Sunday, January 22, 2012
Why I Quit Static Shock
This post is to clarify some comments a made on facebook, which were picked up by Bleeding Cool News about why I left the comic book series Static Shock which was one of the 52 titles that were part of DC Comics' much celebrated relaunch last fall. The comments were made in a Milestone specific group and were meant more to shed light on my feelings about the missed opportunity to show the true potential of the character of Static, and what I had hoped to do with the character, and series, when I was asked to write it, and less to do with my reasons for leaving. Because the comments were made casually, I left a lot of room for interpretation for anyone reading them, which isn't fair to any parties involved, so I'm taking this opportunity to offer some clarity.
Initially, I had never intended to openly discuss the reasons why I chose to leave Static Shock. My reasons were my own, and I felt that after expressing them to the powers that be at DC Comics and after discussing them with Bob Harras that the situation was resolved amicably and that there was no reason to say anything further than acknowledging that I had indeed left the series. However, since the announcement that Static Shock would cease publication with issue #8 ( I was only involved with issues 1-4) there's been a lot of online chatter about why the series failed, and I've received a lot of angry email blaming me for wrecking the series, the character, and the opportunity for an African-American character to take center stage at one of the big publishing companies. I've had people announce that due to the low quality of comic that they would no longer buy anything that had my name on it. I've had an editor at a publisher other than DC say they weren't interested in having me write for them because they thought Static Shock was a poor comic book series.
I don't really care what people think of me personally. Not everyone is going to like me, that's a given. That's okay. I don't really care if people don't like my work. I can't please everyone. No one can. That's okay, too. There are enough people who do like my work that I'm happy to have them, and happy to let those who don't like my work read the stuff they do like. That's all good. I finally spoke out because I'm unwilling to have my professional reputation damaged because of something that is not my responsibility. I've always been very vocal about crediting my collaborators for their contributions, or for others for inspiring aspects of my work, and always been completely willing to take responsibility for something I did that turned out to be less than it could have been.
This brings me to Static. When I was asked to write Static Shock for DC Comics, it was no doubt because of my long relationship with Milestone Comics (where the character originated, as did Xombi) and because of my long, close friendship with Static's creator, Dwayne McDuffie, who died nearly a year ago. I was excited by the opportunity. I loved the character, who I'd previously written in an issue of Kobalt way back when, and was looking forward to writing something so radically different from what I'm usually offered, but still infusing it with my own sensibility and giving the world a comic book series full of creativity, crazy ideas, and a lot of fun and humor unlike any of the other 51 titles that DC would be offering up last September. I thought Static had the potential to be one of DCs A-list characters, and not simply some supporting character incorporated from an outside company's pantheon of heroes. I never felt that Xombi lent itself well to full incorporation into the DC Universe and would always have to exist as it's own pocket world in the DCU. With Static Shock, however, I was fully looking forward to embracing all areas of the greater DCU, and also using the series as a gateway to not only showcase how cool all of the other Milestone characters were, but to bring them into the DCU in their own right.
To say I was disappointed with how things turned out is an understatement. From the first issue on, I was essentially benched by Harvey Richards and artist/writer Scott McDaniel. All of my ideas and suggestions were met with disdain, and Scott McDaniel lectured me on how my method for writing was wrong because it wasn't what the Robert McKee screenwriting book he read told him was the way to do things. The man who'd never written anything was suddenly more expert than me and the editor was agreeing with him. Scott had also never read a Static comic book, nor seen the cartoon series, yet was telling me that my dialogue didn't sound true to the character and would "fix it."
There was more concern about seeing that the title sold and didn't get cancelled than there was in telling good stories and having something coherent to bring readers in. This is what led Harvey to insist on the stuff with the two Sharon's and cutting off Static's arm. He had no answers for how to resolve these things, but thought it would keep reader's wowed enough to stick with the series. This, too, was frustrating. It was a lot of grasping at straws and trying to second guess what would keep it selling. It was decided that "bigger action" on every page of every issue was the key.
Static's alter ego, Virgil, who was more important to the original series than his super hero persona, was put on the very back burner because Harvey said it wasn't important and that the book just needed to be all action. One of my scripts was deemed too slow because there were a total of 4 pages where no one was hitting or shooting anything. Essentially my job was to transcribe Scott's voluminous and often clunky dialogue into a script format. Any efforts I made to try and finesse, edit, or reduce his dialogue or captions, offended him, and everything had to be changed back to how he'd originally written it, while my dialogue always required his improvement. Scott, to be fair, had a lot of great ideas, but did not have the writing skills necessary to make these ideas compelling stories, but was not willing to take any suggestions, or changes that I'd give him. As a writer, I understand the desire to want to protect you ideas and to believe that they are all golden, but this was supposed to be a collaborative experience, and I was supposed to be the writer with experience. To give credit where credit is due, my meager contributions to Static Shock amount to including Hardware, naming the school after Dwayne McDuffie, giving Virgil an after school job at S.T.A.R. labs, the Pale Man, Guillotina and the random line of dialogue. That's about it.If you didn't like any of those things, blame me. Everything else was Scott and Harvey.
It could be said that it's Harvey's right as editor to decide that Scott's ideas, and writing in general, were better than mine, and maybe he was even right. In that case though, why keep me on the series as co-writer? Scott could have transcribed his own dialogue into script form. No one needed me for that. I was hired as writer, and the series was being published with me listed as such even though there was little to nothing between the covers of the comic that came from me. Even worse, it was all material I didn't believe in, and thought was substandard fare that we'd seen in a million comic books before.
It was a miserable experience, which I tried to weather professionally, and see if I could turn back into my favor, but that never worked. I was also determined to stick with it out of loyalty to Dwayne McDuffie hoping that I could fix what was going very wrong with this series. I even voiced my unhappiness with Harvey Richards who promised me that the situation would change. When I received an email from Harvey telling me that he and Scott had been plotting out the series without me, after Harvey had promised me that I'd be back in the driver's seat as the writer, I'd had enough and quit. The experience as a whole was incredibly stressful, and I became physically ill just seeing an email in my inbox from either Harvey, or Scott.
My quitting was something that I spent a lot of time considering. It was while promoting the then forthcoming first issue that I first began to think about leaving. Even though I pushed the series, including here, where I posted the various villains in the days leading up to the issue #1 debut, my heart wasn't really in it. I avoided most interviews because I couldn't bring myself to lie about being enthusiastic about a book I had little to do with, and which I felt was not very good. I never announced the publication of any other issues for the same reason. I couldn't encourage anyone to buy them.
Again, it really came down to how this was affecting my professional reputation. No one outside of Harvey, Scott and myself knew what was really going on behind the scenes. When I saw that a lot of people were buying Static Shock because of how much they enjoyed my pervious series, Xombi, I felt that it was unethical and irresponsible for me to let them be deceived into buying something that I had made no real contribution to. I won't take credit for work that's not mine -- good, or bad. I also felt that after nearly two decades in the comic book industry and finally being recognized for my work with Xombi, I was unwilling to see that erased with Static Shock, which I felt was a mediocre comic book series, at best, a view which a lot of readers seemed to share, and blame me for.
I was stunned by how unprofessionally I was being treated by my editor, with whom I'd previously had nothing but a positive working relationship with for the bulk of my career in comics, and by Scott McDaniel, who seemed like a nice, personable guy, and the interactions he's had with his fans that I've read would indicate really is one. My negative experience was exclusively with these two people and not with anyone else at DC Comics, or with DC as a whole. As I said, no one knew any of this was happening until I quit and let the executives at DC know why. Anyone who wants to believe that my experience was some general DC policy would be wrong to think that. Bob Harras, Geoff Johns, Dan Didio, and Jim Lee did not tell Harvey Richards to reject all of my contributions on this. Harvey decided that, himself. All of my other experiences with a variety of people at DC going back to the 90s have been overwhelmingly positive. Again, they handled the situation, once I quit, rather well, I thought.
As a side note, some people read into my comment about looking for work from other publishers when I left Static Shock as some veiled hint that all was not good between DC and I. As anyone who freelances could tell you, new projects take months to reach the point where actual work is being done on them, and anyone is being paid. While I do have projects under consideration at DC, I'm still interested in working on other things. Since Static Shock, I've been concentrating my efforts on a project outside of comics which I can't announce yet, but was a nice change of pace. I'm still looking for things to do with other publishers as well, and am always willing to consider projects.
Static Shock did not get cancelled because DC has some racist motivation against minority characters, or the Milestone characters. Static Shock was cancelled, in my opinion, because it wasn't a good comic book. If it had been, people would have stuck with it, just as they have with Animal Man, who is a C-list character elevated by the talents of its creative team being allowed to do what they do best. DC wanted Static Shock to succeed as much as anyone did. They would never have started the series if they didn't think it had a chance to do so.
If you enjoy Static Shock, which by all means you have the right to do, then thank Harvey Richards and Scott McDaniel. They deserve full credit for everything you've read. Scott, constantly while rejecting my ideas and dialogue, would say he was doing it in an effort to put out the best comic book possible. I believe he was really trying to do that and was unfortunately saddled with me, a collaborator completely unsuited to his sensibility, and apparently unskilled enough to handle the task. From the first interviews supporting the launch of this series, I went out of my way to suggest that Scott was doing it almost single handedly. That wasn't me simply trying to be gracious. It was the truth.
If you hated the series, and like me, felt that it could have been something much more than it was, I'm sorry. Good, or bad. This is not the Static Shock that I had hoped it would be. It's not the way I would have written it. I hope this isn't the last time that Static will be given his own series. Even if he does manage to return, chances are high, I won't be writing it.
I don't plan to say anything else about this experience, and never had planned to say anything at all. Again, I'm just trying to correct assumptions made and preserve my professional reputation as a writer, and to keep people from making assumptions that my negative experience stemmed from some general policy at DC Comics. I plan to continue creating work for DC for as long as they'll let me.