For the last year or so, the comics industry has been alternately amused and bewildered by the erratic Twitter postings from @LlcTerrific, the public-facing representation of Terrific Production. Billing itself as “The Next Revolution in Comics,” Terrific is ostensibly a comics publishing company run by Andrew Rev, a controversial figure who once ran the company Comico in the ’90s, until it went out of business. And as we reported last year, his ownership of Rob Liefeld’s signature character Youngblood caused Liefeld to go public distancing himself from the character.

While the tweets have been amusing — making bold claims, picking feuds with people like Donny Cates, and just so much more — in recent months it became clear that some creators had actually gone into business with Terrific and word started to get out that they were not being paid after being asked to sign contracts with unreasonable clauses.

Finally, all of this has been investigated and put into one devastating report, Beth Elderkin’s Comics, Contracts, and Covid: Inside the Scandal at Terrific Production. It paints a picture of bad business practices and chaotic creative choices.

Rev’s reputation since the Comico days has been as someone creators did not want to do business with, but that was a long time ago, and current writers and artists had no access to that ancient history. Known for hour-long phone calls and bizarre tweeting, Rev seems to have hired someone named Robert Shepard to do the business dealings, and perhaps to give a more stable impression of the company. And people fell for it.

But, as Elderkin reports, things behind the scenes were as bizarre as the tweets might indicate:

The publisher, which for months slid along relatively unnoticed, got some attention recently after a series of clauses purportedly from its contracts started making the rounds on social media. They included: prohibiting creators from accepting new work if payments from Terrific Production weren’t overly late, requiring artists to turn over original art or signed pages in exchange for a share of a comic book’s net royalties, and a now-infamous covid-19 clause that meant the publisher could hold half a creator’s total page rate during the ongoing pandemic. io9 has viewed several of the contracts in question and can verify the clauses.

Creators who actually worked on Terrific projects were not paid for various reasons, and soon came to regret getting involved in the company.

For three of the creators we spoke to—Mainé, Urdinola, and Casas—the dispute was because of the contract. Rev would claim that the first contracts they’d signed were invalid for things like general mistakes, Shepard sending it without his approval, Rev never signing it, or it not coming from a Terrific Production email address. Mainé, whose contract had Rev’s signature, said Rev accused him of “forgery.” Rev repeated this accusation to io9 (though he didn’t mention Mainé by name), and Shepard backed it up in his only response to our questions. Shepard, identifying the person as Mainé, claimed Mainé “tried to pull a con on us. A wrong page rate and Euros vs USD,” but emails obtained by io9 show Shepard agreeing to Mainé’s rate and preferred currency, and sending him the contract with Rev’s signature. We asked Shepard to provide documentation to support his account, but he didn’t reply. Rev suggested we “get an expert to compare signatures,” so we asked him to provide examples. He didn’t reply to our request.

While you will want to read the entire article, perhaps the most noteworthy tea that is spilled is from Bill Willingham, whose Elementals was published by Comico. It’s a bizarre story that involves desperate measures to get paid:

Willingham also claimed Rev tried to cancel his final paycheck so he drove from Seattle to Chicago, where Comico was located, to demand it in person. He said he was either going to leave with the money he was promised or break enough of Rev’s stuff that it would make up the difference, but he ultimately got paid. Rev denied that Willingham’s final paycheck was ever canceled, but that he doesn’t remember whether the writer came to see him at his office in Chicago. “Willingham final payment was never cancelled for rights or writing! To bring up such nonsense 30 years later is meaningless if Willingham was paid,” he said.

I’ve spoken to others who worked with Rev at Comico and none have anything good to say about this period.

After the article dropped, people were doubtless waiting for the explosion on Terrific Twitter. Under the circumstances it was a bit mild — but did little to refute the story. I’ve reproduced the latest tweets below — the account’s GIF game is strong! — but in case they disappear, here they are:

We offered an alleged Supreme artist a compassionate offer which was at their invoiced rate to us for just that single issue. He was given a deadline to reaccept his own offer. He failed say Yes! For us this matter is closed! We went above & beyond! Always talk to both sides!

Prez Forgery:I have stated that to have a contract you have to have the email come from A publication claiming to see my signature is looking at an altered document or a forgery! I Insist that this publication have a forensic expert verify the signature.

As a #comics #fan you read we INNOVATE. You read worse on the Big 6. We acquired some unhappy artists that thankfully quit. They clearly did not fit into Terrific Prod’s philosophy of innovation. We develop Winners! Not everyone can meet our Standards.

Which evidently needed to be rewritten:

As #comics #fan you know we INNOVATE. They accuse us of minor stuff compared to the Big 6. We acquired some unhappy artists that thankfully quit. They clearly did not fit into Terrific Prod’s philosophy of innovation. We promote only Top Winners! #comics

Since we have not shipped yet we innocently thought there were 2500 stores so we will lower 2500 to 2000 stores open! And we will adjust 90% vaccine to 70%

Contract terms: Force majeure refers to a clause that is included in contracts to remove liability for natural and unavoidable catastrophes that interrupt the expected course of events and prevent participants from fulfilling obligations. We made one for. COVID-not yet applied!

Not one artist in article said I will sign the contract if you removed the Covid section. We never applied this clause any artist. It’s irrational fears which their leaders love to exploit! This clause allowed us the freedom to hire artist during #COVID19! It’s clickbait scandal

Force majeure … A company may insert a force majeure clause into a contract to absolve itself from liability in the event it cannot fulfill the terms of a contract (or if attempting to do so will result in loss or damage of goods) for reasons beyond its control. Covid is FM

And of course, as one does, who followed me:

8 people followed me and 12 people unfollowed me // automatically checked by

Comics Twitter was swift to react to the story with thanks, warnings and lessons learned. Liefeld did not cooperate with the story but he did tweet about it, writing, “This is as brutal a takedown as I’ve seen. Wow. It will always sadden me that Mr. Rosenberg facilitated this transfer of YOUNGBLOOD to Terrific. I have and continue to have nothing to do with this label. Nor did I participate with this article. Sad.”

So where does this leave things? It’s hard to believe that a company with as much documented subterfuge as Terrific will actually bring comics to market but…stranger things have happened. Those of us who have been in the industry a while — and those who have common sense about business — may be surprised that anyone fell for Terrific’s dubious work offers.

However, it should be noted that many of the artists who did sign up with Terrific Production are international; some don’t have English as their first language. The US comics industry has a shameful history of targeting foreign creators to work at lower rates, and to not stand up for their rights as US creators might. Rev and Shepard obviously played on this.  According to Elderkin, io9 is working to get the article published in Tagalog as Filipino artists are being specifically targeted.

While I’m not sure that this will put the nail in the coffin of Terrific’s horrible business practices — we thought Rev was done 20 years ago — it will certainly help. And all praise goes to Elderkin, her editor Jill Pantozzi, and io9 for publishing this story.

And now some more real talk: I’m not sure that this story will be a huge traffic driver for a site like io9 — currently owned by a private equity firm with no track record for journalism —  but thankfully they had the resources and the resolve to get it done. The Beat had been working on a story about Rev for a while, but to be brutally honest, we don’t have the resources that io9 does. I’m told that some other comics outlets were working on stories, but they probably ran into the same issues we did, and also the lack of corporate support for a story like this that is not clickbait but is highly necessary.

One of the reasons it’s highly necessary is that while Twitter is great for yelling “Fire!” you need someone with a firehose to put out the fire. While Rev was widely mocked on Twitter, an artist googling him would not come up with much of anything and might have thought there was no back story. There is no substitute for solid research and reporting. We should all be very grateful to io9 for doing the work that had to be done.