Sunday, July 06, 2008

A comment from DJ Coffman? Holy S**T!!!!

So I wrote yesterday about my dislike of competitions etc where the ‘prize’ is some sort of contract, such as American Idol’s recording contract, because these contracts are usually heavily weighted in the contest owner’s favor.

I used Webcomic Artist DJ Coffman’s recent troubles with Platinum as an example of what can go wrong…and I was surprised as hell that today I received a comment from DJ himself.

In case you’re wondering why I’m surprised, it’s because I’ve been a fan of DJ’s comic ‘Yirmumah’ almost since it started. For me, it was kinda like mentioning one of your favorite TV stars in a post, and getting an email from them in return. I was seriously like “Holy Shit! DJ Coffman contacted me!”

Anyway, I realized I had quite a bit to say in response to his comment, so I thought I’d make a whole new post out of it. Here’s DJ’s comment:

“DJ Coffman here. Just wanted to clarify a few things for you on your article here. While a lot of what you say is great advice and warning to creators, I can't be used as an example of someone who's been screwed over, even though I ended Hero By Night.

1. Even if they continued to do anything with it, I get royalties and bonuses in my original contract. So, it would bring me joy to walk in and see a HBN lunchbox and know I'd have an accountant going through records to see what I was owed. Anything they do with it, I get paid. Although, I would rather them use common sense and allow me to continue a webcomic myself or such... which leads us to...

2. The rights thing. I didn't ask actually, THEY offered it to me first. But they DID change their mind after I talked publicly about not being paid on time. I guess they got bent out of shape about it.

3. HBN wasn't my "baby". While I am proud of it, there were never stars in my eyes thinking this would be the thing that takes me to the top. I've often publicly told creators to not sell their "babies", and i Have a few things of my own that are never for sale (Yirmumah, and others)

I went from working with a company that was always distrusted by the comic book community, and was very hard to get press for (unless you were paying for it) right off to working with the band The Flobots on a graphic novel and website designs for them. Not everyone can have a freelancer mindset to do this as a profession (drawing comics)”

Ok…Firstly, let me just say I never meant to give the impression that DJ was a ‘cautionary tale’ about what happens if you go into a situation blindly. My ‘bad feelings’ are directed towards Platinum, not DJ himself.

Thee main reason I used DJ’s case as an example is simply because I was a fan of Hero By Night and was very sad to see it go. This is probably selfish, but my point of view was that if he drew it independently, or had just licensed HBN instead of selling it, I’d still be able to read it. (I say selfish because as I’m sure that as much as I want to read Hero By Night, DJ wants to actually get paid to draw it)

Anyway, I don’t want to sound like a hippie or a suck-up here, but while my point of view and his are opposed on a lot of points, I will say that both points of view are valid. There are multiple ‘paths to success’ in any business. In simplest terms, DJ just chose a path that I personally wouldn’t.

So let me answer his comments with my point of view:

1) I can’t really argue with this one, and can just apologize to DJ. Apparently, what I’d heard about his situation was heavily filtered by the internet grapevine. All I will say is that royalties are a fraction of what a creator would get if they remained independent. Of course, this brings me back to the ‘different paths’ and a catch-22. Remaining independent means you potentially make more money later…but remaining independent also means you have a much smaller chance of actually getting to that point.

2) This was the main point of my original post. A company like Platinum might give a creator their rights back, or at least license the rights back to them, but then again, they might not. I’m currently forty strips ‘in’ to a webcomic that I plan to publish on the web in the near future…and the idea of giving a third party the power to say whether I can or cannot continue my comic is something I’d never consider. My point is that whether you get your rights back is out of your hands. Remaining independent gives you total control over your idea. Even if you choose to go with a third party, negotiating a contract rather than entering a competition and winning one gives you much more control over what’s actually in that contract.

3) This one is purely my opinion and I know many creators will probably see it a totally different way, but I don’t think it’s always possible to know what ‘your baby’ will be. I’ve started projects that I’ve considered to be ‘my baby’ only to totally lose interest in it later…I’ve also had ‘throwaway’ ideas that have later become ‘my baby’. My point is, if HBN had become as popular as Batman…would it become your ‘baby’?

Anyway, I just want to say that my intention wasn’t to paint ‘big business’ as ‘evil corporations’ that will always try to screw you over. There are advantages and disadvantages to any ‘path’ you choose.

This whole thing reminds me a lot of the ‘Print vs Web’ debate. The way I see it is that it’s just two business models that produce the same product. Both have advantages and pitfalls and it comes down to personal preference and what you want to do.

My overall point is that you should always do a little research and go into any situation like this with your eyes open. As I stated above, I absolutely do not want to give the impression that I was using DJ’s case as an example of what happens if you stumble blindly into a situation. I’m sure DJ knew the potential risks and decided the potential benefits outweighed them. He got burned on the deal, but that can happen with any deal.

Anyway, in case I’m coming across here as taking back everything I said in my previous post…I’ll state categorically that I think these competitions are a bad thing.

I think DJ read my post as saying ‘Being independent is always better that going through a third party’. As he said at the end of his comment: “Not everyone can have a freelancer mindset to do this as a profession (drawing comics)”

I’m not saying that independent is always better than going through a third party, because that idea is obviously false. If my webcomic becomes a success and I was approached by a company such as Marvel or DC, I’m not going to stay on the web because of ‘corporate phobia’. The truth is that a big company can get your comic in front of a lot more eyes than a website can.

At the risk of sounding condescending, the problem is that there are too many people who see competitions like this as a quick and easy step to fame and fortune…and forget that companies like Platinum are businesses that are out to make money, not altruistic charities that just want to make you rich and famous. Again, I’m not saying this is what DJ thought…but a lot of people do.

There are plenty of people who will sign anything put in front of them to get their work ‘out there’ Even Penny Arcade accidentally sold the rights to their comic…twice…and it’s only through sheer luck that they managed to get their rights back. So when you have a 16 year old kid who suddenly has a fairly major publisher saying they want to sign them up, they’ve not studied copyright law, they don’t understand the business aspect…and more often than not, they get burned.

I can speak from experience here, although not nearly on the same scale. Back in England, I had a short story published in a magazine. I was so flattered that a honest-to god publication wanted to publish my story, that I signed the contract they sent to me without even glancing at it. These people were going to publish my story, were going to pay me for it and all I had to do was sign on the dotted line. Today a small magazine, tomorrow, the best seller list!

It was only later that I realized I hadn’t sold this magazine the publishing rights, or even exclusive publishing rights…I’d sold my story lock, stock and barrel. Luckily, nothing ever came of it (It was a small magazine)…But if another publisher wanted to publish my story in a compilation, or let’s say the impossible happened and Universal wanted to turn it into a movie or as the basis of a TV series, I’d have been totally cut out because that story doesn’t belong to me anymore. Hell, I can’t even publish it here on this blog for free.

Anyway, I can say the following with total confidence. Entering a competition like Platinum’s might actually make you famous and make you more money than you can by remaining independent. However, you will never get as good a deal through a competition as you will by approaching a publisher and negotiating a contract.

Now, there’s one last point I want to address here.

You can read everything I’ve just said and think “Yeah, but what are the chances of a major publisher stumbling across my work on the web? Winning a contract through a competition might not be the best way to get a deal, but it gives me a much better chance of actually getting a deal. I’m making nothing more than ‘pizza money’ from my comic now…even if I only see a fraction of the money my comic actually makes in the future, I’d rather make $50,000 a year off my million dollar idea than remain in obscurity and make less than a hundred bucks a year going it alone!”

Well, that’s all well and good. If that’s what you want to do, feel free to do it. I’d also like to reiterate that I’m not saying independent is always better that going through a publisher.

Completely stepping away from DJ for a moment, just because I don’t want to give the impression that the following reflects on him…My point is that you should always go into any deal with your eyes open and actually understand what you’re signing and what the risks are.

A little research and care can save you from a lot of heartbreak later. Make sure you understand exactly what you’re signing and don’t consider every opportunity to be your ‘big break’ or your ‘one chance’.

Anyway, those are my opinions.

You can find DJ’s other webcomic ‘Yirmumah’ at If you’ve never read it, I suggest you go give it a read, it’s one of my favorites.


DJC said...

I get those simple google alerts on my name or things I'm involved with so I can keep track of comic reviews, but it ends up sending me everything, so I've been known to swoop in and comment and reply. Hell, I use to do that and defend Platinum all the time (as you know)

It goes without saying that my situation has caused me to do a lot of thinking and pondering and I've come to the conclusion that while I don't regret the deal with Platinum, I wouldn't do something similar again, for the many reasons folks like you state. I'll still freelance and do work for other people, but I do want to focus more on my own work without any controlling hands... it's not that they even own it that bothers me, it's the fact they can choose to be dicks at the drop of a hat if they can't "control the conversation" -- Say something they don't like, you're suddenly on the shitlist. That goes both ways though!

What you said about being a fan of Hero By Night-- that was the exact reason I had to speak up. I didn't want fans out there wondering what happened, figuring it just died on the vine, or leave them guessing. I wanted to be transparent with fans because as a comic fan myself, I've been left in that situation too many times and it really sucks. It makes you become LESS of a comic fan when you can't trust that a book you like is going to come out. When books are solicited, the company should do everything they can to get those books out there. Not just shrugh their shoulders and say "well, this will only affect 1000 people."

It affects a lot more than that.

Paulius said...

Yep, it's the classic 'Art vs. Business' thing.

You have a comic, movie, videogame, novel or whatever with deeply invested fans...and they tend to be under the control of groups of people who either doesn't care or don't understand what it is they own.

You can't treat any art form in the same way you'd treat a 'normal' product.