COMIC BOOK YETI: Thanks for stopping by the Yeti Cave today, Gamal! We’re glad to have you with us today to explore some of the nuts and bolts of the industry. How are things in New York at the moment?
GAMAL HENNESSY: NYC has pretty much recovered from the COVID crisis. There are a million things to do and all of them are far too expensive to afford.
CBY: That sounds like New York to me! Having read your bio and seen your path through international intellectual property law, you’ve chalked up over twenty years dealing with the legalities of comics and manga publishing and licensing. Prior to your graduation from New York Law School and subsequently making comics the focus of your professional work, what role did they play in your pre-professional life? How did you regard comics prior to your law career, and how has working with comics from a business perspective changed the way you read them since childhood?
GH: I learned to read with comics. One of the first books I remember was a Neal Adams Batman story. I grew up in the period of rapid growth in comic book shops and read comics throughout law school. In fact, it was probably my predisposition to read comics during law school that got me my first job as general counsel of Central Park Media.
CBY: The Business of Freelance Comic Publishing is a follow-up to your recent The Business of Independent Comic Book Publishing. Can you tell us about the response to your prior book, and what that experience taught you about the ground you’ve subsequently decided to cover in your latest book?
GH: The professional comic book community gave my first book an amazing level of support. The Kickstarter was funded 600% above our initial goal, and the book continued to sell well on Amazon. I think that experience proved that there is a hunger for more business education about the comic book industry and since freelance comic book publishing is a completely different business model with different legal, financial, and creative goals, a follow up book seemed inevitable.
CBY: You worked previously with Mike Marts as your editor. He’s since picked up the Editor-in-Chief role at Mad Cave, where some fantastic titles are being brought to the market. Given his current workload, have you selected others for editorial support on this new book? What sort of oversight and feedback do you seek when writing, and in what ways, if any, is the review process and dialogue you have over writing a trade publication different from the conversations required in putting together contract law and IP agreements?
GH: Mike did a great job with the first book, but I know a lot of amazing editors in the business, so my goal is to work with as many of them as possible. Both of my books tap into the current literature about the comic book industry, research on general small business trends (since almost every comic book publisher is essentially a small business), and my own experience with my clients. An added feature of this new book is that it also pulls lessons that I’ve taught in the Comics Connection community in addition to the other sources.
CBY: You also had a foreword from Joseph Illidge, Executive Editor of Heavy Metal. Given the challenges Heavy Metal has been facing in its publication schedule of late, including furloughing of the entire staff in 2022, are there any lessons learned about structural changes and upheaval in the ownership, management, and operations of independent publications? How does this help highlight the difference between the independent comic publishing world and that of freelancing?
GH: I can’t speak to the Heavy Metal situation directly, but Joseph is the editor for The Business of Freelance Comic Book Publishing, so his insight is invaluable for this book. The situation in comics is never stagnant. New publishers pop up, old ones fold, personnel move from one company to another on a regular basis. For a freelancer trying to establish contacts that can help them secure work, keeping track of who is where and which publishers are doing what is always useful information to have.
CBY: That’s certainly true. For freelancers filling every role in the creation of comic books, what do you see as the primary challenges to creating job stability? For publishers, it is a buyer’s market, and editorial/publishing staff have the opportunity to pick from amongst an enormous talent pool. What professional standards should creators aim to achieve to stand apart from others in the market as good people to partner with in business, regardless of creative aptitude or aesthetic style?
GH: The first thing a freelancer should consider is what they can offer potential clients and which clients it makes sense to go after. The next step is finding and creating a relationship with those potential clients and proving that you can do the work they need done. The next step is making sure you are compensated for what you do in a way that is financially and mentally sustainable. Then you have to deliver the work in a way that will lead to more work. I refer to the process in the book as Foundation, Find, Fee, Finish.
CBY: That is both sensible and alliterative, so I’m in favor of it. I’m also particularly interested in your thoughts on attribution and intellectual property rights - for creators bringing new characters, concepts, designs, and narrative worlds to various publishers, can you discuss some of the baseline standards that should be in place for retaining or releasing; a) creative control of stories, b) ownership and rights to revenue for the comic itself, and c) merchandising and media adaptations? What can readers expect to learn about in more depth in this book?
GH: When you’re talking about freelance comic book creation, you’re talking about a legal situation where the creator is trading their ownership of the story in exchange for payment upfront. This means that the client and not the creator has creative control of the story, owns all the rights, and gets all the revenue if there are media adaptations later. Some freelance creators can get royalty deals with certain publishers, but the comic creator that wants to own their story should focus on independent or creator-owned comics, not freelancing.
CBY: Thanks for making that important distinction for creators getting into the industry. You’ve been operating Creative Contract Consulting (C3) since departing from Marvel - does this book represent a crash course of material collected from your professional experience? How much of what you’ve encountered across the industry over the years holds true as time goes on, and how quickly does the landscape shift?
GH: The core of both my books come from my twenty-five years in comics and continuing research on the current state of the entertainment business in general and comics specifically. The one thing that remains constant in comics is the love that creators have for the medium. How they can create, market, distribute, and try to make money from comics is constantly changing, but almost everyone in comics is in the business because they love comics.
CBY: For instance, speaking as someone living in Fiji, participating in the convention circuit is prohibitively expensive for those here who want to gain on-the-ground exposure in the industry. As someone outside the United States, I’m very curious, as you’ve worked in international IP, what sort of distinct challenges would creators from around the world face in successfully building a freelance career working with publishers if they don’t live in a major market for comics (and manga) like the US, UK, France, (and Japan)? What can international readers take away from The Business of Freelance Comic Book Publishing to make an impact without being a physical presence on convention floors?
GH: Comic book production has been geographically dispersed for the past 20 years. Comic book publishers of all sizes are sourcing talent from North Africa, SE Asia, South America and anywhere else the internet can reach. If international comic creators want to work with publishers in the US, then they will need this book just as much as anyone else, because the underlying business structure of freelance comics doesn’t change, no matter what country you are in.
CBY: It’s good to know that there’s some universality to participating as a freelancer, and this book will have applicability for all. As you’re focused on the business side of the comics industry, do you ever get inclinations to create comics over your own? Are you doodling in the margins of legal pads and working up characters of your own? Is there ever a time you make business decisions around creators you want to work with specifically because their art provides you with a creative spark you see might be fanned into a flame?
GH: I’ve written several novels since 2010, so while I do have creative inclinations, they don’t manifest themselves as comics. Understanding the business side doesn’t necessarily translate to a desire to jump into the creative side.
CBY: When you have the time, what comics and other media have you been enjoying lately? What would you recommend our readers treat as indispensable material to read, view, or listen to when they come away from this interview?
GH: I split a lot of my free time between books, comic books and video games. I recently read Blacksad and one of the recent Black Cat trades from Jed MacKay. I also just finished The Fall by Camus. On the game side, I play a lot of Hitman and Contest of Champions on mobile while I’m waiting for the new Cyberpunk 2077 expansion to be released.
CBY: Gamal, your time and thoughts around this crucial aspect of the industry are much appreciated. Please let us know below where our readers may find your work and connect with you on social media and your established business endeavors:
You can get a free legal consultation at: https://www.creativecontractconsulting.com/c3contact
You can join our professional community at: https://comicbookinstitute.thinkific.com/courses/comics-connection
You can find my prior books at: https://www.amazon.com/stores/Gamal-Hennessy/author/B008D2MPHI
And the Kickstarter for The Business of Freelance Comic Book Publishing is https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/freelancecomics/the-business-of-freelance-comic-book-publishing