The Hollywood Reporter says there’s professional writers who’re speaking out about weak payments made by the Big Two for stories and characters they’ve written that became the basis of various blockbuster movies that came out since:
Marvel fans were flying high with the release of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, as the Disney+ series rose to top Nielsen’s closely watched streaming chart with 855 million minutes viewed during the April 12-18 frame. Yet one person fans were surprised to learn wasn’t watching was Ed Brubaker.
The comic book writer, who co-created the Winter Soldier character and whose work helped inspire $1 billion grossers like 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, made waves with a widely circulated interview in which he expressed dissatisfaction with his Winter Soldier pay. “I have made more on SAG residuals than I have made on creating the character,” Brubaker told Kevin Smith and Marc Bernardin on the Fatman Beyond podcast, referencing his cameo in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). In May, Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose run on Black Panther comics helped the $1.2 billion- grossing Chadwick Boseman film get greenlit, backed Brubaker in an interview with Polygon, noting that he was fortunate not to depend on comics for a living. “I wish that Marvel found better ways to compensate the creators who helped make Black Panther Black Panther,” said Coates.
On the above, I have to ask: does Coates believe he’s the only one who truly made T’Challa a household name? If he does, no surprise. Marvel and their press apologists have been lionizing writers like him for ages on end. If his Black Panther material really did serve to build the movie, I think that’s why we have one more cinematic example here that won’t age well, and discourages me from watching.
But did Brubaker actually create “Winter Soldier”? If memory serves, isn’t that Bucky Barnes? Kirby and Simon created Bucky, not Brubaker. So while I’m sure the argument has merit – there certainly are past writers whose works have yet to be reprinted in full for residuals – it’s quite a stretch to say Brubaker created Winter Soldier, when it’s actually just another codename applied to the resurrected Bucky. But seeing that’s an article from the awful Comics Beat they cite, it’s not surprising they’d make such a fuss using their questionable coverage as a basis for this.
Comic book history is full of stories of writers and artists who signed meager deals only to see their creations become icons, dating back to 1938, when Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster signed away the character for $130. But it was unusual to hear Brubaker and Coates, creators at the height of their careers, speak openly about the issue. It reignited a conversation about creator pay, and what obligation companies have to creators who signed contracts years before movies were grossing billions and media conglomerates were building streaming services on the backs of their characters.
There’s a difference here. Siegel and Shuster created Superman, but Brubaker only conceived the codename given to Bucky when he retconned his death, and again, it was really Kirby/Simon who created Captain America’s former sidekick, who’s now a focus of politically motivated TV and film material. Brubaker also wrote certain stories built around these particular characters. He may be owed more money than he’s gotten for writing the scripts. But again, to say he created the star characters is exaggerating his role. Though they do at least acknowledge:
Creators working at Marvel and DC sign work-for-hire contracts granting the publishers ownership over their characters and storylines. While it’s relatively simple to determine who gets compensation for a character, insiders familiar with Marvel and DC contracts note that it gets murky when it comes to storylines being adapted for film. There is no concrete policy at either company.
Here, they do have a valid point to offer. Should writers receive royalties for adapting their original scripts? I may not find Brubaker’s work appealing (I thought a Batman crossover he co-wrote with Greg Rucka from 2002, Bruce Wayne: Murderer/Fugitive, was insulting to the intellect), but if royalties are owed for doing the original script, then certainly they should at least pay them a sum that’s good enough.
Even so, Brubaker didn’t set a good example by acting as though a character is his creation simply because he conceived a name for a new role the old character could take up. And seeing a writer as awful as Coates brought up here is really dispiriting.
Originally published here.