If accurate, the revelation of comic book character creators being paid a mere US$5000 for their efforts is the next bombshell to hit the superhero entertainment scene.
Considering that Scarlett Johansson is going after what might be rightfully hers, it seems that movie studios are not quite keen on spreading the spoils from the multi-billion dollar industry.
Hence it comes as no surprise that writers and artists in comics are clamouring for fairer compensation. Especially, if they were the same individuals who created the characters and story arcs.
When it comes to comics, there are the characters, such as Thanos and The Winter Soldier, and the story arcs, such as Batman’s The Long Halloween and No Man’s Land.
While both are strongly associated with the companies DC and Marvel, these characters and story arcs are drawn and written by many different individuals over the decades. Many of the plots that get adapted for the films are initially published in the comics, and all the characters used are the creations of some individual artist or writer, many of whom are still alive.
Marvel allegedly pays writers or artists a flat fee of US$5,000 if their work gets featured in a Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film, along with an invitation to the premiere of the film. This despite the 24 MCU films grossing almost US$23 billion.
The storylines and characters are raking in literal billions, so it is hardly fair when the creators are getting a pittance for them. But creators are generally not equipped to navigate the reams of legalese and to spend all the time and effort getting their due. This is something that the companies are counting on, according to some who worked for Marvel and DC.
Jim Starlin, who created Thanos, had to negotiate with Marvel for a better payout when the character was used as the main antagonist in the films. However, he is one of the lucky ones.
Ed Brubaker, who, alongside Steve Epting, created the Winter Soldier, wrote in a newsletter that ‘For the most part, all Steve and I have got for creating the Winter Soldier and his storyline is a “thanks” here or there’, despite the character being featured in multiple films and has his own series.
The intellectual property belongs to the companies because many of the creators under Marvel and DC are ‘work-for-hire’ contractors. Still, when the creators receive next to nothing compared to what their work allowed the companies to earn, it points to a systemic issue that runs deep.
This is a dissatisfaction that has been festering for many years, exemplified by incidents such as DC classifying merch as ‘promotional items’ to avoid paying Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons for use of the Watchmen intellectual property.
Marvel and DC are already losing creators who refuse to work for them again, such as Ed Brubaker and Mark Millar (Jupiter’s Legacy, Kick-Ass). Also, studios such as Image and Dark Horse are providing an alternative for creators. It’d be prudent for Marvel and DC to reexamine the way they compensate creators if they want to remain in the good graces of the people coming up with their intellectual property.