DC’s plan to lure top talent: creator’s rights.
Lost in the shuffle of movie announcements at San Diego Comic Con was one piece of potentially enormous news for the comics industry. IcV2, a nerd/pop culture industry publication, sat with DC co-Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee for an interview. In it, they dropped a bomb on the business:
Didio: Dark Matter is a huge influx in new characters into the DCU. What we did is we brought top talent on board. We have Jim (Lee). Andy Kubert, John Romita Jr. and a lot of key creators are coming on board to help really elevate and draw attention to these new characters, because it’s so hard to get recognized in a crowded marketplace, so you really need the talent to help draw that attention…
All these talents are participating in the books, whether that’s creator-owned, or taking equity positions. They have vested value in participating and helping creating this. If these books win, we all win, which is, I think, the fairest way to approach anything.
Equity positions is a HUGE deal.
The work-for-hire model is the foundation for a ton of heartbreak and exploitation throughout the history of the comics industry. Dating back to the creation of Superman and Batman, creators have been watching the fruits of their imaginations expanded into other mediums and usually saw almost nothing for compensation. This legacy led to multiple break points in the industry’s history, from the struggle for recognition for Siegel and Shuster in the ’70s, to Watchmen (then hailed as a milestone for the creators’ community) or The Comics Journal‘s war against Marvel on Jack Kirby’s behalf in the ’80s, to the Image revolution and the creation of Milestone in the ’90s, to the exodus of talent from Marvel and DC over the past decade.
One of the things that set DC apart, despite numerous instances of shoddy treatment of creators, is their history of providing creator participation checks to writers and artists for their work. Paul Levitz, Publisher at DC for an age, was known for making sure that his creators were taken care of – Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan, for example, used to see royalty checks not just for Knightfall trades, but for Bane’s appearances in other media like the Lego games, or The Dark Knight Rises. This stopped, according to numerous anecdotes from around the industry (and most clearly defined by Gerry Conway, creator of Killer Frost) around the time DC Comics turned into DC Entertainment, in approximately 2009. This coincides, oddly enough, with the time when DC Comics started creatively circling the bowl, with sales trailing not too far behind them, held up only by relaunches and gimmick covers.
If DC’s solution to their sales problems is for a creative reinvigoration of the line, and their path forward is to actually pay their workers more, then it might be time for the rest of the industry to take notice. Hell, the rest of the economy, for that matter.
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