08-JUNE-2011 BLUEWATER PRODUCTIONS is a small press comic publisher which I’ve been able to mildly support only because I know a couple artists that have done work for them. When LAURA GUZZO (artist, costumer, model) announced that she got work with them, what could I do but congratulate her on beginning to live her dream as a comic book artist? I couldn’t say, “Gee, that’s swell but I’ve heard Bluewater is unscrupulous.” No, I was supportive and hoped that Laura would be saved from the shenanigans of Bluewater Productions. After all, she donated two lovely works of art to the 2010 Wonder Woman Day fundraiser for domestic violence which leaves me with an understanding of her generous heart and good nature. [UPDATE 09-JUNE-2011]: Questions were sent to Bluewater Productions so a separate article was posted.
On June 8, 2011, Guzzo posted on her facebook about her cover art for Political Power: Hillary Rodham Clinton being swiped. The image shows clearly the art Guzzo submitted and that very art being used in Previews catalog for the issue’s solicitation for ordering. Then the comic book arrived and Guzzo was horrified to see someone else’s digital tracing over her work. Guzzo’s textured coloring clearly doesn’t “fit in” with Bluewater’s overly-highlighted, cartoonified digital coloring. Each book they produce is “cookie cutter” and fits their mold. This is probably because they don’t accept the individuality of the artists they hire and instead want a paint-by-numbers kit they can ship off to an artist who will work for free. Then they don’t have to pay Guzzo and they don’t have to pay the poor schlub that now feels he’s going to get a backend royalty. Bluewater’s typical style and Guzzo’s extremely different style makes me wonder why they hired her in the first place. Guzzo was never told that her work was unacceptable or in need of revisions.
“Being Granito’d” now has its own entry in the comic book urban dictionary meaning an artist has had his/her work stolen by another. The Rob Granito Scandal has been headlining news for 2011. While Guzzo’s perpetrator was not the infamous Rob Granito, the pain hurts her no less than if it were.
Guzzo received a response from Bluewater President Darren Davis in which he states he instructed Joe Phillips “to do a new cover with the same feel. You can see the difference in the cover – night and day.” Really? The difference is that the original was copied over with a completely different style but we in the business still see the tracing job and consider this a swipe.
Wait. There’s more.
Guzzo was asked to do the interiors for the entire issue which includes pencils, inks and colors. She told the company by when she would need the script in order to meet deadline. Bluewater solicited the issue before the script was even done. The time frame Guzzo had given them came and went so when the script was finally done, she refused and explained that she could not possibly meet deadline at that point.
When Guzzo contacted Davis about the swipe he added this comment about her work: “In 10 years of producing comic books, I have never seen anyone do a cover on watercolor paper.”
Her reply: “David Mack has made a career of it actually.”
Davis’ defensive and arrogant responses only lower any possible credibility he had left.
I began hearing about this company’s shameful practices of not paying artists back to 2009 and big names like Sean Gordon Murphy were involved. It wasn’t something I cared to document at the time because I was really keeping my focus on reporting the comic book industry reviews, interviews and conventions and my costuming blog. I wasn’t out to scoop any other news service with investigative reporting like this required. And for her sake, I’m very happy to get confirmation from Guzzo that she was paid for the Clinton cover.
In 2009, the blogosphere caught wind of some interesting payment deals between Bluewater Productions and the artists it hired. Backend deals are pretty commonplace in small press comics; it’s where someone does not receive payment until the book turns a profit. This is based on the assumption that the person in charge of the purse strings will legitimately be forthcoming with the accounting statements and show when a profit is finally made. You can see that by 2010, Bluewater’s reputation for shady backend deals had surfaced with the uncanny accounting abilities to always say that its comics were never at profit – at least not when their artists asked. Check out the Why I Won’t Cover Bluewater op/ed at Comics Worth Reading for the lowdown. The 2009 exposé Getting in Deep With Bluewater Productions at Bleedin’ Cool says it all:
From Bleedin’ Cool: “Many are not willing to speak out in public or even have their names used, as they fear legal or financial penalty. But some feel otherwise. But Hellblazer and Joe The Barbarian artist Sean Gordon Murphy alleges an unpaid $5000 debt from previous work and Alex Amezcua, artist on The 10th Muse (written by Davis) also alleges non payment. In one long running thread, colourist Goran Kostadinoski talks about knowing several Bluewater colourists, but not one who was paid, himself included. And many others chip in with their own similar experiences.”
You can support Guzzo by shopping at her etsy store to acquire legitimate original Guzzo artwork.
Feast your eyes on just a few samples of Guzzo’s work:
COMPREHENSIVE INTERVIEW WITH LAURA GUZZO:
* When were hired for the Hilary Clinton cover?
September 22nd, 2010.
Although the contract didn’t get signed until October 13th…
Over 2 weeks after the deadline for turning in the finished artwork.
* Was that your first work for hire project with Bluewater?
* Did they actually pay you?
I did the Hillary Clinton cover for them before I found out about their reputation. I did the job and got paid, no problem. Shortly afterwards, I received a message from Jerome Maida explaining that a Newsarama article about the Political Power series “just got put up today … and of course the trolls have come out”. I was then asked to “post that your experience with Bluewater so far has been fine”.
So of course I did, because I was still naive enough to think that my experience (do work, get paid) was the norm.
Needless to say, it was immensely insulting once I understood that they had more-or-less paid me to say nice things about them on a forum full of people they’d wronged.
Newsarama is where I ran into comments like this: “Bluewater Publishing is a company that gives contracts to desperate newcomers, promising later payment out of future profits. Unsurprisingly, numerous people don’t get paid at all. When your business model doesn’t even meet the time-honored decency standard of the American comic book industry, that’s something special.”
After that, I did two more cover jobs for them, but started holding my artwork hostage until the money was safely stowed away in my paypal account.
* Did editorial staff ever say they were unhappy with the cover art you submitted?
My contact at Bluewater received daily status updates whenever I did an assignment for them. If he was unhappy with the work I submitted to him, I never knew it. I’m kind of a perfectionist when it comes to my work, and if he’d told me that something about the image wasn’t working, I would’ve done everything in my power to make it right.
Now, that being said, Darren Davis did expressed concern over the paper’s texture, but only after the image had been completed and the deadline reached. I promised that I’d use smoother paper for any future projects I completed with them, and left it at that. Darren seemed to be pacified by that concession, since he paid me for the images. I certainly didn’t realize that he disliked the paper enough to discard them afterwards because of it.
Darren was less than attentive when it came to my covers. I emailed him the last two projects I did for them immediately after receiving my payment. I’d worked night and day to finish those projects before the deadline and even put in hours over Thanksgiving weekend. However, because the files were so large, the email bounced back to me without me realizing it.
One full month later, I am contacted by Bluewater and informed that the scans never arrived.
Let me say that again: I busted my ass to meet their deadlines, believed that I’d successfully turned in the artwork (that they had already paid for, by the way) and they didn’t notice it was missing until a month afterwards. Who was I rushing for? Apparently not them.
* What steps are you going to take to rectify this, if any?
Well, I’m definitely going to make sure that any of the royalties I was promised actually come to me. Regardless of whether or not they took my cover off the finished product, my cover was what was used in the Previews and on Amazon. Any sales they received is due in part to my image. That’s what retailers and consumers saw, that’s what they ordered, it shouldn’t matter that they were met with a nasty surprise when the actual book came in.
Mostly, I’m doing all I can to spread the word about Bluewater’s disreputable business practices before someone else falls victim to them. Although Bluewater’s infamy seems well-known by most, there are still plenty of people out there who don’t know. Until recently I was one of them. It was the most frustrating thing in the world to run into trouble with this company and complain about it to people, only to have them say “Oh yeah, Bluewater doesn’t pay people. Didn’t you know that?”
Bluewater seems to prey on the naivety of inexperienced artists, many of whom are fresh out of college and eager for their first big break. At best, the company is incompetent- At worst, it’s manipulative and exploitative. Either way, Bluewater is something to stay away from.
* Have you experienced any other problems with other companies you’ve worked for?
Thankfully, no. Not yet. My Bluewater experience has made me much more suspicious and cautious. I’m still half convinced that every new client is secretly trying to rip me off. I really hate that it’s made me more cynical, but I guess it helps.
* Have you been following the Rob Granito scandal of 2011?
Were you ever thinking that “it could happen to you” and see your work swiped?
I have been following it actually, but I never thought it’d happen to me. At least, not yet. I’d figured I was too much of an unknown for anyone to swipe my work. I mean, I’m not a big name right now, so why would they?
I’ve gotten myself into a reverse Rob Granito situation. Instead of an unknown schmuck swiping the work of an established artist and claiming that it’s his, I’ve had my work stolen by an artist that’s far more seasoned than I am. It’s weird.
[UPDATE 09-JUNE-2011]: Questions were sent to Bluewater Productions so a separate article was posted.