Writer. Creator. Large mammal.

Many Happy Returns and Some Unhappy People

Even before I became Editor in Chief at Marvel, I’d heard plenty of creators grumbling about Marvel’s artwork return policy.

Technically, the artwork was a “gift” being given to people involved their creation. Using the word “return,” implying that creators were getting back something they had any shred of a claim to whatsoever would have infuriated the lawyers, probably, but everybody used that term anyway.

Marvel gave artwork to creators at it “sole discretion” according to the formula developed by Roy Thomas, who was the one who somehow talked the brass into allowing artwork to be given away, returned, whatever, back in 1974 or so while Roy was Editor in Chief.

Pencilers got most of the pages, inkers substantially fewer and writers got the smallest share.

Pencilers and inkers grumbled because, without exception, they felt that writers shouldn’t get any pages at all. Writers grumbled because pencilers had first choice of the pages, inkers picked second and the pages left for the writers were usually the least appealing ones. Write a heavy-copy page, and guess what, writers, that one’s yours.

Personally, I felt that if the company was giving pages to anyone, they should be given to the artists. I wrote a fair number of comics in those days. When pages were “returned” to me, I gave one page to the penciler and one to the inker. Other writers did that, too. Archie Goodwin and Don McGregor, for instance.

Once I became EIC in 1978, as if I didn’t have enough disasters to deal with, I was suddenly the central figure in the artwork return policy debate. I got a steady stream of protests, complaints and appeals about it.

After I brought this subject up yesterday, the debate that ensued among the commenters was like déjà vu for me. I heard much the same during my first couple of years as EIC.

Some commenters stated cases in terms of who they thought the art belonged to. That was not an issue.  It belonged to Marvel, or at least that was the position of the company, the position I was expected to represent as EIC, and honestly, what I believed to be true, according to the work-for-hire provisions of the copyright law. You may disagree with the law, you may not like it—I don’t—but it is the governing doctrine upon which Marvel’s position was (and is) based, and Marvel has prevailed in every legal contention.

So, the question was, if Marvel is going to give “gifts,” to whom should they be given?

While most commenters seem to think artwork should be given to the artists and not to the writers, and I already leaned that direction, it wasn’t an easy call back then. Roy established the policy. Change Roy’s policy? I wasn’t afraid to do that, if it seemed to be the right thing to do, but consider this, as I did. Roy, if I know him at all, didn’t arrive at his formula for the division of the pages capriciously or selfishly. He made a judgment that he considered fair. He made it thoughtfully. I wasn’t about to undo it on a whim. Even after he was gone.

Changing an established policy is harder than initiating one. Some writers derived a significant amount of income from the sale of the pages they received.

So, I gave it a lot of thought.

Joe Sinnott was among those who weighed in on the subject (in general, not specifically on the writers’ share issue) with a letter to me. A long, well-considered, sincere and eminently reasonable letter—and such beautiful manuscript! Good hands has Joe.

Joe is a trouper if there ever was one, a gentleman and an honorable man. I passed the letter along to Stan and asked for his thoughts.

Click images to enlarge.

I guess I was hoping that Stan would, with Solomon-like wisdom, tell me how to make everything right. Nah. As I’ve mentioned before, Stan was controversy-averse. He was sittin’ this one out.

So, it was up to me to “arrange things to satisfy Joe.” I saw no way to do that without pissing off lots of other people. Sigh. Solomon didn’t actually have to divide the baby. I did.

While I was pondering, the debate continued among the creators themselves. I think that because, my artist-favoring leanings were public knowledge, the writers were nervous. Bill Mantlo was one of the most outspoken proponents of the writers’ side. He famously wrote a letter to Bob McLeod (with whom he worked on Micronauts) on the subject which inspired a series of reactions. Bob copied me (and a number of other people) on his reply, which became sort of the cornerstone of the artists’ position. I have redacted any personal banter, irrelevant or private stuff and anything not policy-related on this and the other letters shown here:

Steve Leialoha commented on Bob’s letter and had some interesting insights:

Terry Austin responded to both of the above. Basically, Terry agreed with the sentiments expressed, but felt that the penciler (or the penciler’s agent/dealer, as with John Byrne and others) always having first choice was unfair. Terry was sympathetic to my dilemma and even went so far as to suggest that this might be a matter appropriate to let the Comic Book Creators Guild handle.

Ultimately, I had to make decisions. In 1978 and/or in 1979 I made some minor adjustments/clarifications to the policy. In late September of 1980, I changed the artwork return policy to eliminate the writers’ share and adjusted the penciler/inker and pencil breakdowns/finisher split to make them fairer. I also made it possible for penciler/inker teams to make their own, private deals.  Some teams preferred, for instance, to keep each issue intact and split books two to the penciler, one to the inker, or whatever. Later (I think), I made the selection of pages random, rather than allowing the penciler first choice. Since the penciler received the majority of the pages anyway, he or she was still likely to get most of the “good” pages.

Some writers were less than supportive. Here are two memos from Bill Mantlo, a letter from Chris Claremont and one from Doug Moench:

Bill’s “Angry” memo:

Bill’s “More Moderate” memo:

Bill did this a lot—react quick-and-angry about something, then hours or a day later, come to me with an “I’m sorry I got upset” apology (though there were times I couldn’t blame him for being upset, like when accounting screwed up his check again) or a more thoughtful protest about the issue.Chris Claremont’s letter:

Doug Moench’s letter:


Bill, Chris, Doug and others had reasonable, well-considered objections. Being writers, they stated their cases eloquently and persuasively. These are very smart people with very thoughtful, rational points of view.
Do you see why this was difficult?
And by the way, throughout this process everyone was very civil, decent and rational.  Even Bill’s “angry” memo was pretty sedate. That didn’t make dealing with the issue easier, but it lowered the ulcer-generation potential.
Bill’s suggestion, which Chris and Doug also brought up independently, regarding an across the board rate increase wasn’t a bad one. I didn’t accomplish that, but I did manage to get rate increases for almost every regular writer soon thereafter, which helped to blunt their pain. And ease my conscience.
At least the artists were happy.
MONDAY:  I’m not sure.  Probably Spider-Man’s marriage, if I can find the ref….  Plus, a few final comments on art return and the fate of creators in general now that Marvel is the House of the Mouse.


Who Deserves Pages and Who Doesn’t?


A Few More Thoughts Regarding Art Return


  1. Dear Neil,

    No, Squadron Supreme didn't influence my concept for the New Universe, though I can see why one might draw a comparison.

  2. OM

    …There is a significance to those first three letters, in that they're handwritten. In today's various entertainment markets, depending on what sort of entertainment and how involved with the Internet the company in question is, one letter can equal anywhere from 10,000 to several million e-mails. However, from what I've been told by friends who work in TV, one -handwritten- letter can actually be worth anywhere from 10,000 to as much as 50,000 typewritten letters. In TV, there are still some markets whose stations have *half* that maximum estimate in the number of viewers, even with being rebroadcast over cable!

    …The reason? It's the same basic reason that letters of any form were originally ruled more valid/important/"carried more weight" than e-mails: If the person *took* *the* *time* out of their busy lives to sit down and write this letter, then the opinions of that person should be seriously considered, evaluated, and if it's clear that they weren't the work of some kook, act upon them if it's truly in the best interests of the company!

    …Ergo, Handwritten > Typewritten/Printed >! E-mails. Call that the "Anti-Anti-Life Equation", if you will 🙂

  3. PS. I assume we are talking about comic book art done by freelancers here. Not artwork made by people employed and working in house at Lucasfilm?

  4. Brett:
    Lucas owns the Star Wars brand. Quite a difference.

    "they don't mind if their work becomes property of 'the writer'."

    Are you sure? Asked any of the artists? If there are any Star Wars artists out there: Would you like to keep the art if you were allowed? Or are you "honored to be working"?

    But for all I know Lucas might pay for the original art and then it's of course his property.

  5. Brett

    I found your article very interesting regarding the division of original art. It's funny that many artists don't want give a writer any portion of the art because they don't believe the writer had any part in the creation of the actual physical page.

    Artists who work for Lucasfilm, developing characters, etc (see any of the Art of Star Wars books). None of the artists keep their original art. All art becomes the property of Lucasfilm; George Lucas — the writer of Star Wars. I would love to see George Lucas' face if an artist who worked for him said, 'You don't get to keep the physical page because as the writer, you had nothing to do with its physical creation.' I guess those artists are just honored to be working, they don't mind if their work becomes property of 'the writer'.

  6. I can see why the writers were bothered by this at the time. The artist and inker were getting most of the pages already and that is not enough.

    Even if you disagree, you should see their position. I guess one way to square it is the artist and inkers get all the pages and the writers get a page rate increase.

  7. I don't know, but I assume that once the project was dead, DC returned the pencils, all of them, to Perez. We had similar cases at Marvel from time to time — obsolete inventory penciled pages, pencils inked for whatever reasons on overlays, etc. We returned them to the penciler.

  8. Thinking about JediJones's hypothetical example of selling original artwork of an unpublished comic, I remembered that Rob Liefeld owns the completed pages of the original unpublished JLA/Avengers crossover. Does anyone know whom did he buy them from? Had they been returned to Perez only, or where they kept at Marvel or DC?

  9. Jim,

    Thanks for clearing that up.

  10. Mark-

    Amen on Swamp Thing, "the anatomy lesson", was the start of a roller-coaster ride, very fond memories.

  11. @ Diacanu

    I think Moore was at his best when he wasn't quite as self-aware – I love a lot of his early DC stories and his Swamp Thing run in particular. Otherwise, yeah, while Watchmen was a good for Moore and Gibbons, and a seminal work, I think it was on the whole bad for comic books.

  12. "…but I'm sure we've all seen the same artist working under different writers and not getting the same overall results"

    Personally, I've found more usual that the artist holds a standard of quality no matter who is the writer, for example I have enjoyed Garcia Lopez's artwork even in stories I found mediocre. (Personal opinion, always)

    "I would probably agree the artist contributes more to the quality of an issue than the writer…"

    See, for me, the writer of a comic is a more important factor in purchasing a comic than the artist. I may side with the artists owning the pages as physical objects, but that's not because I underestimate the writers' contribution to the finished product. I value the writer's contribution in the form of characterization, plot twists and sheer cool concepts in a published comic, but I find the artist being more responsible for the quality of a finished page (not the sum of the pages that constitutes the story).

    "I think the best scenario I can come up with to illustrate my position is this one…"

    The example you give is an interesting one which is why I believe that there are special occasions where writer and artist should work out between them.

  13. Tony, you are citing some of the erroneous arguments postulated by some creators and observers back when. Work-for-hire involves no transfer of property. The company is legally the author/creator. Artwork return had and has nothing to do with the companies trying to avoid some tax obligation. It happened as I said. The reason had more to do with trying to appease creators and as a way of providing them more compensation without spending any additional money.

  14. Mark-

    No, you can't be too harsh on Moore.

    "Lost Girls", was the most boring an pretentious porno I've ever suffered through, and even Watchmen doesn't make up for that.

    Go nuts on him, I don't care.

  15. @ Dimitris

    *whew* I was worried I came off as a little too harsh on Moore, and I certainly wasn't trying to get a reaction from anyone. I don't hold the writing on Watchmen in quite the same high regard as I used to, but that is part of the beauty of it – there is something for everyone. In terms of graphic design and art, Watchmen still has a lot of legs, even if other aspects of it, such as the writing (to my eyes) seem dated now.

  16. Gregg H

    I think that a decent argument as far as the tax liability for the returned artwork could be shifted from the publisher to the creator (and frankly that is the way it should be).
    The publisher declares the value of the materials that they are giving to the artist. The overall taxes on a few extra dollars is less than insignificant. It isn't even a rounding error in magnitude.
    THEN, the artist would be liable for declairing their income from the sale in their tax returns AS WELL as collect ay sales tax that is applicible in the state where they sell it.
    Do any artists actually do that?

  17. Neil Anderson

    Great post about a situation where it was impossible to make everyone happy. And Jim, I'd love for you to write a post on Squadron Supreme–I read it for the first time about 6 years ago, and loved it. And I think it does have a lot in common with Watchmen. Did it influence the New Universe at all?

  18. That makes sense. In that sense the art becomes no different than a drawing of Donald Duck a kid does and puts on his refrigerator. But if the physical artwork was never technically owned by the company, it seems like the company would have no grounds for giving it to the writer. As long as the artist just hung the artwork on their wall, no one else would be entitled to anything.

    On the other hand, Marvel would still have the right to demand royalties on the sale of that artwork since it features their trademarks and copyrights. And then the debate starts over again as to who should be entitled to the proceeds from the sale. And the question arises as to whether Marvel should compensate the writers if they decide not to enforce collecting royalties on the artist's sale.

    I think the best scenario I can come up with to illustrate my position is this one. What if the issue was completely written by a writer, drawn by an artist, and ready to be turned in to be printed, but the publisher suddenly went out of business? Let's say it was a Sherlock Holmes comic with public domain characters to eliminate the issue of character-based royalties. The artist was unable to find another publisher who wanted to print the comic, so he decided to just sell off the pages as an unpublished original comic. Would it be okay for the artist to keep all the profits for himself in that case?

    If an original, one-of-a-kind comic was created and sold only in the form of original artwork, then surely everyone would agree the writer deserved payment for his contribution. Just because copies are printed or reprinted shouldn't negate the writer's stake in the original creation. Whether the comic book you're selling is the original hand-drawn copy, a commercial printing or a reprint, it's still something that only exists in that form because of a collaborative effort.

    The writer's original manuscript is never printed anywhere, only the finished art pages. So if we don't acknowledge that the writer contributes to what's seen on those comic pages, then the writer shouldn't get paid anything at all when that issue is published. By that standard, the writer should have to sell his own manuscript to collect any money, since his hands never touched the pages that end up being printed in the comic book and sold.

    There is a difference between a random collection of drawings and ones that represent a cohesive plot, character development and dramatic content. Certainly what the artist does enhances those dramatic elements, but I'm sure we've all seen the same artist working under different writers and not getting the same overall results. I would probably agree the artist contributes more to the quality of an issue than the writer and most likely spends more time working on it. But the writer "owns" (in the spiritual, if not the legal sense) at least some piece of that final creation. So it only seems fair that he should share in whatever part of it is given back, whenever possible.

  19. JediJones said, "But that's the rub. The artist doesn't own the artwork either after Marvel buys it."

    From what I've read, the issue is muddied by the fact that it was in the companies' interests not to clarify what exactly they were paying the artists for, or who actually owned the physical piece of artwork. Because if the company suddenly said they were in fact purchasing the physical object (rather than the rights to publish the image), they would be liable for millions of dollars in unpaid taxes on the transfer of this property. It's complicated, and I don't remember the details very well, but there was apparently a financial imperative for Marvel, DC, and others to try to have it both ways, i.e., the original art was & was not property of the company. It is my understanding that this is why artwork return began in the first place, so they could claim to be buying only intangible rights and were only "borrowing" the physical item from the artist, thus circumventing tax issues.

  20. @ Mark:

    I wasn't implying that you were trying to devalue Moore's contribution, sorry if I came off as such. I agree with you that several people contributed to the greatness of the comic, and if any of them was absent, Watchmen wouldn't have been the same.

    It's nice to be able to discuss comics in a civil manner here. Great blog indeed!

  21. As a writer working on a webcomic, I must say, there is nothing, nothing more magical than seeing a character you create come alive on the page. But contract work, like a mainstream book? Here's how I'd divvy up the returns. The inker and penciller get a 50/50 split. But if the writer has introduced a character they created in an issue? They're entitled to 2 pages of the character, penciller and inker's discretion. A memento of the magic moment of seeing a character spring from your head and through the magic of collaboration, onto the page.

  22. My opinion: I think the key point here is to decide if the original artwork policy is A) a "gift" or B) a "return".

    If we consider it as A) a "gift" then nobody could tell the publishers how or who they'd be giving away the pages. That would be their choice. They could do whatever they'd consider and nobody should complain because it'd be a gift, not a payment or a compensation. They could give it to the penciler, to the inker, to the letterer, to the colorist, to a cousin, to someone who's just visiting the company offices or to whoever they decide. And I don't imagine anybody saying something: "I appreciate your present but you should have given me something more/better". When you receive a present you just say "Thanks", you don't say "Hey, I want more".

    If we consider it B) a "return" then you can't return anything that hasn't been in someone's possession and probably hasn't even seen it. You can only return the artwork to the people who has helped to pshysichally build it. The artwork should be returned back to the people that have worked in the pages and are responsible of their artistic value. That would include the letterer when the lettering is done directly in the page because lettering is also an artistic job and contributes to the artistic value of the piece. The number of pages returned to any of the artists involved in working in the piece should be proportional to the number of hours spent in the making and the lots should be made at random.

    Then, must we consider it a GIFT or a RETURN? The publishers are supposed to sell books, not original art pieces, that's not their business, is it?. When they hire an artist is to use his art to print and sell books, not to keep or sell the originals that are needed to produce the books. So you can't give away something that doesn't belong to you. In order to print their books they need to hire editors, writers, pencilers, inker, letterers, colorists… They hire these people's work and they need original art to make it published but once the book is published the artpieces are of no use to the publishers unless they'd want to make an additional profit at the expense of the people they've hired. I don't think that would be fair.

  23. Pete Marco said…
    As for Claremont…creating some of the X-Men characters…Claremont doesn't own those characters – they're Marvel's.

    But that's the rub. The artist doesn't own the artwork either after Marvel buys it. Marvel has no legal obligation to return it but does it as a perk. So why when it comes to the artwork, do you feel Marvel owes the artist, but the creators of the characters and plot shown in the artwork deserve nothing? The artist gets a bonus on that issue while the writer gets nothing.

    It seems clear that the characters and story represented by a piece of artwork contribute to its value. Would a McFarlane page with Venom sell for more than one with Willie Lumpkin? Would artwork showing the first appearance of Wolverine still sell for a lot no matter who drew it?

    I can argue that the artwork is one unique "printing" of the comic book, in which case all the creators should receive the same royalties from it that they would on a reprint of the issue. Everyone agrees the comic book is a collaborative effort between the writer, artist, et al. So how can the original pages which the comic book is a direct copy of not also be considered the result of a collaborative effort?

    I can also argue that when it's sold, the artwork becomes a piece of licensed merchandise like a poster or T-shirt. Normally, I expect the designer of the merchandise would get paid and the creators of characters featured on it would also receive royalties. In this case Marvel has decided to allow the artist to keep all the profits for himself, which seems unfair to the other people who would usually get money from the sale of merchandise.

    should the people in a news photograph get a percentage of the newspaper sales or the photog's payment?

    Journalism has a very different standard from entertainment. Newsworthy items are not subject to the same copyright protections. Besides, I believe the law says that if you're in a public place, you don't have privacy rights or rights to your likeness. This also gets into issues of fair use, where you can legally quote a small portion of a copyrighted or trademarked work as part of a new work. But it doesn't apply to this discussion.

    Pariah said…
    it is fair for the artists to get all of their artwork back…since in the comics industry writers are able to generate more income by writing multiple books at once

    Aren't artists already paid more for their work than writers are? It seems to me the differential between how much time a writer vs. an artist spends on a book should be handled upfront as a matter of salary. If instead the company says something like, on the 2nd printing we're only going to pay the artist but not the writer to make up for a perceived imbalance…it doesn't sound like a formula for making your creators feel they're being treated fairly.

    Anonymous said…
    All the writers seeking ownership of ART THEY DIDN'T CREATE are just looking for money on the back of the artist

    When the artist sells a drawing of a character HE DIDN'T CREATE, is he seeking money on the back of the creator? This argument sounds like something from Image, where creators' rights are good for the goose but not for the gander.

    Should Stan Lee get art pages from stories Ditko plotted and drew???

    In that case Ditko was the main writer of the story. If Stan wrote the words on the page then arguably he should get a cut, but not as much as if he also plotted the story.

    Dimitris said…
    but then every single person that was involved in…X-Men 137…should have a share from the original artwork's sales…That's not necessarily wrong, but certainly difficult to apply.

    Yes it is. I'd say in a perfect world, Marvel should sell the artwork themselves and give the creators the same royalties they'd get if it was a reprint of the comic. If Marvel logistically couldn't do that, at least the writer should get some financial compensation.

  24. @ Dimitris

    I wasn't trying to devalue Moore's contribution. However, I wonder ifWatchmen would have been Watchmen if the title was on a horizontal axis, a Comic Sans font was used for the logo, and the colors used on the cover were purple, green, and beige. Watchmen is ultimately Watchmen in part because the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts. The design (veritical axis, Futura SH-Bold Con font, and yellow, black & a splash of red) is as etched as permanently on my minds eye as the story and the artwork.

  25. Blok 4 Prez

    If you liked Squadron Supreme mini-series (loved it when it came out) and Watchmen (which, yes, is richer and holds up better to repeated readings) you should check out "Superfolks", the comedic 1977 novel by Robert Mayer.

    It was a very early take on the super-heroes in the real world idea. And very odd and funny, too. Kurt Busiek has said it helped inspire "Astro City". And later reprints have a cover by the Watchmen's Dave Gibbons.

    And once again, let me say how much I'm enjoy this site. Thanks to all involved!

  26. Anonymous

    Squadron Supreme…I remember people talking about it as though it were a "serious" story. It's just a really long "What If" issue. "What If the Justice League Took Over the Government?" Not that that's a bad thing, but it hardly has multiple stories and themes to appreciate in the way that Watchmen does. Watchmen I read again and again and often notice details I didn't catch the first time around. Squadron Supreme I read once and felt no need to re-read.

    It's interesting that both miniseries use slightly changed versions of another company's super heroes. Never noticed that before.

  27. Anonymous

    I'm both a writer and an artist, usually both on the same work.

    I would never dream of asking for ownership of a drawing I didn't create. If I liked it that much, I would offer to buy the artwork from the artist.

    I would never dream of giving ownership of my script to an artist just because he drew the story from it.

    All the writers seeking ownership of ART THEY DIDN'T CREATE are just looking for money on the back of the artist. Even worse, under the old Marvel method the writer wasn't even the writer a lot of the time, at best he was co-writer or "co-plotter and scripter." Should Stan Lee get art pages from stories Ditko plotted and drew???

  28. Kid

    Someone may have already pointed this out, but it was Moore who wrote Watchmen, not Morrison, as someone erroneously stated.

    It all seems simple to me. For the purposes of copyright, the commissioning company is usually regarded as 'the author'. Writers, pencillers, inkers, letterers, etc., are 'work for hire'. If the company wishes to return (where possible) the individual components which go to make up a published comicbook to the respective parties, then the writer gets back his script, and the artist gets back his pages. (And in the case where a page is the result of a penciller and inker – or even a letterer – then the division will have to be agreed on.)

    The fact that there is a secondary market for the purchase of pages is therefore just a lucky side-benefit that befalls the artists on account of them receiving back the pages they produced.

  29. Let me rephrase that: "Less of a traditional SUPER HERO comic book then SS is."

  30. Watchmen is a better story then Squadron Supreme, imo. It's tighter and more coherent. Less of a traditional comic book then SS is.

  31. Mark,

    I was not trying to devaluate Dave Gibbons' contribution to Watchmen. Without him Watchmen wouldn't have been what it was, that's for sure. It's just that personally I happen to be a bigger fan of Moore than Gibbons (not that I don't love Gibbons). If it's the opposite for you that's fine of course.

  32. As a story, or comic book product, Moore is a bigger factor than Gibbons on why I like Watchmen (personal opinion).

    Is Moore as important as we think he is? It's a great story, but looking at the design of the comic book itself, without the title running along the side of the comic book, the combination of black and yellow, how would Watchmen have been significantly different from Squadron Supreme, a title that ran at roughly the same time and dealt with similar themes and issues. I've never read the latter, although I'm told that it is comparable to the former, but I have much more vivid memories of Watchmen, in part because of it's unusual and very eye-catching design.

  33. To add to my previous comment, to "every single person that was involved in the creation of X-Men 137" you could add Dave Cockrum who was also responsible for the creation of the Phoenix, and Lee and Kirby, since without their original X-Men stories that chronicled the characters' early adventures that issue wouldn't be as poignant/important.

  34. @ Blok 4 Prez,

    I respect your opinion, but then every single person that was involved in the creation of X-Men 137, (including EIC Jim Shooter) should have a share from the original artwork's sales since they all contributed to that historic issue's existence. That's not necessarily wrong, but certainly difficult to apply.

  35. @ Gregg H,

    As a story, or comic book product, Moore is a bigger factor than Gibbons on why I like Watchmen (personal opinion). But if I bought a Watchmen page it would be a Gibbons page that I bought. To make my position more clear, Alan Moore also wrote "Judgment Day" mostly drawn by Rob Liefeld. I love that story too, but if I had to choose between a page From Watchmen and a page from Judgment Day it would be essentially a choice between Gibbons and Liefeld (and I would pick Gibbons), no matter how good Moore's script was in either case.

    Regarding "The inks are 100% dependant on the pencils. Without them, there is literally NOTHING to ink":, without paint colors Picasso couldn't have created any of his works in the first place, that doesn't mean that Picasso should have given a share of sales to paint color manufacturers. Not a very relevant example maybe, just wanted to say that the necessity of a thing's existence for someone to apply their craftsmanship on, doesn't always mean that said craftsmanship is not very/more important.

    P.S. I have read a part of Moore's script for "The Killing Joke" and I have to say that I would gladly buy Moore's scripts over a lot of his artists original drawings! It was really entertaining!

  36. since in the comics industry writers are able to generate more income by writing multiple books at once where an pencilers (sp) is stuck with one issue per month

    Come to think of it – and I'm on the artist's side when it comes to this question – it does take the artist much more time to execute his half of the product. Writers do have more opportunities to generate more revenue in any given month than an artist – I think the artist should get all the pages, but the policy also allows the artist to compensate for their slower creative output.

  37. Anonymous

    As a final word, an artist is more than the secretary of the writer, and the writer does more than offering a source for the art. The artist doesn't adapt a script as he would adapt a classic novel. He doesn't create a new independent work as he would do if he choose to make a new painting based on a Leonardo Da Vinci painting. The script is writen to be drawn and if different artist will do a different page, it is also true that the page will be different with a different writer, and also with different characters (who belongs to the compagny). The page is the work of two dreamers, who also are technicians of their craft. One dreams a story, that probably has pictures, but generaly not the ones that will be on the final page, the other visualises the story, dreams new pictures based on the work of the writer, makes change, makes the work evolve in its final (penciled) form, and gives them a physical reality. The writer then gives the final touch to his story (Marvel way) with dialogues based on the pictures present on the page. They work on a book, not on a pin-up or a painting, and they work on it together, even when they're in different towns, even when the writing is done full script. Because never the script or the art are independent of each other. A comic book script is writen to be drawn. Comics art is the shape that takes the script once it made its way through the mind and the hands of a second creator, who has his own sensibility, talent and craft. The writer and the artist contritbute to a book, that in its final form is a printed work, but the printed work is simply a reproduction of the original book, which one is composed of pages. Even if sold independently, the pages aren't separate works more than a panel is independent to the rest of the page, and each panel is as much part of a book than it is part of a page.

    Stéphane Garrelie.

  38. Anonymous

    Dear Jim,

    I see a few different questions here:

    1) Who is the creator of the pages?
    -The characters belongs to the compagny, which one also hires the creative team to do a specific work with the said characters.
    -The writer, at a different degree if the job is done Marvel way or ful script, says what is to be on the page. It's his story, his scenes, sometime he may even go as far ad describing the panels.
    -The artist, brings to the work his technical competentness, his sensibility, and if the job is done Marvel way directs the scenes. He even is a sort of co-writer in the sense that he contributes to the story as he devellops the basic concept from the plot more than he simply illustrates it. There are narrative elements that are added by the artist in the same way as in a novel the writer will choose what is the best way to tell the story, what are the best words, the more efficient repartition of the characters in a room, all the elements that visualy will produce the maximal effect. It is also true that his influence on the dialogue when the work is done Marvel way is more or less the same as the one of the plot on his art. Maybe at a lesser degree if the writer has an idea of what he wants the characters to say, but there's alway an influence, and if the writer has no prealable precise idea of what he wants in the dialogue, then the influence is major.
    -The inker, tracer or embelisher, gives to the pencils their final black and white look. Given that in american comics the colors used to be done using coded indications given to the printer by the colorist, the original art (done that way in the huge majority of the cases) was black and white. If inked on the page, the inker contributes to the original art sometime almost as much as the artist (and if he is a finisher over sparse layouts maybe more- cf Tom Palmer over John Buscema and Paul Ryan on the Avengers, supposing he did the inks on the page). If the inker did the inks overlay, he still is important to the final product, but not to the penciled original page.
    -Letterers, when the balloons and captions are pasted on the page, contribute to its visual aspect, particularly if their letters have an original look. That's not the majority of the letterers, but some are real artists. Caligraphy is an art and so is lettering, at least potentialy.

    2) Is a comic page an independent work? Same as a painting or a pin-up?
    -No, it isn't: It is part of a book, and conceived with the objective to tell sequentialy a story. This is true even if the artist does not follow the order of the story when he draws the pages (this, not doing the page in the order, may explain why many artists seem to consider each page as a complete work.)
    -Collectors buy pages as they would buy a painting or trading cards. In the first case they seem to consider it a complete work, in the second a part of a wider ensemble, of which other parts potentialy may be bought later. Concretely it's probably a mix of both. but that commercial reality doesn't change the nature of the art piece itself.

    3) Who owns the pages?
    -The law of the country in which they're done gives the legal answer.
    -The law can evolve, can change, but it is what it is.

    4)is it a question of preservation of the art for historal reasons or because the creator has an emotional link to it, or is it a financial question?
    -If it was for historical reasons, then the place of the art would be in a museum.
    -If the reasons are emotional, maybe that's something that should be made clear between the artist, the compagny and the other creators involved when signing the contracts.
    -If it is about money, and it seems very much it is the point here for everybody involved, including the artists, then it should be treated as any other part of the remuneration of the different creators. Exactly as a paycheck and established by contract. The share of art allowed to each dreator is in this case part of the deal. Particularly if there's an official compagny policy.

    Stéphane Garrelie

  39. Anonymous

    Test: it seems difficult to post today.


  40. Oscar Solis said…

    "Seriously, Jerry, you make some good points. However, and correct me if I'm wrong, regarding the 3 panel bit per page (as an example), aren't most comics drawn off of full scripts these days?"

    I'm not sure, Oscar how many are full script these days. But if a high percentage are full-script, I'd say it proves my point:

    Artists who are writing the books that they then draw 'script" for the art sale and not the story, writers who write a full-script with no story telling are weak writers, and the editors who allow this from any part of their creative team are weak in skill and will.

  41. Anonymous

    Digital comic artists can (and do) make limited edition signed and numbered prints of their work and sell those. In fact, by this method they get to sell 10 to 100 copies of the same piece of art — better than the old days!

    Pete M

  42. GePop

    Thanks so much for clearing that up, Jim. That's one of the things which I enjoy so much about this blog…that you can correct misconceptions directly.

    I still wish I could recall who it was who made that long-ago statement about artwork being given away as gifts by executives; I hate employing the ambiguous "someone said", but I also don't want to attribute it to the wrong person by guessing incorrectly.

    At any rate, as I recollect it, I think the point they were making was that the handling of artwork was pretty uncoordinated and even chaotic until you became EiC. In making their point, they may have exaggerated the circumstances.

  43. Jerry Novick- "well, I can pick up a pen to draw so I can do the writing too"

    That makes me think about all those actors who, because they can act, all of a sudden decide that they should cut an album too. In fact, next to lousy storytelling in comics, actors releasing an album/cd may well be the greatest "creative" crime against humanity there is 🙂

    Seriously, Jerry, you make some good points. However, and correct me if I'm wrong, regarding the 3 panel bit per page (as an example), aren't most comics drawn off of full scripts these days?

    It's true though that all this full panel baloney and designing the art so that it could be resold gotten really out of hand as has that decompressed way of telling a story. Seriously, if a newcomer who wanted to read a comic book wanted to start reading comics what incentive is there for him to even try. Seriously, who, but the serious fanboy, wants to read a story in parts? Not at today's prices and not with stories that can be told in 8, 12, 20 40 pages (I'm serious. Try compressing a decompressed comic and you'll see that most comics today don't require the pages alloted to them. While I'm at it, who the heck decided that captions with "Meanwhile…" and "Later…" were bad for comics?).

    I was reading some old "Devil Dinosaurs" by Jack Kirby. While it may be seen by many as one of his lesser efforts (I don't count myself among them), it's a good example of basic storytelling principals. Everything one needs to know about the characters and the world they occupy is stated in every issue. The dialogue may be clunky and the art told in simple 6 panel and 4 panel layouts but it's still solid storytelling, especially when compared to the "storytelling" standards of today. Anyone new to comics could dive into any issue and know what was going on. It used to be that way.

    I've written my bit on other posts in the Shooter blog regarding my feelings about comics storytelling. It's an extremely frustrating situation because as a storytelling medium comics are a wonderful vehicle. It's unfortunate that the fanboys of today are so willing to accept pretty pictures in place of what used to be.

    But then again that's what is so wrong with comics today. Letting so few decide when there are millions more that should be reached.

    Sorry for being a broken record.

  44. As an afterthought, I'm reminded of being sickened when a respected artist employed by Marvel relayed a story about refusing to draw a story by a respected industry writer. He said he didn't want to draw the Punisher in prison garb. All the art he had for sale was classic poses of the Punisher standing around looking like a bad ass. I assume that he'd have problems selling art with the Punisher is an orange jumpsuit. His contact at Marvel was Axel Alonso. He told of Axel being upset. At the time, I'd never heard of Axel, but supposedly he interfaced with a lot of the creative talent.

  45. For the quality reasons outlined by Jerry Novick, I don't think ANY of the art should be returned if it is done on a work-for-hire basis. The art is a company asset bought and paid for by the company. In times where the industry is selling fewer comics, the artwork could be used in contests or as incentives for marketing the product to consumers.

    Comics are suffering because artists are more interested in what they make on the art sale than they are being true to the script. I listened to an artist and inker at a convention gloat and smile that the penciler had ignored some instructions Jim had put in one of his scripts. The penciler complained about how thick and detailed the script was. More often than not, artists are only interested in pinups and splash pages rather than telling a deep story. Why do artists these days draw every character poking out their chest and standing around. Who walks around with their chest poked out?

    I'd rather see the publisher sell the art and just pay the creators more. A bricklayer or roofer doesn't get a timeshare option if he helps builds a beach house.

    I'm sure that is an unpopular opinion, but I'm not trying to hold on to this hobby anymore and talk through rose colored glasses. I neither buy nor actively collect anything anymore. I thinks comics have "jumped the shark" and I'm pretty much ashamed of the (lack of) product quality I'm seeing produced today.

  46. Anonymous

    'Digital inking' –it even SOUNDS awesome!

    Pete M

  47. ja

    Ugh. I forgot to add the playful, "=P".


  48. ja

    @ Blok 4 Prez:

    Yes. Very few.

  49. Blok 4 Prez

    I'm definitely in the minority here, which has been interesting to see (and certainly the other side has been well argued.) But I still think the writer should get back as many pages as the penciler does.

    I've seen pages from the classic X-men #137 selling on ebay for tens of thousands of dollars. If John Byrne did a commission of those characters (even if he did it back when the comic came out) it wouldn't be worth the same amount as those pages. Because people want the original artwork from the STORY they loved drawn by the penciler and inker they loved. It's the finished product of the COLLABORATION of writer and artists that they want to hang on their wall. Without Claremont's plot (or co-plot in this case) it would just be a beautiful commission shot of some beloved characters (that neither Claremont or Byrne created.)

    This example isn't totally perfect as Byrne was co-plotting back then so maybe should get 2/3rds of whatever share the penciler alone would normally get (leaving pages for the inker — Terry Austin — as well. And perhaps others.) But my point is, without the writing involved you wouldn't have the finished product that people loved and were then willing to pay tons to have a piece of the original version of. Claremont's original typed script is worth something and I'm sure he could sell it, but it's not worth nearly as much as the finished product of the collaboration. Similarly a Byrne commission of those characters done at that time is worth something, but not the same as pages from the product of their collaboration.

    In any case, as others pointed out, with the increase of digital pencils and inks, this is slowly becoming a non-issue. But interesting to see how few people agree with me! Ah well.

  50. Anonymous

    JediJones 'Therefore if you believe in creators' rights completely, and Chris Claremont created some of the characters or plotted out the sequence of panels in the comic artwork that is later sold, why would he not morally deserve a percentage of the profits from the sale of that artwork? '

    OK if we extrapolate this, should the people in a news photograph get a percentage of the newspaper sales or the photog's payment? Should whomever designed their clothing, or the cars and buildings in the shot also be getting a cut?

    Or should the money just go to the photographer who made the photo a reality by actually snapping the shot?

    Not tying to be antagonistic, just putting this out there.

    As for Claremont or whomever creating some of the X-Men characters on a penciled comic page, Claremont doesn't own those characters – they're Marvel's.

    Pete Marco

  51. I think it is fair for the artists to get all of their artwork back and none to the writers, since in the comics industry writers are able to generate more income by writing multiple books at once where an pencilers (sp) is stuck with one issue per month and also since they can make money back on their original artwork later on if they became renown i think that's only fair for them.

    writers should get their script back and that's it really.

  52. Oh, and what I said above should not be taken as a knock on artists as a whole. There are still some great storytelling artists working in comic books today. If anything, a good deal of the responsibility lies with editors who do not demand more from the writers and the artists – even when the writer is also the artist – and writers who do not demand more from themselves, whether the writer is also the artist or not.

  53. As a comic book writer, I never even considered that I would/should have any right to returned art. I didn't draw it.

    Sure, depending on the level of detail I put in the script, I in a sense may have given direction as to the layout of the content ("PAGE ONE – Give me a horizontal across the top 1/3 of the page with Superman flying…" or "PANEL 5: Close in on Supes' face, a look of loss in his eyes.") – but in no way did I actually layout the page or draw anything on it. Even if I did a quick sketch (which almost never happens) it would only be because I envisioned the camera in a certain way and it had to match the words exactly.

    Art allocation was never an issue in my mind. I didn't draw it, I have no claim to it. If there was a particular page that I loved, I might hope that the artist would give me a good deal on buying it from them, but a bit of consideration on the price is all I could hope for, and even then I would feel like I was cutting into the artist's lunch money.

    What worries me is the decline in storytelling we've witnessed over the past decade in comics. Some artists layout their pages now with an eye towards resale value and not storytelling, and there are instances where writers have been replaced on books because the company favors the artist and the artist complains that the writer "directs" too much. And let's be frank – there's a difference between the quality of talent on both the scripting and drawing side for say a writer/artist like John Byrne versus some of the junk that comes out these days from artists who "write" their own books.

    Writers have been grossly undervalued in comic books these days – not by the buyers but by the publishers – and the rapid and steady decline of sales proves that. Art might sell the first few issues but story is what makes a top-selling ongoing series. The whole "well, I can pick up a pen to draw so I can do the writing too" is an insult to the craft. The fact that many books on the shelves these days have an average of 3 panels per page and at best a dozen words shows that the craft of comic books is sadly moving away from telling stories to selling pin-ups.

  54. Dear GePop,

    To my knowledge no artwork was given away by anyone at Marvel or Cadence to anyone except the creators under Marvel's artwork return policy during the time I was at Marvel. I don't believe any such thing ever happened. In fact, I can say with certainty that it was impossible.

  55. I absolutely don't agree that the writers asking for what they perceive to be their fair share of money from sales of original artwork undermines their argument at all. That is, unless the artist in question was NOT selling the artwork and simply keeping it or giving it away. If the artist's intention and action is to sell the artwork and keep all the profits for his own personal use, then it's extremely unfair to say the writer is somehow at fault for simply raising the issue of whether he should share in those profits. If the profits are good for the goose then they're good for the gander.

  56. Intellectual property law is a complicated area. So much depends upon the deal one makes in any particular situation. People generally accept photographers' usual terms but they don't have to. It is possible to find a photographer who will work for hire, in which case you provide the materials and own the work. It is possible also for publishers to hire creators as independent contractors as opposed to work-for-hire.

  57. Now to add an argument to the writers' side. I understand that legally, the comic companies still retain the copyrights and trademarks to all pages done work-for-hire. The artwork return process specifically grants the artist back the right to sell those pages (but not any reproductions of them). Without that, Marvel could sue any artist who sold original pages or even an artist who just does a drawing of a Marvel character on their own time and sells it. It's not something that they generally appear to crack down on, but the company has those rights.

    If you believe that the law isn't completely wrong and has a moral basis for allowing intellectual property rights to exist, then that bolsters the writers' case to a claim on the artwork. The law acknowledges that ideas, or intellectual property matters. Therefore, any argument that dictates who gets profits from the sale of art based solely on "the people who physically touch it" would be thrown out of court.

    Let's say we removed the company from the equation entirely. Let's say a writer self-published and owned his own characters and stories, but hired an artist to draw them for a comic book. Let's say the artist only sent in copies of his art to be printed, but kept the originals. If the artist then went and sold those originals, it seems to me the writer/publisher would have a legal claim to some of those profits, since the art is derived directly from his intellectual property, even if he never specifically bought and paid for the original master copy of the artwork.

    Therefore if you believe in creators' rights completely, and Chris Claremont created some of the characters or plotted out the sequence of panels in the comic artwork that is later sold, why would he not morally deserve a percentage of the profits from the sale of that artwork? How about the issue where Wolverine first appeared? Why should the writer who co-created Wolverine not morally deserve to take some profit from the sale of those pages of artwork?

    I doubt he could claim physical ownership of the pages since they never touched his hands, any more than Disney could claim they own a drawing of Donald Duck that some kid drew and put on his refrigerator, but the equation becomes very different when that artwork is sold. You can't legally sell a drawing of a trademarked character without permission of the rights holder. So, in essence what we have here is Marvel receiving ownership of both the writers' and artists' intellectual property on a work-for-hire basis (passing any potential trademarks and copyrights from them to Marvel), and then taking a portion of both the writers' and artists' contributions to their intellectual property and granting them solely to the artists.

    In the end, giving the writers extra financial compensation in exchange for giving the artists full custody of the artwork, as Jim says he eventually was more or less able to do, does seem like about as fair a decision as possible. It would be impossible to enforce collecting a percentage of the profits from artwork sales from the artist, especially if they had left the company in the interim. The only possibly more equitable solution would be for Marvel to retain the artwork and sell it themselves, then apportion out the revenue among all the contributors according to a set ratio. That would probably be easier to do today through the internet than it would have been then.

  58. Brett,

    I had a slightly different reaction to the writers' letters. I think it is true that they all indicate that the writers' main interest in the artwork was pecuniary. I wouldn't call that greed, though. Any professional will complain if they are given a perk as part of their employment and later have that perk taken away.

    As the saying goes, it's hard to get people to understand a position when their job (or their pay) depends on them not understanding it.

    It's difficult to recall that at the time, people were just starting to come around to the idea that the art actually had value, never mind which people had a claim to owning it. More to the point, as Jim has pointed out, there were plenty of people who felt that the company which bought the artwork owned it lock, stock, and ink. Arguing over who should get how much of what was basically a gift must have seemed to some people like a group of four-year olds arguing over how much cake each one is entitled to.

    Looking back in hindsight, I think the case Mantlo and Claremont were making was unconvincing, but I think they made a valid point that the company was using a specific perk as an inducement to work for it, and that inducement would disappear if the perk were taken away. I also think the fact that they seem quicker than the artists to point to the dollar value of the artwork as part of their argument weakens their point, but I think it did help point to the solution of the problem.

    To put all this another way, I think if the writers had won their argument, we would probably be reading McLeod's letter and remarking how greedy it sounds. ("Really, most of the pages aren't good enough? You want them all? Wow.") It's largely because we've come to accept the analogies that McLeod and other artists used that we tend to dismiss the opposing viewpoints today (including both the writers' and the company's). I think the writers were holding reasonable viewpoints for their time.

  59. Brett…I like you analogy and will expand upon it.

    A photographer constructs the image when he snaps the shutter. The artist, inker and letterer all help construct the page when they work on it. They're the only ones who physically touch the page (pre-digital era).

    The writer isn't part of the crafting process of the artwork and isn't entitled to it. His responsibility is to construct the script.

  60. Kid-

    Also, I know from dealing with copyright lawyers with regard to my photography, my copyright is created at the point I click the shutter, even before I see the image. There is no requirement to file an application or do anything at all. You don't even need to watermark or print your copyright on the image. If you can prove the images belongs to you through either a negative or digital original file, the copyright is yours.

    You have the option to protect your rights further against someone who infringes that copyright, and prevail on collecting damages, if you file your images with the copyright office within a certain period of time after creating the image, though it's not a requirement. It also plays in your favor if you do watermark your images with a copyright notice, but it also is not necessary.

    So every time you, or anyone else, lifts an image from the internet, remember that you may be infringing on someone's copyright, even if the image is uncredited.

  61. Kid –

    I don't know if copyright is inconsistent as much as it is open to interpretation. However, the photographer situation you describe is no different than the original art issue. Even though you describe what you want, it is still the photographer making the choices of lighting, final composition and choosing when to click the shutter. Line up 10 different photographers on the same subject with your same set of ideas and you will get 10 different photographic interpretations. I have done this in photo workshops and it is a good way to understand that a photographer's greatest tool, much like an artist, isn't his camera, or his lights, it's his eye, or his vision of the final image.

    Where this varies from the original art issue is that though the photographer maintains copyright and owner ship of the negatives and image, as a privately commission photo he has no rights to sell that work to anyone other than you without your consent. Which is why many photographers will negotiate terms with you if you ask. You can pay more to buy the negatives and the rights, or they may ask to buy rights from you to use or sell the images elsewhere if they believe they have a market for them. Portrait photography is often very different than event or editorial photography in this way.

    As for designing a house, it's a similar deal. Over twenty years ago I designed my house, creating drawings of each elevation, inside and out complete with final measurements. I commissioned an architect to create finished blueprints from my drawings. A lot more skill and experience goes into his drawings as he has to understand and apply building codes, electrical and mechanical requirements, etc. His contract calls for him to retain copyrights of all houses he drafts and clear title to sell those drawings as part of his business. Because I felt the design was all mine, we negotiated the terms so that each of us share a joint copyright and can each sell the design as we see fit, with no claim on the other's profits. He was clearly in a better position to capitalize on his rights, I was just happy to not loose mine.

  62. Gregg H

    Thinking about the process (in my very limited way) in regards of importance with pencils vs inks, I came to this conclusion.
    The inks are 100% dependant on the pencils. Without them, there is literally NOTHING to ink. If you try inking over nothing, you are essentially ending up with doing the pencils yourself…but in ink! But taking that a step back again, without the plot, there is nothing to pencil. If an artist tries drawing something without a plot, then he is really 'plotting' with pictures and doing pencils all at once.

    As far as importance, therefore credit, and of course compensation, I see it like this. Who is most important to a building? The guy who decides and plans out what they are building, or the guy that pours the concrete?
    I'm not belittling the artist's contributions or importance but consider this in terms of why certain pieces of are are SPECIFICALLY valuable.
    Is the value of an original page from Watchmen so sought after because Gibbons drew it, or because Morrison wrote the story that it was a part of? Certainly the latter.

  63. Kid

    Brett, but surely the writer has already been reimbursed for his contribution to the process – in the form of his wages? Any secondary, arbritary, benefits which spring from someone wanting to buy a page of art should not confer on the writer an automatic right to a percentage.

  64. GePop

    Jim, thanks so much for sharing this.

    I recall reading many years back a remark from someone at Marvel to the effect that upper management had a habit of taking original art (particularly covers) and handing them out as gifts to all sorts of people, especially people they were doing merchandizing deals with. I imagine that policy only made things murkier, and added to your woes. Were you able to curtail it, or did the Cadence folks essentially just do whatever they wanted?

  65. Interesting thoughts, Brett.

    I'm not aware of the change in copyright status you're referring to, but I'm not up to date on industry policy these days.

  66. Urk

    My philosophy vocab is rusty from out of use, but it seems like there is, at the root of the legal questions, a question of epistemology: what actually constitutes the page? The artist's claim rests on the idea that the physical work at hand is the property in question. But within that, the penciller's claim of a greater share rests on a recognition of the process that produced it having some authority, otherwise the inker's contribution (which is not only part of the finished product but part of what has to happen to make it recognizable as comics work, which is part of its value)would carry at least equal weight. And, if we recognize the process that produces the page as being part of what makes it a page and thus contributing to the idea of who owns it, then the writer's contribution surely holds some weight in terms of having produced the page.

    I totally recognize the commonsense reasons why the penciller gets more pages than the inker, but I think that there's a devil's advocate argument in there for giving inkers an equal share. similarly, I recognize the distance between philosophical and legal arguments in regard to the whole thing, but it makes for interesting thinking about comics and the material properties of their…uh…materials.

  67. Kid

    To me, copyright law doesn't seem to be consistent. For example, if I hire a photographer to take a family photo, decide how I want it posed, etc., as the 'originator' of the idea, I don't own the copyright on the image which I envisioned and commissioned someone else to record. Apparently, the photographer owns copyright on the image, and I have to go to him for further copies.

    Anyone else think this seems a little unfair? After all, if I design a house and pay someone to build it, they don't own the house or copyright on the design. In the photographer's case, it seems slanted to provide him with further income beyond his initial participation in the process.

    You see what I'm getting at, I'm sure. If a company pays someone to write or draw a comic and the copyright is retained by the publisher on the grounds that it's 'work for hire, why is a photographer's participation not regarded in this same way?

    Anyone agree, or am I simply havering?

  68. Regarding all the vellum overlay and digital inking comments I've seen posted; 
    vellum inking is a lot harder and doesn't produce the same finished results. Digital inking is a long way from being able to reproduce the nuances of the individual inkers' line, it generally takes more time and it produces NO ORIGINAL ARTWORK. Which I guess would resolve one part of this discussion rather quickly

    The practice of making a blue line print of the pencils to ink in place of the original, the method I use these days, is not necessarily by choice, but one of efficiency and time and often dictated by the person assigning the work. Many people, especially these days, seem to forget that our industry is in the business of publishing periodicals not creating fine art. Whatever speeds up production and serves to maintain the set schedule is what is best for the final product. Unfortunately, today we are seeing a comics market where the value of the original art has superseded the need to keep a book running on time, as far too many artists are given whatever time they need to create their "masterpieces" and deadlines and schedules no longer seem to be the priority. 

  69. Wow, after all these years, it's very interesting to see how this all evolved as I was totally oblivious to the controversy at the time.  I do disagree with one thing that you stated Jim – 

    "Being writers, they stated their cases eloquently and persuasively. These are very smart people with very thoughtful, rational points of view."

    After reading all the posted letters I find I have less respect for the writers involved and find nothing rational about their points of view. They are simply being self-serving, each of their letters share a common motivation – greed. All of their arguments are based on the same single point: the loss of income from their allotted pages. They seem to be oblivious that these were pages they probably shouldn't have received in the first.

    I applaud your effort to "poll" all the parties involved, Jim, but it seems to me this only served to give the writers another talking point to add to their arguments. Ultimately, the writers' and artists' opinions are a separate issue from what is fair. I know from personal experience how important it was to you to be fair, and you clearly went above and beyond the call of duty to accomplish that here.

    The other side of the argument that I didn't see mentioned in any of the letters is that in those days Marvel writers worked primarily in the "Marvel Style" generating a plot, which the penciler then had to breakdown the story, pacing and layout.  These pencils were then used by the writer to create their dialog, dialog which was affected by the images the writer had been presented.  It seems to me that the pencilers' art had as much influence on the writers' final product, the dialog, as the writers' plot had on the artists' pencils.

    You could assume my feelings are simply because I'm an artist. That would be fair. But I also work in a parallel career as a wildlife photographer, and have written many published articles that accompany my pictures.  When I write an article that requires a certain photograph that I don't have and I request another photographer's photo be used, do I somehow have a claim to their image?  NO, these are two separate disciplines being brought together to create a single product, IMHO anyway.

    Also Jim, I was under the notion that at some point it was determined through some fashion (Internally? Legally?) that all the physical original artwork was now considered to be copyright of the individual creators, not a gift but in fact property of the artists, and the companies retain all copyright as to the content and characters.  An artist can't publish his original art, but they can include photographs of the pages in certain types of published works, or catalogs. Are you aware of any of this or am I just misinformed?

  70. Dear ja – that's a great Kyle Baker story, thanks for that.

  71. This is good news. The poor man got his Superman collection returned and they arrested the thief! I would suspect all the public attention had something to do with the swift justice.


  72. Dear SueDenim "it's interesting to see that in those pre-computer days, all the artists sent (very neatly!) *handwritten* letters, while all the writers' were typed" – I thought the same thing! I like how artists always write in ALL CAPS, as well, haha.

    Dear Anonymous “The writers already have original work. It's called their scripts.” That's a fair point. I've certainly seen scripts sell at cons. I don't recall any outrage from artists that "these events the writers describe were all eventually drawn by me!" or anything. Granted, (probably) scripts sell for far less, but regardless. If it's a "principle" issue, well, one standard should be applied equally to all.

    Doug Moench seems off his rocker when he writes "Do you think the inker contributed more to the story than the writer?" I think the inker contributes far more to the art than the writer, and the art has 50% stake in the company, me.

    I can't speak to any of the digital inking stuff, but interesting to learn about that stuff.

    Did anyone ever explore the idea of just making it mandatory that ANY sale of original art (owned by Marvel and gifted to the penciller/ inker) must be split by some equitable equation amongst the entire creative team? Even the letterer and colorist would get a cut (and I think that's fair), and everyone would, theoretically, be happy?

    In reality, how do you enforce such a policy, and it probably wouldn't make anyone happy. But I'd say suck it up, knuckleheads, this is the way it is, haha. It seems fair to me.

  73. Hi ja,

    That's very interesting. It's the first feedback I've heard about the Inkling. These days everyone is keen to find better ways of getting art integrated digitally without relearning everything you know, so it's nice to see these new technologies.

  74. I thought I would repost this here as it's probably where I should have posted it in the first place.


    I find it interesting that the writers thought that they had more rights to a page than the letterers. As a letterer, I find that offensive. The writer's share should have went to the letterer.

    Pages should have only went to those who actually touched them (this still holds true for today).

    1) Artist
    2) Inker (second artist)
    3) Letterer (third artist)

    The writer and colorist never touched the page and thus never physically contributed to it's construction. In my opinion, there were a lot of writers who profited at the letterers expense.

  75. ja


    The Wacom Inkling really annoys a friend of mine who is a blitheringly talented graphics and motion graphics artist. He complains that when you clip on the inkling sensor to the top of the notebook/pad of paper, whenever the pen gets farther away from that sensor, results in less accurate linework translated into the computer.

    However, he really does seem to enjoy the Livescribe Smart Pen (http://www.livescribe.com/en-us/smartpen/). He feels this is much more accurate.

    He's a very opinionated guy, my friend. But I've come to trust his instincts on these things.


  76. The inkers I know do still ink on the boards and then scan their pages to deliver them, but if the Cintiq comes down in price that might change. Especially with some of the younger fellows. Also there's a new product coming out that looks intriguing, the Wacom Inkling. I'm not sure it will be a solution in the first generation, but going forward, maybe.

  77. Sorry ja,

    That was my mistake! I misaddressed the comment. I apologize and accept the well-deserved "Harumph."

  78. ja



  79. Dear ja,


  80. ja


    I commented earlier, thanking you for showing me the Denham digital inks. I've also looked at a few more people's digital inks (links from Denham's blog), and I'm happy to know there are some people who do this decently well.

    They're still the exception to the rule, but I'm happy people are out there, able to produce quality artwork ('pencils' & 'inks) in digital form.

    Excellent. I love it when I learn something cool.

  81. Anonymous

    HI again Ja, glad you liked Brian's digital inking examples… I really don't know how many other guys are doing this professionally in comics yet, but this thread has inspired me to start looking for around…

    Pete M

  82. Anonymous

    Ja — no, I'm most certainly NOT talking about adjusting the contrast and/or levels of pencil art to get a bogus 'inked' effect. Not at all.

    No, I'm referring to using vector techniques, such as those available in Adobe Illustrator. Please check out the Brian Denham link I posted above if you get a chance.

    Pete Marco

  83. A very interesting explanation of that sequence of events. I find it highly illuminating to actually see what writers and artists actually saw as their contribution to the creation of the comic book. It's also interesting that the artists somehow managed to overlook the fact that writers, like themselves, had come to depend on the ancillary income generated by those pages. Not being a professional, I don't know how these things are handled today, but it occurs to me that everyone involved, at least on the 'creative' side, deserves a share of the resulting pages, including the letterer and colourist (though obviously colourists have nothing to do with the hand-drawn originals, especially these days with most comics being digitally coloured; nobody can tell me that Alex Ross' coloured pages don't sell, though), and any layout artist that may have been involved.

    Being a writer/artist/designer myself, under such an arrangement, I could reasonably expect quite a few–if not all–pages. But then, I'm not a professional, and have not yet enjoyed working under the studio system. I definitely see both sides of the argument, though, particularly in consideration of creative contribution, and specifically in remuneration. I certainly wouldn't have enjoyed making that decision in your stead, I can tell you that much.

    In a different vein, a dear friend of mine, who was a major comics fan back when we first met (she was the first artist I ever wanted to work with, and still regret not having done so), recently brought up an issue I'd scarcely been aware of, and as I've only been reading your blog for a few months, I'm not at all aware of whether you've covered this topic or not yet. Not wanting open a can of worms here, so I'll understand if you're uncomfortable discussing it, either here or via email, but I would greatly appreciate it if you could explain to me what the thinking behind certain events was in an issue you wrote: specifically (here it comes), Avengers #200.

    I have no desire to turn this into a war. I have no bones to pick here. I've never, to the best of my knowledge, read the issue (and I read a LOT of comics back in those days; If I did read it, I honestly don't remember it, but it's quite possible I missed reading that issue, as I hadn't returned to being a comic reader until the events of the Brood Saga, and only bought back issues and reprints sporadically (Phoenix Saga, Death of Elektra, Days of Future Past, that sort of thing) back then.

    However, my friend, whom I cherish greatly, seems to bear you a pretty serious grudge I'd never really been aware of (she still hasn't forgiven you for creating Boom Boom, either; I'm not sure I'm equipped to understand that one, unless it's to do with her body shape and hair colour; maybe she just hated Madonna… my memory is spotty on that one) until a Facebook-based conversation we had just last night. I'd like to be able to explain to her what really happened there, so that at least she understands your side a little better, even if she still finds the salient plot points inexcusable.

    For my part, I suspect it wouldn't have drawn my attention unduly back then (I was 9 years old in October of 1980), but in our highly sensitive post-feminist world, it worries me that I'm not more cognizant of the issue at hand. I try to be as sensitive of these things as I can, but I still tend to reflexively cut my heroes a certain amount of slack, which I'm often reminded these days is not necessarily the right way to think.

    Any help you can give me on this matter would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

  84. ja


    Thank you for showing me Brian Denham's digital inking! He is the ONLY person I've seen who does this, with this level of quality.

    But he's still the exception, and not the rule.

  85. ja


    I know exactly how it's done. I've done it myself, so I speak… er, write from experience. I've been working professionally in Photoshop now for 14 years, and I'm annoyingly familiar with what it can and can't do.

    I don't think you're being rude. But I look at comics nowadays, and there just isn't a large (or even a medium) amount of mainstream comic books that are being inked this way.

    Now, I wonder if you mean:


    When someone's pencils are "inked" digitally, it almost always means that their pencils are scanned in at a super high resolution (from 1200dpi up to 2400dpi), and then the pencils are adjusted to be darker and sharper, to simulate an 'inked' line.

    The pencil scans pick up a large amount of smudges and other things which has to be cleaned up (erased) from the scanned pages, further augmenting the graphic quality of the clean 'digitally inked' (which are really scanned penciled) pages. The nuanced quality of the pencil lines now look like nuanced quality inked lines.

    Any totally black areas that the scans won't pick up as completely black, will then be manually filled in by whomever is doing the digital production. The production person must be able to complete any organic or mechanical linework that is broken up in the scan, or that needs some sort of clarity.

    These newly 'inked' pages are what then gets colored.

    So Pete, I wonder if this is what you're talking about, when you speak of 'digitally inking' comic pages? I now believe that's what you're talking about.

    That certainly IS more prevalent in the industry.

    If so, then we were talking about two very different things. Scanning and adjusting the pencils for coloring: more and more common. Actually inking linework digitally over scanned pencils with equal quality to hand-inked pages: NOT AT ALL common.

    I think we're on the same page, now. Sorry for the misunderstanding.

  86. Anonymous

    Check this out – Brian Denham's digital inking:


    Pete Marco

  87. "Wise words from Bob McLeod. I wish more people in the comics field could make the distinction."

    Not just in the comics field, either. You'd be surprised how many people take a disagreement with their position as a personal slight, when no such thing was intended. Human nature, I suppose.

  88. "I was worried that you would let my letter come between us on a personal level rather than a business level. I'm glad to see someone else in this business can distinguish between the two."

    Wise words from Bob McLeod. I wish more people in the comics field could make the distinction.

  89. Kid

    Someone can correct me on this if I'm mistaken, but I was under the impression that ALL STAR SUPERMAN artist Frank Quitely's pencils were 'inked' digitally.

  90. Anonymous


    Ten years ago I would have agreed with that, but now digital inking has caught up. I can get a line as organic on screen as I can with liquid ink.

    Just wondering, and I don't mean to be rude in any way – do you know how digital inking is done, and the apps and techniques that can be used?

    Pete Marco

  91. The pages belong to the artists – the penciler and inker – if a writer could draw he/she surely would. Interesting that Marvel 'drew a line' under it all…they didn't 'write a line'!!!!

  92. ja

    Pete Marco,

    *Some* comics pencilers *may* email their scanned pages to have them inked digitally. However, overall this is generally a fallacy. It is by no means a common occurance. I'd be surprised if there were more than 2 books (not even that, I would think) where the black and white line artwork is prepared that way.

    Here's why:

    Inking digitally for something simple, like a Sonic The Hedgehog comic, is possible to do with a modicum of quality. HOWEVER, inking a mainstream comic book, applying all the nuance and subtlety and variation of line that one must do in order to get the kind of quality that (for example) a Scott Williams or Kevin Nowlan or Tom Palmer or Brett Breeding or Scott Koblish can do, IS NOT POSSIBLE YET to ink with such quality as this time.

    There simply is no replacing the kind of linework that ink & brush, or ink & pen can apply to actual paper. Even with someone as wonderfully disciplined linework such as Brian Bolland has slight variations that give even more of an organic (or 'lively') feel to his work. Digital inking DOES NOT have that full ability as of yet, even if the artist uses a Wacom Cintiq monitor.

    And, if someone out there in the world can perfectly mimic the organic variations of 'inked' linework enough to 'fool' everyone… then in no way couuld they ever produce this quality work digitally on a regular basis, enough to be able to make a living. It would take WAY too long to be able to produce anything of that level of quality.

    Digitally inked linework still has that 'mechanical' feel, or what I'll call a kind of 'dead' feel to the linework that simply does NOT as of yet even come close to the quality of a mainstream-inked comic book page.

    It is the absolute definition of the exception to the rule. Not so "simple", really.

    You're right that the digital age sure is showing us that you can have painted work without the actual paint.

    Hey, so long as the quality is good. I'm looking forward to someone inking a quality comic digitally one day.

    But I won't hold my breath…

  93. Anonymous

    'If you are an aspiring inker…. put that on you shopping list…a 11X17 scanner & printer.'
    – Pierre Villeneuve

    Or, simply have the penciler email you his scanned pages and ink them digitally.

    A lot of comics don't even *have* inking any more – they go straight from digital pencils to digital colouring; the colouring is really more like painting these days… only without paint.

    The covers of some of Jim's Dark Horse comics look like digitally enhanced photos, which is also all the rage for fantasy book covers right now.

    Pete Marco

  94. "Lightbox inking, or inking on vellum, which was more common (usually because the inking was done over photocopies of the pencils because the pencils were lost or destroyed) is very difficult"

    Nowadays… some inkers favor printing the penciled work in non-repro blue… then inking those "blue" pencils… thus preserving the original pencils.

    Thus having 2 original pieces of artwork. One that the penciller can sell… and one that the inker can sell.

    Also… if somehow they mess things up…. or something happens to the page…. they can just print the page again and start over.

    If you are an aspiring inker…. put that on you shopping list…a 11X17 scanner & printer.

  95. ja

    Kyle Baker was pretty awesome as an inker.

    In addition to his great inking, I remember him saying once at a convention that when he would ink people who would swipe a panel or two from other artists (penciler Mike Harris being an example on one of the Spider-Man books), he would research the original panel published, and then ink that swiped panel as exactly and precisely the way the original panel was inked, no matter whose style it looked like.

    Doing this, he said, resulted in really pissing off the pencilers who noticed that they were 'found out'.

    Kyle Baker turned out to be one of John Byrne's best inkers, to my taste, even though Byrne apparently hated those inks.

  96. Anyone who thinks the inker just traces needs to check out the DC Showcase TPB collection of Booster Gold. Mike DeCarlo, Ty Templeton, and a cover by Terry Austin demonstrate just how much an inker can change the look of a finished product. I bought Web of Spiderman comic books back in the eighties not because I thought the penciler was any good – Kyle Baker's work was so fantastic the finished product looked pretty slick.

  97. Anonymous

    Dear Jim,

    I've read about a few comic book inkers who used vellum overlays; I've never tried it myself, but I guess it's more of a hassle than just inking directly onto the pencils.

    Still, in the animation industry inking was always done on cel overlays above the penciled art. There must be good reasons why this practice was never adopted in the comics biz — as you say, probably too difficult (for fine detail) and it also would have added another level of expense in art materials.

    Pete Marco

  98. ja


    I'm just saying that I lay claim to ownership of the reaction you gave to my 'summing up' earlier, even though I did not physically write your response.


    Harumph, again.

  99. ja


    Jesus (2)?


  100. Dear Jesus (2),


  101. Dear Pete,

    Lightbox inking, or inking on vellum, which was more common (usually because the inking was done over photocopies of the pencils because the pencils were lost or destroyed) is very difficult.

  102. Dear Suzanne,

    Hmm. I never noticed the e.e. cummings thing with chris. If I come across any more of his letters I'll check.

  103. Dear Jesus,

    Some artists felt they were the "stars." Not many writers, in my opinion, felt that it didn't matter who drew the book. Claremont, as described elsewhere in the blog, did more to ensure quality art, consistent and excellent lettering and coloring on the X-Men than any writer of any book I'm aware of. Look at this: http://www.jimshooter.com/2011/05/hall-of-famers.html

  104. wow. You really *DID* hold on to everything.

  105. ja

    Jesus Chambrot said:

    "I would be interested to know more about the relationship between a writer and artist where either the artist or writer felt that it was their sole contribution that brought readers to a book."

    Nothing is 100% anything.

    A writer/artist like Frank Miller can claim such things, but not when he has an inker. Josef Rubinstein and Klaus Janson brought diversely strong looks to his pencils, and they contributed to the books they worked on, so they deserve to share in the royalties. No one really disputes this in the industry.

    Bob McCleod expressed it very well, that there is a distinction between contributing to the overall comic book publication itself, but it's a whole other thing that the actual physical artwork belongs to the artist or artists who physically produced those original drawings.

    I would only imagine Todd Macfarlane not having a problem with Michelenie getting his due royalties on the production of the Amazing Spider-Man comic book, because that's how the system worked. Conversely, I would also imagine Todd Macfarlane wanting ALL of the royalties involved, which logically would bring him toward writing and drawing his own Spider-Man book, and subsequently, Spawn.

    The one thing (producing a comic book as a collective whole, all the principles sharing in any royalties) really doesn't justify the other (writers laying claim to any percentage of the actual physical artwork that is produced by the artists), even though there is the connection that everyone involved are collectively producing a single comic book.

    If you were a writer of a movie, you could not justify laying claim to the right of ownership of a percentage of the costumes or props or sets produced for the movie, because that was not your specific contribution to the project.

    Just as the original comic book artwork is not the specific contribution of the writer.

    Someone had mentioned before that the line had to be drawn somewhere in terms of artwork return dispersal, and I'm on the side that believes that you walk away with the specific contributions you put into the project you worked on. That claiming as a writer, you have the right to own a percentage of the artwork produced, is overreaching and wrong.

    The writer deserves his or her fair share of the royalties for the comic book they wrote as one of many separate elements that contributes to a whole, and they get to keep their original manuscript that they could sign and sell. Just like the artists keep their specific contribution, which is the artwork they physically worked on.

    And yes, the letterer and the colorist are Shit Out of Luck in this deal. I don't believe that the letterer (those who letter on the actual art boards) should get any of the original artwork, either.

    Especially the digital letterers whose contributions never even touch the original physical artwork. Just like the writers' contributions do not.

    I certainly believe that if anyone outside the penciler/inker/artist should get ANY percentage of the original artwork back, it would be the letterer OVER the writer, as the letterer would physically contribute to the original art, where the writer did not.

    TO SUM UP: Ibuprofen is a really good thing.

  106. Jeff Zoslaw

    Wonder what share of art a certain writer thought he deserved for stories he stole from Ellison, Goodwin and Windsor-Smith?

  107. This issue also puts the Stan Lee "versus" Jack Kirby and Stan Lee "versus" Steve Ditko arguments in an entirely different light. Hopefully that new perspective for some will help them see it isn't a cut and dried debate.

    Would anyone want some artist's art if it was of a character no one ever liked, and if the character's popularity was at least equally due to the stories rather than the original comicbook's art?


  108. Anonymous

    The writers already have original work. It's called their scripts.

  109. Anonymous

    A large chunk of this problem would have been resolved if inkers always did their work on a lightbox on a separate overlay above the pencils… BINGO, one page for the inker and one for the penciler. (Of course this wouldn't have addressed the writers' sense of entitlement.)

    We would also now have thousands of examples of pristine pencils by Kirby, Buscema, Barry Smith et al.

    Pete Marco

  110. This sort of correspondence is fascinating on a number of levels. Among others, it's interesting to see that in those pre-computer days, all the artists sent (very neatly!) *handwritten* letters, while all the writers' were typed. Makes sense, though. (BTW out of sheer curiosity, did Chris Claremont always do that "my name all in lower case" thing?)

    Another bit of morbid curiosity concerns how the pages were allotted for a project that always fascinated me for other reasons. Circa 1986? the FF and Avengers Annuals were part of one big story. Each annual was told from that team's perspective, but when the two teams were physically together, the same pages appeared in each book… except that Avengers had John Buscema art inked by Tom Palmer, and FF had Buscema's art inked by whoever inked the rest of the FF Annual (I forget if the rest of the FF Annual was Buscema or a different penciller.)

    Anyway, those annuals were sort of an eye-opener for me, showing how much difference an inker could make. A teenager at the time, I had a mostly naive, unthinking, "Inkers are just tracers, right?" viewpoint until then.

  111. Dear Jim,

    I'm glad you were able to find not just one, but two memos from Bill Mantlo, one of my favorite writers, overnight.

    Thanks for letting everyone speak in their own words with minimal commentary. Once again, I find myself respecting all the creators you mention even more.

    I've seen Bob McLeod's signature many times and it's neat to see him write so eloquently in that same handwriting!

    Dear Jesus,

    Speaking only for myself, I followed the X-Men and the New Mutants regardless of artist. I thought of them as Chris Claremont's books and stopped regularly buying the mutant books after he left. And even though I liked Todd McFarlane's art at the time, I was horrified by the writing in no-adjective Spider-Man #1 and never read any further.

  112. Jesus Chambrot

    Very thorough presentation Mr.Shooter. A great way to finish off the week. I never knew writers at one time received artwork from the books they worked on.

    I would be interested to know more about the relationship between a writer and artist where either the artist or writer felt that it was their sole contribution that brought readers to a book.
    For example, X-Men still sold well after a bevy of great artists came and went. Were people following Chris Claremont's stories or were they just following the flavor-of-the-month artist.
    I wonder if McFarlane felt that it was his artwork that made Amazing Spider-man hot again and got angry that Michelenie was sharing in the royalties.

    Look what happened afterwards on McFarlane's Spider-man book where McFarlane pretty much did every chore on the book and look how horrible the stories turned out.

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