Una mirada hacia una editorial que nos dejó demasiado pronto.
En 1990 surgió Tundra Publishing, una editorial de comics independiente bajo el auspicio del artista visual y empresario Kevin Eastman. Tras el trancazo multimedia y multimillonario sin precedentes de Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Eastman crea Tundra con la misión de ofrecer a los profesionales del comic los recursos necesarios para publicar sus obras más personales, y con ello darles la oportunidad de emular a su propia historia de éxito.
Entre 1990 a 1993, Tundra publicó o reeditó series multigénero y de gran calidad tales como Cages, Violent Cases, The Crow, Madman, From Hell, Big Numbers, Understanding Comics y Lazarus Churchyard, títulos que al día de hoy siguen siendo exponentes importantes dentro del comic de autor.
La visión en principio bien intencionada y altruista de Eastman por devolverle a la industria lo que ella le había dado resultó desafortunadamente en una vorágine de problemas tanto a nivel profesional, creativo, legal y económico, siendo víctima de la mala fe de un sinnúmero de personas que solo buscaban el dinero que él y su colega Peter Laird habían amasado merecidamente durante su labor en el comic de las Tortugas Ninja. A pesar de tener títulos alabados por la crítica, los constantes gastos de producción para sus obras y sus ventas marginales dieron al traste con la intención de ser una empresa redituable para su dueño, siendo liquidada y adquirida en 1993 por la editora Kitchen Sink Press.
A lo largo de los años, un numeroso anecdotario ha surgido acerca de Tundra y sus desafortunadas prácticas editoriales, su impresionante despilfarro y las leyendas urbanas detrás de su acervo literario. Al día de hoy es un tema que se zanja y se esconde bajo el tapete, lleno de lecciones aprendidas y malas decisiones.
Yo supe acerca de Tundra alrededor del año 2001, cuando era un asiduo lector dentro del Warren Ellis Forum en Delphi punto com. En uno de sus foros de discusión se compartió la siguiente entrevista, una amplia plática entre el periodista Matt Brady con uno de sus editores más importantes, Paul Jenkins.
Jenkins, con un amplio bagaje en el mundo de los comics, era un jovencito cuando se unió a Tundra, y estaba todavía lejos de ser un autor respetado y ganador del Premio Eisner—Mejor Serie Nueva con “Inhumans” (Marvel) en 1999—y las historias de horror que comparte nos dejan una amplia reflexión, que sirven de ejemplo para las generaciones actuales y que nos hablan de lo difícil que es esta labor de auto-publicar en un nicho literario tan especial, volátil y de un mercado cada vez más reducido como lo son los comics.
© Publicado originalmente en Newsarama.com entre 2000-2001.
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PAUL JENKINS: THE END OF TUNDRA
The Eisner Award Winner Talks about the fall of a Company
Author: Matt Brady
Before he was Eisner-award winner Paul Jenkins, writer of The Inhumans, Sentry and now, Witchblade, he was just Paul Jenkins, struggling creator in Massachusetts who, by luck, talent and plain moxie, landed a job at Mirage Studios, the comic company that grabbed the golden ring in a big way.
It was the early ‘90s and Mirage was riding high on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles money from films, licensing and comics. When Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman left Mirage to form his own publishing company, Tundra, he took the young editor with him for the wild ride that would expose Jenkins to some of the most decadent and ultimately, corrupt aspects of the comics industry—aspects that would finally be responsible for the collapse of Tundra, the company that was supposed to be the future for all comics.
If it wasn’t Eisner-award winner Paul Jenkins that was telling the story, you’d think this was an experimental film school sequel to Less Than Zero, set—for some bizarre, avant-garde reason—in the comic book industry. But make no mistake—it’s not. Accounts of Tundra’s downfall have been heard before, but never from Jenkins’ point of view. To hear him tell it is akin to watching Titanic—you know the ship is going to end up on the bottom, and the crew fish food, but it’s hard not to watch the events leading up to that last bit of the ship’s stern going under the waves out of morbid curiosity. Watch it again from a different angle, and you may just see something new that you didn’t see the last time.
“My reasons for wanting to tell my story about Tundra is that I’ve read supposedly ‘definitive’ interviews about Tundra, but I’ve never yet seen one that wasn’t self-serving,” Jenkins says. “Even Kevin’s interview in The Comics Journal I would describe as self-serving because he wanted to accomplish something with the interview, which was to get Gary Groth to shut up about how badly the company was running before it fell apart, so he did the Journal interview in which he just blamed himself. When I read it there were parts of it where Kevin would blame himself and it wasn’t true- Kevin did not deserve blame for the things that other people had done.”
And with that, Jenkins is out to set the record straight as he remembers it.
SETTING THE SCENE: MIRAGE DAYS, MIRAGE NIGHTS
The events Jenkins talks about all happened in the late ‘80s to mid ‘90s, a span when comics were going to take over the world. Money was everywhere, circulation numbers were high and climbing, and up in Massachusetts, a little studio started as a dream by two friends had just hit gold with the extremely unlikely Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Enter Jenkins.
“Right about 1988, I was playing in a band, which in effect means that I was waiting on tables,” Jenkins says. “I happened to know the guys who had done the Ninja Turtles, through work and because we had contacted them about doing an album cover for the first album that our band released.
“At the time, they had just gotten a toy deal and the Turtles cartoon had just begun coming out. Me being me, I broke my leg playing soccer, and that made things very difficult with the band and also with the work I was doing, so I went into the Mirage offices at that point and asked if they needed someone to help on the comics books, which they did. I was the third person ever employed by Mirage studios.”
Don’t get him wrong—Jenkins wasn’t just a waiter/musician slacker, he had studied English and drama in college, writing plays, acting and becoming very familiar with literature and all aspects of writing. Desiring to scratch a creative itch, Jenkins took up with the band and, subconsciously at least, began looking for outlets for his creativity. Working at Mirage seemed to fit the bill and point him in the direction he wanted to go.
“I hit the ground running when I started work,” Jenkins says. “I started doing all aspects of the comics, from production to editorial to promotional. In those days, everything began to snowball. Once Kevin and Pete’s creation had really taken off, corporations like Burger King would see that the Ninja Turtles were really, really popular and offer millions for the rights to use them in a promotion, and Kevin and Pete signed on. They were getting some huge checks at the time.
“The thing that was so great about it in hindsight was that both Kevin and Pete were the kind of people that you could wish it on. Neither of them was under any illusions. They both knew that they were lucky. They had tried to take the Ninja Turtles to Marvel and DC when they were just aspiring young artists, and they were turned down flat.
“From what I was told, there was a time just after the success of the Turtles that a large publisher came back and said they’d take the Turtles off of Kevin and Pete’s hands for a million bucks each. Kevin and Pete had never had a million bucks at that point, and they weren’t getting it yet. They worried about it for a night, and told the company no. That turned out to be one of the best decisions they made. They certainly weren’t stupid.”
Jenkins quickly moved from handling all aspects of the comic side of the Turtle empire to dealing with licensees as well as the comics. “I went from doing the comics into licensing by necessity, because there was just so much to deal with,” Jenkins says. “In those days, at just 22 or 23, I would be on first-name basis with CEOs of huge corporations, helping them figure out how to work their licensing.”
Tons of money came to the studio through the licensing deals Eastman and Laird made. It was the height of the Turtles popularity, and no manufacturer wanted to be without a Turtles product for consumers. “Put it this way—you’re a plastic manufacturer who makes plastic swimming pools,” Jenkins says. “You buy a license where for each swimming pool, you pay the creator of the license 50 cents as a royalty. Then you get your swimming pool and set it next to the exact same swimming pool, and charge a little more than the exact same one without the Ninja Turtles on it, and sell 12 to 15 times as many swimming pools as you would of pools without the Turtles on them. It benefits everybody.”
“Another great thing that Kevin and Pete did was that they stuck to their guns as to how the license was managed. They wouldn’t let inferior art go on any product. They were very careful in the early days.”
THE CRACKS BEGIN TO SHOW
But aside from the truckloads of money constantly flowing in to Mirage, problems were developing. “As they say—‘with a million dollars come a million problems,’ and these guys were making far in excess of that,” Jenkins says. “What began to go wrong with Mirage was that when you have so much money, the craziness begins to creep in—Kevin and Pete would walk into the office and be assaulted by people asking them to sign things left and right. They had to sign contracts for each license and be aware of what each contract was saying. Because it was so difficult for them to be aware of what was in each contract as well as talk to the press and make decisions, it got to the point where they would walk in and sign contracts. They had to trust that Mark Friedman, the licensing agent to do a good job, which he was. He was getting them millions of dollars, after all.”
“A small anecdote: One time, I was getting worried that the guys were just signing the contracts without reading them thoroughly. So, one day, I folded over a piece of paper upon which was written, ‘I, Kevin Eastman, promise to give to Paul Jenkins all of my worldly possessions.’ I folded over the piece of paper so that Kevin couldn’t read it, and had him sign it while he was in the middle of signing another huge bunch of contracts. Kevin signed it, and I then showed it to him, hoping to prove a point that he needed to be more careful. He was not at all amused.
“It seemed at the time that money would never, ever stop or dry up. The problem became the people that they were surrounded with, and that they attracted. I can remember being asleep and having a call around 2:00 a.m. in the morning, and the conversation went something like this:
Caller: Hello, is this Mr. Jenkins?
Jenkins: Yes it is.
Caller: Is this Mr. Paul Jenkins?
Caller: Is this Mr. Paul Jenkins that works with the ninja turtles?
Caller: Have you considered investing….blah, blah blah…
“It would be some bank that wanted to talk to me about investment opportunities on the assumption that I’m also a millionaire, which I wasn’t then, and not now.
“As great and honest and straightforward as Pete and Kevin were, the people that they surrounded themselves with began to exhibit signs of not being so straightforward and honest. A lot of the artists—here were people who were doing a few pieces of pinup art, a couple of pictures of Ninja Turtles, and beginning to make noises about how maybe they were responsible for success of the Turtles, since they did all the work.”
“You could see it happening over time. People would get territorial around the money that wasn’t even really theirs to begin with. Kevin for instance, would walk into the studios at Mirage and be assaulted by people like lepers begging for money, almost in the hope that he’d notice them so that some money might fall out of his pocket and land near them. You could see it happening, and it used to make me cringe.
“Kevin would pick his way through the sycophants and come to me and ask how things were going. The answer would always be, “Well, it’s going okay Kevin,” and he’d walk off, or “It’s a pain in the ass today, Kevin,” and he’d ask what was giving me problems. He and I developed a decent friendship, probably because I didn’t want any of his money. I really enjoyed doing what I was doing, and they were paying me a good wage to do this stuff, and I was extremely happy. They were very nice people to work for, so what was the problem, right?”
LAST DAYS AT MIRAGE
Around mid-1990, Eastman wanted to move on from Mirage and the Turtles. His idea was to create a publishing company that would publish works by independent creators, thereby giving them the same chance to make it that he and Laird had years before. Given that Jenkins had been doing a good job of running various aspects of Mirage, Eastman asked him to come over to the new company, called Tundra.
“I took a two-thirds pay cut to go to Tundra because I loved comics and saw an opportunity in Tundra where I was seeing less of an opportunity through Mirage, which was beginning to become this contentious place,” Jenkins says. “For example, one year, we were given a pretty substantial bonus. It was a crazy year for Kevin and Pete—they had made millions upon millions of dollars, so they gave bonuses to the employees that were overly generous. My reaction upon receiving it was in fact to tell Kevin I couldn’t accept it, because the work I did wasn’t worth it—the amount was in the tens of thousands of dollars. Kevin told me it was too late, and the money was already in my bank account. I felt so grateful to him and Pete for doing this.”
“The artists in Mirage however, took to comparing notes on the bonuses—there were artists who couldn’t believe that I got a bonus in the first place—I was just office staff. Others were comparing how much they got and complaining that someone got more than they did. What a load of f***ing shit.”
“After that, the artists started to institute policies that were particularly unfair on everybody except themselves. For instance, they’d do a piece of licensing art—it would be something like a Turtle on a skateboard. After doing that, they’d get a flat fee from whichever licensee needed that piece of art, and the piece would go into the licensing stylebook. Every time a licensee wanted to use a piece of art, and it was mandated that they had to use Mirage art—the artists made sure it was mandated—the artists would collect another fee on top of it. They would do one piece of bloody art, and we’re talking about a black and white pinup of a f***ing Ninja Turtle, and they’d be paid thousands of dollars for this thing, and then sit on their asses in the office, complaining about how much money they weren’t making.”
“They thought they were so important back there on the coattails of everything that was going on, and it became ridiculous. It got to the point where I didn’t want to be seen as inferior or treated as an inferior by people who really weren’t doing anything except handing in the occasional bit of work, and complaining about how little they got paid.”
Not wanting to inadvertently offend Laird, Jenkins went to see him and ask if he was okay with him taking the job with Eastman’s new company. The two had gotten to be good friends, and Jenkins didn’t particularly want to jeopardize their friendship over a job change. Laird told Jenkins he was fine with his decision, but Jenkins later learned it wasn’t fine with him at all. “I think Pete’s anger was directed more at Kevin, because he and Kevin were having difficulties communicating with all the things that were going on, and that’s not surprising,” Jenkins says. “People were looking at this sort of as “Kevin and Pete are feuding,” but it wasn’t like that at all. When Mirage became a huge corporation with a huge stake needed from each person, if they wanted something changed or added, what could they do? They were fighting a bunch of lawyers and accountants, so what could they do?”
“My last straw came when I went to a meeting with all of these artists who had called an ‘employee-only’ meeting. Kevin and Pete were not permitted to be at this meeting, only Kevin and Pete’s legal representatives were permitted to be there. So you’ve got Kevin and Pete’s lawyers, myself and Jim Prindle, who was the Licensing Coordinator, and the artists. At one point in the conversation, the lawyers asked the artists what they each thought they were worth, since the gist of the meeting was about them getting more money. One artist nervously stood up, coughed and said, “Well, there was a figure of one million dollars each mentioned.”
“As soon as I heard that, I realized I had made the right decision to go to Tundra, and so I left. I was so disgusted at that point at what Mirage had turned into. It all began when Kevin and Pete got a loan to get a few comics printed, and they got really lucky and stuck to their guns to get this thing off the ground. They turned down an offer of a million dollars each to sell the property, and they made the right choice. Here you’ve got these other people who are doing a couple of pieces of f***ing licensing art, and they’re instituting policies that are just not fair. They were even too lazy sometimes to do the artwork. You have these licensees that really need a piece of artwork, and they’ve got really talented artists that they could use, and they’re not allowed to use them, because of the artists’ policies. It got really ridiculous—the artists had so much control over Kevin and Pete, and I think that created some of the problems for Kevin and Pete. They both wanted the artists to be given the same opportunities that they had been given, but Kevin and Pete weren’t agreeing upon exactly how. I think Kevin was losing his patience with the way that these people were acting.”
“Pete wanted to give them everything on a plate, and the fact that Mirage is still around today with the same artists doing the same non-things—they produce nothing, yet most of them are still drawing a salary from the remains of Turtle money, shows that he did. It’s long past the time that Mirage didn’t need to exist anymore, except for the licensing arm. Some of the people there were fine, decent and upstanding guys—it was just two or three artists who let this fame get the better of them, and they decided that they were worth more than they ever put in. It was like people wanting to sue someone for no reason, or someone hoping they’d win the bloody lottery. As far as these guys were concerned, they had won the lottery.”
THE EARLY TUNDRA DAYS
His disgust with Mirage helping to propel him out the door, Jenkins landed at Tundra’s new offices as production manager. Like his first job at Mirage, Jenkins’ responsibilities quickly mushroomed into more. “At one time, I had four business cards that said I was Director of Licensing, Editorial Director, Director of Promotion and Director of Production. What happened was, because I knew what I was doing and had a pretty strong work ethic, I ended up being given a ton of work.”
One of Tundra’s strongest ideals, and one of the reasons it was seen by the Image founders as a model to follow was that creators had the power, not the corporation. At the time, it was a radical and different idea about the way that comics could be produced and marketed, as well as a change from who would make the money from their sale. The idea was similar to today’s version of Image Central—Tundra would pick up projects for publication, assist the creators with production and promotion, and receive a share of the profits for the main office and services rendered.
“Image Comics would not have come about if it wasn’t for Kevin Eastman, the Ninja Turtles and Tundra. I know that the impetus for the creation of Image came from Tundra. Tundra decided to follow the model of the creator’s bill of rights and it proved that creators could go off and exist without the benefits of the major companies. I’d known both Rick Veitch and Steve Bissette from Mirage, and from them, knew how creators had been ripped off in the mid ‘80s and so on, and why they had difficulties with some of the major publishers. This was going to be different.”
But once Jenkins got to Tundra, it wasn’t the Elysium it was made out to be—it was more like the ESPN ‘Y2K Drill’ commercial from last winter. “To put things not so politely, when I got to Tundra, it was a cluster f***,” Jenkins says. “Not because it was bad or because there was anything wrong with it, but it was difficult for the two or three employees to get a handle on how to do manage all the work. Kevin had signed on a lot of projects and was in the process of signing on a lot more. He was very enthusiastic about what Tundra was going to be. At one point, he said to us that we could be a very big comic book company and we could rival DC and Marvel.”
“I get into the middle of this morass, and was enthused by it all, so I rolled my sleeves up and started work. One of the first things I did was create a production board that followed all of the projects to completion, so I could tell when it was due to be printed, and when the work had to be in the office, and take a very logical step by step standpoint, just like any editor in Marvel or DC would.”
“The art director, Mark Martin, who I’d become friends with at Mirage, was the most incredible, inspiring, honest gentleman that I could wish to work with. I came in and we begin to have fun cleaning things up and making Tundra work. But what you begin to see is that apart from Mark and myself, there were no other employees that had any experience working in comics at all. Not that that’s the end of the world, because I have seen plenty of people come from outside of comics become production professionals. But what you had were a few people who claimed that they knew a few things about comics, and didn’t know anything. The other thing is was because it was such a free and easy time with a lot of schmoozing, and the popularity of the Turtles was huge and there were benefit galas to go to and premieres, there was a ton of schmoozing and lies to be told—a lot of people kissing people on the cheek with an, ‘Oh darling!’ and lying through their teeth—they hated that other person. You could spot that a mile away.”
PROBLEMS WITH THE HELP
As if the sycophants and schmoozing wasn’t enough, other employees were proving to be magnificently unqualified for their jobs. “The guy in charge of promotions at one time had a pretty severe drinking problem and couldn’t find a way not to bring it in to work,” Jenkins says. “This same person threatened to punch Neil Gaiman’s head in at our first convention because he felt Neil had slighted him at some point. At that convention, he decided that he was going to use our first public appearance as a forum to tell people how Neil had wronged him, and then he went drunkenly down the hall, trying to find Neil, who was rather innocently wandering up the hall at the same time. Picture me then, running through the convention thinking, ‘F*************ck. I’ve got to find this guy before he does something really stupid.’”
“This seemed to be the laissez faire attitude of many of the employees—‘I’m now associated with something that is a success and I can bloody do what I like, and I don’t really have to justify my job.’ That was an extreme frustration. You also had Kevin making the worst hiring mistakes that he could possibly make. We hired an editor, and on the very first day he came to work, Mark and I were stressed out of our heads—Kevin had taken a bunch of projects. Mark was teaching me paste-up and cover design on the fly as I’m fielding phone calls with everybody needing me to do something for them. We were so thankful to see this new editor come in since he had worked at another company—after all, this was a guy with experience in comics who could help us.”
“The editor comes in and we tell him we’re running behind on getting these books out, and ask if he could he possibly help us with some paste-up and other work. The reaction of this person was to start huffing and puffing and sulking. About an hour and a half later Mark came over to my desk and we were wondering between ourselves what was wrong with this guy, so we go over to him and ask him what was wrong. His response—‘I wasn’t brought in to do this kind of job.’
“And that’s the way it went with him for just about his entire career at Tundra.”
“That particular editor had worked at Eclipse Comics before, and at our first convention, lo and behold, our booth is put pretty close to Eclipse’s booth. This person had his arguments with Dean Mullany and Cat Yronwode, so the first thing he did when we were set up was to walk over to the Eclipse booth and pick a fight with Dean, who eventually came over to our booth and told us that if we didn’t remove the editor from his booth in five minutes, he was going to f***ing kill him. He wondered what in the hell we were doing hiring him at Tundra anyway. He was right—of course he was right. So at our convention debut, I’ve got half an eye out looking to see what the drunk guy is up to, and half and eye on this guy who’s looking to fight with all of Eclipse.”
While Jenkins is slow to blame Eastman for doing things that harmed the company, he does admit that Eastman made some very bad personnel decisions, as evidenced above, but, Jenkins says, the worst was hiring Eastman’s Uncle Quentin as Tundra’s President.
“Uncle Quentin was the guy who had lent Kevin and Pete the original $3,000 to print their first comic book,” Jenkins says. “But Uncle Quentin was really a great cause of Tundra’s problems. He didn’t know what he was doing, and he didn’t try to know what he was doing. This will give you a clue as to his personality—the first time I went in a car with him was the only time I went in a car with him, because he was saying things along the lines of ‘Don’t you want to be a man?’ as he was taking a corner at 85 m.p.h. in a residential area. His personality held that a real man was someone who could sit in the car with him for 20 minutes while he did his best to kill you both. I didn’t think much of that at all. I think a real man is someone who can stand up and say, ‘I don’t need to drive fast.’
“What Quentin had done then was he had taken the original $3,000 cancelled check and had put it into a frame and hung it above his desk in his office at Tundra, so the first thing that Kevin or anyone else saw when they went into his office was that Kevin owed his millions of dollars to Uncle Quentin. That was the message, right there. That does not a president of a great new publishing company make. But, because Kevin was the kind of person that he is, he felt beholden to some of these people, and so he thought he had to pay them back.
“Now that can be seen as being true. I’m sure Kevin could have bought Quentin a nice fast car to smash up, and that would have been more than enough, but to make him the president of this company—that was something else altogether.”
Along with Quentin, Eastman hired a lawyer who, unbeknownst at the time, had never passed his bar exam in New York State, and made Joe Pesci’s character in My Cousin Vinnie look like F. Lee Bailey. “He was so poor at his job that myself and a couple of others had to learn how to read contracts on the fly because of the mistakes that this person would make,” Jenkins says. “At one point, the lawyer came to Kevin with a contract which was basically a reprint deal for some of the Archie Ninja Turtle stuff which would put them into collected form, allowing Simon and Schuster to distribute them into bookstores. But the legal document itself basically gave the ownership of the Turtles to Simon and Schuster. So the lawyer runs in saying that he has this great contract with S&S and Kevin should sign it. Being stressed out of his mind as he was, Kevin glanced at it and signed it.”
“Turns out that he had no right to get Kevin to sign a document for the Turtles, because Kevin and Pete had to sign a document together when it involved the Turtles. That was what saved the Turtles from being owned by Simon and Schuster, or at least saved Kevin from being involved in a huge, long legal battle.
The lawyer also played a role in one of Jenkins’ favorite days as a Tundra employee. “One day, in the middle of a staff meeting, the lawyer goes off about needing a dishwasher in the kitchen,” Jenkins says. “He gets on his bloody soapbox and goes off about how the employees of Tundra do not have time to wash dishes or their coffee cups. There was too much important stuff that was going on, and we needed a dishwasher.
“Everybody just looked at this total twit like he was out of his mind. No one else thought it was even an issue, let alone a point of order for God’s sake, but he kept going about how we needed a dishwasher. I finally got so steamed that I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I told them that if anyone needed me, I would be in my office doing actual, honest-to-God work, and I left. Probably not the greatest idea ever, but off I went, because doing my production work was what was important, not the bloody dishwasher.
“After the meeting, the lawyer comes down to my office, stands at the door and says, ‘How dare you? How do you know what’s going on with this business? You’re not even a lawyer!”
“My answer was, ‘Why don’t you and your ego step outside for a little while and have and argument with each other while I get on and finish my work. When you’ve finished arguing with your ego, come in and tell me who won so I can tell that one to F*** OFF!’
“You could see the people behind him cheering.”
The problems and inadequacies of Uncle Quentin, the lawyer and even the accountant were well known by Jenkins and many of the others, who more often than not, gritted their teeth and plowed ahead. “One afternoon, long after Tundra had irrevocably mashed itself into the ground, a few of us got drunk and decided to have a ‘Hall of Fame retirement ceremony,’” Jenkins says. “We took some Tundra T-shirts back into the warehouses, drew very large names and numbers on the backs of them, and retired them up into the rafters. If you walked in back there and looked up, you’d see a shirt for Uncle Quentin, one for the editor, one for the lawyer, one for the accountant who always made so many mistakes. I seem to recall that the number we retired for the accountant was something like 1.9783—not quite 2. Ah, memories…”
“This is an idea of the destruction that was going on from within. You’ve got employees that are creating terrible problems. Kevin’s part in all of this—he’s the man with the biggest heart of anyone I know. Kevin would be the first to admit that he used to cook lobsters in Maine before he and Pete made it with the Turtles. He loved comics, and they wouldn’t even let him into art school, because they didn’t even think his art was any good, and here he ended up being a bigger success than he ever would have dared to dream. Here’s this really generous man who was so good to people—he wanted the people that he loved, his idolized comic creators, whether they be famous or not, to be given the chance to get the same things that he had been given himself.
“That wish and dream is all well and good, except that it was based on the assumption that those people were going to be like him—that they would work hard and have some kind of integrity. So he listened to every single one of them as if he was listening to himself ask for something, or as if he was listening to himself trying to stretch the truth a little bit. Kevin just believed everything that he was told. Some people were very persuasive; some people didn’t try to persuade him of anything, but more often than not, people would try to persuade him just to get at his money.”
TUNDRA GETS DIRECTORS—AND NOTHING CHANGES…
Eastman’s biggest mistake in all of Tundra, according to Jenkins, was not finding out who could really do what within the organization and who should or shouldn’t be doing any particular job. “It took a little longer than it should have, and eventually when myself, Mark, Kelly Meeks, the eventual Vice President of Tundra, and Susan Alston became the directors of Tundra, we were given the staff to split up and oversee. Of course, which staff was I given? The promotions guy who drank too much and the editor who was a complete, immature idiot.”
“I was stuck with these people.
“What I’ve learned from the articles I’ve read about the fall of Tundra is that I don’t think people have a true understanding of how things really happened. How did things really come about? Was Kevin a complete idiot to have lost so much money? Absolutely not. I defy anybody to be signing a bunch of contracts at the same time you’re being whisked away for a television opportunity at the same time you’re trying to create a new company, etc., etc., etc. I defy anybody to be able to do it.
“What’s going to happen is the weakest part of your personality, which is Kevin’s case is maybe his non-confrontational aspect, was going to be exploited. Believe me, there were thousands of people who knew how to exploit that, and they exploited it, because the payoff was Kevin’s money.”
In part two of this exclusive interview with Paul Jenkins about the fall of Tundra, we learn about the talent that was working with, and taking from the publisher, Eastman’s non-decisions, as well as Tundra’s final days and what really happened to the oft-promised, revolutionary comic by Alan Moore and Bill Seinkiewicz, Big Numbers… Come back to Comics Newsarama Monday for the conclusion of this look at the fall of Tundra.
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PAUL JENKINS: THE END OF TUNDRA
The Eisner Award Winner Talks About the Fall of a Company
Author: Matt Brady
In the first part of Newsarama’s interview with Paul Jenkins about the quick rise and long fall of Tundra, Jenkins explained how Tundra rose phoenix-like from Mirage Studios and was to be the future of comics—creators could bring their books to the publisher for production, while retaining all rights and control. Problems started early in the company with employees who were either overburdened with a crushing load of work, or just plain incompetent at their jobs.
And some of the creators weren’t acting totally above the board as well either.
But first, make no mistake—Jenkins isn’t out to paint all the creators that were ever involved with Tundra with the same broad brush. To its credit, Tundra was the home for legendary projects from the industry’s top stars, including Alan Moore, Rick Veitch, Dave McKean, Kent Williams, George Pratt, Neil Gaiman, Mike Allred, and others. Many creators did the job they promised, and that was that.
It was the others that manipulated the system to their advantage, promising “dream projects,” getting the funding from Eastman, and never producing—those were the ones that, according to Jenkins started Tundra down the slippery slope. “There were creators who would come up to Kevin and say, ‘Tell you what, Kevin—I’ll do a 12 issue series for you—it’s the book I’ve always wanted to do. Want to pay me up front and buy all the original artwork up front? Okay, cool. That will be $450,000, please. Okay, brilliant, thanks.’
“And then they’d do one half of one issue of the twelve they’d promised.”
“I can honestly say that if I were Kevin I would probably have done the same as he, or similar. If someone looks me in the eyes and promises me something, I want to believe them. Kevin had instituted policies, and believed very strongly, as did I, in the creator’s bill of rights. The basic flaw with the way that Tundra was set up was that Kevin wanted the creators to have control over their projects, which is a wonderful goal. But the way it should have been is that instead of creator control, it should have been creator approval.”
For instance, Jenkins explained, a creator could come to Tundra and request $20,000 to promote their book, and that was part of the way that they were “controlling” the project. Gold-foil promotional postcards? Okay—the creators called the shots. “Some people then may not have been terribly greedy and trying to steal outright from Kevin, but he’d given them assurances along the lines of, ‘I’ll do whatever it takes to make your project work, just bring it to me.’ So they’d come up with a dream project on the fly, along with a dream budget that Kevin, more often than not, would approve. He believed that many of them truly stood behind their work, and some of them did not, other than to send in invoices every other day.”
And then there was the volume of books. Once word got out in the creative community that Eastman wanted your book for Tundra, Jenkins and the other office staff quickly found themselves swamped with more books than two people could handle. “After one notorious convention, Kevin came back and we went from having 12 books to about 70 potential or ongoing projects,” Jenkins says. “It was just me and Mark, and we’ve got 90 books to look after and shepherd along. All the while, this editor who’s not working out was busy on the phone with various creators, blaming anything that went wrong with their projects on anyone but himself.”
In his position of being the liaison between Kevin and the creators, many creators came to resent Jenkins and the tough line he was forced to take on some wildly over-budgeted books. Even to this day, many former Tundra creators see Jenkins as Eastman’s hatchet-man, playing the bad cop to Eastman’s good. Any action he took which ultimately led to creator upset, Jenkins insists, was due to trying to keep Tundra from losing money.
“There’s one example that sticks out clearly in my memory,” Jenkins says. “We had a well known artist working on a project that they wanted to do with a writer who was much less well known but is very friendly with the artist. The well-known creator said they wanted to do a 12-issue series of dubious sales potential with gold foil covers and maybe even cardboard cut-out covers. The books were going to have a cover price of $4.95 each.
“Once we had a book’s specifications, we plugged it into a program our accountant had come up with that told us how many we had to sell to break even. You just put in the numbers for promotion and production costs, and this program would tell you how many copies you need to sell. I did it for this particular project, and came up with the number of 30,000 for each issue, which to me seemed ridiculously small. After all, they wanted gold foil on the covers, and promotional postcards and the highest quality card stock, which wasn’t cheap.
“I went to our accountant and pointed out the numbers and the total number of books, and said that I didn’t think things looked right. I pointed out a spot in the program where a minus should have been a plus, and he looks at me and says, “You should have been an accountant.” He was basically stoned out of his bloody brains every day, and made a program that gave us the totally wrong numbers. Once the program was changed, we were f***ed, absolutely f***ed. For this particular project, we had to sell 150,000 copies of each issue. This was in the days when a good Tundra book was selling 20,000 copies.”
Earlier, Eastman had given Jenkins the power to halt a project if he felt there was a serious problem, so Jenkins found himself in his usual position—calling the creators and telling them there was a serious problem. Not finding the writer at home, Jenkins sent a fax asking the writer to call him as soon as possible because the book was about to lose some serious money unless a way could be found to lower production costs.
“That writer’s response, seeing this bloody golden goose being taken away, was to immediately get on the phone with the artist instead of with me as I had specifically asked,” Jenkins says. “The artist then gets on the phone with Kevin, telling him that I was ruining this book, and asking Kevin how he could allow me to come in and blow this project apart. Did they ever call me, as I asked? Never once did any of them call me.
“This scenario happened so many times—Kevin is just maxed out, and now he has to deal with this guy’s upset. I got a letter from the writer at one point: “You have taken the food from my children’s mouths.” They’re f***ing telling me I’ve taken the food from their children’s mouths? I wrote back and told the writer that I hadn’t taken the food from their children’s mouths—I’ve taken away the golden spoon that they eat their yogurt with. I haven’t taken any food away—I called the writer to ask them to call me so that we could talk about what’s going wrong with this project and how much money was being blown. Two or three weeks prior to this, those same creators had cause to send me a letter to tell me what a bloody wonderful job I was doing with the promotional postcards, and how they’ve never had so much attention paid to detail. So their tune changed because they thought the money was going to dry up, and it did.”
PROBLEMS WITH TOMBSTONES—DESTINY PROVIDES FORESHADOWING
While some creators looked for a payday up front as in the above example, some worked huge paydays for themselves into their contracts, trying to avoid any large initial payments that would have raised an eyebrow. Once such creator Jenkins remembers manipulating the system in a manner that allowed him to come out with a hefty paycheck for doing very little work. “When I left Tundra, I felt it was best not to burn any bridges, but this particular creator knows that if ever I see him, I’ll punch his bloody lights out because of what he did,” Jenkins says. “Before he came to Kevin, his pet project had been at two or three different publishers. They’d tried to do it, but they never could make it a success. It had sort of made money, but wasn’t a huge income generator for the publisher or creator.
“Thanks to the contract he worked out with Kevin, Tundra was obliged to do something like seven collections of this particular creator’s character. Seven collected versions of this bloody character than no one else has ever been able to sell. He’s also worked a way in which he doesn’t have to do any of the actual work. He’s put himself in a position where he calls himself the ‘editorial consultant,’ and skims some of the outrageous page rates off of the top of it just for ‘editorial consulting.’ Then he gets in a bunch of kids, no-name pencilers who are just starting out in the industry, and he, off the top of his head, writes a few of these stories, or sometimes he doesn’t even write them himself, but every time someone pencils a page, this guy was taking a bit of their money.”
“So here we’ve got this inferior product that’s not going to sell, that isn’t coming in on time, and one day, we need from him the design for the interior cover. Basically, this was a spooky horror; cartoony kind of book, and the cover design was going to be a graveyard with lots of tombstones in it that gave out the credits for the book. Creators for each story were to be listed on the tombstones, along with the name of the story.”
All Jenkins needed from the creator was the art for that cover interior. “This f***ing a**hole sends me in basically something that he’s drawn with his ruler and protractor,” Jenkins says. “He sends me in the shape of a tombstone—three straight lines and a curve, and he sends it in with an invoice for an entire page rate, because it was all due to the ‘letter of his contract.’ That was that particular creator’s catchphrase for these ridiculous conditions—it was all according to the ‘letter of his contract.’ I swear, if I ever hear the words, ‘letter of my contract’ again, the person who says it will have a dustbin shoved up their a**.
“I call him and ask just what he thinks this was, and he says, “That’s my art and anything else that goes on that particular page is a production matter and it says so here in my contract,’” Jenkins says. “I kept wondering, who was going to draw all the bats and ghosts and zombies and so on—the production department?”
It was something that didn’t sit well with Jenkins. “I said this is what’s going to happen, we’re not doing another f***ing page of your book because you’re going to get on a f***ing plane from Oregon out to here and you’re going to visit us and then you’re going to look us in the eye and try to persuade all of us that this is the kind of thing that we should be paying you for.”
“So the guy comes out and we have this really pretentious and stupid bloody meeting in which he keeps talking about the letter of the contract. Kevin happens to not be in town at the time anyway, so there’s no way we can go to Kevin, and there’s no way that we can really get decisions made about this crap. Can you believe that somebody would have such bloody balls as to say, ‘No, no I don’t have to finish drawing that thing because it’s a production matter. For my three lines, for my 30 seconds worth of work you owe me $270.”
“Believe me, that was not an isolated incident.”
Other incidents Jenkins recounts involve creators selling Eastman the original art to the book before said art is even produced, and adding that amount on to the total bill. Eastman, according to Jenkins, would trust that the creators would actually produce the work, resulting in the artwork have some value. The fact that Eastman made so many deals such as that with creators may well seem to some as being Eastman’s fault, Jenkins said, but that doesn’t stop him from being disgusted with the creators who promised Eastman they would produce x amount of work, taking Eastman’s money to produce it, and then never turning in a single page, or turn in page after page of horribly mediocre work.
“People like that never tried to do the right thing, they were setting themselves up to take Tundra as a money making machine for as long as they could squeeze some cash out of it,” Jenkins says. “That was their focus and that was all Tundra was ever going to be for them. For those of us that worked as hard as we could and did everything that in our power to make the company work, the mention of Tundra is still an open wound. I was 23 or 24 at Tundra, and I had a stomach ulcer because of the stress, and worry and sadness that that place could cause. I always wanted to go on trusting people and go on believing in what they would say, and have done so mostly but I have one eye on what they’re saying, and one eye on what’s really happening here, and what these people are really after.”
THE DEFINITIVE BIG NUMBERS STORY
Of all the projects from Tundra, perhaps the one that had the most buzz was Big Numbers by Alan Moore and Bill Seinkiewicz. A rich, complex tale of life in a small English town that Moore based on fractal mathematics and the Mandelbrot set, the series was supposed to run 12 issues, but had only seen two printed when it came to Tundra. For the comics literati, the series was set to be another step forward in the legitimatization of comics as a unique and powerful art form.
Unfortunately, Big Numbers’ only real lasting effect in the comics industry can be measured by the months the project took from Jenkins and Eastman’s lives thanks to the stress of trying to produce the fourth issue.
“Big Numbers was already obviously a mess when it came to Tundra,” Jenkins says. “Bill, as I understand it, had some personal difficulties while he was working on the project. And then of course, there were Alan’s scripts. They were enormous. Alan was writing because he had this vision of a story about fractal mathematics and so on set. What kind of comic is that? It’s frighteningly brilliant. I sat in Alan’s house one time, and he showed me this chart where he had all the characters listed on one side of this square chart, with all the issue numbers listed so it created this square grid. He’d take the character and move them across the grid so he knew that this character did this in issue #7, for example. That’s how well thought out this book was. It was a brilliant piece of work.”
La gráfica en cuestión, publicada por primera vez en el libro “Alan Moore: Storyteller”, por Gary Spencer Millidge; Rizzoli International Publications, 2013.
“But his scripts, my God, I’d think they’d be terrifying to any artist. Alan would describe a scene along the lines of, ‘In the bottom left hand of this panel, there’s a flower called Nigel and Nigel’s parents are named Daphne and Fred, and Fred’s petals were yellow when he was younger, but Nigel’s petals have turned green…’ That’s how Alan would attack a panel. He had a very clear vision.”
Jenkins believes that with all the difficult things going on in his life at the time Sienkiewicz may have found Moore’s scripts impossibly difficult, and as a result became the incredible invisible artist, leaving Jenkins to pass word on to him through his agent, who himself later went missing. Despite the troubles with Sienkiewicz, Jenkins managed to get the artwork for Big Numbers #3, and felt that the series was finally back on track, but without Bill Sienkiewicz.
“Somehow, Kevin got to meet a young kid who had interned with Bill named Al Columbia,” Jenkins says. “Al was brought on to do the book, because Bill wasn’t obviously going to do it. We started production on #4, and Alan had written #5. Brilliant. Al starts on it, and we begin to find out what’s going on with this person. Bill has told us that this kid is a complete menace—a lunatic that’s not right in the head. We were listening to Bill with half and ear, because after all, this was Bill, who couldn’t fishing the book, telling us what someone else was like. We weren’t inclined to believe his judgment. It so happened that Bill was trying to tell us what was going on with this person, Al Columbia—that he was having difficulty with his mental health.
“The agreement with Al Columbia was that he would do the work and get paid for it, but he would really be making most of the money off of royalties—those people were making 90% or something stupid like that. Working on Big Numbers #4 was going to make this kid an awful lot of money and he’d never had a book published.
“So we found him a studio upstairs, above Tundra, so I went up and looked at some of his work, and he asks for some of his page rate. He was being given somewhere near $10,000 for the book, and I gave him some of it so he can live and buy food and necessities. Near the end of working on the book, he wants more money, but I tell him that I couldn’t because he was taking way too long, and we really needed the book to be finished. I told him that he had to finish it before he got paid—the same way it works with any other freelancer.
“Eventually, Al leads me upstairs and shows me Big Numbers #4—it was all finished, so I tell him no problem. We go downstairs and I have the accountant write him a check for his money. He gets his check and then tells me he wanted to paste some of the loose figures back onto the page to make it like a collage. I tell him no problem.”
That’s when the problems really started. Shortly after Jenkins okayed Columbia to get the check, he was told by another Tundra employee that Columbia had destroyed all of the artwork for Big Numbers #4. More than a little alarmed, Jenkins ran upstairs to look for the artwork.
“All we found was one of the paste-up figures, just one little silhouette of one of the characters from the book that was supposed to be part of the collage,” Jenkins says. “I went to Al’s house and ask Al about the pages, and Al—who looks like he’s seen a ghost when I come in, tells me it was upstairs and that I couldn’t look at it, because if I looked at it before it was finished, it destroyed the work. Some kind of artsy crap.”
“I told him that we really needed it right then so we could get the book into production, and Al tells me that he’ll get it done, and that was the last I hear of it from him. I then got further confirmation that he’d ripped it all up.
“From there, the story is twofold—one anecdote goes that I went with a baseball bat into town looking for Al, which is not true. I did not go looking for Al with a baseball bat. Truth of the matter was that I was so incensed, and I had been told that Al was in a hotel in town, and I went into town to kick the f***ing hell out of him. I went storming through this hotel, I was so angry, but he wasn’t there, so no big deal. I didn’t beat anyone up. Eric Reynolds from The Comics Journal asked me once how I was “recovering.” I asked him what he meant, and he laughed and said that Al Columbia told them that he’d beat me within an inch of my life with a baseball bat, which is pretty funny.”
While the story has come out in various forms, a few have pointed out that Columbia may have been a suffering, starving artist. Jenkins contests this line of thought.
“He wasn’t such a starving twisted artist that he didn’t cash his check for five grand before he ripped up the art,” Jenkins says. “He wasn’t so tortured that he didn’t get a bit of money for food to go into his belly. He wasn’t that tortured. He was doing something that he thought he wanted to do. Sure, there were obviously mental health reasons there, but this whole cashing the check business, that doesn’t speak volumes about your lack of mental health—it speaks volumes about how bloody sneaky you are. The absolute worst part of it is that he suckered me into wasting yet another four or five thousand of Kevin’s money. He lied, and for his lies, he made a chunk of cash.”
“That’s the true story of Big Numbers. I now own a few pages of it—Kevin once took me down into his vault and said, ‘Paul I know you did everything you could for this project—it’s a shame it didn’t happen, here’s Big Numbers #3 that you got out of Bill. Take ten pages and a cover—they’re yours.’ I’ve since given a couple of those pages away, one to Jae Lee and one to Ashley Wood, because both of them were fans of the three issues that came out.
“The thing with the tombstones is what sums up Tundra for me, but the problem with Big Numbers is nearly as bad. You had Alan trying to do his best—he was only taking $50 a page. My God—Alan Moore taking 50 dollars a page, because he wanted the book to be done. I was working my head off to try to get this thing done properly, and I was working so hard to get all this stuff done, and where did it all end up?”
“Kevin kept the one little figure that we found on the floor, and posted it up on his whiteboard in his office. He would make a joke about it, but he’d be close to crying about it, and so would I. He used to tell anyone who came into his office that that little figure was Big Numbers #4. Over time, the character began to wobble on its pin and it finally fell over. Kevin just left it there. It was really a sad, sad thing.”
PROBLEMS OUTSIDE OF COMICS
Along with problems producing comics and notorious problems with distributing books through Diamond and Capital—Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell an example of a book that was mysteriously under ordered by distributors, Eastman’s business problems spread outside of Tundra as well, often resulting in Jenkins making runs to different locations to try and get things back on track. Two notable examples in Jenkins’ mind are the pre-press house that made films of comic art, and the infamous recording studio.
“In 1991 or ‘92, Kevin bought what was then a state of the art prepress house for somewhere in the neighborhood of a million dollars,” Jenkins says. “The agreement was that Tundra stuff would be prioritized, but the house should still go out and find other work. No sooner than he bought it, it began to fall apart, so Kevin called me into his office one day and asked me to sort it out because as production manager, I was closest to the situation. The desperation was plain on his face. I rolled my bloody sleeves up again and dragged my ulcer down to this bloody place.
“So these people were supposed to be making film for various customers, mostly Tundra supposedly, but I can’t get any of my film turned around in time. So I walk in the door and I say, ‘Look, I’m not the greatest expert in pre-production but we have to get this thing together. Let’s look at some production boards first.’
“The two f***ing guys supposedly in charge look at me and say, ‘What do you mean production boards?’ They didn’t even have a production board that told them when a project was coming in, who was doing it, and when it as do out because they weren’t interested in Tundra Publishing at all—they were interested keeping that prepress house going for as long as they can so they could sit on their thumbs all day, drawing their impressive salaries and lying to Kevin and myself and everyone else at Tundra about what they were and weren’t accomplishing.”
As a result, Tundra books were getting later and later, and retailers were beginning to lose interest in the publisher in a big way. The prepress house was rife with corruption and incompetence. “Here’s an example,” Jenkins says. “I walk into this place one day and there’s a guy sitting drinking a cup of coffee and looking at a computer screen. This was in the day of drum scanners and slower computers that took a long time to rotate a piece of artwork onscreen. This guy had scanned the piece in upside down and was sitting there, waiting for the art to rotate inside the computer. His answer was to wait until it had finished rotating and then work on it, right side up.”
“So I ask him how long is this going to take and he says 6 or 7 hours. I said ‘Here’s a f***ing thought—go in there and take the picture out and you scan it in the right f***ing way and be done in 20 minutes. This is what was going on around me. Can you imagine being 24 or 25, having a modicum of common sense, and wanting to fix things and making a mistake by fixing things rather than trying to get other people to do what they’re supposed to do.”
Eastman had also purchased a recording studio in Maine where he hoped to record CDs that would be included in comic books distributed to record shops. Jenkins, with his experience in a band, offered to go up and work with the studio and also begin investigating CD distribution channels. “Steven Wardlaw—another Tundra employee—and myself had played in a punk band which had been left high and dry by our original recording company,” Jenkins says. “Since we had a finished album but no pressed CD’s or distribution, we suggested to Kevin that he allow us to use our album as the first ‘Tundra recording project,’ so that we could investigate music distribution channels. We also asked if we might be permitted to use the recording facility for our next album. Kevin graciously agreed to this, and so we got onto the task of speaking to various distributors and booked some time up in the studio.”
Once Jenkins got to the studio, the scene from the prepress practically repeated itself.
“They didn’t have a booking schedule and they didn’t have one person booked in that studio for the next four months,” Jenkins says. “These guys were coming in to work every day, playing guitars and recording stuff and having a blast. Did they go out and seek any new work or acts? Did anything happen through them that was going to advance Kevin’s ideas, which is what they were there for? No.”
“This was an acoustically perfect studio that was floating free inside a building. Kevin owned it, but what could it do for him? The way it could do something was if the people who were close to him were doing something to advance it—some of them, such as Kelly Meeks, Tundra’s vice President, were doing everything they could to make it work, but others were doing far less. They were having a blast every day drawing a salary for doing nothing, so it fell apart.”
As with the creators at Tundra, the response of the employees at the prepress house and the recording studio was to go right to Eastman when Jenkins made things difficult for them. “They would go to Kevin and say things like, ‘Paul Jenkins is sticking his nose in something he doesn’t understand—does he understand prepress? Has he done it for 25 years like we have?’ I’d go back to Kevin and tell him what these people were actually doing with his money, and he’d say, ‘Oh f***, here we go again.’
“And now, with the pressure mounting on everyone, mistakes were going to be made. One example, and this is about the only time I felt like I could shoot Kevin—Kevin was being creamed by these French publishers as well. We did The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by Mike Ploog, where Kevin paid the entire bloody page rate, he paid for the work to be done, and for his paying he was awarded the onetime North American publishing rights, while the book was being published and produced in France. The French people who made up the film and everything paid for bloody nothing. The one thing they were supposed to do at least was send me over film. They sent me over film and it looked like 3rd generation film and it was all washed out. It was total crap, totally unusable, and they charged us $60 a page when other people were charging us only $15 a page for film that didn’t look like shit.
“I call these people up and start arguing with them and say, ‘You bastards—you’re not going to get any money out of us!’ At this point I’m on a bloody tirade because, you know… decorum has gone out the window. I’m only interested in stopping the flow of money to all the ripoff merchants. ‘We’re not going to give you any bloody money, first of all this film is total crap, so I want different film and I want really good film and this is how I want it when you send the bill in it’s going to be 15 bucks a page, you f***ing evil bastards.’ So I’m on the phone with them for hours and hours and I finally talk them down, well in the middle of this I go into Kevin’s office and tell him these people are trying to charge us $60 a bloody page.
“I ask Kevin, just to be sure, that we haven’t promised these people $60 a page, and Kevin says absolutely not. The French agreed to our final terms, but they decide to make one last play which is to call Kevin directly. They get Kevin on the phone and they say, ‘Paul Jenkins is horrible to us, we wanted $60 a page for this thing and Paul has talked us down to $15 a page and we don’t think this is right and we have to send you new film as well which will send our expenses up.’ These people didn’t have any expenses. ‘Oh, okay’ says Kevin no problem. It turns out that in the contract it says that we will pay these bloody people up to $60 a page when Kevin signed it, so that’s how much they charged.
“The similar theme in all of this was that people would say, ‘Here’s a rich young millionaire. How stupid can he be?’ The answer is not very stupid, but if you could see how his and my lives were spiraling out of control trying to take care of things. Each day brought 10 new problems for each one that I thought I had solved, and even if I thought I may have solved one, I really hadn’t even come close to solving it, really, and more still cropped up. Magnify that by ten and you have Kevin’s life.”
DEFEAT AFTER DEFEAT AND FINALLY, DEPARTURE
When looking for blame in the downfall of Tundra, Jenkins can find fault with Eastman only in that he wanted to provide creators with the same opportunity he and Pete Laird had had with the Turtles, and that he was both too busy and too trusting when it came time to pay attention to what exactly was going on around him. He’s quick to take issue with accounts of the fall of Tundra that place all the blame on Eastman’s shoulders. Unethical creators, corrupt companies outside of Tundra and even some of Eastman’s own advisors simply saw him as a money fountain, and they had to grab all they could before he went dry. Those are the people, Jenkins feels, that have been glossed over since the collapse of Tundra.
“I may not have done it the same way if I was Kevin, but at the same time, I defy anyone to say that if they had hundreds of millions of dollars that they’d do everything perfectly,” Jenkins says. “You have no idea what your life turns into when you have that kind of money. No idea. Where Kevin is responsible for what happened to Tundra is more of how he chose advisors and how he couldn’t pick through the minefield of people that surrounded him and assign responsibility to the ones that truly were there to help him. He thought that people would, once given the opportunity, respond the same way he did. That was his mistake.
“Where did I go wrong in this whole thing? Like Kevin I believed that people would do the things that they said they would do. Like Kevin, I expected out of people the work ethic and attention to detail that I was prepared to put in, and that was the wrong thing to do. We had a lack of direction editorially, because of the publisher’s way of doing things. This is borne out by the fact that we asked Kevin to come up with a mission statement and tell us exactly what this company is about. Kevin would say he’d get one done, for a staff meeting.
“Before this meeting, I went into my office and wrote that it was the responsibility of production and editorial to make quality, creator-approved money-making books that ship on time. That was my mission statement for the editorial department in particular, so I was ready to integrate it with Kevin’s. But Kevin never came up with one.
“One day near the end of Tundra, Kevin and I sat at a bar, sharing a beer. He had tears in his eyes, and he said, ‘I wanted to do something for the creators. And you know what Paul? Most of them didn’t deserve it.’”
Jenkins severed his ties with Tundra shortly after.
AFTER THE FALL—AND THE BLAME GAME THAT FOLLOWED
Like the Mafia, Tundra wasn’t so quick to let Jenkins go. After Tundra, Jenkins served as the Editor in Chief for short-lived Majestic Comics in Cincinnati. While Tundra became a part of Kitchen Sink, it was still slowly imploding thanks to sub-par work, late books and other problems. Even though Jenkins was long gone, creators were still looking to use him as their whipping boy. “Sometime in there, I had a phone call from the production department of Tundra, which was by then Kitchen Sink,” Jenkins says. “They asked where a certain film was. I had no idea because I had left before the book began production, but I asked if they had looked downstairs in the film room.
“Later, word came back to me that a certain creator who was doing a book that didn’t have any f***ing merit whatsoever, that wasn’t worthy of being printed as a 240 page fully-painted collected graphic novel who was absolutely convinced that I had ruined his project and told anyone who would listen that it was all my fault that the film had gotten lost and I had ruined his project, even though I didn’t even work there when he did it. I worked there at the beginning of his project, but when it was made into film, the problem that he had—I wasn’t even there.”
As the comic press is won’t to do when a publisher collapses, virtually every player at Tundra was interviewed and re-interviewed to tell their version of how Tundra fell apart. While Jenkins already has spoken about his feelings toward the interview Eastman did with The Comics Journal’s Gary Groth, he takes very personal issue with Steve Bissette’s version of the events leading up to the end of Tundra, which were also covered by The Comics Journal.
“Amongst the things Steve said was an anecdote about myself and Neil Gaiman in England where Neil does something, and I say something in return along the lines of ‘Oh, creators don’t have rights,’ and there was great embarrassment all around,” Jenkins recounts. “I read it, and called Steve and said that it had never happened. I had never, ever met Neil in England. The only occasions that Neil and I have ever spent time together had been in America. He and I had never spoken one word to each other in England.
“Steve’s response was, ‘Oh yeah, I’m sorry.’
“My response back was, ‘Rather than you’re sorry, Steve, f*** you and print a retraction to this.
“Where did Steve print a retraction? He printed it in the back of Tyrant, his dinosaur comic. He didn’t go back to The Comics Journal and tell them that he f***ed up, he went into his own self-published comic and did it there, where it was totally inappropriate to print it in the first place, because no one who read the dinosaur comic knew what the hell he was talking about anyway. I’m still friendly with Steve to a certain point. I can still communicate with him, but honestly, Steve’s version is absolute bullshit.”
“Steve’s version of things was one of the most self-serving things about Tundra that had been written—‘Tundra did this, Tundra did that to me..’ and using The Comics Journal, who are sympathetic to anything anti-Tundra, as a forum to say it, while easily glossing over the fact that he may have been responsible for some of the problems himself. We did up all the contracts for every creator to Taboo, we made the phone calls to get the work in from all the creators for him. Don’t go out saying ‘Tundra f***ed me over,’ and certainly don’t walk out of Tundra and get one of the employees that kicked ass for you, and tell and anecdote that’s not true without even ever contacting me. Where are the hard questions from the Journal about this? How much money was spent on Taboo… how much work handed in on time? Who was responsible for what?”
Jenkins, junto a Jae Lee, colaboraron en el comic de “Inhumans”, publicado por el sello editorial de Marvel Knights, lo que les valió un Premio Eisner en 1999.
“Steve had the opportunity to do the right thing, but he chose not to. How much more of his story is false then, if he couldn’t even go back to the same place as the original story appeared and print a retraction about some of the same words he had said?”
“Even Kevin’s story in the Journal is sometimes false, because at times Kevin can’t help but blame himself for some of the creators just out and out ripping him off, and it was easy to do. True, he had employees that would bring on projects that he didn’t want, but now had to pay for—but Kevin can’t blame himself, because he, of all of the people involved, he was the one who was the most altruistic and who tried to do the best by everybody. His story in the Journal, and the way the Journal printed his story was absolutely like bloody Hard Copy journalism.”
“They took goofy pictures that contracted the things that Kevin had said and juxtaposed them against the article. They took moments of Ninja Turtle stuff and made it a parody of what Kevin was saying. What’s the point? What are you going to prove? The only thing that you’re going to prove is that somehow, maybe Gary was jealous of Kevin. But for God’s sake, you’re not proving anything about how Kevin completely ruined comics. It’s not newsworthy—what’s newsworthy is everything that happened not just the things that Gary Groth wanted to happen.”
‘So wait,’ you’re probably saying, ‘Why should we believe Jenkins’ take any more than Eastman’s, Bissette’s or any of the other accounts of Tundra’s last days as the truth?’ According to Jenkins, because he has nothing to gain from telling his story. “I have a completely different career from Tundra,” Jenkins says. “Nobody who knows me now gives a toss about what happened at Tundra, so I’ve got nothing to gain from talking about this. No one gives a shit that I was an editor at Tundra—they see me as someone who writes Spidey, Hulk or Witchblade, so I don’t have anything to lose by talking.”
“I don’t know what to conclude about Tundra. To this day, it f***ing breaks my heart thinking that people could be so greedy and could be so callous and could do the things that just proved people can sink so low when given a sniff of money. I don’t come out of it with a great feeling, neither does Kevin nor the people that wanted to make Tundra work. With Kevin and with many of us, it’s still an open wound these days that continues to fester and probably would have always festered with me if I had never had a chance to speak of it and to say this is what truly happened.”
“I’ve learned many things from my experiences, though: A person will often look you in the eye and lie to you because you have something they want but are not prepared to go to the trouble of earning. A person, when faced with the opportunity to do the ‘right thing’ will choose that path less than fifty percent of the time.
“I wish that everyone interested in the downfall of Tundra could have lived through the experience rather than read about it as some kind of modern day cautionary tale—and that applies as much to Gary Groth and other Tundra naysayers as it does to the casually-interested fan. The truth is right there… all you have to do is ask the right questions of the right people—‘Hey, Creator X: did you really send in three straight lines and a circle and try to charge $270 bucks for it?’ ‘Hey, employee Y: is it true that you almost cost Kevin his entire fortune by inadvertently signing away his ownership of the Turtles?’ It’s as simple as that, I think. I invite anyone to ask any hard question they care to about my involvement with Tundra—those of us who really tried and really believed in Kevin’s vision… we’re like a band of combat veterans, in a way. We know what happened, and who did what to whom, and we can at the very least take comfort in the fact that we never lied, cheated or stole—we only did the best we could.
“Kevin Eastman has had his opportunity to stand up for himself in the pages of The Comics Journal, and he declined, for reasons known only to himself. So, I’m going to stand up for him. Kevin, you did what you could and you found out the hard way that too many people in this world are scared and greedy and selfish. We all sleep with our conscience at night, and I know that you and I and others sleep very soundly, thank you very much. To those who toss and turn—and you know who you are: I hope you f***ing rot in hell.”