Some artists get a reputation for being difficult to work with. Fortunately, for me, as challenging a I can be as a person, as an artist and illustrator, while I can be passionate and emotional about my work (and what good is an artist that isn’t?), I’ve never had the reputation for being difficult to work with. Oh, certainly I have given some of my art director’s a hard time, but they always came back, why? They came back because I delivered, I was dependable, I was fun even for my excesses and emotions, and because in the end, however hard I would fight and bitch about revisions I felt were detrimental to the piece, in the end I knew my place.
The illustrator’s place is to give in and fulfill the needs of the client. In other words, in the end, no matter how strongly I may feel about a requested revision, I always do what the client asks. What’s best for the project is not in every single case (though usually is) what I have drawn, and just as often what is best is not always what the client wants, that is why it is essential for both sides to battle it out. It is the illustrator’s responsibility to fight for their work and for the project if they feel their idea is better. Any artist who is not willing to fight for their work is not doing the client any real favors. I have occasionally managed to convince a client that I was right in the first place, but far more often I have had to back down and do what was asked, and just as often the client has been right and I have been more than happy to make the changes.
In my mind, though, the bottom line is, illustrators are really in the service industry and we have to accept that. We have to serve the needs of the project by fighting, but in the end our real responsibility is to fulfill the client’s needs even if we feel it is not in the best interest of the project.
As I said before, my clients always came back and were quite loyal, knowing I would never blow a deadline and I would never take on a project I could not complete on time. I worked with the same art director’s for years sometimes. Peter Whitley (formerly of WOTC) was my favorite, and we would have many back and forths about proposed revisions, the thing was, Pete and I loved working together no matter how quarrelsome we could get over a piece. Once Pete said to me, “Just shut up and do the revision,” which I of course was going to do however hard I had been fighting not to.
This has come up again, upon my return to the world of freelance, and the specifics of it have all fallen rather into place for me, and I thought might make an interesting entry, and perhaps a fascinating insight into the realities of a freelance illustrator’s life, process, and struggles.
I have been working on a fabulous project, an adaption of Odysseus for comics. Thing is, as a kid I loved Greek Myth! I read and studied tons of it, and of course, I always adored Jason and the Argonauts (Ray Harryhausen). I came to this project already knowing it well, and having clearly imprinted ideas on the emotional reality of certain scenes. One of the first disagreements in interpretation I had with the writer/editor/art director was over the scene where Odysseus’s men open the bag that controls the winds when Odysseus, who had been guarding it, falls asleep. The winds blow the ship far from home and out into nowhere… the middle of the sea. I recall the scene as being heartbreaking, and I recall being so angry with the disloyalty of Odysseus’ men. It seemed quite a dark and awful scene to me as a child reading it. I saw his men as villains when first I read this. Of course, all these decades later and I communicated that in the illustrations. The writer/editor felt that I had gone too far, that the men were more curious than mutinous, that these men had travelled this far with Odysseus, that this was not evil or a great betrayal. I, however, had seen the men as possessed by their own evil. But, in this case I realized that however much this reading of the scene betrayed my powerful emotional attachment to the scene, that under the circumstances, the writer was correct. This particular project is intended to help work as a therapy tool for soldiers, so this reading of the scene absolutely made more sense in this circumstance.
Additionally there were numerous other little changes that mattered little to me, but mattered to the continuity, so I had no problem changing them.
But then came this page:
Barefoot Justine Odysseus
OK, there’s a lot going on in here, but the long and short of it is, the powers that be want me to remove the third panel.
Oh how I did not want to remove that panel.
For a start, I had thought exceptionally hard about not only the page, but the emotional arc of the panels. Panel 1 shows Odysseus essentially in shock or denial that they have been blown so far from home. Panel 2 shows Odysseus in grief, and panel 3 shows Odysseus getting himself together, as it is and was his responsibility to lead, however horrible he feels. They felt the panel was redundant and rather stunk of bad acting, that it added nothing and had to go. I just wanted them to leave it alone.
Add to this that this entire project has been a huge stretch for me, I mean a HUGE one. I have been experimenting with noir-style lighting, especially on the faces, and I never used to draw like that. Also, due to the fact that this was supposed to be a “testosterone” book (that word was used), and most of the artists are women, that I would try really hard to hold back my feminine preferences and ways of drawing and try and deliver that, so I changed my approach. I had been stretching myself by trying to model the faces more in the tradition of an Al Williamson or a Hal Foster. Those men became my icons. That page (11), and that panel (3) were struggles and victories for me. I had reached for something and felt I had taken hold of it and figured a few important things out.
I drew and redrew panel 3, trying to get it just right, so it would have a real sense of solidity and form, a definite emotional center, and a bit of Al Williamson’s grace and style. I had erased, researched and redrew. At one point I had even gotten up out of bed to rework it well after I had quit drawing for the day. I never do that!
So, as you see, I was rather attached to the panel.
So, the first time it came up that they wanted it removed, I fought for it, and I won. All parties agreed that it was fine and could stay. I was, of course, happy, as I have rarely won any such battle. Usually the client wins hands down, however right or wrong they may be. But this time… hell yeah… I won!
(insert that needle scraping across a record sound here)
So, I came home today from working for a client, and discovered that the traffic ticket that I was told was not in the system and I therefor did not have to pay for was not only now in the system, but it had been there all along and my license was now in the process of being suspended! I mean, really, this battle had been won in my favor, the ticket was lost and I didn’t even have to pay it! And now, not only did I have to pay it, but there was a penalty and my license was in the process of being suspended. Fuckin’ aye! So I had to hustle up the money (which I didn’t have) and go to the bank to deposit money (which I took from my rent envelope… I have NO rent money now), so I could pay this ticket and try and stop them from suspending my license. And this was all a battle I had thought I had won, I thought it was over. In the end Joe insisted we go to the courthouse to fight it, which I was not prepared for. Problem was I was already on the road towards the bank in shorts and barefoot! I’m always barefoot, but when I go to courthouses and stuff I discreetly hide my feet under bell bottoms or long skirts. The cop stopped me and told me I could not go in barefoot. We managed to talk him into letting me by. I have NO idea how I managed that, but I did!
I came home after this ordeal, feeling utterly helpless, but ready and eager to draw, only to open my email and discover that they had all changed their minds and panel 3 needed to go. I felt even more helpless now. I was helpless against the county regarding my ticket, and now I was helpless with my own work and was going to have to erase this drawing that I was attached to.
OK, group, I lost my cool a little. I pitched an itty bitty of a white girl hissy. I was not up to going from the helplessness of one won-then-lost battle to a second won-then-lost battle. I fought it hard, perhaps too hard, but I was seriously torqued up! I now regret that I hadn’t just nodded and let it go, but it’s like that sometimes. The other thing is, yes, I am not only passionate about my work, but highly emotional (like I don’t know how annoying that can be to people), and sometimes as hard as I try… I just boil and can’t seem to help myself. My responses were certain and perhaps too strident, but they were measured.
So, the question is, am I difficult to work with?
I don’t know, I sure as hell hope not.
I erased panel 3.