B&N Week 142: Contests of Champions

| September 10, 2013


It’s Tuesday! You know what that means!

This week, I want to talk about something I’ve been seeing a lot of recently: contests. Top Cow is currently running one, as is DC Comics, as is another company who’s still doing things with a beta tag on their site, Ucreatecomics. Now, all contests have their pros and cons. Let’s get into the Bolts & Nuts of them, shall we?

When it comes down to it, every contest is the same, but every contest is also different. In comics, one person [or team] has the opportunity to win something, be it a chance to work on a licensed character, or one of your own creation. However, every contest is also only as good as the company decides it is going to be. Just because that company has some cachet does not automatically mean they are going to fulfill the terms of their contest.

A recent historical example is Chew. Chew was going to be a live-action show on Showtime. Contracts were signed, and rights were sold. However, Showtime didn’t follow through on their end. John Layman, co-creator of Chew, is on record as stating that after years of development, Showtime never paid them for the rights. (Um, Steven, that’s not a contest ) No, it isn’t, but it illustrates my point: even a company with cachet could not fulfill their part of a bargain.

Contests, especially those by larger companies, are good for several things. First and foremost, they give new creators hope of breaking into the big leagues. If you tell me that you’ve never dreamed about working for Marvel/DC, and that they aren’t the reason you got into comics in the first place, I’m going to call you a bald-faced liar. Sure, you may have matured from those dreams into doing your own thing, but there are precious few who are looking to get into this business who don’t or haven’t dreamed about working for Marvel or DC.

In today’s climate, the doors to Marvel and DC are closed to submissions. Marvel goes as far to tell you that if you want to get through their doors, your best bet is to make your name somewhere else first. Image publisher Eric Stephenson finds it amusing that Marvel and DC go to new Image creators to poach them. He sees it as Marvel/DC uses Image as a pool where new talent gets groomed before being called up to the majors. However, the talent pool at Image continues to grow, since creators are seemingly leaving Marvel/DC for Image Comics and Boom! Studios.

With creators leaving [especially DC Comics], it seems that now would be a good time to hold a contest. This way, you can get the submissions you want without having to look desperate and opening the floodgates to regular submissions.

The illusion of being open to new creators is needed. Without that illusion, we’re back to where we were 20 years ago, with doors being closed, editors writing each others books, and you could only get a job by knowing someone and being vetted first. Marvel is walking a tightrope right now, in being open to new creators, but wanting them to have work published elsewhere first.

Contests also get publicity. Top Cow’s contests got hailed far and wide, on all the comics news outlets. First were the Pilot Seasons, where the winning concept was turned into an ongoing comic, and now the Talent Hunt, where the winners get to work on a Top Cow comic. DC’s contest is worse, if you can believe it. The winner of this particular contest gets to say they drew a single page of a book published by DC.

(What about that Ucreatecomics thing you mentioned, Steven? How does that work?) No real idea. If you go to their website, you see it’s in beta. You see that they’re offering a contract for both writers and artists to be paid to create a comic. You’ll see that the money isn’t insignificant, either. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll see that the contests are monthly, that legendary artist and crusader for creator rights Neal Adams is a partner in the venture, and that winners keep their IP but sign away the bulk of their publication and merchandising rights for eight years. You also have to pay to play: $15 to enter the contest. That fee, and the beta tag, are probably the reasons why you haven’t heard anything about it yet. A cynical person might think that the fee is to cover the contest winner’s contract, and maybe the administration of the entire thing. There are some other fees attached to the site as well, but in order to get more information, you have to at least sign up to become a member. While a small barrier of entry, it doesn’t lead to full transparency, which is what you want.

Again, the contest is only as good as the company dictates it will be. Top Cow’s Pilot Season contests, while having much fanfare, didn’t produce the ongoing series they said they would. Last year’s Talent Hunt was something of a disaster, in that it took six months for the winners to be announced. And while books from those winners still haven’t been produced, they’ve commenced yet another Talent Hunt.

DC, on the other hand, has been taken to task in very public ways over the past couple of years. Creators shuffling and being shuffled around when the New 52 started, creators leaving citing editorial interference, creators leaving due to lack of respect for other creators legacies. This contest could be seen as totally frivolous and unnecessary, not because there can be only one winner, but that winner gets to draw only a single page.

A friend of mine wrote a story for Marvel/DC, and has worked with one of the best editors in the business. That friend still cannot get more paying work from Marvel/DC, and with the turnover rate for creators, there is no guarantee that this single page will lead to more work.

When it comes to entering contests, you have to ask yourself a simple question: is it worth it to you? Take a hard, honest look at where you are in your career, and decide if entering the contest is feasible, and if the prize is something you would like to see your name on. Are you doing paid work that the contest would take you away from? Is entering the contest in your best interest?

If the answer is yes, or you’re leaning that way, you have to start doing your due diligence. This means doing research. Some questions to ask would be: How long has the company been in business? Have they put on other contests before? What were the outcomes of those contests? Is there a plan in place for actual publishing? Do you have realistic goals in place for what happens after the contest has run its course? After performing your research, you should have a much clearer picture as to whether or not the contest would be a good place to put effort into.

Personally, I wouldn’t enter the Top Cow contest. They haven’t followed through on their word to my expectations or satisfaction, which aren’t high: do what you said you were going to do, and do it in a timely manner. That’s pretty simple.

I wouldn’t enter the DC contest, either. The fact that I can’t draw notwithstanding, simply put, it’s a single page. At least Top Cow’s contest is saying you get to work on an entire book. This is a single page, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll get any other work from it.

I wouldn’t enter the Ucreatecomics contest, either. I can’t enter a contest where there are simple grammatical errors on the pages that are supposed to entice me to enter. While the money may be real, I can’t take it seriously. Maybe once it comes out of beta, where there are real winners and money paid out then I may be able to take it more seriously.

These aren’t the only contests. There will be more in the future.

Homework: do your due diligence when it comes to contests. That is all.

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Category: Bolts & Nuts, Columns

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.

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