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Thread: Comics Cultures

  1. LeeNordling Guest

    First, let's define "fair."

    "Fair" is having a legitimate, arguable case for a resolution, as opposed to getting what you want because you can afford better lawyers, use the power of your position to intimidate the other party, can blackmail the other party, or whatever else that gets you what you want.

    Yep, one side may get ownership through some aspect of negotiation, but my use of the word "fair" has a specific purpose: it's a result that has an arguable case.

    I understand what you've written guys, but there's an aspect that hasn't been discussed, so let's test that.

    Marvel hires me to write one issue of Thor. Should I own the story in that issue? Should I own any contribution I've made to the character?

    Whether Thor belongs to Marvel or Lee/Kirby, I'm pretty sure neither of you would suggest I should own Thor after writing one issue.

    So, where's the line here?

    As a writer, what, if anything should I own?

    By the way, I don't accept the posit that the writer of something SHOULD necessarily own it, though I do think it's "fair" for the writer to get something FOR that contribution.

    Owning it is different.

    Let me continue a thought I began the other day.

    If I have an employee, and that employee's job is to write and draw for me, is it "fair" for me to own what that employee writes (in exchange for employment)?

    Try addressing that one with a "yes" or a "no," without qualification, then look at the history of how different comics categories were created, and ask: which of these people in these industries were "legally" considered employees?

    Now, a lot of real qualifications arise from the answer to this question, and perhaps we finally get to the heart of WHY certain industries have publishers or distributors that own comics work, and why others don't.

    Try applying this standard to the list I gave...then look at how "employment" might or might not apply.

    I'll come back later with my thoughts, after I've read some of yours.

    Thanks, guys, for taking the brave step to explain where you stand, even though you probably knew this wouldn't be ended here.

    But there IS an end point to this, a practical guide for you to consider in every situation, and that's where we're striving to reach.

    So keep up the conversation.


    Last edited by LeeNordling; Friday, February 12, 2010 at 04:59 AM.

  2. LeeNordling Guest

    It occurs to me I should share some of my personal perspective, beyond a process for how to determine one.

    I wrote Mickey Mouse for Disney, as well as other characters. Comics and books.

    I wrote them on staff; I think it's "fair" that Disney own them.

    I also wrote them as a freelancer, for which I was decently compensated; I think it's "fair" Disney owns them, too.

    I wrote a Gargoyles story for Disney Adventures, the concept for which was adapted into an animated episode, the ONLY time that occurred. I got credit, which they didn't have to give me. I thought that was nice AND "fair." I didn't get any extra money...because that wasn't part of my deal. Had I wanted it to be part of my deal, I wouldn't have been able to write that story and collect a pretty decent page rate. I thought that was "fair," too, if not nice, but it was their property. Could a case be made for me feeling they SHOULD have compensated me? You bet. DC Comics gets money for people who created DC character that are used on their shows. I think that's fair AND nice.

    Now, there are always going to be examples of "fair" swinging two ways, and I'm not going to try to offer an answer that applies to every person.

    But I will offer a method for every person to figure how much they think an offer is "fair" to them...

    ...and it will be significantly more complex than "I created it, so I should own it."

    So, let's keep the conversation going.

    Last edited by LeeNordling; Saturday, February 13, 2010 at 05:03 PM.

  3. RonaldMontgomery Guest

    I think of the compensation some writers and artists received from Warner when characters and storylines they created for DC were adapted to the first Nolan movie.
    I don't know the specifics of their contracts, but it seemed they added to the canon, and were rewarded when their creations were adapted to other media.
    This is probably more than fair on Warner's part, but it was a thoughtful gesture.

  4. LeeNordling Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by RonaldMontgomery View Post
    I think of the compensation some writers and artists received from Warner when characters and storylines they created for DC were adapted to the first Nolan movie.
    I don't know the specifics of their contracts, but it seemed they added to the canon, and were rewarded when their creations were adapted to other media.
    This is probably more than fair on Warner's part, but it was a thoughtful gesture.
    Friends of mine get checks when characters they created were used on Smallville, Lois & Clark, and all the animated shows.

    It's a "nice" bonus.

    But we come back to my questions from last night about ownership of properties...when they're created by employees.

    I noticed nobody chimed in with, "Yes, if an employee creates a character as part of his job, he/she should own that character, or at least part of that character."

    Continuing to pull teeth, let's flip this again.

    SHOULD a company own the characters or properties they pay to have created?

    It's a simple "yes" or "no," folks.

    But after you answer it, please say why you believe that to be true.


  5. WilliamStormeSmith Guest

    YES, YES, and YES. Why would someone who comes up with an idea deserve or be guaranteed ownership. Ideas are a dime a dozen. We can't see the future and know fair market value for an idea eighty years from now, merely look at Superman's change in fair market value from time of conception till today.

    DC did some great work building the character and now the families of Siegle and Schuester want it back, as do Jack Kirby's w/ Marvel completely disregarding all the hard work done by employess in between to build and sustain the market for these creations. In my opinion an employee who works for a Chemical company and creates a new patent is no different than a comic creator who creates a new product. The company should always come first and if you don't like that philosophy then you should work somewhere else or start your own company. Then again i'm a company man, and see companies as groups of individuals working for the same goal. If you are not tied into that goal then you are failing the team/coworkers, shareholders, and the person who hired you.

    I've found personally a great deal of creators who don't like their situation or deal are at times either selfish or incompetent businessmen. But this is my opinion, I attempt to do my best whether for zero compensation or for a million dollars.

    PS i love and admire Jack, Jerry, and Joe. But I believe ownership of something should not have an expiration date.
    Last edited by WilliamStormeSmith; Friday, February 12, 2010 at 09:49 PM.

  6. LeeNordling Guest

    Okay, so we've got two sides of the ownership question:

    1) the creator working on his/her own should own it.

    2) When the creator is an employee, the company employing the creator should own it.

    Does anybody disagree with either of these two statements?


  7. WilliamStormeSmith Guest

    1. The first statement makes me think of personal favorites like Dave Sim "Cerebus", Jeff Smith "Bone" and Ben Edlund "The Tick". They took the majority of the risk, for example Jeff Smith selling his animation company to go into indy comics. They deserve to reap the rewards. Then dole out ownership shares as they see fit. IF they find success. There is still a great deal of maneuverability if you as an individual creator want to try a completely different path. It will never make you wrong unless it fails. Then someone should try and speed up the process and fail faster and more often until you finally find success. Ben Edlund got his local comic shop to help produce "The Tick". He's parlayed this creation into loads of street cred, money, and TV work. And Dave Sim's bombastic politics made me want to read the back pages of "CErebus" first, most creators couldn't get away with some of the shit Sim's said. But he did, because he didn't have to answer to some company. So this is the way I'd go if I knew what i was doing, which I don't.

    2.A smart company led by a good fair minded CEO/leader should always be prepared to share the wealth. It is smart business and the right thing to do. At the same time the men who create great work and develop great reputations are seldom forgotten and are usually compensated in their lifetimes, especially in the 21st century. The descendants deserve a cut, but I'd hate to see "Superman" or "Thor" in the hands of incompetent nieces and nephews whose only connection to the properties is some shared DNA. And out of the hands of people who are connected by lifelong dreams of writing Thor and Supes , like the majority of us on this site. "Miracleman" is an example, and my favorite comic of all time, but look at the mess ownership of it became. It's a Shazam rip off, Alan Moore revolutionized comics with it, Neil Gaiman followed Moore's run brilliantly, a lawsuit between McFarlane and Gaiman, and now Marvel is putting out a new "Miracleman" book. WTF? Corporations can be good stewards of ideas, keep them safe for the fans.
    DEADPOOL being another example. Rob Liefield created DEADPOOL, but does he deserve the credit for making the merc with a mouth a franchise. I'm not so sure. A creator/ employee is providing a service to said company/ employer, the service of creating stories and characters. The company is taking the risk.

    I don't disagree. But every situation is different, as is every sandbox.
    Last edited by WilliamStormeSmith; Saturday, February 13, 2010 at 04:14 AM.

  8. LeeNordling Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by WilliamStormeSmith View Post
    I don't disagree. But every situation is different, as is every sandbox.
    Of course they're different, Storme, but let's try to keep our eye on the ball here. And let's not discuss "sharing the wealth," because payment isn't ownership, and "ownership" is the topic at hand; payment is next week.

    We all know each situation could complicate or shade a belief, and you've just added a lot of shading, a wide range of indiscriminant shading, when what we are trying to do is discriminate.

    Here's one thing that you're doing, which I expected more people to do (and I wish they'd had the courage to say, as you did, what they felt): you're standing up for others like you, creators.

    That's nice, but it's also tribal.

    Everybody go back to my two extremes, and look at the only variable.

    In both cases, stuff got created by somebody, so neither the creator nor the creation are variables.

    The variable is that in one case the creator is an employee, and in the other case the creator isn't.

    In the extremes, you (and I suspect others) agreed that the company had a right to own what the employee created for the company.

    Technically, in the other example, I guess you could say the creator created the creation for himself, and if he's working for himself, then the "owner" is also the guy he's working for. (I own an LLC; the copyrights for much of my stuff is owned by that LLC, so whomever owns the LLC owns my stuff.)

    Let's get to what I've been hoping would move faster this week: in all facets of comics, they tend to be owned by employers, whether it's creators as self-employed, or companies as actual employers.

    This eliminates the variables, and allows folk to make a real determination about what's "fair." Doesn't mean creators won't be screwed, but at least they'll know what the trade-off SHOULD be for sacrificing ownership.

    "Wait," somebody in the back cries. "Were all the cartoonists in your examples employees?"

    Ah, my original questions, which a couple of you tackled.

    If folks had spent more time on it, we'd have discussed each of them at great length, which would've come in handy.

    For now:

    Magazine cartoons: creator owned; comes from a magazine tradition of only selling first magazine serial rights. Magazines cartoonists, primarily, own their cartoons.

    Book of collected magazine cartoons for trade book publisher: because they own their cartoons, they're able to put together book collections. For "who owns the copyright on the books," it's like any authors who own their books.

    Comic strips for syndication: here's the one that screwed up the whole century; comic strip creators began by working for newspapers as EMPLOYEES. When their successful features got sold to other papers, the newspapers, then newspaper syndicates, owned the strips. With some exceptions, this was mostly true till the '80s, when Creators Syndicate opened its doors and changed the game...because every new creator wanted to go to Creators, so other syndicates followed suit. There's been some slip back, but creators mostly own their new strips these days, at least that's the adjusted rule. The business was SO profitable for creators, that syndicates were able to maintain their lock on the ownership, whether they deserved to or not. See Mell Lazarus's article in the back of my book, "Your Career In the Comics," still available on

    Book of collected comic strips for trade book publisher: the owner of the strip owns the books. For "who owns the copyright on the books," it's like any authors who own their books.

    Comic books for Marvel and/or DC titles: Marvel & DC own most of their characters and titles. One note for future discussion. The Siegel estate has won back portions of Superman because those portions were created BEFORE he took the project to DC Comics. The portions the estate doesn't get were created when he was working for them. Now, it's okay that folks may not like or agree that freelance employment constitutes employment, but then THAT becomes the important part of the discussion, not whether the creator gets to own it. As we discussed, nobody objected to the conceit that an employer owns something an employee makes for them, so this is no longer the issue. In short, (and man do I wish others beyond Storme had contributed to answering this question), when you are asked to give up ownership, you need to ask yourself: am I an employee or not? If not, what's the trade off? THAT'S the fair discussion to have with anybody with whom you're discussing this stuff...instead of "I'm the creator, so I should own it."

    Notice, the heading for this topic is Comics Cultures, and I am working to get you to think beyond your sandbox, and consider the bigger conceptual sandbox.

    Do that, and you'll be able to come up with a version of "fair" for any situation, and you won't simply be mouthing platitudes.

    Independent comic book companies with existing titles: If you're working on somebody else's brand, the owner of the brand will likely own it.

    Licensed comic for direct market publisher: same as above.

    Your original comic for the direct market: If you're self-employed as the creator, it's yours. Note the rationale, not just the assumption. Oh, and if you're a writer, then maybe your artist partner is or isn't a co-owner, because a lot of creators take Marvel's and DC Comics's perspective, which is "they paid for it to be created (for some amount of money), so it's theirs."

    Licensed graphic novel for trade book publisher: If you're working on somebody else's brand, the owner of the brand will likely own it.

    Graphic Novels packaged by third parties for trade book publishing: This was me putting myself and my company on the chopping block, and nobody took the opportunity. Traditionally, book packagers own the books (in exchange for advances and royalties). They will, as we do, initiate the project. They will also, as we do, acquire the project from creators who, from OUR perspective, need our contribution to get it developed. We sell it, too, but so can an agent, so it's us needing to be at the center of developing the material that makes acquisition necessary. We'd be happy to be paid for it, and let creators own the material, too. We also turn away projects that are too far along in the development process, because these creators need an agent, not a packager. We will also, on rare occasion, manage properties, rather than acquire them, garnering us a piece of the action, and no ownership participation. So, for us, it's flexible. For most packagers, they simply need to own the material to shape it and sell it.

    Original graphic novel for trade book publisher: If you're self-employed as the creator, it's yours; if you're the writer, maybe you did and didn't make your artist a co-owner, and maybe you did or didn't buy him/her out for the work.

    Original graphic nonfiction for educational book market: here's the odd duck. In this industry, text books are commissioned according to need, so the publishers commissioning them OFTEN own the books. There are graphic novels and graphic nonfiction being produced for the educational market where the publishers insist on owning the books, and won't give royalties. I see a market shift on this in the future, but it's slow to come.

    So, there's my laundry list of answers to my questions.

    And we've accomplished something important here: we know WHY it's fair for somebody to own something, whether they're creators or companies.

    Now, as Storme points out, there are qualifications, and there are always going to be these.

    But what we can do now that we could not do before is determine a more accurate starting place for the discussion of what's fair.

    Last edited by LeeNordling; Saturday, February 13, 2010 at 07:38 PM.

  9. Cary Guest

    SHOULD a company own the characters or properties they pay to have created?

    It's a simple "yes" or "no," folks.

    As horrible as that tastes to me to write, yes. The nature of the business is that work for hire exists, and like it or not, there it is. If you choose to work for a larger company with existing characters and you create new characters by the nature of your contract and the existing structure of work for hire what you create belongs to the company. For me, I hate that, and I have thus far chosen not to pursue that type of work because I don't care for that aspect as well as others. Some people might be fine with that, and that's cool for them. Like anyone who gets even semi-serious about this sort of work, you know what you're getting into before you jump and if the juice is worth the squeeze, you go for it. If not...then go another route.

    It works the same with my day job. If I invent the next underwater cutting device to same time and make the work safer for divers, I don't own that even a little bit. In fact I'm unlikely to even be credited with the invention at all. I had to sign a form saying they own everything I create while working for them prior to them hiring me, just like everyone else who hires on did. As I said, I knew it when I signed on, and I could have walked if I didn't like it. So is it fair? Sure. I accepted it. If there comes a time when I no longer accept it I'm always free to walk away.

  10. RonaldMontgomery Guest

    Following up on Cary's point: can you re-negotiate?

    To use comics WFH specifically: if you take Captain Ghettofabulous, who was a back-up once in Super-Pervs in the '70s, and make him a top ten book, is there leeway to ask for more there? If so, what do you ask for? Health insurance? Your indy book at Icon?

    Is there a common rule for when you can ask to come back to the table, barring contractual agreements/restraints?
    Last edited by RonaldMontgomery; Monday, February 15, 2010 at 06:41 PM.

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