The Pocket Lawyer for Comic Book Creators: A Legal Toolkit for Comic Book Artists and Writers by Thomas A. Crowell Esq., is a powerful book that explains complex legal concepts in easy to understand language. In order to give an honest review of this title, Comics Experience was provided a complimentary copy of the book by the publisher.
Now, some people might be surprised or skeptical about my review of a book that is an obvious competitor to my own, The Law for Comics Creators. The answer is two-fold. First, The Pocket Lawyer is a very different book from mine. Whereas my book explores historical background and applies those principles to the issues facing creators, The Pocket Lawyer provides a nuts-and-bolts approach to the subject matter. Second, and more important, the issues facing creators are so pervasive and weighty, that I welcome more books on the topic, especially one as well written as The Pocket Lawyer.
Knowledge is power. But, when it comes to the intellectual property and censorship, a lack of knowledge comes at a very high cost. The history of comics is rife with famous examples of well-intentioned creators and companies who failed to protect these rights and ended up in long and protracted litigation. What most people don’t realize is that for every Kirby, Siegel, and Air Pirates case in the spotlight, there are countless new and up-and-coming comic book writers and artists who are facing the same issues.
To make matters worse, there are a lot of misconceptions in the comics industry as to how intellectual property law works. At least once per convention, someone will tell creators about the “Poor Man’s copyright,” obtained by mailing a sealed envelope to themselves with their script. The Poor Man’s copyright is an urban legend and unnecessary under the Copyright Act to obtain protection and an insufficient substitute for registration. Up until recently, there really hasn’t been any place a creator could go to find answers. This is the primary reason I wrote my book and worked with Comics Experience to create the course Comic Book Law for Creators. Thankfully, there are now numerous other places for creators to find help. For example, the Creative Contract Consulting blog by Gamal Hennesy is an excellent source for practical information on issues affecting creators. Similarly, The Pocket Lawyer also does an excellent job of helping to fill this gap.
The layout of the book is quite straightforward. In addition to chapters on intellectual property, contracts, and torts (eg., libel and slander), the book covers general information about the business of comics, the marketing and distribution of self-published comics, and how to “land a publisher.” The book also contains an appendix entitled “The Law Library,” which contains detailed descriptions of concepts applied throughout the book. Perhaps the most useful feature of the book is the section entitled “Frequently Asked Questions.” This section lists common questions that creators may have and points them to the pages in the books that answer those questions. This allows creators to access the information they need without reading the entire book.
In addition to being informative and easy to use, the book is also entertaining. Crowell writes in a conversational tone and his prose is not jargon laden (of course, as an attorney, I may not be the best judge of that). Crowell, along with artist Alan Norico, leverage the comic book medium to illustrate legal concepts through accessible vignettes. For example, by following the adventures of the book’s recurring cast of characters, led by JD, Esq., readers are shown how to apply the test for fair use and understand the perils of joint ownership.
The legal landscape can be terrifying for the new and seasoned creator alike. Thankfully, there are books like The Pocket Lawyer for Comic Book Creators that can help them navigate this terrain.
Joe Sergi is the author of The Law for Comic Book Creators. He is an attorney and an award winning author in the horror, sci-fi and young adult genres, who has written on the history of comics and censorship for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. When not writing, Joe works as a senior litigation counsel for a United States government agency, is a member of the adjunct faculty at George Mason University School of Law, and teaches Comic Book Law for Creators with Comics Experience.