Now that we have covered a number of different facets of comic creator credit issues through history, let’s go over what we have learned and see if there are any lessons for creators to avoid the issues in the future and what we fans can do to help things out.
You’re a wannabe creator who wants to protect their rights as they pertain to your creations and want to make sure you are properly compensated for your genius. What should you do? Here are some ideas.
1. Don’t Work For Marvel or DC
If you are a creator who wants to own their own characters, get a lion’s share of the royalties, and have a say (and get paid) when your character is adapted to the big screen, then stay away from Marvel. Work-for-hire might be as evil, but it’s not going anywhere. It’s been around for decades and it will be around for many more. The Big Two don’t make their money by being all that concerned about their creators well being.
2. If you do, know what you are getting into (and maybe lawyer up)
While working for Marvel and DC might seem to be the last thing a creator should do, most people who want to be comic creators caught the bug by reading Marvel and DC comics. The lure of being able to work on their favorite characters might be too powerful to ignore. Just know that anything you create they will own.
A way to mitigate getting screwed over is hire a lawyer to look at or negotiate your contract. You will not be changing the way they do business, but you might be able to get a more favorable reading of the contract.
3. Go indie
Things nowadays are much better for creators who want to earn their own work. There are many more options to get your characters out there, and many companies that are very creator friendly.
The main one, of course, is Image Comics. They take a flat fee off of you for the start up costs, but outside of that, everything else goes to you and your partners. Going with Image comes with a lot of benefits–a prime location in the front of Previews Catalog, a vibrant trade paperback program, relationships with book sellers so you can get your work outside of comic book shops. The result is that if Image accepts your work, and it resonates with people, you can make a lot of money in a very short amount of time. Ask Robert Kirkman how that worked out for him.
But Image isn’t the only game in town. There are a number of established companies that publish creator-owned books. Most have less favorable deals than Image, but might be a better alternative for you than the big two.
The one guaranteed way to insure that you and you alone profit from your own creations is to self-publish. This, of course, isn’t as easy as it sounds. There are a lot of costs involved with publishing your own stuff. Whether it be publishing mini-comics you printed off at the local Staples or creating a profession looking comic that will fit in on the stands next to the major companies, the production costs with come out of your own pocket. Living in the age of Kickstarter helps make these costs manageable, but only if you have a social network large enough and willing to support you.
But your job isn’t done even after your start up costs are taken care of. On the contrary, that is when your true hustle begins. You need to hustle to try to get you book in front of customers. You need to hustle to get it into Previews and then into comic book stores. You need to generate press for your book–reviews and interviews on comic news sites. You need to hit the convention circuit hard. Not all of these things require money but all of them require a lot of time–time taken away from creating comics.
Okay, what if you are a fan that wants to support the creators in the quest for proper credit, ownership and financial health. What can you do? Here are some suggestions:
1. Boycott Marvel and DC
I didn’t say they were feasible suggestions.
Boycotts, or threats of them, have been used over the decades to make corporations change their business practices. The problem with boycotts is that you need to have as many people as possible to join in on them for them to be effective. You might be willing to forego a month or two of your favorite Marvel of DC comic to support the cause, but a collector that has bought every issue of Iron Man ever published might not be as willing–even if they believe in the cause too.
Boycotts also create a lot of collateral damage as well. You might want to affect Marvel and DC’s bottom line, but you’ll also be inflicting a financial hit to retailers and, yes, creators too. Granted, this could work towards your cause, as those affected would also pressure DC and Marvel to make changes, but it could also possibly be fatal to them as well.
2. Write letters to the executives at DC, Marvel and their corporate parents
Letter writing campaigns are less intensive that boycotts, but can be just as effective. While they also require a lot of participation from a lot of individuals, they don’t require that Iron Man guy to miss an issue. However, they need a lot of coordination, planning and research.
Writing the letter should be easy. Just state your case in the most professional manner possible. Don’t name call, don’t be insulting and try not to be obnoxious. And use your own name to show that you are a real person and not some kind or spambot.
When you have the letter written, you need to decide how to send it and where to send it. Snail mail might be easiest. Just send letter to the organizations corporate headquarters care off the executive you want to reach. E-mails might be a bit harder, as many companies might have different formats for how e-mails are received. A good rule of thumb is that the suffix is almost always @[NAME OF COMPANY]. com (For example, @Marvel.com, @DCComics.com, @Disney.com and @warnerbros.com). However, the names of the people you are trying to reach might be formatted a number of different ways. Some companies might just use first names, others just last names. Some might use both names, other initials for one name of the other. You will most likely have to send out e-mails to all variation of the executives name to make sure it gets through.
And even then, your e-mail might end up in a spam folder. That’s why you should coordinate with your fellow e-mail writers and all of you put something like ‘Re: Creator’s Rights” in your subject lines. If the executive of his assistant sees dozens of e-mails with this subject, they’ll know its an area of concern even if they never open the e-mail
3. Support Hero Initiative
There is no certainty that either of the first two ideas would actually help creators. But there is something you can do to help creators right now. And that’s give to Hero Initiative.
Hero Initiative is a financial safety net for comic book creators who have fallen onto hard times. They help creators who have health issues, housing issues, and problems with finding work. And they don’t offer quick fixes either. Instead of just giving creators money to pay for their medicine for one month, they work to find them a healthcare plan they can afford. Instead of paying of their bills for one month, they work with a creator’s creditors to work out a reduced payment schedule that works for the creator.
This is one of my favorite charities, and I mostly support them through Amazon Smile. Amazon Smile is a program by the shopping giant where they will donate .5% of eligible purchases to the charity of your choice. If you shop on Amazon a lot, this is a great way to give to charities you like while doing something you would be doing anyway.
4. Buy stuff the creators have made
Another sure way to ensure that your favorite comic book creators get the money they deserve is giving them money yourself. This can be done in a number of ways.
First off, buy your comics, don’t just download them illegally. Many creators get royalties when the comics they make are sold. When you decide to hit the torrents instead of the comic book shops, you are taking money out of the creator’s bank account. Buy your comics and graphic novels whenever possible.
Next, when your favorite creator attends a comic con near you, visit their table and buy something off of them. Anything you spend at their table goes directly in their pocket. And they typically have items for sale that will meet any budget, from $20 prints to original art worth thousands of dollars. Spend a little or spend a lot, it will help the creator make ends meet.
Finally, if your favorite creator expands into the realm of creator owned content, follow them there. You will get content from a creator you love and you will be supporting them in a way where they will see more money from their efforts.
There is no easy answer for how to make sure comic book creators get the credit and payment they deserve. But everything on this least will help at least a little bit.