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Thread: Week 12- Money & Contracts

  1. StevenForbes Guest

    Week 12- Money & Contracts

    Hi. Back again? Great! That must mean that I'm doing something right.

    Welcome back to another installment of Bolts & Nuts. This time around, we're going to be talking about the root of all evil, the great greaser of the way, Money, as well as the boon and bane of everyone's existence, Contracts.

    So, sit back, relax, and listen.

    Remember when I said a while ago that generally in the Indies, writers are the prime movers? We're the ones who put together creative teams in order to get Pen-Man made, and we go to places like Digital Webbing and Penciljack in order to start getting the team together.

    There are a few ways to do this, and I'm going to go over them with their permutations.

    The first way is the way that most of you are going to go—straight collaboration. This is because we're broke, and we're trying to get things done on a non-existent budget. So, you put up the ad, which probably looks something like this:

    ARTIST NEEDED! Looking for an artist to collaborate on superhero romance, based on Hamlet, starring characters of my own creation. Looking for a Jim Lee meets Pablo Picasso style. Will be submitting to Image. No pay, but will split profits evenly on the back end once picked up. Serious inquiries only, please, and everyone will get a response.

    You get a slew of responses, and you see a lot of artwork you like. You also see a lot of submissions from artists who obviously aren't ready. If your ten year old kid sister or child can draw better, you think, you'd be better off getting them instead of what you're seeing.

    Now, you said this would be a collaboration with no pay, and about half of the inquiries you get will be asking for a page rate. Some of those asking for a page rate will be really good, and others will be pretty craptacular. Harsh, yes, but that's the reality of it.

    You're looking for the perfect fit that you don't have to pay for, and out of all the ones who've responded, you won't give them the time of day. So, you write up a form letter, thanking them for their time, but they don't have the look you're going for. Then you update the listing, saying that you love the responses, but there's still time for people to submit.

    In the end, you wind up not using anyone that's submitted because you don't like the “style” of art, when even to your untrained eye, you can spot problems with perspective and anatomy.

    Any of this sounding familiar? Let's continue.

    Permutation: Eureka! You found an artist to collaborate with! Now what?

    Well, looking at it objectively, you've done one of two things: you've either written a story that the artist really believes in, or you've decided to give up half the rights to Pen-Man in order to get this done.

    Half means half. This means you're tied to the artist forever because of this particular project. Instead of Pen-Man by Intrepid Writer, it's Pen-Man by Intrepid Writer and Now-Partnered Artist. Think Miracleman. And if you don't know the story, honestly, look it up. It's a rights nightmare.
    If you've written something the artist really believes in, then congratulations. This means the artist should be eager to get started, and the energy should translate onto the page. This is a great situation for a writer, believe me.

    Permutation: you've been on the sites, talking to artists, building a friendship- a relationship- with them. You like their work, and after a while, you slowly start to show them your stuff. The see something they like, and offer to draw it for you. Eureka!

    That's for collaborations. It runs slightly different when you're offering to pay.

    So you finally get up some money to finance a few pages of pencils. Yay! You're able to get the pages for a submission produced, and you write the ad to get some pencils done. It should be easy, right? You're offering money, the great greaser!


    Here's what you get: artists who aren't ready but think they are, or artists who are way out of your budget. It's exactly the same as before, except now everyone wants the money you're offering. Your job now is to find the best fit for your meager funds. Once you get these pages done and you get them submitted to Image, who will of course accept it because of the beauty of the art and writing, your job is done, right? Just some pencils, and everything is hunky dory.


    And this is the trap that lots of writers fall into. They think they have the bestest idear ever in Pen-Man and get up just enough money to get five pages done without thinking about What Happens Next.

    Let's talk numbers. These are averages, and vary from artist to artist. Remember, you get what you pay for.

    As the writer hosting this shindig, you're going to get paid on the back end. So, your numbers don't count. Right now, with this project, your entire goal is nothing more than to break even.

    For artists, be prepared to pay about $75/page for a pretty decent artist. Yeah, that's a lot of money, but it gets better.

    A halfway decent inker will run you $20/page, and a damned good one will cost you as much as your penciler. Enjoy.

    Colors can run you about $50/page, and letters can run about the same, depending on who you get.

    The editor can run a pretty penny, as well. Just to edit the script, about $25/page. For project management, no less than $75/page, but they should make as much as the penciler if they cost more.

    So, for project management, everything will run you $270/page. For twenty-two pages, it's $5940, and that's not including the cover. Yes, one issue will cost you the price of a used car from a private seller. Four issues at that price? A small down payment for a house, or a big down payment on a nice car for a small car note.

    I went to the San Diego convention once, and Dan Taylor, creator of Hero Happy Hour, was talking about making comics. He said that when he was talking to his wife, he said “Honey, we can either buy a house, or we can wait and I can make this comic.” Deep, I know. Makes you think.

    Now, I'm not trying to discourage anyone from wanting to make comics. I just want you to realize what it is you're getting into. These numbers are before advertising and printing and self-distribution. The money involved is daunting, and that's the main reason most of us try to get something done through collaboration instead of paying through the nose.

    And the sad part is that most writers don't think past getting the submission in. They think five pages plus the cover is good enough. Don't bet that writer.

    Understand that Image works on the back-end, and even though they look at all submissions, they also don't take much out of the slush pile. Most of that is your fault. Yes, I'm looking at you. You get crap, submit crap, and then have the nerve to get upset when you're told that it's crap. It's outrageous, actually, and the slush pile gets bigger as those that aren't ready continue to submit.

    So, lets say you get Image to publish to publish Pen-Man. You're now on the hook for paying for the production of the comic until the money starts coming in. And that's six months or more. Why so long? Diamond.

    Previews is a solicitation tool that runs three months ahead. They send the brochure to comic shops and bookstores, what have you, and then wait for orders to come in. They then pass the order on to you for you to fill. You have your book printed, and if you're lucky, it'll get picked up at the press for distribution. They also collect the money for you, and then pass it all on to you, after their cut.

    This system is old and antiquated, and while it has its problems, it also works. It's also a very stripped down version of what actually happens. Just a basic overview. I'll go into more detail about it down the road. For now, this is all you need to know. Just realize that if you get picked up by a company that's not footing the creation bill, you'll be stuck with an accepted project and no way to move it forward.

    Collaboration works for a lot of us. Just realize it's not easy to find a GOOD art team this way. You'll be giving up a lot unless you find a way to pay your artist. When you don't have money, you give up the only thing you really have: rights. When you have money, you give that instead. If you want to be greedy, you never give up rights to anyone else when you don't have to. You never know when you have something on your hands like The Road to Perdition, Invincible, or A History of Violence.

    However, you'll still be in a bit of a bind unless you get a contract. Not that it's necessary, just realize what a contract does for all parties concerned.

    Simple contracts do two things simultaneously: they spell out each parties responsibilities, and they protect each party from the other.

    A lot of creators swear by contracts, and won't do business without them. Others are more lax about contracts, and will enter one only if necessary. Remember that comics is a very small pool, and you're liable to run into the same people time and again. It all depends on your level of trust and comfort.

    The contracts that I'm talking about now are your simple, basic, boilerplate contracts. You can find them online and adapt them as need be. It should state who the two parties are, and who is responsible for what, and what compensation, if any, will be made. Contracts need limits, so make sure the limits are spelled out, as well. Basically, it'll say something like Creative Writer will pay Brave Artist $1 per page plus covers for one million (1,000,000) pages of art, all of which are to be delivered no later than 12/25/08. This page rate will be for pencils, inks, and letters. [The numbers and timeframes are jokes, people! No lynching! I'll tell mom...]

    There are other, evil contracts. These contracts need lawyers. A basic rule of thumb for lawyer-needing is this: if the paragraphs look large and detailed, you need a lawyer. It doesn't get easier than that. A more basic one- if you even THINK you need a lawyer, get one. Really. It's much better to be safe than sorry.

    What do the evil contracts want? EVERYTHING. Plain and simple. These are the contracts that come from companies, and they try to get you to sign them in a hurry, giving some reason for pressing you. Rough going for the newbie who thinks he's gotten his break and wants to sign it just to get the work out there. Besides, what does he have to lose?

    Let's look at Pen-Man. You've been toiling day and night on it, having followed all the columns I've presented, getting your script up to snuff, got someone to do some art for you, and now you've presented it to a company. That company loves what you've presented, and says they want you to sign a contract. The faster you sign, the faster they can get it into production and into stores.

    What does the contract say? Simply that you lose all rights to Pen-Man in perpetuity [forever], throughout the known universe [no, I'm not joking], in every format now known or to be developed in the future, and that you also give up your moral rights [having your name in the credits box]. Your compensation? Part of the net, after expenses are recouped.

    To put this into context, you've signed a contract that gives the company complete control of your creation forever, and you'll never get it back. Not only that, but they don't have to put your name on it if they don't want to. Not only THAT, but the only money you get from this is what they decide to give you, because with creative accounting, they can show how your book didn't make any money.

    This means that all the hard work you've done over the past weeks, listening to me and others, ends in heartbreak because you signed away your creation.

    To put it in technical terms, that sucks.

    What can you do to protect yourself? Is there any recourse?

    Of course there is. The first thing to do is consult a lawyer. And not just any lawyer, either, but an entertainment lawyer. I'll say it again, with capitals. An Entertainment Lawyer. Lawyers are like doctors- the money is in specialization, so they do. You don't want the court lawyer for children's criminal rights giving you advice on the contract you received for Pen-Man. They can understand the words, but not all of the ramifications. And they wouldn't know how to couch the terms of a counter-offer. Entertainment Lawyer. Get one for these evil contracts.

    Now, besides the Entertainment Lawyer [repetition causes things to sink in], you also have the option of outright rejecting the contract and walking away. A word, though. Be nice. You may run into someone at one of these companies at a different company. Like I said before, comics is a small, small pond.

    If you make a counter-offer, I suggest you just ask for what you need. Remember to keep the lions share of the rights, and to get some of the gross. Always gross, never net. Remember the creative accounting? That's why. Gross, never net. If they want merchandise, you get at least half of that. It's your property- why shouldn't you want to make money off of it? The company does. That's why they offered you the contract.

    Contracts are generally witnessed by a third, arbitrary party. A notary public, here in the states. Not all of them are, and not all of them need to be, but I advocate one. Basically, all they're doing is witnessing your signature on a piece of paper, but you know this already. It's good if both parties have the document notarized.

    This next part is very important: always keep a copy for your records. You know those rejection slips you got from Marvel/DC? The ones you have framed? The contract is more important than those. Keep a copy of it for as long as necessary, or forever, whichever comes first.

    That's the gist of it. You now know just enough to be dangerous. Your homework is to educate yourself- go on the web and search for comic book contracts, as well as go to places like Digital Webbing and look at the Help Wanted section to see what's posted. You're looking for what's posted, how it's worded, how many looks its had, and whether or not you'd respond to the ad yourself. Be advised that Digital Webbing has two Help Wanted sections- one for Collaborations and one for Paid Jobs. Look in them both.

    And that's all I have this time. Next we'll talk about posting things like scripts, how you present yourself online, and your screen names. Until then, be well, and I'll see you next week.
    Any specific questions, ask them in this thread, and I'll answer them. If it's something of a more delicate nature, e-mail me. I check my e-mail constantly, and will do my best to get back to you within twenty-four hours, depending on the number of you who decide to flood my inbox. No attachments, please. They'll be deleted without being opened. (I know, I know, but blame the virus-makers.)

  2. Join Date
    Jun 2008
    Post Thanks / Like

    Damn good article, my friend. Straight shooting, and to the point.


    Too bad I'll be giving up my dream as a result of reading it!

    I kid.... talked me out of comics three articles ago!

    I kid again.

    If I was averse to losing money I wouldn't be a teacher in Florida!

    ..tragically, this time I don't kid.
    "Living Robert Venditti's Plan B!"

    CAT. 5

  3. StevenForbes Guest

    Yep. Creating comics seems bleak when it's all laid out for you, doesn't it?

  4. MattGrant Guest

    Steven, you're columns blow my mind with the amount of information you pack in there. Its good stuff!

    And yeah. It can be bleak. I see so many of those "5 page submissions for image" ads on places like DW... And while so many are destined for the.. ah.. slush pile, was it? Truly, I have to wonder how many people are ready to take it all the way if they did get deals. Those figures are dizzying!

    The tough part, is the reality of it is... collabs and 5 page submissions are one thing, but if you need an artist to produce 22 pages on a monthly basis-- that's full time, that's major compensation, that's not "free time" for an artist and "see where it goes." You need to expect to PAY for the art, there's really no way around it.

    I mean, as a writer/artist, I'm not gonna lie, I've had those wild daydreams of "what if" where I suddenly am picked up by Image, and they want to do my book monthly. Holy crap! I'd have to quit my job and produce my comic full time. THen where's the money coming from? I won't see it for MONTHS! And even then, it all depends on sales, and what if its a flop. I'm out probably a year of work, looking for a job, all for a comic that didn't turn a buck. Quickly becomes a sour fantasy! hahaha

    All in all... it must be a rough transition for just about anyone.

    Anyhow, thanks... you've given me a lot to think about for the evening.

  5. StevenForbes Guest

    You're welcome, Matt. That's why I'm here.

  6. rhannah Guest

    Character designs

    Superb article! Answered my primary question about contracts...

    What about Character Designs for a paid job (not a collaboration). Who owns them? If you are a writer/creator, have a book and a look for your characters in mind... and the artist bases the look of the characters off your descriptions, then who owns the final character designs? If that artist moves on after the first few issues and you get a new artist, what happens with the rights to the characters and their look?

    Does a separate contract need to be written for character design (since it is a brand new book), or could it be incorporated into the wording of the contract for the 22 pages by ??/??/09 date?

    Is there a particular terminology for such contracts? I guess I'm just feeling protective over my creation and not wanting to lose rights to the visual side of it in the process. Is this just a given? Or are there ways of protecting the overall product if there is a dispute or parting of the ways between writer and artist?

  7. StevenForbes Guest

    Great question, Rhannah! Thanks for asking.

    The simple answer that you're going to hate is: it depends.

    Contracts can be as simple and or as complicated as you want. Let me give you an example of a situation:

    You're on Digital Webbing or on PencilJack, and you see an artist whose work you like. They have a website that you go to, and you like what you see even more. On the site, it says they do character designs for $15 a pop. You get in contact with them, and after a few back and forth e-mails, decide to have 10 characters designed at their rate.

    Take those e-mails and print them out, because they constitute an understanding (a contract) of the transaction that has happened. This way, if the character becomes as popular as Wolverine, they can't come back later asking for a piece of it as the "co-creator."

    Or, if you're writing an initial contract for freelance work, there should definitely be a clause in there that states everything is owned by the company (that's you), which will include but not limited to all intellectual properties, plots, characters, names and places that appear in the work, and that the artist is to turn over all developmental work (sketches and the like) over to the company (again, that's you), and has no right to them.

    Or, which is even better, you can seek out an Entertainment Lawyer. What you pay them for now will save you a ton of headaches down the road. If you're not collaborating, or even if you are, the lawyers win. However, I suggest that you at least look into hiring one, because I'm not a lawyer and I don't play one on TV. A consultation should be free, except for the time spent talking.

  8. rhannah Guest

    Great response, Steven. Ok, how about a scenario...

    The artist get's a page rate, plus a percentage of the profit. What percentage should that be while still reasonably recognizing the idea came from my brain, the visuals were realized and added to by the artist? I want to be the primary creator here because... well, in my view, I am. These are my characters, personalities, names, gimmicks, stories, etc... plus my money is financing the project. What would you recommend my approach be to profit sharing... AND would I still have the power to drop an artist who is not meeting the deadlines for a new artist, IF that first artist was responsible for the designs?

    Might be old ground on these boards, if so, please accept my apologies. I guess, I'm kind of worried about my idea, my characters and my story promoting the artists more so than myself. In which case, am I making a wise investment on what will burn a huge hole in my pocket, not the artist's?

  9. StevenForbes Guest

    You kids and your CRAZY ideas...

    Okay, let's take a look at your scenario. I'm going to do this twice: first, the bright eyed, pie in the sky view, and then the realistic view. Don't say Unca Steve never did nuthin' fer ya.

    First, understand that everything I'm about to say pertains the the artist being Graeme McFreelancer. If this is Laurence D'Cocreator, none of this applies.

    Okay, so you're paying the artist a page rate. That's great! Means you've got some money. (Have you brought an editor onboard? If not, why not? You're failing already...) Now, if you're paying the artist a full page-rate, then you don't need to pay them any profits. They've already been paid, and they can also make money by selling the original art.

    If you're not paying a full page rate, what you're probably offering is a reduced rate to get the work done, but sharing of the profits on the back end. This can happen (and often do), but the percentage of what's "fair" is totally up to you. If you're only trying to make up the difference in the page rate, then you figure out how much profit from the sales will be theirs, and split it accordingly.

    That's the first way. Here's what's really going to happen.

    If you're paying the artist a full page rate, then you won't pay them any profits. They've already been paid in full for the work they've done, and they can now go on to the next job. They still get to keep the original art, because they can sell it (depending...if Graeme is well known, yes. if not, more than likely not, unless the book becomes a hit).

    If you've made the rookie promise of a lowered page rate for a share in the back-end profits in order to finish the page rate, then the artist is going to get screwed. Why? Because if you're self-publishing (yes, even going through Image), then your book will struggle to break even, let alone make any real profit. You could give them 100% of the profits. One hundred percent of nothing is still nothing, and that's more than likely what's going to happen.

    As for dropping artists...again, as long as it is Graeme McFreelancer, and they are repeatedly not making reasonable deadlines under a page rate, after you've done everything you can to ensure that they're not working under the gun the entire time AND you put it in the contract (if you've got one), then sure, you can drop them like a hot potato. If you don't have a contract but are paying them and they're not producing, AND you've talked to them until you're blue in the face and changed deadlines and have done everything in your power to make sure the book comes out on time, then yes, you can drop them like a hot potato.

    See the emphasis on communication? I'm not saying that you drop an artist because of one blown deadline. If they flake out on you, disappear, or what have you, sure, go ahead. But there are things that happen in people's lives, and as long as the lines of communication are open, there shouldn't be a problem.

    Now, if you've got an artist whom you're NOT paying, or not paying what they normally make, then there are two things that should be happening: first, the artist should tell you that your work will be fit in around other, paying work, and two, you have to accept that. If you drop this artist because of a blown deadline when you're not paying them (or not paying them what they usually get), then I believe you're in the wrong. There's really no other way to put it.

    Don't worry so much about someone stealing your ideas. Creators are generally too busy working on their own Great Idea to think about stealing someone else's.

    Oh, one last thing: as a writer, you're a dime a dozen. I can probably get three dozen writers for a dime. What does that mean to you? First, in order to really have your work showcased, you have to have a good artist. Not a decent artist, a GOOD artist. That means you're paying them. Second, you have to understand what's being seen when an editor takes a look at the pages: they're seeing the artist's work first. The artwork is being seen first, for various reasons, with the story being seen second. What this breaks down to is that the art will ALWAYS be promoted over the writing, unless you've managed to make a name for yourself.

    Once you realize that and lost some of the paranoia, you'll be a much more comfortable creator and will be able to move forward with a little more confidence.

    Any other questions?

  10. rhannah Guest

    I agree with everything you say. A great artist is a must have reality if I want an editor / established writer to give my comic a chance as it has to stand out from the 'slush pile' and ART is what they see first. It's what I see first. When I'm browsing IndyPlanet the quality of the art has EVERYTHING 90% to do with whether I purchase a title or not. The other 10% is concept... but even then I require at least average/good art... unusual style is okay, if it seems to fit with the concept.

    I'll level with you... my plan is thus... to pay for (at decent page rates) two comic projects I have scripted, both different... One is an action packed zombie title with comedy and super powers (with a much needed twist to make it stand out a bit), and the other is a more serious and angsty character study piece in an unusual scenario. Both show off different aspects of my capabilities as a writer / storyteller... both have high concepts and gimmicks to hook the reader. I believe both projects could succeed (with luck) as self published, or Image published titles... However, that is not my primary motive.

    My main goal is to simple establish myself as a comic book writer... put my sample issues (completed issues to show I can follow through, tell a tale in the 22 page format etc) under the noses of some key industry contacts of mine and tell them "yeah, I would love it if you wanted to pick up either of these, but my main reason for showing you this work is that I would like to be considered / kept in mind when you need a backup issue writer, or someone to takeover on a peripheral title so I can get an opportunity to prove myself and enter the game."

    Basically, I want to put myself out there with my fellow fledgling comic book writers with some hi quality work finished products and exploit my relationships to hopefully get a foot in the door. Right now I need to supplement the family income if my wife is ever going to be able to quit her day job and focus full time on her art career. Being a writer, comics is logical medium for me to eventually collaborate with her, so that is why I'm trying my hand at couple of issues. I'm really treating them as portfolio pieces that if the interest arises from a third party such as Image, IDW, or whoever, I would 'consider' entering the publishing game.

    It sounds like a basic contract with the artist is all I need and the fact I'm paying them a reasonable page rate keeps me as sole creator. I guess this means that I do not need to pursue the Work for Hire route, which I was concerned would not be received well be the prospective artist anyway. However, is it really necessary for us both to get our signatures notarized?

    If my chosen artist designs the characters, and on the slim chance that the title is a huge success, who owns the character designs? If he moves on to bigger and better things, and a new artist comes on board, does the original artist get any kind of compensation or control over the continued use of those character designs?

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