Or: Always Hire a Lawyer
I had been drawing Franklin Richards: Son of a Genius for Marvel for a bit and my editor, MacKenzie Candenhead, had left and Nate Cosby had taken over. Nate tries to come across as gruff, but he’s got a heart of gold and his first goal was to push me to do better. For some reason, he always saw more in me than I saw in myself.
One day he called me up to say that someone had backed out of an 8-page story for Spider-Man Family and asked if I could do it, but told me he wanted something that wasn’t humor. I wound up doing a story about a young boy who, after being bullied, gets a special Spider-Man action figure from the Puppet Master. The boy learns important lessons from that action figure. It was something new for me and Nate liked it enough to ask me to write and draw the lead story for an issue of Spider-Man Family. His only guideline was that it had to include Frog Thor. I had never written and drawn a REAL Marvel comic before, but he had faith in me, so I had faith in myself.
After that, Nate asked me to write, and ONLY write, Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers (a name we came up with later). He felt I was strong enough as a writer that I could write for someone else to draw. I was given free reign to choose the characters and tell whatever story I wanted. Occasionally Nate would request something which I’d have to figure out how to weave into the story. For example, one day he asked me to put Monstro the whale in the story…or Bo, the Obama’s dog. It was a lot of fun and, after initial dismissal about such a book coming out from Marvel, the first issue went back for a second printing and the series was well-received. Well enough to do 2 more mini series.
But soon after, Nate left Marvel to start doing his own work.
He called me up and asked if I would be willing to draw a series. He wanted to be a writer, but needed an artist. For all he had done for me, I agreed to draw the book. He told me the mere basics: This is about a boy who acts as a bounty hunter that brings in his no-good family members. We’d call the book Cow Boy. Seemed simple and on the nose.
To be honest, I thought he’d get through one issue, become bored and move on, but as I was soon to learn, Nate never gives up. I would work all day lettering comics then at night and weekends, I would draw this book. Now, I come from a world of comic strips. I grew up on them, loved them and drew like them. But Nate is a movie and comic book guy, so he kept pushing me to push past my comfort zone. “Move the camera around! Enough with the medium shots!”, was what he’d constantly tell me. And I would. And, here’s the thing…I got better. I can see it throughout that book. Just like I improved when I drew a daily web comic, when I drew Franklin, and when I drew Unofficial Guide book illustrations, but this time I was improving at storytelling as well as cartooning. All because Nate had faith in me that I could be better than I thought I could be.
After the book was done, we tried shopping it around. We were able to land at Archaia, which was eventually bought by Boom! What we did next was dumb. They presented us with a boilerplate contract and we signed it without talking to a lawyer. That would bite us in the butt later. But, at the time, we were excited to see this thing published. That was our main motivation. And when it came out, it was really well-received. It was funny, sad, violent, touching, and empathetic. We were really proud of the book and were looking forward to doing more.
Boom! told us they wanted to work up a pitch to shop around Cow Boy in Hollywood. We thought it was a great idea and I wound up drawing images for the pitch packet. The problem was, we were told that we’d have no involvement in the pitch. They got someone with experience in Hollywood animation to write up the pitch and, if sold, act as showrunner. We, the creators, would get nothing more than less than a quarter of the money, only a “created by” credit, and no involvement in anything to do with the show or movie. We learned that that contract we signed gave Archaia/Boom! all the rights to shop it, sell it, and take producer credit and money. They could do anything they wanted with Cow Boy without any approvals from Nate and I. Now, this isn’t on them. I take full blame for not getting a lawyer to read the contract, but I warn all young creators these days to always spend the money and get a lawyer. We thought nothing would come from this book, so we were just glad someone would publish it. We were wrong.
After a little shopping, DreamWorks Animation offered to option the property. We had no say, but soon learned that they needed us to sign a waiver to give Boom! the ability to negotiate the deal. It was finally at this point that we engaged a lawyer to rep us and were able to get some concessions from them in order to sign off on the deal. The only thing we had going for us is that we didn’t really care whether they made a deal or not…we had very little to gain from it. All we wanted was to make another book and own it.
Problem was, as part of the deal they negotiated, whatever else we made of Cow Boy, DreamWorks would automatically get as part of the option. So, as we started the second graphic novel, we realized they could use our story as a basis for their movie or show. So, we stopped making the book. We were disillusioned and angry at being cut out of the process, but according to our deal, after 10 years, we would get the rights back, so we decided to wait.
Cow Boy sat with DreamWorks for 6 years. DreamWorks went through a number of regime changes, and the property kept languishing. At one point a famous actor’s production company was interested in it, but nothing happened with that. Eventually the option ran out and so did our contract with Boom!
I’m happy to say, the rights belong to Nate and I again and we’re talking about doing more. For me, I want to do more because I love Nate like a brother and love working with him. He makes me a better artist and a better person. The thing that protected us in all of this is that Nate and I had each other’s backs and that doesn’t always happen. They tried to divide us to get what they wanted, but I wanted to protect Nate and he wanted to protect me. As long as we had each other, they could never take what was rightfully ours.
For years, I just couldn’t think about Cow Boy without being upset. Something that Nate and I loved had been locked up and we couldn’t do anything about it. But now that we have the rights back, I realize what an interesting and engaging story we created and I want to go back to that world.