Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Sight Unseen--2

Bill Ziegler's Dallas

During the extended period of weirdness during which I was drawing the Dallas and Star Trek newspaper comic strips for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, I seldom sought assistance. Not out of pride. The pay was so poor that no one in his right mind would work for the money I could afford to pay. But twice things got so tight I had no choice.

One of guys who pitched in was Bill Ziegler, a comics artists with a long West Coast career and a super nice guy. Bill was semi-retired after working many years for Western Publishing (Dell and Gold Key) on westerns and movie tie-ins. He drove down from Santa Barbara and sat at the kitchen table in my crummy apartment, penciling two weeks worth of strips while I lettered and inked.

Bill's work was great. Though he always seemed to draw heads too big, his understanding of body language and his knack for composition left me feeling even less competent than I already did. But Bill was too nice a person for me to take it personally. Having him around was a relief from the loneliness of round-the-clock ass-busting; while we worked we chatted about a wide range of subjects. On breaks he showed me his sketchbook, filled with lively, beautiful pencil studies of people and animals.

Bill was also no fool. By our second meeting he'd seen through me and realized that the paltry money I was paying him was more than I was making off the strip. Guilty as charged. In fact I lost fifty 1980's dollars on each week he penciled for me. He refused to take any more pay and said he'd finish the batch I'd given him without charge.

I felt both embarrassed and humiliated. I could accept myself working for nothing, because I'd gotten myself into this mess. I could accept my neighbors working for nothing because it was only now and then and they were my buddies. But I couldn't let a professional of Bill's stature and experience work for nothing. So I went back to doing it all myself.

When I'd finally had enough of the rat race and told the Syndicate I was leaving the strips, they asked me to suggest a replacement. Since Bill already knew what he'd be getting into, I tipped him off. He drew two sample dailies which I present here. To my knowledge they've never seen print before. I admit the faces are rather more cartoony than the strip called for, but all of Bill's gesture and staging are here. I like 'em.

One other cartoonist drew samples for the job: writer Jim Lawrence's friend, Australian illustrator Yaroslav “James Bond” Horak. Through Jim I learned that the Syndicate never got back to Horak after soliciting the samples; Horak was understandably annoyed and that was the end of that. Would I love to have seen his version of the strip!

The Syndicate finally realized they weren't going to get an established artist for the money they offered. They settled on giving both strips to a young kid just out of college. His girlfriend, a Syndicate employee, heard about the opening and pushed him hard to take the job. I met him once to discuss the strips and to hand over two binders full of reference material I'd collected. He was a nice guy, but even further over his head than I had been. I wished him luck.

By the way, they also gave him $50 less a week than I'd been getting. Gotta love that syndicate.

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