I've been running a number of articles recently on comic creators who have been unpaid on certain comic projects – and in some cases actually getting them paid.
But I had one complaint recently from a creator who had not been paid for their work for Bluewater. They sent me the contract and then told me the publisher had told them the comic had not sold enough to warrant any payment. I have to say, on the basis of the contract they signed, they probably don't have a leg to stand on, and no payment for their work is neccesary.
Firstly, I've written comic books in the past that have had that kind of sales figure, and they still made a profit. But secondly, the contract they signed is basically open to whatever the publisher wishes to pay them. Take a look.
This is that worst of all beasts, a back-end work-for-hire contract.
There should be some kind of rule here, if you create a comic work for hire, you should receive payment on submission and acceptance of the work. If it is creator-owned, then a back-end payment structure (clearly indicate what constitutes a profit, and then for the artist higher than 20% of that) is also acceptable. But this is the worst of both worlds.
This is the contract that you only sign if you are happy for your work to be printed and not receive a cent. You're in it for the exposure. And realise that this exposure may not hit 2000 copies and you could probably get more exposure with your own web comic. Which you own.
I contacted Bluewater publisher Darren Davis who insisted that the consequences of any contract, and what constitutes a profit, are explained to anyone he works with. Well, at least one creator seems to have been rather confused by the whole affair. He then gave me the following quote, which I reproduce in full;
Recently Bluewater has endured a series of attacks regarding its business practices. Bluewater does not engage or condone any such underhanded or untoward activity and refute each and every allegation made against the company and me personally. Much of the perceived conflict comes from a handful of creatives who became disenchanted over the terms of their signed agreements and mistakenly believe they are owed compensation.
Because Bluewater is a small company, our business model is such that artists, writers, and colorists are paid if and when a property (single issue or trade paperback) becomes profitable. When prospective creatives are engaged to work on a property, they are informed of this up front and are asked to review the terms in the written contract. There is no coercion; no strong-armed tactics, no manipulating industry novices. When a book reaches profitability, defined by a specific number of sales, the creatives are paid according to the percentages contained in their contract.
It is unfortunate that not every book Bluewater publishes has reached the profitability threshold. Some, in fact, never sell more than 800 copies. Some are canceled by our national retail distributor Diamond. And some are not fit for publication because they do not meet a professional standard. But that is the risk Bluewater and the creative accepts. I respect the labor these artists, writers and colorists put into creating a title, and am more than willing to share in the profits. However, if a book does poorly, it is Bluewater that absorbs the overwhelming majority of the loss. Yes, there is a risk on behalf of the creatives as well, but they at least have a professional entry for their portfolio that can use to get other jobs in the industry.
It is also unfortunate that certain media types have questioned Bluewater's credibility because they have chosen to take situations out of context or accuse the company of manipulating sales figures. This, of course is impossible, since the sales figures of every issue are a matter of record on the ICV2 site.
I understand that our business model is not for everybody. I understand that there are some people who feel they have been misled or cheated. However, every single person who is owed money that is contractually due has been paid. Many of the creatives noted in the articles that allege non-payment do not state fully why payments were not rendered. Some were fired from books for non-performance, some worked on titles that never reached profitability or were canceled, some have personal reasons to be vindictive. I feel badly that they made incorrect assumptions that led to ill-feelings and anger. I have, at different times, reached out to each of these people to explain the specifics of their situation. Some go away with an understanding; others do not. Because they disagree with the written terms of the contract or have a different interpretation of the events, does not make me a liar or a cheat. I will accept responsibility for not better managing a creative's expectations, but each is made fully aware of all possibilities. I have never withheld a penny from any creative who was due payment.
There are also allegations regarding previous businesses in which I have been involved. It is true that TidalWave Productions declared bankruptcy in 2003. Many make assumptions and unbased claims as to why this happened; and all are wrong. The simple truth is that TidalWave could not sustain based on certain partners reneging on contracted terms. At the time, the company was a part-time endeavor and I worked a standard 9-to-5 job. This employment situation was also true with Bluewater until 2008. But the bottom line is people with no knowledge of the company's administration, creative process or financial status make ill-informed or assumptive comments on some forum or blog that are treated as the gospel truth. This is how reputations get trashed.
Every business has its detractors. And people will believe what they choose. But despite the allegations, accusations, heresay, childish name-calling and angry gossip, Bluewater remains committed to producing quality comic books and graphic novels. It remains steadfast in its
current business model of profit-sharing with a variety of talented creatives. And I remain resolute that Bluewater is, and shall continue to be, a reputable business that operates with integrity.