Over the last decade or so, films, shows, and video games, based on the panels of revered Marvel and DC Comics titles have become some of the highest-grossing properties in entertertainment. But as profits continue to soar, the creators of those stories have reportedly been left with little more than a handshake and the equivalent of a few month’s worth of rent.
According to a recent report from The Guardian, this is standard practice for both companies. Mulitple sources confirmed both companies offer a flat fee of $5,000 to the creators of stories adapted for the big or little screen. In some cases, the companies also offer a ticket to the premiere of the film based on the writer’s work. But even that doesn’t appear to be guaranteed. The report cites Ed Brubaker and Jim Starlin, creators of The Winter Soldier and Thanos (both major players in the last “phase” of the MCU,) who have been vocal about just how little they received for fueling the storylines for some of Marvel’s highest performing films and TV properties.
“For the most part, all [Steve Epting] and I have got for creating the Winter Soldier and his storyline is a ‘thanks’ here or there, and over the years that’s become harder and harder to live with,” Brubaker wrote in his newsletter. “I have a great life as a writer and much of it is because of Cap and the Winter Soldier bringing so many readers to my other work. But I also can’t deny feeling a bit sick to my stomach sometimes when my inbox fills up with people wanting comments on the show,” Brubaker reluctantly admits in the Guardian piece.
Contextualizing this baffling system of historically ripping off writers and illustrators (all the way back to Jack Kirby’s days in the DC office,) the report notes how comic creators for both Marvel and DC typically operate on a “work-for-hire” contract, which entitles them to nothing outside of the offers the wildly low aforementioned rate and embarrassingly low royalty payouts as one of two options for creators who’ve had work appear in a film or show. Other sources claim they could also receive absolutely nothing or what is commonly referred to as a “special characters contract,” which gives creators the opportunity to claim payment when one of their characters or stories are used. “I’ve been offered a [special character contract] that was really, really terrible, but it was that or nothing […] And then instead of honouring it, they send a thank you note and are like, ‘Here’s some money we don’t owe you!’ and it’s five grand. And you’re like, ‘The movie made a billion dollars,’” said a Marvel creator speaking under the condition of anonymity.
In the case of Brubaker and Starlin, the writers weren’t even allowed to attend the premiere party for the film based on their work. Both Brubaker and Starlin reportedly showed up to the red carpet event for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, tux and all, only to be told they weren’t on the list. It was only because Sebastian Stan, the actor who plays The Winter Soldier, knew their names and faces that Brubaker and Starlin were able to slip in.
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