jerry ordway.jpg
The case of Jerry Ordway—a talented veteran artist who is not getting as much work as he should—continues to resonate. It isn’t really about Jerry Ordway. it’s about comics, and about the many, many aspirants and passers by and the few who are called. Mark Evanier addresses the odds:

And the other thought that’s important to keep in mind is the sheer numerical reality of applicants versus openings. If at a given time, DC Comics is publishing enough material to keep 50 writers and artists comfortably engaged, and they get 600 submissions…well, a lot of folks aren’t going to get work. Some of them would get hired if DC was publishing more books but that ain’t the reality right now. You may think it’s unfair and/or foolish of them to turn you down because you’re so talented but the sheer arithmetic tells us that a lot of talented people are going to be turned down. There’s no way to avoid it. In some ways, saying “That guy got to draw Superman…why can’t I draw Superman?” is like saying “That guy won the lottery…why can’t I win the lottery?”

Former DC editor and current Comics Alliance editor Joe Hughes has a must read that takes the editorial view into account:

When I edited comics, I was able to hire or work with several artists who are long-time veterans of the industry: Michael Kaluta, Jordi Bernet, Bryan Talbot, and Rick Geary, just to name a few. However, these artists aren’t associated exclusively, or in some cases even at all, with superhero books, nor were they hired to work on tales of capes and tights. Superhero stories, the realm in which Ordway has honed his craft for over 30 years, are a completely different animal and always have been. For good or ill, DC Comics have changed the style of their superhero books for the foreseeable future, as they have at various points in the past — including when Ordway himself was coming up, although the aesthetic divide wasn’t as great then as it is now. Personally, I find the very thought of Ordway drawing Superman with a high collar and excessive lines all over his costume to be borderline depressing (and that is in no way a commentary on Ordway). He’d certainly be a wonderful addition to DC as a teacher of sorts, demonstrating storytelling to younger editors and artists who could learn from his years of experience and expertise. But that is not what Ordway wants. He wants to be in on the action. He wants to tell stories. Even the quickest glance at some of the selections we’ve included in this post and that he displays on his blog demonstrate that he’s still as sharp as ever.

And here’s one that IS about Jerry Ordway, a post by a pseudononymous pro at Bleeding Cool named Jess Lemon Truman Sterling:

Picture, if you will, a deadline so hot it’s caught fire. A script, written on the fly in three days: a last ditch Hail Mary to get a book out the door. The words, “CAN’T MISS SHIPPING,” a repeated motif like Hurley’s numbers on Lost.

Panic rules the land. Hair is falling out or turning gray. Stock in Diet Coke and Antacid begins trading at an all-time high. Dogs and Cats begin sleeping together.

And then, in a moment of editorial lucidity, the call goes out to Jerry Ordway. He can make time to do the book!

Suddenly, everybody begins to breathe again.

Mr. Ordway simply waits for his kids to go to bed (if memory serves, he was experimenting with working overnight at this point), picks up his pencil, and begins to produce.

A few days pass and a steady stream of pages begins to arrive. Frankly, they’re spectacular. Suddenly, an iffy script is beginning to take form through Mr. Ordway’s storytelling choices. Equally importantly, the rest of the art team can finally get to work.

You know, I almost cried when I read that. Because when you hand the deadline to a veteran like that it is a feeling of relief like no other. Sadly what THEN happens (and I’ve seen it happen several times) is that the speedy vet is then put on standby status and instead of being rewarded with a regular gig for his or her hard work and meeting deadlines…remains the fireman. Few cartoonists like being Mariano Rivera, and fatigue and burnout usually ensue.

The topic of sustaining a career in comics will continue to be addressed, we’d imagine. In fact, we have a few upcoming features devoted to it. SO KEEP IT LOCKED TO THE BEAT YO.


  1. It seems that Jerry Ordway is a good example of what can happen when you sign a long-term exclusive contract that doesn’t guarantee that you’ll actually be given good assignments to work on. It might give you a kind of security for the term of the contract, but it also denies you opportunities to keep moving and growing … and stay in circulation. Kind of like being stuck for years in a marriage that really isn’t working for you, then getting out at 50 and finding that dating again is way harder than it used to be.

  2. Evanier’s analogy of working on Superman being like winning the lottery is unfortunate in so many ways. It seems asking, “Why does that guy get to work on Superman when I don’t?” is like asking, “Why are you screwing over that guy and not me?” The business of superhero comics is just depressing and awful. And water’s wet…I know, I know.

  3. Did Ordway displace any silver age cartoonists when he was young and drew closer the DC’s house style at the time?

  4. How much of an editorial office’s preference for newer, younger, but not necessarily better, talents is based on differences in page rates? If a veteran artist was accustomed to being paid n dollars per page, an editor might assume he’d object to being asked to take less. Or is setting the page rate at the time a job is assigned fairly routine?


  5. I think many are missing the point behind Ordway’s comments. I don’t believe it’s just the simple practice of replacing older talent with younger, like many are saying. I think it’s the practice of hiring someone simply BECAUSE they’re young (and most likely cheaper).

    I’m aware of a recent decision on a DC book where an older artist (in his 50’s) was hired to lay down tight breakdowns so their younger artist, who doesn’t have the ability to tell a story, visually, could draw overtop the elder artists’ work. (the elder artist’s name was not credited with breakdowns so as not to publicly hurt the young hotshot artist’s feelings.)

    Yes, we’re all aware that in every job, career, station in life, the young will eventually replace the old.
    But with many of the current work being churned out by Marvel & DC, books being illustrated by artists that can’t tell a story in comic book form, who are being hired despite many older talents that can’t get work, not because of lack of talent, but because of age, that’s the real problem.

  6. I think those who intend to work for Marvel and DC, not as a short stint on a title, but for the life-long career haul, have to be able to adapt and reinvent themselves, again and again. Right now, editors seem pretty fickle, for a number reasons, some of which are valid considering the desperate state of the comics industry. They have short attention spans, which in turn provokes the same attitude from readers, demanding NEW NEW NEW above any other considerations. That attitude doesn’t bode well for any seasoned comic vet, who has already become well established, with a widely recognizable style. I hate that it’s come to this.

  7. I had the pleasure of working at DC when Jerry Ordway was launching The Power of Shazam for DC (this was after the Death and Rebirth of Superman business), and like everyone else, found him to have all of the wonderful qualities that have recently been espoused. Beyond his talent, he was funny, charming and generous.

    But as has been pointed out, time marches on. So I wasn’t completely surprised when I read this recent bit of news.

    Yet I still think talent and craft can find a way to win-out – though it’s never quite straight-forward for someone who might appear past-their-prime.

    Some years after I left DC, I was an editor at Marvel Comics and when Mark Bagley was chosen to launch “Ultimate Spider-Man”, I thought it was the wrong decision. My editorial response was that he wasn’t slick enough or exciting enough to launch a book like that and the book would suffer for it. It would turn out that I was quite wrong, of course, and the book went on to quite a lot of success, setting creative team records in the process. So I’m quite happy to have guessed wrong, so long ago. Yet I can see the same reasons I was wrong back then, in the obstacles Jerry Ordway now faces.

    I do think I was right in at least one way; that perhaps it was going to take a special kind of project to make it work with Mark Bagley back then, a guy who wasn’t the “hot new artist”. We couldn’t have put him on Uncanny X-Men and expected it to work. It took that special formula that was Mark, along with Bendis, and the movement that The Ultimates became.

    So Ordway should not be put out to pasture, by any means.

    Careers can be renewed, but when you’re “of a certain age” the approach and the project has to be more than good — it has to be the right kind of good. Off the cuff, I think of Carlos Santana as an another consistently-talented artist (a musician, in this case) who found a way to gain new commercial success and re-invigoration. Because he found the magical mix. (Sure, it’s easier said than done.)

    I don’t think it’s time for Ordway to simply be teaching though, and I look forward to him finding or creating the “right kind” of project. Or it finding him. I’ve no doubt it’s out there.

    It’s just going to take an editor with more insight than I had, when I poo poo’d Mark Bagley on Ultimate Spider-Man, a lifetime ago.

  8. What Scott Reed said above is how I feel about the situation. Why hasnt Ordway branched out? Where are his multiple creator owned projects that could be bringing him in money? Why is he not taking chances on projects for Image, Dark Horse, IDW, etc? Why chain yourself to one company and one genre of material?

  9. Some years after I left DC, I was an editor at Marvel Comics and when Mark Bagley was chosen to launch “Ultimate Spider-Man”, I thought it was the wrong decision. My editorial response was that he wasn’t slick enough or exciting enough to launch a book like that and the book would suffer for it.

    No offense, but I don’t understand how you could have had this opinion about Mark Bagley unless you’d literally seen none of his 90s Amazing Spider-man run.

  10. This whole situation tickss me off because it is so unnecessary and a terrible waste of talent.

    Last time I looked, DC was a business, and the only reason most businesses exist is to make money.

    If no one at DC can figure out how to make money with Ordway’s talents each and every month, then no one at DC is doing their f**king job.

    It’s that plain and simple.

  11. “No offense, but I don’t understand how you could have had this opinion about Mark Bagley unless you’d literally seen none of his 90s Amazing Spider-man run.”


    I’m glad you see what I was missing then. I WAS missing something, though I don’t think I was the only one. And I think that’s kind of the point I was trying to make. I think there are people like you, NOW posting similar questions about this seeming lack-of-demand for Jerry Ordway’s talents. In the same way you don’t understand how I could be such a schmuck to think what I did of Bagley’s value back then, they find Ordway’s current position rather hard-to-believe.

    In the creative business, it’s not always easy to see the talent that is oftentimes right in front of you, or it’s not easy to sell it. Happens in film and television, and music, too. How many stories have we heard of a great script or artist getting turned away by everyone, only to become in-demand. An artist can be consistent and producing, but sometimes it takes the right collaboration to change perceptions. Sometimes what’s right there just isn’t enough.

    Maybe it would have been just as clear to you in 2000 why Bagley would be a great choice for said assignment, but I just couldn’t see it.

    It’s clear that some people are publicly scratching their heads about how Jerry Ordway could possibly want for work, pointing to his great body of work in the past. But there are also a number of people who just can’t see that right now – so my point is that “I get it.” Because I was one of those people.

  12. At Papercutz we don’t discriminate on age. We actually lean more towards older, more established artists simply because they tend to be better and require less coaching. (That’s not bias against younger artists, either — we work with them, too.) It’s also easier for us because we let each book develop its own feel rather than having a house style like you need to have in a shared universe environment.

    But I can say to all the younger folks working on the publishing side of the business, you would do well to work with someone of the stature and caliber as Stan Goldberg on a regular book. You learn more from scanning in one of his pages than you would from editing a dozen books by an inexperienced artist.

  13. “Last time I looked, DC was a business, and the only reason most businesses exist is to make money.

    If no one at DC can figure out how to make money with Ordway’s talents each and every month, then no one at DC is doing their f**king job.”

    And making money is probably the main reason why editors won’t give more work to Jerry. I mean look at his lastest title Human Bomb: sales of first issue – 11K and by third issue it’s already down to 6K aka lowest sales for any DCU series. So it’s obvious that from commercial standpoint DC editors do not think that there’s much demand for Ordmaster’s stile which for better or worse has very distinctive 80s flavor.

  14. The scenario that was described with the vet coming in and saving the day only to then be put back out to dry has happened with the last two comics I did with DC and even Dark Horse. Deadline Doom averted…. Then you hope the editor who was once so very interested in you, but now refuse to return phone calls or emails will turn your voucher in so you know—you can get paid. Sometimes you have to resort to going through channels to have that happen. Dark Horse paid on time, but never again a phone call. That’s why doing the Judge Parker strip is a much better gig professionally and why so many guys of my generation are looking for the exits as soon as they can. The medium is awesome, but the business is shitty. Professionalism, reliabilty–hard won skills, don’t count anymore and in a business that is a ‘handshake” biz deal, with 90% no contracts, just an email or phone call that discusses the gig, which might never come. I’ve had many deals go away with no phone call after I turned down other work to make way for the work I promised to do. If you bitch, you get black balled and management will never side with you against an editor. Lots of things you have to deal with in the biz as a long time pro beside the drawing and storytelling. Lots of pros are afraid to say these things because they fear the slap, but they need to be said so younger hot artist can realize their days in the sun as the wanted one are numbered. Like the X-Files, trust no one.

  15. Carlos wrote: “And making money is probably the main reason why editors won’t give more work to Jerry. I mean look at his lastest title Human Bomb: sales of first issue – 11K and by third issue it’s already down to 6K aka lowest sales for any DCU series.”

    So it’s Ordway’s fault when a new, untested character tanks?

    Who are you kidding?

    Anyone who has followed comics for any length of time knows that if the Human Bomb character failed to excite audiences, it would have failed to do so regardless of WHO the artist was. If anything, Ordway’s fan base probably bumped the numbers up considerably more than if some new kid with a “2000s style” had been the artistic guinea pig.

    Vertigos AVERAGE sales are under 11k, and many of the “New 52” titles are selling poorly. So, using your logic, why not stop hiring anyone whose artistic work looks anything like the various styles appearing in these poor-selling titles?

    Oh, that’s right! That would probably include every single artist working for DC!

    And what really boggles the mind is the fact that you appear to think that the writer(s) don’t even enter into the “poor sales” equation.

  16. Its a false claim to say a guy like Jerry is the reason the Human Bomb sales are low. The characters is a D level character, you won’t see anyone make that book go. In teh oden days they would take a low selling book and maybe try and hype it with top talent and ads, but the way it works now is top hot artists on the hottest books, whatever that is. We promote batman because batman sells, thus everybody wins, the sales dept, editorial, the whole gang. Put Jerry on Superman with Grant Morrison and it would sell. Flop that and the book will sink every issue which is the trend of all books after #1 for the most part. the machine is broken, not the talent.

  17. And what really boggles the mind is the fact that you appear to think that the writer(s) don’t even enter into the “poor sales” equation.

    Ordway’s situation is probably closer to that of the typical freelancer than it is of, say, an actor looking for parts. A freelance writer might do good work, but people don’t read magazines to see his articles; the editors buy his articles and accept pitches.

    What works against Ordway is a combination: of fans following characters, not creators, so while they might compliment some artist who handles the FF well, they’d give the same compliments to any other FF artist they liked as much; of Marvel and DC not striving to enlarge the market, so that more work is available; and, potentially, Ordway’s page rates, compared to those of younger artists.


  18. “So it’s Ordway’s fault when a new, untested character tanks?
    Who are you kidding?
    And what really boggles the mind is the fact that you appear to think that the writer(s) don’t even enter into the “poor sales” equation.”

    Yeah-yeah, you can scream all you want but the fact is simple. Same writers (Palmotti and Gray) in previous months did minis with equally D-list characters Ray and Phantom Lady – both debuted with 17K and finished with 10K readers. With Human Bomb you have 40% decrease in readership right out of the gate… so whose fault is that? Maybe it’s Ordway stile, maybe P&G sadenly became readers repellent, maybe Human Bomb is indeed so much less popular than Phantom Lady… unless there will be market research neither me nor you nor DC won’t know. And that’s not my point. My point is… since my first answer was about business logic… when not just any but a NAME artist with very distinctive stile barely can sale 6K copies the company will hardly consider him a great asset from COMMERCIAL point of view.

  19. Bad examples.

    The Ray and Phantom Lady are both established, legacy characters with a 70-year history. In fact, I’d argue that since Phantom Lady only opened with 17k in sales, either the pitch was weak or the execution was weak.

    The Human Bomb was a brand new, untested concept whose synopsis was a yawner.

  20. Maybe I’m reading your comment wrong but the Human Bomb has been around for 70 years as well. So he’s not a new, untested concept.

  21. Really? I’ve been a comics fan since the late 1960s and never heard of him.

    A quick Wiki check — now I see why.

  22. Isn’t one of DC’s problems that many of their characters, such as the Justice Society and other Earth 2 characters, are really minor characters/concepts in terms of public awareness and story potential? Just because a character can appear in action scenes, explode, shoot beams out of his eyes, etc., doesn’t mean he has a story worth telling. If an artist is assigned to a story based on a limp concept, nothing he does can make the story good overall.


  23. Just what the heck does proven, tested concept mean here?

    Buster Brown and His Dog Tag has been around more than 100 years. That doesn’t mean is Jerry Ordway or Byan Lee O’Malley draws it tomorrow it will sell. Some properties naturally fade away.

  24. @ Sunsidar, I’m not sure why you always insist that there are there are these hard and fast laws of what can and can’t happen in storytelling. As if a terrible character couldn’t have a fantastic story to tell. I’m sure ALL of the professionals that visit this site will agree with me on this. Whether it’s a fresh take on a tired character or a new approach on a really “limp concept,” great storytelling is still very possible.

    Here’s a few examples off the top of my head:
    Alan Moore’s runs on Swampthing and Mircleman
    Peter David’s run on The Hulk and X-Factor (both of his x-runs!)
    Denny O’Neil and Deny Cowan’s run on The Question
    Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker’s Gotham Central

    My point is, in the right hands, there is no such thing as a “limp concept.”

  25. It’s as silly to say there’s no such thing as a bad idea and to ignore the differences between characters in standalone stories and in serials as it is to dismiss ideas out of hand. Superhero serials are commercial projects aimed at buyers in certain demographic ranges, with certain interests, and so on; those buyers prefer some character types to others.

    DC’s Earth 2 characters aren’t new in any sense. If their primary audience isn’t DC fans who have been reading comics for decades and might be in their late 40s or 50s, who are they? DC Editorial probably couldn’t tell you. But DC has a limited number of proven successful characters, too few to use in 50 or so series, so they’re trying to sell series based on characters that are probably doomed from the moment they were conceived, tossed into the market without actual marketing, to an audience that prefers stories based on a few, proven character types that suit their biases and preferences.


  26. @Synsidar (sorry for messing up your name earlier), we are talking about two topics: sales success versus quality storytelling. I’m talking about the latter. You seem to be talking about both. Forget sales for a minute. (forget marketing, buyers, demographics, proven success, business decisions, etc. and focus on just telling a story)

    You suggested there are “limp concepts” that are incapable of being turned into good storytelling, and I called bullshit. As my previous examples proved, there is no such thing as a character (or concept) that can’t star in a terrific story. Whether that story sells or not (and why) is a completely different discussion.

    Again, my point is, in the right hands, there is no such thing as a “limp concept.”

  27. Hey, I appreciate all the comments here. I want to say that the exclusive contract issue I had happened a year and a half ago, and I have been a free agent since March of last year.In regards to my ability to “sell” a comic, using Human Bomb as an example– the truth is what others have said, it’s an obscure character from the Freedom Fighters, never a household name. It is the third relaunch from that property, preceded by The Ray and then Phantom Lady. My understanding is that each mini did poorer than the previous one, so that’s a reflection on fan interest as a whole. I tried to make the point on my blog post that I have been marginalized over at least ten years, so my profile among readers is pretty low these days. Older fans who know my work are probably not buying many current comics. I liked Human Bomb as a project, and also the writers, but for all my efforts, I knew it wouldn’t sell. I am in a position where I don’t get to be picky about work, especially true when I was under the contract. I did Lobo in Weird Worlds because it was offered to me. I had zero input into the story, and always do the best with what I am given. My last good chance to show I could hold readers was on my 5 issue run on JSA, where I worked as co-writer with Geoff Johns on 3 issues, and then wrote and drew two issues myself before the book was handed over to others. My solo issues sold virtually the same numbers as the issues done by Geoff, while sales on the JSA book petered out after our stuff was done. As Manley said, working on a name character is better than working on an obscure one. I suppose if Geoff and Jim Lee produced a Metamorpho comic, it could sell, but I doubt anyone else could do it. I’m not talking about quality, but sales. As someone said already, DC has their 52 titles, so that marketing effort sucks up a lot of the retail dollars, not even counting Marvel’s output. It’s a tough market. Another point brought up here was that I displaced some veteran when I first got into comics. Absolutely I did. That was the point of my original blog post– the Superman relaunch displaced Curt Swan and maybe the late great Kurt Schaffenberger to a degree, but DC found other work for them on a regular basis. They worked into their 70’s. I’m 55. I know my situation isn’t unique, as it has happened to many others. But to say, as many have, that we deserved it because we worked under “work for hire” lets both DC and Marvel off too easily. Most businesses depend on relationships with clients, and there is a sort of loyalty arrangement that benefits both parties. That used to be the case with comic companies as well. As an important part of Death of Superman, Crisis, Shazam, Zero Hour, etc, I think I deserved some consideration. I clearly don’t EXPECT it, but those are my thoughts.

  28. Again, my point is, in the right hands, there is no such thing as a “limp concept.”

    If someone is writing for himself, that might be the case, but if the concept the writer is basing the story on is wrong for the target audience, then the concept is bad for the purposes of the story, even if it’s not grossly defective. People have come to realize that with Wonder Woman: she was much more effective as a symbol representing feminism’s ideals than she was as a story character, when her various parts didn’t mesh together well. Azzarello’s repair work has addressed the problems somewhat.

    There’s also the matter of what constitutes an original story. If a hero fights a villain and in the process of defeating him, conquers his worst fear, overcomes mind control, exceeds what he thought were his strength limits, or does a number of other cliched heroic things, the writer might think he’s done his job. He’s filled the pages. But he hasn’t done anything even faintly original. Any existing hero could overcome his worst fear, if that’s all the writer wants him to do. To be noteworthy, a concept needs complexity and originality.


Comments are closed.