Robot 6

Disney’s not-so-secret shame

“[T]hey broke my spirit,” Don Rosa wrote in an epilogue to his autobiography in comics, explaining why he retired from the job he so dearly loved. The whole tale is heart-breaking but also beautiful in the cartoonist’s abundant gratitude and humility.

“They” of course are Disney and its publishing licensees who don’t pay their comics talent any royalties whatsoever despite the incredibly healthy exporting of Disney comic books around the world. Rosa created Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics for almost 20 years and only ever received a flat page rate, as though it were the 1940s. His rate was better than other Disney comics artists at the time because he was so popular, but his wife was still the primary provider for the family. She was a school teacher, a profession not typically known for financial excess.

Whenever I hear about these kinds of stories, I always wonder why the creator doesn’t turn to creator-owned comics, which allow freedom on many levels, and a greater potential for financial benefit. The Walking Dead, anyone? Rosa, the internationally beloved cartoonist, doing his own comic book series or graphic novel would be an event. It seems like a no-brainer. But it’s easy to forget that for some creators, despite the opportunities, that option is a non-starter.

Rosa addressed this very topic in his epilogue. He’s been told by publishers they would publish anything he creates. Despite the guaranteed money and creative freedom, it just wouldn’t match his love for Carl Barks and his wonderful Ducks. “But my reply has always been ‘Any character I might create next week … I would not have grown up with that character,'” he wrote. “‘I wouldn’t care about him. My thrill is in creating stories about characters I’ve loved all my life.’ I’m a fan.”

That opinion doesn’t get a lot of attention, but it isn’t unique. I’ve spoken with a number of cartoonists who have done major comics work, some who are struggling as they get older, and I’ve if they’ve ever considered creator-owned comics. A surprising number of them have very similar responses. They just aren’t interested. In fact, for some it’s such a turn-off, it’s as if I suggested they switch careers and go into selling time shares.

I’m always a little disappointed by that response, but I respect their choice and their honesty about what speaks to them creatively. The simple fact is that DC, Archie, Marvel and Disney all have beloved characters and legendary stories that dominated many of our childhoods. The desire of creators to interact with those characters can become so great that all other creative desires are eclipsed.

It’s still happening today. That’s one of the reasons why advice to prospective talent from editors at those legacy publishers is almost always to create their own comics first. They know that so many people come to them only wanting to do Batman stories (or Spider-Man or Donald Duck or Archie stories). Are they robbing the world of the next Don Rosa? Maybe, but they also need some way to judge whether that fresh talent can actually make comics, and the Don Rosa days of stumbling into a job as a fan are probably long gone.

Whatever a creator’s ultimate muse or aspirations, the option of creator-owned comics doesn’t remove reasonable obligations for publishers. As Rosa mentions, royalties and other benefits for creators are industry standards in every other form of entertainment. And the money is no doubt there when looking at international sales of these stories over and over again.

Fortunately, Rosa was able to take some action by protecting the rights to his name, and Disney licensee Egmont eventually did the right thing. But you can count the number of world-renowned Disney comic book artists of the caliber of Carl Barks and Don Rosa on one hand, arguably on two fingers. Most wouldn’t, and currently don’t, have the clout that Rosa had. And so it falls back to the publishers. If they want quality talent to produce quality stories that sell, they need to reasonably support that talent financially.

A fan will feel honored to do the work for only so long before they finally realized they’re being screwed over. It’s time Disney did the right thing out of respect for the legacy of their characters and the people that brought them to life.

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Comments

34 Comments

Disney is a corporation. A legal entity. Corporations have neither hearts nor souls nor consciences.
Expecting a corporation to “do what’s right” is like expecting a pig to stand on his hind legs and dance the waltz.

“Disney is a corporation. A legal entity. Corporations have neither hearts nor souls nor consciences.
Expecting a corporation to “do what’s right” is like expecting a pig to stand on his hind legs and dance the waltz”

In this case, hippos and gators in ballet gear..

These stories are sad, but on the other hand, the man got to make a living doing the thing that he loved, and working on characters that he loved. It could be a lot worse.

Corporations are people, my friend!

I’m sorry, but this is dumb.

I think it was Warren Ellis who wrote something along the lines that storytellers who can only work on existing properties aren’t storytellers, they’re typists. That’s mean, and even more mean applied to a specific individual–but it’s a good point at the same time.

“I’m a fan.” Okay, great, be a fan. But fans don’t get royalties, either!

So far as I can tell, Rosa is old and ailing and tired, and that’s the real reason he’s retiring. Nonetheless he has, understandably, taken the opportunity to try leveraging the goodwill he has built up and the disappointment his retirement will produce to add weight to a final gesture of protest against a corporation that has failed to be generous. Okay, I understand the temptation to do that; I’ve quit various jobs and always dreamed about saying “ha, see, you finally pushed me too far, and now you’ve driven me away, SHAAAAAME!”

Except, aside from the fact that employers callous enough to exploit you (as most are) won’t care anyway, that’s usually phony. And obviously phony, if they’ve been exploiting you the whole time and you only quit long afterward. In Rosa’s case, after a 20 year career and at a time when (per my understanding) his ability to keep up the work is declining anyway. Under those circumstances, claims that “they broke my spirit” ring hollow.

Sure, I still believe that people who create popular work should always have participation in the profits. I also believe that copyright should have the same expiration timeframe it had per the first copyright laws, in which case pretty much every character you “grew up with” would always be available for you to create and sell stories about, on your own without anyone else controlling the terms, by the time you’ve finished the dues-paying career stage and ready to start your great work.

I believe lots of things should be reformed; people go on lining up to put money in the hands of Disney, Marvel, the RIAA, etc,., etc., etc., all the same. So it goes.

In the meantime, I don’t see that a man who voluntarily worked on their terms for 20 years now coming forth to whine about how those terms are so awful and “broke his spirit” does anything for such goals besides cheapen and embarrass them.

Corporations are people. They are people without conscience, without bodies to imprison or necks to hang by.

Teachers get paid way too much compared to the rest of the working sector. Wait till Disney flexes its cheapskate muscles now on the Star Wars and Marvel Movies

I feel like I’m the only person who’s never heard of Don Rosa before. Probably because I’ve never read a Disney comic in my life.

Don Rosa, Frank Miller would have words with you.

@Jake
The only reason that’s so is because corporate heads managed to exploit a loophole back in the Reconstruction era of this country that gave corporations limited liability and effectively made them legally ‘living entities’. All it will take is permanently closing that loophole, and corporations will once again be inanimate objects subject to our wills.

1. Corporations are entities run by people. These people have a job – to get their shareholders as much profit as possible. HOWEVER it doesn’t give them a free pass to treat their employees like shit. If you think it does, then YOU are the problem. Corporations have to make money, but good or great Corporations also focus on treating their employees well.

2. Anyone who thinks teachers are overpaid is a f@cking idiot. Athletes, movie stars, and celebrities are overpaid. Teachers aren’t. This also applies to police, firemen, and nurses.

People think it’s so easy developing your own intellectual property for comics, but it takes sacrifice and a few tries before you find something that sells, IF it sells. Suddenly if it does sell really well, the entire legal and business aspect can become daunting and distract one from the creative.

@ Iron Mike Swanson – On what planet do you live?

Iron Mike–are you American? Teachers in the US often have multiple jobs due to low wages. Where I live a teacher can make $95K/year after 10 years of service and a Master’s degree education equivalent. I like going to the mall and not buying shoes from my kid’s teacher, while working their evening job.

@ Marc C and everyone else,

$95K a year is a pretty decent salary for someone who works 9 months a year + no unpaid overtime + benefits + a generous pension compared to what comic artists make as freelancers with no benefits and no given retirement scheme, working around the clock to meet tight deadlines 6 days a week (sometimes 7) 12 months a year, you know, just to bring it back to the topic of the struggle and risk that goes into being a comic book creator.

No unpaid overtime? Are you crazy? Half a teacher’s life is spent slogging through unpaid overtime

Some do, some don’t. Anyway, slapping teachers in people’s face in the most obnoxiously self-righteous way to remind others they should be grateful for how lousy their jobs are is NOT the point point of this story — the story is about Don Rosa’s hardships as a freelance comic artist, which he has outlined in detail. Teachers are completely irrelevant to this news article.

And MORE TO THE POINT, Don Rosa mentions his gratitude towards his wife who is a teacher, so I’m sure the guy everyone here is arguing about is well aware of how hard working, undervalued, and righteous teachers are.

George, you are full of sh&t. The majority of teachers I know begin work at 7am in the morning, finish at 5pm, AND take work home to complete. That’s not even counting the endless hours today’s teachers spend differentiating curriculum for students with disabilities and learning disorders. Add daily meetings with parents and staff and little time is left apart from that devoted to sleep. Most weekends are spent preparing lessons for the following week. Holidays are spent preparing for the next term, or next year’s work, or trying not to go insane after hearing ignorant, obnoxious comments from detractors in the community and government who target them. Is this all irrelevant to this topic? Sure. But if you go out of your way to speak crap you’ll be called to account for it. Go spend a day in today’s classrooms and then tell us how you felt. Until then, keep the uninformed comments to yourself.

When I first saw the title, I thought you were referring to Song of the South; this is actually just as bad.

“Whenever I hear about these kinds of stories, I always wonder why the creator doesn’t turn to creator-owned comics, which allow freedom on many levels, and a greater potential for financial benefit. The Walking Dead, anyone?”

Fair enough, Corey. Now, can you provide any OTHER examples? You could speak with many creators who only wish their projects had even 1/10 of 1% the success that Kirkman’s had with “Walking Dead.” (Oh. Speaking of the *creator*, how many OTHER Kirkman projects have the same level of success that “Walking Dead” has? Kirkman started “Invincible” before “Walking Dead” but I haven’t seen any TV shows based off that series What about “The Astounding Wolf-Man?” Or “Super Dinosaur?” Or “Guardians of the Globe?” Or “Battle Pope?”) It’s actually pretty easy when you’re a WRITER to do “creator-owned” projects since you’re only doing half the work and, when you’re really inspired, it can be easy to churn out dozens of pages of story in a single day. Try doing that as an artist. It should also be remembered that the overwhelming majority of what Rosa produced for the European Disney publishers was done in INSTALLMENTS. I’ve read Rosa’s work and I’ve seen the bonuses showing how pages ORIGINALLY looked when published in Denmark or Germany or Italy because the stories that were published often appeared in 10-page chunks. When his stories were published in the US, even in the monthly Disney books, they were COLLECTED as a single storyline (usually reprinting the work as it had appeared in various European collections).

Also, there is Rosa’s age and health. This isn’t really a time for him to foray into the “creator-owned” market.

I love Rosa’s work (and the man is absolutely one of the nicest people to speak with at conventions) and I would love to see more. But, as he’s noted, he loves the Ducks and that was what he always wanted to do. Would you begrudge him for doing what he loves but feels he can no longer do? Incidentally, a few years ago I spoke with him at HeroesCon and asked him if he would do an original Duck story for the US market and he said he couldn’t afford it because Disney wouldn’t pay. And that the European markets did pay him far better than Disney’s US people would even consider.

Captain Comet: “I feel like I’m the only person who’s never heard of Don Rosa before. Probably because I’ve never read a Disney comic in my life.”

You should try them. They’re actually quite good. I probably couldn’t read them all the time because the characters don’t change much, but when I’m in a mood for a “done in one” story they fit the bill.

Okay, first of all, the number of legendary Disney cartoonists should be counted on three fingers, not two: Carl Barks, Don Rosa and Floyd Gotfredson.

Second, while I understand the pull of fandom, I don’t understand why folks can’t take it a step further and create something in homage to the thing you love. If you love Uncle Scrooge, create your own funny animal character by drawing on other things in your life. Love Spider-Man? Create your own take on the superhero coming-of-age story. It doesn’t seem like creating the concept would be particularly hard. Though, I suppose putting in the work of keeping the stories coming might be.

but i thought corporations were people like us right… right?

I don’t feel too bad. Like a poster mentioned above it could be worse. Exactly! When I was younger and worked retail I knew people in their 70s, that had to work retail full time because they just couldn’t make it off social security.

All of you are idiots who, most likely, do not read. Corporate law established corporations as having the rights of individuals way before reconstruction. Also, if you went into teaching or policing for a “good salary” then you have no business in those professions in the first place. But, yes, some kindergarten teachers do make around 90k after 15yrs service…that is absolutely crazy, and due to selfish unions.

As a postscript to this, I see Don’a cancelled his appearance at Emerald City Comic Con in two weeks due to a health issue — a “retinal detachment.” Eek.

(Source: http://www.emeraldcitycomicon.com news for 2/16)

This is not fair. I get that Disney is a big soulless entity and Walt was never one to share credit or accolades. But seriously, if you are lucky enough to have a creator like Rosa stay with you it’s only good business to make them comfortable. Not rich, but well rewarded. When you don’t you get the mess of Marvel and DC’s hit or miss revolving door approach.

Lot 49's Nonsense

February 17, 2013 at 11:08 pm

@Lot 49. Iron Mike lives on planet Earth, where do you live? If you ever taught or know any people who teach today you know they do little or nothing to improve the world. They are way too busy working on their 30-year retirement plans. They earn in 180 days what many earn in 365 days, less two weeks vacation. They don’t work out in the rain; the don’t work weekends or holidays; they don’t have anybody driving them to succeed; they don’t work, neither does anyone else in their chosen profession. Plus it seems these days the best way to get a teaching job is to first get a criminal record. Wake up! Why do you think Johnny can’t read?

Amen @Lot 49.

Don is scheduled to attend the 2013 Boston Comic Con in April. I’m really looking forward to seeing him. I hope all his fans and supporters can show up to let him know how much his work means to us.

I am a teacher and have been working for 8 years, I barely make half of 95k and work over 10 months a year we get off 4 and a half weeks in the summer, 3 days at Thanksgiving, one week in the winter, 4 days in the spring and memorial day. My sister by comparison is a nurse she makes 100k gets 8 weeks paid vacation a year and all her overtime is time and a half. I work an average of 20 to 30 unpaid overtime hours a week. Not complaining just wanted to put some facts out there.

P.S. if any kids are reading this going into health not teaching.

I totally agree, the next great artist etc. won’t go into comics because they can’t make a decent wage.
They will do something else, and that’s a shame.
Have you seen a truly cool character come out of Marvel or DC in the last 20 years….?
The creators have gotten smart, I’m sure they feel if they come up with a cool idea, they don’t give it to the big two…

I’m a teacher and I’d like to know where I can make $95K a year. As usual, someone who is not a part of the education field is trying to make a fact out of their opinion.

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