Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Why Comic Creators Need Lawyers

Technology has given independent artists the tools and freedom to control more of their work. It is easier than ever to create, publish and distribute your stories without a deal from the big boys. This evolution in the industry gives you more chances to get your work in front of bigger players, and gives you the potential to make deals that were few and far between a few years ago.

But this DIY spirit can be dangerous if taken too far. There is a point where it is helpful, even preferable, to do things on your own. When it comes to legal agreements involving your intellectual property, you need the support of a professional.

You’ve probably already came to the conclusion that I'm only writing this post to get more work. After all, I am an attorney who represents comic creators. (See An Introduction to Creative Contract Consulting). If I scare you into thinking that you'll be cast off into the Negative Zone if you don't get a lawyer, then there's a good chance you'll hire me. To a certain extent, that's true. But there are three points to keep in mind before you dismiss me out of hand:

So as self-serving as this post might be, that doesn't mean it doesn't make a point that can help you.

Division of Labor
The reason you need a lawyer to help protect your rights is because legal contracts and legal principles are designed to be confusing.  The language used in contracts is circular, opaque and dense. What the words mean and what you think they mean are often two different things. The implications of certain words are often unclear even to the person who wrote the contract. Without someone there to explain things to you, it is easy to sign something that will hurt you down the line.

This is not an attack on your intelligence.  Many of my clients are a lot smarter than me. This is a question of training and experience. I’m a writer as well as an attorney (See Smooth Operator). I don't edit my novels and I don't design the covers. I hire professionals to do that. (See Judging a Book by its Cover) As an airline passenger, I don't fly my own plane. I pay the airline to supply professionals. I could learn editing, cover design and piloting, but it saves time and money to bring in a professional.

Hiring a lawyer is the same. We already wasted years of our lives and hundreds of thousands of dollars learning to decipher contracts. Why not take advantage of our poor decisions?

A Word about Costs
Lawyers are not cheap. We have to pay off exorbitant loans and many of us have expensive tastes. We normally charge by the hour, so the best way to use a lawyer is to hire one for as short a period of time as possible. If you hire them before a deal gets signed, it might cost you a few hundred bucks. If you hire one after something goes wrong and you need to go to court, that number can rise exponentially. Court cases can take years and those billable hours pile up fast. It's better to bring us in on the front end and nip the issue in the bud.

Somebody, but not just Anybody
I understand if you don't want to hire me. You might not like my style. I might not be attractive enough to be your lawyer. That's fine. I've been rejected before. All I ask is that if you're faced with a contract that involves you or your work, get a lawyer to review it before you sign it. And not just any lawyer. A criminal defense attorney might not understand the entertainment or comics market well enough to help you. Check the background of your prospective attorney, talk to your colleagues about who they use. Once you find the right one and you determine they have an acceptable level of attractiveness, retain them and put them to work. That will give you the time and the peace of mind to go back to making comics.

Have fun.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Recommended Panels for New York Comic Con 2013

Events like NYCC are beneficial in many ways. They allow professionals a chance to network, connect with their fans, sell their work and be inspired by the work of others.

Cons are also a good source of information when it comes to managing and understanding your career. If you take advantage of the professional panels at NYCC, you have a chance to learn from people who can help you avoid mistakes and enhance your career.

This is a list of the most interesting panels I've seen on the schedule at this point. I can't vouch for the speakers or the quality of the presentations, but these are the places I plan to spend my time on Thursday afternoon. My own willingness to attend these meetings and not stand on line to play Arkham Origins has to count for some type of endorsement.

Thursday October 10th
3:15: Comixology Submit: The Future of Self Publishing
4:15: Protect It and Publish It: Meeting and Negotiating with Publishers
5:00: You've Broken into Comics, Now What?

I'm also giving these two panels honorable mentions. I won't be able to attend because of schedule conflicts, but they do sound useful.

Thursday, October 10th
4:15: Protect It and Publish It: Creating and Protecting Your Property

Friday, October 11th
Comics & Hollywood: What Creators Need to Know

I plan to write an essay about what Iearned at Comic Con, but nothing beats being there yourself if you can. If any of you are planning on attending NYCC and you'd like a meeting to discuss the rights of your book, please send an email and we can set something up. Also, I plan to be in Artist Alley on Friday. If any of you have a booth, please let me know the number so I can try to stop by.

Otherwise,  you can find me at the Arkham Origins booth.

Have fun.