I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while, because I think it’s a topic that a lot of creators in my position or around my level (getting projects together but still nowhere near a Bendis or Johns or Loeb level) would be interested in. In a word: contracts. Most projects in the comics world are collaborations between a team of creators – at minimum, a writer and an artist, but often that can expand to include a team of artists (penciler, inker and colorist), a letterer and sometimes a graphic designer/logo artist/layout person. While some super-talented people can do all of that themselves, it’s more common to spread that work out among a group.
The issue with that approach is that once the finished work is created, there’s a question as to who owns it. I see that as working in most cases in one of three ways:
1. Certain projects will have a project leader, so to speak, who hires everyone, pays all the money out of his or her own pocket and retains all the rights to any future profits that the book might generate (as miniscule as they inevitably may be.) This seems to happen most often where you have a writer-driven project, where a writer’s hiring a team to put his vision together.
2. Other times, projects are done in a collaborative way, where people on the team all either work for free or for less than they would charge if they weren’t getting rights in the book’s future profits, and everyone gets a share of those profits, agreed upon in advance. (Say, writer gets 50%, penciler gets 35%, inker and colorist each get 7% and letterer gets 1% – I just made up those percentages, so don’t take them as gospel, and no angry emails from inkers, please.)
3. And sometimes, things are just done with out any of that being worked out in advance, in a total mess. Maybe the penciler gets paid a little for their work, but the inker doesn’t, but the letterer does, and then the book gets picked up by a publisher, and then optioned for a movie, and everyone thinks they’re entitled to part of the option fee, but nothing’s on paper so no one really knows who owns the project… this happens all the time, much more often than it should.
The ideal situation to my mind is either (1) or (2) – no matter how you apportion the rights, pay and profits, they SHOULD be apportioned. It doesn’t take much effort to put together a simple agreement to lay out the ownership on a project, and it can be crucial down the road. One publisher I’ve worked with insists that all people who work on a book have a contract or agreement that clearly lays out where everyone stands before they’ll even consider moving forward. Fortunately, I agree with that policy, and had all of that in place to provide to them.
I’m envisioning this as a multi-part series that will give the indie comics guys out there some guidance on how to put together agreements with other people they work with. I happen to be fortunate (?) enough to have some pretty solid background in this area, so I hope I can help out a little bit. Anyway, enough for the first installment, and more to come at some point soon.