Monday, 29 June 2020

Creative Rights - making a living by making things up

An article I wrote for Modern Creative magazine back in 2012....


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One of the thorny issues facing any Modern Creative is that of Creator Rights. Will your interests be looked after if your work is a success, or will others reap the benefits of your talent? Writer Russell Payne looks into some of the pitfalls.

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It’s one thing to be successfully creative, it’s another thing entirely to be financially successful. Are the two mutually exclusive? Often they are, but they don’t have to be. 

Which though, is more important to you? Financial recognition or creative recognition? Your attitude regarding this will affect your work, and how you deal with the people you work for. 

With the age of crowd sourcing upon us, maybe the future is self-publishing. Maybe we’ll see a world where you can pay an artist direct for work you enjoy. Places like Indiegogo and Kickstarter are beginning to make a difference, but making a living as an artist is still a struggle uphill, an unusually steep hill, and the hill is covered in broken glass, and you’re naked.

Far too often the creative force behind successful ideas isn’t the person who sees the financial payback. Unfortunately when you are a na├»ve, wide eyed newcomer just wanting to get your babies released into the free world, the last thing you worry about is the small print, you’re just happy someone gives you some page, wall or web space to display your creations. You see anyone who encourages you as a benevolent benefactor, a kindly uncle acting as a patron of the arts and believing in you because of how completely awesome you are. This can sometimes be the case, in very rare cases or in the depths of your imagination maybe, but generally it isn’t, people may invest in you because you are good at what you do, but it’s really your potential for making them money that is the motivating factor. You are a financial investment not an artistic folly.

The grim reality is, many of the people actually running the commercial and sometimes non-commercial creative industries are in it for the money, not the love of good art. Never forget that, or they will rip you off, and continue ripping you off and feeding on the carcass of your ideas for the rest of their natural lives. The people paying you are probably businessmen of some sort or another, they may be greedy, without any ethical framework you’d recognise as such, and many of them wouldn’t recognise morality even if it had just been introduced to them in a formal setting in slow, distinct tones and was wearing a name badge that clearly said, “Hi! My name is MORALITY”. 

That’s why it’s not the people who come up with the best ideas that end up seeing the dividends of the fruits of their labours, it’s their employers. It’s an ancient relationship model that can be symbiotic, but often ends up parasitic. So how can you avoid pouring your heart and soul into a project just to make someone else rich?

It’s a tricky subject, partly because a lot of investment in the arts is speculative, partly because emotions run high when the product has such a personal origin. When you hire the latest modern creative, fresh from the streets, to come up with your new advertising campaign, you’re taking a risk, you probably don’t sign them up but agree to not pay them if the campaign flops, but equally you don’t expect to pay him twice as much if the campaign goes viral and triples your stock price. You should also take time to consider why you are creating whatever it is your are creating, is your main motivation just to make money, or is the money just an enabler to let you create something you have to do? Would you rather put out something the client loves, but you hate, or are you the sort to stand by your principles and risk losing work in defence of artistic integrity? Is it more important to you to be recognised as the creator of a worthwhile work and have creative control, or for you to be paid for any old pap that’s been spawned by committee? They are all valid models, although one of them means you have sold your soul and put too much value on monetary gain, but who am I to judge?

It’s always nice to be paid. I enjoy eating regularly as much as the next man, probably more so if you see how wide I am, just make sure you enter relationships like this with clear expectations, and learn from those that have gone before. There is no reason you can’t have a good relationship with the people you work for, obviously it’s preferable to do so, but once you begin accepting their input into your ideas, you risk compromising your artistic integrity, and potentially diluting the input you have into the final product. Collaboration can be a wonderful thing, just make sure you are prepared to give credit to your collaborators.

Creator’s rights are not protected well by law, it’s better than it used to be, but it’s still a jungle out there, it’s just been pruned slightly. Take the field of comics as an example, it’s full of popular creators who are unhappy with their treatment by the industry.

There was a sad case recently that illustrates the complexities of the issue, where Robert Washington one of the co-creators of the popular DC/Milestone comics character “Static” died of a heart attack. He had been living on the edge for a while, sometimes homeless, working in a call centre to make ends meet, while DC continued to feature his ideas and characters in comics and a popular cartoon. 

Some would argue that he had been paid as a work for hire employee, made some money and DC owe him nothing. Legally, they are probably right. Others would argue that since work he created was continuing to make DC money, he was entitled to some recompense or royalties payment, especially given his current circumstance. Morally, they probably have a point. 

Robert died June 7, 2012. Charitable donations from fans and fellow comic creators paid for his funeral via a charity called the Hero Initiative. The comic Static Shock #8 came out the same month and the title was then cancelled.

Alan Moore is another name that pops up a lot when talking about Creator Rights, he’s had a good many of his ideas made into movies – Watchmen, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, From Hell, V for Vendetta, Constantine, and so sits in a place many would aspire to be in. Yet his relationship with the moviemakers has been a strained one, with Moore asking to have his name taken off the credits, refusing to accept funds made from the films, often openly criticising the establishment for spoon feeding diluted versions of his works towards the mouth of mass media. 

It’s unusual to see an attitude like this in today’s sycophantic, materialistic world, is it biting the hand that feeds you, or making an important creative stand? I think it’s probably showing a lot more morality than we’re used to seeing in the world of the modern creative, and an example to be admired.

What’s more, instead of chasing the money and moving to Hollywood to be courted by sycophants, he stayed in Northants and got involved in an indie magazine called Dodgem Logic, which was brilliant, but currently on a break.

It’s difficult to talk about creator rights in comics and not mention Jack Kirby, the man who created or co-created a staggering number of the superhero characters that remain popular today in comics and movies. He died in 1994 but his ideas continue to capture the public interest. The Avengers, Captain America, the Hulk, Thor, the Fantastic Four, the Silver Surfer, the X-Men, to some degree Spiderman and hundreds more all had Jack Kirby’s hand mould them. How many people today have heard of him though? Movies based on his ideas make billions but his family see not a penny in royalties. Never mind the mountains of money though, what about some respect and recognition for the work the man did? If the creative industry can treat one it’s King’s like this, how do you imagine it is going to treat you?

So what can you do? Two things. 

  1. Go in with your eyes open, if you sign a contract, read it, make sure you know exactly what it is you are agreeing to. Even if you consider the person you are dealing with a friend closer than a brother, even if it is your brother, even if it’s your twin brother who pulled you from an icy lake when you were 6 and saved your life, get it all in writing. It’s like a pre-nup, it’s not very romantic, you might never need it, but it saves an awful lot of heartache if things do go wrong.
  2. Don’t lose sight of why you got into this world in the first place, you had an idea you were proud of, that you believed in, that excited you, don’t let someone else change it, exploit it or steal it just to make themselves some money. You will never make art that makes souls sing if you make it to get rich. You probably won’t get rich either. So go have some fun and instead of trying to make money, try to make something amazing.

Related links-

Monday, 30 March 2020

How to stay at home



Staying at home is the new going out, while we’re all in Cov-isolation. As a Freelancer, I’ve pretty much spent the last six years sat at home, occasionally emerging for conventions (not anymore though, for a while anyways) so for what it’s worth, here’s a few tips on staying sane when you have to spend most of your time trapped indoors.

I say a few tips. One tip – 

Compartmentalise your day.

Split your day into manageable chunks. You don’t necessarily have to get bogged down with an hourly schedule, but don’t do the same thing for long periods of time, say more than a few hours. Ever. Not working, not watching TV, not surfing the internet, not snacking, not video gaming and definitely not rocking back and forth in a foetal position in the corner worrying.

It’s so easy to just sit on the sofa and multiscreen, watch the news, swipe through social media. All. Day. Long. This way madness lies. The internet is a wonderful thing, but when you are staying at home all of the time, it’s just as important to disconnect as it is to connect.

Compartmentalising works if you're working from home, or just stuck at home. And I’m not saying you can’t work most of the day if you need to, but take a good long break and do something completely removed in between the chunks of work. General advice seems to be taking a 15 minute break every 90 minutes. Ignore that, if you want an hour's break, or a two hour break to watch a movie, commit to it and do it, you'll be more productive when you do go back to work, and you're your own boss, so your boss isn't going to mind. 

Think of some things you enjoy, or some new things you want to try, write them down in a list, stick it on the fridge, and concentrate on doing them. One at a time. Just doing them and nothing else. 

Focus on the moment.

Here’s a few obvious suggestions to get you going-

Reading. (right there there’s a whole  bunch of subsets- fact, fiction, comics, poetry, I’m not counting the bitesize internet memeverse, read something on paper if you can) 
Writing (see previous subsets, you could even start a blog.). 
Listening to music. 
Making music. 
Organising your belongings. 
Decorating. 
Looking through old photos. 
Making a scrapbook. 
Watching the birds. 
Learning a new skill. 
Talking to a friend on the phone. 
Talking to the people you live with. 
Talking to someone you haven’t contacted in while. 
Talking to yourself. 
Exercising. 
Gardening (you can do indoor gardening too, make some potted plants). 
Drawing. 
Painting. 
Doing a puzzle – Jigsaw, Crossword, Sudoku, whatever. 
Baking. 
Cleaning up the mess you made baking.
Throwing away the thing you baked when you realise it's inedible.
Playing a board game. 
Making a list of things you’d really like to do when you finally can leave the house.

But whatever you do. Commit to it. Just do that and if possible remove any other distractions.

They don't even all have to be things you enjoy. Washing the dishes. Vacuuming. Cleaning. Slip them into your list and treat them the same way.

If you’re going to compartmentalise, take positive, definite steps to make yourself do it. Force your hand. If it’s not online, then leave your phone/laptop in another room. Ignore notifications. Move around the house, take yourself to a new space. Go in the garden (if you have one) to read, in the box room to exercise or in a cupboard to talk to yourself. Isolate the one activity you have decided to do, and just do that.

There you go. Nothing ground-breaking, but if you’re not used to spending all your time at home, then spending it all sat down on your phone is not healthy. It might sound great, but after a week you'll be miserable. Don’t do it. Compartmentalise.

Turn off, tune in

If you're really struggling with the enormity of things. Try turning the internet off for a whole day. Have an internet holiday. I know people who don't have the internet, and on the whole, they seem a lot happier right now, ignorance can be bliss. turn it back on though, so you can do essential things like read my blog or buy a copy of The Ramifications of Felix.

It also helps if you live with people whose company you actually enjoy. And I do. So, I’m going to follow my own advice now, turn off my devices and watch a movie with my wife.

Stay safe, stay healthy, stay home.

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Shield King

Facebook post showing some recent colouring work I did for the mighty nice people at "Mighty Good Friends" comics.....

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

The Joy of Freelancing - Non-payment




I've been full-time Freelance now for 6 years. I do all sorts of nonsense, I work as a writer, artist, poet, comic colourist and letterer. I also give talks, readings and workshops at comic & literary conventions. I've written, illustrated and edited novels, comics, children's books, poetry, screenplays, book & album covers, wedding vows and eulogies.

It has many benefits, I have easily the best boss in the world, he's just a fantastic human being. Not only is he generous, warm hearted, kind, witty, handsome and the very picture of sartorial elegance, he let's me have days off whenever I want for the most frivolous of reasons. On the downside, the pay is sometimes appalling, the working conditions are cramped and my boss, for all his wonderful qualities, can also be a bit of an idiot, he lacks the material drive to really make money, often taking on low paid jobs because they "look like fun".


Like anything though, Freelancing has pros and cons, and on balance I enjoy a lot of the freedoms, both personally and artistically, that it affords me. I work longer hours and a lot harder than I ever did in more conventional jobs, but I'm happier, and you can't put a price on happiness, although it turns out the going rate for my happiness is often less than minimum wage.

I've got a lot better over the six years. I invoice people now, instead of just expecting them to remember to pay me. I get everything clearly in writing and agreed before starting any gig. I keep everything. I'm much more professional and only occasionally use words  like "dude" and "matey" when addressing new clients. All these things make my life as a Freelancer easier.

The one thing that contributes most significantly to the difficulties of being Freelance is simple -

People. Don't. Always. Pay. You.

You agree a price, you do the work, they don't pay you. Not because of the quality of the work, they just disappear, avoid contact, never explain, never pay. It's more frustrating than trying to explain WhatsApp to a pensioner.

I'm not talking about one or twice a year, I have a spreadsheet now with over 50 unpaid jobs. And it's not just me, speaking to other Freelancers, many who are well known and successful, it's terrifyingly common to spend your time, blood, sweat and tears on a job, complete it, and then never get paid. It's slightly less common when working for larger clients and established companies, but it still happens with alarming regularity. Sometimes it's for work that the client never sees, sometimes they take the work and run, but it's common, it's regular and it's wrong.

So my spreadsheet of shame. It actually has 46 names on it, for 50 unpaid jobs, a few of them I actually did more work for before they paid me for the first jobs. I don't do that anymore. Should I name and shame? If it was a faceless company or corporation, I would, but these are people, and I worry they could have had technical problems, personal tragedy, or financial ruin, or worse. For all I know, some of them died while I was working for them, for many clients all I have is an email. So every 6 months I email everyone on the list, and I remind them what they owe me. Sometimes it works, so I keep at it.

Friends and fellow freelancers advise me to name and shame.

The oldest entry on my list is a job I did for a man I'm going to call James White, because that's his name, and his email that I've been sending 6 monthly reminders to since march 2016 is jimjetw@gmail.com. If anyone else fancies reminding James that he owes me money, please feel free. If you know James, show him this blog entry.

James, if you're reading this, I apologise if you’re dead, but otherwise, can you please pay me?

If you're reading this and you haven't paid me for work. I'm declaring an amnesty. Get in touch, either to pay me or to at least tell me what happened? I'd consider accepting a token payment if you have a genuine reason, actually I've already considered it, I'd definitely accept it, I'd bite your hand off. I have bills to pay and my daughter is getting married in 3 weeks. Talk to me.

If you're too shy, too ashamed or just too scared, then you can get me off your conscience by paying me here, now, think how much better you'll feel and I'll stop sending you those 6 monthly emails.

You can send me money at - Paypal.me/payrussp

Communication, open and honest, it's the best way to resolve these things. I'm a pretty reasonable guy, gullible even, just get in touch and talk to me.

And I should add, the majority of my clients are great, they pay me, some I consider my friends. So it's not all bad, but overall non-payment is a blight on the Freelance industry in general. Get everything in writing, agree amounts and get proper contact details before you do anything.

I am, of course, also open for any and all new work offers, convention appearances, weddings and bar mitzvahs. See examples below. Just not if you're still on the spreadsheet of shame.

Further reading-
John Watson's blog on "When collectors don't pay for commissions"
Writing Doozy's "12 Steps to Take If Your Freelance Client Doesn’t Pay You"

Russell Payne Work Examples-
Comic colouring
Comic lettering
Poetry
Novel
Public speaking
Convention guest












Thursday, 21 November 2019

Cameo

I make a brief cameo appearance in Dutch Magazine StripGlossy recently, drawn by the lovely and talented Duth comics laureate Margreet de Heer....




 See original tweet-

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

NICE 2019



Just back from NICE 2019. I say just back, I got back yesterday, but I had an astonishing number of emails congratulating me on an excellent Jack Kirby talk and had to read those firstIt was a last minute decision to go to NICE. I'd expected to be down in London seeing my new Grandson, but he very kindly arrived a few weeks early and John Watson, who never learned to drive, needed a lift.

I had tried, over a period of many years, to write a book with John. That's another story though, for another time. Suffice to say, I was looking forward to spending a bit of time with John not talking about writing books, just chatting about music and comics, maybe eighties TV shows. I was optimistic. I'd been asked to give a talk on Jack Kirby, but other than that I could just hang out, chat about comics, maybe sell a few prints, and I had a bunch of old comics to sell. It would be a relaxing weekend. Great.

John asked me to pick him up at 14:00. No problem. I arrived at 14:01. John complained that I was on time, he wasn't ready yet. The next day when he realised he'd forgotten some things, this was my fault because I arrived early. There's a common storytelling device in modern comics - retconning - "introducing a piece of new information that imposes a different interpretation on previously described events". John does this a lot.

At least we could chat about comics on the way down. John started off by telling me about his hatred of Reggae music, then launched into a 4 hour breakdown of the plot of his next novel. It was like having an audio book CD jammed in your car stereo that you can't turn off. To be fair, the plot was pretty good, but I'd have rather listened to some Reggae. Spurred on by John's incessant plotting, I made the journey in record time, we arrived early. Jeff was at reception, he'd lost weight, but gained some new swear words, he hurled a few at me and told me one of the guys doing the panels had cancelled and could I stand in for him. I didn't mind, I understood that there aren't many people as knowledgeable as me about comics.

The door to the hotel room was open when we got to it, but refused to open with our keycards once we closed it. You could see the lock was faulty, it was at an odd angle and you could move it by breathing on it. I reported it to the nice man at reception, telling him the lock was faulty.  He checked the keycard on his reception scanner, smiled knowingly and offered to "show me how to open" the door. I followed him up to the room and enjoyed watching him try and open the door for five minutes before admitting the lock was faulty. We got in eventually, but every time we left the room, the door was mysteriously open again when we returned, it's a good job there was nothing valuable in the room, just John's art.

Then we went to the bar and John made more money selling art in five minutes than I made all weekend. After chatting at the bar for a bit, we went for a meal at Wetherspoons with Mick, Rich, Nige, Alex and Michael. Nige, Alex and Michael took advantage of the "3 plates for £10" offer and ordered enough food to feed about 200 people. It was OK though, we talked about comics.

Back at the bar, we talked about comics, also great. Went up to our room at about 1am, I prised the twin beds apart to minimise the volume of John's snoring and tried to sleep. John kept me up until 4am talking about the plot for his second novel. Again.

Chatted with Mick, Rich and legendary inker Mark Farmer at breakfast. The NICE hotel breakfast buffet was adrift with comic talent. At one point we watched Mark Buckingham help a little boy (who was part of a wedding party that was also at the hotel) get his morning apple juice by physically tipping the barrel at the breakfast buffet so the tap at the bottom got to the last dregs and filled his glass. It was inspirational. We'd all sat eating eggs looking at the little boy with an empty glass, wondering why he looked so sad, not bothering to ask. Mark stepped up. A super heroic moment from a man who draws superheroes.

Green Goblin reference photo

My Kirby talk was tomorrow at 3pm, but I had two new panels to do today. I posed as Green Goblin for John's first con sketch of the day, then it was off to my first panel. It got cancelled. But later on in the afternoon I enjoyed talking to Adi Granov and Greg Staples about their film work. Adi and Greg made it easy for me by having some great stories to tell and unusually for a comic-con panel, we had an actual decent sized audience.

Russell Payne, Greg Staples, Adi Granov at NICE 2019

NICE was busy this year, certainly on the Saturday morning anyway, absolutely packed and rightly so. John did well selling what was an excellent selection of original art, including a lovely painted Marvel Apes cover. Given the choice between buying one of my prints and one of John's original pieces, nearly everyone chose the latter. I can only imagine this was because I spent so much time on panels, my fanbase spent most of their time in the panel room and became disoriented, wandering around Bedford reeling from the excellence of my panel chat, unable to find my table.

That evening we went out for an Indian with Mark Farmer and two Legion fans Julian and Rob. Julian and Rob had some great stories of UKAC, an early UK comiccon, where why used to do comic book quizzes in the format of Mike Reid's Runaround. Sorry I missed those. Mark had some great industry stories too, but I'll have to wait until some people die before I can relate them. Back to the bar for more chat, it was really great actually sitting at a comic convention and talking about the nitty gritty of comics for a change. Mark recommended checking out the inking of Ralph Reece, someone I'd never even heard of, you should look him up. Man, he was good.

We retired about 1am. Back in the room we started counting the cash we'd made that day. I was done by 1:01am and fell asleep at 3am while John was still counting. In the morning we struggled to open the hotel room door again, but only because there was a stack of John's cash on the floor jamming it closed.

Sunday at NICE

Sunday was quieter, but the majority of ticket sales would have been for my Kirby talk, which got a standing ovation. The ovation was for Jack, not me really, but it was a great 40 minute talk that only overran by 45 minutes. It's possible they were just applauding because it finally ended. Had some great chats with people generally, proper comic fans. One man was a devoted Stan Lee fan and railed at my suggestion that Stan didn't really do anything that memorable after Jack left Marvel, he went away and returned an hour later with two A4 sides of issue numbers proving me wrong, I love that sort of dedication!






Aside from the excellent guest list, that was the defining vibe of NICE, the people who came were comic fans, the talk was all about comics and comic art. One kid came and bought a golden age Flash comic, not to sell it at a profit, but because he really wanted it for his collection. I met Adam Falp who was there with his own comics (the Fragment, below, thanks for the comics Adam!) and is collating a Jack Kirby 102nd birthday book with proceeds going to the Kirby Museum. I chatted to a guy who had a collection of Kirby Kamadi art, I met someone who loves Captain Victory! It was great. If you love comics, NICE is the con for you.


On the drive home, the Satnav suggested we take the M6 toll, I cleverly avoided paying the toll by turning the Satnav off and spending an extra 3 hours stuck in traffic instead of paying £8 and getting home earlier. John complained a lot about this, then started telling me about the plot to his second novel. Yet again. I was worried he was going to go over the whole thing again. A truck next to us in the jam was playing loud reggae music, I turned on the child lock to disable the electric windows on his side, and wound down his window. The sweet sound of Bob Marley drowned him out and I didn't worry about a thing.

Thanks to everyone who came to my Kirby talk. Many thanks and congratulations to Jeff, Bub, Close Encounters and the team for an excellent comiccon more in the tradition of events like UKAC or the Bristol Comics Expo than modern comiccons. A thing to be celebrated. Haven't enjoyed a con so much in ages. Not sure why you'd want to, but you can read John Watson's version of events here.




Thursday, 29 August 2019

Grandfather

Biggest news this month, my oldest daughter Chloe had a baby. Welcome to little Elias, congratulations to the parents, Mo and Clo. Mother and Baby are doing well. I suddenly feel about 90 years old and everyone is sarcastically shouting "Hey Grandad!" at me. Actually, local teenagers have been doing that for a while.

That's Eli on the left, on the right is my other Grandson, Ralph.

Had a great time at the London Film and Comiccon (LFCC) a few weeks ago. The table next to me was Rich Johnston from Bleeding Cool, who did a video interview thing with me that you can watch here. Another great year for LFCC, with a massive Comic Zone and some amazing comic artist and writers, thanks to the spectacular organisation of Tony Lee and his team. Rob Liefeld was there too.





Jim Templeton's poetry book, The Ramifications of Felix is selling well, for a poetry book. It only just hit Amazon, so looking forward to seeing what the reviews say. If you own a copy, please do review it, every review makes a difference to sales. If for some reason you don't yet own a copy, don't worry, you can buy it here now at a 25% discount!




Due to Chloe having Eli a few weeks earlier than planned, I can now give my friend John Watson a lift to the always excellent NICE comic convention in Bedford. Can't recommend NICE enough to anyone who has a love of comics and comic art, it's a proper convention with wall to wall comic artists and writers, none of this mucking about with actors and reality TV stars that you get at most 'comiccons' nowadays. Tickets are still available on the website.



** Update (4/9/19) I'm now giving a talk about Jack Kirby on the Sunday, so you can come along to NICE and learn about the King of Comics. The guest list for NICE is really quite excellent, see the flyer below, buy a ticket, come and say hi!