Brainiac On Banjo #037: Pat Mills and the Mitzvah Patrol

Back when books were still printed on papyrus, those of us in comics fandom did what the Ashkenazis call a mitzvah. We started honoring the men and women in the comics world shortly after the time they had been been identified by Congress, the Saturday Evening Post, Reader’s Digest and Dr. Frederick Wertham as something akin to child molesters. We showed these talented people that their work entertained us and maybe even inspired us, and that we appreciated them for those efforts. These were creative people who, at parties and family gatherings, would self-identity as “commercial artists” in order to avoid being ostracized.

Most of us continue to shed light on creators who have not received their proper due. One such gifted human is well-known in his native United Kingdom, but here in the States… not so much. He probably doesn’t feel wronged, and if I’m helping to strip away some of that anonymity, I owe him an apology. But, hey, he signs his work.

Pat Mills is a major comics creator who remains as important as Jerry Siegel and as overlooked as Bob Montana. Pat co-created Sláine with Angela Kincaid, and Marshal Law, Nemesis the Warlock, Metalzoic, and ABC Warriors each with Kevin O’Neill, Third World War with Carlos Ezquerra, The Horned God with Simon Bisley, Torquemada with Bryan Talbot, and an enormous amount of other great stuff. Mills also contributed to the grimoires of The Punisher, Doctor Who, Batman, Dan Dare, Star Wars, and my favorite, Charlie’s War. I think you get the point.

However, the first items on Pat Mills’ tombstone are likely to be “Creator of 2000 AD and the Co-Creator of Judge Dredd,” the latter with the late and truly great Carlos Ezquerra. At this point it would be polite to point out that Pat remains among the living, and the proposed tombstone copy should be considered as a work-in-progress. This is important not only for social reasons but because he has taken on a cause that is near and dear to all creators’ hearts — or should be.

According to our pal Rich Johnston, it seems the current owners of 2000 AD et al, Rebellion, have one of the more exploitative royalty policies in the business. They give 5% of profits to the writer, and 5% to the artist(s), and they make no allowances for when they, in their discretion, down-price special editions for promotional considerations. This means that when Rebellion (their name now sounds like more of a challenge than a threat) reprinted Sláine: The Horned God in their Ultimate Edition series they made around $3400 from their distributor, but all he received was $167.66.

That was for The Horned God. Mills wrote (and, usually, created) several forests full of great and often reprinted stories. Factor in all that material and Pat and his collaborators have been… wait, I think there’s a technical phrase for this… oh yes: screwed royally.

Pun intended. What’s big business without a little sophistry?

The industry standard — and a policy I implemented at First Comics back in 1981 — is a 50-50 split. I let the talent fight among themselves over the split on their end; really, it was none of my business. In the interest of transparency as well as public piety, when it became clear to me that I could not overturn their policy of neglecting to make many of those payments, I took a walk from the company I co-founded. And let’s be fair to First: they were cockroach capitalists on their best day. Rebellion is a company that produces movies, television shows, games, new comics, and reprinted comics… a great many of which were created and written by Pat Mills.

Obviously, Mills went public about all this. But he’s also taking the additional step of creating a one-shot anthology called Space Warp. He will be paying his contributors according to that 50-50 split. I’m sure you’ve heard of the phrase “put your money where your mouth is.” Well, that phrase is roughly the same in the Queen’s English.

Pat Mills also has a nifty website that will provide you with pdfs of some of his excellent prose work. It’s a fun site bannered with a photo of what looks like Pat’s version of Roger Daltrey cosplay.

For the record, I’ve never met Pat Mills. There appears to be a lot of water between his place and mine, but maybe someday that will be breached. I have admired his work for almost 45 years. He’s fighting the good fight, and he deserves to be respected for that fight as well as for his creative efforts.