New business model: Jeff Katz and American Original

JeffkatzJeff Katz, sometime comics writer (BOOSTER GOLD) and movie producer (WOLVERINE, SHOOT ‘EM UP) has finally announced his new comics venture, which has been teased since he left Fox last fall. It’s called American Original, and he describes it as a “nerd machine.”

American Original will produce movies, TV shows, Web projects and graphic novels. Katz has inked a deal with Top Cow Prods. — which was behind “Wanted” and vidgame “The Darkness” — to publish the comicbooks.

Company will initially launch two divisions. American Original Press will publish up to 10 comicbook titles per year, with the goal of adapting them as films, TV shows, Web series or games; American Original Entertainment will serve as the production arm.

Ben Austin, a former New Line, Fine Line and Fox staffer, will be director of development.


Well, so far so good…just another comics-to-movies shingle like (fill in the blank)? In an interview at Newsarama with Vaneta Rogers, Katz explains that there will be some differences, which we’ll quote at length:

With American Original, Katz is helping geeks take advantage of their new-found power by borrowing a deal-making structure from Hollywood. In the film industry, it’s common to hear about deals called “first-dollar gross after cash break-even.” In comic books, that kind of deal is non-existent. But according to Katz, that model will be the basis of everything American Original does.

“What that means is, all I have to do is recoup my up-front nut on the print side, be that in print or through an ancillary deal, and those creative talents, once that hits break-even, their corridor kicks in for them for the next, hey, hundred years for all I care. They get to collect a piece of gross. They can sit in their underwear and make money,” he said.

“Through the life of the intellectual property, I make a toy deal, I make a video game deal, I make a movie deal, I make a toothbrush deal – through the life of the IP, they see that property; they get that gross. All I have to do is break even on my initial print run.”

Katz said he also hopes to teach comic book creators how to do all this by themselves. “My ambition is that by the time I’m finished working with these guys, they can tell me to go screw myself because they don’t need me anymore,” he said with a laugh. “It behooves everyone in the system to keep the status quo and keep everything the way it is because you don’t want your talent learning how to fish. I say screw that, because the future is in us learning how to fish for ourselves.”

Katz said that all of entertainment is cutting redundancies, and this new business model is a move in that direction. “The age of conglomerates operating like oil tankers is over. We have to be fleet. We have to be cigarette boats. And I believe that a more stream-lined model can enable that,” he said.


Although this may sound a lot like the typical “creator participation deal,” in effect it’s a bit more like that deal mixed in with the Image deal: once costs are paid, the creator and American Original will share all the money from all deals and revenue streams. And by putting the publisher and production company/agency under one roof you are cutting out a lot of middle men.

HOWEVER, if we’re reading all this PR correctly, AO will “own” the IP, so the Image Central deal is still better in many ways, with the creator getting ALL the revenues after break-even and not a piece. But, for the genre creator who wants to partner with an experienced Hollywood player, it could be an attractive — and lucrative — deal.

Comments

  1. Randy Stradley says:

    Hmm. Sounds just like the creator-owned deal that Dark Horse has been offering for, well, almost twenty-five years now. Just sayin’.

  2. Chris says:

    “What that means is, all I have to do is recoup my up-front nut on the print side, be that in print or through an ancillary deal, and those creative talents, once that hits break-even, their corridor kicks in for them for the next, hey, hundred years for all I care. They get to collect a piece of gross. They can sit in their underwear and make money,” he said.”

    Great — that’s we need, more Joe Madureira and J. Scott Campbells. Creators who don’t do any work besides the occasional cover.

    “Through the life of the intellectual property, I make a toy deal, I make a video game deal, I make a movie deal, I make a toothbrush deal – through the life of the IP, they see that property; they get that gross. All I have to do is break even on my initial print run.”

    Breaking even on the initial print run is harder than it looks…unless the creative team is not getting a page rate on their original artwork.

    The best thing AO has going for it is the connections and experience that Katz brings in Hollywood…and that’s probably worth something.

  3. Tom Spurgeon says:

    I also don’t get how this is in any way better than what used to be the newspaper syndication boilerplate, which when I was writing a strip 10 years ago was 50/50 on all gross, period, no matter how much was coming in, with a guaranteed minimum income on the creators’ side that the other side paid and the occasional bonus during stages of development.

  4. Naveen says:

    I was speaking to an inker in France and he mentioned that this was the standard type of comic deal in Europe.

    But to the point of AO, any way creators can see more money from ancillary products, where the big money is, the better.

  5. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Because syndicated strip people never sign deals for ancillary products under their better deal…?

  6. The Beat says:

    Based on what creators shave told me, the comic strip syndication deal was until the present disaster by FAR the most profitable model for cartoonists, and the most liberal with rights, at least aside from the Image/self publishing deal. The presence in the 80 and 90s, of many cartoonists on the “richest people in entertainment” lists should be a testament to just how profitable it can be for the creator. Monetization, whoo hoo!

    Sadly, since there are no more newspapers, this may all be a moot point. I was talking to a syndicated cartoonist the other day who was telling me that launching a new strip is almost impossible since there are no newspapers with budgets to launch in any more.

    But yeah, it’s a good deal.

  7. Tom Spurgeon says:

    I swear, I’m not extolling the virtues of the newspaper deal as much as trying to figure out which deal this is better than on a structural level. This sounds like one step above the super-abusive deals, but not even in the same league as a lot of creative ownership deals.

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