his Ruse team offsite, Butch Guice, Mike Perkins, Laura DePuy… they were really writing the story, Mark was showing up periodically to offer his assistance."
When CrossGen closed, Waid sent them a black wreath.
"Sixty people, purportedly his friends had just lost their income streams and he sent them a black wreath. It said "What would your wife, Jill, think about you now". My wife who died two years earlier from a heart attack…"
The Aint It Cool quote above is brought up, Alessi states that Waid was one of the highest paid people at the company – and that Waid insisted upon it. He mentions moving
"80 billion tonnes of his comics to Florida. He wasnt bitching then…. If I was truly the bully he said, he would still be in recuperation from the awful beating I would have given him way back in 2002. I confront things directly… artists have temperaments."
As for the dunce cap corner story, where Alessi is alleged to have demanded someone in a meeting sit in a corner wearing one,
"Waid wasn't there, the person was either Ian Feller or James Bretibiel, both of whom will say it never happened. I'd have been afraid to tell James, you're talking 6'2', 220, a near NFL player… it never happened."
He denies ever ripping up people's artwork, he says he paid people to draw the work and paid them double if he wanted to keep the page.
"I can tell you sh-tty things I did but I'm not going to."
Shame. As for CrossGen's legacy?
"Who cares what CrossGen's legacy is? We were two months away from tying the uberstory together and branching out with new series. I sold a tonne of personal art to keep Crossgen afloat" This included a seven page story by Frank Frazetta, and the original first full issue of Conan by Barry Windsor Smith.
As to the charge that Crossgen closed because it expanded too soon
"The truth is that CrossGen needed to broaden the range of its titles, hence Code 6…. the logical rational of bringing new people into the CG universe who didn't have to worry whether they'd missed the prior 40 issues, Edge and Forge expanded , they were calculated risks. But now you see Omnibuses from all the other players now… is Imitation the best form of flattery?"
As to the story about freelancers not getting paid, which is where I picked up on this story back in the day.
"Did some people independent not get paid towards the tail end? Yes. When you have no money, it's harder to pay them, I sold most everything I own".
He also blamed the rumours about people not getting paid as stopping people from buying the comics and making it all worse. So it seems I'm to blame for that too.
"Marvel made a dollar more a book than I did, so did DC and their paper sucked. Did you ever see an ad in a CrossGen book?"
If Crossgen had done ads from the very beginning he believes it would have been a different story for the publisher.
But now it's time for the main event. Steven Spielberg,
"I have a bitch with Steven Spielberg. Probably the least considered human being on the face of the earth in my opinion. We sold the rights to Way Of The Rat and Route 666 to Dreamworks. I myself met with Jeffrey Katzenberg. They hired Chuck Russell… who worked with his friend Frank Darabont… and came up with a screenplay that after 33,000 revisions was accepted by Dreamworks. The only thing holding up a green light… was Steven Spielberg who wanted to read the screenplay. He promised to read it and didn't…. and promised to read it again and didn't … then he said he was going off to Poconos with his gorgeous wife Kim Cattrall and read it, which he didn't. And therefore money we expected in from a movie which would have also helped us massively never occurred. Why? Because Spielberg thought people would be more entertained by concentration camp movies than in entertaining movies. Is there a value in concentration movies? Sure. It's something that should never be forgotten. Ever. Nor should be the millions of Russians who were killed by Stalin, or the hundreds of millions of Chinese killed by Mao Zedong. Do I respect what he did in that regard of course. But if you say you're going to do something, do it. He could have come back and said the movie's no good, I don't like it, we're releasing the rights, go find someone else. Did he? No. See either he's a liar, or Michael Uselin, our rep to Hollywood who did all the Batman movies is not telling the truth. My track record with Michael Uselin is I never caught him in an untruth. My track record with Steven Spielberg is I never caught him in a truth. Jeez, you judge. And everyone's scared to death of him. When Steven Spielberg breaks wind, buildings shake in Hollywood. Good Steve. Bet you that'll keep Kim out of your bed for a few minutes."
Schindler's List was made years before CrossGen existed. He's not done with the comic creators though. And Steven is married to Kate Capshaw…
"When I first started Crossgen the first guy I hired after Ian Feller was Brandon Petersen. Brandon Petersen is not the most easy guy to get along with, but Brandon Peterson is absolutely, unquestionably, the most skilled comic book creator in existence. He can ink, pencil, colour, do 3D, write stories, he's absolutely superb, he is a savant in comics. And if he wasn't a personality disaster, he probably in my opinion, probably would have been the best known creator ever. his series Solus… was as study in how do you do everything right."
If he had his time again, he wouldn't do Crossgen.
"You're talking about changing a culture. It existed long before Alessi. Did Alessi think that people… we didn't hire kids, we hired senior people, I wanted folks with families and kids and reponsibilities, to who medical and dental care meant something, and it worked for a couple of years but they fell back into bad habits. "I can't draw right now… I can't serve that burger right now, I just don't feel like it, come back tomorrow and I'll serve you a burger. You're interested in buying this car, I'm closing up for the day we'll sell you a car of of these days.. the world doesn't work that way. My mistake. I thought these people had the character and willpower to say I want to take care of my families. I was wrong, apart from those people I mentioned. If you get their names wrong, I will punish you."
Oh boy. We'll do our best.And there's still more.
"I have an issue with a guy called Mike Atia, who does colouring, he was eminently supportive, the perfect employee, but I put him in a cubicle situation with Josh Middleton, who in my opinion might be the single most deceitful human being, even exceeds Waid, cause he's more clever and Dexter Vines…. They made a big stink because they wanted to make a character in that book our first black character, make him a villain. I didn't want our first black character to be a villain. The week after my wife died of a heart attack, they were posting everywhere about what a racist I was, so my 13 year old daughter who had just lost her mom was reading all over the internet about how her dad was a racist."
And is he a racist?
"I was ecstatic when Tony Bedard made the hero of Negation a black guy, and he had no powers other than intelligence, strength, willpower and leadership. I loved it!… but this guy, between Dexter Vines and Josh Middleton was interviewed everywhere…. I had lots to say, I hoped the noise would go away and let things be, they wouldn't let things be and now they deserve the public's acclaim for the destruction of what could have been the best comic book company in history."
Okay, so it wasn't just me. He also talks about starting the veteran aid charity ACTOR, now HERO, and how he paid for its legal fees to benefit artists in trouble.
"Hero says its Jim McLaughlin, Joe Quesada, Marc Alessi helped a little. I paid its legal bills then, but who gets paid a full salary? Jim McLaughlin, now he gets a full salary and that money could be going to people in need."
And more. remember Bridges? He'd be upset if you didn't.
"I hired a school teacher Beth Liberia, Mega Con and product called Bridges, using comics to teach kids how to read, and we were building them for multiple grades, building an audience for future books, helping kids learn to read. We built the entire project, on the verge of implementing it when CrossGen hit its fall. But you don't hear this stuff do you."
Because as Alessi is currently discovering, and why he participated in this interview, a month ago he had to deal with "Mark Waid being quoted by a high end investor? Mark Waid's a moron."
And he does want the record putting straight.
"For God's sake put in in Wikipedia."
I think it's going to happen. Possibly not the way he expects, but still…
He looks at the money being stolen from him and if that hadn't happened believes that "CrossGen right now would have been the number one comic publisher in the country" and that if people don't stop making such claims against him "I will take legal action against them and I will gut them. I would rather it all goes away."
Is this really he way to do that? One last run around the blame game.
"I think Ron Marz is a coward, repeat it, I think Mark Waid is a nuts, repeat it, I think Josh Middleton is nuts, I think Dexter Vine is a weakling, I think Scot Eaton should take a deep breath and go, wow, thanks Mark, I think my VP of finance Mike Beattie – him and Chris Orr and Bart Sears and Ron Marz had credit cards for the company due to their roles. For two years they went out for breakfast, lunch and dinner together together on the cards we have the records to prove. And all the people flew out to conventions…. all that mileage went to Mike Beattie's personal mileage account so he got to fly all over the world for free and there's reason to believe he paid many of his personal bills."
And as for Joe Quesada, who Alessi seemed to have a beef with at a time, "my going after Quesada meant that the no 31 size company was being mentioned in every press release from the no 1 company" because every time he was asked a question "they'd say that Alessi said this… It took Joe about two years before he worked out what we were doing, then wouldn't respond to anything. Good for him." Even the sumo wrestling offer he made, "I would have tossed Quesda around like a fat lemon."
Mike asked if there was any other rumour to counter but the guys didn't offer any others. Shame, I had several, including that 9/11 commentary from the top. But Alessi is saying there are no rebuttal interviews.
Tell me if you change your mind, Alessi…
One last one for Spielberg, "a miserable, myopic, dismal negative individual… I know a bunch of people who can prove that's correct."
You never know, it might even come to that. Is it me, listening to that audio, or does Marc Alessi come across in the manner and style of another successful American businessman? One running for office right now?
Maybe if CrossGen had succeeded as he wished, Alessi may have continued in a similar fashion to be a very different President…
I expect this story to receive a number of updates.
UPDATE 1: From Mike Perkins, "Yeah, Steve [McNiven] was still working for CrossGen right up until they failed to pay him and THEN he worked for Marvel." As to writing Ruse, he does seemingly edge towards some kind of confirmation, saying "It was a group effort."
UPDATE 2: F.J. DeSanto tells us after I asked "I'm laughing so hard at the Spielberg stuff it's hilarious. Dude I was there for every moment of that process and in still laughing." As to whether he'd talk more, "eh I dunno. It's so all over the place and old news. But I will say This: it's Kate Capshaw not Kim Catrell"
UPDATE 3: I'm not the only one to make that Presidential comparison…
UPDATE 4: Mark Herr, who I remember for his days at Diamond Comic Distributors, writes "Oh, such memories. When I had to deal with him at Diamond, he always made sure to come off like I was beneath him. Good to see time doesn't change people."