Elayne Riggs' Journal (for Leah)

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Double Crossed

Back when I first started getting to know more about the comics industry than what went on between the covers, I was warned repeatedly that the more I found out the more ugliness I was destined to encounter. For the most part I don't think this has borne out; I still have many more friends in the industry than "enemies," and my husband (although still without a regular assignment on a specific book, for almost a year now) has been kept busy enough in the past few months that we've been able to pay the bills, so for the most part I'm not soured by any lack of editor-freelance professionalism shown by the Big Two (Marvel and DC) the way some others may be. Aside from a very few people who just rubbed me the wrong way to such an extent that I can no longer look at their work, my comics reading hasn't shifted all that much; I'm still generally buying and reading books I really enjoy.

All that changed a couple months back.

I'd been one of the more vocal supporters of CrossGeneration Comics. CrossGen's content output seemed tailor-made for a reader like me - their core books were big on fantasy and epic storytelling, and while the body types didn't vary as much as they might and the women were still a bit more underdressed than the men, there was much eye-candy of both male and female characters. With a woman (Barb Kesel) as head writer and another (Gina Villa) as co-creator of the overall structure of the "CrossGen universe," the company's girl appeal has always been evident. And they've bent over backwards to help spread the word to potential readers, by doing things like sending me boxes of books to hand out from the Friends of Lulu table at last year's Shoujocon. In fact, when the first box was waylaid by the post office, CrossGen sent a second one via overnight courier directly to the hotel where the con was being held. Just about every encounter I've had with CrossGen folks and with most of their books has been rewarding. And I've supported the company not only with my reader dollars but very vocally both online and at conventions.

But as I said, that has now changed. I'll let Robin take it from here. He posted the following message this morning on an inkers' mailing list to which we both belong:

On Friday May 2nd Crossgen assistant art director Rick Magyar phoned and asked me to ink issues 34, 35 and 36 and the covers to #35 and 36 of The First over the pencils of Andy Smith. I agreed and he said the first of the covers would be with me on Monday May 5th and the interior work would be following in about three weeks later. No deadline was mentioned other than the mention of a page a day being the expected work rate. The agreed upon rates for this work was $150 per page for interiors and $250 for covers. Rick said he expected the contract would be included in the package. Later that day Andy Smith left a message on my machine saying that he was looking forward to working with me. The cover duly arrived as agreed. No contract but I knew they were in a hurry so I went ahead and inked it that day and sent it out the next day, Tuesday 6th May. When it reached them the following day I received calls to tell me that they were very happy with it.

Towards the end of the month I called Andy Smith to suggest he may like to bring any pages he had done to WizardWorld East in Philladelphia over the weekend of 30th May to 1st June. He said he didn't like to carry pages to cons. I told him I'd try and stop by the booth that weekend just to say hi. Rick Magyar called on Thursday May 29th to let me know that he was sending out the first four pages. I mentioned I still hadn't got the contract and he said he'd look into it. Later that day Michelle Pugliese, their freelance coordinator, called and apologised for not getting me the contract and promised I'd have it soon. I asked her about payment for the cover I had done three weeks earlier and she told me that their accounts department didn't like cutting "small checks". For entirely unrelated reasons I won't go into here I didn't feel like doing a lot of meeting and greeting that weekend so I never did stop by the booth so I've still never actually met Andy in person.

The pages arrived on Monday June 2nd. No contract enclosed but I decided to start working on them while I awaited the paperwork. Call me old fashioned but if work is supposedly being done under contract I like to have actually read the thing before I do the work. At the beginning of the following week I received another three pages (hardly a page a day) followed by another call from Rick asking when he could expect to see some finished pages. I told him that I had pages underway but none completed and that I was still awaiting the promised paperwork. He said that they really needed pages to get their colourists working on and asked if I would be able to get 4 pages to them by Friday June 13th (that day sounds ominous in retrospect). I said that would be no problem and I'd get more to him if I could. We also agreed that thereafter I would send out whatever I had finished on each Monday to keep a steady flow of pages for the colourists.

Over the next few days, even though I had still not received the promised contract, I not only finished the 4 pages that had been requested but every other page they had sent me as well. I sent off all seven pages on Thursday June 12th and they received the pages the following day.

On the morning of Monday June 16th June Rick Magyar called to tell me that my services would no longer be required. He said that he hadn't been in the office the previous Friday when my pages had arrived but that Andy Smith and Bart Sears had gone over them and decided that I "wasn't a good match for Andy". He assured me that they would pay me for all the work I had done.

A month or so later I read Bill Roseman's assertion that art director Bart Sears has called all Crossgen freelancers to explain their cashflow problems and to promise full payment in 45 days. I have received no such call and have in fact never spoken to Bart. On Tuesday July 15th I called Rick Magyar again to ask about payment and why I hadn't received the call that supposedly all other freelancers had. He told me he'd check into it and get Bart Sears or Michelle Pugliase to call me back. Michelle called and explained to me that I hadn't been on the list of people Bart had called because I was "just under 30 days" but that my check would be in the next batch to be cut which was due to be by Wednesday July 30th.

In the last week of July I came accross four pages of my work from The First #34 published as an online preview to several internet sites in advance of the publication date of 08/06/2003 (along with other titles release date pushed back to 08/13 and then again to 08/20). The cover had already been published in Previews and various web sites including Crossgen's own despite the fact that they have not paid for the reproduction rights to that image nor do they have any paperwork signed by me relinquishing such rights for any of the pages I've worked on for them.

On Thursday July 31st I emailed Michelle asking her to confirm that my payment had been sent as promised. I've received no reply to my email.

It's now 98 days since they received the cover I inked for them and 61 days since they received my interior pages. I have received no payment for any of the work I've done for Crossgen. The account due is for one cover @ $250.00 and seven interior pages @ $150.00, a total of $1,300.00.
Now, bear in mind, a copyright still belongs to whoever does the work until it's signed over. As Robin says, the CrossGen paperwork relinquishing the reproduction rights (and, from what I'm given to understand, also featuring a non-disclosure clause) was never sent to him. Seems to me this makes the online (and now in-store) publication of Robin's work of questionable legality. But more importantly, from what we've been able to gather Robin's far from the only unpaid freelancer. And much of this seems to be swept under the rug. None of the comics news sites have seen fit to report it (although in fairness CrossGen co-sponsors one of those sites so reporting news like this might cost them business). And I've also heard reports of a few CrossGen employees badmouthing Robin's work (which was exemplary) and spreading untrue stories about "courier problems" being the reason for the sudden inker change - even implying that Robin turned in pages late, when they were actually early and well in advance of the contracts he's still never seen.

This tears me up. I really love most of CrossGen's books. I can't stop buying the ones that have hooked me (although I'm coming close, obviously), and I hate not being able to read them because of the foul taste they've put in my mouth. And I hate reading poster after poster on the comics news sites talk about how wonderful and honest CrossGen is in their business dealings as opposed to All Those Other Horrid Companies, when I've known for months that it's just not true. Marvel and DC have always paid Robin promptly, and have never fired him so brusquely and illogically. But CrossGen's been like this teflon comics company - no negativity seems to stick. Well, maybe I'll get lucky, and this post will prompt something to happen.