Two years ago, DJ Coffman was granted his greatest wish when his new superhero work, Hero By Night, was chosen as the first winner of Platinum Studio’s Comic Book Challenge, a contest designed to discover the next great comic book creator. Platinum subsequently put out an HBN mini-series and then an ongoing series, both of which were met with critical praise and lukewarm sales.
Now, amidst financial troubles, the company has been called out by Coffman, who has cited late payments and even failure to pay as the reason for the sudden forced hiatus of HBN. But as he explains in our brief chat, this halt is being handled amicably and he is already pursuing other endeavors that should continue to bring in those dolla’ dolla’ bills. Check out the candidness, after the break.
Digital Strips: For those couple of people who still haven’t heard, give us a two sentence summary of your current problems with Platinum Studios in regards to Hero By Night.
DJ Coffman: Well, the nuts and bolts is, money didn’t come on time, it was increasingly late for both Jason Embury (colorist on the series) and myself and I finally got to the point where two things happened:
1) Our solicitation/print/ and production schedule was thrown way off and
2) I finally got to a point (broke) where I had to start thinking about how to pay my bills and look or make new work.
It was strictly a business decision. It’s not like the money isn’t coming, in fact I think I’m being paid this week actually, it’s just that it’s not coming when I thought it would or it’s backed up and that’s hard to maintain a budget of your own, if you know what I mean. I look forward to getting money though so I can then hand it over to bill collectors.
I’ve actually tried to keep a sense of humor about the whole thing. When my car insurance was cancelled over the weekend, I told the State Farm guy if they could only hold on for a week I have a check coming from Hollywood any day now (ha!). They don’t seem to be as understanding. [laughs] Ah, the joy of being a cartoonist!
DS: Has this experience soured you on comics as a whole or has it served to drive you to make it work, whatever the cost?
DJ: Oh, definitely not. It is what it is. It’s no surprise that the overall comic book market is lousy. Anyone can see that our sales numbers weren’t through the roof on our book, so to Platinum Studios credit, they kept putting the book out because they believe in it, but surely it was costing them money. Even while I put HBN on hold for now while we figure things out, I haven’t taken an actual day off. I literally jumped right to the next project and other stuff. My pencil will only stop moving when I’m dead… that’s just how it is.
And this whole situation, while pretty sucky, doesn’t compare or scratch the surface to things Jason Embury and I have gone through with other companies– so I have to say Platinum have treated us extremely well.
DS: Scott Kurtz and several others have used this as a good chance to bring up the importance of property rights and the diverse, dangerous landscape the Internet encompasses. Do you feel that’s a good direction to spin all of this in?
DJ: While I think they all bring up really important points, I don’t think Hero By Night or this situation can ever be used as an example of that. In my case, I know what I signed and why I signed it– and without going into details, I negotiated my own 2nd contract as well which was a really good deal.
In a recent Webcomics Weekly podcast (which I love when I get a chance to listen) they even mention that no contract is concrete, you can negotiate — I mean, if you’re bringing something to the table yourself. That’s what I’ve always done. And people like to paint Platinum as a bunch of bad guys, but they’re not, in fact they actually opened the conversation with me about rights stuff which is ongoing now.
I hadn’t even thought to ask, I figured when HBN was cancelled in print, it would be done. But now I’m thinking about some other plans, but it all has to be ironed out when we all have time to do so. But yeah, I’m right there with those guys when I’ll tell you not to just blindly sign something put in front of you. Don’t sell off your babies. Like me, I have a couple that aren’t for sale at all. Yirmumah isn’t for sale.
And one thing’s for sure about that whole subject. I’ve been asked by many a corporate dude outside of Platinum recently, about replicating success of some of these “big” webcomics. PvP, Penny Arcade, even just replicating the small successes I had with Yirmumah, but it’s not possible because in a big structure there are too many chiefs and not enough indians.
Nobody can really LOVE your project like you do and put in the sweat equity. There’s a reason why myself and other guys love/hate doing our own shipping on things, or a reason why I use to love to hand staple my own mini comics, and all of that is a recipe that the big companies don’t have time for. Plus, they probably hate having Raman Noodles for lunch/dinner.
DS: With HBN on hiatus, what’s next for you? Can we look forward to a re-return of Yirmumah?
DJ: Actually, I just started a new webcomic with the band Flobots. I’m in a “beta” launch this week at Flobots.net, it’s more of a social commentary type comic, non-fiction remixed into fiction. And yes to Yirmumah, but I don’t know when or what format. I’d like to launch it as a fresh start-over and look at it with new eyes. Maybe I’ll do one today. That’s the freedom of webcomics.
And freedom is a great thing! Check out the beta launch of the Flobots/Coffman webcomic and stay tuned to Digital Strips for more on all of DJ’s future projects!