Over the past few weeks, Lion Forge and Oni Press merged, Dark Horse signed a first-look deal with Netflix, and Atlas Comics, a defunct publisher, sold its library of characters to a production company. The primary driver for all of these moves is to develop comic books, and the characters and stories they contain, into movies or television shows.
Optioning comic book rights to producers is currently where relatively easy money can be found for publishers. Often, publishers are operating on small margins, and the money they can make from these types of deals gives them some breathing room and some profit. Hopefully, it also puts a nice amount of money into the creator’s pockets as well.
To me, these news stories are a great reminder that creators need to be aware of what they are giving to the publisher when signing a contract. My thoughts on the matter have been documented before, but it’s worth revisiting. To me, when you sign a deal with a publisher, you should only be giving them the right to publish your comic. If they want to do other deals with you, such as shopping your rights to Hollywood, then I believe it should be a separate deal, and it shouldn’t be tied to your publishing agreement.
Your media rights have value. Ideally, you should be getting paid for the privilege of shopping your media rights. If you are not being offered money for the ability to shop your media rights, then you need to ask what value, if any, the publisher adds by merely having the ability to shop your media rights. Do they add more value as an intermediary than doing it yourself or aligning yourself with an agent? Many of these publishers feel like they are entitled to your media rights as part of the publishing deal. After all, they published your book, shouldn’t they get a cut? Maybe. It depends on what the publisher brings to the table. Do they have connections that will benefit you? Have they had many properties optioned in the past? Are they aggressively shopping your project, or just hoarding the rights and hoping to take a cut if someone waving money comes along? Unfortunately, I’ve seen far too many publishers fall into that last category.
If you have a publisher interested in obtaining your media rights, then – at a minimum – you should (i) be certain you understand how much, if anything, you’ll get paid, (ii) how long the publisher has the ability to shop your media rights and whether they revert to you, and (iii) whether you have approval over the final deal.
The trend of publishers asking for media rights is on the rise, particularly among newer publishers, and it doesn’t look like it will abate anytime soon. By asking the above questions and understanding what you are agreeing to, you will be in a better position to evaluate the deal. Unfortunately for many newer creators, after evaluating the above, you may come to the conclusion that you’re better off not agreeing to the deal. This is a lament I’ve heard from numerous veteran creators who agreed to unfavorable deals early in their careers and lost control of their work. Sometimes saying no to a deal is the best thing you can do.