Work is Good UPDATEDon May 4th, 2012
I started to write down everything I need to do. When I got to four pages I quit, because I thought I was going to have an anxiety attack. With this workload, I need to focus a bit and get off the grid. Especially since someone is going to spoil The Avengers movie for me before I get to see it.
Work is Good, but I’m juggling six assignments and falling behind on chores and shipments of orders. So, time to hunker down.
A few notes:
Our good friend Patrick Ross has been assigned Acting Chief Communications Officer of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Good luck to Patrick in his new appointment.
As someone with a challenging new day job, Patrick vows to maintain his devotion to the art committed life. Here is a very useful and inspiring post that may help many of you who also struggle with your commitment to your art and your day job.
I spent too many years neglecting my muse. I believed creativity was finite, that when I gave my creativity to my employer, there was none left for my art. But creativity is not a fossil fuel of finite supply that must be transported in pipelines and on ships and driven around in automobile tanks. Creative thinking, I’ve learned, begets more creative thinking.
A judge will decide the fate of the class action lawsuit against corporate behemoth Google, which has somehow managed to convince the public it is the David in this scenario, despite being one of the biggest corporations in the world, worth billions. It demands the court set up a situation where individual authors will not be able to pursue class actions against it. Google’s massive copyright violation actions will have to be dealt with one at a time, by individual authors. At least, that is what Google is hoping the court will decide.
Zack also called the well-funded Google an “intimidating defendant,” and said it would be burdensome and unfair for individual authors to pursue their own claims. She pointed out that while Google is asking for individual scrutiny of copyrights now, the company did not apply any individual scrutiny of copyrights in its own actions, scanning entire collections of books. If Google could apply its program without regard to individual circumstances, it should be possible, Zack argued, to answer common questions of law via a common action, rather than force such questions to be answered in costly, time-consuming individual suits. “This action calls for mass litigation to adjudicate the mass digitization.”
J Michael Straczynski provoked a bit of a firestorm in response to a statement he made on a convention panel about the upcoming project Before Watchmen. The prequels to the important graphic novel by Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore proceed over the strong objections of Alan Moore, despite the language of a contract he signed in the 1980′s. Moore claims he did not understand what he was signing, did not have legal counsel, and that he was misled about the meaning and implications of several clauses of his contract by DC Comics staff, most notably the definition of “in print”.
While I am considerably younger than Mr Moore, I’d already run into some problems with publishers by the time he signed the Watchmen deal, and was well aware of what things like “in print” mean. Of course, I never assigned copyright or trademark interests in A Distant Soil to anyone. Not necessarily because I knew better, but because my early publishers were incompetent small presses who were so lousy at their jobs they couldn’t even effectively rip off a teenaged girl. One sentence added to my contract would have bought them the whole enchilada, and I’d have been none the wiser until too late.
I’m a little confused over the assertion that Moore did not believe the trade paperback collection of Watchmen would stay in print more than a year or two. There were a number of graphic novels of which I am aware which had a much longer shelf life than that by that time. Perhaps Moore wasn’t aware of them. Or he may have been confused by the difference between the definition of “in print” for periodicals, and “in print” for books. Which is an extremely important distinction that, once again, cost one of my incompetent early publishers rights to another property (not mine) because they didn’t know the definition, either.
Anyway, the definition of “in print” makes a huge difference in the scope of your contract, since it is standard for publishing rights to be reserved for the publisher as long as that book stays “in print”. As in, if it keeps selling, they get to keep making books.
J Michael Straczynski made the very pragmatic decision to work on Before Watchmen, as did a score of other notable creators. But it was Straczynski who came right out and stated the obvious.
Did Alan Moore get a crummy contract? Yes. So has everyone at this table. Worse was Siegal and Shuster. Worse was a lot of people.
Which upset a lot of people.
Some people decided to boycott Before Watchmen in support of Moore, even before Straczynksi made his statement.
Here is a portion of Mr. Straczynski’s comments from his FB page:
Writers, artists, actors and others in the entertainment field get routinely screwed in the first parts of their careers. This is not an endorsement of corporatism, not a way of saying that contracts have to be the same in 2012 as they were in the 30s, and it’s sure as hell not a statement of ennui or surrender. I’ve been fighting for the rights of writers since I got into the business. But we all start out in any field being screwed and gradually improve to being treated with some measure of respect, which is how the process has worked since time immemorial.
It doesn’t change because the times change – writers advances on first novels were ridiculously small in 1985 when I sold my first book and they remain small today – it changes as the artist, actor, writer or other professional changes. The business doesn’t become more fair to first-timers or early-stage artists. It will never be fair. You have to force it to be fair to you by being successful. You have to grow big enough to wrestle the machine to the ground and force it to respect you. There is simply no other way to get it done. Never has been, and despite the whining of those bloggers who are blissfully free of obligation and ability, never will be.
So to those who have been dog-piling me online about this, how about you try this approach: next time you want to engage in this sort of calumny, try making it about something I say that is actually untrue, not something you don’t like because you don’t like it being said out loud.
I said that every person on that panel had, at some point, gotten screwed in a contract. And they had. Gradually, they accumulated enough credits, enough of a body of work, enough respect, to be better treated. I spoke truthfully. The process is painful and agonizing. It sucks.
But we all go through it.
ALL of us.
Stating the obvious is not an endorsement, and I’m not seeing one here. I’m not sure I get the dog piling, but that is the way the internet operates.
I know how it is to have a publisher screw you over. When publishers screwed me over, there was no internet, no fundraising for my legal fees (outside of a passed hat with a few friends,) and not a lot of sympathy, either. Almost no one even blinked when my publisher began auditioning artists to take over the book I created. James Owen was one of the hopefuls, and years later, he gave me the original drawings he’d submitted as his test to do A Distant Soil. Tangible confirmation of dirty deeds felt satisfying on the one hand, and like a punch in the gut on the other. As I said, I never assigned my copyright or trademark. My publisher did not have the right to take over my work and hire other people on my book. But back in the day, it was easy for publishers to pull a fast one on a teenaged girl. And no one really cared about it much.
While Alan Moore objects to Before Watchmen, artist Dave Gibbons has his own take on the matter.
I’ve had to sign a few contracts I didn’t love, and fairly recently, but I know what my contracts say. If I don’t like the deal this time, and they don’t give me a better deal next time, I don’t come back. I may be the only freelancer to whom the head of the legal department of a major publisher has said “I love you,” because I can actually discuss the content of my agreement, and get it. I surmise too many creators think they understand the language of their contracts, but they understand the words and not the law. Two different things.
Like “in print” for periodicals and “in print” for trade publishing.
No contract negotiation between an individual creator and a publisher is ever a level playing field, because the publisher is always in the superior negotiating position. If you’re not JK Rowling, you’re not getting JK Rowling’s deals. JK Rowling walked away from her print publishers to create her own audiobook publishing operation. Popular creators have more power than ever to make their own way, resources that didn’t even exist five years ago.
But most creators aren’t that popular.
By the way, as of a couple of years ago, I no longer negotiate my own deals. My agent does.
There’s a lot of bad blood between DC and Moore, and I am not sure I get all of it. I don’t have any more time to devote to 30 years of Alan Moore’s publishing history than he has to devote to mine.
Buy Before Watchmen or don’t buy Before Watchmen.
It’s up to you.
The messenger stated the obvious. Put down the gun.
OK, I am going to clarify this a bit more because obviously I was too subtle the first go ’round.
I am not telling you to do anything here. I am stating what is.
I would not dream of going up to Amanda Conner to tell her that I think she has made a poor ethical choice in choosing to draw Silk Spectre. I not only won’t do it, I can’t do it. She is a wonderful woman, one of the kindest, most talented people in the business, and I genuinely love her. If you feel you must excoriate her for her decision, that is on you. But don’t come to my blog to yell at me for not joining you.
You go up to her and do it yourself, if you feel so strongly about it.
I know exactly how it feels to have your creation taken out from under you and handed over to other people. Unlike Alan Moore, it was done right under my nose while I was working on my book. When I found out what was going on, it made me sick. The betrayal and pain is as fresh today as it was all those years ago. (It’s not as if it keeps me awake at night, but I’m always watching my back if you get the idea…)
But I have never felt any anger at the artists who were auditioned to draw my book. James Owen and I remain friends.
Here is what I learned from all this, which is what this blog is about. What it has always been about.
THIS IS THE MESSAGE. The horrible ugly paradox of creator rights:
Publishers don’t have any rights you don’t give them.
You don’t have any rights you can’t enforce.
I get letters every single week from creators who signed agreements they don’t understand and can’t enforce. In almost every case, they signed something they should not have signed. There is absolutely nothing I can do for them. No lawyer can help them. A deal is a deal.
If you are not rich or famous, it is highly unlikely there will ever be a pity party for you. There will be no fundraisers. If your contract was violated, it won’t matter how badly you got screwed, you won’t be able to enforce it. You won’t be able to afford to enforce it. Which is just as bad as if you had no contract at all.
The claim that Moore knew he signed a bad agreement, and creators today know better, blah blah, WHAT A LOAD. No newbie creator knows to what extent they signed a bad agreement. They don’t have a clue what they are signing, otherwise they wouldn’t sign that crap. They have no concept of what that document will mean to them thirty years in the future. How could they? There is no way some newbie would have any frame of reference for what any of this means. Everyone thinks it will all work out for the best.
All this blogging about creator rights, and where has it gotten us? Nearly 100 years after the comics industry got started, decades after we wept hot tears over the fates of Ditko and Kirby, people still sign bad agreements and expect someone to save them after the fact.
That doesn’t happen. It’s not going to happen for you, especially.
You can boycott Before Watchmen if you really feel that will make a difference, but it will not alter the fact that this project has been in the works for years already, and it is coming out.
I write this blog, and I write posts like this to remind young creators how this industry works. And this industry doesn’t give you a second chance if you sign a bad deal.
Don’t expect blogs cheering you on, don’t expect fundraisers, don’t expect anyone to remember your plight the week after the blog posts stop getting hits. There will be no help for you.
Publishers don’t have any rights you don’t give them.
You don’t have any rights you can’t enforce.
That is the message.