The most insightful thing I learned at this year’s New York Comic Con wasn’t at a professional panel or lecture. It happened at a random conversation on the show floor.
I was talking to Andy Schmidt, a former colleague at Marvel and founder of the professional education and publishing company Comics Experience. We talked about the new six week course he’d developed with entertainment attorney Joe Sergi called Comic Book Law for Creators. The workshop sounded like an amazing resource that writers and artists would be dying to get into. But Andy told me he had a hard time getting creators signed up. “A lot of them tell me they’re not ready to learn that part of the business, which really doesn’t make sense.”
I could only shake my head in response. I’m familiar with the mentality because I’ve seen it in my own practice. Writers and artists often spend so much time developing their craft and fighting to get their name out there to get that big break. But when their hard work pays off with publisher interest or some other opportunity, many of them don’t know how to protect their rights. Their big break turns into a painful lesson in contracts, licensing and intellectual property law.
Last year, I conducted a survey with the modest title “The Great Independent Comics Survey”. In that experiment, I found out that one in four independent creators lost some or all of the rights to their work as a result of licensing deals. How many of these artists could have benefited from a course on the legal aspect of comics?
The answer is probably 100%
Trying to get into comics while ignoring the legal aspects is like jumping out of an airplane in mid-air and then deciding you need a parachute. It’s like climbing into the UFC octagon for a championship match and then deciding to learn how to fight. It’s like trying to get insurance for your house after it’s already on fire. You need to know the relationship between your business needs and your legal options to make the most of your opportunities and you need to know before success knocks on your door, not after. (See Treat Your Art Like an Investment)
Books like Words for Pictures and courses like Comic Law for Creators won’t eliminate the need for writers and artists to get legal help with their contracts (See Why Creators Need Lawyers). It will make them better consumers of professional services and better equipped to make informed decisions about how to pursue their careers. Making comics is like skydiving. It can be fun, but you’re probably going to need that parachute.