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Trouble with Comics, Creator Rights vs. Fan Ignorance: Look Stuff Up and Find Out For Yourself

Creator Rights vs. Fan Ignorance: Look Stuff Up and Find Out For Yourself

This was originally in the comments thread of a 2009 post about Marvel publishing Marvelman/Miracleman. Considering how many comics readers are unaware or uninformed of the history and details of Marvel and DC’s abuse of creator rights, I thought it deserved its own post.

The history of the “Big Two,” is a history of lies, betrayals and broken promises. It’s very easy today to say “maybe he should have had the insight not to have worked with them in the first place,” about Alan Moore and a thousand other creators who have been screwed, blewed and tattooed (as Mom used to say), but the fact of the matter is that it’s far more complex than that, and if you truly have an interest in the subject, then you owe it to yourself to do some research.

Just one example, relevant to this post: Are you aware that, prior to Watchmen, no superhero graphic novel (and there were few enough of those anyway) was ever kept permanently in print? And that DC’s contract with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons said that the rights to the work would revert to Moore and Gibbons once the book had (as all superhero graphic novels had in the past) gone out of print?

Then the work proved to transcend all previous precedent, and instead of keeping with the spirit of the written contract (there was absolutely NO historical reason at the time not to think Moore and Gibbons would not be given ownership of the work under this contract: it’s what Moore and Gibbons AND DC all expected to happen), the company kept the book in print, so far, quite permanently. To the extent that that goes, that’s understandable enough; it’s a hugely popular work. Where DC falls down in this example is in not somehow compensating Moore and Gibbons for the unexpected success of the work that changed the conditions under which the contract was written. Legally, of course, DC had the right to do what they wanted. But from a business and ethical standpoint, what they did was monumentally stupid: They permanently soured Moore on working for them (through this and many other actions — look up the “promotional” Watchmen watches, or the pulping of an issue of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, or the Tomorrow Stories story that Top Shelf had to publish because DC didn’t have the courage — which I believe is how Moore ended up there; anyway, LOOK STUFF UP AND FIND OUT FOR YOURSELF). 

Dig out some old Comics Journals, Google creators rights, read some interviews with the injured parties, find out for yourself what those of us who have been watching the industry for decades are talking about. 

Find out what happened to Marv Wolfman when he made a claim to ownership of Blade. Find out how vague and meaningless the idea of “Copyright,” in comics was, especially prior to 1974. Do you know about the back-of-paycheck agreements the companies made creators sign in order to get paid? Did you know some of them regularly crossed it out, because they didn’t agree with it? I could go on all day.

A lot of injustice and malfeasance has been committed by corporate comics companies against the very people who make it possible for them to exist, but if the readers who enjoy their product would make an effort to understand the long and thorny history of corporate comics and creators rights, maybe those readers would think twice about blindly supporting the large corporations that have done so much harm to the people who created the very product in question.

— Alan David Doane

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