I never really noticed that DC Comics might have had something of an aversion to letting creators both write and draw books simultaneously. I just always assumed that work from writer/artists like Frank Miller’s two Dark Knight Returns-iverse books or Paul Pope’s Batman: Year 100 were few and far between simply because the company, like Marvel, had been producing comics continuously since the days in which the assembly line-style specialization of writing, penciling, inking and so on was established.
At least until I read this post from Evan Dorkin a few years ago, in which he shared the only two pieces of art he was allowed to do in for his 2000 Elseworlds one-shot, Superman and Batman: World’s Funnest.
Dorkin, himself a talented and experience writer/artist, wrote the book, and it was illustrated by an all-star roster of artists, each taking a different dimension or “Earth” as Mr. Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite battled one another through the DC Multiverse, destroying each setting they passed through in the process.
It’s a great book, and if you haven’t read it yet, I’d highly recommend you look for it. Dorkin’s script is hilarious—I still giggle every time I think about who greets Perry White in heaven—and there aren’t a whole lot of projects in which you get work from Dave Gibbons, Jaime Hernandez, David Mazzucchelli, Bruce Timm, Frank Miller, Sheldon Moldoff, Scott Shaw, Alex Ross, Phil Jiminez, Doug Mahnke and others between the same set of covers.
Anyway, Dorkin discussed the fact that he wanted to be one of the many artists to draw at least a page of the book, but had difficulty finding a way to do so at the time (Remember, this post is two years old, and the project’s over ten years old now):
Long story short, part of which has been covered here before: DC has a clause that prevents folks from writing and drawing material unless said person is on the payroll or incorporated. Fear of lawsuits from freelancers claiming their work-for-hire entitles them to ownership of Batman or whatever the hell under some newly-inaugurated copyright laws or whatever the hell. I guess based on DC’s history they fully expect people to try to do whatever underhanded thing they can to chisel money and ownership of other people’s characters when the opportunity even vaguely arises. Or whatever the hell.
End result, I wasn’t allowed to draw a page of World’s Funnest even though I tried to get around it by various means, all of which went bust. Can I have someone else write the page I would draw? A hassle, apparently. Pretend Sarah wrote it? We’d get in trouble and the world would break in half. Use a pseudonym? It could mean jail time and Siegel and Schuster regaining control of Pete Ross. Sign an agreement that I wouldn’t pursue my questionable rights to the DC empire if I drew a goddamned page of a comic? No, no, a thousand times no. They wouldn’t put me on the payroll for a lousy single page, and I wasn’t going to incorporate for a lousy single page, so, no go.
The mental image of a room full of lawyers worried about the fate of Pete Ross, or a rule book at DC HQ in which it says no creator can both write and draw the same page or they might end up owning Pete Ross, was strong enough and funny enough that it’s stuck with me ever since I read Dorkin’s post, and I think about Dorkin and Pete Ross whenever I see someone both writing and drawing their own stories at DC or Marvel.
In the case of the former, it seems to have happened an awful lot in the decade since World’s Funnest, and more and more lately. In addition to Vertigo original graphic novels and miniseries (Jill Thompson’s manga-style Sandman stuff, Kyle Baker’s books, Paul Pope’s 100% and Heavy Liquid, Dave Gibbons’ The Originals, Rick Vietch’s Can’t Get No, etc) and even a few ongoings (Jeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth, Vietch’s Army @ Love, David Lapham’s Young Liars).
In the DCU proper, there was Jeff Smith’s Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil, Kyle Baker’s Plastic Man, Batman minis or story arcs by Matt Wagner and Sam Kieth, Billy Tucci’s Sgt. Rock, plenty of Jim Starlin cosmic stuff, Dan Jurgens’ Booster Gold run, some Mike Grell Warlord, Tony Daniel’s Batman: Battle for the Cowl and the Batman run that followed it.
Now it looks like we can add J.H. Williams III’s Batwoman ongoing to the list. (Jeez, I really took my time backing into this one, huh?)
DC announced that the artist who worked with Greg Rucka on the first Batwoman arc in Detective Comics would not only be drawing an upcoming Batwoman monthly as was originally announced, but would also be writing it, after the recent news that the previously announced Rucka wouldn’t be writing it after all…or anything for DC for a while, as he spent some time working on his own characters and stories.
That’s great news, as Williams’ contributions were the best part of those TEC Batwoman comics, and certainly the most positively remarked upon aspect of those stories. It’s also great to hear that the publisher is apparently finally going to publish that Batwoman ongoing that they had announced way back in 2006. And, of course, if it’s one more example of an artist getting to both write and draw their own stories (Well, Williams will be working with a co-writer, W. Haden Blackman), that’s a good thing.
If the fate of Pete Ross is no longer in jeopardy, then perhaps we’ll see much more of this in the near future… maybe even another Dorkin-created story featuring some of DC’s imps.