Earlier this week, we ran a story on Bluewater Productions, and their expansion from political biocomics to series ranging from Logan’s Run to Lady Gaga to Jesus himself. Yet a number of commenters raised questions about Bluewater, particularly alleging that the company had not been paying creators. When readers raised questions, we got answers — here’s the formal statement from Bluewater president Darren G. Davis when asked if this was true:
While asking a publisher for a statement isn’t really investigating whether there was any wrongdoing, especially when the exact same statement ran four months ago even this defense was troubling:
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.
Come again? Doing work-for-hire for ROYALTIES? I know the comics publishing business is one that runs on tiny tiny margins, but this is such a crap deal I can’t believe anyone is desperate enough to take it. Davis’s next paragraph is even more astonishing:
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.
So “hiring” untrained “creatives” to a horrible deal who make such horrible comics that you can’t even publish them is “taking a risk”? How is a crap comic that you won’t even publish a “portfolio piece?” And who are these “creatives” anyway? Are they anything like the Na’vi?
The comments are filled with people defending Davis’s business practices — obviously some people are willing to take this deal for whatever reason– but their defenses are still…about three enchiladas short of a combo plate:
We did have a BIG problem with creators flaking out and not finshing the books. That’s why many of the books had 2 or 3 different artists and sometimes fell way behind. It’s hard to get someone to committ to a back-end deal, and without upfront pay it’s hard to keep them motivated. I don’t blame them, but I do think if you commit to a job you should finish it. As far as I know Darren never coerced anyone. He found aspiring new talent who wanted to be published first and held pay as an afterthought.
Yeah, funny how people would have a hard time sticking to a plan that might never pay them anything except the professional credit or working for a company that doesn’t even make enough money to pay its creators.
While as Rich Johnston pointed out in his September Bluewater expose, Davis isn’t really doing anything illegal, what Bluewater offers isn’t really doing anyone but David any good, either. No established creator would work for such a deal, and there are lots and lots of ways to get established without paying anyone these days, as well. And you get to OWN YOUR OWN STUFF.
Simon Jones, as usual, has a sensible overview for creators:
Most comic artists understand that work for hire means you’re working on property you don’t own, or you are commissioned to create something based on the publisher’s specifications. But they don’t understand that under work for hire, you’re guaranteed pay, because in theory a work-for-hire is either a contractor or an employee. A home repair contractor would not agree to a percentage from a future home sale, and a restaurant employee would not risk his weekly paycheck for a percentage of profit that may be non-existent at the end of the year (especially if that restaurant is named Applebee’s, no sir). A publisher who retains the copyright to the work, yet offers a back-end deal with no guarantee of pay, is really neither here nor there. Why a significant number of creators in comics seem almost eager to tolerate this kind of situation has always been somewhat baffling. And those that do, make the industry a worse place for everyone else.
While it’s true that some people with actual talent have passed through Bluewater’s portals — like Sean Murphy, currently on Joe the Barbarian, who complains he never got paid– Bluewater isn’t really in the business of promoting their creators, either — their website and PR barely mentions the creatives on their books. So it’s still up to you to go out there and get that next job that PAYS and there are better ways.
It’s tempting to agree with all the folks in the comments at the various threads who say “Read your contract!” it’s also fairly incumbent on those of us who have seen this all before to point out that this is a crappy deal, and no matter how you rationalize it not being crappy, the more young, ignorant, and desperate for a break creators who sign it, the more young, ignorant and desperate they look and the harder it is for people who have more artistic talent for business savvy — a large number of them.
It could be a form of Darwinism for “the creatives”, but as Jones says, this makes it all the harder for everyone who believes in their work.
More reaction: Johanna Draper Carlson one and two, Tom Spurgeon, Chris Butcher. Also this thread where actual “creatives” discuss their payment issues is edifying reading.
Finally, in the comment thread at Johanna’s posts, there’s this gem of common sense:
Did the publisher at Bluewater get paid?
Did the printer get paid?
Did the guy putting together the book get paid?
In short, did everyone else get paid but you?
That makes you the sucker.