Call this one “Eddie’s Brush with Stuff That Other Bloggers Are Linking to or Writing About.”
There’s been a lot of buzz about Rick Olney of Tightlip Entertainment the past couple of weeks. week. If you need to get up to speed with the whole deal, start here with Comics Worth Reading and follow the links.
Now that you’ve read about the experiences others have had with Mr. Olney, I’m going to tell you mine, which admittedly is pretty minor compared to not getting paid for work you’ve done. I’m basically jumping on the bandwagon here because it’s just so strange to me that something that happened in my life several years ago even slightly mirrors something making waves like this in the comics world today. If nothing else, it just shows that Olney’s history of inappropriate interactions and bizarre behavior goes back further than people may realize.
I’ll warn you that my memory is pretty inexact at times and some of the details are fuzzy. This all happened through snail mail, and I didn’t save any copies of anything. At the time, I just chalked it up to a weird, somewhat disturbing, happening in my life and went on. I certainly wasn’t expecting to sit down and write about it several years later. I may have gotten the contents of some of the letters confused, but I think my recollections are pretty accurate. Consider this your caveat lector.
As best I can recall, based on where I was working at the time, it was maybe 1997-ish or so. Olney had a club called ORCA (Organized Readers of Comics Associated), and ORCA had a listing in Comics Buyers’ Guide. I used to take these spells back when I was a CBG reader where I would sit down and send away for anything free or cheap that was advertised. I had started my journey away from mainstream comics a couple of years prior, and was on the hunt for new stuff to read, like some of the small press and self-published stuff advertised in the CBG classifieds. (Yes, a lot of stuff I got was really lame, but that's also how I discovered Elizabeth Watasin. And it was kind of fun.)
I think you could get ORCA info for free with a SASE, so I wrote a nice letter asking for some more information about the group and sent it away with my very own SASE. In reply, I got a very nice letter from Olney, who explained that ORCA was a chance for folks who loved and read comics to get to know each other. Membership was something like five bucks and among the benefits was a bimonthly newsletter. (I’m pretty sure it was bi-monthly, it might have been quarterly. However, it was supposed to have a regular publishing schedule.) There was also a list of questions about me and my interests in comics that I was to answer and send back to help other members get to know me better.
I decided to take the plunge and sent my five bucks in, along with my answers to the questions. If nothing else, I thought it would be good for some mail. I’ve always loved getting mail, especially in those days before the Internet took over the world and email all but wiped out snail mail (except for bills, unfortnately).
A little while later, I got a package from ORCA with another letter from Olney, some ORCA promo stuff, and the first five or six issues of Astro City, a title I had listed as one of my favorites on the questionnaire. In his letter, Olney welcomed me to ORCA and responded to some of my responses on the questionnaire. I listed writing as an interest, so he wanted to know if I would write for the newsletter. He noted some comic interests we had in common. I had mentioned my growing interest in anime and manga (which had yet to really take off in this country), and he said that was something he’d like to know more about. Then he proceeded to trash one of my favorite creators, Donna Barr, whose name I had mentioned in my responses.
Seems that Barr had made some comment about “fanboys” in an interview somewhere and Olney took issue with the term, which he felt was derogatory. He ripped into Barr, including making a really nasty, inappropriate comment about not wanting to see her in a bikini. He said he hoped that I wasn’t “like her” and kind of implied that, maybe, I shouldn’t really like her work after all.
Looking back, this should have been some kind of red flag to me. That's awfully extreme behavior to display to someone you are in the process of meeting. It wasn't even that Barr had insulted him. it was that he percieved that she had, so he was going to take offense at me for liking her comics. Still, at the time, I thought it was something we could work past. Besides, if he got to know someone who liked her work, and could explain its appeal, maybe he would try it himself.
So in my reply, I thanked him for the comics and offered to write about the anime convention in Atlanta I was getting ready to attend (Anime Weekend Atlanta) for the newsletter, if he wanted. I also told him that I hadn’t seen the Barr comment that had him so incensed, but maybe he was taking it a little too personally. I also pointed out that I thought some of his remarks were way out of line.
At some point in time, it may hve been this letter, I also started asking questions about ORCA. How many members did it have? How spread out were they? Were they going to be getting online, since they weren't at the time? (I don't even think Olney had email at this point, hence the snail mail. I know I had given him my email already.) I also wanted to know why Olney called himself something like "Executive Director" which seemed to be an odd title for the president of a pretty informal comics club. Were there other officers? What did they do? It was more curiosity than anything else. I wanted to get to know more about the group than Olney and his letters.
In his reply, Olney accepted my offer to write the article, then proceeded to insult me for daring to defend Barr and her attitude. Maybe I was “just like” her. Maybe I was “snobby.” Maybe I put people down too. And how would he like it if he referred to me as “alterna-boy” based on my taste in comics? And on and on. He also didn’t answer any of my questions about ORCA or his title.
At this point, I should have just dropped the whole thing and moved on. The only “face” that I was seeing for this group was, well, a little unstable, or at least, highly sensitive. I thought I might have an outlet to write about comics, though, so I decided to not bring the topic up any more and focus on areas where we agreed. I went to AWA and, a couple weeks later, sent in an article about it, including places where people who were interested in anime or manga could find more information.
I got an email reply this time, from someone else in ORCA, with a title like “vice president” or something similar, who thanked me for the contribution and said they’d see if they could use it in the upcoming next issue of the newsletter. He also said that Rick was busy with some personal stuff, so he wouldn't be writing for a while. This was in the fall.
In the spring of the next year, the first issue of the “bi-monthly” newsletter that I received showed up, without my article. “Oh well,” I thought. At the point they published it, my story wasn't timely any more, so they must have just decided not to use it. I wasn't faulting them for that or the erratic schedule, since they were all just fans doing this in their spare time, like me.
And I didn’t hear from ORCA or Olney again for sometime, way more than a year, I believe. No more newsletters. None of the fun contact with other members emerged. Nothing. But at least there were no letters from Olney! In the meantime, I had sold all the Astro City comics Olney sent me and made my five bucks back, and then some. I chalked ORCA up as a minor mistake on my part and went on with my life.
Finally, another newsletter showed up. I knew better than to look for an article I wrote about a convention that happened well over a year before, but I was surprised to see a reminder that I needed to renew my dues. It was apparently way past time to send them another five dollars. So, I took stock. Two “bi-monthly” newsletters in a couple of years or so, combined with a bunch of questions I never got answers to, plus a “director” who had been pretty rude to me in our second or third encounter all added up to “no more money from Eddie.” Besides, the newsletter wasn’t even that good or worthwhile.
Also, I had taken a job at the time with an hour commute out of town. I was part of a van pool that left at 6 in the morning, so I was getting up at 4:30 every day. I was tired all the time and looking to cut some distractions out of my life.
I dropped a short note in the mail that said I didn’t want to be a part of ORCA any more and asked them to please take my address of their mailing list. I didn't go into detail because there really wasn't any sense going into everything. I just made a simple, and I should note, polite request. I figured that would be the end of that.
And I was wrong. I got a letter back from Olney wanting to know why I wasn’t renewing. Didn’t he send me all those great Astro City comics? Wasn't I enjoying being in ORCA? (Uhm, no.) They'd been so good to me. Why didn't I appreciate them? They had all these great plans in the works. If I left now, I'd miss all the fun. Why didn't I like them any more? Olney said they weren’t going to drop me. They’d keep sending me the newsletter so I could see all the fun I was missing. That way, I could re-join whenever I wanted, and Olney was sure I'd do that, just as soon as I saw what a mistake I was making. (Honestly, it was like trying to break things off with some kind of clingy ex-lover.)
I guess I could have let it go, since, despite all the promises, there didn't seem to be anything to ORCA. However, I was starting to feel like I really didn't want my name associated with anything Olney was a part of. His response to my request to be dropped was definitely odd.
I wrote back and repeated my request, stating that I really had no desire to receive anything from ORCA. I didn’t want to be a part of the group. I said I didn’t feel ripped off, since I made my five bucks back selling the Astro City issues, but I was disinclined to send Olney any more money for a group that didn’t seem to be worth it. I pointed out that I had asked questions that were never answered, that the newsletter really wasn’t what it promised to be and reminded him that he had insulted me for liking a creator that he didn’t. In short, I hadn’t had a good experience with them and wanted to end my association.
The next letter from Olney moved beyond odd to freaky. He was very rude, calling me names again for liking Donna Barr. (Sheesh!) He didn't like my attittude. He didn't like me. I was an ingrate and a snob. Then he said he wasn’t going to drop me from the membership, instead he was going to print my letter and address in the next newsletter and encourage “the membership” to laugh at me and send me letters telling me how ridiculous I was.
Up to that point, the whole thing had been a little annoying, but this was almost scary. On the one hand, as near as I could tell, “the membership” was Olney and a couple of friends, but on the other, I was starting to see an escalation in bizarre, antagonistic behavior every time Olney didn’t approve of something I said. Here he was, basically saying that he was going to encourage other people to harass me! The situation was turning really wacko, and I definitely wanted no part of anything he was at all connected with after that.
I wrote back, pointing out that I felt like things were starting to unnecessarily escalate. I told him that his response felt like a threat to me and that I would take appropriate action if he did indeed run my letter without permission and encourage others to harass me. I repeated my request to be removed from the ORCA roster. I put the letter in the mail, totally unsure about what to expect next.
To my surprise, Olney’s next later said that he had talked it over with others (who?), rethought everything, and would honor my request. And that was the last heard from him. This would have been in 1999 or maybe 2000. I know it was before I took my current job, which was in January, 2001. I never heard from him or ORCA again.
In the years since, I would sometimes see a post from Olney in a comment thread or some mention of him or ORCA somewhere online and I would just shake my head. Everytime there was some kind of big announcement about something he was working on, I'd kind of roll my eyes a bit, and feel a little sorry for anyone who ended up working with him.
And then, the disturbing behavior I saw years ago starting becoming very public and growing in scope and character. Meltdowns on boards. Insulting belittling posts. Excessive victim language. Big promises with nothing to back them up. Ignoring requests for details. Looking back I think you cansee the seeds for all this behavior in his interactions with me. Except that the internet gave him a forum and broad exposure for his antics. And, worst of all, he moved from just harrassing and insulting nobody fans like me to defrauding professionals trying to make their livelihoods in comics.
What happened to me back in the day is basically kind of a weird footnote to my life. It’s not necessarily something I would care to repeat, mind you, but it’s small potatoes compared to what others have had to deal with when it comes to Olney. I’m thankful that all of our communications were low tech enough that there was kind of a built in limit to how far things could escalate. When I see him lashing out online, I’m aware of what our interactions could have turned into, given the chance. I'm also glad I never got more involved in anything he was involved in. I 'm also glad that there were no serious financial trasnactions between us.
And there you have it. My Rick Olney story. Not as dramatic or critical as some of the others, but there it is. My thoughts are with those people who are now having to prepare to go to court to get him to honor his commitments. That shouldn't happen to anyone.