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Thread: Comics Cultures, Part 4

  1. LeeNordling Guest

    Comics Cultures, Part 4

    Before we start, once again, I want to say thanks to Ronald Montgomery for starting up a Comics Pro Prep group on Facebook. I’m not sure where it’s going yet, but it’s getting there. You can check it out at:
    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gi...5453082&v=info

    WEEK 4:

    Well, we made it out of the rabbit hole in one piece….

    Okay, three pieces, but, unlike the case of Humpty Dumpty, we can put these pieces back together.

    Here’s what we’ve done.

    In week one, we discussed most of the relevant sequential art publishing industries, at least in broad-strokes as they relate to the fundamental question of ownership. You now have a pretty good idea of what a publisher in each of these arenas is going to require if you approach them with a property for consideration.

    In week two, we discussed the potential for different systems of payment, and developed a series of questions for how creators can determine whether offered payment is right for them.

    In week three, we switched sides of the desk and discussed why publishers pay what they pay.

    As an added bonus, week three also identified three types of situations where publishers can be coerced into paying a creator more than they would pay other creators. We pulled back the curtain to reveal that the Mighty Oz was really a bean counter who would only be willing to pay more only if he could make more.

    (Editorial note: we’re only referring to why and how publishers pay. Every businessperson needs to wear a bean-counter hat, or they don’t stay in business and get to keep wearing their “I love sequential art” hat.)

    Each of you now has the rudimentary knowledge to start making a commercial viability assessment of your properties, as well as being able to ascertain the arenas in which those assessments apply.

    In short, you should be able to know what can sell where, and why.

    Not bad for three weeks, but these threads of knowledge are sparse, so we need to strengthen them.

    We may not yet know specifics, like how much a page rate should be, or what’s reasonable for royalties in trade book publishing, but we do have enough to know whether we should get them. The rest will require researching on your part, but at least you know the questions to ask, where, before, all you had were mistaken assumptions about who should own what, and what was the best way to be paid. We’ve dashed those preconceptions on the rocks of reality, and given you a foundation on which you can build.

    As I wrote, we made real progress.

    But let’s see if you can apply what you’ve learned.

    “You’re going to make us answer questions again, aren’t you?” you ask, bleakly.

    “I am,” I answer, cheerfully.

    So, let’s come back to the unaddressed scenario from last week, and surround it with a bunch of different ones.

    1) A previously published independent comics creator gets offered a one-shot to pencil Batman for DC Comics. He’s told that his page rate has been set at some number that's lower than he heard Famous Comics Penciller gets.

    2) An unknown creator has submitted his a proposal for a miniseries, and gets offered a contract with a low page rate from a direct market independent comics publisher. The creator will own the copyright, but publisher wants to control all film and ancillary right, and is willing to share 50-50 with the creator.

    3) A writer/artist has submitted her proposal for a graphic novel to a small trade book publisher, and received a contract offer. The contract offers a $20,000 advance, to be paid at four stages at the beginning, two middles, and at the end of the process, gives a royalty after the advance has been recovered, and assigns the copyright to the creator, but the publisher wants 10% of film and ancillary product net profits.

    4) A cartoonist has produced a six-week sample, got a contract offer from a syndicate tying her to a five-year contract with a syndicate’s option to renew for another five years. The split is 50-50 of the net, and the cartoonist isn’t sure how many newspapers in which the strip will launch.

    5) An experienced writer (who’s not a brand) is partnering with an experienced artist (who’s also not a brand) on a sequential art children’s picture book. The contract offers $12,000, copyright, doesn’t require a cut in film or ancillary rights, but it will stay in the publisher’s control for as long as the book remains in print…which will include e-book rights.

    6) A writer and artist have been offered work on a well-known licensed property, which is going to be released by a major publisher into bookstores. There’s a decent page rate, which is still below Marvel and DC standards, but there are no royalties. The approved pages are to be paid for in batches of thirty.

    7) A writer-artist has produced something that he believes is the next big thing, and the trade book publisher likes it enough to publish it, but isn’t so sure of its potential for success. The advance is low, not enough to pay the bills, and the book will take a year to produce during evenings and weekends.

    Now, I’m sure each of you has a sense of which deals sound good and which don’t, but I don’t care about that.

    “You don’t?” you ask.

    “I don’t,” I repeat. “Coming up with whether each of these deals makes sense is a purely personal decision that each creator needs to make for himself or herself.

    “What I care about is coming up with a process through which creators can make that purely personal decision, rather than responding with well-worn, tribal indoctrination.”

    “Well-worn, tribal indoctrination,” you ponder. “You really like sticking it to people who are interested in direct market comics, don’t you?”

    “I don’t, actually,” I reply. “I use language like that to try and get creators to move out of their direct market comics culture comfort zone, and come up with business-related decisions based on business-related situations, business-related decisions that work for them, and not necessarily their internet buddy.”

    “Comics culture?” you ponder. “Say, isn’t that the title of this thread series?”

    “What a coincidence,” I note.

    “Or maybe not,” you reply.

    “Maybe not,” I concede.

    So, now that we know what I’m striving for…

    …what same series of questions, in broad strokes, could each of these creators ask, in order to get answers that would help them make a determination about whether or not the deal is good for them?

    “Huh?” you ask, adroitly.

    “Well, we’ve discussed the nature of who wants to own what in each sequential art industry, right?”

    “Right,” you answer.

    “And we’ve already created a list of questions creators can ask themselves about how they need to be paid, right?

    “Right,” you repeat yourself.

    “So those questions can be folded into these questions, right?”

    “Right,” you sigh, not yet having realized that you’re already part of the way home.

    “We’ve even discovered the three situations in which a publisher might need you more than you need the publisher.”

    “Right!” you say, with much greater enthusiasm.

    “So now I’m asking you to take this knowledge and apply it to a series of questions that anybody could ask?”

    “The answers to which,” you conclude, “will help each creator in each situation.”

    “The answers to which,” I revise, “will help any creator in any situation.”

    “Is there such a series of questions?” you ask, hoping Google will be your pal.

    “Not yet,” I reply, smiling.

    Like the Cheshire Cat.

    Take it a few questions at a time, but as we proceed, I’d like to see the list become concise and grow.

    Let’s get started.

    ***

    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, March 02, 2010 at 10:46 PM.



  2. harryd Guest

    What sort of distribution/market share does this publisher have? Are you getting into Barnes and Nobles, or 2 indepedent book stores in East Hoboken?

    Is this publisher reputable? Do they have a history of meeting their contracts, or is there a laundry list of pending law suits?



  3. ljamal Guest

    How important is creator control? How important is the money? What is the publisher's current and past reputation in regards to creator rights? How will the publisher support to book?



  4. Rain Guest

    Shew, this just doesn't get any easier.
    But anything worth working for won't be, right?

    Quote Originally Posted by LeeNordling View Post

    2) An unknown creator has submitted his a proposal for a miniseries, and gets offered a contract with a low page rate from a direct market independent comics publisher. The creator will own the copyright, but publisher wants to control all film and ancillary right, and is willing to share 50-50 with the creator.
    [/I]
    Are the 50-50 split and copyright ownership a reasonable trade-off for low page rates and loss of ancillary rights?

    If it's not a reasonable trade off, where does this project get me? Will it go towards establishing me as a brand, and/or open other publishing doors?

    Is my project commercial, and prone to make tons of money in other mediums? Will the publisher "who wants to control" ancillary rights pervert my vision in their presentation to other audiences? If they do, does it matter to me, as I'm still getting a 50-50 split? Or will their "tweaking" and profits from those ancillary rights haunt me to my deathbed?

    Quote Originally Posted by LeeNordling View Post
    3) A writer/artist has submitted her proposal for a graphic novel to a small trade book publisher, and received a contract offer. The contract offers a $20,000 advance, to be paid at four stages at the beginning, two middles, and at the end of the process, gives a royalty after the advance has been recovered, and assigns the copyright to the creator, but the publisher wants 10% of film and ancillary product net profits.
    [/I]
    This isn't a comfortable living wage, so is where it gets me worth the trade-off for having to do additional work to make a living?

    Is my project brilliantly executed, or commercial, raising the likelihood that the publisher can recoup their advance, and my royalties will then roll in?

    If my product is not commercial or brilliantly executed, will it at least go towards establishing me as a brand, and/or open other publishing doors?

    Rain



  5. LeeNordling Guest

    Hey, Rain.

    Does the "50-50" question apply to every situation? I don't think so. Try broadening the question.

    "Will the publisher "who wants to control" ancillary rights pervert my vision in their presentation to other audiences?"

    Doesn't this presume the creator cares about his vision in other media? I think you need to go to the heart of this before asking about the perversion.

    Bill Watterson certainly cared...but Irving Schmaltz might be an anarchist who believes everybody is entitled to pervert anybody's vision.

    You need a question that deals with this first.

    We are trying to cut to the CORE questions, the most basic ones.

    "Is my project commercial, and prone to make tons of money in other mediums?"

    Isn't this two questions in one? Commercial in publishing is one thing (with the potential to make tons of money in publishing is one question), and commercially viable in other media is another.

    "This isn't a comfortable living wage, so is where it gets me worth the trade-off for having to do additional work to make a living?"

    Who says this isn't a living wage? Maybe the book only takes four months to do, and there are two others behind it that will triple the $20,000 for a $60,000 yearly income, and the creator happens to live in West Virginia and pay $500/month in rent, etc.

    Again, step back to the core questions; it's these follow-up questions that get us over our heads and make my answers different from yours.

    Keep it up, guys.

    And let's try starting with the first and biggest questions.

    --Lee

    PS. Easier? Imagine the Cheshire Cat grin. But look on the bright side; this is saving you decades of figuring it out on your own.
    Last edited by LeeNordling; Tuesday, March 02, 2010 at 04:12 PM.



  6. LeeNordling Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by Rain View Post
    If my product is not commercial or brilliantly executed, will it at least go towards establishing me as a brand, and/or open other publishing doors?
    I LOVE this question. It's still a follow-up, but it uses what we've been discussing really well.

    --Lee



  7. LeeNordling Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by ljamal View Post
    How important is creator control?

    How important is the money?

    What is the publisher's current and past reputation in regards to creator rights?

    How will the publisher support to book?
    Good first question. It allows for all situations, and if "creator control" IS important, then the indie comics route is the only one that has a chance...since all the other publishers will want a final say about content.

    However, I think there's a question that should precede this. If the creator doesn't own the project, will they be asking this question? (Yeah, maybe some indie guy will think he can do anything he wants to with Batman, but we're trying to be realistic here.)

    Re. the money question, "Very important" as an answer doesn't say whether it's enough money, so maybe we can broaden it. Perhaps: "Why do I need the money?"

    "Creator rights" doesn't really apply to every situation, does it? How is it relevant to the DC Comics scenario?

    Re. publisher support, that's probably a good question to keep around for toward the end of the process, just to make sure the time and energy isn't wasted, but if a creators goal is to simply get a book out there, this might not be high on the food chain of questions.

    Nice work, Jamal.

    Let's tighten these up, start ordering them, feel free to take others from other contributors; we're building this bridge together, only without whistling or being supervised by Japanese soldiers.

    --Lee



  8. LeeNordling Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by harryd View Post
    What sort of distribution/market share does this publisher have? Are you getting into Barnes and Nobles, or 2 indepedent book stores in East Hoboken?

    Is this publisher reputable? Do they have a history of meeting their contracts, or is there a laundry list of pending law suits?
    Well, these are all a decent scatter shot of publisher-related questions.

    Not really relevant for the syndicated question is it?

    That one's in there to help broaden the first questions, so we can target everything we've been discussing.

    Let's try applying the previous three week's work to these questions.

    We worked hard to get to the core issues, so why discard them now?

    Keep it up, and thanks for being first to dip that big toe in the pool.

    --Lee



  9. Rain Guest

    Sorry for the previous, loaded replies.

    1 Is my project commercial?
    2 Why do I need the money?
    3 Can this project being published bring me additional work/money in the future?
    4 Will this publisher handling this project help establish me as a brand?
    5 Can this publisher help me pull of brilliant execution of the finished product?
    6 Do I care how my project will be adapted and potentially altered in other mediums?

    Rain



  10. LeeNordling Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by Rain View Post
    Sorry for the previous, loaded replies.

    1 Is my project commercial?
    2 Why do I need the money?
    3 Can this project being published bring me additional work/money in the future?
    4 Will this publisher handling this project help establish me as a brand?
    5 Can this publisher help me pull of brilliant execution of the finished product?
    6 Do I care how my project will be adapted and potentially altered in other mediums?

    Rain
    Thanks, Rain.

    There's a nice line a thought from beginning to end here...if not our ultimate beginning to end, but it's a cohesive starting place.

    I think there's some smoothing needed, and holes that need filling.

    Let's open it up to the group?

    Where are the holes?

    What could be better refined?

    --Lee



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