Tuesday, March 03, 2015

"Design a T-shirt for Us to Sell Forever Without Giving You Any Profits."

There was a colleague who I knew through a chat board. He was an eager wannabe cartoonist. Within a few years, the dude made it.

After a lot of work, he had sold his comic book idea to a good, medium-sized comic book company. Things went great. He loved the publisher and his editor and it was just a terrific experience. Even though he did not have to, he would post on the chat board about how it was going. And it was going from good to great.

The comic book, which he created, wrote and drew, sold well and then he announced some incredible news: it was going to be optioned for a movie.

So, dude went from dreamer to pro in a small space of time.

So, why, less than a year later, was this guy fired from his own book and banned from the chat board?

It's because he wanted to be involved in the movie deal. But the publisher was not interested in having him be part of it.

He would get on our chat board, recounting emails and phone calls that always started with him saying, "What? But I'm the guy that created it! You NEED me!"

Not only did they not need him, they did not share any option money with him. When he complained, they reminded him that he signed over all rights to his idea to them. This was not something that had bothered him when he signed it, since, like I said, he loved the publisher and editor there.

But the bloom's off the rose now.

And this new-professional guy went on a tirade against the company. And the company told him to stop and he didn't.

So he was fired. No book, no money. Bye bye.

And the chat board banned him because he went ballistic on it about what unmoral people his once-beloved publisher and editor were. Well, honestly, he was not banned because of his content, it was his form of using every dirty word he knew to describe them.

It's an old story. It happened to Superman creators Siegel and Shuster, it happened to a lot of work-for-hire people like Bill Finger, who is responsible for the Batman we know of today.

I'm sorry for this fellow, but there are people who will always ask for creative work for terms that are not right. It's up to you to beware of these.

The latest thing are these contests to submit logo and t-shirt designs. Sometimes high profile companies do this (HBO) or powerful people (Oprah).  Yeah, they know better. Yeah, they got the money. No, they want it all for free.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was yelling in my car at an NPR reporter who (on my car radio) was cheerfully telling everyone about the Amtrak Writers' Residency program where writers get to ride the rails for free while writing. I was yelling at the radio because the reporter (who had submitted to the contest to win a Residency position) did not mention that all submissions became the property of Amtrak. All of them! As soon as you click the "submit" button. And this is all about Amtrak wanting ad copy. From the Washington Post:

"Applications and writing samples that pass an initial evaluation will then be judged by a panel 'based on the degree to which the Applicant would function as an effective spokesperson/endorser of [the] Amtrak brand.'"

BOOKMARK IT NOW: There's a Tumblr site that does nothing but highlight these contests and open calls for "talented artists" to submit work for free. Even if there is a prize, most contests claim all rights to all submissions regardless of whether you win or not.

Be careful, be aware, and don't take a crummy deal. You are better than that.


Brian Fies said...

Great post, Mike, but hard to live by when you're the guy looking at a choice between a bad deal and NO deal. What if it's your only shot? I have a lot of sympathy from someone facing that decision. Nobody believes that the frustration of suffering through a bad deal is worse than never getting one, but from what I've seen it's true.

Even a GOOD writer-editor-publisher relationship makes you gnash your teeth once in a while. My great insight into the business world is that, as friendly as everyone might be, at contract time you're adversaries. They're going to take as much as they can, AND EXPECT YOU TO DO THAT SAME. Anybody who signs the first thing put in front of them is a sap. Figure out what you really want and ask for it. If there's something that's a literal deal-breaker for you, say so and stand by it. If they cancel the project just because you're acting like a professional (important caveat: NOT being an ass about it), they weren't very committed and it wouldn't have worked out well anyway.

Brian Fies said...

...sympathy "for", not "from"....

My kingdom for an edit function.

Brian Fies said...

... "for," not "for", ....

Looks like I picked the wrong day to stop sniffing glue.