Nearly 40 content creators have signed on to a proposed class action in which they allege beleaguered comic book publisher Action Lab Entertainment has fallen far short of satisfying a laundry list of contractual obligations.
The 46-page complaint contends that although Action Lab promised to print, promote and market creators’ works, report quarterly sales and income numbers, properly maintain social media accounts, and generally make a reasonable effort to sell comics, the company has largely done none of these things and even failed to inform creators when its office shut down “without reason.”
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.
The plaintiffs, who include the creators of Herald: Lovecraft & Tesla, Raven the Pirate Princess, Archon: Battle of the Dragon, Bigfoot: Sword of the Earthman, Baby Badass and Aberrant, among many other titles, assert that content creators’ publisher agreements with Action Lab Entertainment were “unconscionable” and should therefore be declared null and void.
Open for business?
According to the complaint, Action Lab president Bryan Seaton, who is also named as a defendant in the suit, stepped away from the company in November or December 2019 without telling creators, leaving Shawn Pryor in charge of daily operations. From there, the Action Lab offices were closed “without reason” from December 16, 2019 to January 6, 2020, during which time content creators were not paid and no marketing was being done, the lawsuit says.
Sometime in January 2020, Pryor left Action Lab and creators were told by Seaton that Pryor “ha[d] been incapable of handling the company,” the case states. Seaton claims to have resigned the following month with no replacement to step in and helm Action Lab.
Action Lab shut down again in March 2020 yet did not tell any of its content creators, the lawsuit says. During this time, “no work was performed” by the defendant and content creators again went unpaid, the plaintiffs claim.
Action Lab’s troubles were further complicated by its distributor, Diamond, who supposedly also closed in March. At this time, the plaintiffs say, all planned new releases were immediately halted, sales reports stopped being sent and no money was paid for books sold earlier in the year. Per the case, Action Lab then informed creators that Diamond reopened in June 2020 and started shipping new releases already in its warehouse, according to the case.
In a September 2021 interview with BleedingCool.com, Seaton, responding to a surge in comments by content creators on social media, refuted complaints about late and missing payments, poor publishing plans and a general lack of communication from Action Lab. Seaton pinned the general uncertainty surrounding the company’s operations on the COVID-19 pandemic and a lack of leadership in the wake of Pryor’s resignation, which occurred while Seaton was away from the company for “personal health reasons.”
Seaton said that Action Lab tried to reopen in July 2020 yet was unable to do so until spring of the following year. In the interview, Seaton apologized to content creators for the “lack of communication and any problems our shutdown has caused,” and asserted that Action Lab is “financially very strong and open for business, but it takes time to put the pieces together and we need your help.”
Despite Seaton’s assurances, the proposed class action paints a picture of a terminally mismanaged comic book publisher who allegedly failed to do right by its content creators at even the most basic level.
Creators allege Action Lab essentially did nothing to help publishing efforts
The case claims Action Lab’s apparent failure to follow through on its contractual promises started long before the pandemic. Per the lawsuit, the defendant’s contracts with creators represented that the company would put the individuals’ work into print, as opposed to releasing it digitally. Moreover, the handbooks provided to each creator promised Action Lab would not only release their works in print but promote and market the properties, report sales and income figures, drum up retailer support and stay in communication throughout the publishing and sales process, according to the case.
As the plaintiffs tell it, however, Action Lab failed to do any of these things, and even changed the terms of its agreements. For instance, the suit says, the company would not solicit a creator’s project until a certain number of issues were completed. The case claims Action Lab also did not routinely communicate with creators, including in the event of publishing delays, and often outright ignored the individuals. As a result of being kept in the dark about publishing delays, content creators were forced to resort to “fruitlessly” spending money out of their own pockets to market and promote their work, the lawsuit claims.
Moreover, the plaintiffs allege Action Lab has consistently failed to produce their books in a timely fashion. The content creators relay that successfully publishing a comic book requires its release to happen on a solicited date. Nevertheless, the case alleges, the defendant has frequently failed to publish books on the solicited date, leading to returns and diminished orders from retailers. Action Lab has also blamed publishing date changes on its distributor, Diamond, and never addressed the problem at a company level, the suit says.
“Failing to release a book on time means that it cannot be adequately advertised by creators, who are then unable to schedule signings or events around the release,” the complaint relays. “Creators are not informed of changes to solicited release dates and plans.”
The content creators allege Action Lab has even canceled entire books because it deemed them to have insufficient pre-order numbers, something the case blames on the company’s paltry-at-best promotional efforts.
The complaint goes on to allege Action Lab was similarly missing in action on the accounting end of its business. Per the lawsuit, the company not only failed to provide content creators with promised sales and income numbers, but failed to share accurate quarterly reports that included sales stats for ComiXology, Amazon’s cloud-based digital comics platform.
According to the complaint, Action Lab Entertainment’s website has “completely ceased to work” and, to date, shows a mostly blank screen that links only to the ComiXology platform and, the content creators stress, does not promote any current, upcoming or back-catalog books.
“Convention sales never appear on records”
The lawsuit goes on to call into question Action Lab’s recordkeeping practices. Per the case, Action Lab forced content creators to pay for tables at comic conventions that the company in turn used to sell copies of books that the creators supposedly paid for themselves, yet failed to account for these sales. Per the suit, most convention sales were never recorded by Action Lab, who the creators say has “failed to provide any payment or proof of sale” for books it sold at conventions:
Convention sales never appear on records and there is no way for a creator to see what if any of their books were taken to a convention, which were sold, what was paid for them, or even a record of how that has affected the inventory of the books for which the creators is [sic] billed.”
The foregoing example evidences a much broader pattern from Action Lab as far as the lack of documentation regarding recorded payments goes, the case charges:
No creators are provided with primary documentation of any of the payments or costs listed on their ledgers and it has been a matter of record with other creators that numbers on digital platforms and elsewhere are not correctly calculated on the ledger. ALE has been through three different accountants and, at times, been without an accountant for long stretches.”
Who does the lawsuit look to cover?
The case aims to represent all individuals in the United States who have signed publishing/licensing agreements with Action Lab Entertainment.
How do I get involved?
There’s generally nothing a person needs to do to join or be considered a part of a class action lawsuit when it’s first filed. It’s usually only if and when a case settles that the people covered by the suit, called “class members,” would need to act, which typically means filing a claim form online or by mail.
It’s good to keep in mind that class action lawsuits generally take some time to work through the legal process, usually toward a settlement, dismissal or arbitration outside of court. If you’re a content creator who’s worked with Action Lab Entertainment, or simply someone who wants to stay informed, sign up for ClassAction.org’s free weekly newsletter.
The complaint, which includes some content creators’ individualized allegations against Action Lab, can be found below.