Watch Your Mouth

In these tough economic times, my chief source of entertainment is beginning sentences with “in these tough economic times.” It’s a trick I learned from local anchormen, who seem to be making a steady living (in these tough economic times) by repeating that phrase at the beginning of every “story,” even the ones about baseball and murder. I never knew so many stories were secretly about the economy until the economy smelled like TV ratings. Try sprinkling the phrase into conversations– don’t hammer it, just a light dusting– and see if it doesn’t improve your whole day for free. (Example: “In these tough economic times, this sandwich is delicious.”) The best part is, this gets more fun the more often you do it. By the time your friends start slapping you pitilessly, crying “would you shut up,” you’ll be so amused with yourself you’ll hardly even care.

But in these tough economic times, it’s not just me and NewsChannel Five who keep using the recession as a springboard to take the conversation in bizarre, arbitrary directions. Just a couple of days ago, I was scanning Marvel’s weekly “Cup o’ Joe” Q and A for the names of things I cared about when, apropos of nothing, the interviewer abruptly stopped asking questions about Daredevil and said, “…you mentioned you wanted to touch on the economy these days and comic creators.” As I reflected on how nice it must be to have a job where you get to tell your interviewers what you’d like to be asked, I searched Joe Quesada’s answer for the phrase, “and that’s why comics will be eight dollars from now on.” Instead, he went down a road I didn’t expect at all, making a left turn onto the I Obviously Need To Get This Off My Chest Parkway:

...because of the uncertainty, I do see a lot do see people knocking on our doors who haven’t knocked for a long time. Some have been out of the game for some time, and others, well, let’s just say that it should serve as a cautionary tale for young creators. And…I’ll just offer this up as a cautionary tale to creators everywhere, because for me, the one place you don’t want to find yourself is in a bad position with bad memories of a breakup when you do come knocking. Now, I understand it happens. It happens that talent might get angry with a certain company if they feel they weren’t well-served while there. It happens from time to time. But as creators, we have to be careful. I see so many creators who get online as soon as they’re out the door with a company and start to bash that company publicly. Heck, I’ve seen it happen with employees. They’ll talk trash, they’ll tell stories out of school, or they’ll give that old speech about “I’ll never work there again!” But they might find themselves, at some point down the line, knocking on the door of that company again. And I’ve had had that experience several times in my career and especially in the last few weeks, with creators who really seemed to do everything the could to burn bridges at Marvel now coming back around and looking for work. And I gotta tell you, we’re receptive to everyone and we don’t have a blacklist at Marvel, but it does make me cringe a little bit when I see those people coming back and knocking on the door at Marvel as if nothing happened. You lose some respect for people when they go out talking trash and telling stories out of school, you lose all respect when they come back as if nothing had ever happened or without even apologizing for it.

So… cautionary tale, kids. Life is cyclical. Things come around to you and sometimes not the way you hope.

This tidbit seized my feeble imagination by the scruff of the neck and dragged it around on and off all weekend. Who could he be talking about? Surely, by even bringing it up when no one but him was thinking about it, he wants me to ask that question, right? I’m not normally a gossip — the mere sight of TMZ makes me want to pull an Elvis on my television — but for some reason, say the words “creator feud” and you’ve got me for as long as you need me. Now, whenever someone who hasn’t worked for Marvel for a while announces their new Beta Ray Bill and the Starjammers project, I’m going to be thinking: Was this one of the poor bastards who had to come crawling back after shaking the Marvel dust from his sandals? Is he penciling this issue with Mr. Burns’ demotivational plaque somewhere within his line of sight?

I must have spent at least fifteen minutes imagining some of the phone calls. Quesada answers “UNKNOWN CALLER” on his cell only to find himself on the line with a contrite Alan Moore. “Alan! Good to hear from you. I was just reading your interview in Wired the other day, where you said there was nothing interesting about superheroes these days right before saying you hadn’t seen a comic in years… oh, you were just kidding? Yeah… jokes like that don’t always translate well to print. Say, how did you get this number?… Uh-huh… well, my secretary mentioned you had called several times this week, and she gave me all four copies of the pitch you faxed over, but the thing is I’m not sure the world at large is really ready for a graphic examination of the sexual awakening of Power Pack. What’s that? You also have a killer Woodgod pitch?… Listen, I’m going to have to call you back.”

Surely, it’s not John Byrne. Right?…

Never mind being in Quesada’s position. Imagine being one of the creators in question. I can think of one guy in particular in recent years who quit in the middle of a miniseries, and when he left he gnawed a fingertip off of the hand that was feeding him. I remember thinking, “You know, just because you say ‘certain people’ instead of ‘Joe Quesada’ doesn’t mean he’s not going to be able to figure it out. You’re not throwing him off the scent with your clever subterfuge. He remembers you worked there four days ago. He might be able to decrypt ‘certain people.'” Imagine leaving a job and writing an epic poem about what a bunch of d-bags they all were, in an industry that essentially has five employers. Good luck in all your future endeavors!

Yet it happens all the time.

Can you even imagine having to make that phone call? I can. My gut churns for those disgruntled writers who thought they’d run over to another company and give the last Man what-for in the blogoverse. I’ve never poured lighter fluid on a bridge, but I’ve left dry kindling and lit cigarettes on one or two. Several years ago, at a job that had gone equatorially south, I walked out of my office as if I were going to lunch and never returned, not even to get the stuff on my desk, not even to tell anyone that I’d just quit. It seemed like a good idea at the time– actually, no, it felt awesome and was a great idea, in the sense that it kept me from driving off a pier– but as I look around and see more and more shit airborne and heading fanward, I occasionally think, “Surely everybody I knew at that place has moved on by now, right? If I ever need to go back? To beg for nickels and bread? In these tough economic times?”

Luckily, I’m just old enough to remember what privacy was and can largely restrain myself before naming names and posting photos. (My God, if Facebook had existed when I was in college, I’d have been ruined. If all those pictures from the weekend got posted online…? Shot after shot of me playing Risk in the lounge until 3:00 a.m…) There’s something about the web that makes a lot of people less discreet, for some reason. The words on the screen don’t connect to real people in some minds. I’ve seen people go after me online like I’m one of iFanboy’s non-player characters. At least weekly, I see something that makes me want to write, “You know we can see you, right? You’re not scribbling this in your Hello Kitty dream journal under the covers. I get an RSS feed of this.”

Of course, maybe they know that. Maybe that’s the point. The web is like an aircraft carrier for launching passive-aggression, and I guess we expect nothing more from it. But for your own sake, try to remember: life is cyclical. Things come around to you, and sometimes not in the way you hope.


Jim Mroczkowski is on his best behavior, because when you mention a creator in an iFanboy column they have a funny way of e-mailing you the next day. His workplace frustrations do occasionally find their way to Twitter in a breathtakingly nonspecific fashion.



  1. This topic has been on my mind for awhile..Well said Jimski, Well said!

  2. Great article. As fans we often value the content as so much more important than the behind-the-scenes work that it takes to produce a great comic or mini.

  3. The "digital footprint" (I have no idea if that’s been coined yet, but i i swell with pride at the thought of maybe, possibly, coining it, i)s something we all should consider. The future belonga to the coachroaches and the message board caches.

    My first online community was at BKV’s Cabal and what I loved about the comics discussion was that usuers were only allowed to talk anout with they LIKED. Brian permitted crtiques of his own work, but everyone else was off limits. Comics were celebrated, not evaulated or qualified. There were problems with poltical topics and the like, but I’ve always tried to carry the rule of celebration foward.

    Also, I think that there is entirely roo much ability to see our comics sausage made these days. I like ti follow creators on that mention interesting details about their work or philosophy, but  if too much of either is displayred i’m out of there.


  4. I’d never heard the phrase "telling stories out of school" until Bendis said it on Wordballoon a couple years ago. I wonder if he got it from Quesada or if it was the other way around. Does anyone else say this?

  5. I think it’s from The Sopranos

  6. In these tough economic times, I’m still stuck on the fact that he used the word ‘breakup.’

    Excellent article.

  7. @Diabhol, I cannot resist a good origin-of-bizarre-phrase question:

    "TELL TALES OUT OF SCHOOL – "Betray confidences. It was originally said only of children, apparently children who let drop at home things they had heard from schoolmates in the nature of gossip or happenings within a family. Now it applies to anyone who reveals confidences (usually not very weighty) he has received. The saying is old enough to have been picked up by William Tyndale in ‘The Practyse of Prelates’ (1530): ‘So that what cometh once in may never out, for fear of telling tales out of school.’" From "Dictionary of Cliches" by James Rogers (Wings Books, Originally New York: Facts on File Publications, 1985)."

    Now, someone explain to me why we high-five, and I’ll be set for the week.

  8. In these tough economic times, I really appreciate a good article like this.

  9. @Jimski-I don’t high five anyone.  I just do that wierd hand wiggle that they do in Demolition Man.  It takes some training, but eventually people get used to it.

    Love the article.  "In these tough economic times" reminds me of that episode of Seinfeld when Jerry pretended to be married to give his girlfriend a discount on dry cleaning.  Saying "my wife" made everything sound so much better.  "My wife has an inner ear infection."  Priceless.

    I wonder who Joe Q was talking about?  Part of me doesn’t want to be all gossipy either, but I can’t help it.  The idea of burning bridges at a job has always terrified me.  I’m still super friendly with people that I worked at my college library with.  I will never ever work at a library again, but I’ll be damned if I talk shit about my bosses there online.  Big Brother sees all!

  10. In these tough economic times, it’s fantastic articles like this that keep me going. Amazing work, Jimski.

  11. In these tough economic times, this article was good!

  12. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    I also love that they’re using it in advertising.  "Take advantage of the ‘Stimulus package.’"

    They’re advertising an SUV.  

    Speaking of telling tales out of school, this article reminds me of that time that Jimski wet himself during one of the iFanboy staff retreats.  He claimed he’d just spilled his canteen, but it was clear what had happened. Don’t tell anyone.     

  13. Man, that Jimski is a real — Oh, what’s that? He reads his own comments!? Well, poopie.

    All kidding aside, great article, Jim. And too true. I’ve seen this happen quit a number of times in my life, too. And I can’t help wondering who these people.

    However, I will say I knew a few people who didn’t "burn bridges" when they should have, ie not talking about sexism, racism, unsafe working conditions, excessive hours, etc. A former employer of mine conveniently forgot every single day I put in for vacation once. They also ignored my letter of resignation. Not a bad place, very nice people, but if I got in the way of the corporate machine… :-p

     In these tough economic times… I’ve deiced to rent out my Message Board responses to advertisers!

  14. In these tough economic times, its good to know I’m not the only other guy that occasionally wets his pants.

  15. Thanks for writing this Jim. Words to live by, not just in the comic industry, and not just in these tough economic times.

    And I’m surprised that people haven’t heard the term "telling tales out of school". I thought it was used pretty frequently, but maybe it’s another british thing…?

  16. Well, in these tough economic times, this article is hiarious!

  17. Oh, the power of perceived anonymity. Intoxicating.

  18. @soniaharris: Nah, it’s a pretty common phrase here too.

  19. this is why i don’t use my twitter myspace or facebook acounts for much.  it can be so easy to shoot your mouth off and people can track it down.

  20. "You know we can see you, right? You’re not scribbling this in your Hello Kitty dream journal under the covers. I get an RSS feed of this."


    This should be at the beginning of the comments section for every blog worldwide.  Heck, it should be the welcome message to the internet.

  21. In these tough economic times, I find that it is harder and harder to decide where to spend my web browsing time. it is terrific articles like this one that make me keep coming back to iFanboy every day. Great article!

  22. Damn, well said Jim.

  23. Erik Larsen.  It’s likely him.

  24. I immediately thought of Erik Larsen, too, but I am not sure why. I know he sure seems to be the most vocal opponent toward Marvel when Image set up shop, but then he was back doing some MArvel stuff in the early 2000’s (Nova & Wolverine). I was under the impression he stopped his Marvel work the second time because that was when he took over as publiser at Image.

    I love Larsen, but he’s had some public and messy scraps over the years. I have no reason to think he’d ever go crawling back to Marvel if he didn’t want to, but for some reason he immediately lept to mind, which is weird, because other than Savage Dragon, he hasn’t done much in recent years.

    I wonder if he still hates Peter David with the passion of a billion exploding suns like he did in 1995…

  25. Erik Larsen was let go from Marvel because suppossedly his books were doing badly post Amazing Spider-Man.  Around the time of the whole "Upping the quality of comics at Marvel for the new Millenium" era.  A "Sinister Six" Spider-Man story he drew is currently being re-printed.  If he shows up with a new Marvel book, my gosh that would be horrible.  After all the crap he talks.

    But who else could it be?  Probably not Morrison or Johns, they seem to be doing well.

  26. @KickAss and Andrew. I think you guys are kinda doing the opposite of what this thread is talking about… I’m gonna ask you to stop.

  27. Liefield?  He did mention "young creators" that "burn their bridges".

  28. Damn, Jim. Two drink cues* in the first sentence. Priceless.


    *ITTET drinking game. Every time "In these tough/troubled economic times" is uttered, do a shot!