My cockles were well and truly warmed when I read an article about Dischord records recently. What a decent chap my old pal Ian MacKaye sounds. We haven’t actually ever met but I have seen Fugazi in concert twice so that makes us besties in my eyes.
This wasn’t just a nostalgic canter down memory lane but related to other matters playing on my mind. If only everyone was as ethical as Ian, I muttered as I climbed onto a chair to reach precariously for the oldest, most inaccessible and dustiest boxes on my shelves.
Wouldn’t it be funny, I thought, if I fracture a hip and have to lie in agony in the waiting room of A&E for several hours because of this? No, not really.
Why was I indulging in such risky behaviour? For the worst possible reason: I was searching my archives for an ancient contract. This is never a pleasant experience as it signifies something has occured that is to my disadvantage. Like an old photo taken from an unflattering angle during my A-level metalhead phase, it isn’t nice to be reminded of one’s past mistakes.
In this case it wasn’t quite as painful to read as I imagined. The contract was a scant two pages. A cover sheet with particulars and a second page of brutal but transparent boilerplate.
Having since signed publishing contracts which are novella length and harder to parse than a cursed tome out of H.P. Lovecraft it was almost a pleasure to scan something so unembellished by the lawyer’s art. The terms were not favourable, the royalty was not generous but I had at least been able to understand what I was getting myself into without the added insult of having to pay someone else to tell me what I was getting myself into.
“Sign here, Mr. Watson.”
I find navigating contracts to be the most discouraging part of this job outside of flatting colours. Or scanning artwork. Or realigning my wonky hand-lettering. Or not having a contract to negotiate.
The fig leaves of flattery and politeness are stripped away and your true market value is revealed in baffling legalese. The all powerful P&L weighs your pound of flesh and it’s humbling to discover quite how far out of sync it is with your own inflated sense of self worth.
Of course it’s only business. But it’s also personal.
I realise it’s when the lawyers aren’t on your side that it all begins to feel a bit Jarndyce and Jarndyce. When they are fighting on your behalf they are heroes of truth and justice, champion of the underdog, saviour of the humble author. There are good publishers who I respect and trust. And there are bloody awful ones. I will leave you to draw your own conclusions on which ones outnumber the others.
After having struggled alone with contracts for most of my career (with some helpful advice along the way), this year I am lucky to have an agent who now does the heavy lifting for me. When she asks if I have any notes my input is usually limited to whimpering that it made my head hurt.
This particular contract didn’t leave me with a migraine but with the suspicion that in some corners of publishing terms, rates and royalties have probably only got worse over the years.
“Here’s your cheque. Now run along and don’t spend it on sex, drugs or alcohol, okay?”
I’m a cartoonist, Mr. MacKaye. I’m going to blow it all on pens.
I am proud to report that Kerry and the Knight of the Forest (available from all good bookstores, perfect gift for the holiday season etc) made the The Little Maverick Graphic Novel Reading List, Grades 3-5. Lots of great books on there that I am proud to sit alongside.
I also have The Book Tour out, I believe I have mentioned it approximately six dozen times. Available from all places where good books are sold. Although it is temporarily out of stock (Bookshop.org and Hive) in a bunch of those places in the UK. With the latest lockdown ending I expect re-stocks will arrive like the cavalry. There’s also Kindle and comixology.
Order from the fine folks at Page 45 and your copy will arrive with a signed bookplate.
Function is the key,