Your Contract Attorney

Your Career in Comics: Transmedia Development

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

by Gamal Hennessy

A few weeks ago, I introduced a new book I'm working on called Your Career in Comics (YCC) that will attempt to take a comprehensive look at the business and legal aspects of being in the comics industry. (See Your Career in Comics: An Introduction). So far, I’ve introduced the Creator Owned (See The Creator Owned Path), Work for Hire (See The Work for Hire Path) and Creator Driven aspects of the industry (See The Creator Driven Path). This week I'd like to look at the fourth and final role in modern comics: The Transmedia Producer

  • Description: A transmedia artist owns a property and licenses a portions of that property across various media for production, marketing and sales to the public. A comic or graphic novel is a story. The story contain characters and ideas. Your stories can find a home in many different media, depending on its structure. Your ideas can escape the confines of the story and migrate to merchandise or other promotional material.

  • Benefits: The two main benefits of being a transmedia artist are revenue and mainstream distribution. In many ways, the transmedia creator is seen as the greatest commercial success of a comic artist. A commercially successful comic might generate tens of thousands of dollars. A successful comics based movie might generate tens of millions of dollars. The merchandise program associated with a television, cable or film also has the potential to generate millions. Opportunities for interactive and new media spinoffs are increasing. Competition with other forms of entertainment has reduced the number of people reading comics, but the popularity of comics characters has never been higher. The transmedia creator takes advantage of this shift by moving his work to where it will be enjoyed by the most people.

  • Challenges: The two main challenges of being an independent are loss of creative control and lack of knowledge. Transmedia deals can be seen as similar to Creator Driven deals based on the what each side brings to the table. You have the intellectual property, your potential partners have the production and distribution systems to make the most of it. But there are major differences in both the nature of the industries you might be entering and the scale of the enterprise. Making a movie is exponentially more expensive than making a comic and requires dozens more people in every aspect of the project. The same goes for any large scale merchandise or media endeavor. As the cost and complexity of transmedia endeavors increase, the less the comics creator usually understands about what’s going on. Many comics creators don’t know everything that goes into making a single episode of TV or what it takes to ship thousands of toys from China. When the increased scope combines with that natural lack of knowledge it often leads to a loss of creative and financial control.

  • Legal Considerations:  Transmedia deals cannot move forward unless everyone who owns a legal stake in the property has agreed to let the project move forward. Dozens of comics are trapped in development hell for years because of disputes and lawsuits over the ownership of a particular character. If your goal is transmedia, then you have to maintain a meticulous chain of title (documents showing who owns what aspect of the character) from day one. A small sample of the required documents include:

  1. Work for Hire Agreements for everyone who worked on the development of the property who isn’t part of the deal

  2. Collaboration Agreements for every creator who worked on the development of the property who is a part of the deal.

  3. Copyright and Trademark registrations for all major elements of the work

  4. License Agreements for each type of deal you are entering into

  5. Insurance Agreements to protect against potential issues (including IP infringement, defamation, etc.)

  6. Participation Agreements with any third party who might have an interest in the property

  7. Corporate documents for your business entity

  8. Tax documents for your business entity

The amount and cost of covering your bases from a legal standpoint are highest in the transmedia aspect of comics, but the potential rewards and losses are far higher than any legal costs you might pay upfront to avoid lawsuits in the future.

I hope you have enjoyed this introduction into the different comic industry roles. While this doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of the complex business of comics, I hope it forms a basis for you to think about where you are and where you’d like to go as a professional.

In the coming weeks and months, I plan to use my blog to update everyone on the progress of my book. I’m going to share the interviews, research and development of the manuscript so you can learn as I learn. If you’d like to follow along, please sign up for the Professional Comic Creator Newsletter.

Until next time, keep making comics and have fun.