Barry Reese

Pulp Writer Extraordinaire

Recently there have been a couple of contract issues in the comic book world that raise concerns that are applicable to writers in any field.

First, there was the Before Watchmen brouhaha. Basically, DC Comics decided that they were going to publish prequel stories, set before their classic Watchmen series. They did this despite the fact that the author of the original work (Alan Moore) has condemned the project. Now, Moore signed a contract with DC back in 1987 (or thereabouts) that said that all rights to the material would revert back to him when the work went out of print. Watchmen was such a huge hit, however, that DC has never allowed it to go out of print and never will. Moore said he never anticipated this and that DC is violating the spirit of their agreement.

I say that’s a load of crap. DC has every right to do this because that’s the way the contract is written. Just because Moore assumed something does not mean he’s in the right. I believe you’re bound by the contract you’ve signed and if it’s a crappy contract — and you signed it anyway — you have no one to blame but yourself.

Forget “the ethics” of the situation. The law’s the law and DC’s got it on their side. We have contracts for a reason and DC is upholding their end of the deal. Moore’s getting paid and DC has the rights to the material.

But then there’s Tony Isabella.

Tony says his contract for the Black Lightning character gave him approval over the character’s useage, a share of non-comics useage profits and so forth. DC has continually ignored that and uses the character to this day without allowing Tony approval. Now, I’ve read Moore’s contract but haven’t read Tony’s — but I haven’t seen DC deny his allegations, either, so I’m leaning towards believing Tony. In this case, I side with the creator because he has a contract that the other side is not honoring.

A few years back, I signed a contract with West End Games. I provided them with the material I promised, then I sat back and waited to get paid. It was a long time coming. When I called them, I discovered they’d changed their phone numbers. I ended up having to go public with the non-payment issue to force them to pay. Many fans on the WEG site took me to task, saying they would have done it for free because they love the company and I was being ungrateful. I replied that I loved WEG, too, and I might have done the work for free if they’d asked — but they didn’t. They offered me a contract, saying they’d pay me for the work I provided. They ended up honoring that contract but I had to force the issue.

When I joined Pro Se, I signed a contract that they have honored. I read it carefully and had others do the same before I signed it. If later on I get screwed over because I missed something in the fine print or because I made a wrong assumption, that’s not Tommy Hancock’s fault.

It’s mine.

My point is: read your contracts and think them through before you sign them.

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