Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Story about Reproduction Rights

Well, my second blog post and I'm not even telling my own story. But this is one I've been wanting to share. It's a good story. It happened to my husband and has entertained and educated many folks over the years. It touches on the importance of knowing about reproduction rights, and (like most good stories), it also involves a large hairy naked man. This naked man, in specific.

This is an alternative cupid that Rob drew years before I even met him, for a cover of Las Vegas City Life. They had asked for a Valentine’s Day cupid that was not the typical cute chubby baby type. They wanted it to be "an alternative cupid." Rob delivered. Shortly after it came out, Rob got a phone call from someone interested in reprinting the image. Now, he doesn’t remember signing any contract for this piece, and terms for rights were never discussed with the editor (I guess the LV City Life was run a bit more casually in those days), so he didn’t see anything wrong with granting whatever requests he got for reproduction.

Nor did he see any value in it, or any reason to formalize the request with paperwork. Like many of us, he was just tickled that someone out there had noticed it. 
The way Rob tells the story, the guy on the phone was vague but said he ran a nonprofit gay rights newsletter out of the Bay area and was hoping to reprint the illustration.  Rob said “sure, just send me a copy once it’s out.” He gave the fellow his address and that was that. No fee was discussed, no further questions were asked, not even a handshake. Just a shrug, a "sure" and that's that. 

Some weeks later,  a nice little package arrives, and Rob opens it up. It’s a glossy publication called “BEAR Magazine” (google that if you dare) and on the front is a large, bearded man in flannel and denim posing seductively with the caption “Would you like to make this lumberjack smile?”  A post-it note on the magazine said “Your art is on page 41, thanks!”

Rob flipped open the magazine to what turned out to be the centerfold and found that same lumberjack, without the flannel or the denim, on his back and holding his legs open as he smiled at the camera. Rob says that after that eyeful, he gingerly turned pages by the corner, trying to just see the page numbers and nothing more. He arrived to a section on page 41 titled “Fan Art” and found his illustration labeled with his name and city of residence. It was just above a poorly drawn image of a man fellating a Minotaur.

Not exactly a gay rights newsletter. As Rob says, "There's a difference between supporting gay rights and seeing some dude's asshole."

Now, I am much more a fan of husky naked men than is my husband. There is nothing wrong with liking husky naked men. But not everyone wants their name and city of residence posted in a magazine of this type. Rob honestly found the situation kind of funny, being labeled a bear fan . . . and obviously he's not embarrassed about it, as he's okay with his wife telling her dozens and dozens of readers out there about it on this blog. But he felt lied to, and he regretted that he didn't ask more questions or discuss a reprint fee. Not touching on those subjects does tend to relegate one to the "amateur" status, and where does amateur art end up? On a "fan art" page. In this case, next to a drawing of a guy pleasuring a Minotaur. 

We certainly cannot claim to run a perfectly ship-shape formal business. Lord knows I often do things on the casual side, and I've done plenty of smaller jobs without a contract. But asking a few basic questions can at least give you the APPEARANCE of running a professional business. What is the circulation of your publication? How will the illustration be used? What size will you be reproducing it at? These questions could help you figure out a fair price to ask for nonexclusive reproduction rights. And you should ask for a price. If someone valued your work enough to contact you, they value it enough to pay a small fee (or not-so-small fee) to legally use it. Are they claiming to be a charity? Ask for a form allowing you to claim your typical reprint fee as a tax write-off. Get a look at their website, inquire about their 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. 

And reproduction rights can really pay off sometimes. One of the first jobs Robert and I did together was a cartoon map of the Las Vegas Strip, and it was a peculiar negotiation. We were intrigued by the job, but the magazine (a smaller Spanish-print guidebook that came out monthly) did not have a huge surplus of cash on hand. What they did have, however, was a month-to-month budget that allowed them to cover costs for the production. Rather than laugh at the sum they offered initially, I convinced them that it would be in both our interests to put more time into a really nice cartoon map . . . and if they couldn't pay for it now, how about Robert and I do the job but not as a work-for-hire (an exclusive thing just for them). We would reserve the right to sell the image to other parties, and we could simply charge them a fee each time they reprinted it. So we drew up a contract and poured our time into a piece we considered a portfolio item that we might shop around later. In the end we made twice as much as we would have earned had we charged them a fair rate for a work-for-hire, AND the deal was sweeter to them because they had the budget to rent but not build from scratch. Our pay just came in $50 checks each month. 

Now, if you want to educate yourself more about what constitutes a fair price, and how to figure one out, there are loads of sources out there. 

Number one to consult is The Graphic Artists' Guild Handbook

The GAG also has a bunch of online tools you can read through just to get a quick understanding of the law and how it works for folks like us. This intro to copyright law is a quick read and not full of jargon. What about the jargon, you ask? Well this glossary of contract terms will help you understand contracts AND sound smart about such things when you talk with clients. Happy reading, and stay off the fan art pages!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Just got back from the State Fair of Texas!

Well, I'm starting this blog with a promise. I will have a post every Tuesday. Most of the time it will be about caricatures, or cartoon art, or something related to this crazy field I'm lucky enough to work in. But I can't promise some other unrelated musings won't pop in.

As I sit here, catching up on Walking Dead via Netflix, I am decompressing from a 24-day stint at the State Fair of Texas. And it took everything out of me. I joke around with soldiers that working a fair is kind of like a tour-of-duty, without all that bothersome business of getting shot at. And I'm not really serious, of course, but you do get into a weird mindset. A coworker called it almost Stockholm-syndrome-like . . . you want the fair to be over, but then once it is, you see the little community you've lived in for the past couple weeks, or (in the case of Texas) the past month, just up and disappear. Transient, all of it. I'm home now, but still feel groggy, like I'm coming out of stasis.

The adrenalyne level the last weekend of a fair is always frenetic. In this case, with Texas being rainy 3 out of the 4 weekends of the fair, that last weekend was packed beyond reason. And our earning potential was really just dependent on how many we could crank out. I've never wanted to be a caricature stamp-machine churning out 30-second cute blah drawings with a fake smile on my face, but I have at least pushed myself to a few new levels of speed with each day like that (and believe me, they are few and far between in this business; no one gets nonstop customers EVERY day at work). I may not be in the big leagues of guys who can do $1800 in a day without breaking a sweat, but I'm edging into that territory. That last Sunday I cranked out 54 color faces and several black and white faces. And toward the last hour, I heard a kid in line yell out "Eleven minutes for a color double!" after I finished the couple I was working on. Airbrushing caricatures in a retail environment is a different game than whipping out party caricatures, so I kind of surprised myself at how many I squeezed in that last weekend.

But wow, I sound like I'm just bragging. But before I end the bragging, um, let me throw in a couple photos (the only pics I took during that last day at the fair, as once it gets crazy busy I kind of leave the phone in my pocket).

My point is that you really do get into a "zone" of sorts on days like that, and as the tally sheet clicks along, you draw and draw and draw and draw. Moments of "ugh, I can't draw another one," or "ugh, I hope that screaming baby doesn't end up in my chair" go through your head, but you push them aside and just focus on the most important things: Can I make it through a few more without a pee break? Still have some beverage in my cup? Mosquitoes biting or can I go a few more without slathering on some repellant? Oh yeah . . . and What does the person in front of me look like? Hi there, person, let's have a quasi-meaningful exchange of pleasantries as I draw a funny picture of you and then you pay me! Done! Next person . . . and on it goes. You mind shuts off some of its sectors, focusing energy on just what you need to get the job done. You know this is your chance, your perfect storm, to haul in as many fish as you can to last you the winter, so to speak. Whatever you can earn and bring back will have to pay your bills for a while.

You develop a quick bond with your coworkers and campermates. We are lucky enough to all get along well, and I've been working with the same crew in Texas for six years now. Two guys and two girls, all interacting like we're quite familiar with one another, it's funny how people assume we are two married couples (which ones are married to which just depends on who's sitting near whom).

With 24 days in a row of 12-hour workdays (sometimes longer), it's amazing how you cherish your off-time. The precious couple hours after we shut down and walk back to the camper feel wonderful. Remember that feeling you got when the recess bell rang and you jumped up from your desk to head to the playground? Yeah, it feels like that. Except you're old and tired and instead of a playground you look forward to pizza delivery and a shower and hitting your bunk. Chit-chatting with your fellow artists on the walk back, texting your family, checking the internet. Precious, wonderful sleep, albeit on a stiff travel mattress in a camper that always seems too cold at night. You dream, but it's often fleeting little dreams about drawing people, lines and lines of people who are fussing about having to wait. Then you wake up and again it goes the next day, and the next.

Until you're finally on a plane and touch down back home. Wonderful, familiar-yet-strangely-new home, where you feel kind of weird acclimating to that regular life you left behind. So you watch some Walking Dead and snuggle with your husband (the real one, not one of the coworkers that folks just assumed was your husband) and type out a blog post.
Testing the blogosphere waters... one, two, three, hope this works, fiddle dee dee...