Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Is there ageism in the comic book industry?: Artist Norm Breyfogle talks shop with Cary's Comics Craze (exclusive interview - flashback feature)

Is there such a thing as age discrimination in the comic book industry?

Norm Breyfogle
Artist Norm Breyfogle, now 56, talked about that very possibility in the lengthy, spring 2010 phone interview I did with him. Enjoy this flashback feature I'm posting here for the first time. 

For more about Breyfogle -- an incredibly talented artist who knows how to draw a definitive version of Batman -- go to his website, normbreyfogle.com. 

NORWALK, Ohio (March 30, 2010) — Ex-Batman artist Norm Breyfogle thinks he was “cut down” in the prime of his career.

In 2002, the penciler had completed work on two limited series, the three-issue HELLCAT for Marvel Comics, and many months before that, 10 issues of ANARKY for DC Comics, about the time when DC abruptly cut ties with him.

Breyfogle said THE SPECTRE was his last monthly DC gig he had when it was canceled that year. 

“However, I was offered that job literally days before I was to move from California. I already had everything packed and was waiting for the movers to arrive within days,” he told me in a 2010 phone interview.

Breyfogle recalled he was selling his house in California at the time.

“And, incidentally, it was breaking up my family due to almost a year of no work from DC — nor from Marvel — after 10 years of being offered more assignments than I could take on. Because of my sudden unemployment, I had to sell my house and down-size my entire life,” he said.

Breyfogle, who turned 50 in late February 2010, said he had the equivalent of a mild mid-life crisis over the situation. As time has progressed, he said he’s learned how to not take on too many assignments at one time.

“I can’t believe this is simple ageism. By the way, since I was only 41 at the time and, like I wrote, I was better than ever at what I was doing,” Breyfogle said.

DC never notified him about his services not being wanted, said Breyfogle, who offered to lower his page rate so he could keep working there.

“And, in fact, I was never given any reason at all for why I was suddenly not getting any more work.

"DC only told me, when I asked in consternation why I wasn’t getting any more work, ‘We’ll call you when there’s something appropriate for you.’ (It was) as if, after being one of their golden boys for 10 to 12 years and one of the top comics artists in the business, I was suddenly old hat,” explained Breyfogle, who prides himself on being “easily able to meet all my deadlines,” he said.

“Heck, I’m still doing so, 10 years later, for Archie Comics,” Breyfogle added.

(To hear more about Breyfogle's Archie Comics gig, go here for this online NORWALK REFLECTOR story.) 

Breyfogle said he suspects ageism is something DC and Marvel both follow — but would never admit to — in order to usher out veteran artists and writers in order to bring in younger talent.

Thinking back 

In 2003 after the situation with DC, Breyfogle penciled and inked BLACK TIDE for Angel Gate Press. He called it the “first ongoing comics work I landed after DC.”

Breyfogle said he “conjectured about this (ageism concept) for a few years afterwards until I gave up on DC and Marvel” and came up multiple possible reasons for his “dismissal,” including ageism, page rates and even politics.

“This was around Sept. 11, 2001, after all, and I’d drawn the title ANARKY for DC and my politics were and are very liberal/progressive and I exercise my free speech rights at will,” the artist said.

Writer Alan Grant and Breyfogle collaborated for a three-year run on DETECTIVE COMICS starting in 1987.

The pair created Anarky, a teenage adversary of Batman whose stories often dealt with issues surrounding political corruption, environmentalism and other hot topics. Anarky’s first appearance was in DETECTIVE COMICS No. 608 in 1989.

Page rates 

After drawing the interior art and/or covers for DETECTIVE for 37 of 40 straight issues, Breyfogle moved to BATMAN to do a four- and then 28-issue run.

In issue 465 (dated July 1991), Tim Drake debuted as the third Robin in a new costume, which Breyfogle helped design. He also drew the interior art of the first five issues of the now defunct ongoing series BATMAN: SHADOW OF THE BAT, which started in 1992.

“My page rate slowly increased during the years I was with DC, making it possible that I was priced out of the milieu of new, young talent,” Breyfogle said.

He recalled not getting a straight answer when he offered to lower his fee.

“Curiously, however, when I offered to lower my page rate in order to compete in a free market with my younger peers, I was told by DC: ‘Your page rate is your page rate,’” said Breyfogle, who was told that same phrase several times.

“Nepotism/cronyism, personal grudges/dislikes — any and/or all of these may have been at play and not necessarily agism. There may even be other reasons I haven’t considered,” he said.
Artist Norm Breyfogle designed the original costume for the third Robin, Tim Drake, as revealed here in BATMAN No. 257.

Breyfogle never returned to DC.

Although he said he attempted to do so for many years by various submissions and proposals, all of which were rejected.

“One of them was a Batman proposal written by Alan Grant, which, by the nature of the proposal, couldn’t possibly disrupt continuity established by the DC titles of that time,” Breyfogle said.

“So, I gave up which is, I must assume, what they wanted and/or expected,” he said.

(Grant and Breyfogle talk about their 2011 RETROACTIVE project, based on their memorable DETECTIVE COMICS run, in this exclusive interview with CCC.) 

But comic book fans can still see Breyfogle’s art.

At the time of this 2010 phone interview, Breyfogle was drawing two ongoing series, ARCHIE LOVES BETTY and ARCHIE LOVES VERONICA.

“(I) finished with my taxes for 2009,” Breyfogle announced March 19, 2010 on his Facebook page.

“Now, I’m on to penciling ARCHIE LOVES VERONICA No. 2 and ARCHIE LOVES BETTY No. 2.”

Do you want another perspective on possible ageism in the comics industry? Check back at CCC for an enlightening 2010 interview with writer Gerry Conway, who co-created Firestorm, the Batman villain Killer Croc (who will be in the "Suicide Squad" film), the Punisher and infamously killed off Peter Parker's first love, Gwen Stacy.

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