From Al Jaffe to Jerry Siegel and Joel Schuster, there’s no shortage of comics artists, creators, and writers getting screwed by publishers. Pretty much as soon as the likes of Marvel and D.C. realized that they could cheat creators out of money, they began doing so. And according to a new report by The Guardian, the big two are still playing the hits, preventing creators like Ed Brubaker and Jim Starlin from reaping the benefits of introducing the world to the likes of The Winter Soldier and Thanos through ridiculous contract agreements and pitiful bonuses.
In a recent newsletter, Brubaker, who was already not feeling great about a Winter Soldier TV show, lamented about being so closely related to the world of the Winter Soldier while being left out of the part that puts food on the table: the money. “For the most part, all [co-creator Steve Epting] and I have got for creating the Winter Soldier and his storyline is a ‘thanks’ here or there, and over the years that’s become harder and harder to live with,” Brubaker wrote.
“I have a great life as a writer and much of it is because of Cap and the Winter Soldier bringing so many readers to my other work. But I also can’t deny feeling a bit sick to my stomach sometimes when my inbox fills up with people wanting comments on the show.”
The Guardian goes on to explain that “according to multiple sources, when a writer or artist’s work features prominently in a Marvel film, the company’s practice is to send the creator an invitation to the premiere and a cheque for $5,000.” This is one option. Several sources said that they could also receive nothing or a rare “special character contract,” which allows creators to claim payment when their characters or storylines are used. One anonymous Marvel creator said, “I’ve been offered a [special character contract] that was really, really terrible, but it was that or nothing […] And then instead of honouring it, they send a thank you note and are like, ‘Here’s some money we don’t owe you!’ and it’s five grand. And you’re like, ‘The movie made a billion dollars.’”
Sometimes, even actions that should amount to polite business dealings, such as invitations to premieres, slip through the cracks. The Guardian reports that Brubaker and Epting showed up for the Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a film very much indebted to their Captain America run, premiere party in tuxes, only to find out they weren’t on the list. Sebastian Stan, who plays the character they created, had to get them in.
The Guardian explains how these contracts work:
Comic creators are “work-for-hire”, so the companies they work for owe them nothing beyond a flat fee and royalty payments. But Marvel and DC also incentivise popular creators to stay on with the promise of steady work and what they call “equity”: a tiny share of the profits, should a character they create or a storyline they write become fodder for films, shows or merch. For some creators, work they did decades ago is providing vital income now as films bring their comics to a bigger audience; they reason – and the companies seem to agree – it’s only fair to pay them more. DC has a boilerplate internal contract, which the Guardian has seen, which guarantees payments to creators when their characters are used. Marvel’s contracts are similar, according to two sources with knowledge of them, but harder to find; some Marvel creators did not know they existed.
The whole report is very much worth reading as it breaks down the fraught history between the people who create comic book characters and the companies that profit off those creations. Read the whole article at The Guardian.