This year marks the 30th anniversary of Image Comics. As most of the readers of this blog should know, Image Comics was formed when a group of top Marvel artists decided they wanted to strike out on their own and reap the rewards of owning the characters they created. To this day, I still believe that the main line of Image Comics is the truest version of creator-owned comics. Image takes a reasonable fee for publishing the book, and it doesn’t take a creator’s media rights. In honor of Image’s anniversary, below are some of the key I think creator’s should answer when evaluating a creator-owned deal.
1) How long is the deal?
This is often called the Term in a contract. The Term of an agreement can vary. Sometimes, it can be a set number of years. Sometimes, it can be tied to the length of a series. Sometimes, a publisher can ask for the rights to last indefinitely. It is important to know how long your work could be tied up by a publisher. I am strongly of the opinion that a publishing contract should have a defined end date. If it does, make sure you are comfortable with how long it is. If it doesn't, then you need to see point 2 below.
2) How and when do the rights revert?
This can fall under both termination rights and reversion. Are there clear instances where you can terminate the agreement if the publisher takes, or doesn’t take, certain actions? For example, if the publisher goes out of business or stops publishing comics, can you terminate the agreement? If the publisher doesn’t release your work within a certain period of time, can you terminate the agreement? These are all important. Additionally, you’ll want to make sure that at some point, either via termination or a reversion clause, the rights to your work revert to you. This is particularly important if there is not a defined Term to the publishing agreement.
3) How much are you being paid?
Are you receiving an advance? What’s the royalty percentage? How often are you being paid? All of these should be considered when you are evaluating whether a publishing agreement is right for you.
Pay attention to what percentage the publisher is taking from sales of the book and any other rights they might have. Also, pay close attention to what they are recouping before paying you your percentage. Most deals are structured in a way where the publisher will earn back any money it has spent in connection with publishing and distributing your book, once those fees are recouped, there might not be much left for your split of the profits.
4) What rights are you giving up?
Be wary of what you are giving up. Some publishers like to bill themselves as creator-owned or creator-friendly, but they still try to take all of your rights and leave you with no control over your work.
Also, I’ve talked about this before, but I’m strongly of the belief that publishers should only get publishing rights. However, more and more creator-owned publishers are demanding the ability to profit from a comic’s media rights as well. You will need to carefully evaluate whether this makes sense for your work, and if you are comfortable giving up whatever control the publisher may ask for.
5) What does the publisher bring to the table?
Are they paying you? Are they a top publisher who can substantially expand your reach? Do they have a history of launching and promoting successful books? Can they actually help you shop and/or exploit your media rights? In today’s world where it has never been easier to self-publish quality comics, it is important to evaluate what a publisher can do you for you.
While these are not all of the things you should watch out for, these are some of the top things I look for while evaluating a contract. You should carefully weigh pros and cons of working with a particular publisher before signing a contract, and taking into consideration these points will help.