"Just" Work for Hire
I went back and forth about whether or not I’d actually write this post, but I think it’s pretty important. I’ve been lucky enough in my career in comics to meet a bunch of awesome and talented people, and I’m grateful for that. I read a comic today that made me pretty mad, though, and it made me decide to write a post about an experience I had with the writer of said book at this past New York Comic Con.
This writer is a really well-known creator of a bunch of wonderful indie books. Books I love. When NYCC rolled around, though, his latest release was the first issue of a series he’d written for a company owned property. I still respect and love the guy’s work, so I won’t give anymore than that. Anyway, I walked up to his booth, did the whole “nice to meet you” thing, and told him how much I loved his first issue of _________.
He looked at me as if I’d just said “Would you like a bite of this shit sandwich, good sir? I made it myself. Just now.”
Nervous that I’d somehow walked up to the wrong table, I laughed and said, “You… you did write that book, right?”
He nodded and said, “Yeah, but it was just work for hire. Did it a while ago. I guess they’re putting it out now.”
Flabbergasted and a bit put off, I nodded, talked with him for a minute or two more, bought one of his other books, and left. Hoping he was just having an off day, I went online and searched to see if he had posted anything about having written this book. Annnd he did. He did an interview that talked about that book and another property he was writing (one that I love). In this interview, his response was dismissive of the interviewer’s question and he even reiterated that both of these projects were work for hire, so that the devout fans shouldn’t expect much.
I was let down that a creator I respect would say this about any work of his, much less work that I enjoyed. And as his just-work-for-hire series went on, I noticed the drop in quality every issue. As it went on, the levels of shits not given increased exponentially, climaxing in the final issue, which I got around to reading today.
And here’s my thoughts. Some pretty cool blog recently described me as an “up-and-coming comics writer” so I’ll go with that. My first gig was my dream gig… Angel. Working in a world that Joss Whedon, my writerly hero, created was more than I could have hoped for - but I only had two pages with which to tell my story. I made those two pages the best damn two pages I was capable of. And after that, did I fulfill my second dream of doing a Supergirl/Stephanie Brown/Stargirl team book? Naw, I got some work for hire. I’ve been writing comics for Zenescope ever since and, yeah, it’s work for hire, but there is no “just” in the equation. I was offered a shot at writing a good portion of their 1000 Ways to Die graphic novel. I’d never seen the show, but you can bet I watched every episode I could before I went to script.
Point is this… if you, as a writer or artist or actor or whatever, can’t find it in yourself to care about what you’re writing, then don’t write it. Just don’t write it. I am the last person to say “never write for money” because, let’s face it, that’s an inherently flawed piece of advice to give to writers. If you’re a Career Writer, what you’re doing is attempting to make a living out of writing - you write for money. The dangerous thing is when you start looking at work for hire as a “just” instead of a privilege and a challenge to live up to. Thing is, there are hundreds of other hungry, talented writers out there who would love to get their hands on the book you are currently not giving a shit about.
And so help you if you give a fan a weird look for saying they like your work, even if it’s something you just pulled out of your ass for a check. The day I do that is the day I stop writing.