here's a review of Alec:The years have pants
in the newly published Comics Journal #301. Its writer, musing upon a slickness he perceives in the art of the later portions of the book, concludes that it must be because of my 'acknowledged use of assistants.' He offers that explanation rather than the more obvious one that a worker in any field is likely, barring the burdens of ill health or senility, to acquire, by degrees, a facility in his work after practicing it for ten, twenty, and then thirty years.
I handed it to him in a panel in the book itself, if he got as far as page 259.
However, more pertinent to my reputation, anybody who ever did any work on a story of mine always got his or her name on it. There were one or two exceptions which arose when, if another set of hands was involved, another set of contracts were going to have to be read, signed and mailed. In these circumstances we saw it, much as we were honoured to be involved, as a job to be executed quickly and with the least hassle. That happened maybe twice and on one of those I got Pete Mullins to letter his name onto a bottle in the foreground of a panel.
Assisting a professional working comics artist is something I would have loved to have done when I was starting out. I even offered myself to one, but he didn't have the type of personality that would have lent itself to such an arrangement (he would undoubtedly have murdered me within a week). The practice has existed since the early days of the newspaper comic strips. In the very earliest period, a young fellow would work as a cleaner and gopher in the art room of a newspaper and work his way up through colouring and other such routine jobs. Then when cartoonists started to become stars and get to work at home, they would hire a young wannabe to assist. The job involves so much routine labour such as cutting and ruling paper, posting and collecting mail etc., that it was an arrangement that suited all involved. Eventually the young guy, if he proved himself both useful and talented, would get to work on the important parts of the job, and eventually get a leg up into the business on his own account. The comic books favoured a very different arrangement, closer to a factory assembly line, in which the job of making pictures in a comic book is broken down into clearly delineated activities under the headings 'layout,' 'pencils', 'inks', 'colors.' It grates me to find that many comics aspirants think of this as a natural division of labour rather than as something cooked up by the sort of people who set their minds to inventing ways to make hens lay more eggs than hens are naturally inclined to lay.
It would irritate me when that kind of thinking would turn up in places where it really didn't belong, such as Harvey Pekar's early books, where he would have a single page story with a credit box giving himself as writer, with Dumm and Budget as penciller and inker. I thought it was unseemly to have that many names on a one-pager. I thought it belonged on the packaging. Imagine if you got credits for a song actually heard in the recording instead of printed on the sleeve notes. My way of doing things was to just scribble my name next to the story title and if somebody else worked on it, then add their name under mine. Like this:
In the early 1990s I found my self able to line up way more work than I could handle. And way out here, remote from the comics publishing biz, there were enough people who were desperate to get a taste of it that I would have felt like a criminal to turn any opportunity away. But my feeling was always that this was my thing, and I'm the author, and anybody contributing to it is a guest writer or guest artist, and my way of implying that was to simply add their name after a '+' or a 'with'.
There was a fellow who wrote a few things for me who used to get mad at me because I didn't put 'writer' or 'co-writer' by his name. He didn't want people thinking he was 'just an inker' (as in 'tracer'
). I told him if he wanted to use the work to get himself other work, I'd happily back him up in however much of it he wanted to claim for himself, but I wasn't putting it on the page. There was another fellow who came round when I put the word out I desperately needed help on a job. He said he didn't want to be 'just the inker'. I replied that I didn't work that way but, to be frank, I told him I wouldn't trust him to ink it. We got on fine after that. I even got him to draw a number of foreground figures when the deadline loomed.
I look at the practice of getting help on the work as comparable to a singer-songwriter hiring backing musicians. There are times in comics when extra hands are like the ingredients in a fine soup or a rich stew. It makes it all more interesting both to make and to read. I can see many places in From Hell where my attention was flagging, and I thank Fate that Pete Mullins was on the premises to keep me from looking foolish, artistically speaking. And there are loads of funny ideas in Bacchus that Marcus Moore threw in, and they still make me laugh today. And Mick Evans did all the design stuff when I thought myself a publisher, and Daren White hung around long enough to get properly recognized on the Playwright. But the Alec stuff was always different. That's my personal view of everything. It's all mine.