Confessions of a Comic Book Guy is a weekly column by retailer Steve Bennett of Super-Fly Comics and Games in Yellow Springs, Ohio.  This week, Bennett talks about the lure of Hollywood deals for comics creators:

Even though comics now receive an unprecedented amount of respect from the mainstream media (I'm sure you've seen the commercials for the animated version of Justice League New Frontier and heard the announcer thunder, 'based on the best-selling graphic novel!'), creators still harbor the dream of having their work adapted by Hollywood and receiving the perks that come with it: money, profit participation, creative control, etc. (i.e. the Standard Ninja Turtles deal).  If you need further proof read The Elevator, a column which runs on the Comics2Film Website where a comic creator pitches his or her creation, explaining why it should be made into a movie.  This week's entry, Jesus Hates Zombies.

I know it's fun to think about (I confess I've done it myself) and with comics like The Boys being optioned for movies (though I doubt in the film version there'll be a scene where a superhero saves the earth from collision with a meteor by having sex with it) it undoubtedly makes the possibility of it happening to their comic seem all that more likely.

But of course the reality doesn't always match the dream. Even if your creation is turned into, say an animated series, there's no guarantee it'll be a huge success. Take Steve Purcell's Sam & Max (which, at long last, is coming to DVD).  Or worse it might not even be shown in North America, just ask Scott Musgrove about Fat Dog Mendoza (for those with short memories it was a comic from the 90s published by Dark Horse).

Given the way comic book creators are treated by the industry I understand the lure of Hollywood; if you follow the Lying in the Gutters column at the Comic Book Resources Website, you know almost every week there's a report about someone not being paid by some company.  And as someone who's been owed over $1,200 by various publishers for longer than I like to remember* I think I have some insight on why this happens (I mean besides the companies being criminally under-financed and having unrealistic expectations).

To stay in business a publisher has to pay its printer, landlord and electricity because there are dire consequences if they don't; but if you don't pay your creators, well, not much happens really.  Oh, you'll make them unhappy and eventually they'll stop producing material for you  (you'd be amazed at just how far you can string someone along with promises and sob stories), but there are always others who'll take a chance on a publisher with a bad reputation just to see their work in print.

I'll give some of these companies the benefit of the doubt and assume they had every intention of paying their creators because, as someone who's run a business, I know sometimes you just don't have the money.  And when that happens you start prioritizing the bills (i.e., just how much you can pay who by when).  And without the means to compel them to honor their obligations (the only way I know of is move to their state of residence and take them to small claims court), a contract is essentially a handshake on paper.  This is why creators go to the bottom of that list.

I'm sure none of this will come as exactly news to most of you but anyone expecting any better treatment in Hollywood might want to read the piece that ran in the February 13th edition of the Los Angeles Times by Josh Getlin about Deborah Gregory, creator of the popular young adult series The Cheetah Girls.  Disney turned it into yet another one of their tween franchise juggernauts (CDs, DVDs, shoes, dolls, videogames, posters etc.), but except for the $125,000 she received in option fees and the salary earned as a co-producer of the movies she's received nothing.

Now I won't suggest Disney (or Sony or Time-Warner, for that matter) routinely cheat their creative people, but I will say they can be worse than those no-pay publishers because they have the means to pay, it's just not considered good business to do so.  It's hardwired into their corporate DNA to keep as much of the money as they possibly can and only treat people as well as they absolutely have to.  And you really don't have to treat a neophyte in Hollywood (especially one that doesn't belong to writer's union) particularly well.

Nor will I discourage anyone from 'selling out' (my, what a quaint notion that's become); as I like to say 'there's always something you can do.'  The article suggests instead of net profits, creators should try for gross points, ask for bonus payments instead or more money upfront, etc., but mostly you should just try to do better on your next deal.  Gregory has the first of a new series of novels called Catwalk coming out in June, and Hollywood has already expressed interest.

But of course that's predicated on someone actually having that second great idea.  Siegel and Schuster never did (the closest they came was Funnyman-- there's a good reason you don't recognize the name) and we're still waiting for Eastman and Laird's next big thing...

*I used to write comic books for Malibu back in the go-go 90s. But that's another story.

The opinions expressed in this Talk Back article are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of