Creator Rights and Comic Books

At Comicvine today, I read an interesting, if short, article on how much control a comic book creator should have over her or his creations long after they have left the series they originally worked for. Personally, in a work for hire situation, I think it is reasonable to expect that the creator of a book or character will not have any further influence on the direction of story lines after their time has passed (unless they return to the property).

Now, in a situation where the creators of a work own the rights to that work, I agree that they should retain as much control as feasible save for certain publisher or editorial issues. But when a creator is working for Marvel or  DC, he or she should expect that their contribution is not their’s alone. They write in a shared universe where all work, both present and past , belong to the company rather than the individual writers.

On one level, it stinks because the creators are denied control of their work and may or may not be paid royalties for continued use of their creations. However, without this situation, the shared universes that are DC or Marvel could not exist. And much of the American comics industry would not be what it is.

A long standing issue  that this question brings up is Shatterstar’s sexuality. When Peter David reintroduced the character, he characterized him as being bisexual (which was also hinted at earlier by earlier, post creator writers). This development, however, did not agree with one of his creators, Rob Liefield. Now, this argument introduces GLBTQ politics into the matter, which gives a different light to the issue rather just a matter of continuity.

Another controversy has, of course, erupted in the last few days in the announced Watchmen prequel series. As expected, Alan Moore, the creator of Watchmen, was most displeased by the development. Whether Moore is right or wrong in his argument that bringing back The Watchmen is stupid is anyone’s guess (and likely will not be truly understood until the completion of the series).

In both instances, I have to side with the publishers. While one development is good for LGBTQ visibility and the other one is likely an attempt to milk whatever is left of The Watchmen franchise, both works are now in the hands of other people. I like Shatterstar’s bisexuality, and I do not like the idea of a prequel series. But the ball is in the publisher’s court.

So, for those who want to work on their favorite superheroes, always remember that it is part of a larger shared universe. One’s time on the series will be fuel for what other creators do. Creators may not like it, but once it is out of their hands, the ball is in another’s court. The only way to avoid that is to create one’s own stuff in a creator owned format. But the onus will be on the creator to see it through to the end.



Posted on February 1, 2012, in Books and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. That’s probably true as far as Shatterstar goes — I don’t know whether any particular guarantees were made to Liefeld. But I don’t think this really applies to Moore. When he signed a contract for Watchmen, the rights were supposed to revert to him once the miniseries was out of print. Instead, DC essentially invented the trade paperback graphic novel format as a way to keep the story perpetually *in* print, and so maintain the rights. It appears to be legal, but it’s definitely not the spirit of the contract; not what Moore thought he was agreeing to. Also worth noting: Watchmen’s not a part of DC’s shared universe, and is actually structurally unlike an ongoing book series — it’s got a beginning, middle, and end.

    • I did not know that about Moore’s relationship with DC. That is certainly a shifty and dirty thing for them to do. I can see where Moore is coming from. Watchment really should not be revisited. I agree absolutely with Moore’s comments about the upcoming prequel series. It is, ultimately, an attempt to milk a franchise for whatever is left. And personally, I don’t have any intention of picking up those books.
      But, in the end, there isn’t much that can be done about it unless the fans themselves refuse to bite.
      Another recent controversy I could have looked at was the alleged problems surrounding the recent revival of Static Shock in the DCnU.

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