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When Plans Don’t Work Like You Planned Them

Rënë Ëngström has a charity appeal for those of you who care about the less fortunate who need your help — and if you don’t care, you’re a horrible person. PS Carly let’s talk at MoCCA.

Onwards: So, who’s been reading between the lines over at DJ Coffman’s blog? Catch where the lines pulled apart about yay-wide?

It makes me very sad and depressed to report this news, but I want to be as transparent with the fans and supporters of Hero By Night as possible here. The ongoing print series has been suspended BY ME due to financial issues at our publisher. I couldn’t keep this on my schedule, because frankly it’s gotten to the point where I need to make hard decisions to be sure my time is spent on projects that pay me on time and have some security to them. Up until this point, Platinum has been rock solid and something I could bank on contractually and I enjoyed that security. While the plan had always been to stay on schedule through Issue 7 (a Christmas issue), and the book hadn’t been officially canceled by Platinum Studios, I couldn’t in good faith keep going when behind the scenes I knew that there would be books solicited that would not be coming out on time — our issue 4 wouldn’t be coming out because Jason had to make the hard decision to stop coloring Hero By Night for the same reasons, so my book was sitting uncolored and I knew we’d be missing the print deadline dates.

[Platinum and Coffman are] discussing getting the rights back to the whole thing that I sold to them — this would allow me to take HBN on my own, self publish on the web or in print among other things.

The most important point in all of this is nicely summarized by Scott Kurtz:

I’m not sure if we touched on this in the book, but I know we’ve discussed it on the podcast. It’s so important that it bears repeating: once you sign away your rights to a second party, that party is really under no obligation to ever return those rights back to you. Even when the situation is out of the control of both parties and everyone has the best of intentions.

Contracts are not enchanted documents that enforce some kind of morality upon all parties involved. They are not magically consumed in brilliant clouds of sparks and dust if either party breaches the terms. A company could go bankrupt and you might still never regain your rights.

Or, as I was once challenged for saying, [A]ll contracts are inherently about ensuring that — if needed — you can cut the other guy’s heart out and he’s legally obligated to provide the blade. Without language that specifies under exactly what circumstances rights revert to the creator, they won’t. Ever.

Fleen wishes DJ Coffman the best of luck, both because we want to know what happens in Hero By Night, dammit, and also because he deserves better than this. He was a very public supporter of Platinum when there was a lot of grief thrown their way about having never actually published a comic book; even in his posting announcing the hiatus, he was unfailingly gracious and thankful towards them. If karma and/or justice have any place in this world, Platinum will swiftly return the rights to his creation, and a means to resume publishing will follow. And DJ? I got four bucks American cash money set aside for issue #4 right here; drop that puppy into my LCS and it’s all yours.

I have four Cherry Tree Choppers for that as well.

And I’ll repeat the challenge, Gary

Shorter Kurtz: “Contracts are not guided by morality.”

Shorter Tyrrell: “Contracts are inherently a power struggle with one winner and one bitch.”

At first, it might look like these are the same sentiments, but they are not. A contract can be a strictly-business concern and still be something that both parties find equitable and acceptable.

The Webcomics Weekly podcast also recently said that contracts too FAVORABLE to the artist can also be worrisome, either because they’re too good to be true, or because they’re a sign that the author is not a sensible businessperson. I would add that such contracts also poison long-term relationships.

But under the “blade” argument, there is no room for “good contracts” of any kind, and a contract that screws the company and not the artist is the best an artist can hope for. And let’s be honest: that’s a pretty dim hope. What you really seem to mean is “all contracts make artists into bitches.”

This kind of thinking would have made Neal Adams’ “creators’ rights” initiatives in the 1970s and the later “Creator’s Bill of Rights” just about impossible, and I know you support those in principle. I also know that you’re rigorous enough to break down Zuda contracts point by point, which would seem superfluous if being a contract automatically makes it a screw job. Finally, I know that you consider Platinum’s contract violation as outrageous as I do, but there wouldn’t be any point getting worked up over it if it were just another day at the office.

So I really don’t see why you continue to hold on to this argument.

I’m not sure if I agree, semantically, with your argument, T Campbell. Every contract I’ve ever seen or heard of follows Tyrell’s rule. But it’s like haggling. They start with postulating that you’ll have to cut your heart out, but they know that you’ll counter-offer.

But I don’t know. I’m not bothered by contracts that rape everyone as much as possible, as much as I’m bothered that artists sign them without being equipped with the knowledge of what they’re signing. Or maybe bothered by the fact that artists aren’t taught it. I studied art at college, there were no legal contract courses for my major, and no teacher ever said, “you will be fucked by almost every contract you ever sign if you don’t have a lawyer look at it, here’s why…”

I guess I do find initial-offer contracts disgusting, the same way I find disgusting any bully who preys on the weak.

I hear about people being (and have been myself) boned by more contracts than I was helped by. Increasingly we need to remember that most of the things that these companies are offering are attainable on our own, by ourselves. They want you to believe that they’ve got the only ladder, but it just isn’t true.

I’ve signed many contracts with people who were admirable and have upheld their end of the partership as well or better than I held up mine.

It’s possible to enter into a good agreement with a publisher, media company or vendor. It happens every day.

But contracts are there as a documentation of what was originally agreed upon. It’s documentation, not a means of enforcement.

I don’t think enough people know that.

I don’t know if I agree with you there, Kris.

Yes, most of what larger entities offer creative types could be done on their own. But it’s a lot less of a sure thing being the small guy, the larger guys are the larger guys because their methods are proven.

Giving another example, if a huge book chain came to you and said we want to order order 50,000 copies of Starslip #1 for sale in our stores around the country.

Sounds great, but because of how the book industry works, you’re the one who needs to put up the cash for the printing.

And because the book industry works on consignment, on average, there will be 30% returns to you, which you’re accountable for.

So where you going to find over 50k to put together your print run?

That’s where the corporate folks come in.

My point here is that we shouldn’t be thinking we can do it all on our own because we can’t, we don’t have the same resources as Time Warner.

We should be educating ourselves and our industry so that we’re singing the RIGHT contracts.

Well said, Ryan.

But I think even you agree that you should do as much in-house as possible and where feasible.

[…] “Contracts are not enchanted documents that enforce some kind of morality upon all parties involved. They are not magically consumed in brilliant clouds of sparks and dust if either party breaches the terms. A company could go bankrupt and you might still never regain your rights.” – Scott Kurtz (link via Gary Tyrrell) […]

Sohmer’s like me, only less pedantic and more focused on the positive today.

I’m just saying that the “all contracts” statement punishes anyone who wants to make a noble contract, and excuses the bad, by presenting bad contracts as a law of nature or logic. Fish gotta swim, tigers gotta hunt, contracts gotta screw the little guy. Whaddayagonnado?

Of course, there’s a little selfish incentive at work here. I do most of my work with partners on a profit-split or page-rate basis, work that would be impossible without some simple agreements, so I have a vested interest in making this distinction clear.

In DJ’s specific case, we’re also dealing with contract VIOLATION. Defaulting on a contracted payment to a contractor should never be seen as “business as usual.” It’s a crime. It’s wrong. The end.

Definitely, do as much as you can in house, but don’t reject outside corporate help just for the spite of it.

Regarding DJ’s case, keep in mind we’re not sure what happened behind the scenes. On Platinum’s side of things, why would they keep spending thousands of dollars on a series that only sells a couple thousand issues every 2 months? We’re not privy to the contract they signed after HbN went to an ongoing series.

Every contract, no matter how routine, how noble, is fundamentally a mechanism to enforce behavior. It doesn’t mean that we don’t sign them; if the risks are outweighed by the benefits, we do. It does mean that we have to recognize that a contract is not designed to protect us unless we add specific language to that effect — in which case it becomes a means to screw the other party. Sign a contract with that understanding and I guarantee you’ll take it more seriously.

Standard disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, but I annoy the hell out of people I do business with because I actually read the things I sign.

  • I’m very happy with my mortgage, but I can tell you exactly the ways my life will be ruined if I fail to pay up each month.
  • I’m very happy that my college worked out a scam with ROTC that let freshmen out of PE in return for two easy-A military history classes (while still keeping accreditation), but I can tell you exactly how many years I was obligated to serve if war had broken out during the 23 weeks I was technically an army cadet.
  • Hell, I read End User License Agreements when I install software; there’s some real damn interesting penalties that I’ve willingly agreed to by clicking a mouse.

The point remains: contracts of any sort — and most certainly not limited to IP — do not exist for when everybody’s happy with each other. They exist to provide specific, enforced remedies — exerciseable against you or the other party — if either fail to meet stated obligations. If you’re lucky, the contract is balanced to the degreee that each party can equally screw the other if things go bad. But if you read over a contract you’re offered and can’t identify who (to use T’s phrasing) “the bitch” is, it’s probably you.

I don’t know if I could go to the extreme that Gary is going to. I believe that if written parties are happy with one another, they NEED to have a written agreement. Working off-contract is a guarantee that one party will take advantage of the other with no legal recourse.

To put it another way, in the freelance writing business, you’re not supposed to work for a client that doesn’t offer you a contract. It’s likely that client will not pay you otherwise.

Even when writers and artists work together, it’s important to work up a creator’s agreement so that the parties know exactly who owns what in case something goes wrong.

Bottom line: Get it in writing. Always.

[…] A few weeks ago, this page wrote: [DJ Coffman] was a very public supporter of Platinum when there was a lot of grief thrown their […]

[…] spread, but given the way that Platinum’s had money … let’s call them issues … I can’t help but think that […]

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