I am shocked at how many cartoonists I’ve talked to who think that a creator’s rights automatically revert back to the creator if something goes tits up. Unless that’s specified that is NOT the case. And even if that is specified in a contract, those rights can be tied up in negotiations or legal battles for years.
Ownership of your work is the single greatest asset you have as a creator. Never willingly sign that ownership away. I can never say that enough. Write that in a notepad 10 times every day and then show me that notepad at an upcoming convention so I know you’re paying attention.more...
The problem as I* see it is with copyright law and the so-called work for hire. Publishers will make sure that they word any contract as a piece of work they contract out to you. You don't hire them to publish your work, they they hire you to create theirs. This is a standard deal, and unless you make any other provision, you will only get paid once, and never anything more. Modern copyright law requires that a writer/artist can get their moral rights asserted, but that does not change the business arrangement.
Let me get it straight: I have friends in the publishing industry and the life of a publisher isn't easy. A small publisher (of games/comics) with tiny print runs cannot afford any risk. I remember at least one that required you to sign a waiver before you where even allowed to send them a manuscript. It said in so many words: "We may or may not be working on products with content similar to your submission. If we don't accept your work, you may still see a product like it published by us in the future, and will not pay you.
By submitting your manuscript you agree that we can do this and you will not ever have any legitimate claim."
And you know what? It is the only way for a small publisher to survive. If you want a different deal, make sure you have already made a name for yourself. Then you can call the shots. Until then, don't make any assumptions.
*I am not a lawyer, find one yourself if you need legal advise, etc., etc.