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Getting In Deep With Bluewater Productions

Not a Farah Fawcett biographical comic...
Not a Farah Fawcett biographical comic...

Bluewater Productions is a comic company best known today for publishing political biographical comics, initially based on IDW's election comics, with the likes of Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, Colin Powell and Ted Kennedy before expanding into dead performers like Michael Jackson, authors like Stephanie Myer and, well, dogs like Bo Obama. They also publish licensed litles such as William Shatner's TekWar and recent titles based on Ray Harryhausen properties.

Publisher Darren G Davis, was publisher of Tidal Wave before it went bankrupt, known for a series of fantasy and superhero titles, and published through Alias Comics, Avatar and Image, the comic 10th Muse then being their highest profile book, which Bluewater continue to publish. But some issues seem to have been left in its wake.

Of late I have heard a number of stories about people working for the company on back end deals, where a creator is paid after the comic is published, out of any profits made. If there are no profits, there are no payments. This kind of deal is usually reserved at publishers for creator-owned or creator-participant comics, which doesn't seem to be the case at Bluewater, and includes ancillary creators such as colourists.

And of late, for a number of those non-biographical titles, those profits aren't there and the book can get cancelled before publication, often down to low sales and Diamond's new minimum terms.

The company uses a number of free creators, working for no money at all, seeking exposure, who later wonder if they've been taken for a ride – especially if the work never even sees publication.

Many are not willing to speak out in public or even have their names used, as they fear legal or financial penalty. But some feel otherwise. But Hellblazer and Joe The Barbarian artist Sean Gordon Murphy alleges an unpaid $5000 debt from previous work and Alex Amezcua, artist on The 10th Muse (written by Davis) also alleges non payment. In one long running thread, colourist Goran Kostadinoski talks about knowing several Bluewater colourists, but not one who was paid, himself included. And many others chip in with their own similar experiences.

However, it seems that many of these claims stem from unmanaged expectations rather than simple non-payment. People were recruited by Darren G Davis as work for hire creators, on the understanding that they would be paid from profits. But many seem to have not realised there may not be profits and, despite assurances to me by Davis, those expectations don't seem to have been managed in a number of cases. The contracts I've seen make it clear, creators will be paid 15% of profits on the book, with increased incentives for higher sales, but the realisation that those profits may be far and few between, at least until trade paperback sales, didn't seem to sink in. The phrase "work for hire" in the contract may have led people to be believe that they would be paid for that hire. And I can see their point.

Some people see a greater conspiracy, of sales figures for these titles being misreported, with allegations that Davis misrepresented sales. However, a contraction in much of the comics market, coupled with Diamond's new terms is a much more likely and consistent argument, and it seems that the Top 300 charts are only bothered by their biographical titles right now. One pointed out to me that Diamond allocated orders to certain shops as evidence that not enough copies were being printed by Bluewater to avoid paying profits, when a far more likely experience is that, as with many other publishers, Diamond distribution has certain inefficiences. However those working on the better selling titles such as the biography books have been paid, significantly it seems, from said profits.

Darren G Davis has stated that most issues stem from Alias days and that they never made money at Alias. That he is upfront with creators about back end deals and how and if people will get paid, that people should come directly to him with such issues and that "know that items posted in message boards are slanderous and can be seen as libel" and "What people also do not post is the fact that people that have done back-end deals get an open door to a creator owned book. There are many of them at Bluewater." He also states how these deals aren't right for everyone and that contracts must be entered into with care.

He tells me;

Everyone is getting paid 100% for what they are owed. We cut checks each week to the production teams and send them a detailed sheet of what the book made. We also offer incentives too and the people that worked on some of the titles got bonus checks. For the people we work with we also have offered to publish their creator owned books for people at our loss. Some people are working on books that sell 574 copies and there is no profit at all on these at this point. This is not a deal for everyone and I explain it all in advance before they take on the book. What they are forgetting is they will make money off the trades, digital and foreign. So when the single book comes out they freak out.

However I understand that certain creators are arranging lawsuits for payment, specifically in the light of Bluewater's recent biographical success.

After talking to Darren, he sent a mass e-mail out to creators asking that they contact me with positive stories about working for Bluewater, and indeed a number did, including Bruce Wayne (I know I know), Paul Salamoff, Clay Griffith. Kenton Daniels and GMB Chomichuk. Who seemed well aware of the Bluewater publishing agreement, profit situation and seemed to be happy to play the long game.

The moral of this story is, don't work for a Bluewater non-biographical comic if you are depending on income from that title, read the contracts carefully and understand their implications. What Bluewater are doing isn't illegal, they certainly do pay people on instantly profitable books and intend to pay others depending on eventual profits. But it's worth picking and choosing your projects. A biographical comic of a high profile individual would be your best bet…

In a statement to Bleeding Cool answering these and other issues, Darren wrote;

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.

Maybe someone should do a Darren G Davis biographical comic?

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Rich JohnstonAbout Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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