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Your Career in Comics: The Creator Owned Path

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). I'd like to share aspects of the book while it's being written to get reactions and feedback from the community. This week I'd like to look at the first of the four major paths in modern comics: The Creator Owned Path.

It makes sense to start with Creator Owned comics (sometimes called Independent or DIY comics) because this is the point where an inspired comic book reader puts down their favorite story and picks up a blank piece of paper to begin their journey. At the most basic level, a creator owned publisher owns the property she produces, markets, and sells to the public.

General Concept: As a creator owned publisher, you have a stake in the intellectual property connected to a book. In a minority of cases, you might license the rights to someone else’s work (which often brings the concept of creator driven deals into play that I’ll talk about later) but most of the time, and creator owned publisher is trying to get their own characters and stories out into the world by taking control of the entire process.

Benefits: The main benefits of going creator owned are ownership and control. When it’s your story and your company, you get to decide what the books will be about, how they get sold, and what to do with the money. The freedom to control every aspect of the property can give rise to the great expressions of artistic creativity and business flexibility.

Challenges: The main challenges of being going creator owned are costs and market share. It takes a considerable amount of money to release a single comic, graphic novel and ongoing series by yourself. There is an even larger investment of time, since the great power you have to control every aspect of your book comes with the great responsibility of making sure it all gets done. On top of that, finding readers for your book probably won’t be easy, considering the number of titles already in the market and the domination the Big Two. Finding enough readers to turn a profit is even more difficult. Many books don’t turn a profit or break even from their initial investment. It is not unusual for an independent book to run at a loss.

Legal Considerations: There are legal aspects to the story being created, the process of creating those stories, and the person or people creating those stories. On a fundamental level, having the right documents and registrations in place from the beginning gives you the right to sell what you own. If you skip this step, you might create the World’s Greatest Comic Franchise, but you might not make any money from it. At a bare minimum you’re going to need:

  • Collaboration or work for hire agreements for everyone working on the book
  • Copyright (and possibly trademark) registrations for the book
  • Distribution agreements to get the book out into the world
  • Tax documentation to cover any profits or losses from the book

In addition, you may also need corporate formation documents, license agreements and other types of contracts, but that is a story for another day.

Next time, I'll talk a little bit about freelance comic creators and how they can thrive in the world of comics.

Have fun.

Gamal

Success in the comics industry requires an understanding of the business, creative, and legal aspects of the medium.

Sign up for The Professional Comics Creator to get monthly e-mail news, tips and advice on how to get the most from your characters and stories

PLEASE NOTE: THIS BLOG POST IS NOT 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.

Get What You Give (Rights and Revenue in Comics)

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

by Gamal Hennessy

A contract is an agreement between one or more groups for the exchange of resources. The exchange could be time for money, goods for services, property for future gains or any combination of those things. The best agreements exchange roughly equal resources. The worst ones have one side trading large amounts of resources for little or nothing in return.

This is the problem that artists run into with many of the contracts that I see. The most important service I provide is showing my clients what they are giving up in comparison to what they are getting. I’d like to provide an overview of the different types of rights and revenue streams as a general overview for creators looking to get their projects into the market.

Types of Rights                               

Comics and publishing are governed by a branch of the law called intellectual property. Copyright law is a specific type of intellectual property. A copyright gives the creator of an original work (like a comic) the right to benefit from the sale and distribution of that work. There are various types of ways currently available for comic creators to benefit from their creativity. Some of the major distribution methods include:

  • Publishing (Traditional printing, digital printing, novels, audiobooks, etc.)
  • Public Display (gallery displays of artwork)
  • Theatrical (Movies whether live action or animated)
  • Television (including network, basic cable, premium cable, PPV whether live action or animated)
  • Home Video (including DVD, Blu-Ray, etc.)
  • Live Performance (including Broadway performances and theme park performances)
  • Interactive (including console computer or mobile video games)
  • Merchandise
  • Sponsorships or product placement

As new forms of media distribution are created, new rights are created for the artists. These rights are universal, but they can be divided or carved out by geographic area, time frame, distribution channel, language and other factors. (This division can be complicated, so I’m going to save that for another post)

Types of revenue

Just as there are different rights that creators can use to get their work into the world, there are various ways that they can be paid. Comic creators need to focus on four ideas:

  • A royalty is a percentage that the artist earns for every finished unit that is sold. For example, an artist might receive 30% of every one of their comics that is sold to the public.
  • An advance is paid before the work is finished. For example, a writer of a novel might receive money up for her novel based on the proposal not the finished product.
  • A minimum guarantee (MG) is money paid up before the work is finished, based on anticipated sales. For example, if a toy company plans to sell a new licensed toy for $10 and the creator gets 10% of that sale, then the creator gets $1 per unit sold. If the company expects to sell 100,000 units, then the MG that the artist gets for this deal is $100,000.
  • A page rate is a flat fee paid to the artist for every page accepted by the client or publisher. For example, a penciler with a $300 page rate deal gets $9,600 for a 32 page book, not counting the cover.
  • These are broad revenue concepts. They are often altered and refined by concepts like gross, net, recoupment, offsets and other variables. (This is another complicated subject that I’ll can talk about later.)

Choices that Artists Must Make

In certain comic deals, the types and amounts of revenue are fairly straight forward, like the work for hire page rate. There is more confusion for creators pursuing creator owned deals. There is often no advance, no MG, and a blanket royalty rate for all forms of distribution. This puts them creators in a dangerous position since the lack of upfront money and the uncertainty of any profitable sales in the future means that the creators are really working on spec while at the same time giving up all their rights to their property.

From the publisher’s perspective, it is understandable why they would do this in their contracts. Publishers protect themselves from risk by limiting exposure to projects that might not be financially viable. At the same time, they maximize their potential gain by securing as many rights as possible for projects that are financially viable. Artists need learn the same lesson. They need to counter the publisher’s position by attempting to limit the rights that a publisher gets for projects that are financially viable and maximizing revenue for every project they do.

I know negotiating power is often limited for artists. But having a clear understanding of the relationship between revenue and rights and clear goal of where they want to go can help maximize their limited negotiating power and increase their chances of success.

Best

Gamal

Success in the comics industry requires an understanding of the business, creative, and legal aspects of the medium.

Sign up for The Professional Comics Creator to get monthly e-mail news, tips and advice on how to get the most from your characters and stories

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

All for One and One for All: Artist Collaboration Agreements

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

by Gamal Hennessy

Most of the contracts I deal with are between an artists and publishers. I take the publisher’s standard contract and explain it to the artist in language they can understand so they know what they are getting into, for better or worse. What clients don't normally ask me to do is create agreements between the artists working together on a project to define their relationship with each other. What they often don't realize is that this type of contract is just as important as the one between the artist and the publisher. Without this type of agreement an otherwise successful partnership can lead to misunderstandings, conflict and disputes down the road that can be just as costly as any disagreement with a publisher.

Keeping the band together

Certain creative endeavors like comics, movies, films and theater are normally created through a collective effort. While there are some creators who do everything, most projects are created by the continuing collaboration between the members of the group. In the same way that a band combines the talent of each instrument to make music, a creative team comes together to make other types of commercial art (even if they only come together in a cloud server that they upload the work to).

Just like a band or a movie crew; each member of the team should know what he or she is getting out of any deal that involves the property they work on. This might not be significant when you are selling a couple hundred books a year on your website and losing money on the cost of production. This becomes a huge issue when a property is picked up for a film, TV show, video game or merchandise deal. It helps to have all the issues squared away before Hollywood starts calling. If you wait too long, anger, resentment and actual litigation could tear the team apart just when things start to take off.  That is where the collaboration agreement comes in.

Putting the ducks in a row

A well drafted collaboration contract contains six elements:

  1. Who is responsible for creating each element of the property
  2. How is the copyright for the property going to be distributed between each creator
  3. How will the revenue be distributed between each creator
  4. Who has decision making authority for the property
  5. Who is the primary contact for the property
  6. What happens when someone leaves the creative team

While the contract can be overly complex with just these elements, the best ones address these issues without a large amount of legal gymnastics. At the same time the elements of a collaboration agreement should not conflict with the terms of any agreement with a third party publisher or licensee of the property. Your legal advisor can review both contracts to ensure there is harmony between them.

Other options

Of course, there are cases where only one or two of the artists on a project will actually own the copyright and the other participants may participate on a work for hire basis. Also there are some instances where the creative team actually forms a separate company to manage and exploit the property. In those cases, as with the collaboration agreement described here, a contract should be in place before any work is done to protect the rights of each artist in relation to each other as well as to a publisher.

Have fun.

Gamal


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

Before You Sign on the Dotted Line.

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

by Gamal Hennessy

When an artist, writer or other creative person gets a contract from a publishing or distribution company, it can be a confusing and stressful situation. Many artists work for years, dreaming of the day when a large company is ready to give them a contract, but very few of them understand the language in contracts and how that language will affect their ownership of their creation or the money they can make. This is the point where an artist needs professional advice from someone who understands how contracts are written.

This is the service that I provide. The main specialty of C3 is providing legal analysis of contracts for artists and creators. I break down and explain each paragraph of the contract in straightforward terms, so you can make an informed business decision on what conditions you can and can't agree to. This will give you the confidence you need to discuss the agreement with your potential business partner and sign a contract that protects your rights and puts you in a position to profit from your creativity now and in the future.

There is a long list of creators in music, publishing, television and film who signed away all the rights to their original work because they didn't understand the contracts they signed. The analysis I provide is designed to prevent that. Of course, there are many situations where the main goal of the artist is upfront payment or exposure. There are times when you might be willing to accept a deal that is not set up in your favor. But even in those cases, it is better to know what you are signing and how it will affect your rights and income going forward.

A C3 review will give you that.

If this is something you are interested in, please leave a comment below or contact me at gamalhennessy@gmail.com and we can set up a free call to discuss the specifics of your situation.

Best

Gamal

PLEASE NOTE: THIS BLOG POST IS NOT 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.

Entertainment Contracts 101: Creator Owned vs. Work for Hire Deals

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

 

by Gamal Hennessy

In the creative marketplace, one of the first things that an artist needs to learn is the difference between a license agreement and a work for hire agreement. These are fundamentally different animals and signing the wrong one at the wrong time could be devastating to your future.

Definitions

work for hire (WFH) is an agreement where you offer your creative services to intellectual property that you do not own in exchange for a fee.

license is an agreement where you give someone else the right to distribute your intellectual property in exchange for various types of payments.

Example

WFH: You are an artist. Marvel Comics hires you to draw an issue of Spider-Man. You do the pencils. They give you money.  You walk away. You don’t own Spider-Man. You don’t even own the pages you created. Your name will appear as the artist, but that’s as far as it goes. This is pure mercenary work.

Creator Owned License: You are an artist. You have an idea for a new story. Dark Horse likes it and gives you a CO deal. You create the book. You might even eat the cost of creation. They sell the book. You get a cut, they get a cut. When you walk away, you walk away with the property. You can do whatever you want with it because you own it.

Historical Example

Frank Miller offers one of the best examples of the difference between these two types of deals. In 1986, Miller signed on with DC to release The Dark Knight Returns. That book reanimated the Batman franchise, solidified a darker vision of comics across the board and was instrumental in redefining the genre of super hero movies. But at no point could Miller claim to own Batman. He had no rights to any of the subsequent film, video game or merchandise revenue that came out of the Batman property. To the best of my knowledge, he got a page rate and he got credit for doing the work. That’s it.

Actually, that’s not it. Because he got so much exposure and critical acclaim for the work he did on Batman (as well as other properties) it was much easier for him to land creator owned deals later on. Frank Miller owns most if not all of the Sin City and 300 franchises. He had major input, control and license fees from those books and subsequent films. That was money he was entitled to because he owned the rights to that intellectual property.

Take Away

There are several successful writers and artists who have done work for hire deals first to establish themselves in the industry and then done creator owned deals once they had the right leverage. Many of them jump back and forth from one type of deal to the other depending on the project. Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane and Greg Rucka are all good examples of this. I’m not suggesting that an artist should never sign a WFH. I am suggesting that you need to know the difference between the two and make sure you are not signing a WFH for your own property because then you are signing away all your rights for little or no money.

And keep in mind, just because a contract says Creator Owned Agreement or License Agreement on the top doesn’t make it a creator owned agreement. It is the language in the agreement and the way the rights are divided that is the key to the contract. When you analyze your agreements (or ask me to do it) always keep in mind who has control over the property. This will be vital when your idea becomes a movie.

Best

Gamal

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