Sam the Yellow Wiggle waves good bye

The Wiggles Teach the Business of Comics

When you write about comics every week for nearly two decades, you can cast nearly anything as a comics thing.  I think there’s no better example of this than a column I wrote in 2012 in which I saw an issue happening with The Wiggles and related it back to comics.

In the interests of protecting future generations of comics creators from bad contracts and potentially questionable business practices, I’m reprinting that portion of Pipeline Commentary and Review from February 2012 here today.

You’re welcome.

Do stick around for the follow-up at the end.

 

FREELANCING AND — THE WIGGLES?!?

Popular children’s musical group The Wiggles replaced Sam with Greg as the Yellow Wiggle a couple weeks back.

What does that have to do with comics? Plenty.

Greg, you see, was the original Yellow Wiggle and a founding member. When a chronic and unpredictable illness made it impossible for him to perform live on stage, he stepped aside. Cast member Sam became the new Yellow Wiggle.

Last week, five years later, Greg returned to his role as Yellow Wiggle and Sam handed back the yellow jersey and stepped aside.

The stories coming out of Australia portray the story in a different light. Sam, you see, was called into The Wiggles office on what happened to be his daughter’s second birthday. He was fired effective immediately. Sam was under contract. He didn’t own any part of the Wiggles company, even after playing their lead man for five years. He received $200,000 a year for his services from a musical act that cleared close to $30,000,000 per year.

wiggles-3

Sam prepares to be drummed out of the band…

Lessons here for comics creators:

Read your contracts carefully. Make sure they include language to account for any conceivable futures in which your services might not be used. (If you get fired in the middle of an issue, do you still get paid for it? Does your dedication to the book pay off in the end? If you were brushed off the book tomorrow, would it surprise you?)

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Sam had recorded a CD for adults, doing covers of standards. Sam isn’t stupid; lots of middle-aged housewives watch and love him on television every day. This was a great chance to attract them to him in a new way. Plus, it also gives him something to fall back on. Should The Wiggles one day unceremoniously dump him, there’s more to him to exploit. Sure enough, that day has come.

If you don’t own it, you don’t control it, and you can’t expect to be compensated for it beyond a set standard rate.

Here’s an oddity for you: Greg returns to the Wiggles as a salaried employee, just like Sam was. Greg sold out his ownership in the group years ago. So if his mates are annoyed by him at any time now, they’re free to drop him faster than they did Sam.

At the same rate, how much longer can the Wiggles carry on? They’ve been doing the gig for the better part of 20 years.

Oh, one other lesson: If you can’t get ownership, get royalties. Exiting Wiggle Sam is named as an equal song-writer on all the songs recorded during his time with the Wiggles, and his royalties from that could get to six digits annually. Welcome to The Long Tail. This one gesture, in my mind, absolves the Wiggles from much of the heat they’ve received over any “improper” treatment of Sam.

Think of Sam as the latest creator to work on a Batman or Spider-Man comic. Picture him as the co-creator of a Kickstarter-funded project. The industry may be different, but the topics are all the same. Ownership is important. If you don’t control your own destiny, someone will control it for you.

Completely off-topic: Sam can sing opera. Impressive.

 

2016 Updates

wiggles-1

Wiggles contract negotiations are hardball.

You can read more background on the story from Sam’s Wikipedia page, where you’ll also learn things about him like that he was raised in the town of Wagga Wagga.  One has to wonder if that’s the sister town of Walla Walla, Washington.

Sam returned to children’s television with “Play Along with Sam” on Nick Jr. Australia, where he continues to work to this day.  And did I mention that he married Dorothy the Dinosaur? (Seriously, he married the dancer who wore the costume in that Wiggles spin-off show.)

The Wiggles, by the way, completely revamped their lineup a year after this column when Murray, Greg, and Jeff effectively retired.  Only Anthony remained, and he brought on three new Wiggles (basically, the Wiggles understudies.)  Two of those new Wiggles, Purple and Yellow, married earlier this year.  According to the research I just did on Google, their children will be Brown.

The group still tours the world, though their American concerts have shifted in recent years to smaller venues.

Just like in comics, this story illustrates that a portion of your audience will stick around no matter what, while others are more dedicated to the creators and will leave when the creators they like leave.

Final Notes

Dynamite Comics should have a Dorothy the Dinosaur comic. Just look at her.  She’d fit in perfectly with that unhappy cat and that cute dog they already have!

Wiggles Dorothy the Dinosaur

Also, please buy your comics legitimately. Don’t be a pirate.  But if you do, make it Captain Feathersword!

Wiggles Captain Feathersword

 

 

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