Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Hub Comics Screws Independent Local Artists

I met James Welborn a few times - at a zinefair, a convention, and at Hub when I was in the process of self-publishing and promoting Business Casual Stag Devil Death Boy.  He was very nice to me (always) and agreed to not only take my graphic novel on consignment, but to give me a 75-25 consignment deal (since I was paying $18 a book to print them through comixpress.com, 50-50 consignment was really designed for comics, not graphic novels, and no one would likely buy an unknown artist's graphic novel at $36 or more.)  James and I wrote up a contract for him to take 5 copies, sell them at $25 and pay me $18.71.  (This is the same agreement I set up with Million Year Picnic, New England Comics, and Pandemonium Books.)  He sold those on consignment, and another 5 on the same arrangement, and then took another 5 on consignment on the same arrangement.  I dealt with him and the manager for a couple years under this arrangement, visited their store as a customer, and recommended them to friends as one of the two best stores in the area for an independent creator to deal with (MYP being the other, in my experience).

Then James committed suicide.  I knew him only through these handful of interactions, so I didn't attend any memorials.  I was saddened, sent my condolences to the manager and the staff, and didn't even email to check in on the consignment books for over a year out of some vague sense of tact? good will? embarrassment?, I don't know.  When I touched base several months ago about the books, I got no response.  I followed up a couple weeks later and again a month later, and got no response.  Then I stopped in and the same manager was there and assured me that he had forwarded my emails on to the new owner, who was trying to locate the books.  They didn't know where they were and they were still going through James' stuff trying to locate them.  Two months passed without a word.  I emailed them again and followed up with a call the next day.  He said that he'd see the owner later that day and he'd follow up on it.  Here’s our email interaction (w/out greetings/signatures):

Dan: I'm still waiting on word about the five graphic novels I had at your store on consignment - Business Casual Stag Devil Death Boy. Please call or email me in regards to this. It has been several months since I started inquiring.

Hub: Well, we can't find them. We'd prefer to give you store credit for them, but we'll give you cash if you'd like. I'm out tomorrow, but back on Friday and Saturday, so I can settle up with you then.

Dan: Well, I appreciate your efforts to track them down and your willingness to honor the contract. I honestly don't know if I'd make that much in store purchases, but considering your best efforts to make good, I'd be happy to take half in cash and half in store credit. The amount due is $18.71 per book, at 5 books is $93.55. We can call it $45 in cash and $48.55 in credit if that works for you. Sound good?

Hub: I'm afraid we can't go that high. For consignment books we pay half cover price. We were selling your book for $15. We can offer you $37.50, the price of five books at $7.50 each, which I can offer you in cash.

Dan: Actually, the contract we negotiated had you paying me 75% of the $25 at which you were selling my book. You sold two sets of five at that price and paid out that $18.71 per book, and this was the third set of five that you were selling under the same arrangement. You were definitely not supposed to be selling them at $15, or at least not supposed to be paying me less than the $18.71 per book (which I assume means you wouldn't have been selling them for less than that).  The book is a 190 page full color graphic novel that cost $18 per book to print through comixpress. We had discussed how it would never sell at $36 - the standard consignment model was set up for smaller cheaper comic books and the 75-25 arrangement for this covered my cost, made it affordable for consumers, and left you with a $6.29 profit per book - higher than you'd likely get from most consignment comics. I can bring in the contract to show you. But, I'm also not trying to be contentious here; just trying to set the record straight on the pricing. I can also appreciate that you likely did not sell all five books and so you are likely taking a loss here.  I can accept the 37.50 in cash and take the rest (56.05) on store credit. Or if that's really putting you in a difficult spot, I'd be willing to take the whole 93.55 on credit - I'm sure I can get some stuff i've been wanting and some birthday presents and bring this whole thing to a resolution.

Hub: I'm sorry, I ran it by the owner. Hub is under new ownership and can't fulfill your contract with James. All I can offer is the $37.50, which we'll have on hand for you. I apologize for the inconvenience.

End correspondence. So. They arbitrarily, illegally, and insultingly changed the terms of our contract (illegally changing the sale price AND the commission percentage) and then claimed that the contract itself was invalid because it was with prior ownership (James) and didn't apply to current ownership.  But when he took over ownership, he took on debts as well as assets, or he should have returned the merchandise under consignment contract or taken responsibility for inventory lost  They lost $93.55 of my inventory (which had a razor thin profit margin) and offered me a take-it-or-leave-it settlement of $37.50, which had no basis in reality.  It is absolutely a breach of contract, but more importantly, it's a callous slap in the face to an independent artist who was attempting to work with them on a good faith basis.  At no point did the owner correspond directly with me.  I know this sounds like spiteful sour grapes, and maybe it is partly.  But. This is no way to treat local independent artists or any honest business person.

I rejected their illegitimate offer.  They can keep their dirty money.


LC said...


Anonymous said...

Good for you. I'm still wondering how the "New Owner" managed to buy the store to begin with. Considering it never passed through probate, hence the corporation James founded and was sole owner of was never properly dissolved or was legally sold to anyone. (Feel free to check.) Don't contribute to any funds for his son either. Trust me.

Anonymous said...

You want to check for Welborn Enterprises. That is the entity that owned Hub Comics, and legally still should own it before it would have passed to his heirs--minus all of the debts and taxes incurred, of course, of which it is common knowledge that there were MANY. James was the sole officer of his corporation, and left no will. Shady, shady indeed. Be careful around those people and be glad you're only out the amount you shared here.

Dan Nolan said...

Wow. I had no idea about this. I wonder if they really do legally own the place. Certainly sounds like his heirs would have a case. Thanks for the warning. Rest assured, I will never do any business with these unscrupulous scumbags again.