My graphic novel co-creator, Robert, and I just signed our contract. Having now dealt with this aspect of publishing a graphic novel, I can officially say this was my least favorite part of the process so far.
I try to be informed and fair, but I’m certainly no shark when it comes to business. I’ve heard some scary tales about contracts in the comic world: Alan Moore’s issues with publishers, Neil Gaiman and Todd McFarlane’s dispute over Spawn, and, more recently, Tony Moore’s suit against Robert Kirkman over payments from original collaborations. Contracts are a sticky topic in general, and certainly in comics.
From the outset, Rob and I agreed that Beatrice is Dead would be a 50/50 collaboration. This, I naively thought, would make our contract simple. But I quickly realized that there are other issues one must consider.
What happens if you, the writer, want to produce a sequel, but the artist doesn’t want to be involved? Or vice versa. Should the original collaborator receive payments for sequels? If so, how much? What if you die? What happens to future royalties and who has rights to produce more comics based on your original work? How will the money be divided if your work gets optioned for a television or movie adaptation?
I felt a little silly discussing what would happen postmortem, but these are serious questions. Life is unpredictable and it’s better to prepare for hiccups and the seemingly-impossible than be left in a mess because you thought it would never happen.
We started the contract drafting process here: http://www.hollywoodcomics.com/collab.html. This was the best free template I found online. After several drafts, we were both happy with the arrangement. We both felt protected and that’s important.
With a contract, you’re not only safeguarding your work and rights, you’re also protecting a working relationship. Yeah, it’s important to make sure you get what you deserve, but that doesn’t mean being selfish and only looking out for number one. If it’s a collaborative process, the reward should reflect that.