No!Spec….If You Want To Work In Comics Sit Down And Read All Of This VERY Carefully!

To educate the public about speculative (spec) work
NO!SPEC logo

There is a new campaign starting and, of course, I have an opinion. No, sit down and take a deeeeep breath. It’s true, I do have an opinion on this.
Firstly, here is what the No!Spec website  — — has to say:

Spec work and spec-based design contests are a growing concern. So in an effort to educate those working in the Visual Communication industry and the clients who use their services, a group of designers banded together to bring the NO!SPEC Campaign to the public.

With legitimate design opportunities turning into calls for spec work increasing, our purpose is to arm designers with the tools they need to take a stand against this trend. We also aim to provide businesses with information on why spec work harms our industry.

The NO!SPEC Campaign includes: interfacing with designers, educators, businesses and organizations; creating NO!SPEC promotional materials; sending protest letters; writing petitions and posts, and more.

With the international support of NO!SPEC we ask that you join us in promoting professional, ethical business practices by saying NO! to spec.

If you are unfamiliar with the term spec work, read What is spec? and FAQ About Spec Work before dipping into the rest of the site.

But before embarking on the NO!SPEC initiative, please read our participation protocols and disclaimers.

Questions or suggestions? Then go ahead and contact us.

And in case you wonder what “Spec” work is:

What is ‘Working on Spec?’

By Elisabetta Bruno of ThinkCreation

What is “spec?”

“Spec” has become the short form for any work done on a speculative basis. In other words, any requested work for which a fair and reasonable fee has not been agreed upon, preferably in writing.

What’s so wrong with that?

In a nutshell, spec requires the designer to invest time and resources with no guarantee of payment.

Isn’t it wise for a client to “try before they buy?”

On the surface it may seem so. But, digging a bit deeper, one realizes that professional graphic design is about creating custom solutions, not cookie-cutter concepts.
But, with today’s computers and software, how long could it take?

This is a common point-of-view for many who confuse the professional with his or her tools. The “process” is more than simply tapping at a keyboard or clicking a mouse. It’s about understanding the nature of a communication challenge and then using one’s brain to find the appropriate solution.

At the end of the day, there is a certain irony in spec work. A prospect requesting it is ultimately saying, “My project isn’t important enough to hire a professional who will take the time to understand my situation and goals and invest the time needed to create a suitable solution.”

If you have questions or suggestions, contact us.

Spec work has always been a part of the comics industry and in some cases if you broach a publisher with a few ideas or what you consider to be “the new Spawn, man!” and they seem interested they do expect a few pages of art to show you can do the work.

From 1983-1999 I acted not just as a freelance editor, writer and artist but also as an artist/writers agent.  I managed to get quite a few people work in comics and, no, I never took a percentage (I was that stupid).  At one point I was getting between 50 to, at a peak, 120 packages of art per week.  The postman hated me and I replied to everyone.  In these packages I would find comic strip samples in which the artist had accidentally drawn five fingers and a thumb on each hand, others drew characters with two left OR two right feet (?!) and one in particular even drew a great strip but forgot to draw ears on every single one of the characters!

There were also some fantastic one page illustrations.  I’d get lots and lots of packages from people wanting to be in comics but who only send illustrations. I pointed out to each that they needed comic strip samples to prove they could design and draw a comic strip.  You cannot see that ability in single illoes. In some cases it was quite obvious that some of the illoes were tracings or light box created copies of well known illoes. The great and original illoes…well, without exception, the artists (if they bothered getting back to me) could not draw a comic strip.  The figures were a mess.  I suggested either more practice at drawing comic strips or contact an agency that specialised in just illustrations.

In the 1980s I got in to see editor Dave Hunt at Fleetway who was editing a new football comic John Barnes’ Hot Shot (later he was replaced and it became Gary Linecker’s Hot Shot ).  With me were Marek Wedler, Paul Brown and, I think either John Erasmus or Ben Dilworth.  Dave looked at all our samples and explained that he really needed to see some football strip art (we’d gone to meet another editor who was “taken unwell” (we found out later he had a huge hangover) and so were not prepared for a sport comic!).  We agreed to do a few pages each and two weeks later I went back to see Dave accompanied by all concerned.  He liked the samples and said he’d be in touch.

Well, the title changed and we heard nothing so I phoned up to see why everything had gone silent?  I was told by Managing Editor Gil Page that, “unfortunately”, the company had decided that it could save money by not employing UK creators at full page rates but foreign artists at a lower rate.  I was told two Argentinean artists were working on Hot Shot but there had been problems with work turning up late or not arriving (this was before computers, kiddies).

The title folded.  I have nothing against a company employing foreign artists but I do if it means those artists are being paid less.  The other problem was that the UK was still technically at war with Argentina over the Falkland/Malvinas Islands.  It would be like Amalgamated Press employing an artist from Berlin to draw comics in 1943!!

But we, UK, artists, never got paid for those pages.  They just went into our portfolios (I think some have appeared on CBO over the years).

With Marvel UK I got scripts and drew strips (Biker Mice –yeugh!- and Action Force) but suddenly nothing was used and I certainly did not get paid apart from one strip through an over-sight on someones part!

With Fleetways Revolver and Crisis titles things got worse. One script I wrote was drawn and hack to pieces by the artist (who thankfully has vanished now).  But then I got a call from the editor of Revolver who told me that a series concept/title was so good that his, uh, “co-editor” wanted to use it so could I change all my stuff appropriately?  “Tell —- to **** off. He steals my concept and titles I’ll sue him and Fleetway!” Oddly, the title folded (for which I simply cannot take the credit) and the editor left comics.

Now, I had done work as requested and it had been approved so even if they decided they were not going to use it one would expect a kill fee.  At the time I was still chasing Fleetway/Egmont for money owed for work used or “killed” due to title cancellation.

In total I was owed £5765 and I’m still waiting. The company tried everything from telling me that I needed to chase the editor for the money because he no longer worked for them and that Robert Maxwell had screwed everyone up.

Firstly, chasing the editor for the money (I have the letter still) seems to suggest that he took the money.  He was impossible to trace but it was still Fleetway/Egmont’s problem because they had not paid me.

And Robert Maxwell? He’d been dead a few years and had nothing to do with the new company or its finances.

In the end it came down to “we can’t find anything in the accounts ledger” –so crooks were still at work.

Now that is work non-spec.

I’ve had artist after artist approach me asking for a script and chance to get in print -even if only in the Small Press to show people something of theirs in print. By 1997 I had a pile of short and full scripts some 3 feet high that had NEVER been drawn by the requesting artists. I said no more and then, in 2000, other artists approached me…same thing.

Back in the 1980s-2000 I would traipse around publishing houses or send off packages of project art to publishers. On no fewer than 12 occasions, when a publisher said “yes” to a project the artists said “Yeah, not really interested any more.” Do you know what publishers say when you have to tell them THAT?!!

Also, if you work in Indie comics or on Small Press projects and you work with an artist you can call that spec work -you hope and pray it sells. I’ve done 30-40 pages spec comics in the past and the publishers never even paid a kill fee.

Worse was Fantagraphic Books (“Eros Comix”) who signed me up for a trilogy in 1990 and it was a fight to get volume 2 published…in 1997!  Kim Thomson to me (in writing): “We’re looking for full books now. If you find an artist who’ll draw the 120-140 pp we’ll take a look and see if its worth it.”  **** that. Along with David Gordon we decided to republish it all ourselves and finally finish the trilogy 20 years later. If books don’t sell now its US who’ve made ourselves poor.

A good example of spec work were cartoon gags I wrote and John Schiltz drew back in 1990 –these were sent to European cartoon agencies and were used and we got paid.

But with CBO I have, on about seven occasions in the last year, refused to publish press releases or news from certain companies who have been identified to me as running a “Spec work con” in which the artist provides the ‘winning’ cover or copy design and gets….really, nothing.  But the contest runner gets to use the work to make money.

I have also stopped mentioning a couple of UK Independent comic companies after accidentally discovering they were operating a vanity business.  Basically, I was talking to someone about a project and they suggested I submit it to —- “and if they like it they’ll publish it but you need to stump up 60% of the print costs”


What did the creator get for paying 60% of the print cost using a print on demand printer?  Well “if it sells well you get a percentage of the profit” I was told.  So, you write and draw the comic and pay 60% for a hoped-for-profit?? WHAAAT? That is so ****** insane I can’t believe it.  At the very least you should get a “Co-publisher” credit.  In fact, since all the ‘companies’ involved do is send out a press release and use an online store in conjunction with convention tables you might as well do the whole thing yourself.  If the publisher thinks the work is great and will sell all the expense should be on their part.

I have never ever heard a publisher say “No. No, this simply will not sell but I’ll publish it any way.”  And the number of creators I’ve warned and who now tell me that after several years they’ve still not had a penny “but fingers crossed things pick  penny when the comic has been selling for 4-5 years? You ask for that sales report!

Now, hands up time. My own Black Tower Comics does not pay artists.  Seriously. I enter every project the same way: if an artist/creator says they want to work on a project or ask me to publish their book then I lay down the strict rules.

1. No one gets paid up front. Simply, as a writer or publisher I’m not getting paid until something sells and I pay for copies out of my own money and that includes sending copies off for review as well as to overseas publishers.

2. We are equal partners.  Actually, not quite true.  In the past I’ve given people working with me 60-65% of profits and where profits have not been good they’ve had the lot (no, I don’t tell them that).  So I actually lose money which is why I’m not living in a penthouse somewhere!

3. I rigorously uphold Creators Rights.  I campaigned for Creators Rights in the 1980s and got quite a few artists their work back or their rights. As far as I am concerned if I wrote a script or created characters they are mine.  The artwork and original pages belong solely to the artist and I have no rights to them what-so-ever so they can, if they want to earn real money out of their artwork, sell pages online or at conventions.

In every Black Tower publication it states quite clearly that art is © the various creators no matter whether I created and wrote what they drew or not.  I have also undertaken to stop illegal scan of books with their work in from appearing online.  I’ve been so ripped off by this personally that I never want another hard working creator to experience that (its my duty as a publisher even if, regarding my own published work, the publisher Fantagraphic Books just says “we can’t do a thing about that”).

4. I make it very clear that there are very few comic titles that make huge money. Hey, we might all want to see a comic sensation (sales-wise) like Spawn come our way but it very rarely happens.  I make it very very clear that the chances of great sales making anyone a living comic-wise are extremely rare.  I tell artists to mull things over a few days and only say “yes” if  they want to work on a book.  Even then I put everything in writing again and say “are you sure?!”  In fact, I’ve been told that I emphasise this negative side so much that it might be off-putting.  Good. Better that than deceive someone simply to get a project in print.

In over thirty years I’ve lost a lot of money and some artists have made quite a bit –some even using the work done for me to get jobs at Marvel and DC.  But if I feel a book by another creator is good, and if they agree to the terms, then I take the two days to get their book print ready, to design the cover and pay for copies and for sending copies to bigger companies who might be interested.  And I up-date them –even if only to send a copy of the sales report to show a title isn’t doing that well..yet!

So someone selling you an idea might sound good but comics are a visual art form and you need to see what a character looks like.  Someone shows me a strip they want published and it looks good I tell them the deal and if they agree (after getting the deal sent to them in writing) I say “Okay, go ahead!”  I would never, ever say “draw me the 48 page comic and I’ll see what I think” because I know what 48 pages involves.

A project YOU propose to a big commercial publisher then expect to do the spec work. THEY ask you to come up with pages then they should pay either way . But get it all in writing and if they don’t pay you after that take it to small claims court. That usually works because, believe it or not, there are many, many artists in the UK who just shrug and say “oh well”!

Remind me to tell you some time about a publisher at a UK Comic Art Convention (UKCAC) event who had refused to pay two writers for work he’d published.  I had a quiet chat and he paid up…within two hours!

But, after 30 years I can tell you this: comics is fulla crooks and full of young and old men living in poverty or with crushed dreams.

Do what Donna Barr and others have done –you believe in your creation you work your ass off and self publish using print on demand and you pimp your book and that way only you can be blamed or acclaimed for any failure or success.


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