Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

May 29, 2013

Guest Post: David Brothers On Working For ComicsAlliance And Not Owning That Work

The writer David Brothers sent along a short piece in response to comments made by me regarding my astonishment that writers at the currently-defunct, maybe-to-return ComicsAlliance site didn't own their work. I wanted to run it full here, and appreciate Brothers letting me do so. -- Tom Spurgeon

By David Brothers

I wanted to drop you a note replying to your remarks about ComicsAlliance in the TCAF post, and talk about it from my point of view, as ex-CA staff. I should probably emphasize that my position in no way reflects the ideas of anyone but me, too. This is not a counterpoint so much as a co-point, because I do agree with you, but here's where I was and am coming from:

I came to comics reviewing by accident, after getting recruited to review video games while in college. I started out being paid in video games, then in early access to games, and then in early access to games plus $10-$15. At the time, that seemed plenty fair, since the going rates for games at the time was between 50 and 60 bucks. Also, I was maybe nineteen and eager to be published, because that seemed like a way out of a rut that I was stuck in.

When the time came to start reviewing comics, first at PopCultureShock (where I worked pro bono, but got convention perks) and then at ComicsAlliance, the rates were around the same, so it felt right. The material perks weren't as fancy or expensive, but I think liking comics + wanting to be published + being able to write quickly made it seem like a fair deal to me. I never hacked it out, but I write quickly enough that doing a single post at CA netted me a little more than minimum wage for that one piece, in terms of time invested compared to money gained. Plus, I was working for people I like and who I feel genuinely made me better -- I owe Laura Hudson, Andy Khouri, Joe Hughes, Caleb Goellner, and even Chris Sims -- don't tell him -- a lot. So the fun of getting to be part of a clubhouse containing some of the best thinkers on comics was great, and the trust they showed me was even better. I got to do a bunch of anti-commercial stuff that wouldn't sell anywhere else in comics and they had my back every single time, even when I pissed off a PR person and got them angry phone calls.

But, and I say this with no animosity or judgment whatsoever, I do realize that the pay wasn't great and signing over my rights wasn't wise. I became aware of it a couple years back, and if I was writing something that was too personal or important to me, I kept it for 4thletter! instead of donating it to AOL. I didn't hold back on my AOL work, but the things I loved beyond belief or wanted to keep control of, like my Black History posts or the various Frank Miller explorations, I kept to myself.

I was surprised when I went to a mainstream outlet, The Atlantic, and they said their going rate was $100 per piece, plus you retain your rights after a certain amount of time has passed. I was paid well at CA, well enough to be happy with what I was doing. I've written for a few other non-comics outlets recently and been paid on a similar scale.

I don't think I was not-smart when I first started getting paid to write about comics, but I am definitely smarter now. I didn't have the experience then that I do now, but there still aren't many -- any? -- resources for new writers-about-comics to check out to see what their peers in other fields are being paid. There's also the rookie conundrum. Can I get away with asking to change a contract or will that sour the deal? Back then, my thought was "I need this job more than I need ownership." From here on out, I know to ask the question first. Sometimes people say yes.

I'm tremendously thankful for my time at CA, and while I sorta wish I'd educated myself about ownership and such before I spilled close to half a million words for AOL, I'm grateful for the learning experience, too. I'm glad it was one I was prepared to handle, rather than a surprise. I'm glad that I had people behind the scenes going to bat for me time and time again, instead of someone trying to exploit me. I paid attention to their efforts, and I've learned. I'm doing backmatter for an OGN this year, and I made it a point to retain copyright and reprint rights. From here on out, I'm going to endeavor to own what I create, or if not own it, make sure that I gain a lot in exchange for losing those rights.

I hope that other writers about comics, maybe ones who are not quite so established or thinking of getting into the business, can learn from my mistakes -- however incredibly enjoyable and fulfilling they may be -- and make sure to own their work and fight for the pay they deserve. I understand the other perspective, the business perspective, but I think as a creative person, any trade you make needs to be one that you personally benefit from in a tangible way. I didn't know that when I started my freelance career ages ago, but I'm very aware of it now.
posted 12:20 am PST | Permalink

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