Platipop: When will they ever learn?

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Steve Bissette weighs in on the Platinum situation, where creators have signed away most of their rights and are now not being paid:

Welcome to the 21st Century, where abuse of creators is rampant and the illusion that all the battles were won and such affairs somehow aren’t Creator Rights issues is part of what allows outfits like Platinum to get away with this kind of crap.

Of course, they have the now-tradition of the 1990s (e.g., Scott Rosenberg, Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, etc.) to depend upon — after all, Rob and Todd published and continue to publish work by prominent creators they didn’t treat fairly and haven’t paid a dime in reprint or royalties to, so what’s to stop others from emulating the same behavior?

Scott Rosenberg has been quite public about why he publishes comics, and what he and Platinum are about. The Comic Book Challenge, like the recent debacle over TokyoPop, is simply put a program legally designed to elevate, exploit and legally separate a creator from their creative property for Platinum’s financial gain.


We don’t have time to give this all that it deserves, but the saddest part of the whole Platipop situation is that us old timers stood there telling these kids it was a bad idea. We’ve been saying it for years. And the kids storm out of the room, saying “I can handle it! I’m a grown up!” And then, a few years later, sheepishly, they admit maybe they didn’t quite know what was going on at the time.

Bissette goes on to write: “Isn’t it time for the creative community to aggressively pool resources and quit acting like Creator Rights isn’t a war that was won, or somehow doesn’t apply to them?”

He’s right. Other companies are are putting out bad contracts right this minute. And trusting creators are signing them. That’s the sad part. Every time we think we’ve killed the snake a new bunch of rubes gets off the bus and signs the same yokel contract. And that’s why the snake will never die. They know they will always have a fresh and willing pool of talent to steal from.

But it isn’t just signing away your own creations with a work for hire contract. The sickness has spread to Hollywood, we hear. You know all those “such and such has been optioned” announcements that arrive every day? There is no set amount of money for an option. It could be between $500-$750K, as with Jeff Smith for Bone. Or it could be $1.

Now, not everything is a beloved classic like Bone, but increasingly, we hear, creators are settling for far less than their books are worth on the open market with a resulting devaluation of comics properties on the market.

Granted, its hard not to fall for the first cute guy at the dance who shows an interest in you when you’ve been sitting down sipping punch for years. You believe in your creation so much you just want to get it out there at any price! Once you get it out there, fame and fortune are sure to follow!

That’s what Siegel and Shuster thought; and Jack Kirby, and Mart Nodell and Joe Simon and all the rest. They were just grateful to be paid, grateful to put some food in their families’ mouths.

Interestingly, Bob Kane knew better — or at least his family did. His father insisted he get his rights on paper and even gamed the system himself:

Bob Kane had his father (a printer who knew the industry) represent him and negotiate a very good contract on his behalf. During the period where Siegel and Shuster were suing for Superman, Bob Kane would tell DC he was a minor when he signed his original contract. Faced with potential lawsuits of both their biggest cash cows, DC would renegotiate a much better deal with Kane. Truth was, Kane was in his early 20’s when he co-created Batman. As per then Jewish tradition, Kane’s father got rid of his son’s birth certificate. Without any paperwork indicating Kane’s actual birth date the courts would have to rely on the word of his family. Kane said his family was willing to lie on his behalf.


There is always an option. There are always alternatives. But as long as the kids keep thinking they’re all grown up and don’t listen to the warnings of the people who’ve already been there, the theft will continue.

Comments

  1. Robert Evans summed it up nicely: “If you own the material, you’re a king. Without it, you’re a peon.”

  2. And then, a few years later, sheepishly, they admit maybe they didn’t quite know what was going on at the time.

    A few years? Heidi, it was only one year and six days ago that you posted about the evils of work for hire and DJ Coffman showed up to defend Platinum.

    He’s not doing that anymore.

  3. “That’s what Siegel and Shuster thought; and Jack Kirby, and Mart Nodell and Joe Simon and all the rest. They were just grateful to be paid, grateful to put some food in their families’ mouths.”

    And they got food in their families’ mouths.

    One of the problems with giving this talk to the young folks is that we oldsters so rarely show them any real alternative. It’s like finding some hungry kids in a kitchen filled with nothing but donuts, and telling them “don’t eat that – it’s bad for you”. They’re hungry. They’re going to eat something.

    And the compromise alternatives are often shouted down with equal vehemence. “Don’t take that turkey lunchmeat work-for-hire-with-ongoing-financial-involvement sandwich! It’s high in sodium!”

    If they get told that there’s any real alternative, it’s the high-financial-risk fugu of self-publishing or the don’t-be-in-the-comics-business, be-in-the-t-shirt-biz macrobiotic salad of webcomics. But for the most part, they’re just being told “no no no”, steered away from reasonable risk assessment to absolutism (and generally by those who did not follow that path themselves, in doing so rose to positions of sufficient respect that they’re supposed to be listened to.

    When the alternative appears to be getting a comic out with a bad deal, and getting no comic out with no deal, it should come as little surprise that the bad deal tempts so effectively.

  4. The other alternative is a Union that could make some of the benefits and make contracts permanent in some way.

    Oh that’s right the Graphic Artists Guild barely exists any more and it’s illegal for individual’s to organize to negotiate with corporations like Time Warner and Dark horse. And artists will never organize because unions are evil.

    If kiddies can work for Obama you think maybe artists could do something

    sighhh….

  5. The other alternative is a Union that could make some of the benefits and make contracts permanent in some way.

    Oh that’s right the Graphic Artists Guild barely exists any more and it’s illegal for individual’s to organize to negotiate with corporations like Time Warner and Dark horse. And artists will never organize because unions are evil.

    If kiddies can work for Obama you think maybe artists could do something

    sighhh….

  6. Remember, if your book is really as great as you think it is, the first person to come along and want to sign you, wont be the last. Hang in there, and stick to your guns.

  7. I have to agree with Nat a little bit. The only actionable alternative is self-publishing. It’s hard enough to be a great artist let alone a great businessman. Not to mention that accumulating capital in this economy is no “snap your fingers” affair. Lump that on top of the fact that most self-publishers (particularly of mainstream-genre materials) are often viewed as second class citizens from comic fans and insiders.

    If there are all these potentially lucrative concepts floating around out there, and granting creators rights were such an advantage in attracting them, why wouldn’t there be more start-up publishers out there willing to fill this void in the market? That’s the real answer, having an alternative that can out-compete the “work-for-hire” publishers. Maybe the critics of these publishers should start asking themselves the question of why these alternatives don’t exist.

    I just think it’s unrealistic to expect that “work-for-hire” will ever be eliminated from the comics biz. It’s just going to be part of the landscape.

  8. Katie Moody says:

    @Mark: Whuh?

    Time Warner = 86,000 employees, $50.5 billion in yearly revenue, traded on the NYSE, multinational corporation (i.e., evil)

    Dark Horse = ~130 employees, $(not even close), privately owned by the founder, respectful of creator-owned properties …

    I’m all for criticism where it’s is due, so do feel free to clarify, but this comparison makes little sense at the moment. (Also, since when has organizing been illegal? That’s an alarming idea.)

    To touch on what Ian said, another huge hurdle for self-publishers is distribution. If the title’s initial orders will be too low for a Diamond listing, a creator will be left wearing the artist, businessperson, and distributor hats, which would be enormously difficult to sustain. As for work-for-hire, it’s the only way licensed properties can appear on the shelves; the corporations or individuals that own TV, film, or even some creator-owned titles can’t be expected to cede any slice of ownership to the folks bringing their characters to the four-color page. On occasion, fair-minded and SOLO creators of a title will cut long-term guest artists in on a particular book’s royalties, but that’s both rare and their call to make.

    I remember your warning posts on these bum deals from a year ago, Heidi, but didn’t expect the other shoe to drop nearly this fast. Ouch.

  9. Also, I think the elephant in the living room here is the nature of the content itself. I mean, you can’t exactly make a video-game, saturday morning cartoon, card game, t-shirt, & action figure line out of “Fun Home.” This is ultimately about the nature of the content itself, the business situation that surrounds it is just a symptom of the problem.

    Maybe the creators of this stuff should just ask themselves “why do I want to make these comics to begin with?”

  10. Work for hire? Not a problem if you supply the characters and world and I can work within your strictures without going nutso.

    Now, I create the characters and world and you own it and can boot me off my own creation? That I don’t get so much.

  11. Evan Dorkin says:

    Hollywood options have largely consisted of garbage offers for as long as they have made them to comic creators (or most anyone, I’d bet). It’s nothing new. Neither is folks jumping at their first chance to get their foot in the door, even if it means tossing their rights out of the window. If young creators keep refusing to listen after all the warnings and examples put before them on the web, there’s not much anyone can do except run the same basic essay/article every year and hope the tide turns some day. Back in the day nobody told you anything about contracts or publishers or people, at least now there’s the web and folks who openly take these companies to task.

    That doesn’t mean anyone’s going to listen. Some folks don’t listen even if a friend gets burned, or they read about ten strangers getting screwed over by someone they’re in talks with. Lots of folks gamble, some think they’re invulnerable, some are just dumb, as cold as that might sound.

    People are people, we drive drunk and expect nothing to happen, we date the person who drove our friends crazy, we sign contracts without representation or advice or thinking it through, we deal with sharks hoping to make it out alive. We want and justify and hope and get defensive about it. We fuck up. That’s how con men continue to stay in business, why the lottery does so well, and why we still have variant covers on the shelves.

    As far as getting comics out versus not, yeah, I understand the lure of going with a publisher, but cripes, if any young’un can’t figure out that putting comics out with known creeps who have a rep for mistreating talent/creators is better than, I dunno, sticking it out for a better deal or just putting their stuff up on the web, or keeping their day job a little while longer, I dunno what to tell them. You can’t save everyone.

    I do think that when young cartoonists ask about these sorts of things, folks should level with them, without being condescending or haughty (most of us have been ripped off at some point or made a lousy decision, luckily, my lessons came early with my first job — which only cost me some money — and in another instance when I signed something that cost me the rights to a story featuring my own characters. I didn’t lose the characters, or much of anything, really, but the mistake still irritates me). Sometimes you can turn someone’s head around, usually not, and while it’s no one’s job to warn anybody and you don’t want to sound like an old crank, I sure wish someone gave me some pointers on things to avoid in this (or most any creative) business.

    And while I’m here, I don’t know how the hell people like Rosenberg and Tony Caputo are allowed – and sometimes welcomed — back into the comics pool after they’ve pissed in it so many times. But that’s life, too.

  12. shazam says:

    I sort of have to agree with Nat up there.

    Platinum will be introducing the Comic Book Challenge contestants here in the next few days, along with their story pitches and art. It’ll likely be a mixed bag, quality-wise, but some of their ideas might actually be pretty cool.

    I wonder how many of you “creators’ rights” advocates, instead of standing on the sidelines and tut-tutting these folks, would be ready, willing and able to offer them a better deal? Somebody step up with a competitive pay rate and some reasonable rights-sharing and I bet you’d get some takers, lickety-split.

  13. There are some creators rights advocates out there offering better deals — most notably, Image Central. If you can get them to publish you, it’s not guarantee of success or even any pay at all, but it will take away most of the direct financial risk of publishing, and leave you with all your rights intact.

    But Image Central ain’t exactly getting rich off of publishing that material. If you want to encourage publishers to publish material, it has to be a deal that makes financial sense to them as well — and paying a hearty page rate to unknown creators and ending up with no further rights, that’s a tough way to build a business.

  14. I’d also like to add that I think it’s a little disingenous to refer to these creators as though they are “potential Siegels & Shusters.” That’s really taking the history of the pre-existing franchises completely out of context. I don’t care how “cool” these potential ideas think they are, you just can’t compete with 50-70 years worth of cultural cache. Face the facts, Superman and Batman aren’t huge because they are “cool stories”, they are huge because people with big money were able to slap them on t-shirts and turn a buck.

    Any successes that come out of Platinum or TokyoPop will be short-lived and disposable, mostly hype-generated. There aren’t going to be any more Siegel & Shusters, hell there aren’t even going to be any more Eastman & Lairds. The idea that these (highly derivative) concepts would some how flourish under some utopian publishing scheme is just plain naive. This stuff is about ramping up hype, pushing all in, and getting out before the whole deck of cards collapses.

  15. Other companies are are putting out bad contracts right this minute.

    Well, don’t keep us waiting in suspense, Heidi.

  16. Ian Harker said:”There aren’t going to be any more Siegel & Shusters, hell there aren’t even going to be any more Eastman & Lairds.”

    Now how in the world can you say that with such certainty?
    Jeff Smith came along with BONE nearly 10 years after Eastman & Laird, and he seems to have done more than alright.
    However I do agree that nothing I saw coming out of Platinum struck me as having any significant pop culture legs.

    The kind of treatment DJ Coffman has experienced from Platinum doesn’t surprise me at all. It’s hardly the first time a company associated with Scott Rosenberg has failed to pay people. Rosenburg’s Sunrise Distributors disappeared in 1987 owing me (and many others) thousands of dollars for product we delivered in good faith.
    Thankfully I wasn’t in a situation where they could screw me out of ownership of my creations. I can’t imagine the frustration creators like Coffman must feel.
    I don’t know, you can only screw over so many people before someone finally goes postal on you.

  17. The problem is that there is nothing unique about being a self-publisher anymore. You don’t get any extra points because you’re some wacky dude from Canada who prints up his own comic about an aardvark. Now you are a dime a dozen, the landscape is literally flooded. You can’t compare the situation today with even 5 years ago let alone 10 or 20, and especially not 50 or 70 years ago. There’s no edge left, no angle left.

    If you’re going to make it somebody is going to throw some money behind you, and they are going to want a lot in return. Imagine the reverse scenerio, a company like Platinum sinks a huge investment into a property to establish it’s value on the landscape, you think it’s fair for the creator to just cut ties with them at that point and milk all the benefits? There has to be some give and take.

  18. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Ian, as usual, you’re being so reactionary and ill-informed and strident and narrowly focused it makes my teeth hurt. There are self-publishers RIGHT THIS VERY SECOND that are making money without people throwing money at them and then demanding unreasonable things or even “a lot” in return. There’s one that secured a very good book partnership that will have a book out next week or the week after that. There’s one that secured a six figure book advance that will have work out this Fall. A self-publisher secured a newspaper syndication deal that allowed him to retain a ton of rights, which is like getting your great-grandpa to skateboard. Just be quiet, son.

    What is it about the Internet that everyone wants to make such goofy from-the-mountain-top assertions all the time?

    Anyway, I’m near the first in line to punch shitty contracts in the balls, but I’m suspicious of the thrust and construction of Steve’s argument. Does this stuff really have to be analyzed in terms of its implications for an Internet argument from five years ago? Really? Even then I’d maintain that you can win a war and then have people ignore what’s been won. Just because those that refuse to learn history are doomed to repeat it doesn’t mean the history’s different than what’s claimed for it.

  19. What huge investment, outside of executive salaries? They’ve published, what, one comic? And how many big bucks Hollywood deals have they consumated?

    Big bucks? Their investors may have even more to complain about than the creators of ideas that Platinum has been unable or unwilling to actualize.

  20. I had a fine time at Platinum. I got my comic book printed, distributed, got paid, kept some of the back end and had a very positive experience.

    I don’t talk about it a lot, because I don’t think anybody’s interested in doing anything online but dumping on publishers.

    I’ve self-published, the result was that I lost 90% of the money I sunk into the print run. I don’t know what’s so special about being king of a few boxes of material that won’t sell.

    I’ve worked on projects for the back end, and for stock options, and I’ve had a great time doing it, but I can’t say it’s any more useful than a lottery ticket. Better results can be had for being struck by lightning.

    I’ve worked work-for-hire, and I’ve had a great time doing it, I’d say that 95% of my total output has been work for hire. I really enjoy it as much as my self publishing, possibly a little more, since I get to work with my publishers’ great people.

    Look -working freelance in comics is like an advanced game of chutes and ladders, there are no lessons you can even learn – one chute can drop you out of the game, another can throw you out of a mountain, it’s a real crap-shoot.

    I don’t think I could honestly counsel an artist to not take a weighted publishing deal any more than I would counsel anyone not to work at a publisher as an intern. just do the best you can at every turn and open all the doors available. One might be to a nice chute, or a terrible ladder.

  21. Tom Spurgeon says:

    That’s correct. No one on-line has ever had anything good to say about a publisher ever. All self-publishing is successful. All shitty publishers are shitty 100 percent of the time.

  22. This is exactly why we started Unscrewed.

    http://www.unscrewedcomic.com

    Now if we could only get more folks to start taking advantage of all the services we offer to help.

  23. This is exactly why we started Unscrewed.

    http://www.unscrewedcomic.com

    Now if we could only get more folks to start taking advantage of all the services we offer to help.

  24. Tom Spurgeon said:

    “Ian, as usual, you’re being so reactionary and ill-informed and strident and narrowly focused it makes my teeth hurt. There are self-publishers RIGHT THIS VERY SECOND that are making money without people throwing money at them and then demanding unreasonable things or even “a lot” in return. There’s one that secured a very good book partnership that will have a book out next week or the week after that. There’s one that secured a six figure book advance that will have work out this Fall. A self-publisher secured a newspaper syndication deal that allowed him to retain a ton of rights, which is like getting your great-grandpa to skateboard. Just be quiet, son. ”

    And are any of these the kind of materials that TokyoPop or Platinum are looking to option? The kind of properties that can be made into a video game, action figure line, card game, saturday morning cartoon, feature film & every other brand of merchandising? My point was that these kinds of business deals are a symptom of that approach to comic-making. I’m not talking about webcomic guys that get collected into a book, or Andy Runton getting Owly dolls made up. We are talking about 2 different levels of business.

    As long as there are comics creators whose sole focus is to create a “property” that can be exploited ten ways til Sunday they will be surrounded by like-minded sharks who want to turn a quick dime. My point was that THOSE kind of comics specificaly have no shot in the self-pub game.

  25. John E Williams says:

    About five years ago, my partner Dan Parent received a hilarious and bizarre response to a promo package we sent to Platinum for our Big Idea At the Time. The editor literally scolded us via e-mail for sending a product he deemed TOO finished and ordered us to “next time” send only very sketchy ideas. I politely replied that we weren’t interested in any other ideas, that this was our Big Idea (At the Time) and thank you for your response. Two days later I received more scolding and received orders to send more sketchy ideas, which I ignored. About fifteen months later — I kid you not — our submission must have somehow emerged at the top of the slush pile, because I received a NEW e-mail from the same guy, giving me the same scolding and the same marching orders. As I said, hilarious and bizarre.

    Clearly, other creators must have had quite a different experience with Platinum to go so far as to receive and sign a contract, not to mention actually getting published, but aside from the glaringly horrible work-for-hire deal (from which Dan and I cheerfully assumed we’d be exempted, ’cause we’re so great), our looney-tune interactions with the company’s rep was enough for us to take a pass. I’m amazed they stayed in business this long.

  26. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Ian, that’s a pretty typical follow-up strategy, to limit your argument so that it’s so self-contained that it maybe can’t be assaulted. I actually thought you’d point out that none of these are Siegel-Shuster level successes instead of the Tokyopop/Platinum arena thing, so I guess you get novelty points for your application.

    I reject your notion that there’s any qualitative difference between these comics deals, that a guy doing a webcomic and getting a fair deal on a book that returns a lot of money to him is different in a significant way than a guy doing a manga book series or high-concept comic book that signs away all their rights for what may even be a shittier deal. What’s the difference beyond that it insulates your argument? “Different levels?” What does that mean? That’s just made-up. Can we name the levels? That’s a fourth-level deal! That’s only a second level deal!

    But even with all that said — and please keep this in mind rather than simply answering the question with more assertive nonsense about how you perceive the differences — there are plenty of deals out there being made for properties that would be of interest to both of those publishers in exactly the way you describe. Trust me, I get comics that would make for motion pictures or that would make for decent-selling manga series or that have licensing possibilities across my desk all the time that seem to be coming from publishers that aren’t exploiting the talent in some obvious way. And even using your dismissal of the webcomics into book deal example — a lot of webcomics are already licensed so would seem to fit your model just fine.

    So no, I don’t think it’s a part and parcel of that area of comics; I think any realistic assessment shows options there, too, and plenty of similar deals in comics not like those. There is more exploitation of properties that would seem to naturally lead to those outcomes, but only because that makes sense, not because there’s a qualitative difference.

    I’m more like Evan in a sense in that I’m sympathetic to creators signing not-ideal deals. You do stuff when you’re a creator. But these were pretty bad and pretty darn obviously so, and the level of “shut up, old man!” bullshit thrown back in critics’ faces was its own area of pernicious tomfoolery. Also, the sympathy one may have for the creators, particularly those in a bad place (not being celebrated as awesome and paid as such fast enough to suit you isn’t the bad place I’m talking about) doesn’t mean you have to stand for the practice and its practitioners.

  27. Just to be clear, I agree that it’s of course a shitty deal, I just don’t think people should be 100% discouraged from taking it if it’s going to help get their foot in the door. So some company is going to hi-jack your concept, come up with a new concept! At least at that point you would have aquired some important pratical experience when it come to creating comics. You might have even learned enough about the business to successfully self-publish.

    It’s just a little tiresome to always hear from those already on the bus that these kids should wait for the next bus. There’s not always going to be a next bus. Bad experiences are just as valuable as good experiences. Not to mention, if you only have one idea, you’re not going to have a long career anyway!

    Sure, do your due dilligence, look for a better deal, spring for legal advise, but in the end if the best deal on the table is a shitty one from a publisher that will at least get your foot in the door, it’s probably a better option than taking out a second mortgage on the house so you can drop a few grand on a 4-Color comic.

  28. John E Williams says:

    Sorry for butting in, but Ian — ” So some company is going to hi-jack your concept, come up with a new concept!” — god, that is seriously the dumbest advice conceivable. Tell that to Siegel and Shuster, or Steve Gerber, all of whom “came up with new concepts” after their one big idea made millions of dollars for other people besides them.

  29. The Beat says:

    “Just to be clear, I agree that it’s of course a shitty deal, I just don’t think people should be 100% discouraged from taking it if it’s going to help get their foot in the door”

    But there are so may other ways to get your foot in the door now. It’s advice like this — “Oh, you’ll just be working in the brothel long enough to get your CPA!” — that keeps people trying it when there are alternatives.

  30. Then save your best ideas for a better situation. Based on your own account Platinum wants to be very involved with developing these concepts. Work on something with them that is geared towards their specific needs.

    Not to mention, if they can’t even pay people they’re probably not making millions off of anything. It sounds like this Coffman guy has Platinum violating his contract by not paying him. With a little legal help he should be able to get his rights back.

    Also, can we seriously retire the Siegel & Shuster analogy?

  31. Heidi wrote: “But there are so may other ways to get your foot in the door now. It’s advice like this — “Oh, you’ll just be working in the brothel long enough to get your CPA!” — that keeps people trying it when there are alternatives. ”

    I said save it as a last option, or actually a second to last option between that and self-publishing. Successful self-publishers all have one thing in common, they have a great business mind. It’s hard enough to be a great artist let alone a great businessman, particularly if you have no experience in the comics business because you haven’t got your foot in the door.

    Also, like I said as well, if you’re a one-hit wonder, you’ll always be a one-hit wonder regardless of what kind of deal you had. If you’re good enough you should be able to survive a few pitfalls along the way.

  32. John E Williams says:

    Ian,

    Platinum “wants to be very involved with developing these concepts” because Platinum wants to be involved with owning and controlling these concepts. What ticked my guy off wasn’t the quality or saleability of the concept (which didn’t even come up) but the fact that Dan and I had a near-finished product. With all respect to your stunningly bad advice, I wasn’t terribly interested in supplying Platinum with half-ideas just so they could come up with the other half, which had nothing to do with creativity and everything to do with ownership.

    In any case, I opted to skip your “let ‘em hijack” step althogether, which suits me fine. I still own my idea, which is something poor DJ can’t claim.

    As far as the Siegel/Shuster analogy goes, I’ll drop it as soon as it becomes an irrelevent example, which it hasn’t (and I did mention Gerber, whose example fits to a tee).

  33. So where is your project at now?

  34. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Ian. No.

    First, anyone who sees this kind of thing as being told to wait for the next bus is a petulant, entitled child who doesn’t deserve to be warned in the first place, so doubly god bless those that take the time. I’m sorry your awesomeness isn’t being endorsed with the money and approbation you feel due at the rate you feel you’re due it, but to turn that into resentment against people trying to help you is repugnant, let alone citing it as a logical reason someone would plug their ears and go “La la la la la la I’m going to be famous la la la la.”

    They also don’t understand that there are buses everywhere now, and almost no one has to wait.

    Second, that you can learn from bad experiences as well as good ones so the bad ones may have value may be the silliest argument ever. Besides, you don’t have to learn from bad experiences if you pull your head out of your ass and take a look around and see what happened to other people. You must be hysterical to watch boil water.

    Third, you’re deeply fooling yourself if you think you can control what you give clients as effectively as you count on people doing. Steve Gerber’s great lifetime vehicle was the answer to the question “How do we follow up ‘peanut butter barbarian’?” He didn’t think, “No, Howard’s great. He’s a level one character. I’ll give them Leroy the 4th Dimensional Cajun instead.” Nobody knows!

    Shitty contracts are just shitty contracts. If you agree they’re shitty, why scramble around looking for arguments on their behalf? It’s weird, dude.

  35. I think if you’ve got even a half-baked idea, it’s never been easier to find an audience for it.

    Whether you will get to see your creation on breakfast cereal, or graduate to shepherding Big Corporate Superhuman #2456, is another issue entirely.

    But you can print 100 copies of a comic for like $150 through Comixpress. You can start a website for free. You can send a couple hundred e-mails to comics bloggers and reporters and writers in an afternoon.

    I’m not saying it’s that easy to get your ideas out there, but…okay, yeah, I’m saying it’s that easy.

  36. Well, now that the situation is resolved it looks like Coffman didn’t make out all that bad. He got paid, will continue to get paid, and realizes exactly what went down. He has a great attitude it seems to me, and now he will move on in his career with something on his resume. If he were to just listen to you and Heidi and dwell on how much of an idiot he supposedly is for “gettin’ screwed” is he probably would get stuck in a rut.

  37. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Ian, John Williams may or may not have sold his concept, but here’s an example from RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE of someone whose pursuit of a non-retarded contract has benefited him: R Stevens is going to continue doing Diesel Sweeties and make money doing it after his syndicated print run ends, which he would not have been able to do if he signed something similar to one of the contracts being discussed here.

  38. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Let me have R Stevens’ outcome over DJ Coffman’s any day of the week.

    Since we’re allowed to make up outcomes on this thread, like the fact that Platinum will continue to pay, I say if DJ Coffman didn’t go with Platinum he would have landed at a respectable publisher and the movie would already be planned, and he would have made more money. And his dick would be bigger.

  39. Well, before getting John’s answer let’s just theoretically use it as an example and assume that it’s still on the shelf. You’re right, he would be smart to exhaust every avenue out there, starting with those who offer the best deals. Then he would have to look at whether or not self-pub is a realistic option. If his concept is high-production quality oriented he might not be able to swing self-pub financially. He may also not posess the confidence in his business savvy or the free-time to really make it work. If that was the case he would at least have an “in” at Platinum to maybe pitch them a new half-developed idea and work with them to get his feet wet. The fully developed idea of course would still be in his back pocket. Let’s say the Platinum thing worked out and he put in a nice little run on a book that got him some exposure. He could quit at any point he wanted to launch the original idea with much more experience and cache then he had back at square one.

  40. John E Williams says:

    Ian,

    The concept has been sidelined, as Dan and I have moved on to our next Big Idea At the Moment, but thanks for asking. Implicit in your question (besides the sneer, I haven’t posted much in the online comics community for a few years, but I knows me an internet sneer when I sees one) is the idea that my failure to sell my concept means you’ve somehow proven your point to me, but… nah. Perhaps it’s the security of a good day job, or perhaps it’s my insane inclination to value a good time, or perhaps it’s just age and seasoning and the calm that comes with life experience, but I figure I wouldn’t trade places with DJ Coffman any day of the week. I can’t imagine the pain and the hassle he must be going through, especially after singing Platinum’s praises all that time, but if that’s where the Ian Harker School of Comix Business gets you then I’m doubly inclined to take a pass.

  41. John E Williams says:

    And yeah, it’s possible that I could have had a “nice little run on a book that got him some exposure” and I “could quit at any point [I] wanted to launch the original idea with much more experience and cache then [I] had back at square one”. It’s more probable that I’d end up like Steve Gerber (assuming my concept was anywhere near the caliber of his), but in any case the bottom line is that I and my partner continue to own our concept(s) and can do any damn thing we feel like with them. That’s FREEDOM, baby!

  42. It’s intriguing to me that everyone here is missing the basics of why such shitty deals get foisted on desperate artists and writers all the time:

    No one treats this as a business.

    Same goes for indie filmmakers who shoot a movie and try to “cash in” without benefit of lawyer or producer’s representation. They also don’t do their homework and realize they have to deliver more than just the movie itself.

    If you don’t treat comics or movies or whatever — as a business — then YOU ARE going to be taken advantage of…

    So the next time you create a comic, stop. Put it up on the web yourself. Design some cool merchandise to go with it that you can sell. Put some sweat equity into marketing it to its intended audience. Use every free tool the internet has to offer to build a business and a reputation.

    Treat it as a business, and don’t give away the store.

  43. Back in the day when I was breaking into the comics biz, I got myself into the beginnings of a deal. I was as enthusiastic and determined to get my work published as any neophyte. But I began to have misgivings about this deal. At a convention I explained the deal to a big-name cartoonist. He told me the deal stunk. His words weren’t the sole reason I then got out of the deal as fast as I could–not very gracefully, I’m afraid–but they were a factor. (I refrain from mentioning the big-name cartoonist’s actual name here, but for years whenever I ran into him he would remind me that he saved my ass.)

    Why would anyone just entering this business NOT seriously consider the advice of those who’ve been there? Those who don’t listen will have to take their lumps, perhaps deservedly so. There are going to be lumps in everyone’s career, no matter what. It’s probably best to avoid the ones that everyone is screaming at you to turn aside from.

  44. John, I didn’t mean it as a sneer actually. I was just wondering because I wanted to use it as an example for the scerenio I layed out in my last post. Instead of waiting for an answer though I just used a hypothetical.

    Obviously with a deal like this anyone could get royally screwed, but it seems like based on Coffman’s experience that if you go into the deal with the right understanding and the right attitude you could use it as a productive stepping stone.

    Because of the controversy his name and his book have been all over the front pages of the nerdosphere. If he had self-published his stuff he might still be back at square one. I’ll bet you anything that Heidi and Tom get 10 books a day from self-publishers that just get thrown into the slush bin. Cache is a big tool, it pays to be perceived as an insider in this business where the number of outsiders trying to make it in grows at an exponential rate everyday.

  45. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Ian, you can always construct feverish scenarios tailor-made to justify any business outcome. It doesn’t mean anything. What is your point exactly? No one here has failed to express sympathy for creators and the contract they feel they sometimes must sign, so you can’t be trying to justify their decisions because no one’s attacking such decisions except when they involve the willful refusal to consider advice.

    Under your logic, the poignancy and final outcome of Jackie Robinson’s career justifies institutional racism.

  46. “It’s more probable that I’d end up like Steve Gerber (assuming my concept was anywhere near the caliber of his), but in any case the bottom line is that I and my partner continue to own our concept(s) and can do any damn thing we feel like with them. That’s FREEDOM, baby! ”

    But freedom, as someone once noted, is just another word for nothin’ left to lose. The work of being a publisher can be good, if one has the stomach and the finances for it, but those things don’t go hand-in-hand with being a comics creator. (Someone earlier suggested that the big self-publishing successes all had strong business sense; I’d point out that the three names that come to mind as long-running successful “self-publishers” all had something else: a spouse who was the actual publisher. I don’t know how much of the actual business vision came from Robin Moore, Vijaya Iyer, and Deni Loubert, but they were all there at the very least taking on a lot of the practical effort during crucial periods of their spouse’s books.)

    So the advice might be that if you want to make it in “self”-published comics, marry well… although as at least one person quoted above might point out, being married can itself create problems with your publishing and rights.

  47. Is not the assertion that “there will always be another avenue” another feverish tailor-made scenerio? Everybody’s case is different. I’m just exploring the other end of the argument. It’s a reaction to the universal condemnation for this situation. When you universally condemn one side of the story you obscure the reasons why that side exists in the first place.

    John’s an example of someone who was rubbed the wrong way by Platinum. He would probably be the type of person that would be smart enough to take your advice. But yet his idea is still on the shelf. He’s still waiting for that next bus while the experts continue to whistle on the down the road.

  48. John E Williams says:

    Ian, and I feel like we’re all ganging up on Ian, which I don’t mean to do, but Ian, you make me sad. Are you seriously arguing that being essentially fired off his own project was in the end a GOOD thing for DJ, since it resulted in him having “been all over the front pages of the nerdosphere”? I mean, holy shit.

    Look: clearly, we two are speaking different languages here. You seem to assume that anyone having anything to with comics has the same goals and ambitions as yourself but that you’re the one who’s figured out how to pull it off. If only Event A would be followed by Event B, coinciding with Event C, then we’d all be rich! you seem to say, and it may well be that one day you can shake that moneymaker in my Platinum-free face, but right now it wouldn’t hurt to seriously consider some of the caveats and arguments being offered here.

  49. John E Williams says:

    Nat: (hey Nat! I remember you.) Some excellent points. I was being slightly flippant, but the truth is I’d rather sit on my ass and let someone else do the business side of stuff, as long as we had an equitable agreement. (I’d also like free pie, daily.) Unfortunately, my wife is way too smart to start any sort of (money-oriented) business with me.

    On the other hand, thanks to the Internet, self-publishing (by which I am referring to getting one’s work out in public, never mind making any $$) is nowhere near the financial horror story it was way back when I was a young artist with wonky delusions. So there are always… possibilities.

    And Ian (hi Ian!): Platinum didn’t rub me the wrong way, they simply did not have available the terms I was interested in. The end.

    I’m not waiting for any bus — to take the analogy to a slightly silly extreme, I’m keeping an eye out for a ride, but I may not necessarily take it. Maybe I’ll just walk. Or order another beer. Better those options than to get aboard with a drunk bus driver and find myself down the road lying in a twisted, smoking wreck . (Man, did I say “slightly” silly? Never mind.)

  50. I don’t make the kinds of comics that have anything to do with money, lol. (for better or for worse)

    I’m just playing devil’s advocate. I’m not saying that Tom & Heidi’s advice is bad advice. Actually, it’s probably good advice for most situations. I’m just trying to illustrate some situations where dealing with one of these contracts could be a positive experience.

    It’s like joining the Army. It’s probably a bad idea, but if you know how to watch your ass you might be able to turn it into a productive stepping stone.

  51. Oh yeah duh, and i guess really my main point is that self-pub isn’t exactly a rosey scenerio. Or at least it’s dire enough to even seriously weigh a shitty contract like Platinum’s against it. IMHO.

    That’s really waht I was trying to get at… some 2o posts later. Sorry about that.

  52. Tom Spurgeon says:

    I guess Ian wins, because I have no idea what the hell he’s talking about.

    However I do appreciate, in these rough economic times, all the attention being paid to public transport.

  53. OK, here is the short version:

    Tom & Heidi say: Anyone who would sign these contracts is nuts, don’t touch them with a ten foot pole. There are always better options.

    Ian says: But sometime there might not be better options, and sometime the last option (self-pub) might not be a promising avenue.

    Tom & Heidi say: No! No! No! Creator’s rights, uber alles!

    Ian says: but, but, but…

    Tom & Heidi say: There you go being loadmouth no-nothing Ian again! Shut up and no your role!

    Ian says: But I like your blogs! (wink)

  54. You gotta love the ‘don’t give them your best idea!’ advice. Because publishers everywhere are just dying for more half-baked pitches from newbies in their slush pile.

    Publishers everywhere are looking for (what they think are) really great ideas and usually don’t publish anything less. So if you want to get published it’s generally your best idea that will get you published. Anything less typically gets you no where.

  55. That would seem to make sense Jamie if it wasn’t for John’s testamonial that his fully-developed idea was rejected by the publisher i question for not being half-baked enough!

  56. edit: “publisher in question”

  57. Why does anybody try to argue anything with Ian Harker? He’s an idiot who is about as divorced from the actual business of producing comics as a cartoonist could be. You might as well try explaining quantum mechanics to a pug.

  58. Thanks for the kind words KTJ.

    Sheesh!

    So much for there being no insider-bias in the comics community. Note to everyone on the outside, don’t be like me. Don’t have an opinion. Please read the press release before commenting.

    Wow, why would anyone ever argue with me? Well, let’s just make sure we all get the same press releases so there is nothing left to argue about from now on. Whatevz.

  59. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Okay, I do kind of remember running around and shouting in German at one point.

  60. Oh well, it was a spirited and interesting discussion. But before it gets any uglier let’s just cap if off. In the end, my opinion is that I don’t fully agree with Tom’s sentiments, and Tom clearly doesn’t agree with mine at all. It’s not the end of the world.

    Thanks to everyone who chimed in.

  61. Tom Spurgeon says:

    I’m afraid I thought this was a mostly stupid discussion filled with uninformed nonsense, all of it that I can recall from Ian. I would join hm in saying “I guess we just disagree” but I don’t respect Ian’s opinion enough on this matter to say that, particularly in how he constantly scrambled and re-shaped what he was saying as he was confronted by perfect counter-examples. Declaring at the end that he was suffering from insider bias against his contrarian views by big-dick industry swingers like Thor Jensen was just the bright shiny turd on top of a rhetorical fecal sundae.

    I’m sure Ian’s a nice guy, and I suppose he could mean well, but I’m told he has a history of doing this. If he’s the devil’s advocate, the Forces of Good should take everything they can to court right this very minute.

    A shitty deal is just a shitty deal. Defending the people who enter into these deals as doing so because they have no other option isn’t every convincing because in almost every case they do, and is totally beside the point because no one is attacking them! In fact, I think I’ve personally said twice now that I sympathize with creators making less than perfect decisions, because sometimes that’s what we all do. Evan said much the same thing. In other words, I’m not against DJ Coffman, I want to see him do well and not have to suffer these hassles. I might disagree with DJ, but that’s not the same as wanting to see him fail. I mean, if he’s OK with everything now just because they forked over cash that was his all along, well, that’s as shockingly short-sighted as his rudely stated insistence months back that everything was going to go great.

  62. Tom, how many comic properties become big money sucesses? Out of a hundred? One even?

    Have you ever heard of a calculated risk?

    I know ever since the Image revolution it’s been jammed down creator’s throats that every single highly derivative idea that they ever come up with is as precious as a little snowflake, but c’mon. Not for nothin’, but this “Hero by Night” comic, the guy has a frickin’ power-ring for christ’s sake!

    I’ll just leave it at that. I think we lionize this shit a little too much.

    I know you think I’m bullshit, but I know groupthink when I see it.

  63. rajiv says:

    DJ Coffman will do well as soon as he starts producing quality work. Or mildly above average work. Or even mediocre, banal tripe. At this point though, he’s still operating around the bottom of the drain.

  64. “Not for nothin’, but this “Hero by Night” comic, the guy has a frickin’ power-ring for christ’s sake!”

    Ian, this technique you have of advancing your stance not through some logical argument, but just by stating something as if its supposed to carry weight in itself, that’s not apt to have much effect in a conversation where people aren’t already seeing things from your point of view. The fact that you say “frickin'” isn’t likely to make others dismiss Hero By Night any more than your calling for the end of the invocation of Siegel and Shuster is going to make them seem less relevant. That you claim there will never be another Eastman and Laird is not apt to convince people that it’s true. In discussions like this, it’s best to show your work — if there is work to be shown.

  65. Tom: “I mean, if he’s OK with everything now just because they forked over cash that was his all along, well, that’s as shockingly short-sighted as his rudely stated insistence months back that everything was going to go great. ”

    If they’re living up to the deal, then he is likely to aim any disappointment at himself; after all, he agreed to the deal. That’s a very different situation than when they aren’t. As such, it doesn’t sound short-sighted. It sounds like taking responsibility for one’s own actions.

  66. Yeah, that was one of those “just got home from the bar” comments. I’ll leave it alone. It’s a very broad issue, and because of that I’ve been all over the map with my statements. I don’t really even care about these kinds of comics anyway.

  67. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Ian, again, I have no idea what you’re talking about. Strangely, I’m still 99.99 percent you’re wrong.

    Nat, with *you* I’ll respectfully suggest we simply disagree.

  68. Nat, I disagree that young creators are not being offered enough viable options outside of obviously bad contracts like Platinum and Tokyopop.

    It seems to me that these days. All the traditional channels are still there and have better deals. I have many friend who work for hire out of marvel and dc and love it. In addition there are so Manu more opportunities to successfully self publish or web publish.

    It’s unfair to paint all successful webcomics as tee shirt salesmen parading as comic artists. There is a wide variety of business models and revenue streams being implemented online. Its not all tee shirts.

    The problem is age-old: people are just looking for the quick and easy path to overnight success that these snakes are peddling. Some of them, as in he case with DJ Coffman, even get hired to assist with the peddling.

    Its all hard work and a little luck. No matter what way you go. If it was easy, everyone would do it.

  69. also: typing on an iPhone makes you appear even stupider than you really are.

  70. Scott: I didn’t say that options are not available to creators. I was addressing the “us old timers stood there telling these kids it was a bad idea. We’ve been saying it for years. And the kids storm out of the room” aspect of the post, noting that when the lecture is delivered (and I’ve seen it many times) the people lecturing generally don’t present options… and you can usually count on hearing from a few voices that don’t recognize any mid-range of reasonable publishing contract. It’s a method unlikely to be effective in getting the kids to listen.

    Similarly, I didn’t say that there is only one business model for webcomics; I’ve been following webcomics models since the folks at Abba Dabba were selling PDFs. Again, I was talking about what the newcomers get told in these situations, and even in this thread we see things like “So the next time you create a comic, stop. Put it up on the web yourself. Design some cool merchandise to go with it that you can sell”, which I think meets the description. (Only vaguely relevant digression: I think your “I beat Tetris” shirt is my favorite webcomics shirt I’ve seen.)

    You may well know DJ better than I; I think I may have briefly met him once, but am not certain. Nothing I’ve seen online from him tells me that he was expecting overnight success – he did work that got himself paid and published, and that’s a significant step in building a career. Might his time and effort been better used in some other direction? Perhaps. But he achieved some of his goals – at a cost.

  71. Nat,

    Good to hear you clarify some of those things, and I’m sorry that I inferred meaning you did not intend. Myself and a couple of my friends have taken some ownership in putting out a good message for new creators. We do it weekly in our podcast and also in our book (so you got a free and paid route to our advice if you are interested in it).

    I don’t think I know DJ any better than anyone else. But I’ve been privy to his bullshit ranting since he signed with Platinum. He never thought he was going to be an overnight success. He just saw an opportunity and he milked it as far as it would go. And he was willing to tout the company line to keep in good graces as long as he could. Shit went sour, and he turned on them long enough to get his payments. Now he’s out the door and if HBN ever makes any money, hopefully he’ll get the cut he was promised from any profits.

  72. I’m glad to hear your spreading your word.

  73. Er, “you’re” of course. I blame the mistake on Scott typing on an iPhone.

  74. JOHN E. WILLIAMS:
    “About five years ago, my partner Dan Parent received a hilarious and bizarre response to a promo package we sent to Platinum for our Big Idea At the Time. The editor literally scolded us via e-mail for sending a product he deemed TOO finished and ordered us to “next time” send only very sketchy ideas.”

    AMAZING … ordinarily, I’ve gotten the exact opposite impression. Editors want to know where you’re going with a concept, if it’s meant to be more than a one-shot thing.

    Maybe he deemed it “too finished,” meaning there isn’t enough room for our marketing guys to F*** with your concept, and add all sorts of crap that doesn’t belong.

  75. IAN:

    “Also, like I said as well, if you’re a one-hit wonder, you’ll always be a one-hit wonder regardless of what kind of deal you had. If you’re good enough you should be able to survive a few pitfalls along the way.”

    I’m not interested in beating up on old Ian … but I don’t entirely agree with this. Siegel & Shuster may have been one-hit wonders … but their one hit, SUPERMAN, has earned countless BILLIONS for Time-Warner. To hear Harry Donnenfeld’s son years later (in an interview), he believed that Siegel and Shuster were these terrible ingrates … how dare they expect money in exchange for the honor of working for DC Comics?

    As for saving your best idea, sometimes people don’t know their best idea, until it’s in front of the public. Likewise, the “great idea” you’re preparing might turn out to be your least popular property.

  76. John E Williams says:

    rich: “Maybe he deemed it “too finished,” meaning there isn’t enough room for our marketing guys to F*** with your concept, and add all sorts of crap that doesn’t belong.”

    That’s precisely what I took from his response. I also took his near-insistence that we start sending him less-finished ideas pronto as a compliment, but I wasn’t dumb enough to do it.

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