“The only constant in life is change.” Boy, is that ever true as far as comics!
It wasn’t that long ago that I used to read, on what seemed a daily basis, of the latest comics creator who was signing an exclusive contract with someone. That seems to have slowed down to a trickle, though it still happens.
What’s up with that?
JUST WHAT IS AN EXCLUSIVE CONTRACT, ANYWAY?
I’ve had the chance to talk with several creators over the years of creating my Wayne’s Comics podcast, and initially people talked glowingly about exclusive contracts, which are normally defined as an agreement to work for one company only for a clearly defined period of time.
What made them so appealing?
Well, it meant that work would likely need doing on a more consistent basis from the company you signed with. After all, they said they’d pay you, right?
Also, it provided some benefits that people without a contract longed for, including healthcare, in many cases. Otherwise, you likely had to go on your own, which was a LOT more expensive.
It often had a specific time limit into which some exceptions could be written.
My favorite example was George Perez, who included in his exclusive contract that he could work on the JLA/Avengers crossover event within a certain time period. Well, Kurt Busiek’s script arrived on the last day (or near it) before the time elapsed. Phew! And did that ever turn out great!
Some people jumped companies after their contract expired to another exclusive with someone else. That never bothered me because, hey, creators very often have families to provide for, so the steady money and health insurance were a big deal!
WHAT’S HAPPENED IN THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS?
In the past several years, an interesting phenomenon has taken place: Not every company can keep every person with an exclusive contract busy all year (or the number of years specified).
Also, the number of companies creating comics has expanded quite a bit as well as the product they produce. They need people to make the books they want to sell.
What I’ve observed is that fewer people are signing exclusives so they can shop themselves around more. And that’s not a bad idea.
Granted, I don’t know the goings-on behind the scenes, but I find a good example to be Joshua Williamson, a favorite writer of mine, who worked on Masks and Mobsters for MonkeyBrainComics.com, Captain Midnight for Dark Horse, and Ghosted for Image, among other projects.
I have to say that I like this way of creating comics. I get to read much of what Mr. Williamson wants to produce even if they don’t all come from one source. I DO have to pay attention and seek out his name, but believe me, it’s well worth the effort!
Not only that, but Williamson is now under an exclusive contract with DC! He’s moving from The Flash to Justice League, too! He once told me that he now gets to spend more of his time creating instead of looking for his next assignment! As a fan, I find that great news!
MOVING FORWARD, WHAT’S NEXT?
I don’t see exclusive contracts completely vanishing from the comics universes. It wasn’t that long ago that Clayton Henry signed one with Valiant, who also had Doug Braithwaite, Cary Nord, Trevor Hairsine, Joshua Dysart and Brian Reber signed with them. No fading away of exclusives at that company! If it works for the company and the creators, all the better!
What normally happens in trends like this is: Things change to shorter agreements. Instead of a year, maybe the time will go from a year to, say, six months at a time. I notice that announcements of exclusive contracts often don’t include how long they last, so that may already be taking place.
Or the opposite could be true. A company likes a certain creator’s stuff, so they want to keep him or her around for two years. More than that, I’m not sure we’ll see written into these agreements, but I could be wrong.
But the one thing we’ll continue to see, especially with comics, is change … be it with content, with creators, with characters. As the industry works to adapt to an ever-modifying marketplace, we’ll see how exclusive contracts evolve as well.