The webcomics blog about webcomics

Let’s Dip Into The Ol’ Mailbag

First off, something that you may have seen around the net; wasn’t sure I was going to talk about this because it’s not about webcomics per se, but there’s an object lesson there so let’s run with it. From Ted Rall, current president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists came a letter regarding the situaion of Brian Duffy and the Des Moines Register. Short version is that Duffy was fired recently as their editorial cartoonist, and the Register has kept his originals (25 years worth) and plans to dispose of them themselves. Full letter under the cut at the bottom.

I don’t know if Duffy’s terms of employment specified that the Register owned his originals, or was silent on the matter, or merely this is/was customary practice. Fact is, guy’s lost a job, and lost whatever value he might have obtained from selling his originals. Rall is appealing to the Register to return the originals, to (as near as I can tell) no response from the paper. Were this Europe, which has a history of creators being able to assert “moral rights” to their work, this wouldn’t have happened — but it ain’t.

Even if Duffy’s employment contract didn’t specify ownership of the originals, if the Register doesn’t choose to give them back, it’s a court case, delays, expense, and no clear outcome for potentially years. The lesson is this: if you work for somebody else in a creative capacity and you don’t have paper saying explicitly that you get to retain original works, don’t count on ever getting them back. Tattoo that someplace nice and visible on your contract-signing hand so you don’t forget.

  • From Mark Ricketts comes an email (because, and this is a quote, We at Moose Mountain Comics care too damn much) about a special public service announcement from this week’s strips:

    Join us as we attempt to raise awareness about the nasty habits of broad-tailed rodents. SMOKING BEAVERS are a problem!* Really.

    I hope this doesn’t ruin our chance to get sponsorship from big tobacco.

    *If this notice seems vaguely pornographic, then get y’r mind out the gutter, son.

  • From Brian Carroll, news that:

    [M]y film critique site, Genrezvous Point is going into its third major story, this time covering the Oscars (as some sort of post-world metaphoric Olympic games – it’s weird, yes, but makes sense in context).

    Also, figured I’d point out that when I was 12, I also did frog stories – “Commando Frog” which was a comic first before I made it into a weird stop motion short film later that year. Been trying to find pictures of it all day! The clay model is in storage, unfortunately.

    Man, was I the only 12 year old without a frog fetish?

  • From Chris “no relation to TracyFlick, news that he hit the big 2-0-0 today, complete with cameo from a couple of disreputable librarian types:

    The first 200 strips are also being collected in trade paperback form and will be available by the time Heroes Con approaches in June.

  • Finally, nothing to do with the mailbag, but Fleen sends birthday wishes to Christopher Baldwin (who turned 36 on Wednesday) and Howard Tayler (who will be 10.25 sometime after Saturday and before Sunday — silly Leap Year baby). Hope it was/will be sunshine & cupcakes for both of you fine gentlemens.

Text of the letter sent by Ted Rall to the Des Moines Register follows.

Ms. Carolyn Washburn
Vice President and Editor
The Des Moines Register
P.O. Box 957
Des Moines IA 50306-0957

Dear Ms. Washburn:

As President of The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC), I am writing to express the collective dismay of our membership at reports that you plan to dispose of Brian Duffy’s original political cartoons without his consent.

While your newspaper may claim ownership of Brian’s thousands of original cartoons he drew during 25 years as The Register’s staff editorial cartoonist, there remain compelling questions of what is customary and what is right.

Although it used to be common for newspapers to keep their cartoonists’ original artwork, that practice changed decades ago, and almost universally cartoonists now leave their newspapers with their artwork. These original drawings represent an artist’s life work, and while newspapers pay for the its production, they do so in order to publish the work on its editorial page—not to possess each piece as artwork.

Mr. Duffy is understandably attached to his quarter-century’s worth of drawings, and may wish to archive some of them for his children. Others he may want to donate to charities or sell at galleries. Regardless, they offer him a potential source of revenue after retirement, and reasonable people would assume that he should have them.

Although your reported plan to donate Brian’s cartoons to the University of Iowa is commendable, cynics may charge that your purpose is to cash in on Brian’s firing by taking a tax write-off for a sizable donation.

By your own admission, Brian produced “very excellent work” for your organization. On behalf of his professional organization, I encourage you to reconsider your plans and return his artwork to him.

Very truly yours,
Ted Rall
Association of American Editorial Cartoonists

Sorry Duffy got fired, but Gary is exactly right on the object lesson of the whole thing. The paper paid for that art. It’s theirs, the originals and the rights to them. What does Ted Rall think Duffy was paid for? Rall says right there in his own letter: Brian produced “very excellent work” for your organization.

The law is cold and justice is blind; if the contract states the paper keeps his art then Duffy is out of luck. I think it’s stupid the paper will just “dispose” of the work (are they going to burn it? Shred it??) because they can easily make a profit by selling the original art. Something tells me that Duffy had a falling out and this is the paper’s way of spiting him.

Yes, I find it a pretty sick business practice, but it’s also standard. I know it has changed a lot for freelance, but has it actually changed for employees producing cart? Hell, half my (non art) jobs, if they knew I was drawing Little Dee when i was supposed to be working, could claim rights to it because work produced while on the clock in most jobs is owned by the company.

But again, that said, it’s still a frikkin pathetic business practice.

oh, thanks for the b-day wishes, btw. :)

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