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Thread: Comics Cultures, Part 2

  1. LeeNordling Guest

    Comics Cultures, Part 2

    WEEK 2:

    Well, our days have literally turned into weeks, but whatever gets us through this material is okay with me.

    Last week we came to one conclusion: the history of project ownership comes down to an employer owning the IP (intellectual property), even if it’s the self-employed creator employing…er, themselves.

    This jettisons the creator-centric conceit that creators should own what they create just because they created it.

    If any of you had a kneejerk reaction to that, please note the italicized word, “just.”

    Now, to be clear, U.S. copyright states that creators do own something immediately upon its creation, and I’m all for that. It would be nice if everybody was a successful freelancer, and could spend their own time creating stuff, which, when published in whatever form, millions of people would purchase.

    It would be nice if this were possible, and that every type of comics publisher and property owner would simply acknowledge a creator’s contribution to the product with some share of ownership…but that is mostly not the world we live in.

    Mostly, the different publishing industries from the different comics cultures stick with the ownership parameters they’ve been using, but now you know those parameters, why they exist, and that it’s going to take something extraordinary to get them to change for you.

    Forewarned is forearmed.

    As previously discussed, it’s important in negotiation to understand the culture you’re dealing with, whether you agree with its accepted practice or not, both in the philosophy of ownership…

    …and payment.

    That’s right, payment, that form of compensation that sometimes does or doesn’t make up for lack of ownership.

    We kicked off last week with two ownership-related questions, and lots of different comics cultures to which they could be related.

    Thanks again to the brave, the few, who tackled that mountain and were able to say what they believed, even when knowing it might be challenged in this forum.

    This week, I’m going to try something different, something designed for more interaction.

    We begin with the first layer of an onion, and when it’s peeled back, we’ll get to the next layer, and the next, and so forth, until we finally reach the core.

    Please don’t anticipate where this is going; just deal with the initial question and its follow-up: do you believe comics should be paid on a per page basis? Why or why not?

    As before, our method is to discuss one aspect of the whole, then to discuss the variables that compliment and/or complicate it, so this isn’t the time to write the manifesto for everything you believe to be true about how creators should be paid.

    This is the time to keep our eye on this specific ball, and focus.

    However, I can promise you that with participation we’ll get to all the important variables, and, as we did with ascertaining the core rationale for property ownership, we’ll have enough tools in hand at the end of this discussion for you to know what and how you wish to be paid in a wide range of situations.

    But we’ll only get there by discussing the payment variables separately.

    Right now, we’re discussing only one of the industry’s practices: paying incrementally per page.

    So, do you believe comics should be paid on a per page basis? Why or why not?

    Your hand goes up.

    “Yes?” I ask.

    “Do we have to answer with just a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’?” you ask.

    “It’s okay to say, ‘it depends,’ and then qualify on what you believe it depends,” I answer. “It’s okay to say you think people should be paid a page rate because that’s the only way they can survive while working on a book, not that I would necessarily agree with that thesis.

    “But remember, I didn’t ask whether you need to be paid a page rate for comics--this is not simply about you; I asked whether do you think (implicitly) everybody working in comics should be paid a page rate, then why or why not.”

    “So there’s more to this than ‘no’ or ‘yes,’” you say.

    “Yes,” I say.

    Let’s get to work.

    ***

    Lee Nordling is the owner and founding partner of The Pack (the-pack.biz), a comics-related content provider for the publishing industry. He is also author of “Your Career In the Comics,” an overview of the newspaper comics syndication profession and industry.

    If you wish to contact Lee separately from Comics Pro Prep, please write to him at lee@projectfanboy.
    Last edited by LeeNordling; Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at 03:30 PM.



  2. Rain Guest

    Yes.

    Page rates (in theory) allow a writer/artist to quantify the work they've put in, and be compensated accordingly.

    I'd written a longer answer, discussing the variables of certain project genres, which I believe require MUCH more work per page of comics script...but those are variables, which Lee asked us NOT to discuss at this time.

    So, short answer: Yes, page rates should be paid.

    Rain



  3. RonaldMontgomery Guest

    Yes.

    OK, I own a publishing company and it's in my best interests to break books down to their most atomistic component to track costs.
    A 22-page book is a bucket, but that's a big bucket, a finished product. I want to break it down by contributor, then by page to see what's in that bucket. (I love when on tech shows they take apart a gadget and break down the cost for each component. I think the cost of an iPod is roughly half of what it's sold for. ANYWAY.) There are two ways to make money in business: increasing profits and decreasing costs. Part of my due diligence is to keep an eye on those costs and make sure none get out of line.
    Also, the page is a good way to measure project progress and work completed; a natural, ideal milestone. If I say, Jim is halfway through the book, that's fuzzy. If I say, Jim has 11 of 22 pages done, that's a concrete UH HUH.

    From the creator side, I think paying by page probably goes back a long way to how comics used to work, like pulp writers who got paid by the word. I would guess that it goes back to the idea of piecework, and the assembly line system that arose in the early days. I think as the medium changes that model erodes (do you pay per screen on an iPhone?), but it's a way of measuring progress that's comfortable and intuitive.

    Just my opinions!
    Last edited by RonaldMontgomery; Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at 04:41 PM.



  4. LeeNordling Guest

    So neither of you believes that comics creators should be paid with a great big whopping advance?

    --Lee



  5. RonaldMontgomery Guest

    *Prepares to expose his ignorance.*

    No. Even in the book trade the publisher *could* pay as the work comes in. But if the culture is different, creators may be treated differently.

    AND I KNOW...I am so wrong. But we asked BELIEVE, not reality.



  6. LeeNordling Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by RonaldMontgomery View Post
    *Prepares to expose his ignorance.*

    No. Even in the book trade the publisher *could* pay as the work comes in. But if the culture is different, creators may be treated differently.

    AND I KNOW...I am so wrong. But we asked BELIEVE, not reality.
    Hmmm...in a topic called "Comics Cultures," I must ask: "Did I specify per page payment for the direct market culture?"

    My rhetorical question answer: nope, I did not.

    So, back to the original question, "do you believe comics should be paid on a per page basis? Why or why not?"...and feel free to answer "yes" , but please supply a reason why other forms simply are not acceptable.

    If you believe other forms are acceptable, then you have a qualified "yes," and need to consider what those qualifications are.

    Oh, one monkey wrench to consider: you can't be specific about $$, because what's good for you might not be good for me, so we need to find a more broad-reaching answer that might suit everybody.

    Thanks.

    --Lee



  7. Rain Guest

    In general and in most cases, yes, I believe page rates are a good practice.

    I was trying to avoid variables, but since you mentioned, "a great big whopping advance," I'll jump to the issues I self-edited from my initial response.

    There are some projects -- specifically nonfiction and educational -- in which the going rate per page may not, in my opinion, totally jive.

    For instance, if you're working on an educational or historical project, heavy on real-life places, architecture, or science, the writer has to spend ALOT of time educating himself on the subject -- and MORE IMPORTANTLY, finding viable visual inspiration that helps their artist do the same.

    In these cases, the writer acts as a quasi-artistic director. They can't, and shouldn't, rely on their artist to draw the script accurately.

    You can write, "Superman flies away from the Daily Planet," and have a good idea what you'll get. I don't think the same can be said for, "A Ramesside Period Egyptian walks away from the Djedkare's pyramid complex" -- UNLESS you provide lots of accurate visual inspiration to your artist, through script footnotes or other means.

    Writers working in nonfiction and educational pieces are doing their work a bit differently than the "traditional" comic writer. So, perhaps they should be compensated a bit differently as well....?

    Rain



  8. Bret Guest

    No, creators should not be paid by the page. They should be paid by issue or by project. Television writers are paid by the script—and the actors are typically paid per episode. Novel and non-fiction writers get an advance—sometimes—but aren’t paid until the book is complete. Has this old school method of creator payment outlived its usefulness?

    I guarantee many artists would learn to pick up the pace if they didn’t see the money until the job was complete. And if they’re on time, wow!

    I don’t believe writers/artists would slop through pages because editors can keep motivated to produce quality work. And if the work becomes crappy, the assignments go to someone else. (And we’d probably see more complete issues by one solo artist and less of the “dog pile” of pencillers DC calls in regularly to finish a book that’s running late.)

    And I’ll stop there before I over analyze and get off-track.

    -------------Bret



  9. LeeNordling Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by Rain View Post
    In general and in most cases, yes, I believe page rates are a good practice.

    I was trying to avoid variables, but since you mentioned, "a great big whopping advance," I'll jump to the issues I self-edited from my initial response.

    There are some projects -- specifically nonfiction and educational -- in which the going rate per page may not, in my opinion, totally jive.

    For instance, if you're working on an educational or historical project, heavy on real-life places, architecture, or science, the writer has to spend ALOT of time educating himself on the subject -- and MORE IMPORTANTLY, finding viable visual inspiration that helps their artist do the same.

    In these cases, the writer acts as a quasi-artistic director. They can't, and shouldn't, rely on their artist to draw the script accurately.

    You can write, "Superman flies away from the Daily Planet," and have a good idea what you'll get. I don't think the same can be said for, "A Ramesside Period Egyptian walks away from the Djedkare's pyramid complex" -- UNLESS you provide lots of accurate visual inspiration to your artist, through script footnotes or other means.

    Writers working in nonfiction and educational pieces are doing their work a bit differently than the "traditional" comic writer. So, perhaps they should be compensated a bit differently as well....?

    Rain
    Well, that slipped off the rails.

    Let's bring it back.

    We're talking about page rates for paying all comics creators.

    I'll take back my "whopping advance" and just make it "advance," because the amount of a page rate isn't specified, either.

    Again, we're trying focus on whatever the issue is.

    Why are page rates THE way comics creators SHOULD be paid, as opposed to advances, or on completion, or royalties...with no amounts specified?

    Let's really focus.

    Why are any of these alternatives bad for paying comics creators?

    --Lee
    Last edited by LeeNordling; Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at 06:00 AM.



  10. LeeNordling Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by Bret View Post
    No, creators should not be paid by the page. They should be paid by issue or by project. Television writers are paid by the script—and the actors are typically paid per episode. Novel and non-fiction writers get an advance—sometimes—but aren’t paid until the book is complete. Has this old school method of creator payment outlived its usefulness?

    I guarantee many artists would learn to pick up the pace if they didn’t see the money until the job was complete. And if they’re on time, wow!

    I don’t believe writers/artists would slop through pages because editors can keep motivated to produce quality work. And if the work becomes crappy, the assignments go to someone else. (And we’d probably see more complete issues by one solo artist and less of the “dog pile” of pencillers DC calls in regularly to finish a book that’s running late.)

    And I’ll stop there before I over analyze and get off-track.

    -------------Bret
    Hey, Bret.

    Haven't you just traded one truism for another?

    I don't argue that advances have merits. I don't argue that splitting advances between start, some middle portions, and on completion has advantages--I'm getting paid that way now for a children's sequential art picture book, that has a 50% advance to me and the artist, then some amount for script approval, some amount for layout approval, some amount for approval of finished art, and the final one on delivery of the finished design files. I'm not saying that's the way EVERYBODY should be paid; I'm just saying that it's a version of the advance system.

    What I find interesting in these discussions, is the assumption that ONE way is the way to do it, when, as I pointed out in the introduction to this, different comics cultures don't necessarily approach any of this the same way.

    But, and here's something to discuss, every single time I talk to artists or writers, they want to know the page rate.

    When I give them the price for the advance, they calculate the page rate.

    In their minds, that's the only way they SEEM to calculate what they're getting...in a world of expanding industries where page rate mostly only comes from the direct market comics culture.

    Why?

    And let's not move away from this question.

    Let's tackle it at the core: why do comics creators insist on thinking in terms of page rate?

    I look forward to reading your thoughts, folks.

    --Lee
    Last edited by LeeNordling; Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at 05:58 AM.



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