Who's Who In the SBCU Update 2003

In his dreams Alan Donald is a multi-award winning writer of comic books, animation, theme park shows and rides, children’s books, novels, television, internet animation and more.

In real life Alan writes this column, which has been described as more than a lifestyle than a weekly column. He used to write SBC's All The Rage.


Is Batman Gay?
Tuesday, August 12

Exclusive Contracts
Tuesday, August 5



Exclusive Contracts

By Alan Donald
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Hello and welcome to the first Panel. The Panel started life as a feature in The Final Draft but such was its popularity that it has taken on a life of its own. The Panel has expanded considerably from its original line-up. 

So…what is the Panel? The Panel gathers movers and shakers from across the industry all brought together to answer your questions! 

Don't miss out on your chance ask the big guns a question or two, send them in now to: [email protected].

Most of the Panelists should be known to you but if not, don't panic I have a few details on them at the end of the column.

This week's question comes from Karen Kingsley on the back of DC signing up a whole slew of talent to exclusive contracts yet it came in a few weeks ago, perhaps on the back of Andy Diggle and Jock signing up to DC. The question is:

"What do you think the pros and cons are of creators signing exclusive deals with one publisher? Do you believe that it is in anyway beneficial to comic book fans?"

Lee Dawson: "I think on one hand it can be great to know that your favorite creator is going to be sticking around your favorite company for a while but if they are signed exclusive to a company you don't care for then obviously that's not so good. It can be great to have a creator spend some time with a particular universe and get to know the characters in a way that they might not if they only did a few issues. The down side is of that is the potential for things to get a bit stale. So I guess it's just really down to the talents involved whether or not things work out for the best, but as I said before, just hope they are signed to your favorite company!"

Evil Rick: "I believe it's beneficial to the comic book industry to have creators on exclusive contracts. Deals like this assure the talent a set amount of work per month for however long they're contracted, so they don't have to stress over where to find their next job next month or which project they should work on next. Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale did some great Marvel books, but there's even more heart in their DC work and I look forward to seeing a bunch of great DC projects over the next few years because of their recent exclusives. 

Knowing that Geoff Johns won't be wasting his talent writing Witchblade or Tomb Raider stories for the next three years assures me that he's going to write characters that will progress the DCU for years to come. And that as a whole benefits me both as a fan and a retailer. I had plenty of customers who really enjoyed Teen Titans # 1. Luckily I can safely show even the younger readers Flash, Hawkman, or JSA when they tell me they enjoyed the writing in Titans. I believe it strengthens each book to have some level of consistency that we wouldn't otherwise see if he were writing four different books for four companies. I'm all for these exclusive contracts."

Peter David: "It's pretty self-evident. The pro are that the creators are guaranteed work which, in the current environment, is a good thing. The con is the creator can't work for any other publishers, narrowing their opportunities and precluding them from working on other characters or perhaps seeking better deals elsewhere as the market changes. I don't think it's particularly beneficial for the fans, but to some degree it's one of those things that really isn't the fans' business. Individual creators have to do what they feel is right for them and their career."

Devin Grayson: "I know from the freelancer's end, signing an exclusive is one of the very few ways in this industry to get assistance with medical coverage. That may not sound like such a big deal, but many of us have families or ongoing health concerns (I'm a type one diabetic, for instance), and to have to negotiate for medical benefits alone as a "small business owner" ("How many in your company, miss?" -- "Um...just me...") can be really discouraging. 

Additionally, sometimes there's a natural flow to our work that makes an exclusive highly practical. When I signed mine, I was dying to do more work on the X-Men, but the X-Men: Evolution comic had just been canceled and two of the editors I was planning other X-projects with were fired or left. I had ongoing and time-consuming projects already in progress at DC and Wildstorm, and a pitch that was perfect Vertigo material, so signing with DC for a year made a lot of sense. I do sometimes miss having the opportunity to work on non-DC projects, but overall, DC has always felt like family to me, and I think being in a position where I know, for a while at least, where my next paycheck is coming from has let me relax and concentrate on the work. In this particular instance, I feel grateful for DC's vote of confidence and support and very pleased with the deal."

Bill Rosemann: "For certain creators, going exclusive with one publisher can be very beneficial. A regular paycheck. health insurance and other benefits are a wonderful thing...that's why we offer them to creators here at CrossGen! And if a creator receives the support they need from their employer, then that means they can concentrate on their work and create a regular stream of comics...and that means more good reading for fans!"

Mike Collins: "Exclusive contracts are more a way of companies thumbing their noses at each other- a kind of 'yaa-boo, we've got'im, you can't have him!'. Exclusives have been around forever, it's just that their profile has been raised in these more publicity-conscious times. Having Grant Morrison signing exclusive for DC is meant to make you think more about DC than specifically what he'll do. Same with Bryan Hitch at Marvel- Marvel is cool because they've got Big Bry, DC because of getting Grant.

Now, I can imagine things are different for writers, and you'll be getting opinions from them, but here's my thoughts:

As an artist, doing more than one book a month isn't a realistic proposition (with several honourable exceptions). If you've got a contract to work on a book, it might as well be exclusive. During the 90s, I was on contract with DC for the books I worked on but never went exclusive-- at the time the advantages were medical and dental which would only have benefited me if I'd caught a plane to NYC. I was able to do painting and illustrating work on the side, so long as it didn't mess with my schedule. But that stuff is all outside comics and wouldn't affect comics fans.

Is it beneficial to the fans? Again, Hot-Shot Artist X will only be drawing that one book, so does it really matter if there's a 'lock-down' contract on him? I know from the creative side, that there's a certain comfort to knowing you're guaranteed an income for a year. In this business, the uncertainty of where the next cheque is coming from prays on your mind. (and your bank balance)

If I was offered an exclusive, would I take it? Hell, yes!."

Mark Chapman: "I guess that from a publisher's point of view, exclusive deals make a lot of sense because of the sheer number of comics fans whose loyalty lies with individual creators rather than characters. If you're the only publisher putting out these creators' works, then you're the only game in town, which no doubt boosts sales. Setting up exclusive deals is also a good publicity angle which can be used to bring attention to a publisher's entire range. 

These deals aren't quite such a good thing for smaller publishers, as they cut down the available pool of talent and rule out the opportunity to publish niche projects that the mainstream publishers wouldn't touch. However this does encourage smaller publishers to devote more time to nurturing new and upcoming talent, maintaining a steady flow of new creators into the industry, which can't be a bad thing.

As to whether exclusive contracts are beneficial to the fans, it really depends on what the fans are into. Assuming the average creator's workrate doesn't drop when they get a deal, there will still be the same amount of material available, so fans of a certain creator's art or writing style specifically should be well catered for. The fans that will lose out are the ones who are into characters created for other publishers, which will necessarily be on hiatus until the contract expires, if not indefinitely.

It's impossible to state categorically that exclusive deals are a good or a bad thing - they just seem to be the way the industry is going."

Bill Jemas: "Many people work best in an environment where they can focus on their work without worrying about/shopping for their next job. Writer and artists in this frame of mind, may gravitate toward an exclusive deal in which they give ups certain freedom and flexibility (that they may not want anyway) in exchange for a steady work and "employee-style" benefits like insurance coverage. 

Other people work best in an environment that presents a stream of challenges coupled with the promise of larger rewards for success. Creators who lean in this direction strive for non-exclusive deals with relatively large incentives.

I have not noticed any patterns that would indicate that the preference for security or challenge is in any way related to the quality or type of work that the creator produces. Some of us become more aggressive creatively when we have our butts covered by an airtight contract - others become somewhat complacent. Some of us grow timid when we get that "freelancer in the wilderness" feeling - others are energized by the independence.

Marvel's job is to make books that our fans love to read. This means that we have to accommodate the legitimate desires of our creators for either kind of deal. 

Many people work best in an environment where they can focus on their work without worrying."

Alan Grant: "Main advantage to the creator is that, on signing an exclusivity contract, he/she receives a signing-on bonus, usually around $10--20,000. Rumour--which has never been confirmed to me--is that one top creator received a million-dollar bonus, only to find his hot new book cancelled within the first year because of lack of sales.

DC offered me an exclusive contract a couple of times. Despite the allure of the bonus, I never signed. Stupid as it might seem, my reason for turning down the money was that it meant I'd no longer be able to write Judge Anderson for 2000AD/Judge Dredd Megazine. Although I have no rights in Judge Anderson, I really like the character.

Main advantage for the publisher is that an exclusive deal keeps a valued creator from working for the opposition. However, it doesn't mean that the creator's work for the exclusive publisher will ever see print. I know of at least a couple of freelances who signed up for exclusive contracts, received their bonuses, then found they were being paid (for up to a year) for not writing/drawing anything at all.

I don't think the system has any benefits at all for comic readers. It might guarantee a favourite writer/artist on a favourite title for a certain period--but the creators would probably have done it anyway, without the exclusive contract. At the end of the day, it's the readers who--via hikes to the cover price, extra adverts, loss of letters pages--pay for exclusive contracts."

Markisan Naso: "I think exclusive deals are extremely beneficial to fans and to creators. I always hear all this bitching about how freelancers got no job security; got no benefits. With contracts creators can score some peace of mind for years. Depending on what's been agreed upon, they may be able to get health insurance, finally put that down payment on the house and partake in some 401fuckingK. And they deserve it. 

For comic fans the exclusive contract is a God send. When Grant Morrison signs on that DC dotted line, he won't be able to Frank Quitely his next project just because he suddenly gets an itch to do a Shatterstar and Rictor: Lost Years mini for Marvel. Most comic creators are professionals and don't jump ship in the middle of the story arc. But just in case, a contract ensures they finish what they start. 

The only downside to contracts is that newly signed creators may have to suddenly leave their current titles for other publishers, like Grant Morrison on New X-Men and Greg Rucka on Wolvie. But as I mentioned, most creators are professionals. Rucka had a verbal deal with Marvel to do 18 issues of the 'ol canucklehead and that's what he's gonna do. Hopefully fans appreciate that kind of commitment and integrity. I know I do."

Axel Alonso: "Exclusive contracts provide security for the publisher, and security and gobs of cash for the talent, who agree, essentially, to limit their options. They don't benefit fans -- unless, of course, those fans are more obsessed with the 'politics' of the business than the work itself."

Terry Moore: "I don't see exclusive contracts as anything new. I've always thought of the business that way, probably because I just associated past icons as being with a certain company, like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby with Marvel, Curt Swan with DC, etc. The fans can benefit from creators who can concentrate on their work with some job security, as opposed to hot creators jumping titles every 6 issues to stay on some sort of new book buzz. Honestly, it should be about the book, not about the creator. We don't need creator stars, we need great books, and it takes more than 6 issues to get that. If getting a star to settle in at a company and crank out work for a few years can get you that, why not?"

Mark Buckingham: "Some Comic Creators adore exclusive deals. It can be a really positive experience, with both creator and publisher making a solid commitment to each other and fans can take comfort in seeing their favourite team on a book for a long run. They can, however, be very restrictive creatively. I personally have always been something of a restless spirit and constantly wrestle with my need to experiment and evolve as an Artist. This means that I can sometimes find my self-moving in a direction which feels inappropriate for the title (or sometimes even publisher) to which I am currently attached. At moments like that it is reassuring to know you have the freedom to move quickly to a new home for your work. It has also worked well for me in the past to work on two very different projects for different publishers simultaneously in order to develop other aspects of my art, as well as expand my repertoire in the business. I also think its a terrible shame if a popular artist finds it impossible to even do a pin-up for another company. The two page Alan Moore tribute strip I did with Neil Gaiman earlier this year has profoundly affected my current attitude and approach to my work, which in turn inspired a major leap in quality and artistic expression on my regular Fables book. This would not have happened if i had been restricted by an exclusive deal. In the end it all just boils down to security verses artistic freedom. And as a comic reader I would rather see my favourite writers and artists moving on to different projects and publishers if it keeps them inspired and their work fresh."

Craig Lemon: "Benefits to creators along the lines of job security, medical insurance, a bit of stability...pretty good. Downside is that beyond the standard contracted work (for writers, usually two books per month), there is no guarantee of anything additional - until the time comes for you to sign an extension, and if they want to keep you, you suddenly get a prestige book, or a hardcover, or something (as related by more than one DC-exclusive creator at Comics 2003 in Bristol)...the publishers do not have to deliver on any pre-contract promises, the creators could, in theory, quickly get into the mindset of it just being hackwork - saving their best ideas for when the contract ends and they place a book elsewhere.

Does exclusivity promote the best work from a creator? Security does make one lazy, that's for sure, maybe knowing where one's next pay cheque is coming from lessens one's hunger? One stops taking risks? On the other hand, maybe enforcing a strict monthly deadline forces the creator to produce the goods, instead of working and reworking and reworking ad infinitum...it guarantees monthly shipping to one's adoring public... Or maybe once a creator doesn't have to worry about which book s/he will be working on for the next year, they can concentrate on producing their best work?

Ultimately, it's horses for courses - it purely depends on the terms of the contract and the sensibilities of the creator."

Alan Donald: "The pros are obvious your favourite creators get guaranteed pay and almost certainly you'll get to see their stuff regularly. And a happy creator is a productive creator. If you like the stuff they're signed up to do then it's a HUGE deal and very cool. Another big advantage is that some creators take on too much work (for whatever reason) and miss deadlines. On an exclusive contract with a regular wage a creator will tend to work within their means and we won't have to wait months for things that are running late.

The cons…put it this way I'm a fan of the Batman Universe, I was a huge fan of Chuck Dixon's work in the Bat Universe; I'm a 2000AD fan, I loved Jock's and Andy Diggle's work in 2000AD; and I love what Grant Morrison did on the New X-Men. Have I made my point? I'm not putting down the work they've done or will do for other companies but f**k me I'm gonna miss what they used to do." 

Summary: Most of the Panel seem to think that exclusive contracts are a good deal for creators as they bring stability, good pay, health deals etc. The Panel is divided on what the benefits are for fans however. 

This Week's Panel: Mark Buckingham (Fables, Peter Parker: Spider-Man), Terry Moore (Strangers in Paradise), Axel Alonso (Editor, Marvel), Alan Grant (Batman, Jude Dredd), Mark Chapman (Rebellion), Bill Jemas (Marvel), Markisan (the current writer of All the Rage), Mike Collins (Star Trek, 2000AD), Bill Rosemann (Publicist, Crossgen), Dave Gibbons (The Watchmen, Martha Washington), Devin Grayson (Gotham Knights, Nightwing), Peter David (Captain Marvel, Supergirl), Joe Quesada (Editor in Chief, Marvel), Rick Shea (Manager of Famous Faces and Funnies an enormous comic book retailer), Lee Dawson (publicist, Dark Horse), Shawna Ervin-Gore (an editor at Dark Horse), Craig Lemon (Senior Editor for Silver Bullet Comics, second in command for the site) and Alan Donald (Columnist, SBC). 

Next Week's Question: "Is Batman gay? Do you agree with people imposing their own 'readings' on established characters?"

Big Shout: The Panel need your questions so email them into me at: [email protected].

Things to Come: Keep an eye on the message-board over the next week I'm going to put up a list of every question the Panel has faced so far (neatly linked to the column it appeared in) so you know what to avoid.

SBC reserves the right to edit questions for reasons of consistency and inclusivity.

Have the Panel gotten it right?
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