How the Marvel Cinematic Universe Exploits Comic Book Artists
May 13, 2022 8:47 AM   Subscribe

Films based on Marvel Comics superheroes have made billions. Yet the artists and writers who created these characters get a pittance, if that. it doesn’t seem just for them to extract what Steve and Ed put into this and create a multi-billion dollar franchise … just because it’s in a contract doesn’t make it right.
posted by bq (42 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Disney exploiting the artists on their major franchises? I'm shocked!
posted by jmauro at 9:05 AM on May 13 [7 favorites]




They should all be in the public domain by now.
posted by timdiggerm at 9:15 AM on May 13 [10 favorites]


...the same way comic book companies have been exploiting their artists for decades? Marvel and DC are notorious for their shit treatment of their talent, their current corporate masters are just continuing the practice.

One of the great things about the recently-deceased Neal Adams, in addition to his enormous artistic ability, was his tireless struggle for creator rights and compensation from those publishers. He won some victories, but even then it was only a pittance compared to what creators like Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster should be owed for creating some of the most popular and valuable characters and stories of all time.
posted by star gentle uterus at 10:06 AM on May 13 [13 favorites]


They should all be in the public domain by now.

There is certainly a lot of stuff that should be in the public domain, but much of the art referenced in the article is very recent. The Aja/Fraction hawkeye run started in 2012. America Chavez was created in 2011. I don't know what issue of 'THOR: GOD OF THUNDER" is the one appearing in the article, but that run started in 2012.

This particular problem includes a lot of recent work.
posted by bq at 10:09 AM on May 13 [14 favorites]


Oh, that is a very good point. I would like to retract my statement.
posted by timdiggerm at 10:19 AM on May 13 [11 favorites]


in film and TV, it's called a buy-out. You get a part in something, the first contract they put in front of you is effectively a complete buy-out. They pay you for your work and that's that (no future residuals etc), with the reality being that most TV shows and movies do not go on to become enduring franchises, so odds are, that buy-out will end up being the better deal. Except that when it isn't (ie: the first James Bond movie), well that's a whole lotta checks-in-the-mail you'll never see . And if you do opt NOT to take the buy-out but insist instead on an enduring piece of the action, expect:

A. less money up front than you got in your buy-out offer, and

B. well, good luck with Hollywood Accounting
posted by philip-random at 10:24 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


I know the artists are screwed here, and it sucks, but that shot from the Thor comic is particularly egregious. It's such a blatant copy of Ribic's work that at the very least he should get a production designer credit and a 6-figure paycheck to match.
posted by nushustu at 10:29 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


So I'm Facebook connected with a guy named Len Kaminski. Len is one of the writers they're talking about - Len wrote for Iron Man, Wolverine, Dr. Strange, Ghost Rider, and a few others. He even created the character of Rebecca Barnes, a.k.a. Bucky's younger sister; it was a significant enough contribution that his name was featured in an episode of The Falcon And The Winter Soldier as an Easter Egg.

....Len has also been struggling with financial and medical problems for the past several years, to the point that I and a few of his friends have helped him out privately; he is also considering a Go Fund Me just to make ends meet.

I understand that the "Buy Out" contract is a thing - but I suspect that contract is made between the studio and Marvel itself, as opposed to between the studio and the individual writer. And so we come back to the MCU exploiting the individual writers and artists, who I suspect think that a royalty check would be preferred to an on-air shout-out (no matter how well-intentioned).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:54 AM on May 13 [9 favorites]


Eh. I can feel for older artists who got ripped off in times where the lines were not as clear, but the rules have been straightforward for years: you want to play with the toys, things like Captain America, you get paid to your contract and no more. You want control, you create your own brand new stuff under one of the independents where you get paid less but keep all the rights.
posted by tavella at 10:56 AM on May 13


you want to play with the toys, things like Captain America, you get paid to your contract and no more. You want control, you create your own brand new stuff under one of the independents where you get paid less but keep all the rights.

Ah, but the question is: to whom are you directing that advice?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:57 AM on May 13 [9 favorites]


Another rule that's pretty straightforward is that things that are valuable cost more money than things that aren't valuable. These artworks are valuable to Disney et al therefore they should have to pay fair market value for them.
posted by bleep at 11:08 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


the rules have been straightforward for years

Yes, things suck. But some people are asking What if some things, in small but important ways, sucked slightly less?
posted by Etrigan at 11:21 AM on May 13 [18 favorites]


When we signed our contract with an independent comic book publisher in 2020, we made sure to retain all ownership rights to our work, and did the same when negotiating a multimedia contract for the book as well. Yes, it means taking less, or in some cases no cash up-front. It was completely worth it to us to keep control over the future of our IP.
posted by jordantwodelta at 11:23 AM on May 13


You buy a house, you don't have to pay the previous owner more money when it appreciates. You paid fair market value, the market value changed. Again, it's been very clear for years, and there have long been options for those artists/writers who wanted to keep control of their stuff. Image has been around for 30 years. I mean, I may think that Mark Millar is a piece of crap, but he has quite successfully launched multiple movie and TV franchises from his own creator-owned work.

You want to use the 60 or 80 or so years of comic history and their fanbase, the tradeoff is that you do work for hire. You can't act like someone tricked you.
posted by tavella at 11:27 AM on May 13 [5 favorites]


You want to use the 60 or 80 or so years of comic history and their fanbase, the tradeoff is that you do work for hire. You can't act like someone tricked you.

But that's what we're saying - the movie studios want to use the 60 or 80 or so years of comic history, and so THEY need to do work for hire. And part of doing the work for hire means that the MOVIE STUDIOS need to pay the CREATORS.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:30 AM on May 13 [6 favorites]


Yes, things suck. But some people are asking What if some things, in small but important ways, sucked slightly less?

I don't think they particularly suck? The collective world of a decades long running creation where everything is up for playing with by the next person in line is a different thing than a singular vision, and I like both options. Without work for hire, the first of these wouldn't exist. I'm perfectly happy to argue that the overall lifetime limit should be shorter, I'm not a fan of our ultra-extended copyright regime, but I'm unmoved by the idea that 37th person in line, working limited changes on everyone else's creation, is special and should get more money or control, but still benefit from said copyright regime.
posted by tavella at 11:33 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


I don't think they particularly suck?

May I redirect you to my comment about Len Kaminski again?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:34 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


That sucks because our healthcare and welfare systems suck, not because work for hire sucks.
posted by tavella at 11:35 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]


But if work for hire didn't suck there would be no need for him to use the welfare system.

....I"m honestly starting to get suspicious of who you work for.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:46 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


Without work for hire, the first of these wouldn't exist.

Do you honestly think that work-for-hire is the only thing keeping Disney afloat?
posted by Etrigan at 11:46 AM on May 13 [4 favorites]


The "well, it's all the work of umpteen creators, so no one gets primary credit" argument doesn't really wash. Jack Kirby wasn't the 37th person in line for just about any of the characters that he worked on, he was the first. Some of the instances in the article are a bit of a stretch--Bucky Barnes existed for several decades before Ed Brubaker turned him into the Winter Soldier--but in other cases (Jim Starlin's, for instance), the connection and credit is much clearer. And actors and screenwriters have clear rules for who gets credit and residuals; not coincidentally, they have good unions, something that has eluded comics creators for some time.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:51 AM on May 13 [6 favorites]


> not coincidentally, they have good unions, something that has eluded comics creators for some time.

DING DING DING! We have a winner.

People dickering over whether these particular contracts are/were fair or not, and folks pointing out that the contracts have been basically unchanged for a long time, are missing the forest for the trees. The issue is that we have individual comic writers and artists individually trying to negotiate with much larger, much more powerful companies (a contract negotiation between "a comics writer" and "Disney" is always going to be about as fair as a cage match between me and a T-Rex). The solution is to stop trying to negotiate as individuals and negotiate collectively. Literally what unions are for.
posted by mstokes650 at 12:05 PM on May 13 [16 favorites]


As I said, I do have considerable sympathy for those creators (especially those who were actually the initial _creators_) who got ripped off in earlier years, and if they can reclaim that work under copyright laws, good for them. But by the time you get to people like Brubaker and Kaminski everyone knew how it worked with these long-existing properties, the contracts were quite honest about that.
posted by tavella at 12:09 PM on May 13 [1 favorite]


I think there's still a fair amount of difference between:

Knowing that your run of Thor may become the basis of a movie or TV show if it becomes popular.

and

Seeing the writing and art exactly duplicated.

Is it written into the contracts? Surely. Is it right? Definitely not. They've got these artists over a barrel (and have for generations). It's great that Marvel and DC aren't the only games in town anymore, but they're still the big fish and they shouldn't get away with this sort of thing just because that's how it's always been done.
posted by explosion at 12:15 PM on May 13 [8 favorites]


And part of doing the work for hire means that the MOVIE STUDIOS need to pay the CREATORS.

The creators were paid by the studios that originally hired them. The studios were acquired by others and more value added by other writers and artists, but during that time, the IP itself was owned by the studios. This is the same system that almost any artist labors under, and most other creators of things, as well. Should we now start paying the guy who invented the seatbelt or the zipper because their products are everywhere (yes, I’m aware that they are deceased - you can substitute any more recent ubiquitous thing for a better example).

If so, what is the legal basis? That’s the thing that matters, as it’s far more enduring than morals or ethics (which are pretty subjective, anyway).
posted by JustSayNoDawg at 1:38 PM on May 13 [1 favorite]


Robert Kearns didn't invent seatbelts, just the follow on innovation of intermittent windshield wiper. Won in the end sort of.
posted by sammyo at 1:59 PM on May 13


The problem I have with this argument is that many of the people demanding "The Mouse Must Pay!" are the same sort who will turn around and argue that creators are selfish for wanting to get some recompense from the public when their works wind up taking off years later, which makes me look askance. If you think that Disney should be paying these creators because they built the base on which the work the company put into building the MCU is based, but then call creators selfish for wanting to see some of the return on an older work suddenly taking off - then in my eyes you are a hypocrite. More to the point, the way we view creative labor is fucked, in large part because we routinely refuse to acknowledge that it is labor unless it suits our purposes.

And actors and screenwriters have clear rules for who gets credit and residuals; not coincidentally, they have good unions, something that has eluded comics creators for some time.

It "eluded" comics creators for the same reason it's "eluded" the tech industry as well - many creators were fiercely independent (this is the field that created Steve Ditko, for one notorious example.) And to be fair to them, for a long time, the publishers were small houses, Marvel in particular, which spent much of its history playing second fiddle to DC.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:25 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]


When Disney makes $250 million on a movie about Hercules, well, fine, nobody knows who invented Hercules.

When Disney makes $5 billion on the final two Avengers movies and offers to give the guy who invented Thanos a few thousand dollars, they're being enormous asshats, regardless what the law says.
posted by straight at 2:50 PM on May 13 [6 favorites]


The problem I have with this argument is that many of the people demanding "The Mouse Must Pay!" are the same sort who will turn around and argue that creators are selfish for wanting to get some recompense from the public when their works wind up taking off years later, which makes me look askance.

I hope you get residuals from the Spectacular Straw-Man movie.
posted by Etrigan at 2:53 PM on May 13 [6 favorites]


What does this even mean?

I bought a big hardback edition of Crisis on Infinite Earths when George Perez passed, I'd wanted it for while but it was expensive. Do I want some of that money going to his family? Hell yeah.
posted by kittensofthenight at 3:06 PM on May 13 [1 favorite]


Ed Brubaker has a cameo in Captain America: The Winter Soldier On screen for two or three seconds, no dialogue. He was apparently paid more by Disney for his one-day gig as an extra than he was for creating the central character of the movie.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:07 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]


I hope you get residuals from the Spectacular Straw-Man movie.

Exactly how is it a strawman? Because I do actually agree that Disney should pay up because it's the right thing to do. My point is that if creators are morally entitled to a portion of the proceeds of their works and the derivative works built on it, there are a lot of anti-copyright arguments that break on that particular shoal. We treat creative labor despicably, and despite the many arguments to the contrary, that isn't all on the heads of corporations.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:12 PM on May 13


I think a more direct comparison might be Disney's now owning of Star Wars, which is working in a world largely created stylistically by Ralph McQuarrie. He really generated most of the look and feel of that universe, from the Empire's shininess and never having railings to the dust-colored wraps and robes and all that lay in-between.

Should Disney be paying Ralph McQuarrie (or his estate in this case) for work he did on a series 45 years ago?

That seems to be a more directly parallel question. And maybe they should be. And maybe they should be giving residuals to these comic artists, too. I mean, you could pay them something like music streaming rates (adjusted somehow to be more appropriate) and they'd get a check every year or financial quarter for some amount of money. It wouldn't have to be big, but if it kept coming, it could make a serious different over time.
posted by hippybear at 3:18 PM on May 13


I think, though, that even if Disney "tried" to do the right thing, there would always be arguments about whether they are doing enough or compensating all the people whose creative contributions deserve it. Which is why what you really need is unions negotiating rules for this stuff.
posted by straight at 3:24 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]


I think too about all the television shows from decades past which have never come out on DVD or have in really horribly ruined versions because music licensing was only for broadcast not home media. Should one have to change the artistic final expression of something because it is crossing formats? Shouldn't that be a single artistic statement and unit and allowed to all travel together as one?
posted by hippybear at 3:28 PM on May 13


I've always felt that everyone involved in a [project / business / corporation] should get some percentage of the profit. Yes, that includes the janitor. I have no idea why some people consider the concept ridiculously unpossible.
posted by kyrademon at 3:31 PM on May 13 [10 favorites]


Should one have to change the artistic final expression of something because it is crossing formats?

So, the thing is that we have a very granular system for selling rights to creative products, which tends to be a good thing most of the time - it lets the buyer buy just the rights they need, and not have to pay for things they don't need. But, this does invoke a sort of myopia as well, especially in cases where you have a future use isn't even considered - why buy a right you don't need now? It's also worth pointing out that for a long time the long tail for TV shows really didn't exist - for the longest time, reruns were considered cheap filler. As a result, the showrunners and executives only bought rights for the main broadcast, because the idea of syndication and home video were just not considered.

I've always felt that everyone involved in a [project / business / corporation] should get some percentage of the profit. Yes, that includes the janitor. I have no idea why some people consider the concept ridiculously unpossible.

I agree with that, and I've found with regard to creative labor, the blocking point for many people is when they're paying in.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:41 PM on May 13


I've always felt that everyone involved in a [project / business / corporation] should get some percentage of the profit. Yes, that includes the janitor. I have no idea why some people consider the concept ridiculously unpossible.

Over on the livesound subreddit, I think, someone posted about "Should I get paid if the band cancels a gig the night before", and among the comments was one that stuck out to me, and seems appropriate here.
If it was coming out of the bands fee, then it depends on whether you are still getting paid for the gig. My general policy is that if other people are making money, I want in. If no one is, I don’t sweat it. (emphasis mine)
posted by mikelieman at 5:18 PM on May 13 [3 favorites]


So in STEM it's standard to give up inventor rights to the company you're working on. I know many people who are co-inventors of things that have earned many time times more than any Marvel movie. In my industry at least it's understood as standard practice and everyone's fine with it (in my industry, anyway) mostly because honestly we all get paid a lot. Seems fair.

In a lot of the arts the rewards (monetary and otherwise) seem to get distributed like the lottery: mostly random, and if you don't win big at some point there's a good chance you lost money over your lifetime. Seeing a rich corporations consistently win on other people's tickets? Going to stick in most people's craw.
posted by mark k at 5:24 PM on May 13 [2 favorites]


At some point articles like this because the "Biff! Bam! Pow! Comics Aren't just for Kids Anymore!" articles of the 2020s. The replies are always pearl clutching people who love superhero movies and somehow didn't know this thing that has been common knowledge at least since the 1970s, one or more smug guys who like David Mamet wrong and think the artists deserve what they got, a few people who hate superhero movies completely, and a few people who think this is bad and are well aware of it and are just weighing in to say it sucks. It sucks.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:47 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


Well those movies suuuuuck so it's an easy boycott. The best two things about them are the 'is it though?' Thor meme and that Taika Waititi can probably fly first class now.
posted by aquanaut at 5:34 PM on May 18


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