MICHAEL DAVIS: The Art Of The Deal – Part 1
Really. I am not bragging. Consider one of my favorite sayings from the great philosopher Yogi Berra, who said “It ain’t bragging if you can do it.”
Trust me on this. I won’t bore you with the details but I’m one the best dealmakers in the comics business if I do say so myself.
And… I do say so.
Yeah, yeah. I can hear the haters out there. Who is this guy? Except for Milestone and ComicMix I’ve never heard of him.
But I’m sure a great many of you love movies and have never heard of Michael Ovitz either. I’ll just leave it at that.
When I say “deal” I’m not just talking about getting a comic book done. I’m talking about expanding the medium to as many media platforms as my mind can conceive. Except for the movies (which I’m working on) I’ve done major deals in TV, mainstream publishing, education, the music industry, toys, the Christian market, radio and I’m working on a (get this) musical.
I’ve done very few comic books as a creator. In fact, I’m only done two mini series, a few covers had some work in a few anthologies and at Milestone. Yet I was named one of the most powerful people in comics for two straight years by Hero Illustrated in 1993 and 1994 and back then I had nowhere the résumé I have to day.
Of course after naming me to that list for the second time, Hero Illustrated went out of business. Coincidence?
Probably not, but who am I to say?
You may ask yourself, as I have, “Self, how the heck did he get on that list?”
It’s the art of the deal my friend, the art of the deal.
I’ve put deals major together such as creating a comic book universe as a high interest low level reading program which is now and has been taught in schools as a curriculum and I did that in 1996. It’s called The Action Files; it started at Simon & Shuster then went to Person Learning.
That’s a pretty big accomplishment, but not my biggest. 15 years later it still holds up as a badass deal.
I’ll use that deal as a step by step ‘”how I did it.” I’ll go from idea to how The Action Files came to be distributed in the school system by not one but two powerhouse publishers.
My step by step will be interspersed with asides which will (hopefully) help provide a better and true understanding of the what-and-why mechanics of the deal.
The Action File Deal
It all started with a great idea: comics in the school system.
I’m not the first guy to think of that not by any means. In fact both Marvel and DC have had comics in the schools for one reason or another for decades. Those “educational” comics covered subjects such as drug abuse prevention among various other public service content.
What made my idea different was this: I wanted to create a comic book universe that would be a complete reading program with study and teacher guides that allow for a specific curriculum to be taught.
Many young people go wrong when trying to do something new or groundbreaking they think that a great idea is all you need.
My idea was neither ‘new nor groundbreaking, but my program was both. With that said here are the steps taken that turned my idea into a deal and that deal into a reading program.
Step 1: Does your idea have merit?
In other words, is it a good idea to anyone else but you?
I knew my idea had merit because it just made sense. I knew this on a personal level because the summer I discovered comics I went from a forth grade student with a third grade reading level to a fifth grade student with a ninth grade reading level. I knew this because I had to attend summer school that year to be able to be promoted into the fifth grade. I tested third grade in July and ninth grade in late August.
Why had it not been done before with a major publisher? That was the question I had to think about. That led me to my next question and step:
Step 2: What are the barriers to entry and why has this not been done before?
After thinking and researching this question for a few weeks (another reason people fail: they think a good idea is somehow magically going to go away or be stolen if they don’t move the second they think of it. So they don’t do their due diligence) I decided the reason why there was no comic book reading programs taught as a curriculum is because of the educational climax and prejudices that were associated (at the time) against comic books.
In other words no one wanted to see The Hulk in a textbook.
When I ran this little tidbit by my then girlfriend she responded“That’s silly! Kids love comics!” True, kids love comics and very few kids would frown on reading them in school.
BUT, you are not selling to the kids; you are selling to educators and parents. Get it?
That’s another reason why some fail at this sort of thing. The idea is everything to them. They focus only on the audience that the idea would be great for. Very seldom is the end user the gatekeeper.
How many times have you seen a TV show and it just sucked? When’s the last time you felt gipped because you spent nine bucks on a movie that was just bad?
Have any comics that you wished you could not only get your money back but also find the creative team and beat them with your copy?
I’m sure the vast majority of the readers of this column have experienced some if not all of the above. Here’s the thing: that TV show, movie and comic book all started out as a good idea to somebody. I’ve had much better ideas and so have you than certain things I’ve seen in the movies or on television. Yet somehow the shitty stuff is on TV and my idea is not. That’s because all the people involved figured out and dealt with the barriers to entry. What happened when the movie or TV show was being filmed is not the problem you should be worried about while you are looking to sell your idea.
That’s another reason people fail. They ask for outrageous things the moment someone shows an interest. I have a dear friend who killed a huge animated deal at DreamWorks because he insisted on directing. He never directed anything in his life so guess what happened to his idea?
It went from a DreamWorks movie to just being another idea.
Here’s another thing most people will not tell you: ideas are a dime a dozen, ideas are cheap and there is very little new under the sun.
By no means is anything I wrote or anything I’ve managed to do a magic bullet for a deal closing. I’ve killed a deal or 50 in my career with bad moves and most likely will again. This series of articles hopefully will shed some light on the inner workings of real deals and how they got done.
Think “ABC” when it comes to deal making:
What good is any idea if it just stays an idea?
Next week, I’ll finish up the Action File deal and begin to tell you how I set up a comic book universe and animated film deal for the church market.
Until then if you are interested in deal making, Goggle Michael Ovitz. I’m good but he’s the best that ever was and compared to him I’m just a squirrel trying to get a nut.
A cute and sexy squirrel, but still just a squirrel.
WEDNESDAY: Mike Gold