ContractsThe definition of a contract, according to Miriam-Webster is, A binding agreement between two or more persons or parties; especially : one legally enforceable.
In the world of creating comic books, contracts are a powerful thing. Whether you are a creator looking to get your comic published, or a publisher working with creators, you will need contracts to help ensure that both parties understand the deal. That is the intent. Unfortunately, many people dont read the contract, misinterpret it, or trust other to sort it out. This will almost always lead to conflict.
Types of ContractsFreelancer Work For Hire The freelance creator is paid a certain amount, either up front, in royalties later, or in some other fashion, like with product. The freelance creator does the work for the publisher and the publisher then owns that work. Any ideas, storylines, or characters created while under this contract become the property of the publisher.
Creator Owned Publishers like Image Comics let the creators keep their intellectual property rights. The publisher may opt to take a portion of the sales, merchandising, and future moneys earned with the property, each one will be different. Typically though, the creator is responsible for creating the comic and the publisher will then print and distribute it for them.
Exclusive This is an agreement between a creator and a publisher where the creator agrees to work only for the publishing company. Typically reserved for more high profile creators, this type of contract will have some excellent perks such as insurance and retirement plans, which freelance creators need to provide for themselves.
Know Your ContractIf you dont understand the contract, dont sign it. Its just that simple. Not knowing your contract is like driving without a seatbelt; when an accident happens, you will be in a dire situation.
The problem with many contracts is the legal language used to create it. If you are having problems understanding it, pay a lawyer to read it for you and decipher it. There are also online resources set up to help you in just this situation, such as Unscrewed a group of creators that set up a website for just this purpose, to help educate creators about contracts. You can take your contract to them and users will give their opinions about whether or not it is up to snuff.
The Ultimate Defense?Unfortunately, in todays society, contracts are not foolproof. They are broken everyday by all kinds of people. When that happens, you may be left hanging in the lurch. A now famous, or perhaps infamous, example of this is CrossGen Comics. CrossGen opened up in Florida, under the management of millionaire Mark Allessi. He got many creators to come down and take part in a new experiment with a line of comics that had little to do with superheroes. Huge creators came down and took part in the process. Things went downhill, when CrossGen lost the ability to pay the creators that had worked and relocated for the company. CrossGen went bankrupt, and many creators lost a lot of money over it.
If your contract is broken, seek legal counsel. You may be able to sue them to get back your damages, or come to some other kind of agreement.
Famous Contract BattlesNeil Gaiman VS Todd McFarlane Neil Gaiman entered into a deal with Image co-founder Todd McFarlane. It was a handshake deal, no contract. McFarlane supposedly told Gaiman, Ill treat you better than the big boys. Gaimans supposed response was, Just treat me the same as the big boys. What came out of that was Spawn #9 and characters like Angela, Cogliostro, and Medieval Spawn all became part of a battle that went on for years. McFarlane granted that Gaiman had created the Angela character, but not the other two. In addition to this, there was another part that related to Gaimans work on Miracleman, which McFarlane had bought the rights two. The two creators had talked about swapping any interest in the characters, with Gaiman getting Miracleman and McFarlane getting the Spawn characters. When things couldnt be worked out, lawsuits were filed. There was a lot of speculation as to their comments to each other, and finally Gaiman won the case in an appellate court.
Stan Lee VS Marvel Comics No matter where you might side on how much Stan Lee actually contributed to the creation of many of Marvel Comics characters, no one can argue just how much money Marvel is making off them these days. With movies franchises raking in the millions, if not billions of dollars, one can understand that a creator of those characters would like to see some of that action. When Spider-Man came out, bringing in over $400 million dollars, Stan Lee sued Marvel comics stating that he was owed certain amounts from the contract that he had with them back in the late 80s. Marvel came back, saying that the 1 million dollar a year stipend they paid him covered that. It looked like the two were going to go into a bitter battle, but Marvel eventually settled with Lee for an undisclosed amount.
As you can see, there can always be conflicts with or without a contract, but most professionals will tell you to get it in writing.
In ConclusionIn business, the contract is king. It can make or break a creator, publisher, or studio. It is supposed to give protection to all involved, laying out what will and will not happen with a comic book property. Without a contract, you are left with the honesty of your business partner, and if you have ever seen, The Peoples Court, you will often see one side making a statement, with the other denying it. The judge will ask them, Wheres the contract? Inevitably one side will say that they trusted the other side.
Its a sad truth about some of society. People lie, swindle, and steal. Then there are those that are honest, virtuous, and full of integrity. For either side, it is wise to get what you want done in writing so that all are protected in the long run from misunderstandings.