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B&N Week 35: Money & Contracts

| August 23, 2011 | 4 Comments

Hi. Back again? Great! That must mean that I’m doing something right.

Welcome back to another installment of Bolts & Nuts. This time around, we’re going to be talking about the root of all evil, the great greaser of the way, Money, as well as the boon and bane of everyone’s existence, Contracts.

So, sit back, relax, and listen.

Remember when I said a while ago that generally in the Indies, writers are the prime movers? We’re the ones who put together creative teams in order to get Pen-Man made, and we go to places like Digital Webbing and Penciljack in order to start getting the team together.

There are a few ways to do this, and I’m going to go over them with their permutations.

The first way is the way that most of you are going to go—straight collaboration. This is because we’re broke, and we’re trying to get things done on a non-existent budget. So, you put up the ad, which probably looks something like this:

ARTIST NEEDED! Looking for an artist to collaborate on superhero romance, based on Hamlet, starring characters of my own creation. Looking for a Jim Lee meets Pablo Picasso style. Will be submitting to Image. No pay, but will split profits evenly on the back end once picked up. Serious inquiries only, please, and everyone will get a response.

You get a slew of responses, and you see a lot of artwork you like. You also see a lot of submissions from artists who obviously aren’t ready. If your ten year old kid sister or child can draw better, you think, you’d be better off getting them instead of some of what you’re seeing.

Now, you said this would be a collaboration with no pay, and about half of the inquiries you get will be asking for a page rate. Some of those asking for a page rate will be really good, and others will be pretty craptacular. Harsh, yes, but that’s the reality of it.

You’re looking for the perfect fit that you don’t have to pay for, and out of all the ones who’ve responded, you won’t give them the time of day. So, you write up a form letter, thanking them for their time, but they don’t have the look you’re going for. Then you update the listing, saying that you love the responses, but there’s still time for people to submit.

In the end, you wind up not using anyone that’s submitted because you don’t like the “style” of art, when even to your untrained eye, you can spot problems with perspective and anatomy.

Any of this sounding familiar? Let’s continue.

Permutation: Eureka! You found an artist to collaborate with! Now what?

Well, looking at it objectively, you’ve done one of two things: you’ve either written a story that the artist really believes in, or you’ve decided to give up half the rights to Pen-Man in order to get this done.

Half means half. This means you’re tied to the artist forever because of this particular project. Instead of Pen-Man by Intrepid Writer, it’s Pen-Man by Intrepid Writer and Now-Partnered Artist. Think Miracleman. And if you don’t know the story, honestly, look it up. It’s a rights nightmare.

If you’ve written something the artist really believes in, then congratulations. This means the artist should be eager to get started, and the energy should translate onto the page. This is a great situation for a writer, believe me.

Permutation: you’ve been on the sites, talking to artists, building a friendship—a  relationship—with them. You like their work, and after a while, you slowly start to show them your stuff. The see something they like, and offer to draw it for you. Eureka!

That’s for collaborations. It runs slightly different when you’re offering to pay.

So you finally get up some money to finance a few pages of pencils. Yay! You’re able to get the pages for a submission produced, and you write the ad to get some pencils done. It should be easy, right? You’re offering money, the great greaser!

Wrong.

Here’s what you get: artists who aren’t ready but think they are, or artists who are way out of your budget. It’s exactly the same as before, except now everyone wants the money you’re offering. Your job now is to find the best fit for your meager funds. Once you get these pages done and you get them submitted to Image, who will of course accept it because of the beauty of the art and writing, your job is done, right? Just some pencils, and everything is hunky dory.

Wrong.

And this is the trap that lots of writers fall into. They think they have the bestest idear ever in Pen-Man and get up just enough money to get five pages done without thinking about What Happens Next.

Let’s talk numbers. These are averages, and vary from artist to artist. Remember, you get what you pay for.

As the writer hosting this shindig, you’re going to get paid on the back end. So, your numbers don’t count. Right now, with this project, your entire goal is nothing more than to break even.

For artists, be prepared to pay about $75/page for a pretty decent artist. Yeah, that’s a lot of money, but it gets better.

A halfway decent inker will run you $20/page, and a damned good one will cost you as much as your penciler. Enjoy.

Colors can run you about $50/page, and letters can run about the same, depending on who you get.

The editor can run a pretty penny, as well. Just to edit the script, about $25/page. For project management, no less than $75/page, but they should make as much as the penciler if they cost more.

So, for project management, everything will run you $270/page. For twenty-two pages, it’s $5940, and that’s not including the cover. Yes, one issue will cost you the price of a used car from a private seller. Four issues at that price? A small down payment for a house, or a big down payment on a nice car for a small car note.

I went to the San Diego convention once, and Dan Taylor, creator of Hero Happy Hour, was talking about making comics. He said that when he was talking to his wife, he said “Honey, we can either buy a house, or we can wait and I can make this comic.” Deep, I know. Makes you think.

Now, I’m not trying to discourage anyone from wanting to make comics. I just want you to realize what it is you’re getting into. These numbers are before advertising and printing and self-distribution. The money involved is daunting, and that’s the main reason most of us try to get something done through collaboration instead of paying through the nose.

And the sad part is that most writers don’t think past getting the submission in. They think five pages plus the cover is good enough. Don’t bet that writer.

Understand that Image works on the back-end, and even though they look at all submissions, they also don’t take much out of the slush pile. Most of that is your fault. Yes, I’m looking at you. You write crap, get crap art, submit crap, and then have the nerve to get upset when you’re told that it’s crap. It’s outrageous, actually, and the slush pile gets bigger as those that aren’t ready continue to submit.

So, lets say you get Image to publish to publish Pen-Man. You’re now on the hook for paying for the production of the comic until the money starts coming in. And that’s six months or more. Why so long? Diamond.

Previews is a solicitation tool that runs three months ahead. They send the brochure to comic shops and bookstores, what have you, and then wait for orders to come in. They then pass the order on to you for you to fill. You have your book printed, and if you’re lucky, it’ll get picked up at the press for distribution. They also collect the money for you, and then pass it all on to you, after their cut.

This system is old and antiquated, and while it has its problems, it also works. This is a very stripped down version of what actually happens. Just a basic overview. I’ll go into more detail about it down the road. For now, this is all you need to know. Just realize that if you get picked up by a company that’s not footing the creation bill, you’ll be stuck with an accepted project and no way to move it forward.

Collaboration works for a lot of us. Just realize it’s not easy to find a GOOD art team this way. You’ll be giving up a lot unless you find a way to pay your artist. When you don’t have money, you give up the only thing you really have: rights. When you have money, you give that instead. If you want to be greedy, you never give up rights to anyone else when you don’t have to. You never know when you have something on your hands like The Road to Perdition, Invincible, or A History of Violence.

However, you’ll still be in a bit of a bind unless you get a contract. Not that it’s necessary, just realize what a contract does for all parties concerned.

Simple contracts do two things simultaneously: they spell out each parties responsibilities, and they protect each party from the other.

A lot of creators swear by contracts, and won’t do business without them. Others are more lax about contracts, and will enter one only if necessary. Remember that comics is a very small pool, and you’re liable to run into the same people time and again. It all depends on your level of trust and comfort.

The contracts that I’m talking about now are your simple, basic, boilerplate contracts. You can find them online and adapt them as need be. It should state who the two parties are, and who is responsible for what, and what compensation, if any, will be made. Contracts need limits, so make sure the limits are spelled out, as well. Basically, it’ll say something like Creative Writer will pay Brave Artist $1 per page plus covers for one million (1,000,000) pages of art, all of which are to be delivered no later than two months from the date the contract is signed. This page rate will be for pencils, inks, and letters. [The numbers and timeframes are jokes, people! No lynching! I’ll tell mom…]

There are other, evil contracts. These contracts need lawyers. A basic rule of thumb for lawyer-needing is this: if the paragraphs look large and detailed, you need a lawyer. It doesn’t get easier than that. A more basic one—if you even THINK you need a lawyer, get one. Really. It’s much better to be safe than sorry.

What do the evil contracts want? EVERYTHING. Plain and simple. These are the contracts that come from companies, and they try to get you to sign them in a hurry, giving some reason for pressing you. Rough going for the newbie who thinks he’s gotten his break and wants to sign it just to get the work out there. Besides, what does he have to lose?

Let’s look at Pen-Man. You’ve been toiling day and night on it, having followed all the columns I’ve presented, getting your script up to snuff, got someone to do some art for you, and now you’ve presented it to a company. That company loves what you’ve presented, and says they want you to sign a contract. The faster you sign, the faster they can get it into production and into stores.

What does the contract say? Simply that you lose all rights to Pen-Man in perpetuity [forever], throughout the known universe [no, I’m not joking], in every format now known or to be developed in the future, and that you also give up your moral rights [having your name in the credits box]. Your compensation? Part of the net, after expenses are recouped.

To put this into context, you’ve signed a contract that gives the company complete control of your creation forever, and you’ll never get it back. Not only that, but they don’t have to put your name on it if they don’t want to. Not only THAT, but the only money you get from this is what they decide to give you, because with creative accounting, they can show how your book didn’t make any money.

This means that all the hard work you’ve done over the past weeks, listening to me and others, ends in heartbreak because you signed away your creation.

To put it in technical terms, that sucks.

What can you do to protect yourself? Is there any recourse?

Of course there is. The first thing to do is consult a lawyer. And not just any lawyer, either, but an entertainment lawyer. I’ll say it again, with capitals. An Entertainment Lawyer. Lawyers are like doctors: the money is in specialization, so they do. You don’t want the court lawyer for children’s criminal rights giving you advice on the contract you received for Pen-Man. They can understand the words, but not all of the ramifications. And they wouldn’t know how to couch the terms of a counter-offer. Entertainment Lawyer. Get one for these evil contracts.

Now, besides the Entertainment Lawyer [repetition causes things to sink in], you also have the option of outright rejecting the contract and walking away. A word, though. Be nice. You may run into someone at one of these companies at a different company. Like I said before, comics is a small, small pond.

If you make a counter-offer, I suggest you just ask for what you need. Remember to keep the lions share of the rights, and to get some of the gross. Always gross, never net. Remember the creative accounting? That’s why. Gross, never net. If they want merchandise, you get at least half of that. It’s your property, why shouldn’t you want to make money off of it? The company does. That’s why they offered you the contract.

Contracts can be witnessed by a third, arbitrary party. A notary public, here in the States. Not all of them are, and not all of them need to be, but I advocate one. Basically, all they’re doing is witnessing your signature on a piece of paper, but you know this already. It’s good if both parties have the document notarized.

This next part is very important: always keep a copy for your records. You know those rejection slips you got from Marvel/DC? The ones you have framed? The contract is more important than those. Keep a copy of it for as long as necessary, or forever, whichever comes first.

That’s the gist of it. You now know just enough to be dangerous. Your homework is to educate yourself. Go on the web and search for comic book contracts, as well as go to places like Digital Webbing and look at the Help Wanted section to see what’s posted. You’re looking for what’s posted, how it’s worded, how many looks it’s had, and whether or not you’d respond to the ad yourself. Be advised that Digital Webbing has two Help Wanted sections: one for Collaborations and one for Paid Jobs. Look in them both.

And that’s all I have this time. Next we’ll talk more about contracts. That’s right, another two-fer! Until then, be well, and I’ll see you next week.

 

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Category: Bolts & Nuts

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

Comments (4)

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  1. Sebastian Chow says:

    Great post, particularly about the type of lawyer to engage with and what you should strive to keep (% of gross profit, merchandising etc).

    Good post to remember and keep handy…

    Seb

  2. Lance Boone says:

    Thanks for the weekly slap to the face, Steven. 🙂

  3. Conner MacDonald says:

    I was searching through the B&N’s for the cost of an editor. “$25/page” is not ideal lol.

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