But of course, as generous a notion as it was, Chris was dead wrong. No one gets handed a comics career. As tiny as the comic book business is, compared to the TV or movie business for example, it's a popular one, so much so in fact that, for every available job in comics, there are literally hundreds of people who would love to have it, and a large percentage of those who'd trample their dear old granny to get it. Our racket is tough and competitive. If you can't cut it, there's someone ready to step into your shoes right now. As a result there's zero room in it to hand out a single career as an act of charity. (We won't even get to the fallacious notion that I'd somehow have some ability to give them out, if such gifts were possible.)
Chris got his comics career because he can do the job. Period. In fact, I've known for years what a rare few knew: that he was one of the most qualified persons for a career writing comic books that wasn't currently doing so -- an oversight recently corrected. The truth is, Chris came into this business years later than he deserved. Anyone familiar with his far too numerous prose novels and short stories could see that he was built for writing funnybooks.
So then, what did I do? Not much. When some work became available and I was asked for my opinion on who we should get to do it, Chris was first on a list of a very few names that I rattled off.
When I pointed this out, Chris, ever the gentleman, thanked me again, for at least "holding the door open" at the opportune time, and that's a pretty fair assessment. I'll cop to that.
Now why bring this up at all? Is the purpose of this post to demonstrate what a fine fellow I am?
Not at all. Since the oft-stated purpose of this blog is to discuss the art and craft and business of our profession, I think there's a larger observation to be made here, one worth pointing out.
Basically, I told you all of that to tell you this:
Helping a fellow storyteller get work in the same field, provided he's a gifted one (and he is), isn't an act of charity, or generosity, or selflessness, or largess of any kind. It's a quite premeditated and entirely selfish act of self-preservation -- it's long range career planning.
Follow me on this: In order to make a career telling stories (and after a quarter century in the business that's all I'm qualified for anymore) one has to have (meaning cultivate) a large and dedicated readership. Now here's the thing. Readers read. They read a lot. They read much more and much faster than any one writer (even Geoff Johns -- hi, Geoff) could ever produce material to sate their hunger. Therefore it's in my interest to do everything I can to keep the field stuffed with good writers, who want to write the same or similar sorts of stories I produce, so that my readers are kept happy, so that they'll still be around to read what I produce, when I am able to produce it. Like any species of critter, readers who aren't kept fed will wander off to other fields.
Those who know me well know that I am a dedicated capitalist, with all that implies. I could have rewritten Gordon Gekko's famous "Greed is good" speech so that it made sense -- so that anyone could see that capitalism, done right (meaning hands off, you pinko do-gooders) is not only a compassionate system, it's the only compassionate system. So believe me when I say that I wouldn't go out of my way to create competition for myself. But giving other writers a chance to create stories in the same genres and mediums I do isn't creating competition, it's growing the overall readership, which redounds to the benefit of all. Ever hear the economics proverb, "A rising tide lifts all boats?" It's true. It does. And it applies in this case.
So, finally, here's the lesson:
If you want to make it long term as a writer in the funnybook business (and I suspect this applies to other mediums, but I won't pretend to be an expert in other mediums), you need to write terrific stories, you need to have a herculean work ethic so that you can actually produce said terrific stories on time, and then do it again and again, you will need to be able to resign yourself to the fact that you will never ever again be "off duty" (which I understand actually occurs in other careers, but it's too glorious a dream for me to quite believe it), and when the chance occurs, you need to be ready to give the next guy a hand through the door, for your own sake -- because he may just be the guy that keeps enough dedicated readers hanging around that you can have occasional access to them.
So there. Greed really is good.