It isn’t known who first said it***, but truer words were never said than the laws of freelancing. A person will always get work if they are two of the following:
a) always good
b) always on time
c) a heckuvva person
while these three elements play out in endless combinations what if there’s only 1 and a half of them in a given freelancer? That’s when it gets tricky.
Last week we told you about how a second volume of The Legend of Wonder Woman by Renae DeLiz and Ray Dillon had been cancelled by DC Comics, despite glowing reviews, reportedly because of tweets critical of DC by Dillon. While you can find around the clock coverage of the kerfuffle on another website, I’ll give you the abbreviated version. Dillon was indeed publicly critical of DC, both of the marketing campaign for the book, and of the recently announced Amazon-themed book by Kevin Grevioux – a subject close to a rejected pitch by De Liz.
I was also told by “senior DC sources” that these public matters were only the tip of the iceberg in what was a fraught working relationship between Dillon and DC. A Mary Sue article about the kerfuffle reprinted the tweets and some criticism that was supposedly planted by Dillon…before all reference to the tweets was removed. from the article. But it appears to have been the last straw for DC. (I’m told the Grevioux pith and the DeLiz pitch were handled by different departments and neither editor knew of the other project.)
Obviously, waging a stealth campaign against your publisher is….not an unaggressive move. Still, the world is full of difficult freelancers who still deliver great work and the success of the DeLiz book in a market that is starved for Wonder Woman would have seemed a cushion for the project surviving. While to observers, it seems like DC got in a dudgeon and made this decision quickly, resetting their stupid clock to zero, I’m told this was the culmination of a long series of problems and internally there was no sense of acting in haste.
Despite all that, there is no way DC doesn’t look petty and vindictive, no matter what went on behind the scenes. The readers are the ultimate losers – almost everyone I know who likes Wonder Woman loved The Legend of Wonder Woman, and the book not continuing is a loss involved for everyone.
But this is not the whole story. Here’s the even deeper background. Immediately after the book was cancelled, as I reported, DeLiz set up a GoFundMe to get a monetary cushion for the holidays because of the lost work, and a baby on the way. The campaign is already at $5000, $3000 more than its $2000 goal, and it seems offers of other work were coming in.
— R A Y | D I L L O N (@RayDillon) December 16, 2016
However here’s where it gets a little messy. It’s an open “secret” in the “business” that DeLiz and Dillon have used crowdfunding to get past some rough patches in the past and are years late with both delivering on their Peter Pan Kickstarter
and on commissions that were paid for years ago in a previous crowdfunding effort. You can read all about these commissions in this FB thread.
In case it’s removed, words like “con artist” are thrown around by Scott Massino, who has made proving his claims against DeLiz and Dillon something of a cottage industry. In the thread, many people complain they haven’t gotten their commissions, or their copies of Peter Pan (which took four years to print), and some of those who never got what they paid for suggested that the overage from the current GoFundMe be used to pay back some of the people who never got their artwork. And in one Case, Dillon posted that $400 had been refunded to one person.
Dillon has been mostly very polite in the thread (although there’s obviously bad blood between him and Massino). But there are a LOT of people who are mad at him and DeLiz.
So anyway, even from a neutral observer looking at the history of the duo, it’s fair to say that they are a creative team who has a hard time “getting it together,” as repeated illnesses, crises and monetary troubles prove. And hey, a lot of us have been there. Sudden illnesses in a profession without a safety net can be devastating. And not everyone is good at quotidian matters. I would never do a Kickstarter where I had to mail stuff out because I hate mailing things, and would be no better than Dillon and DeLiz on that. But I haven’t done repeated Kickstarters – one of them raising more than $100k – either.
There’s been a lot of industry talk about this matter at the holiday parties of comics and on FB. And I suspect a lot of us are sympathetic to freelancers who get jerked around by giant corporations that have near endless pocketbooks. But it’s a two way street. In a private post by a very well known editor on FB, it was pointed out that if editors went public with all the nutty and unprofessional things that freelancers did, it would look terrible but also, the stories would never, ever end.
Having seen it from both sides (and having been a bad freelancer a few times myself) I can state categorically that hair tearing, cursing, ohmygod-can-you-believe-that-happened incidents from the freelance end are an almost daily occurrence, especially in the high stakes world of monthly Big Two comics. Because people are people, no two are the same, and if there is a way to complicate things, someone will find it, no matter how self-defeating it is. The creator who is always professional and reasonable is more valuable than rubies, and that is why you see the same reliable (bot sometimes boring) names year after year after year. And sometimes firing someone off a project affords more relief than a giant bottle of Tums. Petty but true.
Nonetheless, in the artist and publisher relationship, the publisher has more resources, more power and ultimately it’s more important that they act ethically. Ratting out difficult freelancers would be extremely unethical and horrible, and nurturing them through their self destructive behavior is often the most important thing an editor can do, and something that’s invisible to the person reading a comic book.
I’ll take the liberty of quoting one paragraph in the above FB thread from artist Meghan Hetrick, artist on Vertigo’s Red Thorn, who speaks from experience:
All that to say, i get it. I get the emergency moments, and the panic, and the WTF AM I GOING TO DO?!? that goes through your head. But there comes a point when you really do need to just get shit done, and honor your prior commitments. I know with a larger family, and especially pregnancy … how difficult that may be, but something HAS to change if you value your professional standing and reputation, which is integral to longterm survivability in this industry.
There is no easy answer to the story of Renae DeLiz and Ray Dillon. Publishers can treat freelancers like interchangeable cogs, and having a channel to register complaints is paramount, but some people get into the same trouble over and over again. (See Inside Llewyn Davis for the best exploration of this.) DeLiz is obviously an incredibly talented artist and cartoonist (and also great to work with I’m told) who has had a lot of troubles but scrapped to get through them. If it was just the Legend of Wonder Woman matter, everyone would feel tremendous sympathy for them. But there’s a long history of drama – and unsatisfied customers – that will require a period of Getting Shit Done to overcome. But I’m sure most people, myself included, hope that they can get it together and just make more good comics.
As for DC, many people have pointed out that the two way street is a little narrower on one side than the other. It’s a continuing source of embarrassment that DC staffers who have harassed freelancers didn’t get the same “three strikes you’re out” treatment as bad freelancers and remain employed. That’s a troubling situation that supersedes a few salty tweets from a freelancer.
***Comments, don’t let me down!
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.