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A Saturday Farewell… and a Word of Caution

A couple of news items came to my attention this week that might seem unrelated but there is a common thread that ties them together.

First of all, I was extremely saddened this week to hear of the passing of Ann Crispin.

I had heard she was ill, but I was still taken by surprise when her farewell showed up on the internet earlier this week.

I’ve been hesitant to make this post, but it’s time. I want to thank you all for your good wishes and prayers. I fear my condition is deteriorating. I am doing the best I can to be positive but I probably don’t have an awful lot of time left. I want you all to know that I am receiving excellent care and am surrounded by family and friends.

I wish all aspiring writers the will to finish and a good contract. Please continue to monitor Writer Beware and be careful who you sign with. Victoria Strauss and Richard White are there to help.

I’ve asked Michael to collect and read me your messages. As I don’t know how things will proceed, I don’t know if I’ll have the strength to post on Facebook again.

This was followed a couple of days later with the news of her finally succumbing to her illness.

That was a one-two punch that I took a little harder than expected. I did not know Ann Crispin personally, we had never met at a convention or anything like that. But her work meant a lot to me. Sometimes, reading a particular writer’s books, you find yourself responding to the person beneath the story. Usually it’s because they put so much of themselves into the work that it feels like you know them a little; there’s a sense of friendliness and invitation. Isaac Asimov’s books always struck me that way, and Steve Gerber’s… and Ann Crispin’s.

Part of it for me was the circumstances under which I first read her books, I suppose. In the 1980s I was having a very bad time of it. No need to recount all the details, but there were a lot of days I desperately wanted to be somewhere else. Anywhere else. Often my only way out was through books and comics. Ann Crispin’s books were among the most successful in achieving that escape for me, and even after I got my personal life together I remained quite fond of her writing.

Chances are, if you are on CBR reading this column, you’ve run across her work as well. She did a lot of media tie-in stuff.

Some people sneer at writers who do this kind of licensed thing but I never have. Writing of any kind is hard work, and the added restrictions placed upon someone who is trying to write a new story with a licensed property often cause that writer to flee screaming from the project. It’s extremely difficult to do well.

But whenever I picked up something by “A.C. Crispin,” no matter if it was set in someone else’s fictional universe or one of her own, I knew it was going to be a good story told well, one that read with deceptive ease and simplicity.

Her Star Trek books were my favorites, in particular Yesterday’s Son and its even better sequel Time For Yesterday, but I enjoyed all of them.

But it turns out that Ann Crispin actually did a hell of a lot more for the literary world than just write books that a lot of people liked. She served as a director and then as a vice-president of the Science Fiction Writers of America, and worked for years to make sure that writers got treated professionally.

Trust me when I tell you that this is a badly-needed service. For some reason, even today when international media conglomerates are so invested in protecting their intellectual properties, there is still the sense that writing and drawing stories isn’t really a profession worthy of respect and payment. As Melanie Gillman points out here…

Which is why we still need advocates like Ann Crispin. Probably the most important part of the legacy she leaves behind isn’t the writing– it’s the work she did with SFWA on behalf of creator’s rights. In 1998 she co-founded Writer Beware with Victoria Strauss. This is an invaluable online resource for anyone who writes professionally or aspires to.

Writers and artists tend to be bad at business, especially in the beginning when just the joy of seeing your work in print can overshadow everything else, including remembering common-sense financial practices. I’ve actually spent a lot of time in my high school Young Authors classes warning my students about various scams and explaining what they look like. There is an entire predatory industry that is built on parting aspiring writers from their cash with the promise of making them ‘true professionals.’ Sometimes it’s coming from big companies that really ought to know better– looking at you, Amazon– and sometimes it’s a fly-by-night con artist, but it’s something creative people always have had to contend with; predators and con artists and crappy treatment from publishers. The idea persists that this is okay because creating stories is not real work, anyone can do it, so it isn’t worthy of respect or decent pay because it’s just ‘fun’ and not an actual job.

Ann Crispin stood against that idea more than anyone else. She devoted a great deal of her life to rooting out all the crooked publishers and reading-fee agents and vanity-press scams that have suckered so many beginners. She was often threatened with lawsuits for naming names when warning off potential victims from doing business with this or that crook, and displayed the kind of fearlessness and honesty that even a Green Lantern would envy.

I was thinking about that a lot when I was reading about all the Batwoman hubbub and the abrupt departure of J.H. Williams and Hayden Blackman from the title– the other news item that caught my attention this week. There are a lot of reports that have tried to make it about DC being anti-gay or anti-marriage or whatever, but as far as I’m concerned, they’re all missing the point. This latest in DC’s ongoing series of editorial missteps and PR disasters is just one more in a lonnnnng line of cases demonstrating a publisher’s default position: that creators don’t matter.

And from a dollars-and-cents point of view, those publishers aren’t wrong. History has demonstrated, over and over, that no matter how tough fans may talk about creator’s rights online or elsewhere, it never impacts the publisher’s bottom line. At the end of the day everything is subservient to the readers’ need to know what’s going on with Batman or Spider-Man or the Avengers. Superhero comics publishers, especially, treat creators as interchangeable cogs in a machine because that’s what they are as far as fans are concerned. If someone gets screwed over that’s just too damn bad. There’s always the apologists’ argument that “they should have known what they were getting into, it’s work made for hire, they signed a contract. That’s the way the business works.”

But it shouldn’t work that way. It’s not necessary for the publishing world to be a shark tank, not even when it comes to licensed properties and work-made-for-hire. It hurts the work and it chases off talented people when that happens. (Don’t believe me? See this article for the whole depressing list of the people DC has alienated just since the debut of the New 52.)

Creators deserve professional respect from their employers. Ann Crispin knew that. And she made the world of SF and fantasy literature a measurably better place fighting for that idea.

That’s what I was thinking about, reading the news yesterday: how much the SF creative community is going to miss one of its fiercest advocates… and how much the world of superhero comics has suffered because comics creators have never had someone like Ann Crispin fighting for them in the first place.

See you next week.

21 Comments

Actually, I think it has hurt publishers a great deal. Look at comics numbers now vs the sales peak.

Great post, Greg, and nice write-up on Crispin. All I can think of, though, is this: f-ing cancer. I’m getting tired of reading obits about beloved creators dying at relatively young ages because they contracted some form of cancer. Also, I think I need more than two hands to count all of the friends, acquaintances and friends/spouses of friends and acquaintances who’ve succumbed to cancer over roughly the past 10 years. F-ing cancer.

I would argue the industry doesn’t respect creators thing isn’t ENTIRELY true. Marvel do a really good job of looking after their talent (i know past creators have had some trouble here and there but that’s a sins of the father issue) Dark Horse, Image, even IDW to a lesser extent seem to be looking after people too.

Gotta say, didn’t know the name when i read the article, but then i saw that Han Solo trilogy book and suddenly, huh… i’d read something of her’s without even knowing it.

Thing is, V-Rod, publishers didn’t care about creators back then either.

I would argue the industry doesn’t respect creators thing isn’t ENTIRELY true. Marvel do a really good job of looking after their talent (i know past creators have had some trouble here and there but that’s a sins of the father issue) Dark Horse, Image, even IDW to a lesser extent seem to be looking after people too.

The good guys certainly do deserve acknowledgement and you are right to point them out. But I’m not talking about an atmosphere that changes when key people leave. In the 1980s Marvel and DC were reversed– Marvel was the rapacious giant that chased all their top guys over to DC where Jenette Kahn and Dick Giordano oversaw a renaissance. But now they’re gone and it’s DC that treats creators so bad they are leaving in droves.

I’m talking about the DEFAULT position. When you look at the history of comic books from 1935 on up, and you can count the number of publishers on one hand who’ve consistently treated creators with respect, I think the term ‘default position’ can stand.

Thank you for the article. She was a remarkable woman and a hero. DC has been awful to their writers and readers. I have no idea why people continue to work for them and make their properties so valuable.

Great column, Greg. I was not aware of all the creator advocacy work that Crispin had done. Thanks very much for bringing it to my attention. And thank you for crediting Melanie Gillman for that BRILLIANT cartoon! I’ll be seeking her out on tumblr now.

Boo. Ann Crispin was a terrific writer; her Star Trek novels as some of the best of the best (and there are some really good ones). Lovely tribute.

I’d never heard of Ann Crispin until right now. It speaks volumes about her that she was dedicated to providing a necessary service against formidable foes, as well as being a writer of great talent, reliability and productivity. Thank you for the links, which were also unknown to me, and for sharing such an excellent tribute to a beloved artist and an accomplished woman.

nice article and a touching tribute to ann. for i agree the industry including the comic one treats its creators as nothing but replaceble machine parts including some of the founders of the industry like the creators of superman and of course jack kirby. and glad ann was smart enough to decide some one needed to protect writers from those who would exploit them just to line their own pockets

Her Star Trek novels, I just now realized, were read by me on a dreadful summer holiday when I was 14 or so. They saved my sanity.

Greg, did you also notice the passing of science fiction grand master Fred Pohl?

I had forgotten until she passed that the current defender of writers’ rights, Ann Crispin, was the A.C. Crispin of all those novelizations like that V book.

The V novel was great – from that alone I totally agree with your assessment of her work, Greg.

Greg, did you also notice the passing of science fiction grand master Fred Pohl?

I did notice, yes. In fact it was the day after Julie came home with a couple of Heechee books for me from a college library sale. I was telling her about Pohl and who he was when we got the news. Depressing week.

Greg, thanks so much for this lovely tribute to Ann. Both her own writing and her service to the writing community deserve to be remembered and honoured.

I worked in a couple of bookstores in the early 90′s and I saw the name A. C. Crispin a lot. I don’t think I ever read anything by her, but I may need to rectify that soon.

I know what you mean about feeling like you know the person a little bit from reading their work.
Zelazny is like that for me, Kirby as well. It’s a very comforting feeling overall, but it can work the other way if you’ve read something by them that you don’t think was very good.

I appreciate that Crispin was apparently a tireless advocate for creators, that’s certainly admirable and we need more people like that to help artist from being taken advantage of.

I must respectably disagree with the sentiment of the cartoon above.

Speaking as an artist, we DO know what we’re setting ourselves up for when we decide to pursue a career in the arts. Nothing is guaranteed. Nobody owes us a living off of our art. I’m speaking generally, not specifically to the comics industry, which does have more than it’s share of sad, sad stories of creators being taken advantage of.

The cartoon doesn’t seem to be addressing that particular concern. Frankly the cartoon comes off as self-pitying and self righteous. The first two panels are totally avoidable situations, if you don’t want to enter into that type of arrangement, then by all means do not. We’ve all been approached with the “hey it’s free publicity” deal, choose to do it that way or don’t, but don’t bellyache if no one wants to pay you what you believe you deserve. As far as putting your work out there for free on the internet and asking for donations, Well, for one thing that’s a hell of a lot better system than anyone had pre-internet, so there’s that. The artist must be getting some need met by having their artwork seen, if not paid for, otherwise why would you put your artwork out there for free? If you put it out and nobody wants to pay for it, maybe you should rethink your approach – it is a buyers market after all.

The second two panels are the ones that really bother me. If you want insurance than by all means go work some other job that has benefits. That’s one of the things I’ve always had to do, well once I got old enough that insurance became more important to me. I’ve also worked day jobs that I didn’t care for so I could go home at night and work on stuff that was important to me, I’d have loved to just do art full time and if the market was willing to support it I would have, but for any number of reasons (my lack of skill, networking or just an indifferent market) the money just wasn’t there.

In the end it IS a labor of love and if you go in expecting to be treated like a doctor, lawyer, scientist or CEO then I have to think that’s a problem with your ego or just an unrealistic view of the way the world actually works.

Artist aren’t special rare creatures that deserve any more protection or are entitled to compensation just because we make pretty pictures.

BTW: I don’t mean to sound so bellicose about this article. Crispin sounds like a wonderful person and a talented writer and I will seek out her work. Gillman’s is a talented cartoonist and the page represented here is very nicely executed and visually appealing. I just take issue with the matter it’s addressing.

I was thinking much the same thing as LouReedRichards in regards to that cartoon, but he put it much better than I would have. I’ve had a novella and a couple dozen short stories published, so I’m pretty familiar with everything that cartoon is referring to. I just disagree with the implied sentiment behind it.

I also have seen the name A.C. Crispin a lot but am not sure if I’ve read anything by her. I’ll have to go through my bookshelves and see if I have any of her books. Chances are I do. She sounds like a great person and writer though.

It all just keeps pointing to a possibility I would gladly welcome–DC and Marvel need a takover by more progressive minds.

Thanks Jazzbo. What type of writing do you do?

What type of writing DID I do is a more accurate question, since I haven’t really written anything in years. I was mainly writing horror and dark comedy stories. Primarily horror. I also wrote a humor column for a couple different websites over the years. It’s been a long time since I’ve tried to write anything new. I need to get back into it, but there’s always real world stuff to use as an excuse not to.

What kind of stuff do you do?

Sorry for the delayed response Jazzbo.

I do graphic design work as a day job. Night time is spent doing the occasional free-lance work, but mostly I paint
landscapes, some figurative work and still lifes. I do other stuff too, but I’m trying to concentrate heavily on the painting.

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