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The Creator's Bill of Rights:
A Letter from Dave Sim 8

Below is a letter from Dave Sim where Dave addresses Steve Bissette’s previous letter, comments from the forum and The Pulse forum. -Al Nickerson

17 August 05

Al Nickerson


Nice to hear from you. I don’t know why I keep thinking that this whole discussion is just going to evaporate at some point but it’s always a surprise when I find one of your big, beefy envelopes in the mailbox. Hard to tell if any progress is being made, but I’m sure that’s true of a lot of things.

Steve Bissette

Didn’t mean to rub Steve’s fur the wrong way that badly. In my own view, I’m not demonizing Neil, I’m disagreeing with him. Or rather I’m disagreeing with the way that Steve perceives and is portraying Neil’s situation relative to Spawn 9. I have no idea if Neil agrees with Steve or not. I think the question is one of "What exactly was Neil asked to bring to the table?" in agreeing to do a Spawn guest-writing gig and, as far as I know, none of that was covered in the deposition stage of their trial or, if it was, the depositions weren’t quoted in CBG (the only place I saw it reported). What, specifically, did Todd offer to Neil over the phone and what, specifically, did Neil agree to? Yes, there’s no question that a lot of Todd’s motivation was to engage the services of comics’ two most highly respected writers (Alan and Neil) and two of comics’ most highly respected writer-artists (Frank and myself) (mm. Make that one of comics’ most highly respected writer-artists and one misogynistic, self-publishing crackpot). In the context of the time, a major criticism levelled at Image from the beginning was that the writing was atrocious which might have had more to do with Youngblood being the first book released than anything else—I don’t think Rob Liefeld would dispute that writing was never his strongest suit. If you want to go far enough back, you can refer to Erik Larsen’s anonymous letters to CBG where he effectively dismissed writers as irrelevant in the age of the writer-artist. That became part of the baggage that Image had to deal with when it was formed by the gang of writer-artists that Erik was presumably referring to and who were—critically if not popularly—perceived to be more artists than writers. Pin-up art. They didn’t tell a story they just did a lot of full-figure shots and so on with one eye always on how much they could sell the original page for. In porno it’s called "the money shot" and this is what these guys were seen to be trafficking in c. 1991-1992. Whether you agree(d) with the assessment or not, like so many "reputation" things in the comic-book field (I know whereof I speak), it stuck. Getting guest writers to contribute to Spawn was a good political response from someone I consider a good gut-level politician in the comic-book field. You break the "atrocious writing" reputation by confronting it head-on. You get Alan and Neil and Dave and Frank to change the nature of the assessment…

(and, as Todd rather gleefully told me over the phone, you do it by turning it into a "pissing contest"—who can piss the farthest. And I think that was possibly part of what appealed to Neil who had already followed Alan Moore on Miracleman: presumably both for the creative challenge of measuring up to Alan’s work and reputation—can you think of anyone else who would willingly follow Alan Moore on a title?—and for the genuine affection and regard that he holds for Alan (which is unquestionable). I certainly wanted to write a good story that wouldn’t look out of place alongside Alan’s and Neil’s and Frank’s and personally I’m not offended by the term "pissing contest" although I assume that Neil would be. It’s just a very Todd-like way of expressing the natural competitiveness between creative people.)

…by using them to beat the perception over the head for four consecutive months which effectively worked. Image continued to be criticized—particularly for their pathological lateness—but the blanket criticism that the books were universally badly written pretty much dried up in the aftermath of the four guest shots and Image books came to be assessed on their individual merits rather than dismissed by blanket condemnation (except of course for the Comics Journal whose blanket condemnations include, universally, anything that isn’t a Fantagraphics—or "Fantagraphicsoid"—title).

For me, I thought it was fun in the sense that I had never before participated in framing a super-hero mythos, a key element in the comic-book field in which I had been participating for nearly two decades. It was in the spirit of fun that I was the one who phoned Alan and asked him what he was writing in issue 8 so I could tie my story into his. When he told me about the Levels of Hell, I told him to mention Level Seven as an unknown kind of thing—spooky, spooky—which he "affably" agreed to do without even asking what I was up to. I had Neil send me his script and thumbnails (which I had forgotten but ran across putting together the Cerebus Archive) so that I could do as reasonable a segue from his story into my political cartoon as possible and, so far as I remember I sent my script to Frank so that he could incorporate something from what I had done into his own issue (a reference in the first couple of pages to Spawn having a terrible dream including "an aardvark who smoked", as I recall).

So, I think there’s a problem with trying to establish this as an "All Business" transaction with Todd as the cigar-smoking exploitive CEO of Spawn, Inc. and the four of us as high-priced guns-for-hire who didn’t know Todd from Adam and who were universally and warily holding him at arm’s length. To me—and the impression that I had from Alan and from Neil and from Frank when I tried to do a minimal amount of coordination—this was a lark, a bit of fun. I’m not sure if I even knew that I was getting paid when I talked to the other three and there was certainly none of the usual sharing of business confidences that tend to mark these situations when it’s just you and another artist on the phone talking behind the publisher’s back. I phoned Todd at one point and asked for some inside stuff on Spawn that I could mention in the first two pages. It was interesting to me that I only had to read, at the time, five comic books and I had the entirety of Spawn’s "back-story" to work with. To do the same thing today, I’d have to read over 150 comic books which to me is the difference between "fun" and "excruciating".

Now, it may well be true that Neil was looking on this as a "prostitution" gig along the lines of the strip "En Route" that Steve Bissette did about their conversation on the subject in the Neil Gaiman tribute publication for the 1993 Chicago Comicon where Neil espouses a very cold-blooded, very dispassionate, all business approach to writing corporate comics. Permit me to quote it here:

Neil: I saw an interview with Ice-T on the thingee the other night. And he pretty much summed it up by saying something like: "If a creative person is a whore, then the corporation is the pimp…and never think that your pimp loves you. That’s when a whore gets hurt. So just get out there and wiggle your little bottom." …or whatever and that’s roughly what he said.

Steve: Fine, fine, but—you’re a writer, not a whore, Neil. You’re one hell of a writer—

Neil: Why, thenk you. But I’m a whore, too, and a very good one at that. I make my living by selling myself.

Steve: No. Selling your work—they’re not the same thing!

Neil: Look, Steve. It’s not like Tundra who insist you love them if you work with them.

DC doesn’t love me and I don’t love them, so we work together just fine. Never make the mistake of assuming a corporation—your pimp—loves you.

Steve: Well, then, Neil. Your current pimp date-raped me, okay?

Now I have no idea if the conversation actually took that form, but that was evidently Neil’s philosophy back in ‘93—contemporaneous with the Spawn issue—if Steve Bissette is to be believed. If that was, indeed, Neil’s philosophy at the time, I think he got compensated adequately for turning a $100,000 "trick". That’s always going to be a matter of opinion, of course, how much you want to get paid for whatever acrobatics you’re selling the john in question if you’re someone who rents yourself out to johns.

Todd also did a strip for that same booklet called "The True Story Behind Neil’s Acceptance to write Spawn Number Nine…"

Todd: It’s the right thing to do. Creators need to band with one another!

Neil: nope.

Todd: Alan Moore and Dave Sim and Frank Miller said yes!

Neil: nope.

Todd: It could really get your work out to a wider audience!

Neil: nope.

Todd: Plus it will piss off the right people!!

Neil: nope.

Todd: You can rewrite the Spawn’s history for all I care!

Neil: nope.

Todd: I’ll give you a million bucks!

Neil: I’m in.

Does that change the situation? Assuming that Todd was exaggerating the amount and caricaturing the phone call, was that—even roughly—how the conversation went? If it was a pure money transaction and once the dollar amount was established, Neil went for it then I would think that that might change the complexion of the creator’s rights issues involved. If Todd offered Neil $100,000 to write a comic book, and Neil agreed and didn’t ask "What about ancillary rights?" then presumably Todd is on solid ground, he bought Neil’s comic book story and everything that went with it when he named the dollar amount and Neil said, "Sold." I think it’s interesting that Todd offers to let Neil rewrite Spawn’s history and I think that indicates a schism in their thinking and the extent to which Todd drastically underrated Neil’s significance in the field (and, I would infer, the value of writers in general relative to himself and his new creation). Arguably it would be more of an incentive to say "You don’t have to add anything new, you can just retype the third issue using new adjectives!" When Todd said to me that I could write 20 pages of Spawn sitting on the toilet if I wanted and he would draw it and publish it, it seemed to me more in that direction. Suggesting that Neil could rewrite Spawn’s history puts Spawn as an intellectual property on a higher plateau than Neil himself, as if Todd was saying "I’ll let you rewrite Superman’s history!" as if Neil would be getting the better of the deal in being able to say that he rewrote Spawn’s history rather than Todd getting the better of the deal in getting the #2 writer in the field to write his "series bible" for him. Twelve years later on, I think the latter scenario would’ve proved closer to the mark. Neil is still the #2 writer in the field so far as I know but Spawn has plummeted in popularity from the top-selling title overall by a very wide margin to the top-selling title for the #3 or #4 company and in terms of hard numbers from approximately a million copies an issue to approximately however many tens of thousands it sells.

Of course, suggesting that this was just an "En Route" (please don’t shoot the messenger, Steve wrote the strip, not me) prostitution gig for Neil wouldn’t come close to dovetailing with the—no other word for it— "woundedness"—that Neil expressed to me over the phone when I was trying to broker some sort of settlement between him and Todd. As he expressed it to me then, he had thought he was participating in this Brave New World of creator participation diametrically opposed to the unhappy state of affairs I was documenting in my issue-length political cartoon on work-made-for-hire and, as it turned out instead, his creation, Angela, was taken away from him and metaphorically put behind bars by Todd in a manner analogous to my story in Spawn 10. That was the first time that I began to wonder if the proximity of Spawn’s 9 and 10 wasn’t part of the problem, representing a head-on collision between Steve Bissette’s "En Route" Neil the hooker—pimping himself and Angela—and Neil the sensitive creator who wanted to protect himself but more importantly protect his creation and the fact that those two Neil’s (if we’re to believe Steve Bissette’s "En Route" story) happily coexist(ed?) in the same writer.

As a self-publisher, the whole thing was pretty much out of my ballpark. On the rare occasions I’ve worked for someone else my motivation hasn’t been prostitution or figuring out who’s the pimp and who’s the hooker. Did I pimp Cerebus to Kevin and Peter and to Todd? Well, no. I don’t think I did. I would have rather that Cerebus had been coloured grey than brown in Spawn 10 and that he would’ve had a sports jacket on instead of a leather jacket. I didn’t make a fuss about it, but I don’t think that made me Todd’s bitch. I did write the cover gag of "GAH! Color!" which everyone seemed to like but that hardly made it a situation of Todd being my bitch because I "made him" change the cover. I faxed the suggested change and he made it.

I was certainly attracted to the Turtles money that Kevin was offering and I could see someone saying that that was prostitution on my part. As Pierre Trudeau said when it was reported that Nixon had called him an asshole—"I’ve been called worse things by better people." It depends on how you look at it. As likewise, I don’t think I’m being overly "chummy" with Erik Larsen and I don’t think that Erik and I are being elitists. Is it elitist to say that some artists draw faster than others and have a more consistent track record of productivity? I have a lot of respect for Erik as a guy who racked up a lot of numbers on the big board on his own title. I think I would have more to talk with Erik about than the other Image partners for that reason. His elevation to the role of publisher is proving to be a good news/bad news story for retailers. The good news: Image Comics are developing a better track record of commercially viable titles. The bad news: No Savage Dragon in Diamond Previews the last while.

With all due respect, I think Steve needs to take a few deep breaths and regroup. I thought we agreed that we were going to avoid name-calling in these discussions. "Elitist" is a pejorative and, I think, unhelpful. It seems to me an ill-concealed attempt to get me to stop discussing productivity by making the issue of productivity one of being an "elitist" (pro-productivity) and a "regular guy" (productivity is irrelevant and I take my own garbage out on garbage night)(just to keep the record absolutely straight, I, too take my own garbage out on garbage night) and is, to me, an attempt to bypass a core reality of the comic-book field. It’s a productivity-based commercial/ creative environment. Even the slowest comic book artist has to draw about twenty times faster than the average commercial artist just to stay in the game. Trying to make productivity irrelevant to a discussion of creator’s rights in the comic-book field is comparable to trying to make physical strength irrelevant in a discussion of NFL draft picks.

In an attempt to raise this discussion back up out of the gutter of name-calling and onto the plateau of civilized discourse, I would suggest that what we are discussing are different vantage points on creator’s rights and we’re discussing specific instances. The Spawn guest writer issues seem to me a fruitful thing to discuss specifically because it encapsulates a lot of the issues we’re discussing in an instance that is reasonably fresh in everyone’s memories, which everyone is aware of and that happened sufficiently long ago that it can be discussed (I previously thought, anyway) without going ballistic or descending into name-calling. I’m not demonizing Neil, but I think that Steve is needlessly trying demonize me and Erik Larsen. "Either you agree with Neil’s viewpoint as espoused by me or you are full of shit!" I think it’s reasonable to think that $100,000 is fair compensation for writing a funnybook and any character you might have thrown into the pot. In fact I think it’s excessively, mind-bogglingly generous. I can understand someone not thinking that, but I would hope that the awareness is or could be reciprocal. You can disagree with my conclusions without telling me that I’m full of shit. Steve can go ballistic and get infuriated all he wants, that isn’t going to change my opinion one iota. $100,000 to write a funnybook is, to me (and from what I gather, to Erik) excessively, mind-bogglingly generous.

If I were in Neil’s situation and I had created a character in Spawn that Todd went on to use in the film and the animated cartoon and as an action figure, I would hope that what I would say is "Okay, instead of getting paid $100,000 for writing a funnybook, I got—let’s say—$65,000 for writing a funnybook, $10,000 for the character being in the film, $10,000 for it being an animated cartoon and $15,000 for the action figure." You can move the amounts around from category to category whichever way you want, I think they still come out to excessively, mind-bogglingly generous. You know any other place on God’s green earth from 1938 on that would pay you $100,000—or even half that—to write a funnybook?

My assumption at the time was that Image was an important experiment in creator’s rights, although I disagreed with Larry Marder that Image was another form of self-publishing. I based a lot of my decision-making over the years on those sorts of things. I didn’t know Todd personally but I admired the cojones he and the other guys were showing in ditching Marvel at the peak of their earning power and branching out on their own. If I ended up looking like an idiot for throwing in my lot with them with the pin-up in Spawn 4 and writing Spawn 10—which, to a degree, I did both at the time as one of the few people in the field to have anything good to say about Image and since depending on your present angle on Image’s overall value in the comic-book field—it still seemed worthwhile to me to back up what they were doing while it was still (at least theoretically) seven self-publishing cartoonists with one central office. I guess that’s a major difference between Steve’s view of "generous collaboration" and my own. I don’t think I have to be sitting around the ol’ wood stove in the Green Mountains having a chat and chaw and few brewskis and a toke with someone to see collaborating with them as worthwhile or as a gesture of commonality of purpose.

I left in the negotiations on the Cerebus book Erik is interested in publishing because it seems to me that that’s part of what’s missing here. We’re talking in vague generalities. I have no problem with that but I don’t think you can discuss creator’s rights in any meaningful way until you get down to specifics. Evidently the same thing happened with ACBA. At one point, Neal Adams had to ask Curt Swan what he was getting paid and Curt had to tell him and had to find out the hard way just how seriously underpaid he was. That’s why I was glad to see Al telling his story about discussions with another inker. If you treat what everyone is getting paid as a state secret that’s going to benefit the publishers 10 times out of 10. It allows—virtually mandates, in fact—that the structure of the comic-book field is going to be centred around "No harm in trying". If the publisher’s standard rate is $300 a page for pencils and the publisher says "We’ll give you $150 a page" to the entry-level creator and the entry level creator jumps at it, well, the publisher now has another $150 a page in the budget to pay someone else—maybe even Frank Miller or Neil Gaiman or Dave Sim. If you want to guarantee that no one is dramatically underpaid, you have to negotiate publicly. As Al said, he had no idea if he was getting paid more to ink or the other guy was. So, yes, I’ve decided to negotiate with Image publicly on the book when and where Erik has time in his schedule as Image publisher and Savage Dragon creator. Let’s see how far that goes. Does there come a point where Erik says, "Listen, Dave, I’ll be glad to answer that question in a phone call, but not on Al’s website." Well, at least the question will be there on the record. This is the question Erik Larsen, Image publisher wasn’t prepared to answer publicly. If the impression that you’re left with is of two fat capitalists smoking ten-dollar cigars and chortling to themselves, well, hey, cry me a river, Steve. You forget that I have a comparable invulnerability to your own when it comes to how people view me. It doesn’t matter what I do or say I am always going to be caricatured in some way—capitalist swine, arrogant artist, evil misogynist, insane sociopath, tyrannical womanizer, lunatic revolutionary, cold-blooded anarchist—the comic book field across the political spectrum has tried everything it can think of to have me eliminated from consideration through sequential smear campaigns and guess what? I’m still here trying to figure out how to discuss some actual issues of actual value in a reasonable tone of written voice. If you want to resort to name-calling I have a few choice ones for you as well but I don’t think our purpose here have been well-served by your indulging in it nor do I think it would be well served by my imitating your behaviour. But—as you are wont to say— It’s your call.
I don’t think I’m an elitist. I think I’m about the most egalitarian chap you could hope to find. I wouldn’t have invested the literally hundreds of hours and many thousands of dollars that I did in showing Steve Bissette how I saw things and how my angle on the comic-book business was more accurate than his own—arguing around the same circular arguments and rationalizations of how Steve wants the comic-book world to be as opposed to how the comic-book world is—if I didn’t think that arriving at a conclusion wasn’t worthwhile. I’m not unmindful of the fact that the argument you were having with Neil as you depicted it in "En Route" was informed by our own discussions of corporate comics and what I saw—and what you later came to see—as the structural flaws inherent in the system itself. It was worth every penny and every hour when, through my initiating and initially financing Taboo you finally saw how unsound the structure was because you finally had seen it both from the freelance and publisher sides of the table. One side wasn’t good and the other evil, one side was not steeped in truth and the other side "full of shit" but the structure itself was unsound.

I always at least try to deal in empirical reality. Erik and I are productive guys and, to me, that changes the nature of the rights that are at stake. In my opinion, creators should be sharply aware of the specifics of their own productivity from the very earliest point in their career and tailor the business choices of their creativity around the "givens" of their own productivity. As I said before, if you can do 20 pages a month comfortably you can take a lot more chances than someone who can only do 5 pages a month. I think it would be more unconscionable and more elitist for me to be acting as if the fact that I produced with Ger 6,000 pages in twenty-six years put me in no different a situation than someone who has produced 100 pages in the last ten. It doesn’t make me a superior figure but it does give me an advantage in a medium that demands—and rewards—a high level of productivity and reliability. Look at your own experiment with Scott with the 24 Hour Comic. Your joint motivation at the time was a sense of futility about your own mutual lack of productivity, a way of jolting you into an awareness that "it’s only lines on paper, folks" to stop anguishing about drawing and writing—eking out an excruciating Herculean effort of a debilitating half page over four days and then another excruciating Herculean effort of a debilitating half page over the next two weeks—and to just, you know, write and draw. I’ll toot my own horn here. When, inspired by yours and Scott’s example (or in joining your "pissing contest" if you prefer) I did my 24 Hour Comic, I started with the basics. 24 pages in 24 hours, that’s one hour per page. I finished the first page and looked at the clock and it was forty minutes later. Okay, that meant I could put more time in on the next page. Which I did. The next two or three or four or five took about an hour each because I was always aware of the clock. Then one spilled over by about twenty minutes. Okay, that meant it was time to tighten up mentally. An hour and twenty minutes was too slow. I wouldn’t get done. So I ended up doing my 24 Hour Comic in about 16 hours including a break for two beers at last call at Peter’s Place. All that really demonstrates at rock bottom is being able to maintain a divided conscious awareness of the clock coupled in tandem with a measured application of writing and drawing skills. This is as detailed as I can get, this is as many panels as I can do on the page given that I only have an hour per page. It’s just mental organization. I think the problem most pathologically slow creators have is that they aren’t only slow, they’re consumed with self-loathing about it ("Jeez, I’m %$#@ing slow."). Well, all right. Granted. You’re slow. HOW slow are you? Can you do a page every three days? A page every four days? A page every five days? A page every six days? It’s not just that slow artists are slow, in my experience, it’s that they exhibit no curiosity about their own productivity. If you can do a page every three days, you can do 121 pages in a year. If you can do a page every four days, you can do 91 pages in a year. If you can do a page every five days you can do 73 pages in a year. If you can do a page every six days you can do 60 pages in a year.

As that astute observer of the verities which underpin our civilization, Foghorn Leghorn, once famously remarked, "That’s mathematics, son—FIGURES, that is! You can argue with ME but you CAN’T, I say, you can’t ARGUE with FIGURES!"

I think this is a useful core part of the discussion and a bedrock component of creator’s rights way, way, way back at the absolute Source of the Comic Book River. If you can do 120 pages a year then you should be thinking of one kind of project. If you can do 40 pages in a year, you should be thinking of another kind of project. I don’t think these are irrelevant or tangential or elitist or dictatorial concerns. As I indicated earlier, I think creators have lost a lot of good faith on the part of fans and retailers because virtually everything comes out late these days. I think that late books being the rule rather than the exception are far more an indication of creator elitism than my indicating that some artists are more productive than others. I think it’s arrogant and offensive to be eight months late or a year late on a book. Who in the #$%@ do you think you are to be that late in fulfilling your commitments? I think that level of indignation on the part of editors and publishers, retailers and fans is completely understandable and completely justifiable. More on this in a moment.

I wouldn’t be here trying to help form a template agreement and discussing my business publicly if I didn’t think it was going to help. It certainly isn’t going to do anything to help me as a self-publisher. There is a definite Judas Goat Syndrome that I’ve been warning about for years and which is the basis of my excluding the top earners in the field from being pertinent to the discussion. In my negotiations with Vertigo over possibly doing a Fables story I’m being treated very well. But I’m being treated very well mostly because I was on Bill Willingham’s wish list of people to draw a Fables story and because I have a certain perceived name value that may or may not translate into extra sales and (let’s face facts) a reputation as a complete hard-ass when it comes to getting my own way. I’m already at the point where I’m committed not to discuss the content of the negotiations, that’s how well I’m being treated. But that—or what Neil Gaiman got when he negotiated for 1602 with Marvel—is not going to be of much use in framing a base-level template agreement. Those are exceptions, not the rule. As far as I know, we’re here to help the entry-level guys to make better choices by putting as many of those choices down on paper as we can.

I really think the next step is hard numbers. And again, I think the more we talk about Harlan Ellison or Frank Miller or Neil Gaiman or whomever, the more we’re skewing the debate from where it has the most value. All of those guys started somewhere and did their fair share of entry level "menial creativity". The fact that Frank Miller became sharply aware of the fact that at a specific point in the 1980s all that he owned was one Bizarre Adventures story…well, that obviously has value in our discussions here: "There’s no time like the present to be aware of how little you own." And, of course, there’s no time like the present to start doing something about it. I’m sure that while Frank was putting in the hours developing Sin City, he must’ve been thinking that he was nuts when the top page rate at Marvel and a fat royalty percentage on his choice of Marvel character was only a phone call away. I was in a comparable situation drawing the first issue of Cerebus. It was certainly the only time I had drawn a 22-page story—the longest to that point had been 10 pages—and the only time I had drawn that much not only with no payday at the end but that was going to cost me money to print. In a lot of ways I had the easier task because I was in a "nothing left to lose" category. All of my (dramatically low-) paying markets had dried up. Frank had to live with the temptation of knowing that the easy money was right there for the asking—and having no idea if he was only commercially viable doing Batman and Daredevil and wondering if he was pissing away his "super-hero street cred" on a hardboiled detective genre piece.

That, to me, is the Source of the Comic Book River. What are you going to start on, sitting there with a blank piece of paper on your drawing board or the first page of an empty notebook? When you first write "page one, panel one" or do your first few sketches of your lead character or rough in the splash page or an idea for a cover or a logo. That’s where it starts. Inside of ten minutes you have gone from a "zero sum" context to being the custodian of an intellectual property. By the time Neil Gaiman was ten lines into describing his version of Sandman, there was literally hundreds of thousands dollars weighing in the balance. By the time Frank was halfway down the page describing Sin City there was tens of millions of dollars at stake. By the time Stan Lee was five lines into describing Spider-man there was hundreds of millions of dollars in the balance. That’s the awareness that we need to have as creators—that that seminal point is where all the future revenues first comes into being—LEGALLY—so all of your most critical decisions take place there as well. Do you own it or does a company own it? If you both own part of it, who owns more of it? Who gets to make all the decisions? Did you bring a collaborator in on it? Who came up with what? If you don’t have a good structural awareness of how the comic-book business works—AS a business—then you’re firing blind. Apart from familiarizing yourself with how the comic book field works AS a business (obvious distinctions between "creator owned" and "creator controlled" that can make a difference of millions of dollars depending on how your book shakes out over the decades after you produce it and what your agreement says) you should get in the habit of recording what is going on while you are coming up with something—particularly if you have a bad memory. We have to get past the idea of that being silly or arrogant or self-exalting. If you create it, it is yours to lose or yours to hang onto and the key legal elements of your intellectual property already exist at the point where all it is is a few doodles and scrawled notes on a notebook page. At that point—where you are just doodling on the page—all of the decisions are yours to make, the game is yours to lose and if you don’t take those decisions seriously and keep track of them you can pretty much count on the fact that that you will lose and not hang onto part, some, most or all of what you have created.

I think the point of the template contract isn’t to say, Okay, how much is Alan Moore worth as a scripter today and how do we compare that with an entry-level guy? It isn’t even to say, How do we get everyone a deal like Stan Lee has with Marvel? I think I’m safe in saying that a template agreement has no place in the conventional world of mainstream work-made-for-hire comic books. What we are discussing here has nothing to do with someone who is doing his own variation on Spider-man or who gets permission to turn Doc Ock into a hero for six issues or who has been given the go-ahead to redesign Thor’s costume. That’s the company’s sandbox and they—rightly—get to call the shots and derive all benefits apart from the page rate and/or royalty that they paid you to put the idea down on paper. This is what they will pay you to write, this is what they will pay you to pencil, this is what they will pay you to ink. That’s a completely different thing from actually coming up with an intellectual property. That’s what Frank Miller was one of the earliest guys in mainstream comics to recognize. If you just "go along to get along" yes, the companies will be glad to hire you to write and draw anything and everything—as will the fans. Had Frank followed the first Dark Knight with a grim and gritty Atom, a grim and gritty Flash, a grim and gritty Hawkeye, a grim and gritty Sugar and Spike, a grim and gritty Red Tornado, a grim and gritty Captain America, a grim and gritty Thor, the retailers and fans would have been beside themselves with ecstasy. Work-made-for-hire is way down the Comic Book River from the Source. Don’t think of the hot new penciller on Spider-man that joined the book six months ago. Think, instead, of Stan Lee in 1962 sitting with a legal note pad or some scratch paper and coming up with Spider-man and start with the assumption that somewhere right now, right this minute someone is coming up with the Spider-man for the 21st century—something that in 2040 will be as big a Hollywood success as Spider-man—and say, Okay, how does that guy protect himself and his intellectual property and make sure that he gets equitable compensation?

Obviously, my answer is self-publishing. If you don’t relinquish ownership then you have enough time to figure out what it is that you’re doing and make some mistakes as long as you don’t make the primary mistake which, to me, is relinquishing ownership. In that structure you can just do your comic book and avoid all of the ancillary rights headaches as I did or you can grab the Hollywood dream with both hands as Kevin and Peter did or you can do just about anything in between. For most guys, that’s a discredited viewpoint and I’ve come to accept that. Most guys take it as a given that they will sell what they do to someone else or, at the very least, they will get someone else to publish it and they will own part of it, some of it, most of it but not all of it. Most guys also take it as a given that it’s better to get paid for something you don’t own than to have to pay to print something you do own. At the time when I could’ve made more money babysitting than doing Cerebus (at a time when babysitters got 50 cents an hour), I was offered the chance to write Howard the Duck. And I turned it down. I didn’t own Howard the Duck and no matter how hard I worked on it, I never would. I owned Cerebus so even though I was making less money writing and drawing and lettering and inking the whole book and doing the cover than I would have made just writing Howard the Duck scripts, I owned Cerebus so there was no real debate in my mind about whether it was preferable to stick with Cerebus or switch to Howard.

So, it’s very difficult for me to offer advice to people who just don’t think that way. It requires me to make a leap of faith and say, how would you protect your intellectual property when you’re starting out if you won’t try self-publishing? To me, self-publishing is the only defence you have. If you do up a poster of your intellectual property and sell it then you’re establishing a proprietorship over the trademark. You’re using it, you’re making money off of it (however little). That’s protection—LEGAL protection—that will stand up in a court of law if push comes to shove. Even if you just print up a letterhead or a postcard or a sample package with covers and story outlines and character sketches—even if it’s just a pile of photocopies, it’s still self-publishing. So, to me self-publishing is a given. The question is just where and how do you move from self-publishing to being published? And to me the next obvious thing that arises is income. If you have no source of revenue except the intellectual property that you’re working on, hunger and the need for shelter are apt to make you sell it too cheaply and quickly, signing whatever contract is put in front of you. So I would advise that you avoid that. However much you just want to bring your comic book into being, if you are draining your bank account down to nothing in doing so, the odds are you will be forced to make a stupid move out of desperation at the exact point where the intellectual property consists of a pile of comic books pages. You don’t start a winning football game with a Hail Mary pass which is what you’re forcing yourself to do. If you have a fixed, limited income which most people do, you are going to be better off entering into negotiations with DC or Marvel or whomever with a year’s worth of overhead covered than you are with only your next month’s rent in the bank. Don’t kid yourself. It’s no accident that contracts are generally late in arriving—it’s called economic pressure. The contract doesn’t say what it is that you wanted it to say or understood that it would say but the assumption on the part of the companies (usually correct) is that a contract coming in three months late will find you so badly in need of cash that you become a good deal more (how shall we say) flexible in your negotiating position. Particularly if you called the company five times to ask where the contract is. They can smell that level of desperation on you like panther sweat. What you have to do is to find a balance between keeping yourself alive and keeping your intellectual property safe while you’re bringing it into being. These are not things that we usually think of in relation to each other—keeping yourself alive and creating a comic book—but because of the time-consuming nature of the medium, I think we have to learn to. I think it’s important to clarify as much of your intellectual property as you can for yourself by getting as much of it down on paper as you can before presenting it to anyone. Whether it’s a full script or thumbnail layouts or a full "dummy copy" of the finished work, the more fully realized the concept is—on paper and in blueprint form—the more it is your own and the stronger your negotiating position becomes. If an editor or publisher can see unmistakeably what your finished work is going to look like, there are fewer opportunities for misunderstandings which lead to legal disputes over control and decision-making. Of course it also means that there is a greater possibility of rejection. If an editor reads an outline he or she can imagine it to be any number of things and most editors fancy themselves to be creative themselves. Any part of your work that isn’t fully formed, they’re going to want to help fill in the blank(s). It’s a half-formed idea that they can mould into something else or pressure you into moulding it into something else. It’s all part of the balancing act—a greater possibility of rejection coupled with greater control versus a greater possibility of acceptance coupled with a loss of control. What’s your level of confidence in the material? A lot of that depends on motivation. There’s a big difference between "I’d rather write and draw comics than work at MacDonald’s" and "This is a story I have to tell." At the Source of the Comic Book River, one motivation can prove to be the other. In the privacy of a phone call, your resolve to keep your concept in its pristine form can waver if it becomes an "either/or". If you’re willing to change the concept, the company is interested. If you’re not willing to change the concept, the company isn’t interested. You swallow hard and agree to change it—or you find that the more you work on a concept that you figured was "just for the bucks" the more you can find that you want to do it in a specific and perhaps less commercial way. That leads you away from negotiation and back towards self-publishing. Likewise, the more clearly you see your work, the more of a problem potential collaboration becomes if someone doesn’t see it the same way that you do. And there’s collaborating and there’s working for someone on their book. That needs to be established at the outset and that requires being more direct than most people like to be. But it seems to me that it’s better to know exactly what it is that you want to do on the book and stick with that and wait to find someone who provides the missing piece(s) rather than to jump into a collaboration with someone with overlapping interests. If you like pencilling and hate inking, you should avoid collaborating with someone who also prefers pencilling to inking and hold out for someone who prefers inking and hates pencilling. If the writing is the most important part to you—you have a specific story you want to tell a specific way—then you should avoid collaborating with someone who also wants to write and who has specific ideas of how your story should be told and hold out for someone who just likes drawing pictures.

I think it’s also safe to say that it is easier to find a collaborator the more fully realized your intellectual property is. If it’s a 100-page graphic novel or a four-issue mini-series, you’re more likely to interest someone good if you have the first 75 pages laid out and lettered or the first four issues done in readable thumbnail format. And here again, I think your inclinations are apt to change. You want to work with someone but the further along you go and the more your concept develops, the more you’re apt to say "I just want to do this myself. I’m not the best inker in the world, but it’s my story and I want to ink it." To me, the odds of success are greater if these things are all decided and worked out before you get anywhere near to contract time. If you can only do two pages a week and you’re doing a 100-page graphic novel then contract time is—or should be—a long ways away. I’d venture to say that 98% of graphic novels never get much beyond the cursory planning stages. It’s very easy to have enthusiasm for a magnum opus you can picture in your mind with square hardback binding and another thing entirely to feel completely drained by producing the first ten pages over the course of two months if you’re in that rare 2% that can actually stick with it, if you can keep yourself alive with a day job or on unemployment or welfare or your life’s savings or whatever it is that will buy you the time to actually figure out what it is that you want to do and what you are capable of doing which are usually two very different things centering on productivity. So all apologies to Steve, here I go on my productivity hobbyhorse again.

Let me hypothesize a lunatic extreme as to why I think productivity has to be factored into the template agreement and why I don’t think it’s a mostly irrelevant side issue. Let’s say that there’s a guy who buys a sketch pad and sits down to do his graphic novel. And it turns out that on an average night he can write and letter fifty pages. He has this complete stripped-down Jules Feiffer-to-the-Max quality to his work and he can write and letter fifty pages in a night. And he has a friend whose artwork he just loves and he wants the guy to draw his graphic novel and that guy can do two finished pages in a month. In one night the writer/letterer has produced two years’ worth of work for the artist. Now when it comes time to negotiate an agreement between the two of them, does it make sense to say that they split the proceeds 50-50? Let’s say the first graphic novel of 100 pages turns a profit of $2,000. That means the writer/letterer made $1,000 for two nights’ work and the artist made $500 a year over two years. How long do you think that collaboration is going to continue successfully? On one level it’s certainly fair, but on another level it’s completely unworkable. That’s why I thought ChrisW’s suggestion #5 of his 2 August posting was the most valuable so far. The artist gets $100 a page, the writer gets $10—the balance favouring the artist because of the length of time it takes to draw versus the length of time it takes to write—with an ‘even up’ in the royalties end of things thereafter. I would personally suggest extending the 1:10 ratio through the first printing of the collected version and bring in the "even up" at the point where you are doing the second printing. It seems to me that the further a royalty cheque is from the actual work for an artist, the more philosophical he or she can be about how much it is and after a while it just becomes "found money" if Steve Bissette’s attitude toward his DC creator participation royalty cheques are anything to go by which I think it is. While you’re drawing a book and immediately after you’ve drawn a book I think you like to see the blood sweat and tears turn into some green. I’m far more interested in actually holding in my hand a cheque from Diamond for Collected Letters—because it’s the book I worked on last year—rather than the last Big Order on Cerebus and High Society (work I did twenty-six and twenty-three years ago) even though they’re comparable amounts.

I think that’s only human.

Okay, saddling up the ol’ hobbyhorse again.

One of the things I emphasized in the Guide to Self-Publishing and which virtually everyone ignores is that you have to know how productive you are. If you do three pages in one week and then four more pages in the next two months, you are not capable of drawing a bi-monthly comic book, nor are you capable of drawing a quarterly comic book nor a biannual comic book. You just aren’t. You either have to find a much faster drawing style or accept the fact that even if you do manage to do one 100-page graphic novel it is going to be your life’s work or at least an entire decades’ work. And that means you have to factor that into your personal variation on any template agreement that we come up with. If your living expenses are $1500 a month and you can only draw two pages in a month, you have to find some way to make $750 per page, which implies that you have to be really, really good at what you do. Publishers do not pay $750 a page for mediocre work by newcomers. If you are that slow then you have to confront head-on the implications of that. Likewise how many pages you can draw in a decade. If you are only going to produce one 100-page graphic novel in ten years you have far more at stake than the person who is able to produce a graphic novel in six months. You both have expenses of $1500 a month. The other guy only needs to make $9,000 from his graphic novel to stay in the game. You have make $180,000 from your graphic novel to stay in the game.

This, to me, is the absolute Source of the Comic Book River, because it is in these sorts of decisions that it is established whether a book is even going to get produced. If you do not have a realistic plan as to how to keep yourself alive while you’re producing your work—whether that work is a finished graphic novel or a script for graphic novel or thumbnails for a graphic novel or a "dummy copy" of a graphic novel—that graphic novel is never going to get produced. Whether the graphic novel is going to be a success or a flop, a critical rave or a breakout hit, structurally it still needs to start the same way—with a workable game plan based on your track record of productivity. I’ll cite Steve Bissette as an example. Arguably Steve never should’ve been pencilling a monthly title like Swamp Thing. Just looking at his base level productivity, twenty or twenty-two pages of pencils a month were pretty much beyond him. He pencilled about two thirds of the issues of Swamp Thing between issue 21 and 50 which would suggest that overall he was capable of pencilling 9 issues a year. It was certainly the outer threshold of his productivity. I hate to fall back on a sports analogy because I know people in comics hate sports, but Steve was like a great fastball pitcher. I’ve seen his Swamp Thing pencils and to call them "energetic" and "lively" is to do them a serious injustice. It’s the same as a kid who can throw a 100 mph fastball for seven innings. That’s what they have pitching coaches for is to keep him from doing that because if all he does is throw 100 mph fastballs he’ll win 20 games for you but his arm will be toast by the time he’s been in the league for three seasons. His shoulder will be gone or his elbow will be permanently disabled. So you teach him to throw change-ups, curve balls, knuckle balls—get a variety into his pitches so he’s not tearing the @#$% out of his arm every time he throws 90 pitches in a game. We don’t have anything like a pitching coach in the comic-book field so we have a major burn-out problem with guys who don’t objectively assess how many pages they can comfortably do. They burn themselves out doing a bi-monthly book when they’re only fast enough to do two issues a year or a monthly book when all they can manage is a quarterly. Can you pencil Thor? And most guys say, "Hell yeah" even when they know that they can’t. The alternative is turning down pencilling Thor and that’s unthinkable. Just go through your mental rolodex of the number of guys who have done a handful of great issues and then, for all intents and purposes, disappeared from the field. Where’d they go? The answer: DUH!

That, to me, is starting right at the Source. What is it that you want to do and are you capable of doing it? And if you aren’t capable of doing it, the Source is a much better place to shift gears and adopt a different and faster drawing style tailored to your own abilities and your own productivity or downsizing your project to a manageable length than is a point six months down the road when all you have is twelve pages drawn that you keep going back and fixing. If it takes you six months to do twelve pages you shouldn’t be thinking about a 200-page graphic novel in any immediate sense and certainly not in terms of dreaming that it will somehow provide you a livelihood.

I’ve probably become more aware of this in recent years hanging around with Chester Brown and realizing just how much of his life it takes for him to do a graphic novel and that between putting Underwater aside and doing Louis Riel, whether he realized it consciously or not, he was taking into account what he could comfortably do and setting the parameters of the project based on that. Ten issues. That’s how long a graphic novel he could comfortably do and not have to say that he was devoting his life to it or decades to it or suffering burnout.
Chester trusts Chris Oliveiros so I can’t picture him doing work of any length for anyone else and Chris is definitely philosophical about deadlines (as you would expect from Joe Matt’s publisher), so Chester essentially has to be his own pitching coach which is what he became with Louis Riel. As a result, I think I’m safe in saying—and I could certainly be wrong—that we’ll see more work out of him over the next couple of decades than we will out of Steve even though Steve is, on paper, a much faster and more productive artist. But in both cases, assuming a theoretical 100-page graphic novel for each of them and a slowing down in their fifties and sixties there would obviously be more at stake for them in negotiating with a publisher for that 100-page graphic novel than there would be for a kid who can pencil and ink two pages a day without breaking a sweat. Again, it’s basic math. For the kid it’s a commitment of seven weeks’ work; for Chester or Steve it’s a commitment of a year? Two years? Three years? Five years? As a result there’s a lot more at stake for Chester or Steve than there is for the kid even though both projects are exactly 100 pages in length. If we don’t work to have that taken into account and actively paid attention to at the Absolute Source of the Comic Book River—the seminal point where a creator is consciously deciding his publishing frequency and how many pages he is able to produce on a given work—then I think as creators, as the present-day custodians of the medium and as the present-day inhabitants (captives?) of the industry we are wilfully ignoring "burn-out" as a factor in the health of all three aspects and guaranteeing that "burn-out" is going to be the rule and not the exception. Major League Baseball could, theoretically, do the same thing. Just decide that there’s a bottomless pile of college kids who can throw "serious heat" for forty games before they are toast and just burn through them at a rate of a half dozen a season and pay them all entry-level wages but I think that’s the difference between a mature and immature environment. In a mature environment you keep track of capabilities and learn to reign in a rookie and the rookies learn to listen for their own good and you nurture the talent because Roy Halladay isn’t Roy Halladay for a number of years until experienced pitching coaches have worked with him and taught him how to pitch intelligently and conserve his resources. Some of them never listen and never learn and that’s it, you’ll get two good seasons out of him and then he’s pretty much worthless his pitching arm destroyed and his career is over in his late twenties. David Wells, on the other hand, is pushing forty and is still a more-than-plausible talent. But as long as editors don’t really care where a penciller’s comfort zone is but just want six monthly issues pencilled on time even though the guy is going to get quick-fried in the process then I think comic books have to be seen as an immature environment and maturity then becomes the responsibility of the individual creator. Like Chester Brown you have to become your own pitching coach and tailor your project to your own comfort zone. In a freelance context, you have to know what your comfort zone is and say, "I can’t do a monthly book. How about if I do it bi-monthly?" or "I can’t do a bi-monthly book. How about quarterly?" And realize that being honest with yourself and the industry about your abilities and limitations means that you’ll be around for the long term and not ending up a charred cinder at the end of your sophomore year in funnybooks. And you’ll be that rarest of birds in our field these days: someone who actually delivers on his promises.

At the same time I don’t envy the editors. Most of them don’t write and draw, for one thing, so it’s like asking me to be the Jays’ pitching coach. I’d love to, but I’d be completely useless because frankly I couldn’t tell when a pitcher was releasing the ball too early or too late even if you slowed it down on tape and marked all the relevant points in the trajectory with a grease pencil. Like most editors’ knowledge of writing and drawing, I have a meagre (very meagre) fan’s knowledge of baseball. Most editors, the best they can say is "that arm looks funny" or "that leg is too big" which is more of a reader reaction than a professional reaction. It has value, but not the same value as that of a writer or artist. That was one of the reasons Archie Goodwin (God rest his soul) was so good. He knew what he was talking about because he had written and drawn comics. If he made a suggestion it was usually a good one. And because we are in an immature environment there is more Mussolini than Muse to being a comic-book editor. The job is to get the trains to run on time and everything else is subservient to that. But unlike pitching coaches—and this is a critical difference—they don’t actually get to see the talent they’re supposed to be working with. A pitching coach is paid to watch the pitcher with microscopic intensity the whole time he’s out on the mound and to know when he’s doing something differently, getting off his stride, coming down on his front foot differently, dropping his left shoulder, favouring a twisted ankle—all of the little tics that are the difference between a .241 ERA and a .954 ERA (the first one is good, the second one is decidedly not good). All the editor knows is the pages came in this month and they stink on ice. The penciller might be going through a divorce, just had root canal or did the whole job in the last two days instead of the last two weeks, so it’s very hard to cut through the bull and find out what happened, hard to know if what’s needed is just to talk the guy down and get him back into a comfort zone of productivity or tear him a new one because he’s choosing to be a terminal screw-up. So, structurally, I have always thought that we have to work towards accurate self-perception in the field, getting creators to be their own pitching coaches because there’s just no way for anyone else to monitor them effectively. But we’re really not set up for that. We’re very big on victim-hood in our society so it’s very hard even to get someone into a comfort zone without them turning it into a lazy zone. "The Dog ate my homework." "Nobody knows the trouble I seen." "Oh, woe is me, my tortured and tormented creative genius self." Even if society were to suddenly break out in an unexpected fit of self-discipline and an unprecedented urge to hit higher standards I think the last place it would be likely to show up would be the comic-book field.

Someone asked Joe Matt about my motivational speeches when he still lived in Toronto. "Dave’s great. It’s like listening to a really invigorating Nuremburg rally, only it’s about comic books instead of German nationalism," he said in his wonderfully disinterested tone.

I don’t mind a bit. If supercilious disinterest was enough to throw me off, I’d have stopped talking about these things twenty years ago.

And those sensitive souls who are afraid that Steve and I are mad at each other, no, as Steve said earlier in these proceedings, this is just how we are at this point. A couple of grizzled and cantankerous old bastards. And if anyone thinks I’m just being disingenuous, I’ve got a bagged and boarded undated Bissette letter (autographed!) that I’ve filed in the January, 1995 section in the Cerebus Archive wherein the already legendary Tyrant creator was signing up for six stops on the Spirits of Independence Tour. I quote:

Howdy, Dave…

Sorry I’m late getting this to you. I’m signing on for 6 stops [followed by a list] I can’t lay my hands on the issue right now; I seem to recall it’s $15 to reserve a table per spot. Here’s my $90 deposit. If it’s too little, speak up, I say, SPEAK UP, BOY! If it’s too much, keep the difference and stuff it in the war chest for that show, or shove it up your ass. Hug’ms and kiss’ms…

Steve Bissette

And that was just Bissette being, you know, nice.

Hug’ms and kiss’ms to you, too, Steverino.

Otto Chelman

You raise a number of good points here that point in the direction of all agreements having to be shaped on a case-by-case basis. Not only a premium percentage or royalty rate for name creators like Ellison, Meltzer or JMS but also the work load involved would have to be factored in. In the case of the Turtles crossover, Kevin was canny enough to sit down and write out a whole treatment for a Cerebus Turtles crossover to hand to me when he knew we were going to meet at the Moondance store. It was certainly a lot more persuasive than saying "Hey, we should do a crossover someday". He had it all mapped out including the percentages and how little work I would have to do—basically my just redrawing Cerebus over his layouts and rewriting Cerebus’ word and thought balloons and lettering them. I think it was their top-selling single issue, but don’t quote me on that.

Of course I’m more thinking of graphic novels in this debate in which case the possibility of a name writer being drawn in sort of diminishes the higher the page count escalates. I forget how many years it took Harlan to deliver his single issue Batman story to Julie Schwartz but suffice to say Julie had plenty of time to schedule it and hasn’t Kevin Smith left a Daredevil story dangling for a moon or two? If you’re talking about creators with real-world name value you have to take into account their competing interests. If you were Kevin Smith and you had the choice between taking a meeting with someone who can finance half of your next film or writing Daredevil which one would you pick?

Well, see, that’s why he’s Kevin Smith and you aren’t.

"Re: self- or small-press published works, I can think of cases where the writer came up with the property, did most of the heavy lifting in terms of selling the project and coordinating it, and remains as the ‘point man’ for publicity and promotion purposes. I can’t imagine any reason that his royalty should be based only on how long it took him to write a specific page vs. how long it took the artist to draw it."

Speaking as half of a collaborative team, you’re still going to be picking numbers out of a hat. When it came time to frame the percentages in the partnership, I offered Gerhard a 70-30 split, he countered with 60-40 and I said sure. Depending on who you ask either he took me to the cleaners or I did him or it was an equitable split.

It does seem to me a good reason to actually test fly a collaboration for a period of time before you arrive at conclusions but there’s no question that things are going to work better if both parties are working the same number of hours. How much time you put in on a collaboration is more important than how much money you take out of it, I think. As I mentioned above, there was no writer friction with Gerhard because he isn’t a writer and I left him alone to do the backgrounds as he saw fit unless there was something specific that needed to be back there as a plot point or something. Of course even after twelve years or fourteen years of collaborating there still wasn’t any measurable difference (in my mind) that made 70-30 more or less equitable than 60-40. The thing that always made the most sense to me was what Keith Richards reportedly said to Mick Jagger at the height of the acrimony between them: whether they kept the Stones together or split the band up, they would still have to deal with each other for the rest of their lives because they jointly owned the intellectual property known as The Rolling Stones. If they did split up, either through underlings or through lawyers they would have to pay hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars trying to find a way to steer the Rolling Stones ship of state without speaking to each other. Of course they had the advantage of watching the Beatles have to go through it first.

"It’s bigger than both of us, darlin’," was reportedly his concluding remark to Jagger on the subject—which was true on any number of levels not the least of which was purely financial.

Even a world-class narcissist like Mick Jagger could see the sense in that, I suspect.

Otto Chelman II

I do agree that the nature of the contribution has to be a key factor in how you’re going to divvy up the proceeds and just the cases that you cite—The Complete Neal Adams Batman and The Death of Superman—shows the disparity when it comes to the significance of the contribution. Of course both of those are work-made-for-hire so whatever the rate being paid, it’s likely to be somewhere in between a) pure largesse on DC’s part and b) a negotiated compensation in order to get Neal Adams to participate owing to the changed political climate in the comic-book field. It is worth a certain amount of money to get a new Adams cover and to have Adams speak favourably about the project or at least have people infer that Neal Adams thinks DC is "OK!" Since those amounts are secret, DC is basically playing the same part as a collaborator in pulling a number out of a hat depending on what Paul Levitz or Paul Levitz in tandem with his business team thinks the project is worth both in terms of profitability and in terms of good faith and good will in the field. Depending, as an example, on what DC paid Will Eisner for the rights to do the Spirit Archives and the Will Eisner Library, they might be losing money on the deal but it would still make sense from a PR standpoint relative to the creative community. "Will Eisner was willing to work with us, how about you?" That kind of thing.

And that’s again a high end "what the market will bear" level of negotiation which is separate from where I’d like these discussions to stay focussed—on the entry-level creator with an intellectual property who is determined a) not to self-publish and b) not to get ripped off or too badly ripped off by a company.

I don’t agree with your merchandising example "Why bother to pay Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster or Bob Kane or even Alan Moore anything at all for merchandising? They didn’t spend any time at all creating the Superman or Batman movie, or the Watchmen watch." I mean, I do personally—I’m on record as saying that as long as someone does a limited number of Cerebus whatevers and only sells them in their local comic shop, I’m fine with that and along your same line of reasoning: I didn’t sculpt the figure so I don’t feel really entitled to a major piece of the action if someone does 30 cold cast figures and hand paints them, etc. etc. But in terms of the field in general, I think most creators think of the ancillary rights as their private property and messing with them is a real irritant even though the dollar amounts are apt to be negligible.

I don’t know for a fact but what I suspect happened with the Watchmen watch was that Bruce Bristow basically just clipped one of those ads out of an airline magazine where they offer to put your logo on a wristwatch for—whatever—$39.95 each if you buy—whatever—say, 50. So I think Bruce got the authorization from upstairs to do the 50 and to use them the way they’re intended to be used in the ad: as sort of high end corporate party favours. When Alan called them on it (having, I suspect, been proudly presented with his very own Watchmen watch) the story (which reportedly infuriated Alan) was that there wasn’t any royalty on them because they were promotion. That’s certainly the category that a corporation’s accounting department would put those "airline magazine ad watches" in if that’s what they were. "Hey, Bruce. I’ve got a bill for $2,000 for wristwatches here from your department. What category are those in?" "Put ‘em under ‘promotion.’"

It would’ve been extremely awkward all the way around. From a corporate standpoint what they were saying to Alan was "Hey, you’ve made it to the big time—look! Watches with your logo on them as corporate party favours!" You know, "We sunk two grand into these babies, aren’t they the coolest?" And "you’re on the A-list so you get one of them."

They usually aren’t very good watches. Corporations dole them out to a few privileged customers, the customers put it in a drawer and six months later the watch isn’t ticking any more. As long as it’s ticking when you gave it to them, that’s all that matters from a promotion standpoint. As far as I know they were never solicited in the direct market—I’d be glad to be corrected if that wasn’t the case—and if they were "airline magazine ad watches" and DC was offering them at a minimal standard discount they were probably about $79.95 just for DC to break even and I’d be willing to bet not one of them is still ticking today.


Yes, I agree with what you’re saying here. I’ll cite an obvious example of Bill Willingham as someone who has completely abandoned drawing for writing and for what I suspect is the completely practical reason that he can do his monthly writing gig on Fables in a day or a couple of days. If he was to draw the book as well, that few hours or a couple of days turns into a few weeks of fourteen- to sixteen-hour days. I’ve done both and writing is substantially easier than drawing with some—but very few—exceptions. The text piece pages in Jaka’s Story were about the closest that I got to 50-50. It took me the same amount of time to design and execute my part of the single image illustration as it did to write, rewrite, re-rewrite and then polish the Oscar Wilde style text pieces. That was one of the interesting things about it—the closest that I ever came to a complete balance between words and pictures in terms of workload turned out to be dramatically skewed towards words as a reading experience.

Al Nickerson

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that while Jack Kirby certainly deserved more credit for what he did on his collaborations with Stan Lee, I still think Stan Lee’s stuff is far more readable than Kirby’s Fourth World material and the other things that he did entirely on his own. Stan Lee had a gift for working with the artwork rather than getting in the way of the artwork that very few writers working in the Marvel method have come anywhere close to. And I think a lot of guys who have worked that way would tell you that Stan Lee makes it look so easy that it’s easy to underrate his contribution—until you actually try working that way yourself and then reread Stan’s stuff and see what a knack he had for it, considering the sheer volume of pages he was putting captions and dialogue on through the 1960s. And I think Stan Lee is also a good example of someone who was doing a lot more of the heavy lifting in other areas—the whole "Face front, True Believer" thing. When the 1960s generation started to outgrow that kind of ironic carnival patter—that is, when we all got old enough to realize that it WAS intended ironically and that Stan Lee didn’t actually walk around all day talking like that (I mean, duh)—there was your basic sullen Catcher in the Rye alienated youth across the board backlash (Stan Lee isn’t actually like that. Stan Lee is a phony) but that initial wave of Marvelmania from 1964 to 1968 or so was really built on that Stan Lee persona in a major way. If you were 8 to 12 years old at the time, go back and flip through an issue at random—read the ads and the Bullpen pages and it’ll "get" the little kid inside of you just the way it did at the time. No one had ever come close to marketing their comic books that effectively as a total package.

So that ties in with what we’re talking about here. There are other contributions that a writer can make on a book that are more ill-defined than "scripter" or "co-creator" but are easily as important as what is on the printed page. What would you call it? "Charisma Source"? Whatever it was it was a critical part of the gravy train that Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko were riding whatever Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko might’ve thought about it at the time (not much, it seems) or since.

ChrisW II

Well, again, I’m of two minds on this one. Merchandising and foreign reprints are something that seem terrifically important to a lot of creators but in my experience as a publisher they don’t usually amount to very much. A perfect example was when I looked at the royalty cheques from Graphitti Designs on the t-shirts and decided that the amounts were so small that it only made sense for us to do the t-shirts ourselves. We did that with the "I Survived Jaka’s Story" shirts and—about two weeks in—what I was wondering was how Bob Chapman put up with all the aggravation for that small a return. It wasn’t quite as bad as "airline magazine Watchmen watches" but it was pretty close. To put the t-shirt out at a sensible t-shirt cost was almost all overhead and packaging them was a complete pain.

I’m sorry, Bob. I was sorry then and I’m sorry now. YOU do the t-shirts. PLEASE! I INSIST! I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry!

On the subject of the CD-ROM, not being computer literate by any stretch of the imagination I really have to use my imagination in these cases. There’s a very nice fellow who was (and for all I know) is putting all of the non-story pages from the 300 issues of Cerebus on a DVD-ROM and as with the case of the sculptures, I think it’s only fair that he gets the lion’s share of whatever he can make from it because a) he’s the one who is scanning in however many pages and tweaking them and finessing them and using his best computer tricks to get the best reproduction, b) I can’t really imagine that too many people will actually be interested in owning the thing and c) it really would be invaluable if I had one for myself so that I don’t have to go digging through the three piles of 100 books each every time I have to look up something from the back of the book. I know that the "Dialogue: From Hell" with Alan is in 219 to 221 (or thereabouts), the Bone preview is in 161, Wandering Star in 173—that kind of thing. But to have an indexed DVD so all I had to do was type in a name and it would take me right to that letter or essay or preview…well, you couldn’t pay me enough to do it myself but it would make fact-checking for Following Cerebus a lot easier and make me look a lot less like the Alzheimer’s casualty I’m probably going to turn into at some point. Maybe next week. Hm. Maybe last week.

I’ve had people explain to me how you can protect a commercial DVD-ROM so that someone can’t just download it onto their computer from someone else’s copy. I’ve had other people explain to me that there is no such thing as a secure system, a good hacker can break any security feature. I’ve had other people explain to me that you can’t make it secure, but you can make it so complicated to break the security features that it really isn’t worth the person’s time to invest ten hours "unwrapping" those security features so the DVD isn’t technically secure but it is secure for all intents and purposes. I don’t know what to believe, so I tend to just come down on the side of, let’s do however many copies we need for whoever wants to buy them and see what that amounts to. If it’s like $85.60 cents, I think I can pass on it in exchange for my own copy and the fact that the guy has probably destroyed his life devoting untold hours to scanning 300 issues of everything-besides-the-comic book for three paying customers and one freeloading misogynistic self-publishing crackpot.

I suspect that the way to address it in the general sense in a template contract is under future technologies and to establish the compensation in terms of gross revenue thresholds. If some unforeseen technology crops up that is a "killer ap" for comic books, you get a royalty if the cover price times the "print run" totals, say, more than $500. Whatever this thing is—let’s say it’s a video screen you stick onto your eyeball like a contact lens DVD-LENS—and the DVD-LENS with all 300 issues of Cerebus on it retails for $80 and the company prints 200 of them, then you’ve exceeded the threshold and a royalty is automatically triggered without having to specifically identify DVD-LENS by concept or by name.

And the company making a DVD-LENS Complete Cerebus Edition (regular or tinted) has to download so many cyberdollar credits to my combination catheter, coffee maker and bank book and all that means to me is that I can buy eight more cartons of "Good ‘n’ Plenty" through the tuck shop at the Home because I’m 97 years old and a human vegetable otherwise and that’s my only material concept is how many cartons of "Good ‘n’ Plenty" I can buy and the rest of the cyberdollars in my account the feminist staff at the Home just siphon off into their own accounts which they’ve been doing for years. #$%$# Bitches.

Yes, your "Sandman" and "Swamp Thing" variations are good ones but, again, I’m not talking about work-made-for-hire "reboots" for the mainstream companies. We probably have to be prepared for someone who does independent work-made-for-hire like Elfquest or the Turtles or Parts of Image but, speaking personally, I do see that as being outside of the purview of a template contract.

Does everyone else think that work-made-for-hire "reboots" should be covered?

I mean the same way that I’m on record as seeing Kevin selling his half of the Turtles to Peter as not a particularly good idea relative to creators’ rights but when it comes right down to it there’s no way to prevent that without violating Kevin’s inherent right to sell his half of the Turtles and Peter’s inherent right to buy it. It certainly makes the whole thing simpler in a major way: who makes the decisions on the Turtles? Peter does. Case closed.

I’m sure Kevin and Peter had the same clause in their agreement that Ger and I do—how you trigger the purchase of the other partner’s shares, giving the other partner the right of first refusal, those kinds of things. It’s pretty standard boilerplate "shareholder agreement" legalisms. But, I tend to see that as a separate thing. I envision the template agreement that we’re putting together as a guideline to rights inherent in an intellectual property from the point of creation and making a partnership work if it’s a partnership that’s at stake and making sure everyone is compensated equitably for their contributions. At the point where a creator becomes a company and his intellectual property becomes an icon that he hires other people to do the actual work on, that—to me—takes it out of the realm of creator’s rights. At that point, I think the creator who engages in work-made-for-hire should just fend for himself and my interest shifts to trying to help the people that he’s hiring and to make sure that they’re being compensated equitably and that they are aware of the Frank Miller Insight—"if I just keep doing this, I end up owning nothing." Which is what I did individually when I would, as an example, hear from someone who was doing work-made-for-hire Elfquest material. Just be aware of the fact that you don’t own it, you don’t control it and however long it is what you do exclusively that’s how long you are just working for a paycheque instead of building up your own equity with your own skills and time.

But I’m certainly amenable to reading any suggestions of how to develop a template for dissolving a creative partnership. My example with D’arc Tangent was that Freff and Foglio should both have had the right to continue the book and to print their one-issue collaboration in perpetuity (or colour, nyuck nyuck, nyuck) but that definitely puts a cap on any Hollywood deal because Hollywood demands sole custody of the movie rights. Ger and I have a mutual veto over decisions. We only do something if we both agree to do it, if either guy disagrees then we don’t do it. I suppose you could apply that to a Hollywood deal, but it would certainly make the negotiations lengthy and arduous and, I suspect, ultimately futile.


Yes, discussion of actual rates is taboo. It even seemed terrifically illicit for me to hear what Vertigo was offering me to work on a Fables story. You know. "I’m Dave Sim. I’m a self-publisher. I shouldn’t even be listening to this." Like I had snuck into a Freemasons meeting and I was watching the initiation ritual.
ChrisW III

1. I’m not sure if Larry portrayed Image as self-publishing to anyone but me, to be honest, Chris, because I don’t think anyone besides me much cared about self-publishing or thought of Image in terms of self-publishing. Image was about hot books and hot creators that "weren’t Marvel or DC" from everyone else’s perspective. I’m not even sure that Larry ever said anything directly to me about Image BEING self-publishing. A lot of times Larry would tell you something in proximity to the idea and then would let you draw your own inference to suit your own preferences. He was a major fan of Marcel Duchamp and if you ever read any interviews with Marcel Duchamp—Larry gave me a book of them—it’s really hard a lot of the time to tell what Duchamp is saying: if anything. I think Larry found that approach useful in trying to balance all of the Seven Giant Egos That Were Image on the inside of the goldfish bowl looking out and negotiating and finessing and balance between their self-perceived interests and the perceived interests of everyone on the outside of the goldfish bowl looking in. He certainly thought—and said—that Image was a culmination—A culmination, not necessarily THE culmination—of what I had started by self-publishing Cerebus and all of the things that I had talked about in the book for years. I can’t say that at that time I could fault his reasoning. I mean Image was just huge. Rock Star Huge in 1993 relative to anything we had ever seen in the comic-book field and in 1993 it had as much in common with Aardvark-Vanaheim as it did with DC or Marvel and no clear sign of which way it was going to jump when it jumped (or, for that matter, if it was going to jump—ultimately it did and became more like DC and Marvel than Aardvark-Vanaheim). When Larry became the public face of Image Central, I remember walking into a cocktail party with him at the 1993 Capital City Trade Show—the last one, as it turned out—and we just sat down and were shooting the breeze like we always did but you could feel the intensity of everyone in the room wondering what was up.

Dave Sim and Larry Marder are over there talking. I Wonder What They’re Talking About.

It was not an easy way to live, I’m sure. As soon as I walked away from Larry, I was outside of that bubble—and grateful to be out where you could breathe again—but Larry had to live inside that bubble. Just for subjecting himself to that level of intensity because he thought he could do some good bought him a certain amount of space in my books even though I was pretty sure that he was wrong about the extent of the potential for the Image experiment to be anything more than this brief Rock Star Huge bubble that it was in 1993. I don’t know when he quit Image Central to become the CEO or the Director or the Top Banana guy at Todd McFarlane Productions but I saw that as Larry as admitting that that was the case. Whatever Image might’ve been it was no longer that—even potentially—so he might as well go work for Todd. It would be a lot more interesting (in a Duchampian sense if nothing else).

2. Yes, "Cerebus Dreams" is probably a bad example of anything besides a great story and a gesture of friendship from Barry to me. My relationship to him, creatively, was like his relationship to Jack Kirby, creatively, and he knew what it would’ve meant to him to have Jack Kirby come up to him at a convention and say, "Why don’t I do a couple of pages of Conan in the back of one of your issues or a cover or something?" The same reason I said yes to the Turtles crossover. I assume that he considers the story a gift to me—who else would he give it to? Just as my incorporating "Cerebus Dreams" as a motif in the book was a gift to him, an acknowledgment that it was a really solid creative idea, which it was.

And, actually, I did work on the story, although I’d forgotten until I got to that part of the Archive. Barry had called and asked me what tone I used on Cerebus and I explained that I used LT 3 on the close-ups, LT 10 on the next larger figures, LT 17 on the smaller ones and LT 24 on the tiny ones. Turned out that he didn’t have any LT 3 or equivalent or LT 24 or equivalent so he sent the pages through and asked me to tone those figures and faces myself. Which, hands atremble, I did. The second panel where the gem bounces off of Cerebus’ head, I did the tone on that one, as an example.

3. Well, I can understand what you’re saying about the Sienkiewicz painting. And I’m really not trying to be difficult here. In a legal sense it’s mine. Kevin bought it from Bill, Kevin gave it to me. I don’t think of myself as being AS entitled to it as I would if Bill had given it to me, let me put it that way. In the completely unlikely event that Bill regrets profoundly the loss of the Cerebus Jam cover

—"I don’t care a fig for the entire Elektra Assassin," he says through clenched teeth, "But the Cerebus Jam cover. How could I be so foolish as to part with that! Why, it’s the painting I’m most known for!!"

and if I heard indirectly that he was crying himself to sleep at night over it, I’d really rather that he had it back.

4. Let me cut and paste your OED Mainfesto definition to: "a printed declaration/justification of policy issued by a body of individuals of public relevance" in this case: a template contract which will someday be printed here on your television screen (LIVE!) and issued by all us discussing it here and those viewers tuning in at home who I would deem to have "public relevance" because we’re the only ones interested so far. The Only Ones Interested. Pretty select little group, eh?

I don’t think you could (theoretically) get away with publishing "Cerebus Dreams" because keeping it below the radar screen—pushing it where no one recognizes Cerebus or BWS art—would mean that it was pretty much valueless. People who know who Cerebus is and who BWS is are the only ones interested so far. The Only Ones Interested. Pretty select little group, eh?

Sorry, my CD seems to be skipping.

I do think that getting the publishers involved is a good idea. So far Gary Groth has paid a visit and offered his own perspective, Erik Larsen and I have the beginnings of an interesting exchange and Joe Quesada has expressed interest in participating in a lot the way Gary and Erik have—when he gets a spare moment which I assume is about as rare for him as it is for them. I think Al contacted Paul Levitz and never heard back, so that might be a "busy" thing or a "not interested" thing. Since I didn’t want to monopolize Mr. Quesada’s time, I asked Al to relay the question "Does he think that a template contract has any value?" And I suggested that there might be two different answers, one if he’s speaking as Joe Quesada freelancer and one if he’s speaking on behalf of Marvel. I indicated that either or both reactions would be more than welcome and that I was sure everyone would understand if there were things that he couldn’t discuss because of the sensitivity of his position as Editor in Chief.

Tony Tower

Oh my God. I read your posting with the letters "IIRC" and right away a voice in my head went "If I Remember Correctly". AAAAGGGHHHH! COMPUTERSPEAK!! I’M INFECTED!!! GET IT OFF!!! GET IT OFFF!!!

When it comes to "Monique, a six-foot blonde wearing a leather miniskirt and bustier" and the question of whether the artist deserves a co-credit for just drawing what the writer described. Yes, if the artist brought something new to the concept on a reasonableness standard—reasonableness standards are always the basis for nebulous legal areas—that is, a reasonable person looking at what he drew and what the description was would say that the distinctive appearance that he came up with—slavishly followed by the costuming department at Lucasfilms because it was just that distinctive, that much a part of the character…those are the sorts of things that would tell you if there was a case to be made for creator participation.

Let’s use a more specific real-world example—what was the description that Steve Gerber gave Val Mayerik for Howard the Duck’s first walk-on in Giant Size Man-Thing? "A talking duck walks in from the jungle". "A talking duck smoking a cigar walks in from the jungle". "A talking duck in a blue suit jacket with a red tie, looking like Donald Duck but a little edgier sort of yellow and gritty-looking and smoking a cigar…"

(Interesting that the more the description validated Gerber’s claim to ownership the more ammunition he would be handing Disney in their lawsuit against Marvel)

Again, it seems to me that this is a very nebulous reasonableness standard stuff that the companies are sort of flying blind on at this point. I mean, they have to decide who participates and to what extent in royalties. I have no idea if they just pronounce: this is what Bissette gets, this is what Alan Moore gets, this is what John Totelben gets. As far as I know no one has ever challenged a royalty set-up in court but it would be interesting—in a "slowing down to watch the traffic accident" kind of way—to see what would happen there if they did. I think the creators are so aware that royalties and creator participation are so new that they don’t want to upset the applecart. And in nebulous areas, the outcome depends on what jury you draw and where their sympathies lie. You can win big or lose big with the right or wrong jury. If Neil Gaiman drew an all-female jury, he could probably get the deed to 1700 Broadway, the rights to Superman, Paul Levitz’s desk…

…all right, I’ll leave that one alone permanently now.

I’m sort of stuck when it comes to being able to discuss Fables sensibly at this point because I have inside information from both Bill Willingham and the lovely Shelly Bond about how the whole deal works and I’m not sure what I’m allowed to talk about and what I’m not allowed to talk about. I did promise not to get Shelly in trouble so it seems better to err on the side of caution.

If you check the second Fables trade paperback, you’ll see that Bill did a number of character sketches for the book, which I would assume that he did when he was first pitching the idea to them. I think—in terms of your "kosher/not kosher" question relative to Bill on Fables or Neil on Sandman "art blocking" their collaborators from participation in the Big Hollywood Payday—well, Bill and Shelly were both very up-front about the fact that this is a combination work-made-for-hire/creator-owned title. Bill’s the creator so he gets the preferred creator treatment and participation in anything having to do with Fables and if Bill wants you to work on HIS book and he asks you to work on HIS book and you agree to work on HIS book, it is HIS book. If we can reach an agreement, I’ve specified that I want to use my photo-realism style so I suggested that Bill take the photographs of exactly how he pictures each shot of each character in the story in his head—the way I put it was the page rate they offered is one page rate if I have to go out and take the photographs myself and another page rate if they send me the photographs. And Bill (God bless his little atheistic heart) said he would be glad to take the photographs. At that point, I think I’m about as far removed from actually generating anything on my own—in a legal sense—as you can get while still being a participant. It’s Bill’s book and I’d be drawing the story from Bill’s photographs. Even if they use those exact angles and actors and actresses who look like the people in the story, they’d be referencing Bill’s work to a far greater extent than they would be my own.

Negotiations continue. (See, Shelly? I didn’t get you in trouble).


I would agree with Stan Lee’s assessment that you paraphrased "If I come up with the character i.e. the gist of what makes the character special, what he looks like, quirks, history, etc. that means, to me, that I created that character." Again, I would say yes, but subject to reasonableness standards as determined in a court of law and—more relevant to our discussions here—subject to documentation. If Stan Lee has the original notebook where he first described Spider-man and most of the distinctive traits of Spider-man are in there and if he has copies of the art direction that he sent to Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko and most of Spider-man was already in place before Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko ever heard the name Spider-man, then yes, he has a very good case. If he put copies of those descriptions and those art directions in a sealed envelope and mailed it to himself with a clear postmark showing the date and then put it in a safety deposit box or in a secure filing cabinet in a file marked "Spider-man" and Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko didn’t do anything comparable, then he will win by default in most jury trials. The judge will direct the jury to give greater weight to Stan Lee’s evidence than to Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko’s recollections which don’t have a paper trail. If Steve Ditko took the art directions that he got on paper or wrote down what he was told over the phone and mailed the notes to himself in a sealed envelope and if what those notes say is "Spider-man Spider-like? Webs?" and that was all that he was given to work with and he photocopied his first drawing along with his notes pitching Stan Lee on the idea of it being blue and red, how the web motif would be handled, the enlarged "cat’s eyes" of the mask, the web shooters, the pattern of where the webs were and where the dark blue was then by a reasonableness standard you would imagine that most juries would rate him as more of the creator than Stan Lee because he did more to create what the character looked like and was solely responsible for whatever legal claim the character had to being an identifiable trademark with a specific dollar value. If no one has a paper trail—as, in this case, I assume no one did—the judge will direct the jury to ignore hearsay and other ephemeral "he said she said" evidence and decide on the basis of who they found the most convincing—beyond a reasonable doubt—in their testimony.

I think one of the reasons that Joe Simon always had a better track record in claiming proprietorship of Captain America is because he has the famous watercolour drawing that he did at the time that he and Jack Kirby were pitching the character. You put it next to the Captain America that Marvel is claiming to own and you understand—in reasonableness frames of reference—that most of who and what the character would become was already there before Marvel had even heard of Captain America.

This is why I said way at the beginning of this piece that if you are a creator, you have to get over thinking that it is silly or vainglorious or arrogant or stupid to do things like recording the exact sequence in which you created something and what you created, keeping every scrap of paper and dating every scrap of paper that refers to the genesis of your intellectual property and mailing it to yourself in a sealed envelope with a clear postmark and putting it in a safe place if you intend at any point to bring it to market by means of a publisher. It would’ve seemed silly to Stan Lee in 1962 and it would’ve seemed silly to Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko in 1962. It’s just a piece of paper that says "Spider-man, spider-like? Webs?" and (more to the point) it’s just a stupid cartoon character. It’s just a stupid cartoon character, but it’s also, ultimately—as it turned out—a billion-dollar stupid cartoon character.


Well, that’s good to know for two reasons. One, I have access to Ben Oda’s magnificent lettering if I ever need it—I could certainly never do anything that clean and that sharp in a month of Sundays—and Two, Comicraft is attributing it to Oda at least indirectly. If they don’t pay royalties to Oda’s estate, I think it would be a nice gesture to at least put a photo of him and/or a short bio with his birth/death dates next to it wherever they advertise it. And perhaps suggest that voluntary contributions could be sent to Oda’s estate if they ever get an address. Maybe somebody at King Features would have a contact name or a "last known address"?

ChrisW IV

Sorry, I only answer up to III. Just kidding. I’d be interested to know what answer if any you get from Rick. It’s very possible that we’ll never arrive at an acceptable royalty for guest appearances but I think it would have to be a formula, ie # of pages guested on divided by the total number of pages in the book multiplied by the cover price and divided by ten or something along those lines. If it’s a single panel or two panels, then you would divide the panels into the total area of the page and do the same formula except with a page fraction instead of a full page. It’s pretty straightforward in Cerebus. Bob Burden worked on this many pages, Rick worked on that many pages, Michael Zulli did a single page.

I do draw a distinction between actually working on a page and having something of yours parodied or excerpted in the course of the book. As an example, I don’t send Eddie Campbell anything for doing Bacchus. I don’t send Rick Veitch a penny for using Rick Veitch. I pay him for his lettering that he did under my direction. I think using the example of Scott McCloud’s share value in "Astro City" that would be a judgement call on the part of Kurt Busiek but in my own frames of reference, no. Scott didn’t do work on Astro City. I also think that you would have to start from a "zero sum" point where the template contract (if we can manage it) comes into existence. From that point on, you would be obligated to let someone know if you were just tossing ideas around for the fun of it or if you were keeping track of your contributions on paper and that you would expect the other person whose idea the thing was to sign it and date it when you were done talking so you have a paper trail of what you came up with and what he or she came up with. I think most people would consider that silly and that’s fine. I don’t care if people use it, but I think it needs to exist so that if that stupid cartoon character you were talking about ends up being worth a billion dollars forty-three years later, you only have yourself to blame for not having a legal leg to stand on when the guy you were tossing ideas around with claims to be the sole owner and proprietor.

If you look at the front of all the Cerebus trades on the indicia page in the boilerplate disclaimer "No part of this book may be reproduced or…" you’ll see that I’ve added to the "journalistic and review purposes" allowance: "…or as a raw material in the production of another creative work." That means everything from incorporating whole sections of the story into your own comic, using Cerebus as a character in a play, a painting, a movie or mushing up a copy of The Last Day and making a piece of sculpture or a lamp out of it. That’s my attitude towards my published creativity and the creativity of others.

ChrisW V The Dynasty Continues

Well, that’s a question that I’m interested in posing to Joe Quesada. Does he see any merit in the idea of editors getting dealt into the royalty equation based on a genuine contribution to a creative work? And again, I think the only fair way that it would work is to start from a "zero sum" position. From today forward if you approach an editor with a half-formed idea there is every possibility that you will leave his or her office with a new collaborator and a co-participant. I’m not sure how complicated the protocols would be, but I suspect it would be as easy as defining the "pitch" by Category.

Category I is non-participation. I’m presenting you with a finished script or with finished pages. It’s a 100 page graphic novel, this is what it’s called, this is what it’s going to look like. You want it exactly like this, then we can discuss the business terms. You don’t want it exactly like this? sorry to have troubled you, you have a nice day now, goodbye.

Category II would be that you are open to negotiation and input. You want something different? I’ll be glad to talk about changes and I accept the fact that if you come up with a significant change that I’m willing to make or a series of significant changes that I’m willing to make that you will be entitled to (pick a number) .025 % of whatever revenues this graphic novel generates in perpetuity whether it’s published by your company or by another company, part of any movie deal and any licensing. You write your changes down that I’ve agreed to make, I’ll sign them and you can stick the piece of paper in your filing cabinet so there’s no doubt that you’re entitled to a piece of the action. The creator could then notify the editor if the creator chooses not to use the suggestion at some future date, of course making the piece of paper valueless at that point.

Category III would be, I don’t have a finished product to show you. I have four sample pages and a plot outline. I accept the fact that if you come up with a lot of what is missing from this as a finished product that you will get a larger share of the work that ultimately gets produced. Maybe 5% or 10%.

You establish the Category of your pitch right at the outset so no mistakes are made. You can agree to just toss ideas around. I’m not formally pitching this to you and you aren’t demanding a share of my action, we’re just tossing ideas around as friends. It might cost one of us a half billion dollars in the long run forty-three years from now, but that was how we chose to conduct this.

Arguably it would be worthwhile doing audio recordings of all editorial "pitch" meetings as a matter of policy in that case, just so there’s no question about what was said and who said it. As anyone can tell you who has sat in on a brainstorming session even ten minutes after the meeting is over there can be complete disagreement about who came up with what. A tape recorder gives you a flawless record of who came up with what and when. If the sound is clear (and technology is making that a no-brainer these days if the tape recorder is out in plain sight) then that even beats a paper trail in a court of law putting any dispute well "beyond a reasonable doubt." Again, I can understand that everyone thinks this is silly or excessive. If the graphic novel has one printing and sells only a thousand copies, yeah. It’s definitely making a mountain out of a molehill. If it’s the next Spider-man or the next Men in Black then, no, I don’t think it’s silly at all. Not with a billion dollars sitting on the table and the good will on everyone’s part to carve up the turkey in an equitable fashion.

Of course there’s also the question that you raise of whether the editor would get to keep the percentage or the company would keep the percentage. I think it would be comparable to a profit-sharing plan or stock options or commissions. You can take a smaller salary but you get to keep your participation percentages or you can get a larger salary but your participation percentages go to the company. And I think it would be more of an incentive for a smaller company. I could see an editor at Slave Labor or Dark Horse definitely seeing this as a job perk. Even if the publisher you’re working for doesn’t end up publishing the book you can be getting a percentage of the action. On something that turns into a movie deal, that could be in the thousands or tens of thousands even on a .025% share. Of course that depends on publishers like Dan Vado and Mike Richardson seeing this as a generally good thing for the environment and not a way of enriching their salaried editors at the company’s expense.

Dirk Deppey

Yeah, I sort of figured that was the case. I forget that even an operation as small (relatively speaking) as Fantagraphics tends to be compartmentalized on a "need to know" basis. You’re the Managing Editor of the Comics Journal so there’s no real "need to know" what the business structure of Eros is. Of course, arguably, the business structure of Eros is interesting from journalistic standpoint in which case we get back to the conflict of interest issue. As the Managing Editor of the Comics Journal, are you obligated to find out if Eros is work-made-for-hire or not and is Gary Groth as the Eros publisher obligated to tell you?

And Aardvark-Vanaheim functions the same way as FBI when it comes to deeming the day-to-day work to be work-made-for-hire. A lot of the Cerebus Archive is made up of documents, letters and notes written by Deni Loubert, Karen McKiel, Monique Kaptein and Carol West in their administrative capacity and consequently deemed, legally, to be Aardvark-Vanaheim’s physical property. Although I did, through an intermediary, give Deni a couple of original letters written to her and autographed by Jerry Seigel (during the negotiation of the "Ricky Robot" strip we published as a Unique Story in Cerebus) after making photocopies for the Archive. They seemed like the most valuable artefacts in that category, at least potentially, and they did have her name on them, so it seemed only fair.

Next: A Letter from Erik Larsen 2 Erik addresses Dave Sim's letter concerning The Creator's Bill of Rights and the Neil Gaiman vs. Todd McFarlane feud.