With all the various discussions taking place in the comics world about copyright, and lawsuits, specifically around the recent Walking Dead lawsuit, writer and former artist Jeff Parker, wrote up this very thoughtful piece on his blog about determining ownership of a property between comic book writer and comic book artist. Make sure to go read the whole thing.
Like everyone else, I know how to create things with my favorite creator, me. And I even have problems with that fool; he’s not fast enough for one, and will stop progress on this new thing to take paying work. But great things can come of two or more minds working to make one idea. The problem part is that later everyone feels their contributions were the greatest, because that’s the nature of creating. You can talk and plan for hours and days, but later you get back into your head and write or draw, investing your self in making this thing happen. And it feels like you did it. I can attest that I’ve come in and inked or colored pieces and felt extremely proprietary about the work even at that stage- many will argue that the last person to touch a work determines the success of it. The point of this is that everyone feels their contribution was key if they cared at all about making the story work. That’s why we have to agree on the value of our roles in the process at the outset of a project. And then maybe write that down and sign it as an informal contract, just to make sure you’re all on the same page. Many will rightly say go get a lawyer and lawyer this action up now, but it could be useful to keep these declarations more fluid up until the point of going to press, and then make it all solid and binding before there is a book. Because roles can easily change along the way.
It all seems fairly cut and dry, but Parker goes on to throw out these brain teasers that really make it hard to put things down to simple numbers and percentages.
The Hard Parts
But say you agree on that. Some of the iffy parts come from when someone else was involved early on.
•Do you count some concept sketches as the artistic contribution- did drawing up some looks make the book exist as a thing before pages were drawn? (My impulse is to say no, but what if a publisher agreed to print a book based on that before a regular artist came onboard?)
•Or you’re writing, this thing is the expression of your life, maybe it’s even based on you and you just can’t see sharing ownership- can you at least find a way to pay the artist while it’s getting done? Feed him or her, or paint their house or something?
•Or the writer’s endless hustling and going to every show and sleeping on every couch made a lot happen, how about that?
•Or the artist in this relationship is the only ‘name’ in the business and it’s based on her involvement that stores ordered- more ownership for the artist?
It’s not an easy road by any means, and the chances of these comics leading to any significant riches is slim. But when you’re entering into a creative partnership with someone, it’s a serious thing, and these conversations need to be hashed out. The earlier you do it, the more amicable things will stay it seems. Luckily there are a lot of stories out there of people who’ve been through it, and they can share their wisdom. Listen up.
And hey, while you’re over there, make sure to check out the large number of comic book scripts Parker has made available for your enjoyment and enlightenment.