More Bluewater Accusations and Reactions

While considering the active discussion in my post yesterday on Bluewater’s unique financial strategy of considering artist payment an optional expense, to be paid only after they’ve made profit, I found some other interesting links.

It seems that this issue has been bubbling for over a year; in December 2008, Davis posted much of the same justification on a message board, including these excerpts:

The backend deals are not the best deals in the world….but I make sure everyone that signs them knows the risks of them. I make the people ask many questions before I send the contract (and they are binding). Not all the books will make money on the single issues.

… Also know that items posted in message boards are slanderous and can be seen as libel.

It’s always reassuring when a struggling small comic publisher starts legally threatening those who are speaking out against his business methods. Shades of Avatar! Seriously, is “they should know as much about the business as I do” really something to depend on? If that’s the case, why do they need you? Just to pick the next celebrity to cash in on?

Note that promising artists payment on the eventual trade paperback collection only works if you decide to publish such a collection. Here’s a sample contract one artist shared, complete with his story of later contradictions. But wait, it gets more interesting. Last year, a former letterer says that they were lying about their costs and cooking the books:

For the first two books, things went ok. However, on the next four, I had to send invoices up to six times with constant reminders in order to get paid. … After having waited about 6 months to get paid, I walked and stopped doing any work for them. They did eventually pay up, but it took a lot of effort to get them to do so.

During the above situation, someone who’d worked on one of the books that I worked on contacted me to see if I’d been paid. He’d taken a back-end deal and was told that the book hadn’t made any money. … Then he sent me a spreadsheet of expenses and income that he’d been sent from Bluewater and asked me to look over to see if it made sense. I was shocked to find that the cost of lettering was listed at TWICE what I was paid.

Maybe there’s a logical explanation as to why the lettering cost was listed at twice what I was paid, but I can’t think of what it would be. What it looks like, to me, is number fudging.

Another letterer was flat-out told the job “was a non-paid position … for experience.” There’s a colorist who suspects his try-out page became a published cover.

As for the positive reactions … it’s odd to me that almost everyone I know who reads superhero comics dreams of writing or drawing them one day, but so few of them sympathize with the actual creators. Instead, I’m hearing “well, the publisher takes the risk, so he should make money first” or “it’s ok that I’m working for free because this will bring me closer to that magic day where I’ll be *discovered*”. You are not Lana Turner sitting in a 50s drugstore. If you want to create comics, you should value your work to the extent of either deserving money (or other compensation you find valuable) in return for it or keeping ownership of it. Go read Simon Jones and Tom Spurgeon, who both have more good thoughts on this subject.

13 Responses to “More Bluewater Accusations and Reactions”

  1. Matt Maxwell Says:

    If the publisher is making money on the work, then the artists creating the work should be paid. No ifs ands or buts. And you know what, I think offering unpaid work in exchange for experience is a crock. People can choose to go that way if they want to, I suppose. I mean, it’s a free country and all that. But taking try-out pages and running them? Uncool.

    As for me, artists who worked with me got paid first. The writer and letterer, well they’ll get paid eventually…

    Note to the sarcasm-impaired: I’m the writer and letterer. And publisher, which is why there isn’t a lot of money going around.

  2. Rivkah Says:

    “Also know that items posted in message boards are slanderous and can be seen as libel”

    It’s not libel if it’s the truth.

    Lordy, they make Tokyopop look like Mother Teresa!

  3. Kevin Melrose Says:

    Arguments about fairness aside, the contract you link to is pretty badly constructed.

    1. A percentage of (fingers crossed!) profits doesn’t constitute a “page rate.”

    2. The specific work (number of pages) and time frame aren’t defined.

    3. There’s no definition of “profits” (leaving the interpretation open to, as you mention in your previous post, “Hollywood accounting”).

    4. “Paperbacks — depending on how many issues the ‘artist’ contributes to that trade paperback” is unclear.

    5. There’s no allowance for the creator to check the publisher’s math. (If I’m working for a cut of profits, then I want to see sales reports.)

    I wonder, too, if an agreement can truly be considered work for hire if the independent contractor isn’t actually “hired” (i.e. if there’s no payment in exchange for labor or services)? Typically, work-for-hire agreements involve a transfer of rights in exchange for final payment. So what if there’s no payment (consideration) from the publisher? I’m genuinely curious, as I can’t find anything online that addresses that.

  4. Johanna Says:

    Probably because most publishers don’t have the cojones to try such a thing! I’m going to take your rights in return for … nothing! Even internships provide class credit, in most cases.

  5. THE BEAT » Blog Archive » Bluewater: finding new ways not to pay people Says:

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  6. Greg Harms Says:

    Funny thing is, we had finished issue 2 of the mini-series before we even got the contract mentioned in Richard’s article. I signed no non-disclosure contract and wanted to try and educate new-comers, especially since no one had thought it important enough to do it for me. We asked what historically sales had been, what sales are; but got nothing. We asked for reports, but got nothing. If I was to see this contract today, I would say no thanks. I won’t do this again. (See other article response for more.)Per a phone conversation he stated,” it was my fault for not knowing what he had not mentioned.” and that he can’t “hold every creators hand.” But if I put more than one question in an e-mail he would “overlook” and only respond to the one he wanted to answer. He stated that “if I continued to speak out, I would not be working in this industry.” :) Classy.

  7. Rich Johnston Says:

    I wrote about this situation back in September –

    Thing is, Marvel never paid royalties to Jack Kirby. DC wouldn’t renegotiate Watchmen and V contracts when the marketplace changed unrecognisably. Lance Gueck got screwed out of promises and credit by TMP. The comics pirate industry leaves thousasnds unpaid every week. Yet I still cover them. I’ll still cover Bluewater.

  8. Greg Harms Says:

    Just because you cover them doesn’t mean others should, don’t fault you for that, and don’t fault other bloggers for not covering them. We all have prejudices and convictions, and even though a company is inheritantly evil doesn’t mean the creatives, editors, etc. that work for them are. But when blogging, call it like it is, crap is crap and worthwhile is worthwhile, politics of the industry aside. :) More people need to have a backbone all the way from the buyers/fans, comic shops, creatives, to the publishers, editors, and bed mates like hollywood. To many times ego gets in the way of good products and good stories that are worthwhile. Just because companies screwed over creators in the past doesn’t mean it should continue status quo today. The internet media and word of mouth can stop it, and it can make injustices right. Companies will change these hurtful practices or they will run out of creatives to abuse.

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