Monday, 8 June 2015

'Work-For-Hire' vs 'Creator Owned'

Tyrant & Aardvark (Cerebus #159, June 1992)
Art by Steve Bissette, Dave Sim & Gerhard
Back in April, an AMOC post featuring comments by Steve (Tyrant) Bissette on 'Work For Hire' practices in the comics industry prompted the following comments from Steve and his pals Mike (Hell Boy) Mignola, Charles (Green Man Press) Vess and others over at Steve's Facebook page. Read the full article here....

Oddly enough, the only creative collaborative work still financially rewarding me in my older age is this body of work-for-hire work I did for DC, 1983-1987. The gradual, quiet revisions to the original work-for-hire voucher contracts enacted by Paul Levitz and his dynasty considerably improved the royalty structure in the decades since -- and it's all still in print around the world, earning DC and all concerned revenue, winning new generations of readers regularly.

But the creator-owned work, with notable exceptions, done with Alan Moore -- phhhhfffttt. You'll NEVER see a reprint of "1963" in our lifetimes, at Alan's insistence, denying all who were involved any chance of further income OR readers.

What a weird old world we live in.

I've been lucky. The people I've collaborated with on creator-owned projects generally WANT to see their work in print, if for no reason than to continue to earn. Of course most of the creator owned stuff I own myself so that makes things a whole lot easier. My 10 years of work-for-hire stuff I did generates almost no income -- Even though most of it has been reprinted at one time or another by Marvel and DC.

Like clock work, every 4 months a check arrives from DC for work that I did over 20 years ago now. I like it but you can't count on the amount so its just a nice icing on the cake. Of course, most of that work was done with Neil Gaiman and it keeps selling and selling and selling...

In my case I would love for most of the early work I did for Marvel and DC to not be reprinted -- But of course I have no control over that -- So it's reprinted but earns so little in royalties. Rocket Raccoon was reprinted in a bunch of different formats when the GUARDIANS move came out and the royalties added up to almost nothing -- Not complaining -- Just pointing out that in my case I'm VERY glad I switched over to doing creator owned work when I did.

Marvel is very clever that way. Accounting knows that if they publish multiple version of a product that THEY will earn lots of money but they will not have to payout much to the creators involved because royalties (excuse me, incentives) are based on the sales of each individual book not a cumulative whole. It certainly happened that way when I wrote and 'art directed' their adaptation of the movie Hook.

Mike, it's different for each of us, case-by-case, in't it? Glad you switched over to creator-owned work, too, but you did make the leap at the right time, in the right imprint, with the right partners/publisher for YOU and for HELLBOY. Like -- the most ethical creative and business partner one could ever have, by my experience and observation -- I was lucky enough to collaborate with Alan, John, Rick, and a certain big green character at an unusual window-of-opportunity and era. That work conditions degenerated to an intolerable level and prompted my departure was unfortunate; that the work lasted, and remains in print, from a publisher that unexpectedly revised and improved upon the original legal agreements and conditions, has made this a long-term relationship that proved bountiful over the long term. I can't deny occasional envy at all that creators like yourself have forged from the fires of the original Legend imprint -- working with a tenacious publisher makes collaborative creative work more straightforward to execute, and the headaches of self-publishing/publishing evaporate as they handle print runs, printing, distributor relations, etc. -- and my one (foolhardy) attempt to launch something vaguely similar to your HELLBOY creator/publisher arrangement (via N-MAN™ and Image Comics) didn't even get out of the starting gate (Image had no will or desire to engage, frittering away months on non-negotiations). The history speaks for itself: my investment in TYRANT® paralleled the Legend launch, time-wise, and that personal project was possible only thanks to the unexpected success of "1963." In the end, we who worked on SWAMP THING from 1983-1987 benefitted in the long run in ways NO other tenure or team on the book has or did or will. Luck of the draw, power of the work -- nothing anyone involved could possibly have concocted, formulated, formalized, codified, or self-perpetuated.

Right -- So much of this is a matter of timing -- Timing in publishing and where creators are in the own careers at a particular time. I got very lucky with my thing and you guys were certainly in the right place and time at DC. I don't think any of us could have made these situations happen --- We were luck to be in that right place and at the right time.



Anthony Kuchar said...

I'm curious, what is the story behind 1963? Why won't Alan allow it to be reprinted? From what I've heard, Alan and the other artists like Bisset had some kind of falling out and now he won't speak to them.

I've heard it's not the first time Moore has "excommunicated" former collaborators from his life. Same thing happened with Alan Davis back in the 80's and then recently with Dave Gibbons(around the time of the Watchmen movie/ Before Watchmen spin-offs). I think it also happened with Karen Burger and David Lloyd.

Anonymous said...

That Bissette insists on airing laundry about his relationship with Moore goes a long ways toward ultimately justifying the excommunication.

In my experience if a friend cannot be trusted to work through personal difficulties *privately* then they're not interested in behaving like an adult. Anyone who does so is a boor.

That Bissette went so far as to bemoan the disintegration of his friendship with Moore at length, in essay form, in Millidge's 'Portrait of an Extraordinary Gentleman'-- a book intended as a birthday tribute --was boorish in the extreme.

A Moment Of Cerebus said...

See also this article at The Beat:

Anthony Kuchar said...

So I looked it up and it seems Alan vetoed it because he didn't want his name on the collected edition. (Similar case to the Miracleman at Marvel Comics thing)

But according to Bissets blog:
“Alan told Rick he was okay with the collection as long as his name was removed and his share of the proceeds were dispersed to the rest of the creators, which is how we were structuring the proposed deal with Dynamite. But when we got to the actual contract process Alan made it clear he did not want any collection at all. Since he held veto power, that was the end of that.”

Strange. It doesn't make sense though, why would Alan even go to the negotiation table if he didn't want a collection?

ChrisW said...

Because Moore isn't very good at the business side of things, and mixes business and personal. For all their collaborations with him, Steve Bissette and John Totleben get paid more in royalties thanks to DC Comics than anything else. They could have been making money off Miracleman and 1963 for the last 20 years. Alan Davis wanted his Captain Britain work to be reprinted for a long time, but Moore wouldn't permit it. Based on the existence of "Before Watchmen," Dave Gibbons had no objections (or fewer of them) to expanding on Watchmen. If Eddie Campbell hadn't taken the initiative, there would be no "From Hell" collection.