Sunday Mailbag

September 29th, 2013 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: I’ve read your articles on the evil of doing work-for-hire art. Isn’t MAD work-for-hire? Why the double standard?

A: It’s true, I have railed about the inadvisability of work-for-hire agreements, which are agreements between the artist and the client wherein the client owns not only the copyrights to the work, but all the originals and every scrap of every concept or idea you did for that project, forever. Usually this is not a very good deal for the artist, because that work can become a cash cow for the client with no further payment to the artist necessary.

That said, there are some exceptions to that “no work-for-hire” rule. One is when you are working on someone else’s licensed properties or characters. If Disney hires you to do a series of Mickey Mouse greeting cards, you might as well sign a work-for-hire agreement because nothing you do will ever be useable for you with any other client in the future anyway due to the copyrights of the characters you worked on. The work I do for Jeff Dunham is work-for-hire, which makes sense since I can’t possibly sell the rights to reproduce that work to anyone else anyway. Another exception might be if they significantly increase the fee you would have charged for something where you only sold them the copyright for limited use. That’s not much different than selling “full rights” to your work to someone. Where you really have to be careful with work-for-hire stuff is when you are creating something that might have longevity and marketability down the road… say you are hired to develop some comic book property for a publisher. If you do it work-for-hire, they can toss you off the book and hire others to do it, or sell the movie rights to your creation and not pay you a dime or give you credit, ever. I would think twice about creating a property or character under a work-for-hire agreement.

Now, your direct question: Why would I work under a work-for-hire agreement for MAD? I guess the same reason someone would play for the Yankees if they came calling but the deal wasn’t quite as one might like… it’s MAD Magazine. Yes, MAD owns all the work I do for them, and can reprint them at their leisure with no further payment to me. However, I have gotten a lot of peripheral work from my “notoriety” in being a principal MAD artist. For example, all those workplace posters I do every month for the last decade? I got that gig because the art director was a MAD fan, saw my work in the magazine, and looked me up. Same thing with my work for Jeff Dunham. There are many other examples. Also, the guys at MAD are great about throwing me other side projects and in general treat me like a member of the family… well, like the uncle who’s always drunk at Thanksgiving and says awkward things… but still family. They also do not ask for the original art back and and have no problem with me selling it. In other words, it’s as good an arrangement as a work-for-hire deal can get, and I am happy with it.

Thanks to Bob Mc for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!

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