work for hire
Last week Mark Waid was asked on Twitter about whether or not he received any sort of credit in Warner Bros./DC Entertainment’s big mega-blockbuster film Man of Steel, currently breaking records and setting the box office on fire in a theater near you. Waid of course wrote Superman: Birthright, parts of which inspired the film. He said he didn’t, that the practice of DC crediting creators whose work influenced a film in some way stopped when Paul Levitz, former president and publisher at DC Comics, stepped down from his position.
As he noted on Twitter (and in the comments section of my post about it last week), Waid wasn’t looking to pick a fight, he was simply answering a question; but it did cause a lot of discussion. So he’s taken to his blog on his Thrillbent site to explain the history of work for hire in the comics industry, the addition of royalties in the 1980s and the “extra-media compensation” that came during Levitz’s tenure at DC, where creators received a bonus if an element from a comic they wrote found its way onto the big or small screen. He notes that these bonuses were a courtesy, not a legal obligation, and now DC “pays bonuses only on material that’s a straight and highly faithful adaptation of existing work,” like the recent The Dark Knight Returns animated films. He also notes that he still sees payments based on the fact that he co-created the character Impulse with Mike Wieringo, so he gets something for every Impulse trade paperback or action figure that’s sold.
But he doesn’t get anything for his contributions to the Superman mythos that made it into Man of Steel, and he’s more than ok with that. “Hell, for me, honestly, the smile I got on my face the first time I heard lines from Birthright in the MoS trailer — the confirmation that I really did give something lasting back to the character who’s given me so much — is worth more to me than any dollar amount. (Your mileage may vary.)”
If you’re interested in these sorts of matters, I recommend you read the entire piece over on the Thrillbent site, and if you’re not, then hey, that’s cool too — you can head over there and read some comics instead.
Don Rosa, who drew Disney’s Scrooge McDuck and Donald Duck comics for many years has written a lengthy and fascinating piece on why he gave up creating comics.
Rosa, who started working on the series in early middle age, gave up making comics entirely in 2012 for a variety of reasons, including vision problems caused by a detached retina, depression, and frustration that the studio pays no royalties on his comics — a situation that he says is unique to the comics, as other Disney creators do get royalties. (One possible reason for this is that the Disney comics are produced by freelancers working for third-party companies, not for Disney itself.) That became particularly galling once Rosa was well enough known that the collections featured his name in the title — but he still didn’t see a dime. His response was a clever one: He copyrighted his name so publishers would have to ask his permission to use it to promote the books.
Rosa also explains why he didn’t make the switch to creator-owned comics: