My experience on STATIC SHOCK.
February 7, 2012
My name is Scott McDaniel, and I am a professional comic book artist.
When I share that with people in my civilian life, the reply that almost always comes back is:
Nearly every memory I have of my youth is somehow connected to comics or art. I inherited my love of comics from my Mom. At flea markets she would buy me brown grocery bags FULL of comics with missing or sliced covers. Remember those? Retail stores only had to return the cover, or even only the top half of the cover containing the title, in order to get their refund on unsold books. And I had classics! I even had Iron Man #1... mostly! Pages yellowed and wilted from humidity and smelling of garage or attic dust, with mangled or missing covers... they were AWESOME!
I had EVERY Mego action figure available - all the DC heroes, Marvel heroes, Star Trek figures, Planet of the Apes. I had most of the Big Jim characters, and plenty of G.I. Joe stuff, too. I played with those toys until they literally fell apart under the stress of dirt, water, rocks, darts, even a BB gun or two (sorry, Mom!).
I learned to draw by copying from those weathered books images created by my artistic heroes: Jim Aparo, Mike Grell, Neal Adams, Bob Layton, John Buscema, Tony Dezuniga, Bernie Wrightson, John Byrne, among many others. I would impress my friends at school by recreating a drawing I memorized the night before. It was great fun! I became the kid the others called "the artist."
I honestly dreamed of being Batman one day. I actually wrote to a local TV station that was airing the Batman TV show with the singular purpose of convincing them to hire me to play Robin. I even promised I would take off my glasses during the action scenes. I never heard back from them. I often wonder how different my life would be today if they had....
I used to love sitting in our living room, with a box of hard pretzels (another passion inherited from my Mom!), an icy cola, and losing myself in the latest issue of the Savage Sword of Conan! Ahhh, Crom, those were great times!
I dreamed of actually becoming a comic book artist. I dreamed of being among the top talents in the field, creating action and adventure comics that people would truly enjoy. Mom, while always supportive of my dreams, rightly sent me to Bucknell University so I could have a real job as an electrical engineer. I did, but thanks to an opportunity that came out of that college experience (which I fully ascribe to the blessings and the hand of God), my dream of becoming a comic book artist became a reality.
But I never dreamed of finding myself in the direct crosshairs of a colleague clearly intent on attacking my professionalism, my qualifications, and my competence as the reason why the recently launched DC Comics series STATIC SHOCK failed.
That colleague is the talented writer John Rozum (Milestone/DC Xombi, Vertigo Midnight Mass, among many others). John has recently spoken out publicly, and vigorously, to reveal why, despite his best efforts, STATIC SHOCK was ruined - and his own personal and professional reputation severely tarnished - by editorial interference and my own personal incompetence.
Rozum's brief, initial resignation announcement. |
Posted September 15, 2011
Rozum's comments to an article describing STATIC's failure.|
Posted January 20, 2012
|WHY I QUIT||
Rozum's full disclosure of his experience. |
Posted January 22, 2012
If only it were an accurate one.
John has challenged my professionalism, my qualifications, and my competence as the real reasons why STATIC SHOCK failed, and he lists a series of broad examples to support his argument. He has determined that he can only rehabilitate his reputation by absolutely smearing mine.
Initially, out of professional courtesy to John, I chose to remain SILENT on this matter. I said absolutely NOTHING, even when asked to comment. But his latest statement so distorted our experience together on STATIC SHOCK that I felt I must speak, just this once, to correct the record John chose to make so public.
I have worked my entire career to be a complete professional. I am fully aware that I am a modest talent. Nonetheless, I am very thankful to God for that gift, and I work hard to develop it as fully as I can. But I know I am a work in progress, and I am aware of my limitations! To compensate for that modest ability, I have developed a working style that is designed to meet the demands of the rigorous monthly publishing schedule. I do the best work I am capable of producing within the time given, doing whatever is required to meet the required deadlines. I strive to be a total team player, encouraging my teammates, genuinely thanking them for their contributions continually. I constantly report my progress status to my editors so they have absolutely no concern of my workflow. My word is my bond, and I will speak the truth as kindly as I can. I ask no more of my colleagues that I am willing to offer myself. My reputation is the most important aspect of my professional legacy. I have only two goals to achieve by the end of my career: (1) that comic fans enjoy and respect my work and (2) that my colleagues might look back on our collaborations together with fondness and respect.
I am truly and very deeply saddened that many people who read John's sharp words simply accept them as the objective truth. Perhaps people conclude that, because he seems to be speaking with such considered understanding and thoughtfulness, his words MUST be true.
Perhaps people regard my silence as my guilty acknowledgement of the truthfulness of his account.
I have remained SILENT because I fear no good thing comes from this type of public display. However, John chose to bring this into the public square. He has forced me to speak openly about our experience together on STATIC SHOCK, to correct the public record before his grotesquely distorted account matures in people's minds as the truth of what happened here.
But maybe something good CAN come out of all this, after all.
I can think of no other way to defend myself than to even MORE fully pull back the curtain, and share specific encounters that really made a strong impression on me during our collaboration that will reveal a substantially different picture than the one John describes. This way, you can more fairly judge my professionalism, my qualifications, and my competence for yourself.
I will write as simply and clearly as I can. The plain message of my words is the only message of my words. I will not make subtle implications or disguise my meaning in any way.
I will write as honestly as I can, whether it shows John poorly, or me. I offer this NOT to injure John, but only to clarify the distorted record he chose to make public. I will identify and take full responsibility for my mistakes.
I ask that you be patient, and allow me the latitude to speak at some length on certain topics. John has spoken out very publicly on least these three occasions. While I can never know for certain, I suspect that he has shared similar sentiments in private correspondences as well. He has spoken a LOT on this subject. I have said NOTHING.
I sincerely hope and pray that this will be the ONLY time I will be compelled to respond publicly on this matter. I fear that my statement will provoke John into launching another public and harsh rebuttal. I will RESIST making any further comment with all of my strength, fully intending this statement to be my FINAL WORD on this subject.
I ask that you read the following discussion with an open mind. Many might be reading this with a definite, intensely negative opinion of my role in this matter. Please - I ask that you be patient and take the time to read my words fully and fairly. If, at the end, your opinion remains unchanged, so be it.
I stand by my creative contributions to STATIC SHOCK, because my work was offered to the best of my ability for the sole purpose of helping STATIC SHOCK succeed.
My understanding and experience is that, under work-for-hire agreements (which is at play here on STATIC SHOCK), EDITORIAL is the captain of the ship. Editorial has the authority to hire and fire creators. Editorial has the authority to review and either accept or reject story and art. Editorial has the responsibility to execute the company's publishing plans, both short- and long-term, in the context of the specific book. The editorial staff meets weekly (at least), to coordinate the publishing plan and manage its execution in the various books. Book editors aren't rogue company employees following their own nonsensical whims, but instead are entrusted by the company to use their individual skills and judgment to guide the material content as well as manage the critical schedule and technical issues.
In simplest terms, I freely accept that the book editor speaks with the full weight and authority of the company, in the best interests of the company and character.
The book editor assigned to STATIC SHOCK is Harvey Richards. Like John Rozum, Harvey Richards is a Milestone alumnus. Harvey is currently working in the Batman office as assistant editor on the titles BATMAN, DETECTIVE and BATMAN & ROBIN. I think that is a clear validation of his skills. You just don't barge into the Bat office - you have to EARN your way into the Bat Office. From my first day on STATIC SHOCK, it was clear that Harvey was very passionate about STATIC SHOCK, and he brought a lot of great story and technical ideas to implement in the relaunch. What's more, Harvey lives in Harlem, the chosen new setting for the Hawkins family. He is the perfect man to edit this book.
Everyone involved with the relaunch of STATIC SHOCK wanted it to succeed. Corporate DC, Harvey, John, myself. Every other creator on the book wanted it to succeed. So did every STATIC fan.
But now that STATIC SHOCK has failed, passions are understandably inflamed. Someone must be responsible for this failure. Apparently someone must pay.
And John is seeking to exact that price from me.
The market is very strained right now, with a lot of excellent material all competing for the same, finite supply of readership with their own finite supply of hard-earned money. I've noticed that very talented creators are having difficulty finding projects. I'm experiencing it, too.
There has been a frequent and growing gap between the assignments I am offered. This isn't trivial. My son's college education was interrupted, and as a family we've had to make significant sacrifices and do some real scrambling. I'm not crying about it, or asking for pity. Many families have to do the exact same thing. I'm just sharing the truth about it. I bring it to this discussion for the sole purpose of making clear that I do not take projects for granted, nor do I treat them lightly. I am the head of my household, and my family trusts me to be successful in my chosen career. When I am offered a project, I absolutely do NOT take it for granted, but instead I am sincerely grateful for the opportunity and I am thankful to God that I can support my family.
An example that I think describes the situation in comics is displayed by the NFL. Each year, "starters" have to EARN their starting role. There are no gimmies, no passes for former glories. If you beat out the competitors for your position, you start. If you earned three Pro Bowl trips over the past decade, but are beaten out by a rookie in training camp, you're out. That's the way it is. I'm not complaining - I'm merely articulating the constant demands to perform, and how it is becoming increasingly important as a comics creator to stay on you're A-game without falter. And that's easier said than done.
From the reader's perspective, it's a great time to be a comics fan! Some publishers are working to bring costs down, and are offering less expensive digital product opportunities. And that product is created by an increasingly talented pool of writers and artists.
So, as a creator, it's "prepare to compete" or "prepare to get pushed aside!" As a creator, I need to be executing and growing my skills as best as I can, and be as effective a team player as possible.
(1) The loss of a legend.
The first factor to consider is the very sad, unfortunate, premature passing of STATIC co-creator and MILESTONE MEDIA co-founder, Dwayne G. McDuffie. I've never had the pleasure of meeting him, but those who have express nothing but admiration, love and respect for him. His mission to produce comics that spoke to people of color was visionary, and he deserves all the honor he receives. People (creators and fans) wanted this book to succeed in part because it would be a real-world, tangible way to honor, and more importantly validate, what Dwayne and his colleagues at Milestone built.
But STATIC SHOCK failed. When it failed, I think (my opinion here), in the minds of some, it failed to validate what came before, and that failure to validate is an inexcusable, outrageous and unforgiveable insult to Dwayne and his colleagues. And someone should pay.
(2) Predetermined expectations.
Many people had fixed, passionate, predetermined expectations for this relaunched series. The problem here is that these expectations are competing. Fans of the original series want more of the same, an authentic voice speaking for people of color, many of whom are struggling to live in dangerous, urban environments. Fans of the cartoon loved it for its own unique quality and charm, designed primarily for a younger audience, maybe leaning more to featuring fun adventure and companionship of friends. Right from the beginning, it seemed tricky to reconcile those strong, predetermined expectations with the editorial expectations of the series (which was to chart a new direction altogether).
I can speak no more clearly than this - I believe everyone involved wanted this book to be a smashing success, including the entirety of corporate DC and its group of editors, and every single person involved with the book's content. There is absolutely no strategy to sabotage books featuring minorities. Any suggestion that there is such a hidden, destructive strategy in place to keep characters of color from succeeding is simply and absolutely wrong. Such wrong-headed theories only serve to unnecessarily agitate an already potently pressurized situation.
But no matter how truthful this statement is, the fact that STATIC SHOCK failed brings this unfounded racial argument forward. Some people stubbornly refuse to let go of the incorrect belief that this failure is an intentional affront to people of color, and someone must be held accountable.
(4) No margin of error.
Before the relaunch, Comic Book Resources ran a survey that attempted to measure the reader anticipation of the coming DCnU relaunch titles. You can find it here:
CBR READERS RANK THE 52 DC COMICS RELAUNCH TITLES: TAKE 2
Posted August 26, 2011
I took this poll data and assigned numerical scores for each vote in each defined category. The poll asks: "Which of DC's 52 announced titles for September do you plan to purchase?" For EACH of the 52 titles, the readers voted and I quantified the vote as follows:
|ABSOLUTELY||Each vote = +5 points|
|VERY LIKELY||Each vote = +3 points|
|LIKELY||Each vote = +1 points|
|UNLIKELY||Each vote = -1 points|
|NOT AT ALL||Each vote = -5 points|
Oh, my goodness. I had to share what I discovered with my colleagues Harvey and John.
Here are the sorted results I sent to them (it's a ".doc" file):
DCnU CBR POLL RESULTS
Right away, note that the very structure of the poll should yield scores that were positively biased. That is, since there are three choices that produce a positive score and only two choices that produce a negative score, I expected the final scores to be almost all positive. Oh, my goodness. Only the top 9 titles had positive scores. The remaining 43 had negative scores. I'm not sure what that means, frankly! I wonder if it's just a reflection of an overall negative mood that might simply be caused by the tough economy.
But clearly worse, STATIC SHOCK ranked 46 out of 52. This is a SERIOUS challenge.
There was no sales data yet, but the situation was clear: if the DCnU relaunch was a NASCAR race, STATIC SHOCK would start about as far back in the pack as possible! I think this poll accurately PREDICTED the uphill battle this book would face in the crush of 52 competing titles.
I'm going to jump into the future a little bit here, to keep related sales information together.
Around the first or second week of Oct 2011, the first sales data (of the Sep 2011 #1 issues) was published from DIAMOND. DIAMOND ESTIMATED SALES data is freely available online - anyone can get it for themselves. According to this report, STATIC #1 came in at 34,004 units sold. Oh, my goodness.
Immediately, alarm bells sounded in my mind. You see, I love math and numbers and graphs, and I have been collecting and reviewing those Diamond Sales Estimate reports for YEARS. For FUN. I'm telling you - I'm a total NERD.
I've noticed a simple pattern in the sales orders for titles after their debut. I think this is pretty commonly known. The #1 issue sales (the debut) will be its highest value, then subsequent issue #'s orders cool off rapidly until settling softly into a steady-state value. Like a cup of hot water cooling to room temperature. Some titles start much hotter others, and some titles cool faster than others, but the overall trend actually follows Newton's Law of Cooling pretty well. I've done least-squares regressions of the data and it's true (I know, I know... NERD ALERT!).
Here's the general pattern (CAUTION: ballpark percentages ONLY!!):
Again, these percentages will be a bit different for the different books, but the OVERALL trends are pretty comparable. I have some graphs that make this point visually in a moment (!! NERD ALERT !!).
But first, here are two examples from many that show this cooling pattern in action (as .doc files):
As you can see, the pattern is generally followed, regardless of how "cold" or how "hot" #1 sales are. For STATIC SHOCK, the future picture was immediately clear to me (at this time, issue #2 had just come out a week prior):
Uh-oh. Any title selling less than 20,000 units will be considered for CANCELLATION.
Anticipating NORMAL, TRADITIONAL SALES PATTERNS, STATIC SHOCK won't make it.
Repeat: left on its own, without special intervention, HISTORICAL SALES PATTERNS PREDICT STATIC SHOCK WILL FAIL.
And #2 had only come out last week!!!
I immediately shared this information with Harvey and John. I'm sure Harvey actually had better data than I did (I only had Diamond Estimates, and no clue to the level of digital comics sales). Harvey was just as concerned as I was, so I assumed the Diamond Sales Estimate was pretty close to the ACTUAL sales (at least for STATIC SHOCK).
To me and Harvey, the best chance for STATIC's survival was to plan big, exciting stories. Create solid story that QUICKLY grew to important and dramatic climaxes for Virgil and Static. There was no time to play it safe, or to do slow-burn stories. Time was our enemy. We needed something nearly geologic to upset the repeat of history in order to keep the book alive.
John dismissed this information, and our strategy, entirely. In his opinion, Harvey and I were too concerned with sales and gimmicks and not legitimate story.
I was frankly stunned by his reaction.
Of ALL people I thought John would be sensitive to the REALITIES of the market. The XOMBI sales data I shared here, AND WITH JOHN AT THE TIME, showed the pattern. It's real. Worse yet, John's XOMBI sales were so low that XOMBI WAS CANCELLED BEFORE ISSUE #1 EVEN SHIPPED.
Harvey and I were urging John to think big, to be bold and dramatic. We weren't talking idiotic, gratuitous story, but story that would literally PROPEL the main character and the readers through an intense conflict and challenge. Our only chance to keep STATIC alive was to MAKE HISTORY and buck the HISTORICAL sales pattern. John considered those pleas to be not worthy of artistic consideration.
What do YOU think?
The last observation I can offer regarding that CBR poll is that, once addition months of sales data came in and the first wave of cancelled titles were determined, this CBR poll seemed awfully prescient: generally speaking, the titles that ranked highest on the poll had the highest sales, and the titles that ranked the lowest on the poll had the lowest sales and were the first to be cancelled.
Lesson: Market forces are REAL and should be managed to the best of your ability. But me and Harvey already knew that.
OK! Still with me? Great!
I think this is enough to describe the general environment in which we were all working. This creative work wasn't done by automatons in a vacuum, but rather by people working under various and unique pressures. I absolutely do NOT offer this as an excuse or as an attempt to rationalize anything. I merely share it to give you a feel for what the overall creative atmosphere was like, from my perspective.
Finally, we should take a moment to refresh our memories of the purpose and plan of the entire DCU relaunch itself.
Here it is, directly from the very top leadership of DC Comics:
Gotta love that ending!
(And there's a funny story about that cover art, but that's a story for another day!)
Did you catch the core of the concept? The relaunch is all about NEW. Double emphasis on NEW.
NEW means fresh opportunity. It's like taking the next step in life. It's like graduating from high school and moving off to college, with all the NEW experiences that NEW situation entails. The student is the same PERSON (character) upon awakening that first day at college, but that student is now placed in a NEW context to stimulate maturation and personal growth.
And this is a pretty good illustration of the approach desired by editorial on STATIC SHOCK. And I agreed.
There was a big push for stories that were NEW and EXCITING. There was a big push to create cliff hangers that would COMPEL readers to come back for #2! There was a lot of encouragement from Editorial to really find the books unique angle and 'go for it' with gusto!
Harvey, John and I unanimously agreed, without reservation, that nearly all of the published STATIC material would remain a part of STATIC's history. Dwayne McDuffie had recently passed away, and preserving all that material in the character's history was clearly the right decision. The man's legacy should be protected.
Static's already-published adventures (with just a few exceptions) were assigned to his past in Dakota. This relaunch represented his present in NYC, and the next chapter in Static's life. Static was poised to take his next step, waiting for us to show him the way.
And now... let's lift the curtain.
That was perfectly fine with me. I didn't know much about the character. I freely admit it to you now just as I did to Harvey then. It's the truth.
The original, Milestone Media STATIC #1 was originally published back in 1993. During the early 1990's, I had been working as a full-time electrical engineer during the day, and moonlighting for independent comic book companies by night. In 1992 I had the extreme blessing to be offered the penciller's role the Marvel Comics monthly series DAREDEVIL. With the full support of my wife, I quit my engineering job and put my full energies into comics. Just as STATIC was launching, I was preparing to vault into the storyline FALL FROM GRACE, which was to run concurrently with MAN WITHOUT FEAR, a Daredevil limited series created by the legendary creators Frank Miller and John Romita, Jr. Man, I was in WAY over my head. A boy among men. It dominated my attention, and I never really noticed Static.
My colleagues have probably experienced similar, intensely demanding early days in comics. Everything is new. Back in my day, there were no schools that taught you how to draw comics. No internet chat groups to turn to. You had to figure it out on your own and learn by doing or by studying film texts, or be lucky enough to receive actual advice from working professionals. That's how it was for me. I'm a self-taught artist and comics creator. More good stuff on this at the end, too!
The next few years at Marvel came and went literally in the blink of an eye. I was invited to draw NIGHTWING for DC Comics. At that time, I knew almost nothing about the character Nightwing. But my run on NIGHTWING turned out to be the greatest comic experience of my life ("Thank you!" Scott, Darren, Chuck and Karl!). A CLOSE second was actually being offered my dream assignment as penciller on BATMAN, but that's a story for another day.
I detoured into this history simply to show that a previous, and similar, situation occurred in my past regarding NIGHTWING, a character whom I knew almost nothing about at the start of my run. I saw no reason why this experience with STATIC should be any different. I was expecting to have a BLAST. An athletic whiz-kid who can FLY and command ELECTROMAGNETIC abilities - I mean, come on! As a former electrical engineer who loves acrobatic, action-oriented comics and who is a proud, card-carrying science geek and nerd, I fully expected this project to fall right into my wheel-house!
Harvey sent me a care package to get me started on the project:
I studied the documents carefully, especially the STATIC Bible. This "Bible" is the original, authoritative text written by the Milestone founders and STATIC character creators that clearly articulates the purpose of the title, the character, his nature as STATIC and as VIRGIL HAWKINS, the precise source and scope of his powers, and it sketches brief introductions of the supporting cast. What better preparation is there than having the creator's own words describing his own creation in full detail? This is source material, and it is golden.
Harvey called and invited me to participate in a story conference he was going to have with John. Harvey shared that he was having some trouble getting John oriented to the type of exciting story he wanted in STATIC's relaunch. Harvey was impressed with my work in the past (limited to instances of my discovering a few plot holes that somehow slipped by the writer and editor before getting to me, and he was impressed with my ideas/comments offered during the initial planning for STATIC with a different writer months earlier). Harvey suggested that I might help brainstorm ideas to get STATIC rolling in a strong, new direction.
Besides, DC Editorial was generally encouraging teams get their artists more involved in the story creation to make sure the stories were as visually interesting as possible. So this seemed the natural thing to do for STATIC.
This is important. Let's be very clear here. I was INVITED by editorial to join the story meetings and INVITED to bring story ideas to the table.
Contrary to John's statement, I didn't thrust my way in. I was INVITED.
EXCELLENT! I have always admired writers. Pencillers begin their work from a script or plot, but a writer truly faces a blank canvas. Writers skillfully weave through the countless choices that have to be made, and they make it all look so easy. It's quite remarkable.
I was honored to be asked to participate.
John shared that he was a bit frustrated because his earlier material (set in Dakota) was rejected once it was decided to put Static in NYC. I never saw that material, so I don't know what it was, or how fully developed it was. But to his credit I thought John handled the unexpected turn quite well.
And frankly, I was very relieved to be treated with respect by John when we first started. I suspected he might be feeling a little frustrated or embarrassed that I was invited to the party. I mean, I didn't know much about the character (but I was educating myself quickly), and I hadn't written a thing, but I thought he treated me with warmth and respect, and I was grateful for that. I wanted to be worthy to sit at their table.
Harvey tried to set out the context for the initial relaunch story. He wanted us to think NEW. He wanted us to think EXTREME. Go crazy, and he'll pull us back from the edge if we go too far. Harvey was very interested in exploring WHY Virgil would continue being Static as he matures. And Harvey was very interested in creating a sci-fi themed mystery involving his sister that could become a long-term, driving motivation for Static to remain being Static. Harvey was very interested in seeing new growth in the character, in his personality and also new growth in his powers.
That all sounded great to me. I thought it was all OK with John as well.
We talked a lot about S.T.A.R. Labs, Virgil's school, what challenges he might face as a teen and hero, the types of criminals he might battle.
I seem to remember having several of these calls, but to be completely honest, I just can't recall. At this time, I was working nearly 90-100 hours/week on all this story brainstorming, story research, Static research, Static costume redesign, supporting cast design, and the like. Frankly, it's kind of all bound up into one block of memory. I am trying to be as accurate as I can, but I do ask for a little leniency if I get a few of these details mixed up.
Everything seemed to be proceeding quite well. Our relationship was amicable. Ideas flowed back forth a lot, exploring options, as we searched for a path forward. Everything seemed to be fine.
I remember doing a LOT of research on the city. After all, what's the point of placing him in NYC if we didn't take advantage of real locations? Otherwise, it's just another made up city that everyone merely pretends is NYC.
I did a LOT of research on Harlem, including the Harlem of years ago. I found a large sewage treatment plant actually underneath a huge community park (Riverside Park), and I thought that made for an interesting contrast: innocent kids playing above, while Harlem sewer monsters lurked beneath.
I remember pitching those ideas to Harvey - essentially, "Paris Island in Manhattan." Gangs, thugs, sewer monsters grown from Q-Juice, and the like. Harvey rejected these ideas, explaining that DC wanted Harlem to be more accurately portrayed as the growing, cultural, family community it currently is. Harvey explained that he lives in Harlem. He actually takes his daughter to play in Riverside Park, remarking that it's beautiful. And he didn't want to retell those types of stories - they were already told, and told well.
Gotcha! No problem. I'm not demanding anything. I'm exploring and pitching ideas. This wasn't the solution Harvey wanted, so I kept brainstorming.
Let me repeat. I was pitching ideas to Harvey, and he was rejecting them. Contrary to John's public statement, I wasn't indiscriminately getting my way.
I deferred to Harvey and John for all matters pertaining specifically to Virgil and Static or any other established Milestone character. I focused my concerns on brainstorming NEW THREATS to face Static and Virgil, both as a hero and civilian. Made sense to me. They were expert with the existing Milestone characters. I'll worry about creating new ones.
We talked some more. We talked about creating a criminal alliance that would be stealing tech (like the kind available from S.T.A.R. Labs), and the type of high tech mercenaries that would be pulling off these jobs.
Our brainstorming session seemed cordial, with a lot of friendly flow of ideas coming from all three of us. The session was called to a close, and John was tasked to take all our collaborative ideas and put them together in another script draft.
After a short while, John sent over his latest script. Harvey asked me to read it over, and to let him know what I thought.
Great! I cracked open the Word file and printed it out, and readied my checklist that I prepare for each script (it has categories "Script Review," "Design needed," "Visual reference needed," and "Shipping"). As I read and reread the script several times, I filled out my checklist fully intending to begin preparing the art. And I also made a lot of notes in the margins, questions for John and Harvey about some items in the script that concerned me.
I saw a bit more clearly what Harvey initially meant when he said he was having trouble getting John to think a little differently. I'll share bits of John's actual text shortly. Bear in mind, by itself, the script seems to me to be perfectly consistent with John's sensibilities. Creative, and creatively weird, which is something he does really well! But it didn't set the tone Harvey was seeking from our conference.
Here's the first example cut-n-pasted from the original Word file of that script:
Page 4, panel 3My first reaction upon reading this: It's perfectly John Rozum, but perfectly NOT the type of imagery Harvey wanted for STATIC.
VIRGIL, HIS BACKPACK SLUNG OVER ONE SHOULDER, PINS THE LAMINATE PASS TO HIS SHIRT. HE WALKS ALONGSIDE DR. SLAVINSKI. IN THE BACKGROUND A GROUP OF MEDICAL DOCTORS IN HAZMAT SUITS (WHITE WITH A RED CROSS ON THEM) RUSH A GURNEY ACROSS THE LOBBY. ON THE GURNEY IS A MAN IN AGONY AS WHAT APPEAR TO BE HOLOGRAMS OF CARTOONY ZOO ANIMALS IN PRIMARY LOLLIPOP COLORS DRIFT UPWARDS FROM A WOUND IN HIS CHEST. SOMEONE INA YELLOW HAZMAT SUIT ACCOMPANIES THEM, GESTURING TO SAY IT'S NOT HIS/HER FAULT.
Here's another example cut-n-pasted from the same script draft:
Page 11, panel 1Again, this is perfectly John Rozum. Creative. But it just didn't quite deliver the high tech sensibility, in feel or in visual description, that we talked about in our story conference. These characters just don't quite 'feel' like the type of threatening gangsters we were talking about in conference who would be capable of ripping off S.T.A.R. Labs. That was Harvey's impression as well.
WE ARE IN A LARGE DARK ROOM WITH EXPENSIVE FURNISHINGS. IT CAN BE DECORATED TO RESEMBLE A GENTLEMAN'S CLUB, OR JAMES BOND VILLAIN'S HIDEOUT. A GROUP OF POWERFUL MEN, WITH A FEW WOMEN THROWN INTO THE MIX ARE GATHERED HERE. MOST OF THEM ARE SEATED AROUND A HUGE TELEVISION WHICH SHOWS FOOTAGE OF STATIC FIGHTING THE PLASMA ENERGY BEING. THE IMAGE ON THE SCREEN HAS A LOT OF DISTORTION, ALMOST LIKE WHEN YOU COME ACROSS IMAGES ON A CABLE CHANNEL THAT'S NOT PART OF YOUR PACKAGE. EVERYONE LOOKS SERIOUS AS THEY WATCH. AMONG THEM, A CRIME BOSS WHO LOOKS LIKE A HIGH SCHOOL PRINCIPAL WITH MORE EXPENSIVE CLOTHES, HIS LIEUTENANT, A SHIFTY LOOKING GUY WITH DARK CIRCLES UNDER HIS EYES, A VERY PALE MAN WITH A SMILE AND A COMPULSIVE LAUGH LIKE TOURETTE'S SYNDROME, WHICH IS ACTUALLY THE RESULT OF MILD EXPOSURE TO JOKER GAS, A WOMAN IN A TAN LEATHER COMBAT SUIT, A YOUNG MAN IN A LEATHER JACKET WHO LOOKS ALMOST LIKE A SILHOUETTE OF A YOUNG MAN (THIS IS TARMAC) AND A MAN WHO LOOKS LIKE HE'S AN ALBINO IN A WHITE SUIT, BUT IS ACTUALLY MADE OF SOME SORT OF GAS.
Here's a final example cut-n-pasted from the same script draft:
Page 20, panel 1
INSIDE A GARAGE A HIP LOOKING MAN IN HIS MID-20s WEARING EXPENSIVE COOL CLOTHES SHUTS THE DOOR OF A PRISTINE BADASS CANDY APPLE GREEN EARLY 1970S MUSCLE CAR AND APPROACHES A GROUP WAITING FOR HIM. THE GROUP INCLUDES THE CRIME BOSS WE SAW EARLIER, HIS LIEUTENANT, THE PALE MAN COMPULSIVE LAUGHER, KILLER FROST AND A BIG GUY HOLDING A HUGE DOUBLE BLADED AXE. THE NEW ARRIVAL'S NAME IS DROPSHADOW. HIS SHADOW CAN MOVE INDEPENDENTLY OF HIM, BUT IS ALWAYS ATTACHED TO HIM VIA HIS FEET. THIS SCENE SHOULD INCLUDE LIGHTING SO THAT EVERYONE ELSE'S SHADOWS BEHAVE APPROPRIATELY EVEN WHEN HIS DISREGARDS THE LIGHT SOURCE, OR WHAT HE IS DOING. READERS MAY NOT EVEN NOTICE UNTIL WE TELL THEM.
Once again, this is perfectly John Rozum. It's creative. But once again, it just didn't deliver the modern, edgy sensibility, in feel or in visual description, that we talked about in our story conference.
The script draft's cliff hanger featured the SHADOW GUY killing the AXE GUY, promising to do the same to STATIC.
I seem to recall Harvey's biggest concern was that the story just felt lacking for a #1. It didn't provide a 'whoa' factor for the reader, that strong hook to pull them in.
And Harvey wanted more from the cliff hanger. After all, this one didn't even involve Static himself.
Here are a few examples that speak against this picture John paints.
PALE MANThis is John's creation. John wanted Pale Man to be a survivor of Joker gas. His rationale: Joker is a murderous psycho, so by association, other story characters will perceive Pale Man as a murderous psycho as well. That's fine. No problem.
I suggested it might be better story for STATIC if Pale Man was a survivor of a failed Q-Juice event. This would tie more directly into Static's own continuity, and possibly provide more story potential to reach back to Nemo and Dakota. Besides, I didn't want readers to think we were sucking from the "Bat Teat" unnecessarily. Not that we WERE - I just didn't want to give the impression to readers that we needed to skim off the Batman franchise to create interesting, dangerous characters.
John insisted on keeping the Joker connection. Harvey agreed - he saw it as a connection to the wider DCU. Batman Group Editor Mike Marts OK'd the idea (this reference to the new Joker had to be approved - it's not that I ran to Mike Marts seeking a veto!).
Fine. No problem. Joker gas it is! I made my argument TWICE, and TWICE I was turned down. (Hey, I had to see if I could change their minds!)
I moved on without hesitation or second thought, without any wound to my ego. The question now before me was how to best use Pale Man to tell STATIC's story.
VIRGIL'S HIGH SCHOOL
During these early days, I was doing a LOT of research into NYC to prepare for this book. I bought a lot of new maps, photo books of the city and travel guides to add to the already healthy supply of NYC books I already owned in my library.
Just off FDR Drive, on Pleasant Ave. in East Harlem I found the real "Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics." Perfect! THAT's where Virgil should go to school! I suggested it to Harvey, and he loved the idea. However, DC legal department said we couldn't use that real school (party poopers). So I intended to create a parallel fictional school with a slightly different name, mirroring the real school but instead placing it on the West side of Harlem, using a montage of actual schools in Harlem as the exterior design. In fact, I used Google Earth to accurately render the buildings that really exist on west 115th street for the establishing shot of the school (Issue #2 page 14 panel 1). This is the kind of subtle detail I put into my art all the time that NO ONE ever knows but me (and, now in this particular instance, YOU!).
John suggested naming it the "DWAYNE G. MCDUFFIE CENTER FOR SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS." PERFECT! That's collaboration!
More on this in a moment.
S.T.A.R. LABSJohn really wanted Virgil to intern at S.T.A.R. Labs. John planned to feature a series of STATIC adventures actually inside the Labs, battling creatures that would emerge, or other catastrophes that would erupt from within. In fact, you'll find allusions to this plan in issue #1 page 10 panel 3, where John has Hardware explain why he (Hardware) wanted Static to intern there - to keep "an eye on things" that might be happening.
I thought that was problematic for a number of reasons.
First, the idea of S.T.A.R. Labs as a single, monolithic structure is unrealistic. "Going up! First floor: psychiatric ward. Second floor: plasma physics research. Third floor: Nuclear waste disposal research. Fourth floor: weapons testing. Fifth floor: Employee DayCare center!"
This relaunch is the PERFECT time to reimagine S.T.A.R. Labs. I suggested making it a collection of small campuses, like Research Parks, dotting the city. Each campus could features a new, real NYC location making the environment richer. And it makes more sense if you want to have recurring nightmares break forth from it. I mean, honestly, how many creatures have to bust out of the single, monolithic S.T.A.R. Labs building before the Governor brings in the National Guard to shut the whole place down???
John disagreed. Harvey agreed with John. Frankly, I don't recall why. No problem! I made my case. TWICE! And both times, they chose the monolithic structure. No problem! No injury to my ego. It was an idea (and I thought a good one), but I moved on!
Second, I thought it was problematic to have Static running a series of adventures INSIDE the Labs. I mean, just how many 16-year old black kids with dreads are running around that place?? Wouldn't those sharp tacks that work there eventually figure out that Virgil and Static are one and the same person? John was ahead of me - he wanted to have a small group of scientists discover his secret, and they would help to keep him concealed. I thought it was a bit claustrophobic to keep him so firmly inside S.T.A.R. Labs. Harvey didn't want Static's secret identity revealed yet, so I guess in a way I half won this one. But it seemed that John was still intending somehow to tell STATIC stories inside S.T.A.R. Labs.
At this point, I think John was becoming a little tired of me constantly examining and challenging his ideas. I didn't do it in the spirit of crushing his ego - I was constantly looking at EVERYTHING on the table, looking for better alternatives, to shape characters and ideas to best meet STATIC's needs, not anyone's egotistical needs.
John began to remind me that he was the writer of the critically-acclaimed XOMBI series, and he had good judgment on these matters.
Got it. Mind my place.
CHARTER SCHOOL and THE LAUGH THAT STARTED IT ALLDespite some other, minor debates on some ideas, our collaboration up to this point in time had been mostly positive, from my point of view. I was having a BLAST talking story and character and conflict and the like with John and Harvey. I sensed John was getting irritated having to justify all his decisions as I kept examining things from different angles, but I was having great fun and learning a lot!
In all the discussion of having Virgil running around S.T.A.R. Labs, it seemed to me that we were actually taking Virgil out of a key element. While Virgil's "S.T.A.R. Labs internship" is an interesting idea, it seemed to me to unnecessarily take Virgil OUT of high school, away from his peers, and instead place him into a predominantly ADULT environment.
I suggested to John and Harvey that we make the "Dwayne G. McDuffie Center for Science and Mathematics" a charter school, entirely funded and staffed by S.T.A.R. Labs employees, as a way to give back to the community, bringing excellence in math and science to the urban inner city community of Harlem. It was great - we could bring the S.T.A.R. Labs to Virgil, and keep Virgil surrounded by a fun, youthful supporting cast.
This is important, and it rings like a bell in my memory: John literally laughed out loud at this idea, and muttered something like "that's ridiculous" as he laughed.
This isn't meant to be boastful, but I thought this was a brilliant idea. It hooks all these various elements together in a fun way: the Labs, the tech, the teen supporting cast. And John literally laughed in my face.
I became angry. REALLY angry. I stopped our story conference dead in its tracks, demanding to know what John found so funny about that idea. After a moment of awkward silence, John replied, "Nothing."
The topic quickly changed, the conversation moved to another subject, and that was that.
I admit, this angered me like few other experiences in my professional career. I was DETERMINED to prove to John that I had good ideas to bring to the table.
To be clear, my anger took the form of a professional prosecutor going after a guilty man in a formal courtroom. I hurled no expletives. I hurled no insults. No name calling, or wailing to the heavens. I became fiercely determined to get an answer to my question.
And I admit, from this moment on, my impression of John Rozum turned decidedly negative.
Let's just take stock for a moment here. John writes that my contributions to STATIC SHOCK amount to making it into a "turd." However, here was an idea that might have kicked off the story perfectly, and he kicked it into the dirt. Imagine this as the opening to STATIC SHOCK issue #1:
Virgil and his classmates are on a geological field trip to study the newly erupted Manhattan Volcano (see Captain Atom #1), under the strict supervision of S.T.A.R. Labs security and school teachers. After all, these are highly gifted youngsters, the creme-de-la-creme, and this is a chance of a lifetime.
Right from the start, the conflict intersects both his civilian and hero personas, immediately involving his teen supporting cast.
Maybe you like this idea. Maybe you don't. But I think it's better than the introduction that we actually had in issue #1. I'm confident that much of the story development that followed would have sprung out of the school context, because we had talked about finding specific ways to initiate Static adventures from Virgil's experiences. It would have more closely resembled reader's expectations (Virgil and his peers), instead of pushing the story more toward the adult side.
Don't get me wrong - I'm not disowning the published opening in #1. Nor anything else in the book. NOT AT ALL. I stand by everything in it.
I'm just thinking about what "might have been," had my colleague John Rozum not laughed in my face.
CRIME ALLIANCE, PART IISo I directed my anger toward designing the Crime Alliance we talked about. I knew what Harvey was trying to get. I could see an option to move from John's material (quoted above) to something closer to what we discussed, and to what I thought Harvey was really wanting for the book.
I came up with a STATIC CRIMINAL ELEMENTS document, which explained in DETAIL the various players in this sprawling organization, their physical appearances, their role and relation within the group, their individual motivations and their own backstory sketch. I was going to attach it here for you to examine, but since it contains backstory that hasn't yet been published, I thought I should withhold it at this time.
I tried to be as complete as I could, building "A" working model, if not "THE" final working model, of the Crime Alliance.
Harvey really liked my concept and characters, and he approved them. John seemed to like them as well. I don't know if he truly felt as negatively towards them at that time as he does now, but if he did, he surely didn't say so. All was cool, and it was full steam ahead.
SHARON'S STORYJohn writes in his public comments about the impossible scenario Harvey laid on the table concerning the Sharon clone concept. In hindsight, I think that must be why he never offered a story solution for it.
I thought it was a very interesting concept: a family tragedy, possibly resulting from some error actually committed by Static that had horrible repercussions for his own family. That has the potential to be a very powerful character story. We talked a lot about it, trying to get some substance on Harvey's initially blurry impressions.
Unlike John, I thought the idea was very intriguing and I looked at it as a significant story challenge, not an impossible or ridiculous constraint. I'm ashamed to admit to still being angry over John's condescending attitude, but I channeled it into finding a solution to this complex set of story desires.
I actually wrote several detailed concepts and presented them to both Harvey and John. Harvey rejected them for various reasons, as they kept missing the mark.
Please note: According to John, I was getting my way on absolutely everything. In reality, I had to earn the approval of every idea.
So, contrary to what John would have you believe, I was brainstorming story and character, bringing ideas to the table for evaluation. And many of them were rejected. I didn't take it personally. That's how this work goes.
I kept hammering away with variations of ideas, sending write ups to both John and Harvey for evaluation. Finally I landed on a Sharon story concept that Harvey seemed to really like. John replied that he was thinking along similar lines, but he admitted my idea was better so let's just go with mine. We agreed that this would be the working backstory for now. "A" solution to the Sharon story until we (or later writers) improved upon it.
Let me repeat: John admitted that my idea was better than his.
Score one for the unqualified incompetent! But it might be a hollow victory - in hindsight, considering John's public negative statements about the Sharon concept, I actually don't think he even TRIED to solve this particular story challenge.
Just for the record, I didn't land upon this solution until AFTER I completed the plot for issue #1. That's why I intentionally revealed this subplot in the first few issues as SLOWLY as editorial would allow (and this went up the chain frighteningly high - they were watching, CLOSELY!). It's so fundamental to the larger story that I didn't want to risk taking the first step in the wrong direction, so starting slowly gave us just a little more time to make sure we had what we really wanted.
Maybe it's not obvious, but let me point this out: the HIGHER UPS were fully aware of Harvey's idea of the Sharon clone. They approved it, and were watching it closely.
John considered the Sharon concept to be impossible and ridiculous. I considered it to be very potentially powerful and a legitimate story challenge, and I solved it, and then I tried to implement it as carefully and as powerfully as I could.
At this point, our collaboration really soured. For all his talk of his expertise with character, he seemed to limit his involvement to trivial dialogue.
THE BRIDGESomewhere along the way, the SUNSPOT scene was agreed to be ended by basically short-circuiting him on the massive steel bridge that crosses over the East River's Roosevelt Island, connecting Manhattan and Queens. Do you know the name of this bridge? One of us wanted to have Static refer to it as the "59th Street Bridge" because that's what native New Yorkers call it, and Static now lives in New York. The other wanted to have Static refer to it as the "Queensboro Bridge" because the name is instantly recognizable, and it is the name shown on nearly every map you reference, and since Static is a newly arrived citizen, he would learn the city by reading maps.
What name would YOU use?
Yup. "WHO CARES!?!" is right!!
It was pathetic. And I'm ashamed to have wasted a moment's breath on this kind silly argument, and others like it (my God, yes, there were others). But that's how provoked we were with each other.
At some point during this time it finally dawned on me what was so irritating about all this, and I was able to directly articulate it to John.
I asked him why he never brought his 'character' expertise to the plots. I took his initial plot and built upon it, keeping what worked and creating new stuff where needed. Why didn't he do likewise? Why didn't he take my plot, look for opportunities to shape and sharpen it for CHARACTER issues?
I asked him why he never looked to shape this material to compare and contrast the situations of characters: like STATIC and PIRANHA, each transformed, but one becomes a hero and the other a monster. Or compare and contrast VIRGIL and PALE MAN, each essentially an undercover personality (Virgil in some ways can act undercover for his role as STATIC, and PALE MAN is actually an undercover cop).
There was a silent pause in the conversation. It wasn't an awkward one. I sensed almost a light coming on from John over the phone line. This idea seemed to spark his interest, because we talked about a few more examples. I found an opportunity he had never considered before, but it was essentially too late to act upon because he kept the plots at arm's length.
I have no idea what the higher ups must have been thinking about all this, but issue #4 was fast approaching and John would resume his role as lead and sole writer.
PASSING THE TORCHAs we collectively prepared #3 story (yes, contrary to what John would have you believe, we could still talk like humans to each other every now and then!), we talked a lot about bringing in NEMO, the inventor of Q-Juice, the toxin used in the original Big Bang event. We didn't settle any details, but we all thought it was a cool idea, so we'd do it.
We decided to include a scene in #3 that featured Piranha and Pale Man making a Q-Juice buy from Nemo himself. Piranha wanted to build his freak army, and he was going to build it using Q-Juice. This scene would set up that subplot so John could run with it.
I did exactly that - you can read the scene in #3.
Recall that, for the previous two months, John was acknowledged to be returning to full writing duties. I put stuff in motion, vigorously, for issues #1-3 and John was to take that motion and keep it moving in #4 onward.
Again, Harvey and I were very concerned about the sales trend on STATIC. Please recall this topic from earlier in my statement. This historic sales trend is no joke. It's real. Sales cool. Harvey and I feared that, as retailers were preparing to order #4 through #6, if they didn't see evidence of real story momentum and something important and cool happening that would attract additional readers, they would not change their historical ordering patterns and the book would simply slide into cancellation, if not by issue #6, then maybe by #8 or #10. Again, John expressed a contrary opinion. To him, that stuff wasn't worthy of consideration - only story mattered. And he was gonna bring the story.
Great! Bring it on!
In due time, John's script draft for #4 arrived.
JOHN'S #4 SCRIPT DRAFT #1When I first read the John's first script draft for #4, I was confused and concerned. REALLY confused and REALLY concerned.
His draft opens in Dakota, with a Detective and Hardware investigating a crime - a brutal torture/kidnapping with several murder victims, a missing victim and toxicology evidence that hints at Nemo.
I shared this stuff with Harvey first, who asked me to remain SILENT while he worked on this with John. John is the writer. Harvey had his own concerns, and quite frankly, I don't know what they all were. He said he shared many of my concerns, but I think he had more to say to John.
JOHN'S #4 SCRIPT DRAFT #2 and the REAL MCKEE'S STORY STORY!A short while later, John's second draft arrived. Nervously, I opened the file and began to read.
It was filled with a lot of other detours and weirdness that I didn't really understand.
It opens on a two page scene featuring the Pale Man and his Handler.
I frankly couldn't believe what I was reading.
SOMETHING must be wrong. This surely isn't the masterful, compelling, tightly woven story I was expecting. It was a bit ragged, kind of slow, and kind of confusing. And he had two months to get this together.
I wanted to talk about this with both John and Harvey. I was concerned. What was going on with these characters? What was John's plan here? I didn't see anything that would get readers excited for STATIC.
Harvey set up the call, and we started talking about #4.
It was pretty clear that John was upset at the constant critiques of his work. He was flustered, angry and irritated, not understanding why Harvey and I were constantly attacking his work.
I asked him to explain some motivations. I asked him what he put in place for NEMO's motivation. Why is NEMO trying to establish Q-Juice franchises? John's one word reply: MONEY.
I didn't say anything, but I thought: MONEY?? Really?? That's the BEST you can do here??
I asked him to explain where he was going with the book. What he planned to accomplish. His answers seemed to center on Piranha's army.
Hey, don't get me wrong. I love Piranha. I CREATED him, and his motivations, and his freak army! I don't have anything against Piranha, but the book is called STATIC SHOCK.
I told John to forget Piranha. This isn't about him. I kept hammering at the same question, "What is your plan for Static? What are you going to do with him?
John said he was writing issues #4-6 kind of simultaneously, writing bits of each in turn.
Again, I asked him to simply state what he planned to do with Static. Just describe what challenge he'll face, or what he'll learn. How he'll grow.
John replied that he didn't know yet. He hadn't yet written that part of #6.
Frankly, I was stunned. And boy, I felt those old familiar urges returning hard and fast. John was the writer in charge, and he couldn't say where he was going with the title character.
I asked him how he could possibly write issue #4 without knowing where he was going in #6.
He replied it wasn't necessary to know that yet.
Crom and Mitra! I think steam literally shot out of my ears. This guy was steering the boat, and I feared he didn't have a clue where he was going with the lead character.
I reached for my bookcase, grabbed my copy of Syd Field's SCREENPLAY, and read to him the following passage. For those of you who wish to read along, turn to page 56 and read the following:
So - what's the best way to open your screenplay?Amen, Syd! Testify!
This is what I read to John. I didn't demand rigid adherence to any story structure from McKee's STORY as John describes it.
During my own, brief experience of writing Static, this 'know your ending' lesson was the FIRST lesson that was reinforced. I intellectually knew it was true (because of the clear parallels to how I prepare visual art), but I saw it's real value when plotting out those first three issues. There is just no way to hit all the marks in a story if you don't know where the final mark is.
John is fully in command here. SURELY a writer of John's caliber could answer the simple, direct question I posed: What are you planning to do with Static?
JOHN COULD NOT ANSWER THAT QUESTION.
I admit to becoming extremely angry. I couldn't believe what John was saying. I couldn't believe he hadn't already figured this out.
STATIC sales are sliding toward cancellation, and he can't say what he wants to do with the LEAD CHARACTER.
I reminded him of the volumes of material I wrote and presented to both he and Harvey during my time in the lead, so that they could actively participate in shaping the story or manage what I was doing. Virgil conflicts, Static conflicts, character backstories, and on and on. By contrast, there is nothing much in writing from John at all.
Again he reminded me that he was the writer of the critically-acclaimed series Xombi and I hadn't written a thing before this, but he thanked me personally for having the genius to point out what escaped everyone else's attention until this very moment - that he was a terrible writer (his words, not mine).
John was furious. I was furious. Harvey mercifully ended the conference call!
I called Harvey back immediately, first to apologize for losing my cool (just before the conference I PROMISED Harvey I would stay cool - I obviously failed here), then to ask what just happened, and to ask what was going to happen next. I was ashamed that once again I lost my temper, but we were in real trouble here.
I asked Harvey if my question was unreasonable. I mean, I was truly surprised John couldn't answer that basic question, and didn't have anything written down.
That's when Harvey challenged me to put my money where my mouth was. He suggested I put something together, in writing, along the lines of what I was demanding from John.
Sounded fair. I never ask more of anyone than of myself, so I set down and created the following plan within a day or day and a half of around the clock work:
I showed it to Harvey as something we 'could' do. A model that had at least some structure to start with.
I really liked it. It provided a step of growth for Static - to not cross the line as Static, and that not all villains are irredeemable (which to me seemed a pretty compelling answer to Harvey's initial question: why would Virgil continue to be Static? To help those like Guillotina, who found themselves on the wrong path).
I established the theme of 'drowning.' The story starts in #4 with Static nearly drowning. Nemo is drowwing in his own crises. Guillotina is sinking fast into a ruined life. Static himself is challenged, nearly drowning in his own rage over the amorality of the villains dogging his family. The final battle features a flood of the underwater DARKSTAR complex.
I gave Nemo a much more compelling motivation than mere MONEY. His power of invisibility was actually threatening to KILL him. He was scheming to use anyone, anything and his Q-Juice to save his life.
Harvey actually liked the ideas, too. He showed them to John.
And that was that. In John's eyes, my arrogance and incompetence grew to such enormous and egregious heights that John was forced to resign.
In his eyes, nothing he contributed mattered. In his eyes, I disdained his every stroke from the very beginning, and got my own way in every matter.
In his eyes, he did everything he could to prevent STATIC SHOCK from becoming a total "turd." But he could not withstand the scope and power of my incompetence.
And I am left frankly bewildered, wondering how our experiences can be perceived so differently.
MY NEW ROLEAfter some initial consideration to the contrary, Editorial allowed me to execute the plan I had written for issues #4-6. Another writer would join the team and take over fully with #7. No problem!
I promised to use as much of John's material from #4 that I could while still reaching the planned ending in #6.
Quietly, behind the scenes, I had already acquired every book Milestone published and began to voraciously study everything I could to prepare me for the task at hand. I was even listening to the cartoon episodes as I drew (thank you, YouTube)!
I initially targeted online summaries of the printed volumes, so I could precisely hunt down all the relevant material relating to the Big Bang (it's more complex than you might think, reaching all the way to Dakota Mayor Thomasina Jefferson and S.Y.S.T.E.M.), Hardware, Technique, Static and his previous exploits in NYC (What??? you ask. Yup! HEROES, with headquarters in the top floors of the Chrysler Building!!), stories with interdimensional beings, S.Y.S.T.E.M. agents, everything to do with NEMO (including his passions revealed in Shadow War), and so on. Everything you read in my stories is rock solid with established Milestone continuity.
I discovered some fun extra bits along the way too, like the Skylark and the various HARDWARE suit operating systems (one of which I gave to Static!), fun little snippets of dialogue taken from the original series and applied to this new one. Fun stuff!
Do I consider my work on the story to be award-winning? Certainly not.
But how can John credit me for STATIC's failure when, before I was even involved, he couldn't get a plan approved or get off the ground?
How can John credit me for STATIC's failure when he once again floundered after resuming full control of the story with issue #4?
John had very fixed preconceptions of what STATIC should be, very much aligned with his own Rozum-esque sensibility. When Editorial asked him for a different vision, he got knocked out of kilter and just couldn't regain his balance. He just couldn't see how to move from where he was to where editorial wanted him to be. I didn't cause that.
When I joined the team, I had NO preconceptions. I listened, carefully, to what Harvey was trying to achieve, and then set out to achieve it. I didn't conspire against John. I just did the job the way John should have.
For a variety of reasons, many people regard this book as a total failure. I must be totally out of touch with reality, because while it was far from perfect, I think it was also far from being a total "turd."
I thought it was a romping adventure that featured a young hero who was discovering new things about himself - about his powers, about his perception of people. We (most of it from me and Harvey) extended his power set in believable ways entirely consistent with his TRUE core ability (his telekinetic ability to manipulate electrons). We (mostly me) introduced a lot of characters to implement STATIC's story of growth.
It might not have been what people expected, but wasn't that an important ingredient of the DCnU relaunch? There was a lot of NEW in this STATIC.
But, more importantly, we got the character of Virgil Hawkins absolutely RIGHT. I've read the STATIC Bible over and over, and I fail to see where we got the character STATIC/Virgil wrong.
You might argue that there was too much action, and not enough time with his peers. Fine. I actually agree with you there. But some of that is due to John squashing an opportunity to bring his peers into the story from the very beginning with my charter school idea. After smashing this idea down, John offered no other solution to introduce his teen peers to the story, instead insisting Virgil be in the adult environment at S.T.A.R. Labs.
WHY STATIC SHOCK FAILEDI honestly believe STATIC SHOCK was cancelled simply because there was not enough fan support. Period.
That's not an indictment on anyone - editor, creator or fan. STATIC has many passionate and loyal fans. The sad truth is that there just aren't enough of them to keep this book going.
John would have you believe that editorial interference played a part in STATIC failing. If only the STATIC SHOCK writer was allowed the unencumbered freedom to do his creative work, like the talents on ANIMAL MAN, STATIC would be SOARING.
NOTE: JOHN chose to single out ANIMAL MAN in his public statement, so let's check it out. But don't worry, fans of AM - all will be well!
Because John pays little attention to market realities, he can't see the error in his logic.
Here is a chart of ANIMAL MAN, the SIX CANCELLED SERIES (including STATIC SHOCK), and John's XOMBI series.
It's pretty clear. While numerically ANIMAL MAN is doing better than STATIC SHOCK in it's cooling, the curve trends are very similar.
If you started ANIMAL MAN at the same #1 level as the six cancelled series (imagine grabbing that red line and dragging it downward until it overlaps the 6 titles at issue #1), IT TOO WOULD BE FACING CANCELLATION at this time. John, your argument fails.
The difference: ANIMAL MAN had larger fan support. ANIMAL MAN debuted clearly higher than all the cancelled books. It'll survive the historical cooling pattern. Fans of ANIMAL MAN, REJOICE!
Second, for all the "turd" bashing, STATIC SHOCK is performing exactly as the other titles are performing. In fact, the STATIC SHOCK line is on the graph - it's just perfectly buried under another data line! ALL are cooling historically. They just didn't debut high enough to survive. None had enough fan support.
I know John is very proud of his work on XOMBI. That's great. He's never expressed any indication that he suffered editorial interference on Xombi, so that's out of the equation. So why didn't Xombi soar?
Xombi was cancelled because of low fan support. You can see it on the graph, way down at the bottom! That's not an indictment of the quality of the XOMBI creative material - it's simply a matter of not enough fan support.
Just like STATIC and the other cancelled titles.
Here's another graph, this time simply looking at all the YOUNG JUSTICE books.
Again, STATIC SHOCK is performing EXACTLY like all the other titles in its group (and like MOST of the other titles in the entire line, actually).
STATIC isn't uniquely tanking due to creator incompetence or editorial interference. It is cooling below the cut line simply because it DIDN'T DEBUT HIGH ENOUGH.
That's it. There are no racial conspiracies. There are no tragic "IF ONLY"s. There is no magic bullet that could have changed matters.
STATIC SHOCK WAS CANCELLED SIMPLY BECAUSE THERE WAS NOT ENOUGH FAN SUPPORT. Period.
I honestly believe that to be true.
I did EVERYTHING in my ability to fight this conclusion.
For what it's worth, I created the best characters/motivations I could, I created the best dramatic conflict I could, and I wrote the very best story I could. I created the very best art I could, as well.
At my own time and expense, and fast self-education, I assembled the STATIC SHOCK promotional trailer videos (4 so far) and worked to get them carried by comics news sites, hoping to build positive excitement and interest among fans.
In fact, here is the latest FLASH promotional trailer I produced to build excitement on STATIC. It took me a little over 16 hours (a marathon all-nighter):
I did EVERYTHING in my power to make this book a succees.
Can John say the same?
ONE LAST OBSERVATIONI conclude this section of my reply with this last observation.
If, as he claims, John really tried to do everything he could to prevent STATIC SHOCK from failing, WHY IN THE WORLD WOULD HE PUBLICLY ANNOUNCE HIS RESIGNATION IN THE VERY MIDDLE OF THE FIRST MONTH'S ROLLOUT OF THE NEW 52?????
Surely John knew that the company had been meticulously planning this relaunch for a LONG time, investing much time, talent and money to carefully build positive buzz that was FINALLY being realized with the rollout of the new #1's.
More to the point: there is no way under heaven that John's sudden, public resignation announcement could POSITIVELY impact STATIC SHOCK. His sudden, public resignation announcement could ONLY HURT STATIC SHOCK. And he did it anyway.
Just an observation. You figure out what it means.
CONCLUDING REMARKSI have taken no pleasure in defending myself against the odd, distorted charges leveled at me by my colleague, John Rozum, but I couldn't see any other way to correct the record he chose to make so public.
I have absolutely zero interest in speaking more on this matter. I sincerely hope and pray that this lengthy statement will be enough, even if John decides he is again compelled to issue yet another public statement on this matter. I will resist any further commentary with all my strength.
But I cannot end things like this.
You see, more than ANYTHING else, I feel I let my Lord down. I am a conservative Christian man, and I try to live my life by Jesus' example. I know He wasn't pleased with me.
But I've asked for His forgiveness. And He's given it. He's in that business, you know.
But I still need to ask John to forgive me for becoming so doggedly fierce at times. I SHOULD have spoken the truth in LOVE, but I spoke it in ANGER. And that was wrong.
When I first learned of John's resignation, I called him right away, and left a detailed message asking him to call me back, that I wanted to convince him to stay on board, promising that we could find SOME way to make this work. I told him he was expert with these characters, and STATIC needed him.
He didn't pick up, and he didn't call me back.
I certainly understand.
So I will make my apologies publicly. I hope he will find them.
John, for my part in all your distress, I do sincerely apologize. I honestly think you are a talented writer that just became entangled in all the unique pressures of this series, because they are real and they are potent. For my part, I apologize, and I hope you will accept my apology.
I suspect your wife bore your burden as well. I offer my sincerest apologies to you, Mrs. Rozum, for any suffering I may have caused you and your husband. I never intended anything but genuine camaraderie and creative collaboration. I hope you too will accept my apology.
Last but by no means least, John, I know you have a son. I don't know if he sensed anything wrong with Dad, but I wish to extend my apologies to him as well. Master Rozum, I am deeply sorry for any hurt I caused you or your Dad. I hope you can forgive me.
After all, in the end, real people are far more important than the fictional people on which we labor so intently. God loves us all, and He expects us to love each other.
Thank you all for your patient attention in this matter.
INVITATIONI love spending time creating and learning. I am thankful for the blessings, talent and opportunities I have received from God that allowed me to achieve my dream. In return, I promised God that I would help others, too.
If by chance any aspiring comic book artists are reading these words, I invite you to the bright, fun side of comics!
The 'DRAWING COMICS' section of my site features a huge collection of tutorials I have written to help the aspiring comic book artist prepare for work in the industry. I want my legacy to be one of generous giving, of helping others achieve their dreams. I receive email from people literally all over the world thanking me for information they find here - maybe there's something that can help you achieve your dreams, too!
To you, aspiring artist (a.k.a., my future colleague), I wish you every success!
HTML Comment Box is loading comments...