Creative Curmudgeon Commentary #5: “Idea Men”

I love Silver Age comics, especially the Superman titles penciled by Curt Swan. I was so enamored of Mr. Swan’s skills that long after a comic was gone I would be mentally superimposing his panels over real-life situations with the accompanying dialog running alongside in my thoughts. Todd Moore and Steve Morgan arguing about a contested goal in soccer would become Superman fighting Metallo. Mike Endsley tossing the softball to second base became Batman hurling a Batarang. Walking into a Howard Watson’s tent at scout camp after he had corn for dinner would turn me into Superman being overcome by Kryptonite.

I even included the sound effects: ZUD-ZUD-ZUD! ( Kryptonite radiation)

“Must escape! (Gasp!) Kryptonite only substance harmful to me! Prevents me from speaking in grammatically correct sentences! (Choke) 

I haven’t seen Howard – or dealt with his flatulence – in over 40 years but I still have situations where I feel like I am suffering from Kryptonite poisoning.  In fact, there is a personality type that knocks me for a loop just as quickly as Metallo decked Superman by opening his chest plate and revealing his Kryptonite heart.

Idea Men.

We’ve all heard the phrase “I’m an idea man” but I doubt most people realize what the phrase really means. Granted, I have met some incredibly creative people who don’t have the skills to present their ideas. During our first conversation Jordan Weisman he told me he was an artist that couldn’t draw – and while I smirked at first his track record for introducing successful products and ventures has certainly proven him out.  However, in most cases “I’m an idea man” really means “I am a flaming bi-polar throwing out twenty ideas a minute and I want you to make those ideas workable.”

ZUD-ZUD-ZUD!

“…unfortunately I can’t pay any money right now but just as soon as the first million rolls in I’ll cut you in for some big money. At least fifty bucks!”

ZUD-ZUD-ZUD!

When I move into a new area it generally takes me about a year to get my message across to the legions of “idea men” that appear out of nowhere like the worms on the sidewalk after a good hard rain soaks the ground.  It takes that long to get people to understand that:

  • I am not an idiot-savant whose only desire is to      draw constantly 24 hours a day.
  • I don’t have hours of free-time for producing      someone else’s ideas because I can’t think of anything to do outside of      commissioned work>
  • I am a professional and I don’t “just whip      something out”.

 I don’t even like hearing that phrase uttered – it sounds disturbingly like something a perv would do while crusing elementary school yards in old sedans full of candy and Yu-gi-oh cards.

Are “Idea Men” always this bad? Usually. It’s not always a matter of being predatory or malicious either – most noncreative types are clueless to the amount of work that goes into producing quality work and unfortunately computers have made that situation worse. People think you can click a mouse button twice and voila! a fully realized cutaway drawing of their dream product will magically appear.

 Sadly idea men” ideas are often not very workable or original. Years ago I did a set of furry animal paintings done up in a WWII/8th Army/Afrika Korps theme and an “idea man” very patiently told me to “send it to England”. I thought “ and do what? Kick a door-bundle of prints out of a C-130 making a low-level pass over the Imperial War Museum in London?”

Once in a great while “idea people” are as capable as they bill themselves to be – as with the aforementioned Jordan Weisman and his work establishing FASA and WizKids.  Magic:The Gathering made a lot of money for a lot of artists during the first go-around but to be honest I would have probably turned Wizards of the Coast down when they were trolling for artists at conventions in the early 1990s. The demands of graduate school combined with being a dad and a reserve officer during the Gulf War kept me away from the conventions WOTC was at …but having been burned so many times before I know I would have taken a pass.

So what can you do to protect yourself? You can try self-hypnosis – something along the lines of making you throw up on yourself when you hear the phrase “…whip something out”. Before I had an agent I would identify the most intimidating and/or repulsive person in the room as my agent who had to personally OK all of my projects but only when submitted in Finnish.. One of the best “Idea Man” filters was to just insist that there be some sort of earnest money paid – even as little as $20.00 – before pen touched paper.

…or Kryptonite. With all those different colors there has to be one flavor that repels Idea Men – or at least compels them to be truthful about the monetary prospects (or lack of) stemming from the idea they want you to expertly visualize when you have nothing else to do.

ZUD-ZUD-ZUD.

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