As if their billion dollars of profits weren’t enough, Marvel’s greed resembles that of the greedy, power-hungry villains seen in their films. While their wallets grow, they have little interest in sharing such with artists who helped them get to where they are today.
Back in 2021, Disney/Marvel sued artists and their estates to avoid the copyright notices they received from artists who worked to create characters such as Spider-Man and Iron Man. Watching characters they created carrying home bags full of money to Marvel and Disney, hard working artists who put their heart and soul into their work felt like they weren’t getting the appreciation they deserve.
According to Brooks Barnes, writer at the New York Times, “Marc Toberoff, served Marvel Entertainment, which Disney owns, with notices of copyright termination on behalf of five clients.”. Such clients include iconic artist Steve Ditko and brother of comic book icon Stan Lee, Lawrence D. Lieber. The other clients noted in the article are the children of Don Rico and Gene Colan, as well as artist Don Heck.
Though they created these characters, the cases were ruled invalid due to the artists and writers working under Marvel’s umbrella. As a member of Disney’s legal team Mr. Petrocelli told New York Times “Since these were works made for hire and thus owned by Marvel, we filed these lawsuits to confirm that the termination notices are invalid and of no legal effect,”.
Work for hire works under the basis that because at the time these artists and writers were creating characters for Marvel comic books, they were in essence doing what they were hired to do. Meaning that ownership does not remain with the creator but with the company they worked for. Therefore, rendering them unable to reclaim rights to characters no matter if they created them. As long as their works are categorized as “work for hire”, then Marvel will continue to hold such rights.
Adding salt to the wound in terms of public opinion, a report about Marvel Studios’ treatment of such creators was released around the same time as these legal cases. Comic book writer Ed Brubaker went on a tangent about how Marvel Studios credits their creators when the show Falcon and the Winter Soldier aired on the streaming platform Disney+. Brubaker confessed his problems with not receiving the credit he feels he deserves in a newsletter included in a Screen Rant article written by Fareid El Gafy “…for the most part all Steve Epting and I have gotten 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.”. Though he expresses his love for the people at Marvel Studios and the actors involved, Brubaker seemingly doesn’t feel himself and artist Epting gets the credit for the characters, and rightfully so.
Just a few months after Brubaker expressed his opinion on the matter, another article dropped on The Guardian written by Sam Thielman. It details a report revealing what exactly these artists receive for their comic book stories/characters being adapted onto the big screen, and the return is quite laughable. According to multiple sources unnamed by The Guardian, Marvel and DC have a track record of sending out $5,000 checks and an invitation to the premiere, if anything at all. Considering these movies are making billions of dollars using characters that never existed before these artists created them, paving the way for Marvel to turn these brilliant stories into multi-billion dollar films. Imagine watching from the sidelines as a multi-billion dollar company basks in the fruits of your labor, or as fans celebrate a character that a brilliant artist put time and effort into creating only for them to be forgotten as the character peaks in popularity.
An unnamed source spoke to The Guardian, telling them “I’ve been offered a [special character contract] that was really, really terrible, but it was that or nothing,” says one Marvel creator who asked not to be named. “And then instead of honoring 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.’”. These character contracts are not easy to get from Marvel, but they give creators extra returns on certain characters if they qualify. Though if Marvel or DC are making these qualifications then it’s doubtful that many characters will meet their qualifications.
Amidst a current Writer’s strike within Hollywood, this is yet another reminder of the work that studios seem to conveniently forget and fail to give creators the recognition they deserve. Marvel has led the way in comic book films with their unprecedented success at the box office, and it is unfortunate that the studios tend to dismiss the work that led them to this point. As the saying goes “Don’t forget where you came from”, and Marvel as well as DC has turned its back on the people that built the streets for them to drive upon. Hold out hope for better treatment of creators who helped bring you characters that may have been introduced to you through the big screen, but have existed for much longer. Let’s not let the work these writers and artists have put in go unnoticed, and let’s not let them be forgotten.
Written by: Scott Falzano
(The cover image used in this article is the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #50, written by Stan Lee and drawn by John Romita and Sam Rosen. Image found on Marvel’s website.)