Evan Dorkin, Staten Island creator of Milk & Cheese and other inspired comic books, recently wrote a nice essay on his Patreon about the late, great comic book writer and editor Archie Goodwin and being decent in the comics industry. For some reason, Evan's fond memory triggered a negative one for me. I've never told this story in public and I won't name names, but it happened in the late 1990s when I was visiting a friend who worked at one of the major comic book publishers in NYC.
While walking the halls ogling awesome superhero covers towards my friend's office, I saw an assistant editor who I knew from a few industry gatherings at local bars. He had just been promoted to full-time editor on a big-time book that was selling like hotcakes. He smiled and suggested I come to his office, because he wanted to ask me something. Naturally, I was excited to be invited. The editor knew I wanted to draw comics. Maybe he was going to ask me to draw something? My nerves were rattling.
After visiting my friend, I walked down the hall to the editor's office, and he asked me to close the door behind me. I figured he wanted to tell me about a cool, new secret project he wanted me involved in or recommend me to other editors for work. Instead, he lowered his voice and asked, "Do you know where I can score some cocaine"? I chuckled immediately and said "What?" I figured it was a weird hazing process to inaugurate me into the professional fold. He repeated his cocaine query and I was stunned. I kept a smile on my face but a lump formed in my throat.
I tried to make a joke out of it and said something like, "I might look scrappy, but I don't do drugs. And, I don't know where to get them. Sorry, man." He thought I was kidding, but I wasn't. I'd experimented with drugs in college, but I'd limited my substance abuse to Olde English 800 and Jim Beam. The awkward moment turned into small talk, and I reminded him how much I wanted to draw comic books. He opened the door and wished me luck. Said he'd try to get me a gig down the line. Still,my heart sank as I left the major comic book publishing house and wondered if I would ever work professionally in comic books.
My love for DC and Marvel characters and creating my own protagonists couldn't stop me. But the indignity of that editor had me hesitate getting close to the editors I would eventually work with most of my career. Where some writers and editors establish a lifelong trust with their editors, I have always been wary. Not because I believe editors to be crack addicts, but because a fascination with working for the dream factories that held my hand through childhood and puberty came crashing down on me like a building on Spider-man. You could say that cold day at the major publisher was the day I became an adult. Not through romance, fatherhood or a person who could pay bills on their own, but because someone who I should've looked up to, someone who was a custodian of the things I love, looked at me and saw a drug dealer instead of an artist.
The last four years have been especially toxic. Exacerbated by social media, politics, a global pandemic and quarantine, protests, riots and civil unrest. A lot of proactive dismantling is happening, but we all suffer macro and micro indignities, and I've been known to furnish a few of my own. It's human nature. Nobody is perfect, but when you have the ability to expand someone's horizons and are called to the chair, please try to remember that you've been put into a sensitive position of helping motivate aspiration into action. Be real, be fair, but try not to douse the fire of desire. I know I've failed many times as a mentor and a friend, but I'm trying to do better. Be better.
Create. Relate. Innovate.