What really happened to comic art legend Gene Colan? Why did author Harlan Ellison want to slap publisher Jim Warren? And what happens when Barry Smith can’t find his Windsor? Never one to pull punches, controversial author Clifford Meth has taken the wraps off of his highly anticipated tell-all ComicBook Babylon, a book that’s been a decade in the making. In Meth’s book, which weighs in at nearly 400 pages, you’ll find Stan Lee speaking frankly about Jack Kirby, Alan Moore speaking frankly about everyone, and, after a decade of silence, Meth’s telling of the real story behind Dave Cockrum’s missing X-Men royalties. This brutal and often hysterical page-turner opens with an introduction from Stan Lee and is beautifully illustrated by Michael Netzer.
Artist legend Bob Layton, who Meth focuses on in his essay “Man and Iron Man,” had a few questions of his own for the author.
Bob Layton: With the acquisition of Marvel by the ominous corporate Mouse, over two-thirds of the comic industry is now owned by two massive intellectual property farms, namely Disney and Warner Bros. My question to you is: Disney hasn’t produced a Donald Duck comic in decades but the character lives on as part of Americana. How long, if ever, do you think it will be before some brown-nose at the corporate office realizes that most of their comics are a “loss leader” and tries to convince management to pull the plug on Marvel publishing?
Clifford Meth: I believe that is happening already, Bob, and that the inevitability of that situation was sewn into the purchase. Rock-and-roll is no longer the dominant popular music form, and we thought that would last forever. Comic books—even book-books—are destined for the tar pit. But it was fun while it lasted, and we have a few generations of death throes ahead of us, so let’s look on the bright side.
Layton: Our industry treats its veteran artists and writers almost as bad as the film and television industry does their retirees. If you could change the system, how would Clifford Meth construct a policy that would insure that our living treasures could live our their remaining years with respect and dignity? Corporate funding? A voluntary contribution system much like election donations?
Meth: The amount of money and effort that it would take for Disney and Warners to construct retirement scenarios for its long-term contributors—meaning everyone from full-time employ to ‘work-for-hire’ freelancer—is miniscule. Small contributions—automated and required at some level, then ramped-up on a voluntary basis—could be met with generous matching programs on a dollar-to-dollar or even two-to-one scale if the corporate division is reasonably profitable. Redistribution of wealth is unnecessary if wealth is distributed proportionally and fairly from the start. Under the Meth plan, which we might as well called Aardwolf Publishing, creators share profits in a transparent system. Disney and Warners would not suffer from a fair and I dare say generous compensation model. In fact, I think it would behoove them. Everyone wants to work where the grass is greenest.
Layton: You once asked me what the highest point of my career was. How about you?
Meth: When we accepted Marvel’s offer for Dave Cockrum. It doesn’t get much better than that. At least it hasn’t.
Layton: And what was the lowest point?
Meth: When I was asked by a charity that I was working for to falsify documents and I refused. And I resigned the next day through my attorney Leo Klein. Or maybe that was the highest point. In any event, I was suddenly without any source of income. But I was still my father’s son.