Write or Wrong: The Power of 'No'
Write or Wrong: Define Yourself
Some interesting professional developments for me since the time I wrote the previous installment of this column about two weeks ago, with the biggest and most exciting one clearly being this very exciting news:
Nightmare World was selected to be added to Image/Shadowline’s new webcomic collective!
That’s right – Dirk Manning (and company) are now associated with Image Comics.
Is this the proper time to say something like “w00t”… or would “Holy f**king s**t!” be a little more appropriate?
Either way, somewhere in the space-time continuum the teenage Dirk Manning is jumping for joy and shouting to the Heavens “You did it! You finally did it! It took you years, but you finally did it!…
And for several days after signing the contract I was here, in the present, jumping for joy right along with him.
Nightmare World will begin with daily updates immediately following Halloween on November 3rd, so mark your calendars accordingly.
While I still have several more “goals” I want to reach throughout my career, landing my a comic with Image undoubtedly the pinnacle of my comic career to date – and, quite frankly, a bit unexpected, too.
I mean, I didn’t plan on this happening until 2009, you know?
Kidding aside, I’m humbled and flattered that Jim Valentino and Kris Simon are giving Nightmare World a shot. I mean, geez, what hopeful creator out there hasn’t dreamed of landing their creator-owned work at Image Comics?
Additionally, I’ve been very impressed by the books Shadowline has been releasing for quite some time now (ranging all the way back to the pre-Shadlowline Image title Small Gods edited by now Shadowline Editor Kris Simon), and as a result I feel both very “good” and very “proud” about the move… which is nice.
I don’t know how much I’ve talked about it in this series of columns, but I’m pretty selective regarding who I work with – whether it be with artists or publishers… and it’s the latter I really want to talk about a bit today.
So many aspiring creators out there put so much effort on getting published through someone else… and while there are certain advantages to a healthy arrangement with a proper publisher, the flip side is that – with the power of the Internet and print-on-demand publishing – creators don’t necessarily need a publisher to get their comics out there.
Again, are there advantages to being affiliated with a good publisher?
Sure! Without a doubt!
However, there are just as many not-so-good “publishers” out there (you’ll notice I use the term loosely this time) who will take advantage of an uniformed or overly anxious hopeful creator whose work shows potential.
While a “hunger” to create comics is important to succeed – you must make sure not to allow that hunger to grow to desperation.
Desperate people make mistakes, and some mistakes, once done, cannot be undone.
In regards to working with potential publishers – people (of perhaps a small group of people) who will help you print and distribute and promote your comic – you must make sure that the relationship will be a healthy one, as well as one you can pull both yourself and your comic from at any time.
Allow me to explain:
Many hopeful creators equate getting signed with a publisher (be it a big one like Marvel, DC, Image or Dark Horse or even a smaller “indie” publisher) as the golden ticket to success. In theory affiliating yourself and your work with a publisher should add to your “prestige” in the eyes of fans, critics and retailers. If someone like Marvel or Image picked-up your book, that must mean that it’s pretty good, right?
(No jokes, please.)
In my case, I’ve worked with a few different publishers over the years with different levels of success. I always do a lot of research before I enter into a publishing arrangement, and that includes talking to both current and past people who’ve worked with the publisher in question.
That’s just good business sense.
Also, and this is extremely important, I go over the contract line-by-line looking for certain “red flags”… the biggest of which is any line or phraseology that alludes to the fact that, in me signing the contract, thee publisher will get ownership of ____% “the rights” to “the product.”
When it comes to something I’ve created and I’m bringing to them, that’s an automatic deal-breaker.
Mind you, as I’ve said here before, this isn’t an issue if you’re doing “work-for-hire” on a pre-existing property. For example, if, say, Joe Quesada taps you to write a Spider-Man mini-series and elements of your story are then used in one of the upcoming movies… hey, that’s the way the cookie crumbles in work-for-hire, you know?
In work-for-hire arrangements you trade your work for a paycheck. Period. “Here’s your check! Don’t let the door hit ya’ where the good lord split ya’!”
The “up-side” is that it’s a guaranteed paycheck, though… something that isn’t a guarantee in self-publishing and/or creator-owned work.
However, most of us are not going to be tapped to write the adventures of Spider-Man… especially early in our respective comic book careers when we’re creating comics that will be distributed online and through self-published/print-on-demand methods… so that’s not the real issue here.
Instead, most aspiring creators are going to be creating their own comics filled with their own characters and their own intellectual properties that they’ll then shop around first to Image and Dark Horse, then smaller “indie” publishers – again, with the intentions of looking for both validation as well the tools and connections necessary to get our work out there to more and more readers (and, potentially, maybe even make a little money on the side).
After all, we’ll all be successful if we can get enough people to see and then read our stuff, right?
It’s that hunger – which, admittedly, sometimes borders on desperation – that aspiring creators need to curb and monitor, because I’m telling you point blank, people: there are a lot of publishers out there who will try to convince you to sign away the rights to your work for the “treasures” (such as supposed Hollywood connections) they’re promising you.
Several columns back I talked about a certain publisher (who, yes, will still remain unnamed) that tried to swindle the rights to Nightmare World right out from under me.
This was several years ago when Nightmare World was first finding its feet and really starting to take-off. A friend of mine was doing some work for the guy and happened to show him some of the Nightmare World pages he was working on. The publisher (for the sake of convenience, I’ll call him “Dick”) was apparently impressed by the Nightmare World stuff he saw and – upon checking out the website told my friend that he saw enough potential in the series that he would be interested in publishing it.
My friend – obviously excited – related this information to me (along with Dick’s contact information). I, in turn, was of course also very excited. At that point I had just started to dabble in self-publishing for the first time, and the idea that this “big” (or bigger than me, at least) British publisher was interested in possibly printing, publishing and distributing Nightmare World to the masses was both flattering and exciting.
Well, I got in touch with Dick and, long story short, (especially since I’ve already detailed it in an earlier installment of this column) he told me all the things he thought I’d want to hear, including how he would include Nightmare World in a new line of horror comics he was starting and how he could even perhaps get Nightmare World optioned as a television series with some Hollywood suit he was working with.
All I would need to do was hurry-up and sign the contract he offered me – a contract that, among other things, would give him the rights to Nightmare World.
When I saw this clause I questioned him about it – tactfully, of course. After all, at that early stage in my career I didn’t want to come-off as “difficult.”
Me: ”Pardon me, Dick, but what’s with this clause about you gaining rights to the series?”
Him: “Oh, that! That’s standard! I just put that in there so I can act with autonomy if needed if a good deal if offered and I need to act quickly. It’s just a technical thing. I would never take the comic from you.”
You know why he would “never” take the comic from me, right? It’s because he wouldn’t have to since – if I signed the contract – he’d already own it.
The idea of signing the rights to my work over to him so he could “act in my best interests” made about as much sense as letting the mechanic install a remote-controlled bomb in my car so I could blow-up a thief ever stole it.
Well, surprise, surprise, once I told him I wasn’t going to sign the rights of the work itself over to him he wasn’t interested in talking to me anymore.
Was it tough to say “No” to this big publisher? Heck yeah it was… especially so early in my career.
However, looking back it was one of the smartest professional moves I had ever made, because a few short years later a huge news story broke about how the same publisher had offered (what I’m assuming to be) the same contract to another young-and-upcoming creator… only for the creator in question to find that he was not allowed to take the series he created to another publisher because – Oops! – he had signed all the rights to the comic property – the property that he, himself, created – to Dick.
Why? Because, as he himself said in interviews about the topic, he was a little overly enthusiastic (and optimistic) about getting “signed.”
My friends, if you take nothing else from this column, remember this:
There is nothing more important than keeping the rights to your own work.
I wish I could tell you that the shady practices of “Dick” are the exception to the norm… but in my experiences to date I’ve found that this isn’t necessarily the case.
Are there some good smaller publishing houses/imprints run by good people who will not try to take some (or all) of your rights to your work in exchange for printing/publishing your comic? Yes, of course there are, and I’ve been lucky enough to work with a few such people over the years.
(Yes, I count my new arrangement with Image/Shadowline as one of these types of “good” relationships and I’m very excited and enthusiastic about the fact that I’ve been invited to join their webcomic imprint. The fact that my comic will be sitting along side the work of people I’ve admired for so long – such as Carla Speed McNeil – still gives me chills!)
So, when combing the comic convention floors and then reading the contracts potential publishers offer you, make sure that there’s something in there that they lay no claim to the rights of your work… and if it’s not in there, see if they’re willing to put that in.
If they’re not, walk away.
I know this may make some of you aspiring creators out there sick to your stomachs, but I’m going to tell you right now that I’ve turned-down more contracts than I’ve accepted.
Why? Because me and my friends and co-collaborators have busted our collective asses on making comics that we’re proud of and we’re not desperate enough to give away the rights to our work just to get certain publisher’s “stamp” on the cover.
As silly or juvenile as this may sound, at the end of the day you need to create your creations like your children.
I mean, hey, you don’t give the babysitter 10% ownership of your child in exchange for granting you and your spouse the opportunity to have an child-free evening on the town, right?
Don’t get me wrong: a relationship with a good and reputable publisher can be a HUGE boon to your comic and yourself as a creator. A good publisher will expose your work to more people and hopefully offer you enough other perks that it will be worth it to agree to give the publisher, say, 10% of the profit of your book.
(Heck, I know for a fact that there are a lot of people who will now finally read Nightmare World solely because Image/Shadowline picked it up!)
But remember, people: “profit” and “ownership” are two different things.
It’s completely reasonable for a publisher to want a cut of the profit in exchange for putting your book out under their label. However, you should say “No” and walk away from any publisher that wants even something as seemingly “small” as 10% of the rights to your work itself.
Heck, if I gave even 10% ownership of Nightmare World to every hopeful publisher who offered me a chance to publish with them I would no longer even control a majority of the rights to my own work!
Now, taking this imaginary scenario one step further, lets say that – for the sake of argument (and perhaps even a bit of wishful thinking) – that my new arrangement with Shadowline leads to… I dunno… Steven Spielberg calling me up and asking if he can “option” Nightmare World for a new television series.
Well, because I’ve refused to work with anyone who wanted any percentage of the work itself, I own Nightmare World. It’s mine. Mine all mine.
If I want to make a deal with Spielberg that will allow him to have the right to potentially make a TV franchise out of the series, I can do that – at which point I would then spread the money to the appropriate artists and we’d all throw a big freakin’ party to which you will all be invited.
You know… because I’m a good guy like that.
However, if I had signed with “Dick” all those years back I not only wouldn’t have the option to work with Spielberg, heck, I wouldn’t even have had the right to take my work to Jim Valentino and Kris Simon at Shadowline!
Regardless of the fact that “Dick” had no involvement with the creation of the series, by me signing that contract I would have been giving him the rights – the ownership – of a series I (and several other people) dedicated years to creating and finishing.
That’s bulls**t… and Dirk Manning does not deal with bulls**t.
Again – please understand that any publisher will need some sort of incentive to work with you… but that does not mean that you have to give away even partial ownership of your work to them.
The bottom line is that comic publishers – just like comic writers, comic artists, plumbers, garbage men and those people who use really big hoses to spray the poop out of lion cages at the circus – are doing what they do to make money… or at least potentially make money.
Given this, you – as a hopeful comicbook creator – will need to offer publishers work that they can in turn make money on through their involvement with it.
In theory this should be work that’s “good”… but, hey, as the “Boy Band” movement in music continues to teach us every ten years, being “good” is not necessarily required to be profitable.
(Have fun wrapping your mind around that scenario the next time you’re taking a shower…)
Now, in the “indie scene” of comics most publishers will want you to cover your own printing costs and to give them a percentage of the profit – usually 10%. The theory is that your work will make their line of comics as a whole look better and that your book will gain a certain amount of “validity” by being associated with their line of comics.
See how that works? It’s just like a big circle. Neat, huh?
However – and I know I may be beating a dead horse at this point, but I want to say this one last time – don’t ever give any rights to your work to people who weren’t directly involved in its creation.
Should the artist who created the comic with you get a share of the rights? Absolutely.
Personally, I’m a firm believer in a 51/49% split of the rights for the writer and the artist respectively (that way – in the case of a severe disagreement in regards to what direction to take the property – the writer, as the one who came-up with the idea, gets the final say on the direction of the property itself while the artist still gets a fairly equal stake of any money involved).
Then, in terms of profit, I like an at least 50/50 split of the profit in favor of the artist (with any necessary payments to the inker(s), colorist(s) and letterer(s) coming out of the writer’s half of the profit).
Your mileage may vary, of course, hey, that’s my preference and it works pretty well for the artists I’ve worked with thus far.
(Of course, it’s easier to be agreeable about small amounts of money than it is larger ones, as the likelihood of arguments about money in artistic arrangements seem to amplify as the amounts of money being negotiated become larger… but I digress.)
When all is said and done, remember that you, as the writer, are the captain (or perhaps co-captain) of the ship that is your comic… and you can’t be afraid to say “No” and walk away from any “deal” that will take even partial ownership of your work from you and your eligible co-creators.
Is it a wonderful feeling to be published? Yes. I know this because I’ve been published several times myself, and its brought a certain euphoria each time its happened.
However, in the long run it will be a much greater feeling to know that you’ll be able to leap at opportunities to work with large and reputable publishers such as Image because, hey, you didn’t barter away the rights to your work for the empty promise of the “Hollywood deal” that every potential publisher will tell you he or she has just one phonecall away.
Don’t be afraid to say “No,” folks. In the marathon that is creating comics its those earlier bouts of saying walking away from shady and short-sighted dealings that may very well ultimately allow you to say “Yes” to the deals that will elevate the direction of your comicbook career forever.
Next Time: Just what is it that editors do, anyway?
The Time After That: How to crush the opposition and make friends in the process. Really!
Dirk Manning is the writer/creator of Nightmare World and a longtime contributing writer for Newsarama. He lives on the Internet and can usually be found lurking around MySpace as well as the comic hub at SoulGeek, Comicspace and even Facebook and Twitter. Yeesh. He tries to be fairly accessible to people who’d like to talk to (or at) him and he usually does pretty well at responding to everyone who takes the time to comment in the talkback sections of these columns… so subscribe to this thread it and check back often if you’re into that sort of thing, have something worthwhile (or entertaining) to say or otherwise want to keep the conversation going.
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