Joshua Unruh Y'all don't want to hear me, you just want to dance

18Jul/110

Celadore: A Case Study – Intellectual Property Rights

Once upon a time there were a couple of kids who invented a super powerful baby who was rocketed from a dying planet to become Earth's hero. They were paid $130 for the original story and copyright on the new character. While they were paid over a hundred thousand dollars later and had very nice salaries, the character generated millions and, eventually, billions for the company that owned the copyright. Eventually, this character bought for $130 would become the most recognizable fictional character in the world.

Once upon a time there was a very young man who came up with a character who would fight crime by taking on the name and costume of a creature of the night. He found an artist to work with who reworked the concept nearly from the ground up. Decades later, most of what people would consider most recognizable about the character are things the artist added. Yet every single time the character appears, he is credited as the creation of the writer with no mention of the artist who was so integral to the process.

Some decades after this and across the street in another office, a single writer teamed with many artists to create all new superpowered heroes. Though the artists teamed with this man to finish scripts, flesh out characters, and create the unique looks of these heroes, it is typically the writer alone who is credited with the creations.


This is called work-for-hire and it exists everywhere art is turned into a business. It isn't an evil thing, it certainly has its place. But as you can see from the above examples, it can become an especially sore spot when working in comics. That's why I had to ask Caanan about the rights to Celadore even if it might have turned out to be a touchy subject.

Turns out it wasn't that touchy but it does show you the kind of power the publisher can still wield over any given artist's IP. Remember, the publisher here was Zuda who was owned by DC Comics who is owned by Warner Brothers. I'm not saying they're inherently sinister, but in a legal tussle between Warner Brothers and the average artist, regardless of talent, they're going to outlast the artist every time. Caanan had this to say:

I hold the rights for all my original pages, and can sell them whenever I feel like for however much I can get. The rights to the story and the characters, etc. is a co-ownership. Meaning that they can do what they want with it and I get a slice of the pie. I don't need to be involved in any further production of Celadore though. If they want to continue Celadore without me, they totally can. Though, why would you? Right? ;o)

But then any money made from any new stories, that is, new stories that I don't have a hand in creating, I don't think I would get anything for them either. I think. I'm not too sure about that, actually. I would expect not. It's a big contract and I never read too deep in to things like that, because I didn't ever see it happening.

There's a couple interesting things in there. I totally understand the size of the contract. Although she isn't anywhere near intellectual property law, my wife is an attorney. I've seen legal documents in action and they can get huge. Especially on something that could have so many different applications and permutations like an intellectual property. If an artist can't afford a lawyer's hourly fee to read the contract, explain it to the artist, and then advise him on it, then you pretty much have to fly blind.

And Caanan jokes about them moving forward without him, but the byzantine decision-making process of a big organization like DC or, even worse, Warner Brothers, means that they are impossible to predict. It's not necessarily something you have to stay up nights worrying about, but it is possible that you'd suddenly be cut out of your own creation.

But to an artist who is trying to break in, these feel like gambles you might be willing to take. It isn't optimal and most everyone, Caanan included, knows that. But you make allowances for your first few gigs in hopes they lead to more gigs. Speaking byzantine, the profit-sharing is complicated. Caanan, who is not a lawyer and doesn't want to pay one, is honest about not really knowing exactly how much he'd get from tshirts, or a cartoon series, or any further books and strips they made without him.

And you know what? All that is just fine. Under the traditional model, new artists have to make these kinds of decisions if they want to become known and recognized. Or even if they just want their work to have a larger audience. The good news is that the news doesn't stop there. You've heard me go on and on about the Consortium's goals but, really, you don't even need an organization like the Consortium if you don't want it. Patience and talent can actually get you to a place where your art is your livelihood.

Caanan has started a little web phenomenon with Max Overacts and the Muppet Thor. There are enough strips now to make Max into a first volume. And Caanan is going to be doing just that with the help of IndieGogo, a service similar to Kickstarter. Basically, you can pledge your own money to assist him in getting the book out and there will be rewards the more you contribute. It's a tremendously egalitarian way of running things, a patronage in many small pieces instead of one large one. Obviously, I approve and wish him the best. In fact, once he's got that up and running, watch this space for the opportunity to go and support him.

This brings us to the end of our series on Celadore. I want to thank Caanan Grall again for all his wonderful help, for his transparency, and for his willingness to work with me on this series. I hope it has been informative and that somebody learned something, even if it was just Caanan and I as we went over this stuff. I also want to wish Caanan the best of luck in his future endeavors. He's talented and he deserves the applause. Heck, I believe it so much I'll be kicking in some money to get the Max Overacts vol 1 Maxtravaganza out into the world. (I totally made that name up,  but you can have it if you like it, Caanan, It's the least I can do. ;) )

Thanks to everyone who has followed this series. Come back Wednesday for a return to form for this blog minus even the usual couth and good manners.

13Jul/110

Celadore: A Case Study in Publisher Driving Story

If you're just joining us today, you definitely need to check out the review, the introduction to talented up-and-comer Canaan Grall, and the first part of this case study that touched on how medium can influence the telling of your story. After you've caught up, you'll be ready for today's topic as we look at how the demands of a publisher can also drive the story.

As an indie author working for an indie publisher, "editorial" doesn't really enter into my realm very often. When my editor or publisher talk to me, it's rarely to tell me things like "this needs to be shorter, there needs to be a cliffhanger here, and cut 27,000 words or it'll never see the light of day."

Their comments, cuts, and edits are almost always to hone and focus or correct my work, never to change it or dictate form outright. But this isn't the case in work-for-hire situations like comics often are. Caanan has specific insight into this with Celadore.

Also, the frenetic pacing was a result of the Zuda beast. Celadore was plotted for four page a week updates. So the beats were to have a cliffhanger every four pages (sometimes I tried for every page) because a week between updates is a long time. You gotta get those people coming back! So, I crammed a ton in and wrote pretty aggressively for that return audience.

Now I am a HUGE fan of the frenetic pacing of Celadore. It's a thing I really enjoy in comics and pulps and try to get into my prose work. But the idea here is that Caanan would have placed the story beats differently if the publisher hadn't dictated how the work would come out.

One other problem I had with the book version of Celadore was that some parts of the story weren't given enough space to breathe. Being a fan of the fast pace, I chocked it up to that and decided something had to give. I wasn't sure this would have been better in the online version, though. Once again, Caanan had some insight that changed my mind.

There is a four page intermission comic about Sam figuring out Wax's genie cube that I tried to get in to the book between parts 1 and 2. But Zuda didn't want to do it.

There were also thirteen pages of backstory (all only pencilled except for three) available elsewhere on the internet that I produced while trying to win the Zuda competition. A three-pager about Evelyn, and five two-pagers each focusing on Sam, Wax, Ness, Jams and Anna, the would-be vampire queen. While Celadore was online to read, people could easily find them within a few clicks if they were interested. But the book doesn't have that benefit.

Sam and the genie cube (don't worry, it's a minor spoiler but shouldn't ruin anything for you) is a huge deal that I was almost entirely at a loss to understand on its own. I figured out what was going on by what was going on, but it wasn't immediately evident in the story. Here's the missing piece (once again I apologize for squishiness of the strip; click it for full size and proper aspect ratio).

Similarly, this is an ensemble cast of several characters and that same fast pacing I otherwise enjoyed meant I wasn't sure what was the deal with them some of the time. (I actually knew more about them from the book's back cover copy than I did from most of the story.)

What's more, some of the big reveals at the end are still a bit of a mystery to me. Some of that is likely because there was more story to come, but probably not all.

But the nature of the internet means you can tuck explanatory bits like two-page origins and "The Zeppo" (please pardon Buffy references in a Celadore discussion) style stories about one character that make the main story much clearer and, therefore enjoyable.

This isn't entirely to harsh on Zuda. They're a business and they have business decisions to make. More to the point, some of those decisions were, in some ways, made for them by the fact that they were in trouble internally. In fact, I think they run about 50-50 with some dictates turning out well (cliffhangers and fast pacing) and others turning out less so (leaving out "extras" and backstory). Caanan had this to say:

At the time the book was made, Zuda was fighting to stay alive but couldn't tell anyone. Not even us. So they were really unresponsive to emails because there were way bigger things going on. I'm lucky the book even made it out there since Zuda was no longer around when it did finally hit stores.

One more post will answer the last of my questions for Caanan. Once the dust settles, who owns the rights to this particular piece of intellectual property?

11Jul/111

Celadore: A Case Study in Medium Driving Story

Most of the time, I'm a novelist. But I've toyed with comics, plays, and even screenplays. I've started to think about how the medium that delivers my story must impact the way I build my story. Celadore and Caanan's explanations of how he structured it to take advantage of its original medium and how those decisions worked against him when it was translated were amazingly informative to me. Informative enough that I think my intrepid readers will learn something as well.

So Celadore was originally a flash-based webcomic. I'll start out with Caanan himself explaining how this impacted his design decisions.

The thing with doing a Zuda comic is that all throughout its natural life, readers could tell if an entry had been done specifically for Zuda, or adapted from a print comic they were trying to start up. With Celadore, I crammed my pages with so many panels to make use of the full screen display (on a 21 inch screen, you can read a LOT) and noticed other people were starting to do the same thing.

Originally, it seemed like creators were treating it as a half page with an average of 1 - 4 panels per screen, but then, some of us started using the whole space as its own page, and all of a sudden, storytelling was opening up like crazy! By the time Zuda folded, there were heaps more comics with a 6 - 8 panel average. I came at it with a comic strip background, not comic book - as did the Timonys with their awesome Night Owls comic - and treated it like a Calvin and Hobbes Sunday strip more than anything else.

This is a big deal because one of my main complaints about digital comics is that most are just scanned pages. They don't make use of the format or abilities of the web at all. Heck, even the page orientation is pretty inept at using the real estate of my letterbox computer screen.

Instead, Caanan (and some other creators as well; Night Owls was another Zuda comic I really enjoyed) made use of the way computer screens work and the way the panels would be animated. This is also a first hint of what would go wrong when the comic was translated to a book. The panels were going to be chopped up and put back together in a way that wasn't entirely in Caanan's control. And even if it had been, he would have been mitigating the damage, not undoing it. He'd have been hiding the scars but the surgery would still be evident.

When it came time to print the book, here is Caanan's reaction:

It's small, and it's dark. (Celadore looks much better online where it was intended to be seen, and thankfully, it's slowly making its way back through comixology. There's 140 pages up so far, with 40 to go. They're releasing it in 20 page chunks.)

The book's printing is WAY too dark. I drew Celadore for the screen and nobody bothered to check the pages on DC's end before printing. I could have fixed the colours myself, I guess, before giving them over to DC, but I've never had a book printed before and didn't really know how they'd turn out. They're supposed to be the experts. Bayou also suffered the dark printing from Zuda. High Moon didn't because Dave and Steve are fussy. ;)

I can testify to this. The book is so dark that I often had difficulty telling what was going on. But I went and nabbed the first issue of Celadore on my smartphone to test it out. Even at that much smaller size, the increased readability, the more fluid read through, and the bright, beautiful colors just pop right off the screen. It was obviously the way the strip was meant to be read.

So the lesson to be learned here seems so obvious, yet even the Big Two comic publishers seem to be barely paying any attention to it. You can also see it in stories that are adapted from one medium to another a bit too faithfully. The things that work to pace a comic don't work for a movie, a tv show, or even a novelization. They're all different animals that require different storytelling techniques and tricks. Keep that in mind if you're making the move from one medium to another.

Come back Wednesday for a discussion of how Zuda's requirements as publisher drove the way Caanan told his story. How does a publisher change the way you drop your story beats? Or how and when you make a reveal? We'll tell you Wednesday!

In the meantime, I once again suggest you check out www.occasionalcomics.com and read some other examples of Caanan's fantastic work. Here's a fun piece from a story called Monster Portrait.

6Jul/110

Celadore: A Case Study – Introducing the Creator

This past Monday I reviewed a graphic novel called Celadore. Sorry I forgot  to link to it on Monday but it was a holiday and we didn't have air conditioning so I spent most of the day trying to not melt. Go read it now and then come back. I'll wait.

So, I reviewed a story full of imagination, clever writing, and some fantastic art. Well, it should have been. Instead, it was kind of a mess. But I read it because I'd recently discovered the work of Caanan Grall, Celadore's creator, and wanted to shine a spotlight on talent.

Instead, I ended up emailing Caanan to discuss what went wrong with the book. These emails led to a larger issue that we'll spend the next couple of posts discussing. But first I want to give Caanan the space to introduce himself. Take it away, Caanan!

I come from a background of doing illustration work for kids books, educational books, and storyboards for advertising. I came to North America to be closer to the convention circuit so I could get in front of people. And that didn't work at all. The only thing that did was make me see how bad I sucked. So, I hid for a while, working on my comic the Middle Ages, which a friend was publishing in comic book format back in Australia.

Then Zuda emerged. How hard is it to win a talent contest right? I had talent. I'd never enter a luck draw, but if I can affect the outcome? ...I'll give it a go! So I won Zuda. My 60 screens ran. Then I had some guys within Zuda fighting for me to get two more seasons because, I think, I filled that kid-friendly niche. So I lucked out and got to do more Celadore and even snuck in a real-life book before the imprint went the way of the dodo.

Now I do Max Overacts. It's been nominated for an Eisner Award, which got me a few extra eyeballs. But not as much as my Muppet/Kermit the Frog 24 hour mash-up comic did. Which means Muppets = viral marketing gold? I dunno. There's no formula for that. It's lightning, and my shoes are still smoking.

Now I have an overloaded server, am losing readers by the day, and no plan for the future. I'd like there to be a Max Overacts book. I'd like to eventually help other people get published. I'd even set up some kind of "tools for the talented" scholarship one day where some awesome artist gets a brand new mac and adobe suite because they're awesome but have no money.

Currently, I don't even earn enough to pay my rent, so I don't know how all this is going to happen, but I have talent. As I mentioned, previously, that's a good start. :)

I agree with that last sentiment, especially the part about the man having talent.

Caanan included several images that you'll see over the next few posts, some of which have rarely (if ever) been seen before. But first I want to lead with a Max Overacts strip that a) exemplifies everything I love about the strip, b) helps Caanan introduce himself when placed next to that bio, and c) really speaks to me as an up-and-coming artist. If you laugh, then go to www.occasionalcomics.com and read more Max. If you don't, then you're some kind of souless, communist robot.

(I apologize for the slight squish of the image. Please click it to see it in its full glory.)