Legendary Silver Age writer and creator Gerry Conway, who has long histories with both Marvel and DC Comics, has returned to freelance writing assignments relating to “Amazing Spider-Man” material after being mostly retired from comic book gigs since 1993. Quite why is unknown, personal to Conway and likely involves multiple factors. Yesterday (April 28), it is possible that readers, retailers, and the general online public may have gotten an idea as to why as Conway took to his personal Tumblr account to call out DC Entertainment on their newer (and to him, poorer) creator royalty program in terms of media adaptations.
Using Caitlin Snow/Killer Frost as an example due to her current appearances in “The Flash” airing on “The CW”, Gerry Conway compares how DC Comics handled such things under the tenure of Paul Levitz as publisher to how things are run now that DC Entertainment (DCE) has more firmly entrenched the comic book company with Warner Brothers since 2009. As Conway himself summarizes, DC Comics’ royalties program for creators was almost non existent until the 1970’s. It was at that point, when Richard Donner’s “Superman” was earning mega bucks in theaters making everyone believe a man could fly, yet the original creators of Superman (and their families) got virtually nothing for that. Shamed into action, “DC Comics established the first program to provide comic book creators with a share in the revenues generated by their creations in other media. This concept became known as ‘creator equity participation’ and it was a small but significant step toward compensating creators for their work beyond a simple page rate”. Without getting into exact figures, Conway explained that under Levitz’s tenure as editor, president, and publisher, creators got their royalties consistently without undue effort on their behalf.
With the creation of DC Entertainment six years ago, according to Conway, that has changed. He’s stated that DC Comics has ceased offering creator royalties to characters considered “derivative” of other characters; as an example, Conway was personally informed via letter by DCE by CEO Diane Nelson that he would no longer receive any royalties for co-creating Power Girl because she was considered “derivative” of Superman. This was despite a legal hearing in the 1940’s “when Siegel and Shuster sued National for the rights to Superboy. National (the company that preceded DC) argued that Superman was the original creation, which Siegel and Shuster sold to National, and that Superboy was just a ‘derivative’ creation. A court-appointed legal referee found that Superboy was in fact a unique creation and that National was guilty of copyright infringement. Sadly for Siegel and Shuster (and for creators everywhere), legal expenses forced the creators to sell National the rights to Superboy in a consent decree that obscured this fundamental finding. But the finding is pretty clear: Characters ‘derived’ from other characters are legally unique, and DC’s claim that ‘derivation’ deprives creators of any equity participation rights in those characters is nothing more than an immoral, unethical, deceitful and despicable money grab”. Conway continues to note how multiple versions of various characters, such as Killer Frost, are other tricks which DC Comics uses to try to gyp royalties from creators. “Nobody gets credit and creator equity participation for creating her. And that, my friends, is truly obnoxious and despicable,” Conway continues. In order to even attempt to regain these royalties, creators much also submit written requests for each and every character they created or co-created before the next appearance; in essence, meaning many older creators would have to go through the effort of narrowing down all their creations and sending letters for each one. Conway himself estimates that this would require request letters for “over five hundred characters” just for him alone.
In a follow up post today (April 29), Conway insists that his current lecture against DC Comics (which employed him regularly from 1969-1985) isn’t entirely about money and more about principle. He reveals that his royalties for Killer Frost per appearance in another medium is roughly $47 (as well as thanking Bruce Timm and the Batman cartoons which sprang after him for putting Killer Croc, another character he co-created, out there). Newsarama reached out to DC Comics for comment, and the company declined. At any rate, it is an absolute shame that as Warner Brothers seeks to generate more cast with their DC superheroes that corporate games are being employed to cheat many of their most legendary (and now vulnerable) creators out of their share of the pie. Unfortunately, cheating creators out of royalties from blockbuster franchises they made seems to be a tale as old as time at both Marvel and DC Comics; which may also be why few creators seem willing to create new characters at either company, instead picking for owning their own creations with independent publishers. One hopes that a drastic change in finances hasn’t been the cause of why Conway has returned to monthly comic book work at Marvel, even if it may be one factor. At any rate, it is good on him to call out a mega publisher for their deplorable treatment of their creators, and hopefully it will lead to a public shaming which brings about change much as it did in the 1970’s.