Bait & Switch: How Marvel’s MCU Mistreats their Comic Creators


The Marvel Cinematic Universe relies heavily on the original writers and artists of the characters the studios feature up on the silver screen. Now many creators are beginning to speak up, claiming the media giant has an overly complicated remuneration structure that underpays them, or misrepresents what the compensation will be.  In a recent story from THR, two creators associated with the Black Widow film, and the Scarlett Johansson lawsuit against Disney for releasing the movie on streaming, spoke up about the mistreatment.


As that legal battle stretched into the summer, two other Black Widow stakeholders were quietly seeking what they believed they were owed. The comic book creators behind Yelena Belova, the character played by Florence Pugh, spent months in a back-and-forth with Marvel to receive payment for her appearance in the film.

Writer Devin Grayson and artist J.G. Jones believed they would take home $25,000 each for her appearance in Black Widow thanks to paperwork they signed outlining how much they would receive for films, TV shows, video games and action figures featuring Yelena. But when Grayson and Jones, who created Yelena in 1999, eventually received payment in November, that $25,000 dwindled to about $5,000 without explanation.



When compared to the box office gross, Marvel pays shockingly little to the creators of the comic books that inspired the most popular movie franchise in history. Employees of the corporation describe it as a confusing approach that makes creators wonder how Marvel came up with its numbers.


When she co-created Yelena, Grayson knew Marvel would own the character. But like many creators before her, she signed a contract known as a Special Character Agreement, one that outlines a Marvel-initiated payment system should Yelena appear in other media. The agreement, signed in 2007, seemed to state that Grayson would receive $25,000 for a theatrical film appearance, $2,000 for an episode of TV over 30 minutes, and $1,000 for an episode of TV 30 minutes or less. For action figures, the agreement entitled her to $5,000 for one figure released in a single year, $10,000 for two, or $25,000 for three or more. For video games, there would be a maximum of a $30,000 pot to be shared among all the creators who had characters in the game.

However, buried within the document was language that granted Marvel broad discretion to dramatically lower payments, language Grayson and others who spoke to THR say is misleading given that the $25,000 is listed prominently in the paperwork.

“It’s like the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes. You could win $1 million, but you won’t,” notes Grayson, who as a woman in a male-dominated industry did not want to make waves when she signed the agreement. She was happy to take what Marvel seemed to be promising her, and is only speaking out because she believes the company should stick to what it told creators.

After Grayson received her $5,000 of the promised $25,000 in November, she — with the help of an attorney — learned some of the ways Marvel cut down that sum.


The writer and artist each receive a portion of the money from Marvel, based on Marvel’s calculations. This means that Grayson could have earned a maximum of $12,500 from Black Widow, which would have been half of a $25,000 pot shared with Jones, Yelena’s co-creator. Furthermore, the firm will distribute the money among all creators with stake in the project if a movie includes many characters who are the subject of Special Character Agreements.



Grayson was informed that the $25,000 for Black Widow would be split among all those involved, most likely those responsible for Red Guardian and Melina Vostokoff. There is no cap on the total amount given to authors for a project, according to a Marvel source, and it may be increased if it is thought to be fair.


Another way Marvel shrinks payments is by classifying some film appearances as “cameos.” According to sources, if a character appears for less than 15 percent of screen time, that’s considered a cameo — and thus its creators are due less money. By that standard, Sebastian Stan’s Winter Soldier, a character key to Captain America: Civil War, would be considered a cameo; he appeared in 22 minutes (just under 15 percent) of its 2 hour, 28 minute run time. Ditto for Captain America, who appeared for less than 7 minutes, 30 seconds of Avengers: Infinity War.

One potential money saver for Marvel is the world of video games, which every year eclipses the box office in terms of entertainment market share. According to sources, Marvel will pay creators for character appearances on console games only — not mobile games, a segment gaming observers note is on a fast rise and one source likens to being offered VHS royalties in an era in which Blu-ray is about to be the dominant force.


A few months after the litigation between Johansson and Disney was finally resolved, Yelena Belova made an appearance on the Disney+ series Hawkeye, solidifying the character as a significant component in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And so, according to the contract Grayson signed, she should be compensated $2,000 (or $1,000 if divided with Jones) per TV episode appearance. But when Grayson reached out to Marvel in, she learned that their calculations indicated that amount wasn’t entirely correct. Their numbers were more like $300 per episode.


Straight from the source, experienced veteran of the professional comics industry, artist and creator Ethan Van Sciver shares in the video below the difference between creating for both DC and Marvel, and reveals how Marvel Comics even screwed him over. This is a damning indictment of the raw deal creators get from these media giants.


Here’s how MARVEL COMICS swindles its creators out of BIG MONEY, and how you can avoid it!


Clownfish TV admits that this mistreatment isn’t exactly surprising, but is a very crappy way to treat creators nonetheless.


The MCU Pulls Another Bait and Switch... on Comic Creator Royalties!


Disney and Marvel hate their consumers, their characters, and apparently even the creators of those characters.

Chris Braly

I'm a collector, a speculator, and one opinionated, based geek. My friends call me Braly, but those who know me within the hobby generally refer to me as Bralinator. I try to steer this tiny ship and can often be heard monthly on the Comic Book Page Previews Spotlight podcast with several low-level, other comic book nerds. Follow me on Twitter @ChrisBraly