In yesterday’s post, I wrote about how the Jack Kirby Awards were established. It was a reaction to the Comics Buyer’s Guide Fan Awards. It came from a germ of an idea from either Gary Groth or Kim Thompson at Fantagrapics Books. The goal being to establish awards based on the votes of comic professionals, ones that might be respected both within the industry and in the outside world.
I also promised a little melodrama as well as some lying and betrayal, so strap in for this reasonably long second chapter of our adventure in comic industry awards.
In addition to my responsibilities as managing editor of Amazing Heroes and my work in sales, marketing and production at Fantagraphics Books, I also spent a lot of time and energy working on The Jack Kirby Comics Industry Awards. In those early days, the awards nominations were open to all comic book professionals and then a second round of ballots were produced for professionals to vote on the comics and creators that were nominated. There was no blue ribbon panel that handled the nomination process.
As rushed as we were, those first set of awards came together pretty smoothly. I made mental notes of how to increase participation in the process and how to better promote them. I talked with a lot of people about the awards. I was concerned that the future life of the awards would depend on a short list of things: hard work, relentless promotion, a reliable process and credibility. To have respected professional awards, you need the people in the industry to believe that the results are honest and to “buy into” the process and participate.
With the second year of the awards, both growth and additional participation were getting harder and harder to achieve and I set about to find out why.
During my time at Fantagraphics Books, I had witnessed first hand an extremely wide variety of reactions when I introduced myself as someone who worked for the company. Most of the negative reactions centered on people’s reaction to The Comics Journal, but sometimes it was directed at the whole company. I’ve already written a post about one such incident involving Walter Simonson and his refusal to be interviewed for Amazing Heroes.
Time after time, professional after professional, discussion after discussion including creators and executives that had no axe to grind as well as those that had blatant and open dislike for Fantagraphics, it was explained to me that the awards would never be respected industry-wide as long as it was associated with Fantagraphics Books and The Comics Journal.
It shouldn’t be necessary, but let me set the record 100 percent straight these many, many, many years later. Despite the fact that nominations and award voting was often a disappointment to the powers that be at Fantagraphics, at no time were the results ever influenced or tampered with in any way whatsoever. There … controversy averted.
A quick check of the placement of the chess pieces would be appropriate here, in the interest of both fairness and accuracy. I had voluntarily left the employment of Fantagraphics Books in late September 1985 to work for Dominos Pizza. I left for financial reasons. As I was leaving, I had asked Groth and Thompson to continue my work on the Kirby Awards. It had become a source of great pride to me and I believed the awards showed great promise and it allowed me to stay involved in the industry that I loved (comics). They agreed.
By April of 1986, I was working at Sunrise Distribution, Scott Rosenberg’s Los Angeles-based comic book distribution company . By then most of the work had been done for the 1986 Awards (for comics published in 1985) and we had a small well-attended panel room at San Deigo Con 1986 for the awards presentation. It was at this afternoon panel, with little or no fanfare, that Steve Rude openly wept when presented with his Best Artist Award.
By January of 1987, Rosenberg and I had come to an agreement to create Malibu Comics. It is here that the pissing match … uh … melodrama really begins. During the formation of Malibu, Rosenberg’s Sunrise Distribution was struggling financially for reasons that had nothing to do with Malibu. There is a whole other adventure to be written about this portion of the story, but in an effort to stay on point, let me keep this short.
After the announcement of Malibu Graphics (soon to be Malibu Comics), people from Fantagraphics called and asked questions about how our new venture was being financed. I lied to them. It was wrong. I was wrong. I had maintained my relationships with everyone involved with Malibu and looked out for its (our) best interests, but I’d done so through deceit.
Then I proceeded to make the situation worse, because I was emotionally attached to the Jack Kirby Awards. It had become clear to me through my wide ranging talks with industry leaders of every kind, level of involvement and degree of influence that the “problem” with the Kirby Awards was its ties to Fantagraphics Books and The Comics Journal. From my informed perspective, the awards had no chance of achieving the respect and legitimacy that I was striving for as long as it maintained its ties to the company where they originated. Over the years, The Comics Journal had angered, irritated, annoyed and offended so many within the industry that a negative taint would always follow the awards.
Today, more than 20 years later, I don’t know if that association was an insurmountable obstacle to the goals that I had for the Jack Kirby Awards, but it seemed very certain at the time.
I put a plan into motion and started taking actions to coax the awards away from Fantagraphics and continue to work on this project that I had come to love so much. These kinds of activities cannot stay secret for long and word of my behavior reached the Fantagraphics offices. From their perspective, I was in the process of stealing something owned by Fantagraphics Books. In hindsight, I think that they were correct. I had gone from liar to thief.
The details of the communications and discussions that I had with Fantagraphics during this contentious period have long ago faded from my memory. But it wasn’t long before I got a call from Jack Kirby himself. He told me, in that straight-forward fashion that I respected so much, that he couldn’t and wouldn’t have his name caught up in the middle of a fight between Fantagraphics and me. It was clear to him that the damage to the awards would be beyond repair.
Jack Kirby told me that he wasn’t going to have his name attached to any awards, whether run by me or by Fantagraphics, out of respect for both parties.
And so it ended.
Gary Groth and Kim Thompson at Fantagraphics Books were right. Jack Kirby did the right thing. With the best of intentions and carried away with my emotions, I behaved badly and did the wrong thing.
End of confession. I hope that this tale provides an object lesson about doing the right thing, even when it is hard, even when you stand to lose something you love. I did not and I regret it.
That’s my version of the story.
— Dave Olbrich (DWO) Wed. Dec. 17, 2008