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What is Comic Book Law?

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

     By Gamal Hennessy

Lawyers are similar to doctors in terms of specialization. While some of us have a general practice, most of us focus on a particular area. These areas of expertise allow for greater focus and better results for our clients. That’s why you wouldn’t let your podiatrist perform brain surgery on you and you wouldn’t trust your criminal case to your real estate lawyer. Unique industries require unique professionals.

            I refer myself as a comic book lawyer, but this isn’t an official area of law. Unlike corporate or constitutional law, you can’t study comic book law in any law school that I know of. It is debatable if there is such a field. This post is my explanation of what comic book law is and why it is important for both creators and the industry. I’ll also offer up the names of three other comic book attorneys who are helping to protect the business and financial elements of this art form.

A Hybrid Legal Specialty

What I refer to as comic book law is a focused form of publishing law that also deals with broader aspects of entertainment law. Comic book law shares similar issues as other types of publishing, including copyright law, contracts, and first amendment issues. Where it differs is in aspects of production before the book is made and associated products after the books are released.

A Cooperative Legal Specialty

Most novels and poems are written by a single individual. Most comics are created by a team of at least two and as many as seven people. Some independent comics are published as the joint effort of a dozen or more professionals (See You Need Two Teams to Publish a Successful Comic). The collaborative nature of comics means that like other cooperative forms of art, contractual relationships between the artists are as important as the agreements between the artists and the distributors. (See All For One: Artist Collaboration Agreements). Whether you’re talking about work for hire contracts, joint ownership agreements or something in between, the ownership of every comic requires a unique type of contract (See What Kind of Contracts Do You Need for Your Comic?). Children’s book publishing also has aspects of collaboration between the illustrator and the author, but the variation of relationships between comic book creators is more varied and complex.

A Commercial Legal Specialty

            Comics are also a unique form of publishing based on the life that the characters and stories enjoy off the page. Crossover media, merchandise and derivative products have been part of the comic book business since their infancy (See Superheroes: A Never Ending Battle). Very few novels or prose works generate substantial collectibles or merchandise, unless it’s a children’s book or the book is licensed to become a film. Comic characters generate merchandise as a natural by-product of publication (See Making Comics Isn’t Really About Making Comics Anymore).

From a business and legal standpoint, this means that comic book law needs to consider the intellectual property implications of both copyright and trademark law (See Image and Story: The Role of Copyright and Trademark in Comics), film, television, and video game licensing (See Comics are Thriving in TV and Movies) as well as business formation for new publishers in the market (See The Benefits of Forming an LLC for Your Independent Comic). In many cases, the business and financial impact of the secondary market is more complex and more lucrative than the book itself.

An Established Legal Specialty

            Comics have been a staple in international entertainment for decades (See In France, Comic Books Are Serious Business), but like comics in America, comic book law isn’t given the same deference as other areas of law.  But this viewpoint ignores the importance of comics as an industry and the ongoing work of a host of legal professionals.

In 2017, comics were a two billion dollar industry not counting movies, merchandise or related products (See Comic Book Sales by Year). There are more than three hundred active comic book publishers in America (See List of Comic Book Publishers) and many of them have comic book lawyers on staff or as outside counsel. Specifically, these three gentlemen have been practicing and/or writing about comic book law for several years.

Comic book law is not as respected or well known as corporate law or criminal law. It is an adaptive and complex field that requires specific expertise and understanding about the industry. Every comic creator and publisher needs to find the right lawyer to protect the rights and revenue for their work. A unique industry requires unique professionals.

PLEASE NOTE: THIS BLOG POST IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR LEGAL ADVICE. IF YOU HAVE AN ISSUE WITH YOUR COMIC PROPERTY, DISCUSS IT WITH YOUR LEGAL ADVISOR OR CONTACT C3 AT gamalhennessy@gmail.com FOR A FREE CONSULTATION.

What is the Structure of Independent Comic Book Publishing?

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

The structure I came up with is largely borrowed from the production and distribution of the most complex and expensive narrative art forms, namely film, television and video games. The overall structure has three stages, each stage has several elements within it, and several of the elements can happen at the same time. The structure has several moving parts, but each one is set up to maximize the commercial potential of your comic.

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Silence May Not Be Golden for Freelance Comic Creators

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

Companies are trying to prevent freelancers who work for them from disclosing what they get paid. This creates an advantage for the publishers , but it is dangerous for freelancers who lack the information to negotiate their deals in a thoughtful manner

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Can Freelance Comic Creators Form a Union?

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

Unionization among comic creators isn’t impossible or is ultimately bad for the industry. But until the obstacles are overcome, freelance creators need to negotiate the best contracts they can and be flexible enough to withstand the rapid changes inherent to the industry. 

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You Need Two Teams to Publish a Successful Comic

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

By Gamal Hennessy

I’m in the process of writing a book about the business and legal aspects of making independent comics (See Your Career in Comics). As the book develops, I plan to share parts of it here for your reaction and feedback.

About a month ago, I began the process by asking why you want to make comics in the first place (See What Are You Trying to Do?). Now I’d like to look at who you need to have on your team to have a successful publishing program.

One Book, Two Teams

Independent comic creators often put a lot of time and effort into building the team for their books. They reach out to friends in their circles who make comics. They visit artist’s alley in conventions, pour over Deviant Art pages, explore the overseas options, and ask for referrals on social media. Sometimes, it takes years for them to find the right artists for their project.

But too many creators start their book with only half a team.

If comics are a form of commercial art, then the development of the art requires both business and creative support. Focusing on only one side limits the potential of the project.

The Creative Team

            This side of the equation is basic to the creation of any comic. As with plays, films, and television shows, one or more individuals come together to turn a vision into a reality. Some roles overlap, but the common structure of a comic book creative team includes:

  1. The writer who creates the overall plot of the book and the script in both the caption boxes and the character dialogue.

  2. The artist creates the fundamental images on each page. They may also create the basic character designs, settings, logos and the cover for the overall book

  3. The inker enhances the images created by the artist, altering the tone and weight of the story by emphasizing some visual aspects over others.

  4. The letterer inserts all the words in the book including dialogue, captions and “sound effects” in a way that guides the reader’s eye in a natural progression from one image to another.

  5. The flatter prepares the inked images for the colorist to enhance the color rendering process.

  6. The colorist adds moods, energy, and texture to the images to give them more impact to the eye

  7. The editor oversees the entire process to ensure that the best possible finished product is created on time and under budget.

The Business Team

The creative side of comics is intense and time-consuming, but it is only part of the process. Professional comic creators publish books with one of the goals being the creation of profit. Without someone (and more often several people) running the business side of things, even the best comics will not sell. The elements of the business team vary from book to book, but every book needs to answer these questions as part of the process:

  1. Accounting: Who is collecting the money? Who is paying the bills?

  2. Advertising: Who is in charge of informing the public about the book?

  3. Distribution: Who is handling the relationships with Diamond and the direct market shops for the print book? Who is in charge of managing the online distribution on the website, Comixology, and the emerging distribution channels?

  4. Legal: Who is protecting the intellectual property of the book? Who is handling the internal and external contract negotiations?

  5. Management: Who is in charge of the overall creative and financial success of the book?

  6. Marketing: Who is in charge of creating the website, maintaining the social media presence, running the crowdfunding campaign, and handling the interactions with the comic book press,

  7. Printing: Who is in charge of managing the printing process? (If the book is being printed)

  8. Sales: Who is in charge of using the book to generate money?

Juggling Jobs

Every independent comic does not have fifteen people working on it. Some established publishing companies don’t have fifteen people working on the books. Creating independent comics is a startup experience. It means members of the creative team often take roles in the business team. It can mean members of the business team can fulfill multiple roles within that team. It also means that some jobs will not be done, or they won’t be done with the same time and attention as if someone only worked on that piece of the project. Some creators decide to give up some of their rights and sign up with creator-driven publishers like Image or AfterShock to take advantage of their pre-existing business teams.

As a comic creator, you have the power to decide which aspects of the process will and won’t get done. This power works better when you make conscious decisions at the outset of the project. It does you no good to spend two years making a book to sell and then realizing no one is prepared to sell it or collect the money.

The Cost of Teamwork

No matter how you decide to divide the tasks of publishing your comic, everyone who works on the book is going to have to be compensated at some point. Very few people are willing to work for free, even on something they love, so part of independent publishing is finding a way to pay everyone involved.

There are several different compensation methods available depending on the level of participation of each person, your resources, and the short and long-term interests of everyone involved. Increased involvement often includes increased compensation. Different compensation can be mixed and matched to give each person both a short and long-term stake in the project. Just don’t give away more than you have.

Compensation methods include:

  1. Upfront payment

  2. Revenue sharing based on units sold, ad revenue generated, sponsorships, etc.

  3. Ownership interests in the underlying property

  4. Credit on the underlying work

Better Odds

When creating a comic, the chances of success are greater if all jobs are assigned, everyone agrees on the terms, and the schedules for production, marketing, sales, and payment are established before making the book. All this preparation does not guarantee a hit book. The Big Two have dozens of people involved in each book and some of them still fail. But publishing comics involves a lot of individual tasks to make the machine run. If some tasks don’t get done on the business or creative side, then the machine breaks down fast.

Next month I’ll talk about creating a term sheet for the members of your team and the relationship between the term sheet and the contract.

Have fun with your comic...

Gamal  

PLEASE NOTE: THIS BLOG POST IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR LEGAL ADVICE. IF YOU HAVE A ISSUE WITH YOUR COMIC PROPERTY, DISCUSS IT WITH YOUR LEGAL ADVISOR OR CONTACT C3 AT gamalhennessy@gmail.com FOR A FREE CONSULTATION.  

Your Career in Comics: What Are You Trying to Do?

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

By Gamal Hennessy

I’m in the process of writing a book about the business and legal aspects of making independent comics (See Your Career in Comics). As the book develops, I plan to share parts of it here for your reaction and feedback.

Since this is the first post, I’m going to start with an existential question:

Why do you want to make comics?

Before you start thinking about drawing, sales or social media, it is important to figure out exactly what you’re trying to accomplish and why. Making comics, like any artistic or business endeavor, involves substantial sacrifice and investment. If you’re going to make comics a part of your life beyond the Wednesday ritual of picking up your pull box, it makes sense to take a step back and look at the big picture.

To answer this question, I suggest you take yourself out for a cup of coffee or a cocktail (if you’re old enough, of course) and figure out the answers to the following questions. Keep in mind that the answers can and will change over time, so don’t be afraid to revisit these questions as your circumstances and the industry changes.

Goals (or What Do You Want to Do in Comics?): “I want to make comics” is a start, but there are different aspects to the industry, and figuring out where you want to be will help you make decisions on which opportunities to pursue and which ones to avoid. Maybe you want to make your own books and sell them at cons. Maybe you want to work for the Big Two. Maybe you want to be the next Stan Lee or Todd McFarlane. Maybe you want it all. You can have any goals you want. The purpose of goals isn’t to limit you. They just guide you on your path.

Reasons (or Why Do You Want a Career in Comics?): It’s one thing to know what you want to do. Knowing why is a different type of insight. Are you doing this because you have a story to tell, because you want to be a part of the comics community, or because you want more money than Tony Stark?

Like your goals, your reasons are personal. They don’t have to define you, but keeping them in mind can motivate you to overcome the inevitable setbacks and pitfalls. You can have any reason or motivation you want for getting into comics. There are opportunities for artistry, creativity, and profit at almost every level of the industry, but at the end of the day, a love of the art form will keep you going.  

Plan (or How Are You Going to Get into Comics?) After you understand your goals and your reasons for wanting those goals, you need to develop a plan to help you get from where you are to where you want to go. As you follow along with this blog and hopefully read my book, you can begin to figure out which path you want to adopt for your own purposes and take the appropriate steps.

Of course, no plan survives contact with reality. The industry is in a state of constant flux. The impact of changing trends will often be outside of your control. You’re going to need to modify your plan to adapt to new conditions, so the plan you make might not be the path you ultimately take. But you have to start somewhere and making your own comic is a good place to begin, no matter where you ultimately want to go.

Resources (or What Do You Have to Offer the Industry?) The secret to success in the comics business involves making consistent ritual sacrifices on the altar of the industry. What you get from comics is based in large part on what you put in. Your offering might be a creative vision, artistic skill, a network of eager professionals, or an investment of time and finances. In many cases, the creators who came before you had to offer all these things and more. Now is the time to figure out what you bring to the table and what you need to find in the community to make your goals real.

Milestones (or How Will You Track the Progress of Your Plan?) No one goes to sleep wanting a career in comics and wakes up where they want to be. Your development as a creator will grow in stages. You get to determine what those stages are and to a large extent, in what order you want them to happen. You can start with putting your first team together, getting your first issue online, or any other basis that’s right for you. You can decide whether your goals are books created, copies sold, or views on your website. Milestones give your goals concrete structure you can use to measure your efforts.

Motivation (or What Gets You Started and Keeps You Going?) Despite the view from the outside, the art and business of comics are not easy. It can be a long road from your initial inspiration to holding your book in your hands and the road isn’t a straight line. There will be obstacles and pressures to stop. This isn’t just true in comics. It’s true in life.

Even if you get your vision into the world, success (whatever your definition of it is) may not come quickly. It is not hyperbole to say some creators did not live long enough to see the characters they created become a fixture in mainstream culture.

So what is it about your comic that’s going to bring you back to the project month after month and year after year? What is going to pick you up when life knocks you down? What drives you might be very personal or it could be the universal desire for fame and fortune.

Yes, they’re movies, merchandise, and money to be made. Yes, comics are one of the driving forces in 21st-century pop culture. But the comics business is not a get rich quick industry. For every Walking Dead, there are thousands of other titles that lose money or never get off the ground. If you don’t love comics, it might not make sense to spend the time and effort of getting into the business.

In the next installment of Your Career in Comics, I plan to talk about the framework for an independent comics company and break down the process into manageable parts. If you’d like to read more about the business and legal aspects of making comics, like my Facebook page or sign up for my free newsletter.

Have fun with your comic...

Gamal  

 PLEASE NOTE: THIS BLOG POST IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR LEGAL ADVICE. IF YOU HAVE A ISSUE WITH YOUR COMIC PROPERTY, DISCUSS IT WITH YOUR LEGAL ADVISOR OR CONTACT C3 AT gamalhennessy@gmail.com FOR A FREE CONSULTATION.  

Get Your Comic Book Career Handbook for Free

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

The world of comics is chaotic, complex, and on a certain level, crazy. Few other industries transform fantasies and nightmares into a profitable business. Like many fans, you have probably imagined yourself working in the industry at one time or another. Many of us are insane enough to pursue our passion as a profession.

I’m offering something writing a book to help make your journey a little easier. It’s called Your Four Careers in Comics: A Business and Legal Framework for Professional Comic Creator (which I’m calling YFCC for short). My goal is to explore the various aspects of each position to help you maximize your professional creativity. With luck, this framework, combined with your talent and determination, will lead you to a fulfilling career in the complex world of comics.

YFCC is currently scheduled for release in Summer 2018, but I’m offering the roadmap for that book to everyone who signs up for my comic book industry newsletter The Professional Comics Creator. Sign up now and learn more about the different aspects of the comic book industry and how you can fit into it.

PLEASE NOTE: NEITHER THIS BLOG NOR FOUR CAREERS IN COMICS ARE A A SUBSTITUTE FOR LEGAL ADVICE. IF YOU HAVE A LICENSING OR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY ISSUE, DISCUSS IT WITH YOUR LEGAL ADVISOR OR CONTACT C3 AT gamalhennessy@gmail.com FOR A FREE CONSULTATION.