What’s SHOOT THE MESSENGER?
Well, AICN COMICS: SHOOT THE MESSENGER is your weekly one stop shop for comic book -EWS. What’s comic book –EWS? Well, it’s our hodge podge of everything not reviews here at AICN Comics. Sure you can find out the @$$Holes’ critical opinions of your favorite books every Wednesday at AICN Comics. But here, you’ll find special reports such as previews, interviews, special features, and occasionally news gathered here from our online brethren at Newsarama, CBR, Wizard, etc. Sure those guys are the best at reporting news as it breaks. Click on the links for the original stories. This column cuts the crap to run down all the vital information for those of you who don’t follow it as it comes in, and serves it all up with that special ingredient of @$$y goodness.
Hey folks, Ambush Bug here with a pair of interviews that are definitely worth reading. First I had a chance to talk with Andre Duza, writer of a comic I recently read and dug a lot called HOLLOW-EYED MARY. Mr. Duza has run into quite a few snags getting his book seen by all of you and I think his story sheds some light on some of the more shady aspects of the comic book industry. I’m going to leave it to Mr. Duza to tell us about it, but all I can say is that if his story is true, those guys should be ashamed of themselves. Check out what I mean in this pretty fantastic interview.
ANDRE DUZA (AD): Well, I always saw the story as sort of a twisted, grindhouse fairy tale about a scorned woman whose anger (toward her husband for denying that her baby was his, toward her adopted father who, in raising her as part of a cult, robbed her of a normal life, toward her blood-sister for abandoning her in the foster home when they were children, and toward life itself) was so pure, so palpable that it found a way to circumvent death. The story is set against the backdrop of the approaching millennium. The country is on the verge of war with Russia and China. With the public in a state of panic, the media latches on to the Bloody Mary killings as a distraction from what’s going on in the world. What starts out as an urban legend about a living dead serial killer soon becomes a pop culture phenomenon whose destiny is tied to the war itself.
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): Tell us a little about HOLLOW-EYED MARY.
BUG: I had a chance to read the graphic novel. It's a very intense read and bound to ruffle some feathers with the more sensitive types. Can you talk a bit about not only the violence that occurs in the book, but also some of the more psychological and racial themes that seem to come up numerous times in the book?AD: I grew up in a part of the city where violence was pretty common. Then, when I was 8 years old, I was abducted by a child molester. Things got really dark for the next few years after that, which forced my mother to put me in therapy. It was the therapist’s suggestion that I write down my feelings in a journal that started my relationship with the written word. When the therapy didn’t totally assuage the violent tendencies that I was demonstrating at the time, my mother got me involved in boxing, and it was then (through controlled violence) that I was able to overcome my demons, so to speak.
So, with DEAD BITCH ARMY (the novel that HOLLOW-EYED MARY was based on), I wanted to draw on those experiences to explore how violence and rage shaped the three main characters into who they would later become. Real violence is ugly and off-putting, and very seldom subtle. I felt that it would diminish the characters’ struggle if I sugarcoated things or held back on the violence, thus making their actions less valid later in the story and in the sequel, NECRO SEX MACHINE, which was released in January ‘08. The STAR WARS prequels immediately come to mind as an example of what I mean. Remember how cool Darth Vader was before you found out that it’s supposed to be Hayden Christianson beneath the suit?
I had initially planned for the story to span three books. But after everything I went through with the GN, I’m a bit burned out on the characters, at least for a while.
Regarding the racism: I wrote DBA early in my marriage. My wife’s father had disowned her because he couldn’t accept that she married a Nigger (in his words), and threatened to blow my head off. We then moved from Ohio, where the racist comments came from one side (and almost always from passing cars), to my mother’s house in West Philly, where it came from the other side (and usually from women). The OJ Simpson trial was going on at the time as well, which only made things worse for us. So, in short, a lot of that found its way into the book.
BUG: HOLLOW-EYED MARY is based on your 2004 novel DEAD BITCH ARMY. Can you tell us about the tweaks necessary to translate the story from book to comic book?AD: Well, crunching a 320-page novel down into 100 pages is a disheartening process to say the least, especially when it’s your own work that you’re adapting. It makes it more difficult to be objective when trying to decide what survives the transition and what gets cut and there is a tendency to take things for granted when you have a personal connection to the story. This can lead to confusion on the part of the reader. What worked for me was to take the story back to the outline phase. Like a lot of writers, I generally write a chapter-by-chapter outline for all my books, which breaks down to key plot points that are then built upon as I delve into the story. In doing so, I tried to maintain the novel’s episodic feel, which when translated into GN form lends the story a “missing reel” quality.
There were a few things that I knew I wanted to show from the start. Carl’s death for one, and the escalating conflict between the United States, Russia, and China. The latter proved especially difficult in terms of relaying detailed information with such limited space, so I pushed it to the background, with radio and news broadcasts (a la NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD) doing the work of straightforward narrative. In retrospect, I can see how some people, especially if they haven’t read the novel, might find the GN, a bit disjointed. So, maybe I’d do things a little differently if I had it to do over again, but overall, I’m happy with the way it came out.
BUG: Would you consider yourself a horror writer? What qualities does a story have to have to be a horror story in your opinion?AD: I hate when people dismiss horror as some shameful , gutter genre full of transparent, one-note, button-pushing, and lazy writing. Of course those things are there, but that’s the case in every genre. If the writing is intelligent, or thought provoking, or satirical (or if it stars an A-list actor in terms of movies) then it automatically rises to something other than horror in their eyes, be it a Thriller, or a Mystery or whatever.
Having said that, Yes. I consider myself a horror writer, and an unapologetic one, at that. But I also consider myself a writer of sci-fi, fantasy, drama, romance, mystery, suspense, comedy, and general weirdness, as they all relate to our experiences in life. I just happen to prefer focusing on the dark side in my exploration, which I guess would be my answer for what makes a story a horror story in my opinion: one that focuses on the dark side of any given situation.
It’s because of my all-inclusive predilection with regard to genres, and because my style has always been a little offbeat, that I linked up with the Bizarro Movement a few years ago. Bizarro is akin to the cult section of your local video store. A place where taboos often dwell, where genres mingle and merge to create something more potent than genre constraints generally allow.
BUG: You went about creating HOLLOW EYED MARY Graphic Novel personally then shopped around for the right publisher. Can you tell us a little bit about what that experience was like?AD: The whole thing stemmed from a conversation I had with author Brian Keene, who, after reading DEAD BITCH ARMY, suggested that he thought it would make a great graphic novel. He put me in touch with Indie Gods Publishing, who, at the time, was doing a comic series based on his THE RISING books. I wrote the script and the project got underway with artist Keith Murphey (who also painted the cover of my second novel, JESUS FREAKS) handling the pencils. I also wrote a feature film screenplay, which I started shopping around. Everything was going smoothly until Indie Gods went belly up in ’05, and the project along with it. We had about 30 pages done at that point. Keith and I tried to keep the project going ourselves, but after a few months he had to move on. I spent the next few years trying to find another artist to complete the book and/or trying to find a publisher to take on the project. One day, a close childhood friend of mine (who we’ll call Joe for legal reasons) came into some money through his commercial mortgage business and offered to put up the money to do a new and improved version of the GN. He would get his money back from the sales.
BUG: What type of contract or agreement was made between you and the publisher?AD: Essentially, DBA became a creator/financier-owned property once Joe got involved. The goal, then, was to strike a distribution deal with a comic publisher once the GN was completed.
BUG: What was your involvement initially after publishing agreements were made?AD: Joe had always been a fan of my work and of the way I incorporated illustrations into all of my books, so the deal was that I would have complete freedom to do things my way, but on a larger scale. So, after an extensive search, I put a team together that consisted of Rudolf Montemayor (pencils/inks), Juanmar (colors), Jason Arthur (letters), with pinups from Silverfish (whom I’ve worked with on all of my novels), Neill Brengettsey, Orlando Baez, Ricardo Soathman, and Irapuan Luiz. I hired artist Fred Moore (who drew the cover for my third novel NECRO SEX MACHINE) to paint the cover. I, then, supervised the entire project from start to finish.
BUG: When did you start to feel as if things weren't on the up and up with this publisher?AD: Well, they didn’t pay me for writing the GN (as stated in the contract) or for putting the team together and supervising the project to completion. But let’s go back to the beginning. Joe, all of a sudden, brought this restaurant owner (who we’ll call Fredo) onboard behind my back. Joe likes to talk big, so I could only imagine the kind of bullshit he filled Fredo’s head with to get him interested. Now, neither of these guys had any knowledge of, or experience with, the publishing or movie industries, so in the interest of getting the project done smoothly, I was going to guide them through the process. That was the plan anyway, but while I was busy working on getting the GN done, they went all wannabe, big-shot on me and formed a company called…ahem, MakeUFamous Productions (MUF) with the intention of adapting graphic novels from existing books and using them to secure lucrative movie deals. Now, DEAD BITCH ARMY wasn’t even finished yet, and aside from writing checks, for which I expressed my gratitude, they had zero involvement in the creation of the GN, so it was a mystery, to me, how they expected to do all this. As far as I was concerned, this was only supposed to be about salvaging a project that I had been working on since before any of these guys got involved. Besides, I had zero intention of being a part of something called MakeUFamous. I mean, I’m no big time author or anything, but I had three published novels under my belt, so exactly who was making whom famous here?
So, they drew up a contract that I should’ve scrutinized more diligently, but you have to understand, Joe was like the River Phoenix to my Wil Wheaton from STAND BY ME when we were kids. He knew everything that I had been through, why I became a writer, etc, so, despite our disagreements, I trusted that he would do the right thing in the end. BIG FUCKING MISTAKE. Turned out that the contract gave them all kinds of ridiculous rights to my work including the feature film screenplay. So, in essence, what started out as a friend helping out a friend turned into me working as an independent contractor for their company. Suddenly my script was theirs as was everything else I owned in their minds. They began withholding information from me, and acting as if I was just some scrub whom they plucked from obscurity, and given me my first shot at publication.
I went nuts. I got them to admit that the contract that was drawn up was not what we originally agreed to. Joe assured me that he would rectify the error, and that once the project was done, we would go our separate ways, and they could use DEAD BITCH ARMY to help secure future projects for their…company. I begrudgingly agreed.
BUG: I was first contacted by you about HOLLOW-EYED MARY right around the time of the New York Comic Con. You talked of things getting pretty bad between you and the publishers then. What can you tell us about it?AD: Once I showed them the finished GN, Joe and Fredo got all excited and started going around with the sample copy, purporting themselves as movie moguls capable of financing million dollar deals like it was nothing. They did, however, manage to build some interest. First was an entertainment lawyer (who we’ll call Carcharodon Carcharias, or CC for short), who saw them for exactly what they were and seduced them with talk of a big Hollywood deal. I advised them against this, as there was no need for a lawyer at this point in the process, but I was constantly cock-blocked by this lawyer’s big-shot reputation.
Next came producer Tony DiDio (TOOLBOX MURDERS). Tony and I hit it off right away. He liked the GN, and asked to see the screenplay. Tony called their bluff and flew to Philly a week and a half later. Joe and Fredo essentially spent the next few days dodging Tony while he and I met several times to talk about the direction of the script. I was able to corral a meeting between everyone where the deal was made for Tony to produce DEAD BITCH ARMY the movie based on my script. Joe and Fredo agreed to help finance. Tony used his own money to have a Private Placement Memorandum drawn up for the film and then got a commitment letter from Darkhorse Indie stating that they would release the GN in conjunction with the film. They even offered to assist in the post-production. I was beginning to think that I had somehow salvaged this thing. Boy was I wrong. Once CC caught wind of Tony’s involvement, he proceeded to school Joe and Fredo about just how much bigger than Tony his connections were. So they blew Tony off. I again, stepped in and tried to explain to them about starting small, with more artistic freedom to solidify your style, versus going the big, Hollywood route (which was a pipe dream anyway) right off the bat. But I got cock-blocked again. When I confronted Joe about the deal he already made with Tony, he actually said, “The days of the handshake deal are dead.”
So, Tony found out about CC’s comments and killed the deal. There was also the matter of recouping the money for the PPM that he paid for, but they dodged him on that, too. By this time, I was doing everything possible to get away from these guys, but, because of the contracts, they had me by the balls. So, I had to see this through to the end or risk losing the project completely to them as was clearly stated by Fredo who threatened to take “their” graphic novel and do what they want with it without me. Whenever I asked about my payment, I got a load of crap about expenses. Whenever I presented them with a potential deal, or even an idea, Joe would say, “Friends are friends, but business is business. You know I’m going to have to run this by CC.” Of course he saw them as suckers for the milking, and persuaded them to shoot me down every time.
After dropping a shitload of money on CC and getting nothing in return (like I warned them), Joe and Fredo severed ties with him.
Then came producer Riyoko Tanaka (THE RING remake, THE UNINVITED). A conference call was set-up for us to discuss a possible movie deal with her. I was to run point on the call but as soon as I opened my mouth to start talking, Joe starts rambling on and on about how the GN was his idea, blah, blah, blah, Frank Miller. Man, it was embarrassing. At one point Riyoko says, “Well, if you’ve got Frank Miller, then what the hell do you need me for?” Then everything got quiet. Of course they didn’t have Frank Miller, only a very brief email from his agent via a third party. So, I cut in with, “What really happened was…” and proceeded to bring the conversation back down to earth. Afterward, I confronted Joe about what he did. I convinced him that if there was a next time, to let me do the talking. He offered me a half-assed apology and agreed not to do it again. Of course, he did it again (later, with producer Mark Holdom). So, I began corresponding with Riyoko about the direction of the script. She sent notes that I was working to incorporate into a new draft.
Along the way, Devil’s Due Publishing expressed interest in distributing the GN, but since MUF was purporting themselves as a big money graphic-novel publisher, the deal was that they would help finance the printing. I advised against this deal because I was confident that I could get a deal with another publisher where they wouldn’t have to pay anything.
BUG: What's happened since then?AD: By the time Devil’s Due entered the picture, Joe and Fredo had blown all of their money on lawyers and other projects that they were trying to secure (instead of just getting their first project nailed down and learning the ropes). They had no money left to pay for their share of the printing. So Fredo woos this wealthy widow (who we’ll call Sue), who had produced a documentary. He filled her head with all kinds of lies about the moneymaking potential of the project and she agreed to help with financing. I, of course, didn’t find any of this out until the damage was already done. Since Joe promised her a part of the movie deal, Sue brought her friend producer Mark Holdom (BROWN BUNNY) on board. This, of course pushed Riyoko out of the picture against my advisement, again.
Mark Holdom was a straightforward guy, but he (like Sue) was at the mercy of Fredo’s campaign of misinformation about me. By now, Fredo had taken over the project with Sue’s money and all of a sudden, his brother (who we’ll call Mediterranean Frankenstein or Frank for short) is a part of the company. They tricked Joe (who was finally starting to see the light) into selling his share of the company to them, so now he had no say. Fredo, Frank, and Sue (who they led to believe that I was a difficult, ungrateful son-of-a-bitch) started acting extremely evasive and sneaky about things.
I was able to force MUF to renegotiate the contract giving them 90 days to pay me for my script or else the rights reverted back to me. I knew that they wouldn’t pay, so when the 90 days were up, the script was mine. They still owned the GN, but, at that point, as long as Devil’s Due released it, I didn’t care.
Along the way, Devil's Due asked if I’d consider changing the title of the GNmostly for marketing reasons. That’s when it became HOLLOW-EYED MARY, which had been one of the potential titles for the third DEAD BITCH ARMY novel that I was going to write. Then DD asked me if I'd be interested in pitching them a few ideas for a four or five issue CHUCKY arc. I sent them three pitches and they forwarded to Universal, who they share the rights with. Fredo got wind of this and, since he owned me (in his mind), he went behind my back and offered up his own CHUCKY pitch that included characters from HOLLOW-EYED MARY and other characters and real people associated with Devil's Due. Now, Fredo has never written a piece of fiction in his life. He runs a restaurant (that his family owns) along with his older brother, Frank. Fredo then got a place out in LA and went to Devil's Due's LA office to ask for a job working on some of their titles and creating his own since he created HOLLOW-EYED MARY. They, of course, shot him down.
Since I owned my own script again, Mark Holdom offered me an option, but Fredo got a hold of it first and, thinking that MUF still owned the script/movie rights, changed everything around giving them complete (and I mean complete) control.
Mark eventually realized that something was fishy about these guys and contacted me about the specifics of the contract. I found out that they were trying to come up with reasons not to pay me, which is sort of their M.O. One of Fredo’s bright ideas was that since I was doing a rewrite based on the coverage Mark had done for the script, we weren’t using my original draft, so they didn’t have to pay me. That’s the level of intellect that I was dealing with. Mark then confronted Fredo and Frank about their shifty business practices, and they turned on him.
Next, they tried to pressure me into signing the script over to them again for another deal with a fourth producer, who they wouldn’t name. I said, “FUCK NO!” and finally hired a lawyer. Then they went into uber-shifty mode. I was in the middle of going over promotional stuff and discussing the layout of the GN with DD, when Fredo and Frank persuaded DD to cut off all contact with me. They, of course, would handle the layout and promo stuff themselves. Surprisingly, DD agreed. Next, they got DD to ban me from appearing at ComicCon NY to sign copies of my own GN, which Fredo led me to believe was being released at the Conto pressure me into signing over the script rights. I later found out that it was only a 15-page sneak preview being given out for free at the Con. Then Fredo hijacked the printer proofs and wouldn’t let me review them before the book went to print. Now that he had the proofs, Fredo tried to remove any trace of my name from the GN and replace it with his own, as if he was the writer. DD wouldn’t agree to that, but they did agree to remove me from the cover and only list me on the inside credits page as “Based on a novel by Andre Duza.” Then Fredo had them plaster “A Famous Production” all over the GN. Apparently they realized just how idiotic MakeUFamous sounded and shortened the name. My lawyer sent them a letter stating that we would take action if my name was removed from the cover. In a last ditch effort to spite me, Fredo and Frank put my real family name on the cover, which I stopped using years ago for personal reasons, then changed it back at the last minute before the book went to print.
By the time I finally got the proofs, they had removed my “author bio” from the back of the book as well as bios I included for each of the artists involved, and replaced them with a Famous Productions bio complete with their cheesy logo. All this just to spite me.
BUG: Do you think you will resolve things with this company?AD: No. And to be honest, I’m ready to pull an Alan Smithee and wash my hands completely of this thing. Apparently, Fredo and Frank stole 180k from Sue during all of this, so she is now suing them for fraud and embezzlement. They also never paid Joe for his share of the company, so he is contemplating suing them and so is Mark Holdom, for their shifty antics regarding an entirely different project involving actor/director Mark Weber. Sue called me and apologized for her part in all of this and told me that her behavior up until then was based on Fredo and Frank’s lies about me. She then went on to tell me all this racist bullshit that they were spewing about me during this whole thing. Don’t understand why she’d be a party to all of that, but okay…
Currently, MakeUFamous, or Famous Productions or whatever appears to be a sinking ship. Sue’s attorney drafted a letter to DD asking that they put the proceeds from HOLLOW-EYED MARY into escrow until the matter was settled, but they wouldn’t do that. Instead they refused to release it. Although I question some of their decisions throughout this, I can’t really blame DD, as MUF placed them in an awkward position.
BUG: It'd be a shame if HOLLOW EYED MARY were shelved. Is there anything you can do to make sure that doesn't happen?AD: Well, it looks like DD is finally releasing it, but with no promotion. I’m still fighting to get the rights back from MUF, in which case I’d probably try to find another publisher and release it the right way.
BUG: What lessons have you learned through this ordeal with HOLLOW EYED MARY?AD: I’ve learned that a good attorney can work wonders. Coming from where I did, you tend to have a natural aversion to the legal system, and I’m the kind of guy who prefers to fight my own battles, which is probably why I waited so long before hiring a lawyer. I’ve worked with several artists and publishers and I’ve never run into a problem until now. I was always able to resolve any differences that may have arisen through reasonable discussion and compromise, so I really thought that I’d be able to work things out in the end. Obviously, I was wrong.
BUG: What kind of advice can you give those new to the comic book field, hoping this doesn't happen to them?AD: I would say trust your instincts. And don’t sign anything without first having an attorney look it over, even if the people you’re doing business with claim to be your friends. And try to always take the high road. There were times during this where I was at the precipice of reverting to the serial-killer-in-the-making that I left behind in my teens, but because I didn’t, I managed to maintain a relationship with most of the people that MUF infected with their bullshit.
BUG: The more I talk with industry folk, the more I hear about this type of thing happening. I continue to hear horror stories about publishers who don't pay their employees and don't honor contracts. I don't know if this is a new thing or if the industry has been this way for a long time and just now stories like yours are getting out in the open. Best of luck with HOLLOW EYED MARY. Anything else you'd like to add before we go?AD: Yeah… It’s unfortunate, really. People keep telling me that I should turn this whole ordeal into my next book, but it was painful enough reliving it with this interview. I guess I’d consider it if someone made me a decent offer. In the meantime, I’ve just been keeping busy. Been building some interest in the screenplay for my fourth novel BIG DADDY NO FACE, which I’m currently shopping around. I’m also working on a few GN treatments, one called INFECT THE PRESIDENT, and another called UV JUNKIES, so we’ll see what happens.
I can just see Fredo especially trying to come up with some wacky explanation to dispute what I’ve said, but that’s fine. I’ve got an army of people ready to back up my story.