“Bottom line is that if you want to break into the comic book world, or any artistic venue for that matter, you have to start at the bottom and work your way up,”
– Commenter on Newsarama, ‘defending’ Bluewater by calling them “the bottom”
Bluewater Comics has an awful contract that creators sign because they’re desperate to “break into” the industry. Basically, they don’t pay you until a comic book is “profitable” and then it’s a royalty, with no advances. Which is kind of a shitty contract in the book world, but you still see it. The difference is that in this case Bluewater owns or licenses the Intellectual Property (IP) and what they’re doing is developing that IP for other-media on the backs of young freelancers, whom they never have to pay, and that moves from being a shitty contract to exploitation.
Here’s the secret about not getting paid for work: If you’re not being held to a professional standard (and the page rates in the comics industry are often criminally low, and easy-to-hit…) then you’re generally not turning in professional work. Does the poor bastard who turns out an ugly, unedited Ronald Reagan bio for Bluewater think that they’ve got “a portfolio piece”? Do they think they’re “professional” now? No, fuck no. Any self-respecting editor at any company knows that Bluewater is churning out books with very little quality control, that a “portfolio piece” from them counts for very little unless the freelancer was exceptionally talented to begin with. Talented artists: Build your portfolios for and by yourself, and not, say, by providing free artwork to companies who could pay you, but don’t want to. It’s the quality of what you produce that will decide whether you get hired or fired. The “even if we don’t pay them it’s still a portfolio piece” argument is a myth, flat-out, myth, because if you’re putting together a portfolio you put your strongest work in.
(Admittedly, it’s probably a better deal for writers, because it’s harder to ‘show’ writing samples than art samples, but I have yet to read any of their bio comics that are any good, and even if someone wrote a stunning biography of Oprah Winfrey, I have a hard time believing an editor is going to look at that and go “Shit, this person writes great trashy celeb cash-in biographies, I definitely want to see what they can do with a completely different style of writing.” Like, it could happen, but colour me unsurprised that it hasn’t yet.)
There are a number of companies that will pay freelancers to do comics, not promise to pay them if certain conditions are met, and leaving behind a long trail of dissatisfied creators claiming non-payment. My advice to aspiring talent is to find them, and realize that starting at the bottom doesn’t necessarily mean the gutter.