Thousands of pages of original art — phffftt!
by Nelson Dewey
In the 25 years I contributed to the Car Comics, I drew almost 2000 pages of art. Multiply that by the five to seven other regulars who contributed as much or even more. And the scores of others who did a few pages.
Roughly, that’s around 15,000 pages of original cartoons!
Every publication has its own way of dealing with contributors. Sometimes they buy all the rights to a cartoon; sometimes one-time rights, but I think most publications have become enlightened enough to return the artwork to the artists. Reluctantly.
In my case — and, I assume, most of the other Car Cartoonists — there was a lot of reluctance on the part of the publisher to return anything. But eventually, I got them to agree that I could have my original art back.
The problem was, they didn’t seem to be at all organized with the storage of artwork. I heard there were piles of unsorted drawings in a basement somewhere… and no-one was apparently willing to sort through it. I could have my artwork, I was told, if I’d pay the postage to have it sent to me. I was willing, but nothing came of the offer.
I live in western Canada, which is 1300 miles from where the publishing company was located, so going in person to collect the stuff wasn’t very practical, even if they’d allow me to rummage through the storage area.
Then, at a comic con in Seattle several years ago, I was approached by someone who said he had several pages of my original cartoons from one of the comics! He said he got them from a friend who knew someone who worked for the publisher! This was disturbing. But he was principled enough to return the next day, and give me the artwork. (If you read this, whoever you are, please get in touch; I’d like to thank you again.)
The last couple years have brought me more information about those thousands of pages of artwork. I was contacted by two different individuals who said they had some pages of mine… and did I want to buy them? Their stories were of finding piles of originals in dumpsters — my cartoons and others’ cartoons.
A couple months back, I heard, from another cartoonist who’d worked for the same comics, that a pile of originals had wound up on the front porch of a former editor, and had been severely damaged by rain.
Then, a few days ago, another cartoonist told me he’d bought some originals in a small used-book shop; the shop had acquired them from contractors who found them as they were demolishing the old offices of the publishing company!
To say that I’m pissed off at the way the publisher handled things — letting those thousands of pieces of artwork be stolen or dumped or destroyed or lost — well, that’s an understatement!
Apparently the company didn’t see any value in “comic book cartoons about cars“.
If you know anything about comic art and cartoonists, what do you think original art by Alex Toth, Robt Williams, Terry Gilliam, Rick Griffin, Gilbert Shelton, or Marty Murphy would be worth today? They all contributed to the Car Comics.
I don’t have much hope of getting any of my artwork returned to me. If it still exists, whoever does have it probably acquired it legitimately; it’s the apparent negligence of the publishing company I blame.
I learned a valuable lesson, though: hold onto original artwork! When I work on tangible art now (paper, ink, paint, etc), I keep possession of the originals and provide copies to the client. It might not be very valuable to anyone but me, but it’s mine.
If you’re an artist, a cartoonist, take care of your artwork; if not for yourself, then for your kids or grandchildren.