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The Creator's Bill of Rights:
Al's Letter to Dave Sim 2

The following letter is one of many that I had written to Dave Sim addressing the continuing discussions of creator's rights. Keeping on the topic of The Creatorís Bill of Rights and to respond to the points Dave raised in his previous letters, I've decided to post only parts of the letter that are relevant to creator's rights. -Al Nickerson

May 23, 2005

Hi Dave,

I am enclosing some new comments by Tom Spurgeon in response to Steve Bissetteís May 21, 2005 letter. Iím surprised that Tom didnít directly respond to anything that you had to say to him.

I do recall Don Simpsonís problems with Denis Kitchen over the Megaton Man negatives. I was reminded of the conflict when, about a month or so ago, I was flipping through Donís new Megaton Man trade paperback. It looked like Don had printed the tpb from shooting (or scanning) the actual comics, and not using the original negatives. This made the quality of the Megaton Man tpb look quite muddy. So, I didnít purchase a copy. I loved the first Megaton Man comics, and I would have loved even more to have a tpb of those books, but not when they are so poorly reproduced.

It seems, to me anyway, that the conflict between Denis and Don is a bit spiteful. Denis canít use the negatives. Don wants the negatives. So, why not work out some sort of arrangement? The whole mess seems quite silly to me. But, then we are talking about the business of comics.

I am curious to find out the details in the settlement between Denis and Don. Since, again, Donís Megaton Man trade paperback looks so crummy, I canít imagine Don being happy with whatever settlement they came up with.

So, Iíve had the chance to put some thoughts "down on paper". Hereís what Iíd like to callÖ

Standards for Ethical Behavior and Practices in Comics:
Working with other Creators

I donít if know Iím prepared to say that all creators must behave strictly to a certain set of standards in regards to behavior. I would hope that creators, publishers, and others would (on their own) behave ethically, but that might just be a pipedream. What I am saying is that maybe there should be some sort of template of ethics to abide by when working with other creators on creator-owned collaborations.

I mean, because there really is no sort of template is there? Or none that has been made public, anyway.

Is there a need for contracts? Or is an understanding (one that they both must strictly adhere to) between the creators sufficient enough? Is a handshake good enough or do creators have to get all the details down on paper?

If you sign a contract with another publisher (for example) the working conditions and ethics (or lack there of) are already set. All you have to do is get the work finished on time and adhere to your responsibilities that are detailed in your contract. (Note that here Iím referring to when a creator might lend his craft to a publisher (penciling or inking or such) and not when a creator might sell (or give away) any of his ideas or creations).

Youíve brought up some very interesting points during our conversations in regards to all this. I think that the Dave Sim and Gerhard working relationship is a good one. However, I donít see many creators being able to work with each other under that example, especially when one or both of them do not want to engage in such a long term working relationship. Still, this is a great example.

I also like your perspective in regards to your and Will Eisnerís The Spirit/Cerebus jam story. In the case of this project, you stated, "In my view, if my work is on that page, I have the right to reproduce that page unless I formally agree otherwise in a binding legal agreement drawn up by a lawyer and witnessed by two individuals." I think each creator has a right to control the reprinting of a work that they lend their character(s) to. Although, unlike what you had mentioned, I do think it polite that permission is given from the other party when you want to reprint the work. What happens when your co-collaborator doesnít want that work reprinted elsewhere? What happens when (and I really doubt that this would happen) if the Eisner family says, "No, Mr. Sim, you may not reprint The Spirit/Cerebus jam story in Following Cerebus or anywhere else!" Now, that could be a really sticky situation. I would hope that ethical behavior would prevail when something like that occurs.

Using your example of Spawn #10 (which I think is a good example. Sorry Steve), you stated, "I do think that I have the right to reprint pages that I worked on, including Spawn #10". I absolutely agree. Not only did you write the story, but your own character, Cerebus, appears in the story as well. So, you should be able to reprint that story if you wanted to. However, you also stated elsewhere, "if Todd pays me $100,000 for a comic-book story he owns that story outright, no questions asked." Now, that statement would lead me to believe that you are saying that you, Dave Sim, no longer has any ownership to that story. Todd McFarlane does. In which case that would mean, to me anyway, that you, Dave Sim, wouldnít be able to reprint the story if you wanted to, only Todd could. So, Iím a little confused by this. It seems youíre saying two different things in regards to Spawn #10. Or maybe Iím just missing something.

I had mentioned one time on the phone that I donít think money should be a factor in any of this. I think that if you believe that you have control (in this case, reprint rights) of a story when your character appears in that story, then you should still retain control of that story regardless of the amount of money you were paid. Now, unless you had some sort of deal with Todd McFarlane where you gave up some of your rights to Spawn #10 in exchange for a truckload of money, then thatís a different situation.

I would be curious to know the agreement (if there was one) between Erik Larsen and Don Simpson for The Savage Dragon Vs. The Savage Megaton Man Savage Dragon #1. I e-mailed Don to see if he has anything to say about this (no response yet). We should ask Erik about that, too.

So, I (mostly) like The Spirit/Cerebus jam template when working with other creators on creator-owned collaborations. Itís very similar to the working relations I had with the other fellas on Crossover Classics.

Iím going to repeat myself here from a previous letter I wrote to you to clarify things a bitÖ

Back in 2001, I was involved in a similar partnership involving Crossover Classics. This was a comic book story which was produced by myself, Greg Hyland, Steve Remen, John Gallagher, and Michael Kornstein. We had decided to do a comic book story which featured the teaming of each of our characters. The story was initially an Online Comic that started on my website, continued onto Gregís website, and then finished back at my site. The parts of the crossover for my site were written and drawn by Michael and myself. Gregís part of the crossover for his site was produced by Steve and himself. About a year later, John and Greg wanted to publish their own trade paperback and annual (respectfully) of their comics. They both wanted to include the crossover in their books, and all that took was to ask each of us our permission. There was no contract involved and no money exchanged. We worked in good faith. We had a mutual respect and understating for each other and the project. Everything worked out fine, we are all friends, and Crossover Classics was a joy to work on. My only concern, at the time, was that proper copyright info be given whenever the story saw print, and that was no problem to see done. Also, Iím sure it would be no problem if any of the rest of us that worked on Crossover Classics wanted to reprint the story in our own.

However, I have worked with one other comic book creator in a similar fashion where things didnít end so nicely. In this case, the first self-published ARGGH!!! comic book, we had a working agreement between the two of us. We both wrote the stories. He penciled them. I inked and lettered the comics. The comics featured both of our creator-owned characters interacting with each other. The ARGGH!!! comic was self-published and follow up Online Comics (webcomics) were posted at my website. However, about a year or so later, things went sour between the creator and myself. The creator reneged on our agreement and I was forced to remove the Online Comics from my website. Also, unfortunately, reprinting any of this material will never be an option. So, all my time and effort working on those stories were wasted. And I got burned in the process. So, even though, in this case, an agreement was made, when one person behaves unethically, if he (or she) backs out of the agreement, what do you do then?

Iíve always thought that an agreement is an agreement, and that people shouldnít renege on any agreement. However, I found out the hard way that this isnít always so. I guess this might be a good example of where a contract is needed at the beginning of a working relationship.

I hope all is well. God be with you, as always.

Forward and onwardÖ

Al Nickerson
Next: A Letter from Dave Sim 4 Dave Sim addresses Steve Bissette's previous letter and a few points of Al Nickerson's above letter.