Creators Claim Action Lab Entertainment Hasn’t Paid Them, But Is Still Using Their IP
The COVID-19 pandemic has permanently altered the world, and like most industries, comics did not escape its reach. During lockdown in 2020, Diamond Comic Distributors—then the primary direct market distributor for single-issue and trade paperback comics—ceased production for months, and that was only the beginning. In the years since, there have been major shifts as publishers large and small attempt to recoup and strategize for the future. Unfortunately, not all of these attempts have been successful. For example: Creators have been loud about delayed and non-payment from publishers, including AfterShock Comics, Valiant Comics, and Action Lab Entertainment.
Now, Action Lab’s alleged mistreatment of its creators—which not only includes delayed and non-payment issues, but also straight-up ghosting and other issues—has resulted in a class-action lawsuit against the publisher, filed earlier this year. The suit names nearly 40 creators who claim “content creators’ publisher agreements with Action Lab Entertainment were ‘unconscionable’ and should therefore be declared null and void.”
Per ClassAction.org, “According to the case, Action Lab has left thousands of content creators out to dry. The lawsuit alleges the Uniontown, Pennsylvania company, whose offices were intermittently closed between December 2019 and the spring of 2021, has failed to, for instance, put into print a ‘large number of projects,’ retain enough staff to fulfill its publisher agreements and pay the individuals timely royalties for their work, among other apparent transgressions.”
Princeless co-creators Jeremy Whitley and Emily Martin are among the plaintiffs named in the lawsuit. The fantasy series debuted in 2011 and has become a flagship title for Action Lab Entertainment, earning multiple award nominations and plenty of acclaim. Whitley and Martin also created a spinoff series, Raven the Pirate Princess, which debuted in 2015.
Last week, Action Lab announced a Princeless release for Free Comic Book Day 2023, featuring new material that will apparently kick off a 10th volume of the series. Unfortunately, Whitley and Martin claim no knowledge of the release.
In a joint statement, Whitley and Martin said they “have currently stopped working on Princeless and have not received any request to approve or finalize comics pages for a Free Comic Book Day release, nor have they approved any new work to be published in a format such as this which would not offer royalties or recompense to the creative team.
The statement continues:
“This is the latest in Action Lab’s continued policy of putting their personal profits before creators and we strongly disapprove. Perhaps even more worrying is Action Lab’s claim in their Previews solicitation that this is meant to ‘kick off the tenth volume.’ Not only was this done without our approval, but the team has only finished the first issue of the volume and the implication that the rest of this volume is coming soon is misleading to retailers, consumers, and the distributor. Those books have not been drawn and Action Lab has not attempted to settle our current legal issues in any meaningful way. The only possible explanations are that either Action Lab is trying to force the creative team into feeling pressured by the expectations of our fans and community or that Action Lab means to continue the book without us. We are not okay with either of these instances and we do not think the fans of Princeless will be either.”
Action Lab publisher Bryan Seaton denied these claims in a statement to Bleeding Cool: “Action Lab will not directly address the false and misleading statements that Jeremy and Emily make here. Your readers should know that Jeremy and Emily signed a contract that gave Action Lab control over and ownership of the Princeless finished product. Jeremy and Emily gave these rights to Action Lab subject only to a limited right of approval during the creative process, receipt of royalties, and an opportunity to work on the books on a work-for-hire basis, all of which have been fulfilled. Because of this arrangement, Action Lab has chosen to try to grow the audience of the many volumes of Princeless, and the spinoff series Raven the Pirate Princess, by distributing it as our offering in the largest comic promotion of the year, Free Comic Book Day. We informed Jeremy and Emily of our plan in early October.”
How things shake out will likely be determined by the class-action suit, which is still in litigation. Meanwhile, other publishers—namely AfterShock Comics—have similarly disputed delayed and non-payment accusations from creators. However, AfterShock has slowed its release schedule, as has Valiant Comics (which is down to just one monthly release, and the publisher hasn’t released a press announcement in four months).
If publishers are struggling to meet their obligations to comics creators, we will likely see even more shifts in the industry heading into 2023. Whatever happens, these creators deserve to be paid ASAP—the question seems to be whether the funds exist to pay them, and that’s a major problem.
(featured image: Action Lab Entertainment)
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