Every Sunday, as I sit down and watch the hit AMC television series, The Walking Dead, I can’t help but feel a swell of pride when I see the words, based off a comic book by Robert Kirkman, who is also an executive producer on the show. Or, when I watch the movies, Wanted or Kick-Ass, both based off comic books by Mark Millar.
It reminds me of how far creators in the comic book medium have come and how these days, comic book writers and artists have the opportunity to retain the rights to their stories and their characters.
Before I knew much about the comic book medium, I would always wonder why Stan Lee, who is known to most people as the father of the Marvel Comics universe, isn’t one of the richest people in the world. When you think about how many cartoons, movies, merchandise, etc. that we’ve seen over the years that have images of some of his most popular creations, you would think this guy would be swimming in money. Some of these characters include the Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and the X-Men.
However, decades ago, when Stan Lee began writing for Marvel, it was under a work-for-hire agreement. This meant he was paid to create stories, but retained none of the rights to the characters.
Over the years, Lee and Marvel have engaged in heated battles due to the company’s unwillingness to rightfully compensate him when it comes to the commercial success of these characters. And while I understand what “work-for-hire” means, I, and most comic book readers, agree that when a person sits down and builds a fictional universe so rich and expansive that it manages to remain relevant and speak to generations and generations of readers, that creator should be compensated for helping it come to fruition.
One of the most depressing stories in the industry is of Bill Finger, the co-creator of Batman who struggled financially for years before dying in 1974, while he watched the character he helped create earn DC Comics millions.
Both Millar and Kirkman are huge champions of the creator-owned comics, and because of them, a lot of well-known comic book writers and artists are now creating their own stories and fictional worlds. And while not every creator-owned comic book may become a movie or TV series, it’s good to know that in case it does, the creators will get what they deserve.