Starting a Comic Book – What Does it Cost?

Atom vs. Ant-Man (334/365) by JD Hancock from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Atom vs. Ant-Man (334/365) by JD Hancock from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I had the privilege of doing two panels at Phoenix Comicon this year: Fan Art/Fiction and Fair Use and Comic Book Creator Rights. The latter was a panel with writer/artist Josh Blaylock. He has experience licensing others’ work and creating his own.

Someone in the audience asked us how much a person should set aside to cover legal fees when starting a comic book.

Create Quality First
If your goal is to create a comic book and possibly a business from it, start by working on your craft. You won’t have any legal issues if no one cares what you’re making.

Start with a Consultation
When you’re ready to take your work from a hobby to a professional endeavor, schedule a consultation with a lawyer. Choose someone with experience in entrepreneurship and intellectual property – business formation, copyright, contracts, and trademarks. You need someone who can help you understand when you need a lawyer. Expect to pay $200-350/hour for a lawyer’s time, more depending on where you live and the person’s experience level.

It doesn’t cost much to get started with a new venture, but you do want to be thoughtful about what you can afford and act accordingly. A good lawyer will respect your budget and tell you what you can do on your own, and when it’s imperative to hire a lawyer. For instance, in many states, it’s easy to file your own business entity. Check with your state’s corporation commission for instructions and the forms. In Arizona, you can file an LLC and complete the requisite publication for less than $100.

Nuts and Bolts information by Josh Blaylock

Nuts and Bolts information by Josh Blaylock

Protect your Intellectual Property
The most valuable asset in your work is your intellectual property. Before you fall in love with a name for your comic book, run a search on the USPTO trademark database to verify that someone else hasn’t claimed the same or a similar name. Even if you can’t afford the $225-325 filing fee to register your trademark at first, you can put a superscript “TM” next to your work’s name, logo, and anything else you claim as a trademark. The USPTO has videos about how to submit a trademark application if you want to try to file your own, but I usually recommend that clients have a lawyer shepherd their application through the process. If you want to do this, expect to pay an additional $1,000 for their time.

In regards to copyright, I tell my clients, it’s not if your work gets stolen, but when so plan accordingly. For a new comic book creator, my recommendation is to register each edition with the U.S. Copyright Office. Their website is not the most user-friendly experience, but you can hire a lawyer for an hour to walk you through your first registration and then you can submit your subsequent copyright applications by yourself. The filing fee for a single work is $35-55.

Manage Relationships with Contracts
Every relationship related to your business should be documented with a written signed contract. This applies to co-owners of your business, writers, artists, colorists, licensors, licensees, vendors, and if your comic book turns into a job offer, your employment contract. Contracts are relationship-management documents. They keep everyone on the same page in regards to expectations, compensation, ownership, and they provide a course of action if there is ever a dispute. A contract is an investment and worth the cost to hire a competent lawyer to write or review your document to ensure it is effective for your needs.

Additionally, every entrepreneur should watch the video Fuck You, Pay Me, featuring Mike Monteiro and Gabe Levine. They have excellent advice for all entrepreneurs, especially those who work in creative services.

If you want more information about the nuts and bolts of starting a comic book, check out Josh Blaylock’s book How to Self-Publish Comics: Not Just Create Them. If you want more information about the legalities of starting a business or working in the creative arts, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that’s shared only with my mailing list, by subscribing to the firm’s newsletter.

Is It Fan Art or Copyright Infringement?

Toying with the Men by JD Hancock from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Toying With The Men by JD Hancock from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I have the pleasure of speaking about copyright and fan fiction and fan art at Phoenix Comicon this year. It’s always fun to hear about the projects fans are working on, and to see that so many of them are mindful about the copyright. I wish I had more black and white answers for them about what they can and can’t do.

Fan fiction and fan art falls squarely into the murky realm of copyright and fair use. The owner of a copyright controls where and how their work is copied, displayed, distributed, performed, and what derivative works are made. Fan fiction and fan art can be derivative works but they also may be protected by fair use.

Fair use is part of the copyright laws that acknowledges the fact that many works are inspired by past art. This law allows artists to build on existing works in creative and innovative ways. One thing to always remember is that fair use is a defense, not a permission slip. There is always a risk that the copyright holder will claim you’re infringing on their copyright and you’ll have to basically tell the court, “Yes your honor, I used their work but it’s OK because . . . .”

When a court considers a fair use case, these are some of the main factors it considers:

  • Purpose and character of your use of another’s work (Is what you did transformative and did you do it for commercial use?)
  • Nature of the copyrighted work (What did you copy?)
  • Amount and substantiality of the copyrighted work used (How much of the original – quality and quantity – did you copy?)
  • Effect on the market (Would someone seek out the original and accept your work as a substitute?)

These are some of the main factors, but the court can consider others if it wishes. This is also not to be treated as mathematical equation. Regardless of how many fair use factors favor you, you can always lose.

For Phoenix Comicon this year, I wanted to create an easy mnemonic device that fans can use to remember the fair use factors; and here it is: PAIN.

P = Purpose and character of your use

A = Amount of the original used

I = Impact on the market

N = Nature of the work you copied

Another thing to consider if you want to use another artist’s work is how the copyright holder historically responds to fan fiction and fan art. Some encourage it; some are OK with it as long as you’re not making money off of it; some are OK with it as long as it’s not sexual (i.e., slash fiction); and some dislike all fan fiction and fan art and will try to lay the smackdown on you if you create it.

If you want to talk more about the legalities of fan fiction and fan art, come see me at Phoenix Comicon on Sunday, June 8th at noon. Both talks will be in North 130. I’m also doing a panel on Creator Rights on Saturday, June 7th at 10:30 a.m.  You can connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
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