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Tony Caputo forever changed the comic publishing industry after he published his book, How to Self-Publish Your Own Comic Book. Commercial information that was previously unavailable was now at everyone’s disposal, thus providing self-publishers with crucial information about contracts, budgets and public relations. Tony talked with CF to reveal even more about what you need to know to get started.
Why do I need a contract?
A contract is a binding agreement between two individuals and/or companies that protect the approved arrangement should something unexpected occurs — merger, acquisition, bankruptcy, etc. My experience with having literally negotiated and signed about a thousand contracts is that it’s a piece of paper that is ONLY as good as the two people that sign it. When I sued my ex-partner for breach of contract, he even signed a “personal guarantee in writing” — something beyond the documents generated between his company and me. It took five years of legal battle to settle.
My solid advice is doing what they do in Europe. First, get to know the person you’re signing a contract with. Is he legit? Does he have references? Is he a family man or a wanderer who travels around and would be hard to find? Is he a lawyer (they know the ins and outs of the law so well, they can sometimes dance around it for years, costing you money). The contract is only as good as the people that sign it.
How does someone new to the game know if they’re being ripped off?
Anyone who’s worked freelance in any commercial art industry knows about being paid late because of cash flow problems or because the person’s a thief. Cash flow can be a problem with ANY new or small business at various times in their growth cycle — one of their distributors goes bankrupt, bank cuts them off for working capital, printer raises prices unexpectedly, art director messed up and there’s a substantial late fee tacked onto all work done, venture capitalists call in a loan, power struggles, hostile takeovers — man, I’ve see it all. This is where the freelancer has to make a decision between, OK, do I continue to work with this guy because I’m loving it and I trust that I’ll get paid eventually, and if not, no big deal, I’ll get work elsewhere, or quit.
If you can’t take the heat, just quit. Freelancers as freelancers have that luxury. If you signed a contract with a guy that checks out, he’s not screwing you on purpose — you would know if he was screwing you on purpose because he wouldn’t be in business long. Recently, 40 federal agents raided Efoora, a bogus (biotech) company run by three guys Grosky, Rappin and Dokuch, who swindled millions of dollars from unsuspecting investors in an IPO fraud. They’re out there.
Is there a standard range for pencilers/writers/colorists/inkers?
I’ve recently received quotes from computer colorists for turning Vespers into a color graphic novel. Their ranges were from $50 to $150 per page; otherwise the numbers in my book would still be about right, based on my research, but I’m not a production company any longer. I can’t see prices getting higher with a shrinking market.
What guarantees should a contract have?
— A kill fee?
If you can get them to add this, yes. However, more important than this would be the copyright, if it’s not work-for-hire. You can team up with the writer and bring it elsewhere for possible publication.
— Deadline overage fees?
If the publisher can guarantee that his check will never be late to the day, than this is acceptable. If not, charged for being late a few days is ridiculous. There are always obstacles that are out of everyone’s control that will cause delays. This is reality. A project plan should include a contingency plan for being late. If the publisher doesn’t have one, they’ll fall behind and eventually get slammed with late charges. Don’t blame the artist for being late; blame the collaborative process.
Always and forever.
How much room is there for negotiation in the business side of comics?
It all depends on the projects. If it’s a packaged blockbuster. In time, a publisher knows the market, their market, their fans and what are the projected sales. It’s the point when your financial projections turn from fortune-telling to forecasting when you really get a handle on things. That’s when there’s room for negotiations because the publisher feels more comfortable with the prospective profits.
Do artists/writers need a lawyer?
Lawyers are dealmakers; they’re deal breakers. They are, unfortunately, a necessary evil. However, lawyers must be interviewed and reviewed through references just as anyone else. You could end up with a lawyer that sits on his butt and does nothing and bills you for it, or puts in 10 times more time into the contract review than necessary. Try some creative art associations for contract review services, or a lawyer with a flat fee.
What’s the most common business mistake artists and writers make with publishers? The solution?
Depends on the publisher, but I would think that it’s probably good to remember that it’s a collaborative effort that requires teamwork. Everyone has their specific job function, and only while working together does the magic happen.
Are there any differences between what an artist should look for as opposed to a writer?
I think that if a writer can keep the copyright to their story, that’s a plus. It doesn’t matter if it’s someone else’s characters in this particular version being published, if it’s a good story, the writer may want to embellish on it later somehow. Thanks to Harlan Ellison, all the Twilight Zone stories written were creator-owned, meaning that the story reverted to the writer (not the art or the mention of Twilight Zone, just the story).
This is cool because I was quite fond of my own Twilight Zone No. 3 story and am adapting it now into a new science-fiction graphic novel called “Little Big Shot.”
Of course, the artist should get his physical artwork back.
What’s the most important thing to know for self-publishing?
You are selling the consumer, NOT the distributor or retailer. Create your market by finding new readers. Don’t waste $2500 on a full-page ad in Diamond Previews when that $2500 can be used to generate interest from readers, who will then generate the interest from retailers. Also – sell copies online. You can now give that one consumer in Rhode Island the opportunity to buy it if he can’t find it anywhere. They will spend their money elsewhere.
What if I’m trying to get someone to publish a comic I created?
Professionalism. Follow submissions procedures, but most importantly, don’t stop writing or drawing samples. Also show new stuff and find a way to meet the people in person.
What does “work-for-hire” mean?
Work-for-hire means that the work you’re doing is owned entirely by the company for which you’ve contracted. This is made to stop those who draw X-Men or Batman from taking it and selling it to the licensee in France. (You still need the rights to use the trademarked likeness of X-Men or Batman.) If you didn’t sign a work for hire, you own the copyright for the artwork (not the trademark), so you could legally sell reprint rights to legitimate X-Men or Batman licensors (someone who’s purchased a license from the owners to reproduce the likeness of the characters). However, licensing contracts between licensor and licensee may forbid the licensee from buying any work other then the licensor’s authorized materials, and in order to become authorized, they get a cut.
What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned?
I’ve had many experiences, in and out of the comic book industry, so it’s hard to say that there’s one most valuable lesson. There are many at various levels.
However, I made a decision in 1986 to sacrifice personally drawing, coloring, painting and creating comics to publish them. Creating them and self-publishing is much more fun.
—Interview by Tim Leong