It's Action Lab time. In recent days there has been a surge of creator comments on social media regarding eleven-year-old comic book publisher Action Lab Comics based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which operates as both Action Lab Entertainment and as mature readers publisher Action Lab Danger Zone. I spoke to current Action Lab President Bryan Seaton about creator concerns.
Rich Johnston: Bryan, of late a number of Action Lab comic book creators have taken to social media complaining about late payments, missing payments, poor publishing plans and, repeatedly, a lack of communication from Action Lab. Some phrase this as being ghosted by Action Lab, or the company keeping their books hostage. What would you advise they do in this situation?
Bryan Seaton: Rich, unfortunately, some of your statements above are true, but not all. When the world shut down in March of 2020, we had no idea what was happening. I had been on medical leave since November 2019 and officially resigned from my position of CEO/Publisher of Action Lab in February 2020 for personal health reasons. I only remained as a member of the board of directors and was no longer active in the day-to-day operations. The President of Action Lab, Shawn Pryor, resigned around this time as well. This, unfortunately, left no one steering the ship, so to speak. The board did not fill either position and felt that the staff should be able to continue doing the jobs they had been doing for years. The staff did not feel supported by the board and not confident making decisions; it was a recipe for disaster. When Diamond shut down and informed all its publishers that, until further notice, it would not be paying any money owed, the board of directors felt the best course of action would be to comply with mandated covid protocols and shutdown operations, allowing everyone to collect unemployment compensation. Action Lab tried to reopen at the end of July; however, the board of directors, after three to four weeks, decided to shut the company down again. It remained closed until spring 2021. All projects and releases had been postponed or canceled except for a few of our in-house books that we kept producing to help our work-for-hire artists. If you release an in-house book and sales numbers are low, you only hurt the company; however, if sales are low on a creator-owned work, you may have ruined the only chance that book had for success. We acted in the way we felt would be best for everyone. We are currently relisting many of the postponed works that we still have under contract in a way that our limited staff can handle (all of our contracts automatically release the work if not published by ALE within one year of final file submission). We are looking to expand our staff and still have many positions open yet to be filled.
What I would say to creators is this: First, I apologize to every one of our creators for the lack of communication and any problems our shutdown has caused. No one at Action Lab is ghosting you or holding your books hostage, any payments currently due creators have been paid. What we are doing is trying our best to live up to our contracts to the best of our ability in a pandemic and we expect creators to do the same. Action Lab is financially very strong and open for business, but it takes time to put the pieces together and we need your help. Some of our contact lists have been lost due to the transition of staff and many of you are trying to contact staff no longer with the company. We need your help to fix this and improve communication. I have created a new email only for Action Lab creators called: firstname.lastname@example.org If you are an ALE creator with a book under contract, please send us an email at your earliest convenience. I returned to Action Lab full time in August 2021 after being out of the day-to-day for almost two years, and I went from being a minor shareholder to its majority owner. I have taken over as President and plan on building a strong staff to support our creators once again.
Rich Johnston: What do you think can be done to restore relations with these creators?
Bryan Seaton: Well, first and foremost, better communication. We have always had a great group of creators that have created high-quality books. They just want what is best for their creations and so do we; communication keeps us both on the same page.
Rich Johnston: Why do you believe comic creators should trust you publishing their work going forward?
Bryan Seaton: I don't believe any creator should blindly trust any publisher. I suggest they read our contract and handbook. We are very upfront with what we expect and we live up to our contracts. We expect our creators to do the same; therefore, it is important that creators ask questions and know what they are getting into before signing. I feel our contract is one of the best in the industry and stand behind it 100%. Since 2010, we have put out thousands of really great books for thousands of really great creators. I can't fix the past year, but I can make sure we move forward in the right direction.
Bleeding Cool looks forward to seeing how things play out going forward…