The most money I ever made for one story in comics was for something that never got published. I often forget about this piece because it was such an oddity, like a cul de sac that led to nowhere in subsequent work.
Kodansha, Japan’s largest comic publisher, had a booth at the San Diego Comicon in 1989. I had the Daredevil and The Brave & the Bold packages and showed them to an editor. He spoke no English, but his gorgeous female assistant did. She let me know about a program Kodansha had to bring American (and even Canadian) comic book artists to Japanese comics. They were looking for slice of life stories that would illuminate Western ways of life.
Download the Law or Justice PDF. You’ll enjoy it more if you read the blog post first.
As rough as my work was, they offered me a tryout. But this was not an American tryout. No spec work. No do it and maybe we’ll get back to you. No. They said they’d pay me $50 a page for up to 16 pages. If they decided to hire me after that, there’d be a contracted rate.
So I went back to Calgary with the package and the contract which said I owned my work and they’d be the publisher if they liked it. In our parlance, they were buying first serial rights. It wasn’t work for hire. Even if I screwed it up, I couldn’t lose. $800! Holy crap. I was making about eight bucks an hour working in a photo lab with almost half my take home going to rent. $800 was a frikking fortune.
But screw it up I did. I didn’t know how to write a slice of life book. So I stuck with what I ‘knew’. Which was some urban and gritty pulpish tale. I had read Tim Truman’s and John K. Snyder’s The Prowler from Eclipse, and one of the stories had been about the Prowler breaking up a kiddie porn ring. Ooo, that was mature and topical.
Law or Justice was stereotypical young man fare filled with bad clichés. A black ex-Chicago cop with a cigar and a bad attitude? In Calgary no less? A tortured man hugging the gutter? The woman who betrays the tortured man? The equally tortured villain? Gah.
The drawing continued to be poor. I love grease pencil for texture, but it’s overused here. This is most likely the last story I inked primarily with pen. The loose herky-jerkiness to the pen work wasn’t doing me any favours, and I picked up the brush for primary work after this with good results that quickly improved. There are a couple of nice heads in the story, but overall it’s still pretty weak stuff.
Kodansha passed (they were awfully nice about it) and the $800 was spent quickly enough.
Revisiting this story was a way to work out some computer production techniques. With the original pages drawn for the Japanese audience who reads right to left, I needed to rework it for Western audiences who read left to right. I really didn’t want to merely flip the pages. Some panels and display lettering wouldn’t make sense that way. So it was simple enough – but time consuming – to scan from the original art and then cut up and reorder the panels in Photoshop.
I didn’t feel like doing this one as hand lettering, so I purchased a typeface and used this piece as my first stab at doing digital lettering. As the original word balloons had been tall rectangular things to accommodate the vertical Japanese language, the artwork had to be extended or redrawn in places after removing the original word balloons, and this was done in Photoshop as well. Overall, it was a good experiment to see what the speed of doing comic work like this would be. I still prefer to draw by hand, but the experience was invaluable.
Up next : My first published work, The Eradicators for Greater Mercury Comics.