It's fair to say there are very few things Transformers fandom can be said to be unified on. A browse through the various forums will show a diverse range of opinions on just about everything that it is possible to have an opinion on. For a group of people brought together by a common interest we often don't seem to have that much in common.
That's not unusual for long running franchises, of course.
As was mentioned in the introduction to these features, with so much product it's hard for everyone to love everything. But if there is one thing that genuinely unifies everyone in the fandom, it's Pat Lee. He draws funny! He's a fraud! He's a shameless attention whore! He sees you in your bed. And eats you when you're sleeping! Pat is our bogeyman, the face of everything we despise and hate in a shirt half hanging down his back to show off his chest and boy band pose. For any youngsters reading this is probably an opportune moment to link to the wiki write up on Lee, which covers the salient points: http://tfwiki.net/wiki/Pat_Lee
And let's be clear here, despite the tongue in cheek nature of the preceding paragraph, this isn't going to be a revisionist piece on the merits of the man. He is fairly obviously a slimy piece of work who likes to screw over others to his own benefit, and has done so repeatedly.
The questions I'll be asking today are: why is the fandom (as opposed to those he buggered directly) still so obsessed with a man who was involved with the franchise for barely three years the best part of a decade ago, and how fair are the numerous other non-criminal things he gets accused of?
Oil retention can happen to even the
wisest and most noble of Autobot leaders.
It might seem odd to anyone unfamiliar with Lee that he is so often blamed for the failings of every aspect of Dreamwave comics beyond his art duties. After all, he may have been the company's editor in chief, but that's a similar position to that held by Chris Ryall at IDW and his name is rarely brought up in discussion of the comics.
A large part of it is the aforementioned "Attention Whore" aspect of his character... as a shameless self promoter Dreamwave is linked with his image in the minds of those who've heard of the company, in a way that IDW isn't with Ryall, meaning there's a tendency to associate him with every decision made on the comics regardless of the reality.
Even this website plays this game; the The Dreamwave Disaster essay cheerfully mocks the idea that Chris Sarracini was directly responsible for the writing of the company's first mini-series and lays the blame for all the plot failings at Lee's door. This despite the fact Sarracini is one of the few people to have been involved with Dreamwave to have never spoken out about Lee, or indeed to have commented on their working relationship at all. The fact that as the company fell he was already lined up to return suggests he had no particular beef with his prior treatment and his initial, rapid departure most likely had little to do with the issues that would later cause other creators to feel mistreated. It's worth remembering that sometimes people leave their jobs suddenly for non-sinister reasons.
There has also been a tendency for various IDW staff members — most noticeably Mike Costa in this this podcast interview — to lay the boot into their predecessors. Indeed, a lot of the company's early work got something of a pass (from myself included) because of all the "Hey, at least we're not Dreamwave!" comments. Which is farcical when you consider that, up until the shifting comic book market made an ongoing comic viable, IDW's business model was exactly the same as Dreamwave's. Lots of mini-series, hundreds of covers, many of the same creative teams (and even the first Beast Wars series had originally been planned for Dreamwave.) Hell, Megatron: Origin was a pitch Dreamwave rejected. The only real difference in approach is IDW has other comics that sell, whilst Dreamwave was buggered by not having a single other comic that anyone ever bought.
Indeed, it's worth noting that, despite what Mr. Costa thinks, IDW have lost more readers over the course of their run than Dreamwave managed to do despite the delayed issues and stories of behind the scenes trouble that dogged Lee's company in their final days. The aforementioned Beast Wars comics that ended after the second mini because of "disappointing" sales had issues that shifted about three times as many copies as More Than Meets the Eye does on average. The whys are something for another article to look into (though I would also like to point out that in the last year Regeneration One has lost a third of the people who bought the first issue — hello to all the really crazy Furman fans who jumped on me for pointing out how bad it was when it first started; where are they now?) but it does make the idea that Lee was the black cancer at the heart of Transformers comics slowly killing them off seem more than a little OTT.
It also has to be said that Lee has become a bit of a scapegoat for other people involved in the slow implosion of Dreamwave's output as well. Both Andrew Wildman and Simon Furman blamed the flaws in the climax of The Dark Ages on outside interference in their respective areas, the pencils and dialogue being mucked about with to turn an intended direct reference to Primus into a guest appearance by the National Lottery hand. Considering the paucity of all their subsequent work for IDW you'd either have to think Lee is sneakily following them about and creeping into their rooms at night to muck about with their scripts and art whilst cackling like a mad imp... or the flaws in their work have very little to do with how the series was edited.
A more worrying example is Matt Moylan's claims in the series of articles linked to in this thread. Much of them are of the OTT "Boo! Hiss! Lee is a monster!" variety of the type mentioned already, even using the overly emotive title "Dreamslaves" as if he'd been forced against his will to work for Lee. My favourite is the idea that Dreamwave pitching for the G.I. Joe licence when it was coming up for renewal amounts to attempting to "steal" it like a moustache-twirling villain. Oddly he doesn't follow through on the logical conclusion that IDW must also be thieves for subsequently successfully doing exactly that.
More worrying, though, is that Moylan talks about lying directly to Silver Snail comics about the true artist on a retail incentive cover. I can fully understand the need to do what your boss tells you in order to keep your job... but if you make that choice to agree to take part in what was effectively small scale fraud, you're complicit whatever the reason. It takes away from him the option of claiming the high ground and pinning the blame entirely on Lee in a "just following orders" way, especially as he claims the person at Silver Snail he was dealing with was someone he counted as a friend. The real elephant in the room is that Lee taking the credit for other artists' work wasn't something only he knew about; it was something others working at the company were aware of and even helped arrange... a far cry from the way those involved tend to portray him now as some sort of master criminal pulling the wool over everyone's eyes.
Dreamwave and Lee are such big complex stories that this write up can only briefly touch upon a lot of the details (we've not even mentioned the comical attempts by the Brad Mick gestalt to try and create interest in cancelled stories that wouldn't have seen the light of day even if Dreamwave hadn't folded). It's now been over a decade since Dreamwave started and nine years since Lee's machinations buggered the whole thing up. As unlikable as he was, is it not time to move on? To bring an end to the easy jokes and accusations and just let him fade into obscurity? Even those with genuine financial grievances are unlikely to see any return on their loss by this point.
Instead, perhaps it's time to focus instead on the comics, and to celebrate what Dreamwave did right. And there's more of that than you might remember. The much-mocked Lee "house style" is something IDW have only really started to move away from regularly in the last year or so (and of the constantly employed artists, Andrew Griffith is still basically using it) meaning the company successfully set the benchmark for the majority of the comics we've had in the last decade. Other artists have obviously done it better than Lee, but the work of people like Don Figoroua, Alex Milne (before he reinvented himself) and others have all carried on that look, often to great success.
Subsequent Transformers periodicals have occasionally paid
tribute to the superstar comic book artist.
On top of that, we have The War Within doing dedicated prequel stories and specially designed Cybertronian modes (both things that had been done only sporadically before) which have a legacy extending to the recent (Noun) for Cybertron games, but the Pat Lee created character of The Fallen gave us the villain of the gonzo successful second film. Despite the weaknesses in the conclusions of both completed War Within series they are easily the most influential of all the different series from both Dreamwave and IDW, and if anyone reading this hasn't previously encountered them they're well worth tracking down despite the flaws. The Sunstorm story arc in the Brad Mick written ongoing is also great pulpy fun as well.
The most exciting stuff, though, lies ahead. For the first time in a long time IDW seem to be going in the right direction with their storyline (even if James Roberts is almost single handedly increasing their batting average by a huge amount) and we have an editor in John Barber who, despite being the much weaker of the two writers, seems to have a clue what he's doing. Which is especially impressive after Andy Schmidt — a man responsible for more bad Transformers comics than Pat Lee could even dream of — had trouble with something as simple as getting speech bubbles pointing at the right characters.
So for now, the future's bright. Let's wave Dreamwave and Lee goodbye and look forward to it.