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"I have no reason to expect compensation"
July 25, 2013 4:40 PM   Subscribe

How DC Contracts Work. Mark Waid, author of Superman: Birthright (drawn on heavily for the recent film Man of Steel), "explains how professionals are generally compensated for working on company-owned characters".
posted by paleyellowwithorange (46 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Very interesting although pretty crappy. On the other hand, how crazy would those contracts be if people got paid every time a bit of dialogue got reused? They'd need legions of lawyers to remain compliant for that kind of thing.
posted by GuyZero at 4:54 PM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


The character creation vs content rights are very interesting. It was my understanding that Chuck Dixon et al. were compensated for Bane in The Dark Knight Rises even though that character had none of the particulars in common with the Bane they created.

Waid is mainly speaking about DC contracts, but I wonder if similar arrangements (or lack thereof) at Marvel are why SHIELD in the films and upcoming tv series use almost none of the SHIELD agents from Marvel's comics.
posted by thecjm at 5:06 PM on July 25, 2013


Creator contracts are a whole other deal from licensing contracts.
posted by Artw at 5:10 PM on July 25, 2013


how crazy would those contracts be if people got paid every time a bit of dialogue got reused?

Not crazy at all. There is nothing that comics do that distinguishes it from the rest of the written world.

I've seen this article before. I thought then, as I do now, that it sounds a lot like someone who knows DC holds all the power in that relationship, and has internalized the injustice of the situation.
posted by JHarris at 5:13 PM on July 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


I have to agree with Waid's attitude here. When he wrote Superman: Birthright, he was adding a small piece to a character and a mythology which have been created by the work of hundreds (thousands?) of other people. He should assume that if he does a good job, people will take and use some of what he did when they get a turn with a character, just as he used concepts and characters and turns of phrase created by others.
posted by straight at 5:17 PM on July 25, 2013


Not crazy at all.

I just mean crazy in terms of how you'd spell out the payment regime. Like how many words have to match consecutively before it's considered to be the same? What if they use 15% of the dialogue from the comic in the movie? And how do you measure the 15%? Clearly just saying the characters' names over and over wouldn't count. etc, etc.

You're right of course - it could be done. It just sounds like a really complex contract that creates as many problems as it solves.
posted by GuyZero at 5:18 PM on July 25, 2013


It's certainly worth considering when entering into one of these WFH contracts that the printed comic may not be the end of what happens to your work - it may indeed be used as the cornerstone of a multimillion dollar movie. It's a small chance but it's possible.

And you absolutely won't be paid as if that's the case.
posted by Artw at 5:24 PM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


(In the past it sounds like DC would throw you a bone, but under the new CREATORS ARE JUST VESSELS regime there's none of that.)
posted by Artw at 5:25 PM on July 25, 2013


And yes, I guess I've entered into similar ill-paid Faustian bargains with my own WFH work.
posted by Artw at 5:26 PM on July 25, 2013


How much did Waid pay the people whose ideas and characters he used in Birthright?
posted by straight at 5:34 PM on July 25, 2013


I'm not entirely sure what you mean?
posted by Artw at 5:39 PM on July 25, 2013


but under the new CREATORS ARE JUST VESSELS regime


Siegel & Shuster would likely disagree that this is "new."
posted by phearlez at 6:07 PM on July 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


It waxes and wanes. It's very much on the waxes side at the moment.
posted by Artw at 6:13 PM on July 25, 2013


Somehow I got as far as clicking through to the article before realizing this wasn't about Pentagon defense contractors.
posted by threeants at 6:14 PM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


When Waid wrote Birthright he used far more ideas and characters from previous Superman writers than Man of Steel took from him. Waid didn't pay John Byrne anything for his use of Bryne's Luthor concept. He didn't pay William Woolfolk for using Superman's heat vision. He didn't pay the writers of the Superman radio show for using the character Jimmy Olsen.
posted by straight at 6:32 PM on July 25, 2013


When Waid wrote Birthright he used far more ideas and characters from previous Superman writers than Man of Steel took from him. Waid didn't pay John Byrne anything for his use of Bryne's Luthor concept. He didn't pay William Woolfolk for using Superman's heat vision. He didn't pay the writers of the Superman radio show for using the character Jimmy Olsen.

Why would he? That's DC's role.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:33 PM on July 25, 2013


straight was replying to Artw there, His thoughts were red thoughts. Makes a good point, I think.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 6:35 PM on July 25, 2013


Why would he? That's DC's role.

And DC ain't paying anyone else anymore than they're paying Waid.
posted by Artw at 6:36 PM on July 25, 2013


Comparing Siegel, Shuster, Kirby and Ditko to contemporary professionals is disingenuous. Back in the day, 50, 60, nearly a century ago, expectations were different. Today, there are many writers/artists that launch titles just in the hope of, eventually, being optioned for a movie.
posted by SPrintF at 6:38 PM on July 25, 2013


Comparing Siegel, Shuster, Kirby and Ditko to contemporary professionals is disingenuous. Back in the day, 50, 60, nearly a century ago, expectations were different.

DC was coming up with new and inventive way to screw over creators as recently as Moore's Watchmen contract, but I like to think these days creators know roughly what they are letting themselves in for.

Still doesn't make it not a shitty one-sided deal though.
posted by Artw at 6:43 PM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Today, there are many writers/artists that launch titles just in the hope of, eventually, being optioned for a movie.

Creator owned. Whatever investment you put into creating a new character for WFH work you are probably not seeing again.
posted by Artw at 6:47 PM on July 25, 2013


Whatever investment you put into creating a new character for WFH work you are probably not seeing again.

From the linked piece it seems that that (creating a new character) is the one thing DC's contract does actually reward you for; you'll get some (small amount of) money every time the character is used again in the future. But yeah, if you write a Superman comic for DC you'd better not be thinking "boy, I'm gonna strike it RICH when they make another Superman film!"
posted by yoink at 6:59 PM on July 25, 2013


It'd be interesting to hear his thoughts about the disparity between pay of the comic writers and artists and the television/movie writers and artists who are (re)adapting their work. The least experienced writer on staff for Smallville probably made more than the top five writers for any DC Superman books combined, and there's a fair chance that kid never picked up a Superman comic before he was invited to interview for the gig.
posted by MattD at 7:02 PM on July 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


It'd be interesting to hear his thoughts about the disparity between pay of the comic writers and artists and the television writers and artists who are (re)adapting their work. The least experienced writer on staff for Smallville probably made more than the top five writers for any DC Superman books combined, and there's a fair chance that kid never picked up a Superman comic before he was invited to interview for the gig.

Is there anything stopping a comics writer pitching some spec scripts to TV shows? I imagine that an episode of Smallville earns vastly more than a given run of the Superman comics. I guess the question of "fairness" would be best addressed in percentage terms. Does a writer on Smallville make a higher or lower percentage of that episode's overall revenue/profit than a writer on a given run of a Superman comic. Anyone here have any idea how that would pencil out?
posted by yoink at 7:06 PM on July 25, 2013


And in conclusion, I'm in the wrong industry, and fuck SDCC where all the better paid fuckers come to gloat.

(I'm kidding, of course, I haven't been in comics long enough to be properly bitter, I'm still doing it for the love. The stupid, stupid, love.)
posted by Artw at 7:08 PM on July 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'm just saying that if you write for a character like Superman, where almost everything you do is built using and remixing other people's ideas and characters, it would seem weird to get possessive of the tiny little bit you added and insist on being compensated by any subsequent creators who borrow from you the way you borrowed from everyone before you.

Waid's attitude of, "Wow, something I added might actually stick to the legend of Superman" seems much more appropriate than, "Hey! Everyone needs to pay me if they use any of the stuff I added!"
posted by straight at 7:08 PM on July 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, it's the deal, and it's the attitude to the deal that will keep you in the deal and while enough people have that attitude that'll be the way the deal stays.

But people working in other mediums wouldn't take that deal or would want paying more for it.
posted by Artw at 7:15 PM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is there anything stopping a comics writer pitching some spec scripts to TV shows?

It happens pretty frequently - in both directions actually, so there has to be something going, financially and/or creatively, that attracts screenwriters to comics. Jeph Loeb started in Hollywood before going into comics. Same with J. Michael Strackzynski. Geoff Johns has dabbled in scripts, mainly for DC properties. Ed Brubaker recently left Marvel to try his hand in Hollywood.
posted by thecjm at 7:32 PM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Work for hire" is a specific term in copyright law in which the creator cedes her rights to the person paying her salary. This is no different than engineers who make inventions as part of their job and assign patent rights to the employer. Germany and Japan have laws which require companies to pay compensation to creators relative to the profits earned. The inventor of the blue diode famously sued his employer and received 200m dollars in compensation. This would never happen in America. There are very good arguments for letting employees own the rights to their creations, but in an era where patents and copyrights are under attack, employees should probably be happy with their salary.
posted by three blind mice at 8:03 PM on July 25, 2013


Everyone knows what they are getting into and honestly, most seem satisfied. Today, more than ever, the creators have tons of options - self/indie publishing, webisodes, online comics etc which they can completely control the proceedings without any interference. If they still *choose* to work on a legacy character/universe/storylines, then I'd only guess that these are contracts that they willingly sign for reasons that best appeal to them.
posted by asra at 8:40 PM on July 25, 2013


"On the other hand, how crazy would those contracts be if people got paid every time a bit of dialogue got reused? "

Welcome to the WGA.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:53 PM on July 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


Remixes in music are similarly work for hire. A friend of mine just had a remix he did for a small label get licensed for a major label mix CD that'll probably sell about 100k copies. He'll get no additional money for it, and actually found out about it when I sent him an amazon link.

Producers do remixes for the exposure, and because you get guaranteed money up front. I think it's the same for people working on mainstream comics characters. If you want to own the work, create it from scratch.
posted by empath at 10:18 PM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


If they still *choose* to work on a legacy character/universe/storylines, then I'd only guess that these are contracts that they willingly sign for reasons that best appeal to them.

That'd be the prospect of definite income versus the gamble of other options. That's why a number of well known British F/SF writers like Ian Watson worked Warhammer 40K fiction, for example.
posted by mobunited at 12:54 AM on July 26, 2013


I think we're heading towards a world where for the bulk of the creators at the Big Two, your job is more akin to an internship than anything: keep the engines stoked and burning, make a name for yourself, get paid peanuts, and then use whatever you've learned and reputation you've developed to move on and do your own thing. Brubaker is a good example here - building a reputation at DC, cashing in on it at Marvel where he was able to do creator-owned Criminal alongside company owned Captain America before going entirely indy with Fatale.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:10 AM on July 26, 2013


And yes, I guess I've entered into similar ill-paid Faustian bargains with my own WFH work.


Haven't you mostly worked for 2000AD? Because I thought the UK doesn't quite have the same WFH concept as the US has (as in any characters you create are yours, not the company you created them for, which is why some Alan Moore Captain Britain supported characters have never been seen since)?
posted by MartinWisse at 5:23 AM on July 26, 2013


These days contracts are pretty explicit, probably due to some haziness in the past with signing-the-back-of-the-cheque type agreements.

It's rare these days to see a 2000AD character developed by one writer picked up by another, but that's more out of convention than anything else.

And, as I say, going in knowing what the deal is makes all the difference.
posted by Artw at 5:43 AM on July 26, 2013


Comparing Siegel, Shuster, Kirby and Ditko to contemporary professionals is disingenuous.

I was not comparing the writers/creators. I was comparing the identical "this is ours now, what else you got?" corporate attitude then and now. Employees may now know to expect it but that doesn't mean the described CREATORS ARE JUST VESSELS regime is different - it's just known.
posted by phearlez at 8:49 AM on July 26, 2013


And let's be honest. Is there actually anything in Waid's Birthright that hadn't been done before by some other Superman author?
posted by straight at 9:39 AM on July 26, 2013


"Chris Claremont retains an exclusive contract with Marvel Comics. He is paid, regularly, in full for this position. The only thing is that Marvel don’t want him to write any comics for them."
posted by 1970s Antihero at 11:27 AM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


BEHOLD the majestic, awe-inspiring wisdom of the free market. 🍔
posted by JHarris at 1:43 PM on July 26, 2013


So wouldn't Clark Kent's hands be baby soft, not a callus in sight? What kind of farm boy is going to have hands like those?

In a fit of idiocy just now I Googled Clark Kent soft hands and fell into a pit of fanfic.
posted by ODiV at 4:58 PM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sharing the Wealth as a Comic Book Goes to Hollywood

posted by Artw at 8:15 PM on July 27, 2013


ODiV, in the comics before this NU52 business, Clark's powers didn't develop until he was almost out of high school. Which explained how he could have calloused hands as well as how he could be all buff and muscular.

What kind of exercises does Superman have to do to keep that physique?
posted by straight at 9:57 PM on July 27, 2013


Chris Claremont and Len Wein on the Wolverine movie
posted by Artw at 3:07 PM on July 30, 2013


In other news: Frank Miller may be consulting on Batman vs. Superman

Maybe after their epic battle, the two will join forces to wipe out the Occupy movement.
posted by homunculus at 12:56 PM on August 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


‘Lucius Fox … bought my new house’
posted by Artw at 12:17 PM on August 8, 2013


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