Remembering that the first people to ever pay me for my drawings was Motown Records…
When I was 20, I was part of a group of young artists in Bad Boys Studios (I was the only girl). Bad Boys Studios founder, Mike Davis discovered us at various comic book conventions. He convinced Motown to make a line of superhero comic books but for some reason he had me do a biographical comic about Smokey Robinson and the Miracles as part of the pitch presentation to get the deal.
These are the only drawings I have left. I must have given Mike all the original, finished work. Back then I didn’t realize artists are supposed to keep their originals. I didn’t get paid for these drawings. I got paid later for designing the cities that the Motown Comics heroes would be fighting evil in.
When Mike asked me to design the cities I was a little nervous because I didn’t know shit about drawing buildings. All I knew how to draw when I met him was Red Sonja walking across the desert and killing dudes in taverns and on ships. The day I gave Mike the first drawings of the cities he said, “What the fuck is this shit, bitch!? This shit looks like a fucking 9 year old drew this shit.” I just smiled, Mike was a colorful guy. I started taking notes. “You got it, Mike. These are shit.” He got angrier because I wasn’t getting upset. “Where the fuck is the perspective? How the fuck are our heroes supposed to fly through this 2 dimensional shit? This shit sucks.” I smiled and nodded. “No problem, I will go get a book on perspective.” He was shaking with rage. I looked at the other two people in his office, his secretary, (an aspiring cartoonist, who told me a few days before how lucky I was to be the only girl allowed to draw for the group), and one of the other artists, they were both shrinking into the corner, humiliated for me. I was smiling like nothing was wrong because in my mind nothing was wrong. I was excited to have the job. I was going to get $1,000 for designing cities for Motown Comics. I never saw a check with four figures! I was going to get a check with four figures! Everything was OK. Of course Mike was angry. He was my boss and I was getting feedback. All artists get feedback. All artists get treated like shit. That is part of the beauty of being an artist. I felt bad for the two people cringing for me, I felt bad that they didn’t realize how awesome this was. I worked for Motown Comics as an artist! I looked back at Mike and continued telling him that I had this project under control. “Don’t worry, Mike. I read really fast. I’ll get a book on perspective, maybe two, and I’ll do new drawings.” Mike screamed, “Bitch, get the fuck out of my office!”
“You got it!” I turned around to leave and took two steps toward the open door before a loud whizzing sound went past my head and a model of the Starship Enterprise smashed on the hallway wall in front of me. Mike had thrown it at me and missed my head by an inch–at most. “Bitch, you have one week to bring me professional fucking drawings! Don’t come back here until you know what the fuck you are doing.” I smiled and waved goodbye. “Awesome! One week. You got it, Mike.”
I went to the Strand and got two books on perspective and didn’t sleep for more than one hour a night. My boyfriend who quit his job for “no reason” the day I got my “big break” at Motown started laying on the floor at the foot of my drafting table and wouldn’t move, because he was worried I was going to leave him now that my dreams were coming true. I moved out to finish the drawings at my hoarder mom’s apartment in the projects. One week later I went back to see Mike at the Motown Comics offices.
“This is better. Much better. I like this shit. Good job.” He handed me a check for $1,000.
Then I went back home to my boyfriend, stopped going to the Motown offices to avoid relationship drama at home and spent the money I made on Bartending school.
A few years later, in 1996 when I was single for a minute, I decided to try to become a cartoonist again. But I needed a new job. I needed more money to print my own comics and go to San Diego Comic Con. I walked into a bar on St. Mark’s place that had live music every night called Dan Lynch. Behind the bar was one of my customers from St. Mark’s Comics and The Forbidden Planet. We didn’t even know each others’ names but I had helped him a zillion times with his comics for years. “Hi! What are you doing here?”, he asked. I told him, “I’m looking for a job.” He said “Well, you are in luck because I am the manager.” He reached under the bar and pulled out a set of keys and slid them to me. “You were always the best clerk at St. Mark’s Comics and The Forbidden Planet. You always made sure I got my books and you were always smiling and happy. You can start Sunday. You’ll need the keys to open the bar.”
My new amazingly kind boss was a blues harmonica player, originally from Detroit, Michigan. His stage name was Motor City James. Thanks to him I was able to make enough money to go to San Diego Comic Con, rent a table and promote my own mini-comics. The attention my work got at comic-con changed the direction of my life forever. I owe so much of my artistic successes and inspiration to the fighting, creative spirit of Detroit!