I wasn’t really going to talk about this new comic strip contest that Amazon’s got going — for one thing, it’s really nothing to do with webcomics. Quick retweet of Meredith Gran‘s dismay that the thing exists at all, and I’d be done.
But then Gordon McAlpin tweeted to me that he felt the terms were actually pretty fair, and I took a good close look at them. You can read our back-and-forth starting here, which is stilted because Twitter isn’t really suited to any kind of in-depth discussion. My reading of McAlpin’s main point is that the contest’s real prize is the syndication contract, which is negotiable (you can read the rules and such for yourself here; pay special attention to section 8).
My main point is: So what? The other contracts are marked prominently with the boilerplate:
____ contract with ____ is not negotiable, and Grand Prize Winner must sign “as is” upon receipt of the executable contract as described in Section 9 below if he/she wishes to enter into the _____ contract being awarded.
In any event, I’m not so certain that the development/syndication contracts are really worth all that much — webcomickers who had been under such contracts have found it to their advantage to get out of them and work on their own. Likewise, I’ll bet that any of the webcomickers that have signed book deals in the past couple years have managed terms a hell of a lot better than what’s on offer here: $5000 against royalties at a rate that’s non-negotiable and non-disclosed.
McAlpin also feels that the stature of the judges means that the winner has accomplished something prestigious even if they don’t choose to agree to the contracts — although I believe that all of the cartoonist judges print their books through contest co-sponsor Andrews & McMeel, and I believe they’re all syndicated through co-sponsor Universal Press Syndicate (they are, after all, one company); as such, those cartoonists have their own obligations to their publisher/syndicate, and judging this contest may be less about their wanting to find very talented new colleagues, and more about living up to their contract terms.
Put another way — with newspapers dying and comics pages shrinking, does any cartoonist that’s established really want to find the amazing new talent that may steal pagespace?
An analogy, if you will: I’m a big fan of Project Runway, but it’s a polite fiction that the show is trying to find the next great fashion designer. They’re interested in finding people that can do work that’s just interesting enough on short time, with little budget, and hopefully some drama. In 20 years, none of the Runway winners will be spoken of as being as important or influential as regular judge Michael Kors (nor is it in his interest for them to!), and I think the same thing will be true of the winners of this contest.
(Side note about that just interesting enough line: the deadline for the contest is less than a month after it was announced, and entrants have to put up 10 dailys, 2 Sundays, and a story hook description in that time — work that’s never appeared anywhere before. Unless you know of cartoonists that have fully-developed strip concepts ready to go, I think we’re going to see a lot of stuff that’s pretty embryonic.)
Naturally, it is given to none of us to see the future, but I honestly think that the winner will get a blip of publicity for a news cycle and then disappear. I hope that I’m wrong and McAlpin is right; I hope that they do find the next great comic strip artist, but I’m confident enough in my pessimism that I’ll bet Gordon McAlpin $20 that at the conclusion of the development period (up to two years) plus another three years for the strip to get settled, that fewer people will have heard of it and read it than, say, the new micro-strip that Rich Stevens launched yesterday.
(Reached for commentary, Stevens noted I have wanted a phone-friendly comic since the 90s, and In retrospect, I think this is the comic Ted [Rall, Stevens’ editor during his syndication foray] should have hired me to do. Subtext that I choose to read: Want to do a comic strip? Go do it.)
Also, acknowledgement must be paid to Brad Guigar, who did a far more thorough analysis of the contest rules than I have. In particular, there’s this tidbit Guigar noticed that speaks to McAlpin’s hope that the ability to not sign gives the winner some leverage:
At the finalist level, you are required to sign the contracts for A-McM and U-Uclick that will go into effect if you’re the Grand Prize winner. … If you don’t sign the contracts at the Finalist level, you can’t progress in the contest.
So I guess you have to pre-waive your ability to not sign in order to be in a position to sign? I completely missed that little turn of logic, but that’s why it’s Brad that will be featured on Fox Business tonight in the 5:00pm (EDT, GMT-4) block, barring any breaking news, and not me. He’s smart and telegenic.