Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Occasional Monster of the Day: Rhonda

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Occasional Monster of the Day: Nick Thurgrobulous

Friday, January 04, 2008

The Occasional Monster of the Day: Cyril

Thursday, January 03, 2008

How I Learned to Honk

Well, I'm back after a week with my family and several more weeks of trying to gather my strength for whatever it is I'm doing next. The nice thing is that there are options in my future, which is something I don't feel like I've had for a while. The not-so-nice thing is that I can't really show you what I'm working on just yet… instead I'm going to comment on the WGA strike. This, I’m sure, is exactly what you’ve been waiting for all this time while I’ve been delinquent.

Every day on the way to work for the last few months I've passed scores of striking writers wandering back and forth in front of NBC. I agree that the people who help create entertainment should make residuals. On DVD, on the internet, or wherever. I hope they don't budge an inch, I’d think as I passed. But I couldn’t bring myself to actually honk. Because, while I support the WGA in theory, I have really hard time getting into the spirit of supporting them. Because I'm jealous as hell.

I'm not jealous that they're wandering around in the wind and cold holding signs all day and not making any money. Heck no. I'm still drawing. I'm still writing. I'm still working. I'm still getting a paycheck. Nope, I'm jealous because eventually, even if the WGA collapses like a wet paper sack and backs away from the negotiating table, the people who are out striking will still go back to making something for all of the entertainment they've had a hand in creating.

I've had a hard time getting into the spirit of supporting the WGA, because I knew they wouldn't be supporting me if the tables were turned. And then, just a few days ago, I read the following in "an open letter to the entertainment industry" written by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers:


The WGA seeks to obtain, once again by top-down organizing tactics, jurisdiction over animation writers who traditionally fall under IATSE's jurisdiction, and to deprive those writers of their free choice to elect union coverage under the voting system administered by the National Labor Relations Board. The AMPTP has asked the WGA to withdraw this demand.

Well, I'll be damned. My favorite part is that the AMPTP has written the WGA as the heavy, twisting animation writers' arms and forcing them to give up their rights to elect union coverage. Well, what about the fact that animation writers never make any residuals at all whatsoever? Ever? Does that seem right? Aside from a few lucky Groenings and MacFarlanes out there, people who create cartoon shows never see a penny beyond their weekly paychecks that doesn’t come from luck or merchandising. And if you run short on those babies then you’re looking at a lonely existence drawing Donald Duck in a dark room until you die. I’d imagine that most animation writers would gladly relinquish the right to help guide their impotent leadership’s direction in exchange for, oh, I don’t know… being able to retire someday.

I’ve said before that I don’t like to toot my own horn, but I’m not an idiot either. I know that I’ve created something successful, even if it’s only been a moderate success. I know that Billy & Mandy will run for many years, and will eventually rake in a ton of money for someone. And I know that someone isn’t me.

So, yeah, I’m off onto new projects. New options. More new ideas that I will pour myself into out of love or obsession or... whatever it is that eats at my soul and makes me do these things. But these new projects, as much as they thrill me, also leave a bitter taste in the back of my mouth because I know that they’re going to make someone a lot of money. And I know that someone isn’t me.

Working in animation has led me to join a number of unions and guilds, including (obviously) the Animation Guild. Aside from asking an additional five hundred bucks above SAG for guild membership, I’m not sure what the Animation Guild has done for its members in the ten years I’ve been a member myself. Well, I did get a compass one year for Christmas. Here is Local 839’s position on the WGA strike:


As you are aware, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) is currently in negotiations for a successor contract to the current agreement that expires on October 31, 2007. While the IATSE remains hopeful that a new agreement can be reached between the WGA and the Employers, there is a potential for a work stoppage.

The IATSE has over 50,000 members in two countries engaged in motion picture and television production. Any work stoppage may have a profound and long-lasting impact on you and your families.

The IATSE contracts contain provisions that require us to continue to honor our contracts. These "no strike" provisions require the IATSE to notify our members of their obligation to honor these contracts and continue working. Any individual member who chooses to honor any picket line is subject to permanent replacement (our emphasis).

In the area of animated films and television, the WGA strike affects writers employed on four series: The Simpsons, King of the Hill, Family Guy and American Dad. WGA members writing on these shows, or WGA members writing for companies not signed to any union contract, may be subject to WGA discipline if they refuse the WGA's rules or orders not to work.

Apart from the three shows listed above, all union animation writing is under the jurisdiction of the Animation Guild. It is the position of the Animation Guild, and the IATSE, that writers cannot be legally disciplined by the WGA for working under the Animation Guild's jurisdiction.

“Cartoons are not important. That’s why they’re called cartoons. If people who wrote cartoons got residuals, studios would simply stop making cartoons.” Those are my quotes, and they’re what I used to think. I think that Local 839 thinks that too. “Don’t rock the boat”. Most of Local 839’s employees are artists.Even without "no strike provisions", how would artists feel about striking and being put out of work in sympathy with the WGA, only to return to work and find out that the writer in the next cubicle is now making twice their salary? Probably not so hot. So the best solution is to keep making sure that everyone is underpaid and nobody gets any royalties?

Well, guess what? It’s already happened. With both Nick and Cartoon Network venturing further and further into live action, I’ve heard plenty of stories of “the guy in the next cubicle” who’s suddenly doing pretty well thanks to the WGA. So if the plan is to try and keep that on the down-low, the plan ain’t working. Something has to change.

I’m sure there are mounds of political B.S. surrounding this strike, the WGA, Local 839, and the AMPTP so deep you’d need a snorkel just to navigate them. I’m not really interested in inter-union politics or running for office or spending my life trying to change a dysfunctional union from within. I’m more of a “facts” man. The facts are, as I see them, that the cream will rise to the top. The people who are good at what they do will do it well, and should be compensated accordingly.

If this business –the entertainment business—has taught me anything, it’s that I am a mercenary. Cartoon Network reminds me of it occasionally. I am work for hire. I am only as good as what I can produce today and tomorrow. I don’t mind that anymore. I understand it. I know my place. But the WGA reminds me that there are still things worth fighting for, and that the place I’m in won’t be my place forever.

This year I will not make any resolutions. This is Yoda’s year of do-or-not-do. This year I will create a new cartoon series. I will also create something for myself that I have ownership of. One or both of these paths will lead me to make a lot of money for a lot of people. One of those people will be me.

And in the mean time, I’ll be honking my horn as I pass the NBC building.

I've included the links to the letters below, for those who like clicking on things...

P.S. - Sorry if I haven't responded to your message(s) yet. I've been away for a while and it's a mess in there...