PROTECT YA NECK
So a big-time editor at Fancy Pants Fun Time Comics has just called you up to say he loved your pitch for Jasper Bingo and His Magic Dungarees and wants you to write the next issue. Congratulations and welcome to the world of the freelance comic book creator. Here are a few things you'll want to keep in mind.
First thing that'll happen is they'll send you a contract to sign. You're gonna want to actually read it. Not only that, but you're probably going to want a lawyer to read it as well. Preferably one who's used to working within the entertainment industry. Hardly any comic creators I know use an agent for their comic work, but pretty much everybody employs a lawyer now and then. If you don't know one, ask other creators who they use and find someone you're comfortable with. Some lawyers will charge you by the hour, but most entertainment lawyers will want a percentage of your profits. Weigh your options and go with whatever you're comfortable with.
Either way, you just want to protect yourself. There's no union for comic book creators and likely never will be, so no one else out there is going to look out for your best interests. You got to do that for yourself. You don't want to be the guy who's sitting around bitching about how he got screwed on some deal from back in the day. If you signed the contract without fully understanding what you were signing, it's your own damn fault.
If you're signing a work-for-hire deal with a big time company, the contract pretty much is what it is. There aren't going to be many points you can haggle over when they're hiring you to write a character they already own all the rights to. But things like royalties for collections, for foreign editions and for digital downloads are details you're going to want to know about. If you create a character for a company and they make an action figure of it, do you see any money off that? If they use your story as basis for a film or cartoon, are you owed any credit or recompense? These are questions you should know the answers to. If you're signing some sort of creator-owned deal, there are even more questions to be asked, and the particulars of publication and media rights are things you'll definitely need a lawyer to help guide you through.
Just because you have a lawyer doesn't mean you can expect to get a perfect deal, not at all, especially if you're new to the industry. You just want to put yourself in a position where you can intelligently weigh your options before you sign anything. I do not control the media rights to my series "Scalped." I signed away those rights as part of my Vertigo deal. It is, for all intents and purposes, a Warner Brothers property. Though if anybody ever makes a "Scalped" Saturday morning cartoon, artist R.M. Guera and I, as co-creators, still get a cut of the money. That's really more of a creator-participation deal than a creator-owned one. Now I could've tried to take "Scalped" somewhere else instead of signing with Vertigo and maybe retained control of those media rights, but looking back, I don't regret the choice I made, not in the least. The point is just to understand your options and to be able to weigh the pros and cons.