Monday, October 08, 2007

"Oh, It's All Your Fault, You Didn't Read The Contract Good Enough"

So here is the sitch, as I understand it (brought to my attention by Journalista):

Mike Strang creates a webcomic for Drunk Duck called "Adventures In Unemployment."

Strang is fired, Drunk Duck hires a new person to continue strip.

Drunk Duck can do this because of the contract they had with Strang.

Strang complains on Comixtalk:

"Having your creation which you worked so hard on and basically RAPED like that is what can happen when you sign a work for hire contract with a corporation like I naively did a few years ago."

And is told in a post by new "Adventures In Unemployment" artist Brandon Carr:

"Just know that the property you created is breathing new life, getting people's interest, and has had a fantastic number of hits so far for a start-up online comic. Even though you're not attached to the project, it couldn't have been done without you."

oh Jesus...

I guess this guy meant well, just sounds like he was better off saying nothing.

Then Strang gets the usual barrage of "you're a dolt I don't feel sorry for you you should have read the contract better."

A couple of things that came to my mind:

1. Having a new person hired to write & draw something that is as personal (at least to me) as somebody else's webcomic or a comic strip creeps me out. I'm sure the ethics and whatnot are faaaaar more complicated, but I'm just describing my immediate gut reaction.

2. How much more different is this situation from one where somebody creates a superhero for a comic book publisher and then somebody else writes & draws the character? Like Howard the Duck or Black Lightning or whatever? Does the similarity between the two situations mean that Strang should have been more realistic about the business of comics? Or does it simply bring up larger issues about creators' rights for all different types of comic works?

3. I understand how some feel it is acceptable to be harsh and blunt about the Strang case and use his example as a "cautionary tale" and tell him that he was "foolish" and "too bad." But that sort of approach leaves a bad smell. It's not constructive.

As time goes on, and as the gold rush for cutting-edge IPs to fill online content and spur movie options continues unabated, this situation will come up over and over again.

But even more concerning to me: if, as Strang has been "advised" by segments of the online community, the creator shouldn't pitch their most "heartfelt" and personal pieces to companies anymore, for fear of losing the rights -- how does this impact the quality of the properties & projects that are being pitched?

Because Jack Kirby, in things like the Fourth World saga, did pitch his most heartfelt and personal piece. Perhaps the same for Siegel & Shuster. And so many others.

If comic creators are afraid to put their best foot forward because they don't want to lose their material...


  1. People are quick to say "you shouldn't have taken the deal" when things go sour... but new creators don't have a lot of bargaining power. It's either take it or leave it -- and you can't leave 'em all.

  2. Since when did Drunk Duck start paying the creators?

    Thank God I use Comic Genesis...

  3. Actually, you very much can leave them all until the right one comes along. Or you can only talk to people who'll allow you to retain the rights. Or you can do WFH for a while, and then use that as a launch pad for creator-owned work. Or you can take any of dozens of different approaches. If owning your own work is that important to you, there are a number of ways to make that happen (not least of all self-publishing). It might take longer, and it might cost you more up front, but it certainly can be done. In this instance, Strang opted not to go that route and signed a WFH contract. WFH is by no means unique to comics, and it's understood in all instances that, unless the contract contains some special circumstance, the person doing the hiring owns and controls the work.

    As for hiring somebody else to do another person's webcomic, I find it less creepy and more a sign of the times - people have realized there's money that can be made from webcomics, and companies putting out WFH deals to gather up new strips is no different than any other creative industry. I'd say webcomics are losing their "innocence", but frankly that was sold off ages ago. The big difference here between Strang and the likes of Penny Arcade or Goats is that (to touch back on my above point) Strang opted not to publish himself and went through a company. While it may be the faster route to what you want to do, it can have just as many risks as self-publishing, and somebody else owning your work is certainly one of those.

    And I'm not sure what Strang should be taking away from this that would be more constructive than "a cautionary tale". Naive (in his words) webcomic creator signs over his web comic to a company, company decides it no longer wants to work with the creator and replaces him. I don't think there's anything here that points to WFH as being evil or wrong, because again, nobody forced him into the contract. While Drunk Duck's actions might not have been the nicest in the world, it's completely within their rights to decide what happens with their property. It sucks, but it's nature of the business, and it was all there in the contract.

    (One last thing before me and my bad smell stop for the morning - I've worked in video games for three years now, and nearly all my work has been WFH. I've worked on games that were taken away from another developer because the client didn't like their approach to the license. I've worked on games for months to have a single client meeting rewrite everything, or to have a sudden new business direction mean the game isn't happening at all. Each time it's frustrating as hell, but each time I realize that - once more for the folks in the cheap seats - it's the nature of the business when working with characters and licenses that are not my own. I consider myself a professional because each time that happens, rather than going on a message board to describe how my creations is getting "basically raped" by my client - and good god, what a douche thing to say - I discuss the changes, push back on what I feel strongly about, and move forward with the same enthusiasm I had before. Because my job is awesome and I love it, and because I understand the terms under which I work.)

  4. The lesson here is not to sign a contract with an outfit named "Drunk Duck." I mean, really?

  5. I mean, ultimately, as a writer who's never sold anything, I have to say...

    If the one great shining idea is all you've got, you're probably not getting very far.

    It's not the concept, no matter how good or bad the concept, it's the execution.

    A good writer'll make Superman interesting and the same good writer'll make Jubilee interesting.

    A bad writer'll make Batman as dull as dishwater and so the same to Speedball.

    Ideas are a dime a dozen, ideas are in your dreams, in the newspaper, walking both directions up and down the street.

    It's about what you do with it.

    To steal a line from Grandpa Superman, it's about action, y'know?

  6. This sort of thing has been happening to comic artists for ages. Look at Stan Lynde, who lost the rights to his comic Rick O'Shay in the late 70s when the syndicate replaced him with another writer/artist.

    It's shitty that it happened, and the people who wrote the contract shot themselves in the foot because this sort of thing can only mean bad publicity, but it's also yet another reminder that artists need to watch their backs.

  7. "Weird Adventures" was originally to be a comic book series published by Platinum Studios (the company that owns DrunkDuck). After Mr. Strang's behavior (not Platinum's greed) led to him being removed from the project, Platinum decided to cut their losses and recreate the property as an online comic. I was asked to take it over and I did.

    I apologize if my comments to Mike came off as anything less than genuine. I know that if I'd been in his position (and knowing the full truth of what went on that led to it) I'd be interested in seeing what happens to the property.


  8. Brandon, I don't doubt your sincerity in your words to Strang. But these sorts of issues are extremely sensitive to artists & creators. I don't think there was anything you could have possibly said that would have sat well with him considering the circumstances.

  9. Fucking idiot should have read his contract better, and fuck molly coddling the douchebag. From what I read, none of his original material was used. This tells me he either had a good idea his work didn't support, or that he could rework quality material in his possession and place it elsewhere.

    This isn't about Jack Kirby in 1940, or even 1970. There are alternatives, and I can't respect someone unable to recognize such a plainly obvious fact. Welcome to the internet era, dipshit. This very blog has six-digit hits with no commercial sponsorship beyond the use of Google's Blogger format. Man up, already.