This was originally published in February, 2006.
One thing I learned about this interview is that creators can never take their rights for granted. You would think that after all these years with the horrible stories of Siegel and Shuster, Jack Kirby, Bill Finger and many others that publishers these days would never try to screw somebody that badly. Especially by 1989. Scott McCloud’s Creator Bill of Rights was drafted the year prior.
You’d be wrong.
You remember that movie Men in Black? The funny one with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones? Did you know the movie came from a little seen black and white comic book published in 1990? This month we interview the artist from that comic, Sandy Carruthers. In the interview, we reveal some shocking details about how Sandy was compensated (or how he wasn’t) and we look at some other work of his including Captain Canuck.
Jamie: When did you break into the comics industry and what was your first work?
Sandy Carruthers: 1988? 89? Around there. It was the California based Malibu Graphics Sci-Fi wing (Eternity Comics). They published a B&W anthology series called ‘The Shattered Earth Chronicles’. I submitted a proposal ‘Twilights Last’, and they took it. From there, they started to send me comicbook work.
Jamie: How did you end up drawing Men in Black?
Sandy Carruthers: The editor, Tom Mason, called me and asked if I could read the script. I liked Sci-Fi and UFO stuff, so I grabbed it up. The writer Lowell Cunningham was situated in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Jamie: I understand you got no compensation from the movies? Was there a contract between you and Malibu Comics?
Sandy Carruthers: Nope! Not a cent of the $857,000,000 profit made from it. Go figure. I was hired with a contract that only gave me rights to my ORIGINAL art (meaning, if they reproduce it…then they pay me)…I wasn’t the creator, Lowell was. What did I know? They only published 8000 copies fercripessake!
Jamie: How did Lowell make out on the Men in Black?
Sandy Carruthers: He did very well. Lowell is a clever man….he was the creator, after all, and established it right away. I say, good on ’em!
Jamie: On the issue of creating, how much of Men in Black was visually established prior to your coming on? Did you have to contribute anything visually?
Sandy Carruthers: There were no visuals . . . just a script. Everything you see is mine, mine, mine.
Jamie: When you say the contract was only for the original art, did you not get a page rate?
Sandy Carruthers: Malibu worked on royalties, not page rates. They paid an up front amount ($250.00 per issue) and if the title met a certain ratio, I’d get a percentage. MIB did okay. Again. Small publishing house. I was glad to be printed, to be honest. Money? Fahhh!
Jamie: Was the contract the same for the 2nd mini series you and Lowell did together?
Sandy Carruthers: That was the standard Malibu contract.
Jamie: Would you contribute to a TPB reprinting your original two series?
Sandy Carruthers: No.
Jamie: After going through that experience, what would you recommend young freelancers/creators do in a similar situation?
Sandy Carruthers: Evaluate the contract. Talk to a lawyer about ‘what’s in it for you’…weigh the value of your work. Think, ‘What if…. movie, merchandise, tv series’ and apply it to the terms. Cover your ass! Honestly? It wasn’t a fact that I was ‘screwed over’ by Malibu. I just didn’t think it would go as far as it did. Malibu was very good to me during those years…live and learn, and carry on. Life is too short, and so am I.
Jamie: I had a talk with Neal Adams last summer in which he talked about a publisher’s moral responsibility to spread the wealth on such success, rather than sticking to the letter of the law or contract. What is your view on moral vs. legal responsibility?
Sandy Carruthers: Most large comicbook publishers work on assembly lines. They are corporations that have one solid objective: to make money. I like the current trend that’s happening now. Traditional Book Publishers breaking into the Graphic Novel industry. These publishers treat their creators with great respect.
Again, read the fine print. Dare to call the shots. Most comic book creators are just so happy to be published by the ‘big two’ that they get clouded in their judgements, business wise. The big guys know this. Hey! It ain’t personal, it’s business! Really, creators call their own shots. The bottom line is you can always say “no.”
Jamie: What did you think of the two movies?
Sandy Carruthers: I liked the first one…the second was redundant same-o, same-o. Seriously, I wish the humour would’ve been in the vein of the Coen Brothers…more dark. Alas! They went for the bucks, though! Loved the ending, though . . . we are marbles!!
Jamie: After the movie came out, Marvel did new Men in Black comics and there were cartoons, toys, video games, etc.. Were you involved in any of it?
Sandy Carruthers: No. God, no.
Jamie: I understand Richard Comely turned Captain Canuck into a comic strip and you drew some of it during the 90s. Can you tell us about that?
Sandy Carruthers: Comely came out with Captain Canuck:Reborn during the 90’s. I contacted him and he wanted me to draw Catman (splatter)..the series went kaput and Richard had me illustrate the daily comic script that was to be in the newspaper. That was hell! Dailies are no fun, folks…. way too much deadline pressure. That really didn’t go anywhere either, but it was fun working on the good Captain!
Jamie: Did the comic strip actually see print somewhere?
Sandy Carruthers: Very little. Maybe two papers picked it up.
Jamie: You and Mark Shainblum are supposed to be reviving Captain Canuck. What is the latest on that?
Sandy Carruthers: We started a limited series and produced an ashcan. We even lined up Canadiana penciller Jeff Alward to work on issue 2, but alas… the latest on it (from my perspective, anyway) is it’s fairly dead in the water.
Jamie: Dave Sim mentioned when he first published Cerebus, only one Canadian store would stock it – the one he used to work at. Considering all the starts and stops Captain Canuck has had over the years, do you think Canadians don’t support home grown work enough or is our market just too small?
Sandy Carruthers: A little of both, really. It all depends. In this day of Global Neighborhood, what does it matter? With Canadiana, I have readers all over the world (even Iraq!) …what does this say? It says Canadians have an excellent potential for export here, so…have at ‘er, I say!
Jamie: As of late you’ve been working on Canadiana, a new female patriotic Superhero. You’ve been putting it all your webpage for free. What are your long term plans for the character?
Sandy Carruthers: She hasn’t been updated because I ‘ve been too busy. At this point, it’s free comics for everybody! We want her to be set in peoples minds…where she goes is anyone’s guess…possibly animated cartoons or live action. Perhaps print. Time will tell!
Jamie: Canadiana is different in that she doesn’t have the stereotypical Canadian personality. Why did you make her cranky?
Sandy Carruthers: Haha! Perhaps because she’s sick of the stereotypical Canadian personality. We Canadians are a lot crabbier than we let on! I blame the winters.
Jamie: One of the supporting characters in Canadiana is a psychic Naomi. Are you a believer in psychics?
Sandy Carruthers: Actually, I do. I think there’s enough uncanny stuff out there to warrant a second glance. Plus it’s fun. Granted, there’s a lot of snake-oil salesmen out there, but there’s some genuine stuff. Also, it sparks my imagination, and that ‘s what it’s all about!
Jamie: You have another online comic called The Ronin and the Lily. I noticed it starts off very much like Lone Wolf and Cub. Was that an influence?
Sandy Carruthers: Honestly? No. I wrote and drew that because I had just gone through a nasty spell in life known to many as divorce. Here I was a single dad with my daughter surviving. That’s really what The Ronin & the Lily is about. This man and child wandering/growing together. And then, I stumbled on Lone Wolf and Cub, and exclaimed ‘d’oh!’
Jamie: Do you have plans on continuing Ronin and the Lily?
Sandy Carruthers: Probably not. It was created for its time, for me. Though I shouldn’t say never.
I’ll keep you posted.