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  • How to Co-Create Comic Books

    That was misleading, I admit. I don’t know how to co-create comic books.

    Not that this ever stops me, I charge right into working with other cartoonists to bring new books and characters into existence, hoping I’ll figure it out on the way. This subject comes up regularly at Periscope Studio, of which I’m a member. I don’t know that we’ve reached a consensus, or that it’s even possible to do, but we keep talking about it out in the main room where everyone can hear our thoughts. I think that’s what needs to happen in the comics (and really, all entertainment) industry now.

    The past month has opened up several unhealed wounds in comics- the new Watchmen comics, the Ghost Rider ruling, and the Walking Dead lawsuit (I’m not going to choose links, you can google any of those and bone up on them yourself based on your preferred news sources). Not pleasant stuff, but we might as well make the most of it and start hashing these practices out while it’s fresh on our minds. You may be worried about broaching the subject with a friend of yours you’re teaming with, so there’s never been a better excuse to bring it up.

    I’m going to confine my thoughts to creation at the ground level, before any publishers are involved because that is the area we have the most control over. And if we can’t get near consensus as individuals how these things should work, good luck trying to dictate policy to a corporation. This is purely a beginning dialogue, and I’m sorry if I infuriate some with no clear cut answers. Those have to be reached between the collaborators.

    Ownership

    Like everyone else, I know how to create things with my favorite creator, me. And I even have problems with that fool; he’s not fast enough for one, and will stop progress on this new thing to take paying work. But great things can come of two or more minds working to make one idea. The problem part is that later everyone feels their contributions were the greatest, because that’s the nature of creating. You can talk and plan for hours and days, but later you get back into your head and write or draw, investing your self in making this thing happen. And it feels like you did it. I can attest that I’ve come in and inked or colored pieces and felt extremely proprietary about the work even at that stage- many will argue that the last person to touch a work determines the success of it. The point of this is that everyone feels their contribution was key if they cared at all about making the story work. That’s why we have to agree on the value of our roles in the process at the outset of a project. And then maybe write that down and sign it as an informal contract, just to make sure you’re all on the same page. Many will rightly say go get a lawyer and lawyer this action up now, but it could be useful to keep these declarations more fluid up until the point of going to press, and then make it all solid and binding before there is a book. Because roles can easily change along the way.

    Roles?

    First, the discussion as I’m framing it here, assumes an artist brings a lot to the table. If you’re one of those whose mouth utters “artists just illustrate my vision I’m the idea man,” don’t even bother weighing in. Go run around and tell everyone your story and see how far that gets you. An artist brings characters and a world to life, it’s much, much more than putting down what someone else indicated. Consider the flip side of that situation in movies where the director routinely gets more credit for realizing the film than the screenwriter. Go ahead, consider it! Except for Charlie Kaufman, you won’t even see the writer’s name on the marquee. Of course, produced screenplays get at least a hundred times what a comic script does, so that eases the sting.

    Even if you can’t relate at all to how long it takes to be able become an accomplished graphic artist or the simple fact that it takes ten times longer to draw a page than to write it, you should be able to empathize enough to assume the story achievement splits in half. An artist who feels invested in the creation produces on a level you won’t see from one brought in as a hired gun- see any number of unsold screenplays adapted to comics for proof of this.

    That particular trip-up probably comes from the precedent of the greater world of books. “You wouldn’t call Quentin Blake the co-author of Roald Dahl’s books because he did all those illustrations.” No, because that is prose. Comic books (or graphic novels if you must) are far more art-intensive, it is not illustration. The artist makes the characters and world believable or not through acting, style, and a thousand subtle choices.

    Partially here I’m advocating for the artist because that was my role for a good while until people started trusting my writing ability, so I know what goes into it. I’m also trying to keep myself in perspective since I mostly write now. It’s not all about who came up with an idea, it’s what made it work.

    The Split

    Okay, here’s all most of you care about, where does all that money go. No one ever asks ‘where does all that debt go’ which is more often the situation, but hey.

    It may sound like I’m pushing the case heavily for artists based on the sheer amount of time they have to spend on realizing a work, but notice I never let that percentage of ownership drop below ’50′ for the writer. Sure, a key idea may have cooked in the writer’s head for years before it was ready to be presented to anyone else. Or the thing everyone hooks onto is the catchy name (I’m really not belittling that, a good name is a valuable component) or premise. I mainly want to knock away some at the notion that the idea is everything. Millions of people have good ideas, it’s the ones who build the invention that did something.

    I tend to think the artist and writer should be 50/50 owners, and if they worked entirely unpaid towards a back-end (after sales) pay out, then in books, the artist should either get a larger cut of book sales, or a larger advance if anyone is offering an advance. Something that recognizes the greater length of time put into making it happen. Media sales, back to 50/50 because then the concept alone is a huge part of the sale.

    When Steve Lieber and I began working on Underground (over there in the sidebar), we thought it would be fair to have book sales go 70/30 to Steve, and back to the even split on any media rights sales. And if the book ever gets beyond paying for itself to Image that is exactly what we will do. Also, if it ever becomes a movie, in which case books sales will magically appear. You may have noticed the market lately is particularly tough for non-traditional genres. Erika Moen and I get an advance for the soon-to-be-announced Bucko book, and we agreed she should get most of that, and then split sales. Again, we’re trying things, and seeing what works. Despite the economic realities, plan for wild success just in case. That I think is the place co-creators can hammer out something they consider fair, by remembering that everything doesn’t have to break down in the same proportions. If any notion from this ramble gets put out there, it should probably be this one.

    The Hard Parts
    But say you agree on that. Some of the iffy parts come from when someone else was involved early on.
    •Do you count some concept sketches as the artistic contribution- did drawing up some looks make the book exist as a thing before pages were drawn? (My impulse is to say no, but what if a publisher agreed to print a book based on that before a regular artist came onboard?)

    •Or you’re writing, this thing is the expression of your life, maybe it’s even based on you and you just can’t see sharing ownership- can you at least find a way to pay the artist while it’s getting done? Feed him or her, or paint their house or something?

    •Or the writer’s endless hustling and going to every show and sleeping on every couch made a lot happen, how about that?

    •Or the artist in this relationship is the only ‘name’ in the business and it’s based on her involvement that stores ordered- more ownership for the artist?

    Those are the ones I can’t just answer outright. That’s the stuff that makes each work a different case, and why you have to bring it up and see what you and your partner think about it. Feel free to weigh in below, but I’d like to hear from those actively involved in collaboration, people for who this isn’t an academic exercise. This is not the place to rail on specific creators or publishers, there are plenty of forums available for that now.

    Comments

    Comment from Paul Tobin
    Time: February 13, 2012, 8:11 am

    I think you really hit on the main truths for partnerships. That they can be vague depending on each project, and each creator. And also that if you’re one of those writers that insist it’s your vision, that an artist is merely a vessel through which “your” story comes about, then you’re too dickish to deserve any success.

    And… like you mention… even if you ARE one of the dickish writers, it’s STILL to your benefit to provide a good chunk (say… 50%) of the ownership, because an artist who feels invested is an artist who puts more of herself into the art, heightening the chances of any commercial / critical success.

    I guess, when it comes down to it, I probably feel the same way as you seem to when it comes to co-creating comics. I’m not really sure I could come up with the rules on how to co-create properly, but I sure as hell know what’s wrong when I see it.

    Comment from Parker
    Time: February 13, 2012, 8:20 am

    Yeah, it’s definitely easier to tell what doesn’t feel right. That’s why I think starting with a fluid arrangement with a definite date to make it solid might be useful for some people. Thanks Paul.

    Comment from Don Garvey
    Time: February 13, 2012, 8:27 am

    Spot on. I think that many artists (meaning writers and illustrators) have difficulty treating a partnership as business and often times try to avoid that discussion in favor of sticking to his or her strengths and making forward progress.

    Discussing business truths may be awkward, but they shouldn’t be difficult. If they are, it is probably worth taking a step back and reevaluating whether the creators are good partners for one another. This shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is, and is best to address as soon as there is mutual agreement to move forward together on a project.

    This goes true for any business, not just comics. Assume greatness and tackle this subject early on, don’t avoid it until something happens.

    Comment from Paul Allor
    Time: February 13, 2012, 9:14 am

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, since I’m working with several artists on different mini-series pitches.

    Personally, if an artist is there through both the pitch/development process and the first several issues of the book, then I can not justify given them anything less than 50 percent ownership. If the characters and the world looked different, it wouldn’t be the same book. And if the story was different, it wouldn’t be the same book. Fifty fifty.

    So the model I’ve been discussing with my collaborators is pretty much what you describe above: An even split of rights, and a much, much larger chunk of the book’s initial revenue going to the artist.
    But one of the things you mentioned is early work and concept sketches. The approach I’m taking is to not hammer down the ownership split and other legal matters until we’re working on the comic itself, and not just pitch material.

    I wouldn’t want to enter into a 50/50 ownership on something, then have my artist get an offer from a larger publisher with a decent page rate, and leave the project before issue 1 comes out. I think the better move is to enter into an agreement that covers only pitch pages and concept work, with the understanding that it will be replaced by a second agreement, once we start working on the comic itself.

    Having said all that, I also worked with several artists on my Clockwork anthology, and that was pure work for hire. But if any of those short comics are ever expanded into longer works, the first thing I’ll do is enter into a new agreement with a 50/50 ownership split. And in the very, very unlikely event that any of those stories are adapted to other media, I’ll also go back to the original artist and offer them 50 percent ownership.

    The bottom line is, we all want to work with talented people, and the best way to do that is to earn a reputation for being a good collaborator and treating people right. So for me, giving artist the respect (and financial consideration) they deserve is both the most ethical thing to do, and the smartest long-term business plan.

    Comment from Mike Henderson
    Time: February 13, 2012, 9:20 am

    Very well put! An excellent resource for creators new to the collaboration game. Specifically the “Split” section, a notoriously grey and difficult to define area for artists and writers who’ve never dealt with it before. I’ll be sure to spread the link!

    Comment from Parker
    Time: February 13, 2012, 9:26 am

    I think the better move is to enter into an agreement that covers only pitch pages and concept work, with the understanding that it will be replaced by a second agreement, once we start working on the comic itself.

    That sounds pretty solid to me, Paul. It often happens that someone is involved for ten minutes at the beginning and then there are disputes later, that’s one of the major things we should try to figure out.

    Comment from David Gallaher
    Time: February 13, 2012, 10:08 am

    I have worked with my artistic partner Steve Ellis for nearly five years on a broad range of projects. It has been, without a doubt, the best part of my thirteen years in the business. Our first project, High Moon was something that I conceived and wrote through various stages for over three years before I brought it to Steve. When I brought it to DC, I had a choice to be the sole holder or the copyright or share it. I decided to share it — and ownership of the property becuase I had faith in our collaboration and our shared vision. In general, we split what we do on our projects 50/50. Steve’s contribution has proven to be immeasurable.

    At those early stages, I believe that ‘concretizing the abstract’ ideas in a pitch can be artistically difficult. I think artists who do that work should be compensated fairly. Artists and writers should decide a head of time how that will shake out. Is it work for hire? Is there a % involved? Is there shared ownership? Most important, there should be a contract or a letter of intent that details the parameters of the deal.

    Comment from Parker
    Time: February 13, 2012, 10:10 am

    LETTER OF INTENT- thanks David, for using the actual term while I fumbled around with “write some stuff down on a thing!”

    Comment from Jim Dougan
    Time: February 13, 2012, 10:11 am

    Jeff – As I agree with everything you’ve written, nothing to add here, apart from a hearty thank-you for posting this and for framing an important discussion in such a thoughtful and useful way.

    Comment from Costa Koutsoutis
    Time: February 13, 2012, 11:51 am

    As someone working really hard to not only create my own work (all by my lonesome!) as well as work with others, thank you for outlining this all out. Especially for someone poor like me who can’t afford to pay a page rate, but can offer splits of rights and ownership as payment or “collateral” of sorts.

    I will say though that if I offered a script for something and 50% rights in lieu of payment and they took it but paid work took priority, I’d probably want to know if they were OK with amending the Letter Of Intent due to whatever timeline or agreements of workload being altered.

    Comment from Dennis Culver
    Time: February 13, 2012, 11:59 am

    Comics is a cartoonist’s medium and collaboration is an imperfect attempt at breaking that job into smaller jobs. The art and writing inform and influence each other every step of the way so it’s impossible to unravel that to any sort of percentage. If you’re looking to have power or a controlling percentage of ownership in a project you’re not ready to collaborate.

    Ownership extends beyond money. It means being able to decide how the work is presented and represented over the years in this and other mediums. Artists and writers should be compensated for the time of their labor and still retain equal ownership. Making a creator trade labor compensation for ownership is exploitation.

    Comment from Dennis Culver
    Time: February 13, 2012, 12:12 pm

    As far as the hard parts you outlined I think two of those can be worked out as marketing expenses (hustling and name recognition) which could translate into % of profits (never ownership)

    If the work is so deeply personal that you can’t see giving up ownership then you should do it all yourself. If you can’t draw then maybe you should consider a writer’s medium instead of a cartoonist’s medium.

    And finally if you have an artist doing concept sketches but for whatever reason they’re not doing the pages you should have the guy you’re actually collaborating with start over on concepts or you’re looking at a three way equal split. If neither of those options are possible then neither is the project.

    Comment from Parker
    Time: February 13, 2012, 12:16 pm

    NOW it’s a dialogue! Thanks for your input, Dennis.

    Comment from Scott Kurtz
    Time: February 13, 2012, 12:43 pm

    I’m working on a collaborative project right now with my brother. We co-wrote a graphic novel and have spent 3 years finding an artist who won’t flake on us.

    We were both gung-ho on finding some one willing to do work-for-hire to avoid complications. Then I started to think that the best way to avoid complications was to offer a percentage of profits on what the book makes in the future so that nobody feels slighted if it were to take off.

    Now I don’t think it matters either way. Potential energy versus Kinetic energy. Projects that are just ideas where everyone is excited and signing agreements that seem very fair have potential energy. Then suddenly it gets optioned or is a hit and sells well and no agreement signed is good enough.

    Contracts are not magical documents. They’re just a statement of good intentions based on what people THINK are going to happen. And then when something happens that nobody expects, resentment builds up, feelings get hurt and everyone sues everyone else. So the contracts you signed during the “potential energy” phase don’t matter, do they?

    50/50 is probably your safest bet. Nobody could ask for more. Someone probably might but I doubt any court would be inclined to give it to them.

    Some percentage of ownership or percentage of profits will act as a pressure valve if your projects potential energy should be converted to kinetic and you want to avoid an explosion.

    But honestly, in the end, no matter how reasonable you are in the potential energy stage, it’s all going to fall apart if you get an AMC show, right? I mean, that’s just how people are.

    Comment from Parker
    Time: February 13, 2012, 1:04 pm

    Weirdly, I was just talking about potential energy before I read your comment. But I was referring to the pinewood derby car in my previous post.
    Your last line gets a little too into specific cases than I wanted, but at least you didn’t use names. But doesn’t that fall into the realm of planning for the best? I don’t think anyone goes into these things assuming failure.
    Though I mention contracts, I don’t know that a legal discussion helps here- it always goes to someone saying “you signed x” and that kind of talk. I just want people to be clear with each other what their roles are, and be okay with it. Or at least, consider it harder than they might have.

    Comment from Steve Lieber
    Time: February 13, 2012, 1:04 pm

    I’d like to build on something Scott said: you don’t just base a contract on what you think will happen, but on a worst case scenario of what you’re afraid will happen. It’s a good idea to write your agreement for a hypothetical future where the people you like and trust have died, and your contract has passed into the hands of an unfamiliar business staffed by strangers.

    Comment from Sara Ryan
    Time: February 13, 2012, 1:34 pm

    One important piece I’d like to add to the mix: consider your preexisting relationship with your collaborator from the beginning of the project. If you’re friends, romantic partners, or otherwise more-than-casual-acquaintances, it can add some complex variables to the collaboration equation. There’s a fine Work Made For Hire post on the topic, Let’s Be Friends, with great suggestions for improving your chances of collaborating successfully with people you enjoy hanging out with in non-collaboration contexts.

    Comment from Parker
    Time: February 13, 2012, 1:43 pm

    That’s perfect, Sara, thanks. Everyone might want to poke around more at Katie’s site, as she is a lawyer who cares about comics!

    Comment from Kieron
    Time: February 13, 2012, 2:36 pm

    It’s a peculiar phenomenon of collaborating that instinctively we gravitate towards working with our friends, because we usually have common interests, sensibilities, senses of humor, etc., yet the creative process almost always involves ego and the collaborative process can drive a huge wedge in friendships.

    The introduction of $ and credit seems to play the biggest part in driving people apart, as I see it. If we were just doing these things for shits and giggles and knew that nobody else might ever see or care about what we were doing, it might never come to the sour end it often does. But then, how many of us ever pursue things without a desire for money, fame, power, or at the very least, recognition?

    I often wonder, as a creative, artistic person, what would I do if I knew with absolute certainty that I never needed to earn a single dollar again in my lifetime? Would I bother to create anything? Would I just sit on a beach and stare at the ocean? Would I make silly comics that nobody might ever read or care about?

    I don’t have an answer, but I find this discussion very interesting.

    Comment from Parker
    Time: February 13, 2012, 2:53 pm

    I hope to one day be in a position to answer that last question.

    Comment from Jemiah
    Time: February 13, 2012, 3:21 pm

    Great post, Jeff… I’ve been dreaming of a comics collaboration for even longer than I’ve been writing (my first “fiction writing” was actually me drawing an Indiana Jones comic when I was 9; it was funny). I still haven’t given up hope that I can find the right art person to work with, because rather than adapting pre-existing prose, I’d rather work up a whole new thing alongside an artist, both favoring their ideas about story and presentation and providing immediate feedback about what works, aesthetically, from my POV. Also, you rock like magma, and Periscope is the best!

    Comment from Parker
    Time: February 13, 2012, 4:01 pm

    Thanks Jemiah, I look forward to reading that book when it comes together!

    Comment from Gabe Bridwell
    Time: February 13, 2012, 5:36 pm

    Jeff, thanks for starting a discussion about this and talking about how you handled the issue in some of your projects.

    I think coming up with different splits for different areas (issues, trades, media, merchandise, etc.) makes a ton of sense. It always bothered me I’d spend 300 hours penciling an issue (I’m not that fast—1.5 days-per-page) and still split income 50/50 with writer—who I know had been thinking/problem-solving the story for quite a while, but who’s script didn’t take more than 40 hours to write. Don’t mean to minimize, whine or complain, just a simple matter of man hours.

    And Steve, thought you had a brilliant point with the planning for the worst—even being forced into dealing with a new collaborator.

    Comment from Parker
    Time: February 13, 2012, 5:51 pm

    Welcome to Thunderdome, Gabe!

    Comment from Matt
    Time: February 13, 2012, 6:40 pm

    Thanks so much for this discussion. This topic is one I’ve been thinking about a lot lately as I am building a project currently with a friend. We have yet to discuss arrangements so in a way I’m glad all this ugly litigious stuff has come up recently to give me a better sense of how to go about figuring it out.

    As many have said, every situation is different. But I am curious about something that wasn’t touched on too much. How much value should be placed on the main idea or concept (e.g. A planet where apes rule, Fairy tale creatures in real life)? Is the concept worth more than the characters and plot? Seems to me that the high concept (the hook) is more important to future media concerns considering how adaptation to another form can drastically alter a story. I’d be interested to hear what anyone else thinks.

    Comment from Randall P.
    Time: February 13, 2012, 6:40 pm

    Here’s a question: Let’s say you’re a writer and you’re looking to collaborate with someone on a book. Neither of you have a name, but you know that the artist in question is, shall we say, “po” and needs cash. You decide to offer that artist a page rate on the first issue and after that, split ownership. Is it wrong to take a larger percentage of the profits off of the book sales in order to recoup your out-of-pocket expenses? Secondly, what methods would you suggest using to ensure that your artist completes a successful run on the series (eg. six issues or so for a trade)?

    Comment from Parker
    Time: February 13, 2012, 6:58 pm

    Randall, you’re getting right to the stuff I was hoping people would start talking about. Not because I have answers, but because I want to know that too. I don’t have a problem with recouping money after sales, and I doubt many artists who needed money up front would either. You’re not trying to take more ownership after all.

    There have been stage-centric (cascading?) contracts that were set up to encourage completing a run, and determining what the run would be. I’d like to hear from someone else who has been part of one of those, if anyone here has.

    Comment from Parker
    Time: February 13, 2012, 7:02 pm

    Matt, as I said above, I don’t actually place much value in the high-concept, I’m more about the execution. But that’s another one I’d like to open to the room here and see what others think. Lots of works with the same high-concept get made all the time without legal battles just because that’s the way society works, concepts occur to multiple people at the same time. So I think what has to make the difference is the executed work.

    Comment from Paul Tobin
    Time: February 13, 2012, 8:32 pm

    Matt… I have to agree with Jeff that I don’t place much value in the high-concept. And, as a writer, I’m probably the one that SHOULD, but high-concepts have a tendency to be highly derailed, anyway. Being the idea man IS important… but the amount of time that goes into the conceptual stage is small compared to the sitting-down-and-bringing-it-to-life stage. So, I’d advise pushing it aside for negotiating purposes. Concept really means nothing next to execution… if the project isn’t brought to completion, the concept is meaningless.

    Comment from Paul Tobin
    Time: February 13, 2012, 8:37 pm

    Randall… There’s no problem with your thoughts on giving an initial page rate to the artist, and then recouping that “loss” down the road, in my opinion. I’m doing that on two creator-owned projects right now. Just make sure that if you’re taking steps to even out the money, you’re also evening out the ownership / rights.

    As far as how to ensure your artist stays around? Not sure that’s possible. You can set it up so that the artist incurs loss of profit / ownership, but those can be tricky as hell. It’s like standing at the altar and telling your future wife, “I’ve taken some precautions in case you flake on me, or go insane, or just decide you don’t want to be around me anymore.” So… I’m not sure there IS an enveloping answer to that one. Depends on the individual you’re working with, and the project, and the extent of your collaboration, publishing venue, etc.

    I think it’s always worthwhile to write down what you’re willing to offer, and then pretend you’re on the other side, and determine how you would feel about that offer.

    Comment from Randall P.
    Time: February 13, 2012, 9:03 pm

    Since we’re speaking about theoretical deals here, what if you offered a page rate for a specific artist on the first issue out of your own pocket, but then added a clause that stated that the artist will get a 50/50 split on book revenue for future artwork while NOT retaining a 50/50 split of the overall rights…BUT…IF they complete a certain number of issues (enough for a trade), they will get a 50/50 split of the overall rights.

    I don’t mean this to sound particularly slimy. From my perspective, business is a sticky, gross topic, but it must be discussed. My point here is whether or not this particular method of doing things seems fair. In this situation, it seems like the artist gets paid for his/her work (on the sales) and that there is an incentive in the contract for them to finish the work for a particular story arc or book (50% ownership of the characters). As a non-professional, this seems fair, but I’m not sure how working artists would see such a split. I realize that artwork takes much longer, but a lot of times, readers buy work based upon a certain style of art and to have that change throughout a story throws people off. If there’s incentive in there to get them through the entire story, and the artist is still getting paid, would that make people happy? Or am I just a wannabe 1%-er?

    Comment from Paul Tobin
    Time: February 13, 2012, 9:19 pm

    Randall… I think you have the skeleton there for a possible basis… but a lot of it still depends on particulars. You mention a page rate, for instance, but how competitive a page rate could you offer?

    And, moving aside from using you as an example (because here comes the slime) what if the writer boots the artist in favor of another person right before the ownership clause comes into play, sort of like a business firing an employee before retirement benefits come due?

    That’s just a couple examples of what I (and I think Jeff) are talking about when we say that it’s really impossible to come up with hypothetical solutions that fit all the parameters of a legal working relationship. Each situation is SO different. For instance (and I’m only half joking, here) I can work with Colleen Coover, easily one of my favorite artists, as long as I remember to do the dishes occasionally. If somebody else calls her up, they better come knocking with money up front and half ownership.

    I think the thing to remember is that a business contract is a safety net. It catches the big things, but small things will slip through here and there, and a big enough force can rip the net to shreds.

    Comment from Jamie Gambell
    Time: February 13, 2012, 9:43 pm

    Great article.

    I wanted to weigh in with a couple of examples from my own practice.

    Firstly, a book which I am writing, featuring characters I have created, with art being done by an artist I am paying.

    I currently have two such books either out or in early stages – The Hero Code, with Jonathan Rector, and Department O, with Andrew Ross MacLean.

    I am paying both artists.

    I have copyright over the material.

    However, I have a deal with them both which says that profits from the book, as well as media rights, will be split 50/50.

    I am paying the artists because I feel that as a writer/creator, I am freer to pursue other forms of revenue generating (like a full time day-job, which I have) than an artist, in pure time cost terms.

    I know “profit” can be a grey area, but I am talking pure terms of money made after the cost of the book production (as well as the artist, I pay a colourist and a letterer).

    The other example is for a couple of spin-off titles I am working on with other writers. I basically gave an outline, gave character names, and then let them run with the stories. These books are The Intranauts (by Josh Gorfain and David Brame), and The Black Wraith (by Brett Williams and M. Lee Harris).

    I am paying for the production costs of the books, pairing them up with artists (again, who I am paying) and covering the colouring and lettering.

    I retain copyright, but we all share creator credits.

    I have a deal with them which says that any characters they create for the series, are theirs to do with as they please, as long as no retro-active copyright can be placed on them which stops the initial story from being used by me.

    As well as this, I have the following arrangement:

    With the first arc the profit split is as follows 40/30/30 myself, writer, artist.

    Any subsequent arcs the profits shift to 20/40/40 myself, writer, artist.

    If, however, the creative team wanted to take their characters away, name their books something else, and go it alone, they would be free to do so, and split the profits anyway they saw fit.

    The reasoning behind this is as follows; firstly, I am basically operating as a producer on these. I have a certain amount of protection over the names and characters I created for these series, as they tie into my own series, which is ongoing (something I have invested heavily in, both in terms of time and money). The funding for these books is coming out of my budget for my own series, so I am looking at them as an investment, in the hope of returning funds to my own series – I am taking a risk.

    It is important, I think, to once again point out that I am paying the artists on these books.

    The writers have agreed to a back-end deal, which hopefully will not be a lose/lose for them – they get a book out at no cost, they may get some money from the series, it may lead to bigger and better things.

    We’re under no illusion about the chances of financial success with indie comics, but we live in hope!

    Comment from Randall P.
    Time: February 13, 2012, 9:56 pm

    Paul, in my own little fantasy world of working out a contract with an artist (something that isn’t happening at the moment, mind you…that’s why it’s a fantasy), I would hopefully discuss issues like that with that particular artist. In an ideal world, we could sit down and discuss major theoretical possibilities in terms of contracts. Just as you instantly though of firing an artist before the benefits kick in (something that I didn’t even think of, which speaks to my business acumen), there would also be things that I could think of from a writing perspective as well. I would say, “Okay, in a WORST case scenario, four months would be enough to pencil a 22 page comic (or whatever the page lengths are in these troubled times). In this contract, Artist X must produce 22 pages within a four month period or Writer Y reserves the right to get a different artist and the clause for creator rights is reverted to the writer.”

    Ah, but even as I write this, I begin to think, “Well, what if Artist X simply starts scrawling curse words in his own feces for 22 pages and demands his creator rights…” and the slippery slope turns into a water slide.

    Then again, if it actually reached that point, wouldn’t it end up being litigated anyway (an example of the contract ripped to shreds)? “Your honor, Artist X produced work in his own feces and still demands half-ownership of the characters…”

    My last question here before I go back to lurking on the fringes of the internet is this: At what stage do you consult a lawyer? Do you get your chicken-scratch contract written on a cocktail napkin notarized? Do you type something up formally? I honestly have no idea where that stage begins.

    And thanks for the forum to answer these questions, Jeff. These are things that have been running through my mind quite a bit as of late…

    Comment from Parker
    Time: February 13, 2012, 10:20 pm

    They’re good questions Randall, and Paul has some good thoughts there. It reminded me of a feature I worked on for a guy years ago who had crafted contracts so that if his collaborators and he dissolved the working relationship, any claim to ownership would also vanish. And wouldn’t you know, he always managed to have problems with the artists or writers right near the end of the projects and the ownership would remain his- weird, huh? I didn’t give a shit because the one I worked on was ridiculous and I knew the property wouldn’t sell in a million years, but there was an uglier fallout with another creator over a book that sold and was actually made into a movie.

    I get that you’re trying to figure out how to insure a regular artist on the book, but it will likely come down to you knowing that artist and what will motivate the person. I’d go more for focusing on keeping the artist’s interest high, which usually means giving that creator lots of input.

    Comment from Parker
    Time: February 13, 2012, 10:32 pm

    Jamie, as your books are already well underway, I’m not going to chime in with my blowhard opinions because it’s not academic anymore, it’s happening, and these creators obviously feel it’s a deal they can do. Thanks for walking us through your thinking on it. My biggest question is of course whereyougetallatmoney!

    Comment from Jamie Gambell
    Time: February 14, 2012, 5:23 am

    Parker – god, this is going to sound depressingly sad – I work long hours in a fairly well paid job, moved to the US about 4 years ago from the UK, and don’t really do much else!

    I work during the week, my wife works during the weekend, we have a young son. I don’t drink, gamble, eat extravagantly, drive fast cars, wear fast clothes, play video games, watch movies too often, get my hair cut too often!

    Basically, I am richer in bank than I am in time. I wake up an hour or two early each morning to work on scripting, or to go through art work, and that seems to work.

    I am also willing to take a little longer on each project than I think some people can afford to.

    Comment from Augie De Blieck Jr.
    Time: February 14, 2012, 7:22 am

    And I hope that after all the contracts are signed and agreements are made between writer and artist, that the “hired hands” doing the lettering and coloring are treated well, too, and not just seen as expenses towards making a comic. I’ve seen far too many upstart comics ruined by awful coloring and scattershot lettering.

    Comment from Parker
    Time: February 14, 2012, 7:36 am

    Some people do cut colorists in for a percentage of returns. I think in the event of a big media sale, a nice bonus wouldn’t be out of order for coloring and lettering.

    Comment from Scott Bachmann
    Time: February 14, 2012, 10:59 am

    This whole discussion is an eye opener. I went into creator owned comics to create a venue for my writing, and I never once considered anything other than this is my work that I’m financing and protecting as a sole creator. I’ve funded all my work as art for hire and been fairly specific on character designs. I do all the publishing, lettering, and in some cases the inking. All from my pocket.

    On the other hand, I put the artists on equal terms of credit billing, and have allowed them to reuse my characters provided they acknowledge my copywrite ownership while they work for me, and that we’d work out a new arrangement if they leave and still want to use my properties. Any sales of such art, or their commissioned originals, I take no cut from. They did the work, they should keep the profits.

    I’ve also paid them extra if I use their art for anything other than the original commission. So I pay again if I use the art in banners, ads, etc. I promote them as much as myself at cons and websites and social media.

    Now i don’t expect to make ANY profit for awhile, and I’m really not in this TO make a profit. I want to make comics. So revenue isn’t something I’ve thought of, let alone splitting. Nor did I think of my artists as true co-creators.

    Now I’ve had a change of heart. If/when my comics take off and turn a genuine profit or attract a publisher other than my self-published means, I’ll sit down with my artists and discuss profit sharing and co-creation rights with them. Something none of them expected, and it was clear from the outset I wasn’t offering. I’ll have to think about 50/50 as I have a lot more dogs in this race then the paid artists, but it’s a valid point that the work is nothing without their contribution.

    Comment from Ian MacEwan
    Time: February 14, 2012, 12:06 pm

    As an artist who hasn’t yet had to deal with solidifying co-creation deals on paper, but is something I’ll have to deal with very soon, this is really helpful stuff.

    I often think of percentages of profits-divying with collaborative work, and I’m so happy to hear from a writer that wants to give more to the artist. I’ve been told again and again that this is not a dick thing to ask, but it’s hard to not feel like one when it comes up. Even when the writer knows how much more time and labor I’m putting into my end of things, even when that writer is able to bang out other scripts for other artists to work on while I’m toiling away on page 15, a tiny part of my brain still asks if it’s fair to ask for more. I’m starting to get over that, and it’s reassuring to hear this from you. Granted, the stuff I’ve worked on has been very collaborative, and there has been a clear feeling that both sides are giving input, rather than feeling “farmed out”. And by more, I think relegating that to an advance or some book profits is as far as that more should go.

    The idea that ownership should be 50/50 sounds perfect to me. As well as all media rights and profit sharing from things like adaptation. I’m sure things vary on a case-to-case basis, but it seems like having an equal say in the various ways your property is disseminated beyond the original work is the most important part of a comfortable partnership. In that part of the partnership, anyway. What I’m saying is probably obvious? I don’t really know. I’ve been collaborating on a comic with my writer, Jason Leivian, and we’re both pretty new at it. If anything, this post and all the recent news has made me feel like getting this junk out of the way as soon as possible is essential. Because in case this turns into anything, I don’t want anything to sour, on a friendship level or a business one.

    Like I said, I’m pretty green at this, so all of this is said without experience dealing with the more specific bullet points at the end of your post. I’ll clearly have to learn as I go, but this have given a good deal to think about. Thanks so much for posting this, Jeff.

    Comment from Ian MacEwan
    Time: February 14, 2012, 12:13 pm

    Oh, and before I come as too much of a greedy butthole, 60/40 is the split I had always imagined was fair. This is when I have in mind that I’ll be doing layouts, pencilling, inking, and often times lettering. Throw in the added labor of scanning, digital cleanup, and all that junk, and 60/40 seems more than fair to me.

    Comment from Tyler James
    Time: February 14, 2012, 1:52 pm

    Great discussion.

    One thing that needs to be discussed is the “walk away” clause.

    Jamie, I think the deal you’re offering with your creator is great, but what happens if when super-talented Hero Code artist Jonathan Rector leaves the project at issue #5 when Marvel or DC realize this guy NEEDS to be on one of their books?

    Does he retain 50% ownership of THE HERO CODE going forward?

    If so, how do you continue the series? Because you obviously can’t offer a new artist as good a deal.

    In general I’ve preferred to keep it simple:

    - A straight up 50/50% co-creation thing where the artist and I split both the costs and the profits on a project.

    - Work for hire. We agree on a page rate. I pay the artist a rate he can live with, he/she does the work. It’s my investment and incumbent on me to see a return on it.

    Both have their strengths and weaknesses.

    Although I’ve primarily been focused on writing for the past few years, I’ve drawn some 350 pages of sequentials to date. I know how much time artists put in, and respect that.

    However, any artist who works with me knows I put in as much or more time as they do on the project as a whole. Script, lettering, project management, file formatting, print prep, proofing, marketing, cons, reader engagement, etc.

    So, I’d hate to see the scales tip too far the other way and the writer not getting his due, either.

    Comment from Rich Douek
    Time: February 14, 2012, 2:04 pm

    Thanks for writing this article, Jeff… you and a lot of the commenters bring up a lot of great points, biggest of which being that there are a whole ton of thorny issues here, so much so that there’s probably not one prescriptive way to deal with that will apply to all cases.

    I feel like what Paul Allor said is a really sensible way to go, and it’s pretty much what I’m doing with my current project. That is, I’m paying a page rate with the understanding that we’ll negotiate rights and royalties when and if the project moves forward.

    The thing that I’ve been going back and forth on is when should royalties kick in? I’m basically laying out the production costs, paying a page rate, paying the colorist and letterer, etc. I feel like I should be able to recoup those costs before splitting sales revenue, because I’m shouldering the risk by putting the money up-front. Then, I worry that if the book doesn’t make all that much money, and there’s nothing left on the back-end to pay the artist, he or she will feel cheated – even though they’re technically ahead as I would still be in debt.

    In any case, I think 50-50 is fair, or at least a good place to start negotiating from. Thanks again for posting this… its really timely, and important stuff to talk about.

    Comment from Mike Burton
    Time: February 14, 2012, 6:56 pm

    I’m writing a script myself and hoping to find an artist who’s interested in working on terms fairly close to those Randall outlined. I’m wondering, however, how all this applies when the work is planned as an online serialization. I’m thinking here of things like Makeshift Miracle and FreakAngels, where you have something that is regularly updated but skews closer to ongoing series or graphic novel and less to the traditional webcomic. It matters how that’s turned into money, obviously, but let’s say there’s a simple way to represent revenue (R) and ongoing costs (C) which can be factored out of the equation, leaving you with more or less the same ownership/payment questions as for other books.

    Is there a higher barrier to entry here? I would think finding an artist who’s willing to take a chance on this kind of non-traditional model is probably the highest barrier of all, but pretending for the moment that you did, how different is that model? With a serialized model you have the chance to build a readership and then release collected work, but on the other hand someone’s bearing the cost of the work in the meantime, and it seems to me there’s a much higher risk of losing one or both creators to poaching in the meantime.

    Also, do you think the ownership/compensation question is different for this situation?

    Also, specifically for my own situation, is there a general sense out there for writers who are pre-developing a project and looking for an artist after the fact? I mean in terms of how much harder it’s going to be to find someone, and how extensively you can expect to change things when someone comes on board. I’ve been doing some things to keep the book grounded and open in a visual sense, but I’m still cognizant of the fact that I may be hopelessly unrealistic about how much of what I’ve written will survive the process of creation.

    Comment from Parker
    Time: February 14, 2012, 7:10 pm

    I’ll have more time to give my thoughts later, but real quick I want to address this one point that keeps coming up– everyone, in this economic climate of the industry, Poaching = Not So Much of a Problem As It Used To Be!

    Comment from Jamie Gambell
    Time: February 15, 2012, 6:01 am

    Augie – I actually offered my colourist a cut of profit, and she declined, saying she was okay with the rate.

    If the comic did make big in other media, I’d like to think that I’d do the right thing!

    Tyler – In that instance a profit split would be based on sales from issues completed. There isn’t an actual ownership, just profit-share. It would make new media revenue tough to break up, as profit.

    Thanks for pointing this out, though. I hope Jonathan stays with me for a long time, but perhaps a walk-away clause is something worth looking into.