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Comics, Contracts, & Covid: Inside the Scandal at Terrific Production

The novel coronavirus pandemic has devastated the comic book industry. So it appeared too good to be true that one writer was not solely hiring en masse, it was recruiting new expertise. Nevertheless it may come at a worth: the corporate would maintain half of their pay till 90% of Individuals had been vaccinated towards covid-19.

“He’s a rip-off artist,” comedian ebook creator Samal McNealy stated. “The best way every thing is written is simply to profit Andrew Rev and Terrific Manufacturing, and screw over writers and artists financially the easiest way he can.”

Terrific Manufacturing LLC, based by proprietor Andrew Rev, popped onto the scene at San Diego Comic-Con 2019 and touts itself as “America’s quickest rising comics writer,” though it’s but to publish a problem. It’s solely been round a yr however has already confronted points—like being dissolved for 2 weeks in April 2020 by South Dakota’s Secretary of State (the place Terrific Manufacturing is registered) over failing to submit its annual report on time. The corporate’s website is nonexistent, with no file of the area ever having hosted a website. The writer’s essential presence is a Twitter account that has shared lots of of gif-filled messages about the way it’s “the subsequent revolution in comics.”

The writer, which for months slid alongside comparatively unnoticed, acquired some consideration just lately after a sequence of clauses purportedly from its contracts began making the rounds on social media. They included: prohibiting creators from accepting new work if funds from Terrific Manufacturing weren’t overly late, requiring artists to turn over original art or signed pages in alternate for a share of a comic book ebook’s web royalties, and a now-infamous covid-19 clause that meant the writer may maintain half a creator’s whole web page fee through the ongoing pandemic. io9 has considered a number of of the contracts in query and might confirm the clauses.

io9 spoke with 12 writers and artists who’ve both labored this previous yr with Terrific Manufacturing or entered talks to take action. A lot of those that labored for the writer confirmed they’ve but to be absolutely compensated, resulting in hundreds of {dollars} in lacking wages. They place the blame squarely on Rev, who some declare used deceitful ways to attempt to swap their preliminary contracts with new ones that might impression their pay and rob them of their rights as creators.

“I believe his firm, and all that Terrific represents—he’s a hustler,” artist Daniel Mainé instructed io9. “I’d slightly give up drawing earlier than working with them once more. It has been an actual nightmare.”

Rev burst onto the comics scene in 1990 when he purchased Comico, an impartial writer that was poised to rival DC and Marvel with sequence like Invoice Willingham’s The Elementals and Matt Wagner’s Grendel. Sadly, a string of unhealthy monetary selections led Comico to file for chapter, main Rev to come back in from the surface and take it over. Rev refused to say how a lot he paid for Comico, however in a sequence of lengthy (and infrequently hard-to-understand) emails, he shared how he got here into the business keen however inexperienced solely to wind up being taken benefit of.

[Note: Many of Rev’s responses, conducted over email, contained spelling and grammatical errors. We’ve chosen to present them as-is.]

“I used to be I’ll outfitted to tackle the revival of Comico- I had no employees. Think about how I felt having paid their wage after which they handled me as a sucker!” Rev wrote. “With solely love of comics and an A in artwork appreciation in school I went forward to determine with out youtube or Wikipedia how comics had been made. My unique purpose earlier than I arrived was for us to be passive buyers with 1/Three rd of Comico. However the president after he noticed he had no obligation personally for his employees wage went and handed me the keys and stated he was ‘going fishing’ that is how my ebook on the comedian business will Presumably begin.” io9 was unable to contact the previous house owners of Comico for remark.

Reviews on the sale from the Comics Journal described Rev as a Chicago businessman and native of Hungary who labored within the unsolicited mail enterprise and had completed consulting for Citibank. A 2017 courtroom case involving his ex-wife’s property confirmed he additionally tried to begin a software program enterprise in Vietnam round a decade prior however that he made no cash from it. In any other case, Rev is an enigma. He’s believed to be 68 years outdated and residing in California, has a small digital footprint, and his life between Comico and Terrific Manufacturing is essentially unknown. Rev refused to offer or verify with io9 any particulars on himself and famous that he expects “nothing private on this article.”

After speaking with the writers and artists, io9 reached out to Rev for an interview. His preliminary response was to ship us a prolonged electronic mail suggesting what our article ought to cowl, writing, “I hope you and your editor can see we’ve got a really constructive story covid story about overcoming adversity that Gizmodo readers may doubtlessly establish with.” Rev echoed this suggestion in his ultimate emails to us earlier than publishing, writing, “you may all the time change the story right into a story of the corporate that desires to save lots of the comedian business.” On the morning this piece was set to publish he wrote, “I’d admire you scrap your article or modify it.”

Rev repeatedly requested to talk off the file—which means nothing he stated to us could possibly be utilized in our article—we declined, asking him a number of extra occasions if he’d touch upon the precise allegations made towards him (which he in the end did). Rev claimed on Twitter he needed to talk off the file to “inform our story on the file with out revealing sources and strategies.” On Twitter, he known as the article a “hit piece,” regardless of it not having been revealed but; in emails, he went on to say the 2016 Hulk Hogan lawsuit towards our former sister website Gawker, which bankrupted Gawker Media, and took to Twitter a number of extra occasions to debate particulars about io9’s editorial unit, GMG Union.

A few of the creators we spoke with submitted pitches after seeing Terrific Manufacturing was selling itself and soliciting creators on Fb or Twitter. Others say they had been recruited by author Robert Shepard, who largely declined to remark (io9 has considered textual content messages and emails exhibiting Shepard organising work and contracts with a number of the creators). They noticed that Rev holds the rights to Rob Liefeld’s Youngblood, initially revealed by Picture Comics then Superior Leisure (Liefeld declined to remark for this story, however has been vocal on social media disavowing Rev and future iterations of Youngblood). Rev refused to share how he got here concerning the rights to the sequence, which had been organized by Cowboys & Aliens co-creator Scott Rosenberg, calling it an “Inappropriate query below CONFIDENTIALITY.”

Youngblood was a sequence lots of the creators we spoke to had grown up with, in order that they had been within the prospect of serving to a legacy property they liked come again to life. As well as, a lot of them had been both new to the comics scene or attempting to interrupt into the American market—they noticed it as a possibility to develop their model, particularly since a lot of them had been being requested to do multi-issue sequence. Gabriel Santos, a more moderen artist commissioned by Terrific to work on Supreme (a standalone sequence for a Youngblood character), stated he thought it was going to be his large break.

“I used to be tremendous excited for a no person to get an opportunity to work on Youngblood characters, widespread characters within the ‘90s. It was an excellent probability to get began,” Santos stated. “Actually, what acquired me excited was lots of guarantees these guys had. ‘If all goes nicely I can get you some extra covers for these books,’ or ‘If this ebook does very well I can up your web page fee for the second ebook.’ Little guarantees like that.”

Wanting again, the writers and artists we spoke to stated they need to’ve seen the warning indicators. A minimum of three creators, together with artist Fritz Casas, stated Shepard agreed to their beginning charges with little try to barter. Penciler and inker Emiliano Urdinola, together with not less than three others, stated the preliminary contract was despatched with out Rev’s signature—solely Mainé stated he managed to get his signed. The contracts reviewed by io9 stipulated that Terrific Manufacturing would personal artists’ unique artwork (the comedian business’s model of an unique portray). It’s a apply that’s thought of unusual and uncouth these days, as artists usually promote their unique pages on their very own web sites or by providers. It additionally doesn’t apply to digital artists since they don’t make bodily items—one thing Mainé stated Shepard instructed him wouldn’t be an issue. It later turned out to be an issue.

The creators additionally stated Terrific Manufacturing was set to pay them after completion of every problem, which took the creators we spoke to 1-Three months on common. Rev defended the apply, telling io9, “Some new artists like all folks can’t be trusted with out having a safety deposit to remind them to do 5 points. That’s good.” Nevertheless it’s one thing lawyer Gamal Hennessy, who makes a speciality of work inside the comedian ebook business, stated ought to’ve been a crimson flag. As a substitute, Hennessy stated, writers and artists ought to all the time guarantee there’s a tiered cost system in place earlier than attending to work.

“One cost could possibly be made on signing the contract. One cost could possibly be made on delivering the thumbnails, or the tough sketches. One cost could possibly be made for the 22-page ebook, then let’s say each 4 pages one other cost comes by,” he stated. “That manner, if there’s any dispute about what’s happening…you then truly perceive what the issue is up entrance. So these artists usually are not out weeks and perhaps months of labor and never getting paid.”

Illustration for article titled Comics, Contracts, and Covid: Inside the Scandal at Terrific Production

Illustration: Angelica Alzona

About half the creators we spoke to acquired suspicious of Rev and walked away, both throughout negotiations or earlier than finishing their first points. They had been the fortunate ones as a result of the second the primary points had been turned in and a author or artist requested for cost, chances are high Rev would ask to talk with them over the cellphone or textual content and provides the explanation why they couldn’t be paid, like banking points or issues with their work (Rev admitted that Terrific Manufacturing has refused to pay some creators for his or her work, claiming it’s for “if an artist over payments, didn’t have approval to extend fee.. Refused to redraw unhealthy artwork”). Santos instructed io9 one of many excuses Rev gave him was as a result of the inking wasn’t completed, although Santos had been employed as a penciler. Rev nonetheless texted Santos to ask how problem two was coming alongside. In the long run, Santos stated he was solely paid for a canopy earlier than quitting.

For 3 of the creators we spoke to—Mainé, Urdinola, and Casas—the dispute was due to the contract. Rev would declare that the primary contracts they’d signed had been invalid for issues like common errors, Shepard sending it with out his approval, Rev by no means signing it, or it not coming from a Terrific Manufacturing email address. Mainé, whose contract had Rev’s signature, stated Rev accused him of “forgery.” Rev repeated this accusation to io9 (although he didn’t point out Mainé by title), and Shepard backed it up in his solely response to our questions. Shepard, figuring out the individual as Mainé, claimed Mainé “tried to tug a con on us. A mistaken web page fee and Euros vs USD,” however emails obtained by io9 present Shepard agreeing to Mainé’s fee and most well-liked forex, and sending him the contract with Rev’s signature. We requested Shepard to offer documentation to help his account, however he didn’t reply. Rev instructed we “get an skilled to check signatures,” so we requested him to offer examples. He didn’t reply to our request.

Based on Mainé, Urdinola, and Casas, Rev insisted on sending them a brand new contract and wouldn’t pay them till they’d signed it (Rev selected to not “verify or deny” a lot of the contract particulars, citing confidentiality). Irrespective of how questionable the primary deal was, this new deal was an entire lot worse.

There was the “Particular Covid-19 Phrases” clause, which Casas and one different artist confirmed was included of their proposed contracts. The clause stipulated that Terrific Manufacturing would maintain onto half of their web page charges till both 90% of individuals in the USA and Canada had been vaccinated towards the coronavirus, or 2,500 comedian ebook retailers in these international locations had been absolutely open once more. (Based on Publishers Weekly and the Joe Shuster Awards, there are about 2,000 comedian ebook retailers within the U.S. and roughly 300 in Canada.) That is one thing Hennessy known as one of the vital egregious elements of those already questionable offers.

“What they’re doing is they’re trying to tie funds to circumstances past the management of anybody that could be a social gathering to this settlement—and anybody within the comedian ebook business normally,” Hennessy stated. “You don’t need to be a lawyer to know this: That is the form of clause that you just delete the contract and also you go work for anyone else. As a result of what’s the justification for somebody saying, ‘I’m not going to pay you the web page fee for the work you probably did, primarily based on a bit of public well being data that has nothing to do with what we’re speaking about’?”

“That is simply silly. That is an try and not pay somebody primarily based on one thing that has nothing to do with the contract,” he added.

That’s not all. Mainé and Urdinola stated their new contracts slashed their web page charges and shared royalties (after 10,000 copies bought), with Mainé saying his was minimize by virtually 50%. Rev confirmed the web page charges Mainé and Urdinola shared with us, telling io9 every of them had “earned” the decrease one he was providing. A portion of the brand new web page fee, in addition to royalties, had been contingent upon the creator representing the comedian and firm “in a constructive and supportive manner.” Non-disparagement clauses are frequent within the business, however Hennessy famous it was uncommon that the contract acknowledged Terrific Manufacturing may demand the author or artist refund a portion of their cost in the event that they did not adequately present their help—and because it was unclearly outlined, this meant it could possibly be no matter Rev determined was inadequate. A few of the contracts additionally included a clause that required writers and artists to do conference appearances on behalf of Terrific Manufacturing, with no phrase as as to whether the corporate would pay for journey bills.

Along with the covid-19 clause, Casas’ new contract included stipulations that put it a number of steps wanting an unique contract. Casas confirmed it banned him from accepting new work from different publishers as long as funds from Terrific Manufacturing weren’t over 45 days late, and he would have a three-year ban on working for any corporations creating related characters to ones he’d made for Terrific Manufacturing. Whereas which may not apply to Casas, since he was making Supreme, Terrific Manufacturing has been engaged on a public area model of Thor and is presently soliciting new artists for it. It’s unclear what the comedian entails, however inker Matthew Seaborne stated his concerned a love triangle between Thor, Hercules, and Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz.

Unique contracts aren’t an uncommon idea on their face, as Marvel, DC, and different respected publishers signal creators to unique contracts, however Hennessy stated they usually include profitable monetary advantages that make it well worth the individual’s whereas. In Casas’ case, he stated it truly lowered his total anticipated earnings—and if he give up anytime earlier than ending the sequence, the contract required him to refund “the deliverable funds paid in anticipation of [Casas] finishing the sequence.” Based on Casas, who’s from the Philippines, Rev instructed him he ought to really feel grateful for the chance (in response to this, Rev stated “any artist working for TP is fortunate” and known as Casas “not a mild man”).

“Andrew Rev instructed me that, with the covid-19 pandemic, I’m fortunate that I’m working with them—and [with] the DC layoffs lots of artists shall be in search of work, professionals will settle for a decrease web page fee and I shall be competing with them,” Casas stated. “Whereas it’s true that abroad creators, particularly in a third-world nation like ours, are cheaper than our American counterparts, it’s not an inexpensive and acceptable excuse to use creators.”

A number of writers and artists we spoke to stated Rev instructed them he most well-liked worldwide creators as a result of they are often paid lower than ones primarily based in the USA, although Rev instructed io9 it’s “as a result of main vip artists interfered win so went exterior ofb USA.” Mainé, who’s primarily based in Spain, shared that after Rev’s tried contract swap fell by, Rev tried to strain him over electronic mail to just accept a fair decrease fee, $50 per web page, and that half of that cost can be held hostage till Mainé turned over unique paintings so Rev may promote it at public sale—one thing, as beforehand talked about, Mainé didn’t have and was instructed he wouldn’t want to offer since he works digitally. In his electronic mail, one in all Rev’s defenses of this web page fee, lower than one-third of Mainé’s preliminary one, was as a result of Mainé’s from a rustic the place it’s nonetheless “superb compensation.”

Not all people has shared this expertise. Author Leon McKenzie has been working with Terrific Manufacturing since 2019. He stated he’s solely signed one contract with the writer (together with a separate NDA) and he’s been paid for each comedian ebook he’s accomplished up to now. That stated, he declined to share his web page fee, and when requested if he feels he’s being pretty compensated for his work, he veered into the way it’s a step ahead for his profession earlier than finally saying sure. McKenzie stated his time with Terrific Manufacturing has been constructive—though he expressed irritation that not one of the comedian books he or anybody else has labored on have been revealed but.

“I’m annoyed that it’s taken this lengthy to get this far. I desire a ebook on the shelf. And this makes me sound actually egocentric—as a result of, as soon as I’ve completed that, then Little McKenzie has written a problem of Youngblood and that’s there eternally,” he stated.

Seaborne stated he and Rev additionally shared a constructive working relationship at the start—he stated he was even paid for his comics work, albeit solely half of what he was owed. Based on Seaborne, Rev thought of them to be associates and would name him often, conserving him on the cellphone for hours at a time (prolonged cellphone conversations are a typical trait with Rev, in keeping with each individual we talked to). At one level, he stated, Rev acquired the thought to begin a file label known as Terrific Data, a part of his ambition to broaden Terrific Manufacturing with kids’s books, video video games, clothes traces, and a cinematic universe. He requested Seaborne’s band to write down a music that might be included in each copy of Youngblood—solely as a substitute of paying them, Rev despatched the band a multi-year file deal. Seaborne known as the contract “horrible” and refused to signal it. In response, he stated Rev turned impolite and hostile to the purpose the place Seaborne blocked his quantity.

“I’ve been provided some actually, actually horrible music contracts over the previous 10 years, however that is hands-down the worst,” he stated. “He tried to place every thing in there to take each immediately from us that we may presumably have. He needed to vary the band title. We needed to write 40 songs a yr. He would personal just about every thing to do with our likeness, the band itself. It was simply essentially the most loopy contract I’ve ever obtained.”

Rev instructed a special model of occasions, claiming he rewrote a part of Seaborne’s music “with a witness” (whom he by no means named) and was merely attempting to offer the band a possibility: “I requested Seaborne whose band making below $300 a music to write down a music We’re Legion, I instructed the of band to emulate. After first music I stated I didn’t like all of the lyrics it was violent = so I requested permission and I wrote adjustments with a witness. I stated let me rep and I gave him an excellent deal higher than unknown indie band will get plus money. He turned to a ghost. Ask why? Perhaps he had hit.”

Earlier than Terrific Manufacturing and Youngblood, Rev’s crowning achievement in comics was Comico. On the time, writers and artists like Wagner spoke out to the Comics Journal about Rev’s uncommon contracts and lack of cost for providers rendered, however Willingham stated that didn’t cease him from promoting The Elementals. He instructed io9 that the cope with Rev got here with stipulations like showing at conventions to “discuss up the handover.” Comico paid for his journey, together with a number of different writers and artists, solely to seek out out Rev was placing them “within the exterior room of his suite, in a barracks with 9 or 10 beds shoved right into a single space” (Rev confirmed that he took Comico staffers to cons however couldn’t recall any particulars).

Willingham additionally claimed Rev tried to cancel his ultimate paycheck so he drove from Seattle to Chicago, the place Comico was situated, to demand it in individual. He stated he was both going to go away with the cash he was promised or break sufficient of Rev’s stuff that it might make up the distinction, however he in the end acquired paid. Rev denied that Willingham’s ultimate paycheck was ever canceled, however that he doesn’t keep in mind whether or not the author got here to see him at his workplace in Chicago. “Willingham ultimate cost was by no means cancelled for rights or writing! To convey up such nonsense 30 years later is meaningless if Willingham was paid,” he stated.

Comico quietly stopped producing comics in 1997—following years of inconsistent releases and sequence that by no means went previous a number of points—ending on a problem of The Elementals Sex Specials Vol. 2. The primary problem of the short-lived X-rated sequence lists Willingham as its author, however he instructed io9 he’d truly turned in a problem of The Elementals (as a part of his contractual obligations) just for Rev to rename it with out his data or consent and slap on a salacious cowl of a girl having intercourse with a dolphin. Rev confirmed that Willingham’s ultimate problem was was an 18+ intercourse particular, and instructed us “it’s was my opinion that it was mistaken to pressure below 18 years olds to not have a problem as a result of I used to be a prude and thought in 1990’s that any sexWas an excessive amount of for teenagers. they had been below age which is why it was made into its personal title.” However when requested to clarify why the writer put bestiality on the duvet, he didn’t reply.

The writer, now going by “Comico Leisure LLC,” nonetheless exists and is registered in South Dakota—though it’s below the title of his brother, Steven Rev, and Andrew Rev stated he doesn’t personal shares of the corporate. It debuted at San Diego Comic-Con in 2019 however has but to publish something since.

Terrific Manufacturing has grown in notoriety in latest weeks as extra people within the business have been sharing essentially the most bewildering elements of Rev’s contracts and creators who really feel they’ve been burned are warning others to remain away. Regardless of the backlash, Terrific Manufacturing continues to be attempting to recruit writers and artists—going as far as to ask folks on Twitter to submit full-issue comics with its characters “at their very own threat!” and that if the corporate likes them they may purchase them. Rev instructed io9 they “now not need freelancers,” and the writer is now centered on signing folks to unique contracts. He wouldn’t share any particulars —though on Twitter the writer talked about offering “stipends & Royalties”—however a number of the folks we spoke to fret the contracts aren’t any higher than earlier than. Rev stated 5 creators (whom he hasn’t recognized) have signed unique contracts up to now and that Terrific Manufacturing is predicted to announce its first titles on November 10.

“We reject the explanation for business norms in a failing business. Innovate or die. Possession relies upon if the artists choses an Picture comedian kind artists deal the place they take the danger on paying for our imprint and printing and advertising – they then can personal the artwork than we’ve got a rep charge. Or selected a TP acquired character than we share earnings as a result of we’re an IP growth platform for the worldwide market,” Rev stated. “We acknowledge artists fought for rights which we are saying selected that. I consider others will comply with as a result of comics are dying.”

Terrific Manufacturing would possibly swear it’s innovating, that it’s “the subsequent revolution in comics,” but it surely’s working on an outdated playbook. One which has tried to make the most of comedian ebook writers and artists although it’s left the corporate and Rev himself with out something to point out for it. In contrast to his time at Comico—the place the experiences of Willingham, Wagner, and others had been misplaced to historical past—social media has made it so all of those comics creators can share their tales. It appears Andrew Rev’s outdated methods don’t work within the new digital age.

“The person is a criminal, I believe he’s an fool, and I believe he’s insane. I believe on this enterprise of ours, you would possibly be capable of get away with any two of the three and nonetheless discover your area of interest. However all three, you possibly can’t be all three and make a go of it,” Willingham stated. “This enterprise, the present one, goes to fail—simply as each different try has.”

Extra reporting by Bryan Menegus.

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Beth Elderkin on io9, shared by Kaitlyn Jakola to Gizmodo