On Business: Don't Do What He Did

By | Monday, December 15, 2014 1 comment
I was at a small, local comic and toy show this weekend. Two or three dozen dealers. The Artists Alley was maybe twenty tables or so; maybe two of three were people you may have heard of. Decent show for what it was, especially if you didn't have to travel very far.

One of the creators I was talking to had his first, and so far, only book out. It was the first issue of what he hoped would be a six-issue story, chronicling the origin and rise to prominence of a pole dancer that becomes a superhero. It didn't strike me as particularly compelling premise (for a host of reasons) and the artwork was more cartoony than realistic, so it wasn't even able to play up on the cheesecake angle very well. (For the record, the creator I spoke with only wrote it; he had someone else do the art.) I was ready to dismiss him as another in a long line of guys who just wanted to break into Marvel or DC, but never really thought about what writing a story really entails.

But then he launched into the backstory of the book. It turns out that this stripper character is based on an actual porn star. She and/or her manager wanted to try to transition her out of adult films and into other media, and launching a comic book based on her seemed like a good way to do that. The guy I was talking with was essentially commissioned to write this book by the manager.

The writer was knowledgeable enough of his and the artist's limitations and lack of name recognition to tell the manager that the only way this would really sell was if she was the one promoting/endorsing it. And sure enough, when they attended an adult film convention earlier in the year with a ten page preview, they sold out very quickly even at $25 a piece. When the writer to do a Wizard World convention a couple months later with the full book, she evidently went AWOL. The writer couldn't find her, her manager couldn't find her, even her mother had no idea where she was. The creator was naturally worried about being what amounted to an episode of CSI, but she did eventually turn up. Though not at the convention. And without her presence at the table, the books sold very poorly even with their compartiviely cheap five-dollar price tag.

(At this point, there were a number of jokes about how, despite the idea of working with a porn star on comic books was absolutely mind-bogglingly fantastic when we were sixteen, the reality is far, far less pleasureable.)

Then there was some issue of payments. The artist was, not surprisingly, asking for money up front and the writer asked that of the manager, as this whole project was his idea. Discussions apparently devolved at that point, and there were some threats of legal action. I didn't quite catch where things stood as of today.

My first thought was, "Dude, that's the story you should be telling, not this stripper superhero bullshit!" I said as much to him. I also purchased a copy of his comic; the story he told me in person was worth five bucks, even if the comic itself didn't seem like it was.

Some of my other thoughts included, "Why the hell did this manager hire someone who's never written a comic book in his life to write this?" As far as I could tell, he had never really written anything before. I get that you might sometimes have a friend-of-a-friend thing going on, but if you are looking to make a professional looking book to promote something (whether that's a porn star, a pair of sneakers, government policies, whatever) you have to hire professionals. This writer freely admitted that he made a bunch of mistakes in putting this book together because he was learning on the go. Which is fine if you're pursuing a personal project, but when you hire out someone else... well, you get what you pay for.

Here's another helpful piece of advice for making comics. Whether you're farming out the comic creation as a whole, or just hiring an artist, have a contract in place. A lot of the problems this group faced/faces could've been solved with some documentation.

Comics, as fun as they can be, are still a business. If you're an aspiring creator or publisher, treat it like one.
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Anonymous said...

<3 the quote where you said the story about the creation of the comic was better than the comic.