This is how I do things:
I learned to play the guitar and sing by joining a band and playing in front of an audience. I learned to write comic books by self-publishing (thank you, Xeric Foundation) and then, immediately thereafter, writing for Marvel Comics. This column? You get the picture.
That's me; always headfirst into the deep end of the pool without ever considering wearing a life preserver or even, to be frank, swimming trunks. And it's worked for me. A lot of people would say that I've been lucky and, to that, my first instinct is to say it's had nothing to do with luck -- I've gotten these chances because I've taken these chances. That being said, I've been very lucky.
In all honesty I have no idea why I behave this way. And it's not for lack of consideration.
Off and on over the years (currently: on), I've seen several shrinks about it. Explanations have varied from self-fascination to self-loathing [FYI: Those two things? Not as disparate as you may think.], from ADD to OCD. None of those really hit the nail directly on the head but this the closest and most pragmatic explanation yet, given to me recently by my current mental healthcare professional: I go out of my way to make things impossible so that no one can fault me for failing.
In other words, I'm a born freelancer.
Now, I'll get back to that statement in a bit but first, I want to talk about what a freelancer "is," in regards to comic book writing. A freelance comic book writer is anyone who relies solely upon themselves to obtain from comic book publishers the opportunity to produce work, for which they will be paid upon receipt. This definition does not change when you sign an exclusive contract with a publisher. It's always the responsibility of the writer to find, invent, pitch or campaign for work and to then do it. While exclusive contracts can guarantee some monetary benefits apart from script compensation (e.g. signing bonuses, non-competition stipends, health insurance allowances or coverage) they do not guarantee any actual work. For most intents and purposes, an exclusive contract only guarantees that you can't work for anyone else.
Yes, you can negotiate what are called "carve-outs" -- permissions granted, provided they're within reason, to work for other companies. But these are usually negotiated beforehand, before you sign a contract, as it can be exceedingly difficult to convince a publisher to come to the negotiation table when they're completely within their legal rights to simply say, with no further explanation, "No." Unfortunately, in the freelance world, opportunities often arise without notice, advance warning -- or regard to contract terms.
I assume a lot of you are wondering what role agents play in all of this. I'll cover that in another column.
Two more things on the subject of exclusive contracts -- one: though I've read and signed several of them over my 12+ years at Marvel, I have no clue what an artist's contract is all about. I've been told there are different types of exclusives that are offered to artists; some based upon number of pages, others upon length of time. With that in mind, it's completely possible that there are different types of exclusive contracts offered to writers. As a matter of fact, I know that a few writers have what are referred to as "no edit" contracts (self-explanatory, I assume) but they are very, very rare and, to the best of my knowledge, still guarantee only that the publisher will pay for the work if they publish it.
Secondly, and lastly, I have no problem with exclusive contracts, those who offer them or those who sign them. At the end of the day, it's an agreement -- spelled out, literally, in black and white -- between consenting parties. Just as it's the responsibility of a freelancer's to find and produce work, it's also their responsibility to read -- and comprehend -- any and all contracts before signing. If you, as a freelancer, don't understand what, say, a "binding arbitration clause" is? Find out.
Okay, so...where was I? Oh, yeah -- "born freelancer".
The compulsion to create (the subject of yet another future column) and the desire to make a career out of creating aren't the same thing. Romantic notions of writing, solely for oneself, only to have it miraculously "discovered" and then published to great and wide acclaim are just that. Writers get noticed because they put their work -- and, by extension, themselves -- out there to be judged. Now, for some, that may be easy but for me it isn't. The work, no problem; but me...? That's hard. I don't particularly want hundreds of thousands of strangers picking me apart because I know what they'll find:
I'm mentally defective. I'm incomplete and clueless. I'm without certainty. I don't know what I'm doing or why.
And I'm not alone. While I'm guessing that the description above doesn't sound all that unlike how many of you out there feel, I know for a certainty that it's how most -- if not every -- writer I know feels about themselves. For whatever reason, we all have "something" that others don't yet we're all missing something that others seem to not only have but take completely for granted. And it's in that space, that void, that we create. It's the only thing that gives us any real sense of balance.
Or maybe that's just me and I'm projecting my insecurities onto others. I am, after all, mentally defective. My treatment is ongoing and includes, like it or not, the very words you're reading.
Anyway, I'm going to tie this up now.
Evel Knievel attempted what would've been, at that point in time, the longest motorcycle jump of his career at Caesar's Palace in 1967. ABC refused to film the stunt, instead telling him that he could film it himself and, if it ended up being as "spectacular" as he said it'd be, they'd consider buying it and airing it after the fact. So that's what Evel did -- he filmed it, himself.
What he didn't do was make the jump. Instead, he crashed, shattered most of the major bones in his body and fell into a coma that lasted 29 days. After he recovered, he was one of the most famous and beloved people on the planet. ABC bought the footage from him for over twenty times the original asking price.
Evel Knievel was a born freelancer, too.
Am I saying I'm like Evel Knievel? Well -- kinda, yeah? But what I'm really saying is that one of the biggest reasons -- talent, aside -- I was born to do this is because I'm neither ignorant nor intimidated by the fact reward comes, not from the landing, but from the jump.
Oh, and speaking of jumps...
After about a decade of writing for Marvel, exclusively, I've recently made the decision to start working both for other publishers and, more importantly (to me), for myself. As some of you may be aware, I'm going to be Kickstartering an OGN titled "Gun Theory", in the near future (as soon as contract negotiations with the publisher are concluded). Why do I have to bring a book to Kickstarter that already has a publisher? Great question. Come back next week and I'll give you the answer.
I have several other projects in the works with various publishers, some of which are creator-owned, as well as -- possibly -- another gig writing for a video game (as I did on Activision's Deadpool game). While I'd love to say I'll be doing nothing but creator-owned, that's not really feasible at the moment and I'm fortunate to have several company-owned projects in the pipeline at different publishers. In all cases, this is the place to be for behind the scenes content.
So stick around. I might just learn something.