At some point while Roy Thomas was Editor in Chief Marvel Comics began giving original artwork to the creative people who had participated in the creation of the pages. That would have been in 1973 or thereabouts.
I wasn’t there. I started at Marvel Comics as associate editor on the first working day of January 1976. Before that I had done a freelance job or three, I think in 1974 or 1975, but I lived 400 miles away in Pittsburgh and worked through the mail, so I wasn’t exactly on top of what was going on in the office.
As I’ve said elsewhere in this blog, it seemed that no one cared what the companies did with the original art during the 1960’s and before. Pages were given away, thrown away or stored away and there was no hue and cry about it. By the early 1970’s however, creative people had a new awareness of an interest in original art.
Here’s my theory:
In the elder days of the comic book industry, until the 1960’s, comics were almost entirely made for children, or on the high end, adolescents. Yes, of course there were some exceptions, but not many, and if you were an adult who appreciated the medium or, perhaps, enjoyed the more sophisticated offerings, you kept that to yourself. Or risked ridicule.
From what I’ve heard and seen from the old guard people I worked with over the years, the publishers and professionals generally had indifference toward the audience. Distribution was through newsstands or subscription. There was virtually no contact between creators and readers. Who cared what six-year-olds thought, anyway?
Professionals had reactions ranging from bemusement to disdain for the older readers who demonstrated their existence somehow, say by writing a letter of comment. As late as the mid-to-late sixties, the people at DC Comics I worked with, and for, insisted that comic books were read by six-to-eight-year-olds plus a smattering of older, arrested-development geeks.
During the 1950’s the comic book business suffered a slow decline for lots of reasons we can talk about later. One result of that was that relatively few new creators entered the business during that decade, especially toward the end of it. If a publisher needed an artist, there were plenty available who needed work. No need to train new people. The average age of the creators and publishing people crept upward.
So what we had here was, to a great extent, increasingly older men (and a few women) making what they thought was throw-away entertainment for little kids. The originals, which were produced by the ton, were considered as throw-away as the end product.
In fact, and here’s a kicker for you—an artist or writer expressing any interest in the originals from a book they’d worked on would have risked ridicule. Oh, no…! You’re not one of those geeks, are you?!
And here’s the disclaimer. Of course, many, many of the artists and writers were “geeks.” But secretly, for the most part. Geeks like us, I mean. People who loved what they did, loved the medium, loved great comics. You just didn’t say it or show it too obviously back in those days.
Julie Schwartz was one of us. Comics-loving geek through and through. But remember the time he was on that talk show with Stan and spoke of comics with disdain: “…something to read on the toilet,” etc. Acting as if working in comics was just a job, a way to pay the bills. Remember that? Julie Schwartz, hiding his true nature on national TV so as to preserve the dignified “adult” image that people of that generation, the one before mine, thought was important. Really important.
But we knew, didn’t we? Saw right through the guy. He probably had a Superman tee-shirt on under his pinpoint Oxford.
Around the beginning of the sixties, things started to change. Marvel was a leader in the revolution. Not the only one. Warren was right up there. And, secretly, Julie.
At Marvel, geek-like-us Stan tried writing comics that he thought would appeal to guys like him, like you, like me. Why not? Marvel was dying. The industry was slowly dying. Why not give it a try?
And we all know what happened next. The audience expanded. The demographic shifted upward in age. College kids were reading comics, and suddenly it was cool and hip. Part of that was the cultural revolution and counter-culture bent of the ‘60’s, but part of it was because the comics were good.
We started coming out of the closet.
Stan published the addresses of correspondents whose letters were used in the lettercols. My childish, embarrassing letter appears in Amazing Spider-Man #23.
|Click to enlarge|
Fans—and that’s what we were and are—started getting in touch with each other. At one point, wasn’t someone publishing a Fandom Directory? I think I have a couple of those around here somewhere.
People started organizing get-togethers. Conventions. And generally, the organizers weren’t disaffected promoters just trying to make a buck cashing in on our fannishness, they were fans themselves, first and foremost. We have met the organizers and they are us.
I think one of the first conventions in New York City was organized by Marv Wolfman and Len Wein. Think about that. They are us. Big time.
I think they told me Steve Ditko was among the professional guests. Possibly his one and only such appearance. Wow.
So, fans and pros started getting together. Not only at cons. All-time great inker Frank Giacoia used to tell me that Marv and Len would show up at his house sometimes to gawk at the pages on his board. That was new. Such things didn’t happen often in the elder days.
So…suddenly pros found themselves face to face with fans and discovered that many, if not most, were substantially older than six. And, in fact, were publicly, out-of-the-closet exactly what they, the pros, were secretly. Geeks.
Who cared what the fans thought? Pros did, and do.
Professional creators also became aware that some fans were real adults with real money. Collectors, in fact.
Slowly the little light bulb went on that maybe those original art pages were worth something. And if the companies were giving them, or worse, throwing them away, well…gee. Creators started thinking, more and more, how about giving them to us?!
Then it got weird. The companies, which had been so careless and free with the original art, began to worry about it. If the stuff had value, well…gee.
Legal chimaeras began rearing up. Wouldn’t giving creators original art back imply that it was “theirs” all along, and perhaps help them assert claims of ownership of the characters and the underlying rights? What if they used the pages to publish knock-offs of the comics, or to make money in other ways? Like selling prints, or charging people to come into a gallery to view the art, or…those revenues should belong to the company! said the Legal Tweezers. Those pages are assets of the corporation! Good grief.
My favorite derivative chimaera is this one: the company can’t give away assets without risking exposure to a shareholders’ derivative suit.
Help me, Rhonda.
Meanwhile, it got interesting. Enough of the old guard creators had retired, died, or like Alvin Schwartz, for instance, moved on to better paying non-comics work that during the early to mid-sixties, when the Marvel-led, TV-show-fed, counter-culture-revolutionary-sixties comics boom was developing, the companies had to start hiring new people! Among the first of that new wave were, in no particular order, Roy Thomas, Denny O’Neill, E. Nelson Bridwell, Neal Adams, Archie Goodwin and me. A couple of years later, Len and Marv, remember them? broke in.
Fans were becoming pros! Infiltration! But we in the vanguard unabashedly showed our passion for our work and the business….
The companies were slow to adjust, in spite of the influx of us geeks. Len and Marv told me that among their early jobs at DC Comics was destroying original art that had piled up. They said they once salvaged shopping bags full of the stuff, escaped with it and sprung for cabs back to their homes in Queens because it would have been impossible to carry it all on the subway. Paying for a cab to Queens in those days of lousy compensation was a desperate act, but they were desperate men, apparently.
I don’t know what struggles Roy went through to get Marvel Comics’ first artwork return policy enacted, but judging from some of the related struggles I had with bone-head business types and Legal Tweezers, I imagine it was no cakewalk.
Roy’s policy provided that the majority of the pages went to the penciler, a lesser number to the inker and a still-smaller number, generally two pages from an average book, to the writer.
Well, Roy of course, is a writer, and I suppose he reasoned that the writer lays the foundation for the art, and writers love original art as much as the next geek. By the way, the penciler had first choice, the inker had second choice and the writer got what was left.
The artists were generally against writers getting pages. Among the many maelstroms I inherited when I took over as EIC on the first working day of January 1978 was the War Over the Writers’ Share. I found in a file the other day long impassioned letters from Claremont, Moench, Sinnott, Leialoha, McLeod and Austin, plus a note from Stan. I’m still trying to find Mantlo’s letter on the subject. Details tomorrow.
Rooting Out Corruption at Marvel Part 5 Starring Me as the Perp
Joe Sinnott, great artist and outstanding human who mostly inked for Marvel for centuries, I think, was a gentlemanly but ardent advocate for the return of originals. Joe, who is not one to complain, who had soldiered on heroically through bad times and worse times until better days finally came, told me that he, in all his decades of service had never gotten a splash page of a book. Even after I eliminated the penciler-chooses-first policy and we went to a random distribution. (I know, I’m giving away part of the ending of the whole tale, but it’s not like that was a state secret anyway.) Joe still managed to never randomly get a splash page. Ever. For years. Bad luck of the draw.
In those stone-age days, the way we divided up the pages of a book was this: we had a deck of playing cards numbered on the faces with marker. If, say, the book was 22 pages, the artwork return assistant would take cards one through twenty-two, shuffle and deal them face down into stacks representing each creators’ share. Each guy got the pages corresponding to the numbers of the cards in his stack.
So, one time, after getting off the phone with Joe, I went to the artwork return office, chased the assistant out of the room, shuffled and dealt the cards for a John Buscema/Joe Sinnott book and, glorioski, look what happened, Joe got the splash! I may have dealt that card from the bottom of the deck….
I confessed to John later. He was okay with my crime. He’d gotten the splash page every single other time and he didn’t mind Joe getting a break. I should have asked him first, of course, but he was cool.
NEXT: Many Happy Returns and Some Unhappy People
Pictures that turned up
HEROES FOR HOPE CHECK PRESENTATION
Pictured are (from left): Spider-Man, Jim Galton, Jim Shooter and Ann Nocenti with
Sarita Gupta and Patricia Hunt of the American Friends service Committee.
BEAR WITH ME
…Our Lovable High-Pockets said, and he wrote, quote:
"Julie Schwartz was one of us. Comics-loving geek through and through. But remember the time he was on that talk show with Stan and spoke of comics with disdain: '…something to read on the toilet,'"
…As one of those who *still* takes some pride and pleasure out of being able to enhance "Quality Time" with a good comic or three – "Quality Time" tends to increase with age, I've found – I still take some umbrage at Julie's comment after all these years. Sadly, I never had the opportunity to politely express my displeasure with Julie, as he never seemed to come to conventions in Texas, but one really has to wonder whether at that point in the game whether he really meant it, or whether he was just tweaking the fans in jest?
That last picture wouldn't have looked out of place in Brian Epstein's office. You look a bit like the evil member of The Kinks that nobody talks about 🙂
Excellent blog as usual
Your example of wanting a page with Superman on it points out that the characters featured on a page are a key factor in valuing the original artwork. Characters are of course co-created and developed by writers at the same time they're visualized and enhanced by artists.
So, if those characters fall under a merchandise royalty program like Jim described instituting at Marvel, it's not only the writer of the issue that misses out on money when this artwork is sold but possibly the creators of the character as well. Those creators may of course include both a writer and an artist who did not work on the particular page that is being sold. Stern and Romita would get money if the Hobgoblin was on a poster or T-shirt that was sold but not if a Hobgoblin fan purchased someone else's original art page that the Hobgoblin was pictured on.
Anyway, it's just another example of how there are potentially legitimate claims by people other than the artist who touched the page regarding the profits earned from the sale of this art.
Writers contribute to what ends up on a comic page, that's true. But from what I've experienced in discussions on the Internet, most people buy pages based on the artist. They say, "I'd like to have a Garcia Lopez page" and not "I'd like to have a page from a Len Wein story" (no offence to Len Wein, one of my favorite writers). Because of that, writers who wrote mediocre stories, drawn by top notch artists, would end up with more valuable pages than writers who wrote more inspired stories which were drawn by more mediocre artists, and that's not fair.
The way I see it, it's the artist that usually makes the worth of a page. If the writer describes a sorrowful person and the artist expresses that masterfully, it's the artist that makes the image memorable, not the writer who described a state of mind. A hack artist, with the same description would have produced hack work.
For example I don't care for most Silver Age Superman stories that were not written by Jerry Siegel, Edmond Hamilton or, ahem, Jim Shooter, yet I love the way Curt Swan drew Superman and if I could afford it, I would buy some pages, no matter what happened in the story.
P.S. On the other hand, I guess there are times where what the writer wrote matters to a customer, like if someone wants the page where Phoenix dies, because it's a pivotal moment.
I reposted my above comment in "Many Happy Returns and Some Unhappy People". 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).
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.
Thanks Jim. However, I meant that I don't remember anyone on your blog actually putting that case. Wasn't sure 'though, which is why I said "as far as I'm aware".
I suppose, if it's the penciller who paid for the artboard (and he hasn't been reinbursed by the company), then that factor has to be considered. Where I would say Neal errs is that it may be the contribution from the inker that makes a page an attractive proposition to a potential buyer. After all, it's not just the pencilled page which is up for sale after publication – it's the finished product: pencils, inks, letters, etc.
Although there's room for discussion as to how the pages should be distributed amongst the deserving parties, I still don't think the writer is legitimate candidate. As your subsequent post illustrates (by use of the writers' letters), their main claim seems to stem from greed.
Basically, they were arguing that because they had previously been included in the deal, it was unfair on them to then be excluded from it.
Since when was it unfair to put right a mistake? A case could perhaps have been made that they were obliged to return past monies which should never have been paid to them to begin with.
It's a moot point now a days being everything is done digitally. I was surprised when I showed up to my first con (Heroes Con) in 2005 and discovered that there were two originals for each printed page. The pencils and the inked page from a print out.
Neal Adams was reputed to consider the penciler the "real" artist and the inker an "assistant," and therefore, he thought that the penciler was entitled to ALL the original art — some of which he might give the inker if he chose, or if they had an agreement about it. I never discussed this one on one with Neal but I did hear him say words to that effect once, at a Guild meeting he hosted in his studio in 1978.
At least as far back as when I started, mid-1960's, the companies provided the art boards. When I became EIC at Marvel, I saw to it as soon as I could that Marvel provided ALL art materials — boards, pencils, erasers, pens, brushes, Pro White, everything, and paid for mailing/FedEx whatever, and all other costs, including phone expenses.
Nobody claimed the penciller alone should get the art (as far as I'm aware). However, whoever actually, physically, contributed to the actual, finished, physical piece of art board has a claim, if they handled and worked on what is then sold on later. I never mentioned colourists earlier because, back then, they usually coloured stats.
If scripts were selling for fortunes, the writers wouldn't consider the artist as being due a share – even 'though collecters would only want to buy a script as a direct result of having seen the finished product, the comic. The artists could presumably argue that, as they were responsible in bringing the scripts to life and thus helping create a demand for them, then they're entitled to a share of the resale value. You'd soon hear the writers disagreeing with that notion.
Writers write scripts in their own time and are paid for them.
Artists draw pages in their own time and are paid for them. If there's a secondary market for the sale of artwork once it's been published, then lucky them.
If someone buys a page of art, the proceeds should go to those who actually produced the actual physical item in their own time.
Blok 4 Prez
"So by that logic, the editor, publishers, post-office, internet company, and printer, all deserve some sort of "cut" of the original artwork due to their role in the finished product."
Well, the writer, who came up with what precisely it is that the artist is drawing in most cases today does play a bigger role than the post-office, Internet company and printer, no?
I know you're just trying to make a bigger point that a lot of people have something to do with the final product. But it seems that the person who has the initial idea and describes it in detail, sure deserves as much credit for the final product as the penciler who brings those ideas to life on the page. It's an amazing collaboration and if originals of the final product are given out, they should get their share too.
To say, well the writer already has the script and can hold onto that if they want to, is to say they should only keep their half of the collaboration. But the penciler has no half without the writer. So with that logic the penciler should only get to keep their sketch books since that's the piece of the finished product that is entirely their creation.
Obviously reasonable people can disagree, but not sure I like the idea that the penciler alone is responsible for the finished product and therefore gets to keep all the physical original work that went into making that finished product. Seems to demean the writers contribution a lot.
Gregg H wrote: I've heard that Ditko has a stack of his original art that he actually uses for cutting boards in his kitchen, and flat out refuses to sell any of them.
That story is based on an anecdote told by Greg Theakston. However, Bob Heer offers a pretty convincing analysis of the incident (http://tinyurl.com/3uf3p3c) in which he speculates Theakston was misinterpreting what he saw at Ditko's apartment. He points out that Theakston never saw Ditko use his original art as a cutting board, nor did Ditko ever say he was using original art as a cutting board. Given that, I don't believe Ditko uses his original art as a cutting board.
I believe the writers deserves some art, since he told the artist what to draw (in many cases, especially today) or contributed to the drawing looking like it does with his plot and what not.
So by that logic, the editor, publishers, post-office, internet company, and printer, all deserve some sort of "cut" of the original artwork due to their role in the finished product.
The Goblin and the Gangsters has my favorite Ditko Spider-Man art. Great, finished, wonderful.
Generaly i preffer Ditko on Doctor Strange, but in this issue he's at the top of his game.
Nice letter, there was an editor in chief and a writer in this kid.
I believe the writers deserves some art, since he told the artist what to draw (in many cases, especially today) or contributed to the drawing looking like it does with his plot and what not. It doesnt matter to me that he didn't physically write the words on the art board, since his plot and/or script contibuted to the story, if not outright dictated shots. Some of the scripts today are extremely detailed, leading tomuch less artisitc expression than in prior days.
Hmm, I wonder if, according to his Objectivist beliefs, Ditko abusing his art is akin to Howard Roark blowing up the bastardized version of his building…well, if so, thankfully, he's in comics, not architecture…
In my own completely ininformed opinion, I would think that it would be entirely fair to not only give the writer, but also editor, colorist, amd letterer a piece of the pie as far as the original art goes. As Jim said, it is a collaborative medium where they all play a part in the finished product, regardless of how 'physical' the contribution is.
I have to wonder though about those way back early days. I would think that the cost of the boards would have been significant enough that the artists would have wanted them back if for no other reason than to recycle. January's issue of Batman goes to print and the artist can do May's pages on the back side of the same boards.
And I would have thought that at least somewhere along the way an artist would have wanted to hold onto some of the pages just for personal referance with future work.
Also, I've heard that Ditko has a stack of his original art that he actually uses for cutting boards in his kitchen, and flat out refuses to sell any of them. Now THAT is unbelievable!
Back in the old days we got our color guide originals back and they sold for small amounts. Later, at VALIANT, we got our painted originals and they sold for nice prices sometimes. But now comics are colored digitally and the original is technically possessed bu the colorist, but is a computer file. So the secondary saleability has yet to be determined. But, I would say a large percentage of the comics I see these days are colored so dark and muddy that they cover up the art rather than enhancing it. So it's hard to make a case for a colorist getting any of the art, since some of them are pretty much ruining it for print.
Joe S. Walker
What about the colorists? a lot of comic pages these days feature such heavy effects that they're as much coloured as pencilled or inked.
I can't help but think that the 'who gets what?' philosophy is based on nothing more than the 'what's worth money?' outlook.
If people were queuing up to throw wads of cash at writers for their script or thumbnails, I'm sure the writers would have quite a different take on the matter.
It's really quite simple, as others have pointed out. What you physically produced is yours. If you wrote a script, it's yours; if you drew a page it's yours. (If you did pencils and inks.)
The only people who are genuinely entitled to pages of artwork are those who phsically worked on the finished page which somebody might later buy after publication. That would definitely mean the pencillers and inkers, and perhaps the letterers – but only if their lettering is actually on the purchased page.
As most of the interest from writers wanting a 'piece of the action' springs mainly from a page's resale value, their motivation is purely mercenary.
I'd say that puts things pretty much in perspective.
See? it IS a famous story! lol.
Aaargh. Should have hit the refresh button before I kind of repeated what JayJay had written.
I love it too, JayJay. Thanks for sharing that story. I didn't know that there would be no Warp Graphics without Marvel!
I never wrote a letter to a comics company until 1992 (when I was upset by the "Death of Superman" storyline, IIRC), so I don't know if I would have given much thought to my address being published if I had been around in the 60s. Probably not.
@Marc, your comments reminds me of a notable incident of fans finding each other via the letters column – when Richard Pini wrote to Wendy Fletcher after she had a letter published in Silver Surfer #5. They eventually married and created Elfquest. Marvel Epic reprinted this in the mid-80s.
I believe Wendy got a few letters from male fans who were no doubt intrigued by a woman who had a way with words, came across as intelligent and, most importantly, enjoyed reading comic books.
It was such a different world back in those days. I doubt if they even thought of publishing addresses as a privacy issue. The most famous story I can remember about fandom and the Marvel letter columns is about Wendy and Richard Pini meeting and eventually marrying because of his letter that was published in Silver Surfer. Two people who made comics history brought together by Marvel. I love it.
"Mostly all" in my last comment makes no sense. I first wrote "all," then added "mostly" and forgot to delete "all." Oops. Sorry.
Marvel used to publish fans' addresses in letter columns: e.g., the one with your letter in it. I've heard that practice helped fans to find each other. But were there privacy concerns back in those days?
Today, I like being able to contact fans without exchanging addresses or phone numbers.
Joe Sinnott's lifelong ambition to get a splash page was perhaps manifest in his earlier work. The cover of Captain America #215, being a prime example. It differs from any other Captain America cover, exploding out, like a splash page rather than a cover – top stuff.
IpMiller – I agree, Moonknight # 1 was a damn good story. Bushman was Moonknight's alter ego, like Kurtz was for Marlow, in Heart of Darkness. Moonknight had to beat Bushman, as he was an external representation of something within him (Spector having turned a blind eye once – or more than once – too often). Yet, at the same time, Moonknight internalises Bushman's method of striking total fear into the hearts of his enemies; so he's constantly at risk of becoming the 'Kurtz' within him, whilst seeking redemption, as a crime fighter. Where do you get that kind of psychological depth in any other story? Plus, Crawley's face seems modelled on James Woods!
I wonder if as artist go more and more digital we'll see a return to actual story telling in the way a book is drawn instead of the big pin-up pages and 3-panel action shot pages that have dominated – and taken the story telling out of – many comics for the past decade or so. Artist might become less concerned about producing pages for the resale market and focus once more on story telling.
I note that this applies mostly to books written "Marvel-style" or books done by "Artist-Writers" – if a writer does a full script that has an average of 3 panels per page, well shame on him/her for not driving the storytelling bus better.I just read a stack of new books that took whole entire issues to deliver what could have been done in a handful of pages.
Sorry, I didn't see your first comment which you posted while I was writing my own. I've read your three comments now and I see your point.
What's long bothered me much, much more than the writer and original art issue is the division of pages between penciler and inker. Both contributed to every single page of physical art, but one couldn't physically separate the inks from the pencils in the old days. I can't think of any better solution than the playing card technique that Jim described. However, I presume this is mostly all a nonissue now in the digital age, judging from Pete's, Andreas', and Stuart Moore's comments.
I've never heard anyone say anything negative about Walt Simonson. A class act!
The Captain Ameri-Bear was made for me by JayJay. I still have it.
Jim hit it on the head when he posted:"This is the most collaborative mass medium ever invented." Many hands do go into the creation of the finished page. With such a visual medium, of course pencilers are very important. But others work hard on the finished product as well.
Please let me know if I have this wrong, but isn't the returned artwork the inked and finished page? If so, it is no longer the penciler's 'original'. The inker has worked on it, the letterer has worked on it, and the writer has worked on it. If this is the case, everyone should get a page or two at the very least.
Obviously, a lot of factors would have to be considered; was this done Marvel-style, or from full script; did a single artist both pencil and ink; etc.
But if a page has been inked, scripted and lettered, it has ceased to be the penciler's 'original' by that point.
Andreas just beat me to it: Very, very few artists deliver physical boards anymore. It's too expensive and difficult for everyone. Even artists who still do all their work on paper scan and deliver pages digitally. There are exceptions, but fewer every year. So we can probably stop worrying about that particular issue.
(It does bring up other problems, like whether pencillers are entitled to inked pages when the two artists never touch the same sheet of paper.)
Dear Mars –
Walt always finds a way around conflicts, doesn't he? It's telling that of the dozens of feuds and controversies that flared all around him, none of them ever concerned or touched him, to my knowledge. Must have been those years working with Archie Goodwin – maybe that congeniality rubbed off on him.
Walt's the best.
I imagine that these days more and more artists (and writers) only deliver their work digitally. Does any publisher demand that the artists send in their original art pages instead of scanning themselves?
Where did the bear dressed as Captain America come from? Was it a licensed product, or one-of-a-kind?
Do you still have the bear?
Blok 4 Prez:
I don’t question the writers contribution to the comic books.
Without the writers, no stories.
But the writer doesn't do anything on the physical artboard. His contribution is the script. Therefore the writers original to keep is his script.
We have to make a distinction between a contribution to the teamwork of the production of a comic book and the actual physical item who someone actually worked on. In this case the artist/s on original comic book art.
Now, while I was a freelance comic book writer back in the 90's the way we wrote stories was to rough them up as "scribbles". Like storyboards in comic book form. I still have all of those.
Those are my "originals". I see no reason why I should get a share of inked pages from those stories. That's someone elses work. I didn't do anything on the physical original art.
If the writers should get artwork the artist should get parts of the writers scripts, and so should the inkers too. And I see no reason why the artist should get a share of my scribbles either. Do you?
Not to mention that the editors should get art and scripts since they also "contributed". Nah…
I actually talked to my former editor about this problem some 12 years ago. No inked art was returned at all from that company. Why? One argument was that they didn't know how it could be split fair. And how much would HIS share be? Bah…
When I turned in my first inked job after only having pencilled for a few years I told my editor that I would pick up the artwork after they had scanned it.
No, he said. We'll keep the art.
No, you don't, I replied. I took my artwork and walked out the door.
The artwork made by freelance artist belongs to the freelance artist unless otherwise has been agreed upon.
The original scripts belongs to the writers.
A simple and easy rule that will avoid much conflict. 🙂
Hope I got my point across.
Jim: I love your blog!
Beeing on both sides of the fence in the publishing world myself I can relate to much of what you write. Thanks for writing and expressing your thoughts the way you do !
I vaguely recall that Walt Simonson had some issues getting art back from DC in the 70s. Walt eventually got his pages back because he argued that as he paid for the drawing boards, they were his property regardless of what was drawn on them.
This led to DC supplying materials to all artists.
Is this apocryphal or can someone confirm this? If true, clever Walt.
Blok 4 Prez
Joakim Gunnarsson wrote: "The writer didn't contribute to the actual physical artwork, so he/she shouldn't get any of it."
The writer dictates what it is that is being drawn. These days that's usually a panel-by-panel description, and whether it's a close-up or wide-shot, etc. How is this not a contribution to the artwork? The artwork is the artist's interpretation of the writer's imagination. It's a collaboration and the writer, as far as I'm concerned, deserves as much of the artwork as the penciler gets. Without both of them, there are no pages to hang on your wall.
Jim, no need to apologize. Your answer explored what was implied in my question. Thanks for taking the time.
Oy yoy yoy, looks like the tax code isn't the only thing in need of repair or reworking…. You mentioned a bit in the part about 'legal chimeras' arising about how the corporate guys started worrying about the artists doing what they surmised would do with their reclaimed art–what if they (the artists) didn't do what the corporate guys thought they would?
By the way, have you seen sites like comicartfans.com? Probably one of the biggest online art selections I've seen.
Got it. Sorry.
Very true, Jim. However, I was thinking of artists who wanted the rules rewritten to retroactively apply to pages they themselves once considered of no value and didn't want. Until they heard what other people were making from selling them that is. I've even heard of some artists demanding the return of artwork from anyone who owns any, quite regardless of the fact that they were disposed of under the old system, at a time when these same artists neither expected nor sought their return.
Technically, the answer is yes, artists selling sketches of company owned characters are infringers. Disney once famously stopped Barks from selling duck paintings for that reason. Marvel and DC have, for whatever reason, chosen to ignore the practice so far.
Dear Jeff C.,
In a W4H situation the creator is selling his services, or said another way, his time. The employer is by law considered the "author" (or artist). The employer owns everything, all rights, all physical product, everything.
While I was at Marvel, I pushed the company toward a more enlightened W4H, providing all materials, paying all expenses, offering sales incentives, participations in ancillaries, life insurance, health care coverage, and much more. And, I continued Roy's policy of giving the original art to the people who contributed to its creation. It was technically a "gift" from the company. Creators received the physical art only. The artwork release made it clear that they had no exploitable rights, not even to display the artwork.
I figured, if it has to be work-for-hire, let's make it an attractive deal. But, aside from EPIC, creator-owned graphic novels and a few other exceptions, it was all W4H.
I think that you should honor the deal you made. That said, I believe that creators often are unfairly exploited, in this country especially. Wanting the rules rewritten doesn't necessarily mean reneging, or sour grapes. It may be the result of having one's eyes opened, wising up and wanting a fairer shake in the future. No dishonor in that.
That requires too long an answer for now. I'll post my thoughts on the subject(s) Monday and possibly that will get some insiders to weigh in.
Another example of creative materials being dumped as worthless are the kinescopes of programs from the long-defunct DuMont television network. DuMont went off the air in 1956, just as video tape was coming into use. In the 1970s, the stored kinescopes of many programs (a kinescope was a film recording of a live broadcast) were loaded into a truck and dumped into Upper New York Bay.
Some episodes of programs survive, but there isn't even a complete record of what was broadcast, so it's impossible to know for sure all that was lost. Lots of early work from Jackie Gleason, for one.
And, man, do NOT get me started on silent films. 🙂
So, basically, mass media often seem to discount any kind of value except that which returns immediately. Pity.
When a comic artist is selling a page he drew which features characters that don't belong to him, should he be paying a commission or licensing fee to the publisher?
I'm certainly not arguing FOR this … however, If the answer is 'no' then what's stopping ANYONE from drawing a Spider-Man page and selling it off with no heed to copyright?
Likewise for doing commissions at cons, etc.
Today, yes. But there was a time when Liefeld was commanding big-ass prices for his work. I use Liefeld as an example because it was true at one point (maybe not 30 times the amount of what he got paid, though), and the fact that he's still the shining-turd of an example of any number of imbalances in this industry.
Remember, Rob Liefeld cannot draw the paper bag that he cannot draw his way out of, unless Arthur Adams or Jim Lee drew it first, to show him how it's done.
There are amazing artists who (I am told by a comics art dealer friend of mine) do command astronomical sums for their work (and they get it, too!), which I know is way beyond what they ever got paid for producing the artwork in the first place. This is not including any fees they command for store or convention appearances, or whatever they make for their commission/convention sketch work.
I was at a San Diego Comic Con some 25-ish years ago, when it was in the old SD Convention Center. Bill Seinkeiwicz was pumping out inked busts of characters for $50.00 apiece (charging into the hundreds for any figure sketches), and selling his painted covers for things like New Mutants and such, selling them for (at the time) huge sums of money.
On the last day of the convention, I was standing at his table when he decided it was a good idea to pull out all the cash he had made that week, to count it in front of anyone who might be walking past his table. He said out loud what he made that weekend, but I won't repeat it. Suffice it to say, it was a very impressive 5-figure amount, before the decimal point.
If the comics companies ever ceased to give artwork back in this day and age, it would be a devastation to a lot of people. Not just the Seinkeiwicz's of the world, but many 'mid-range' illustrators who are able to raise their income to a comfortably middle-class level by selling their originals.
Liefeld has lasted over 20 years so far
The asking price for some of the covers that Rob Liefeld has done isn't significantly higher than the price most artists would get for a comic book cover. And in the long run, purely from an investment standpoint, which artist is going to stand the test of time?
In truth, if the companies had actually bought the art (instead of just reproduction rights) they needed to pay sales taxes on it, which they never did.
That was the main argument for art returns when the whole dicussion began. I've seen it mentioned in many interviews with old pros.
Even Disney returns original comic art. Just ask Don Rosa.
Some people do their comics as a means to be able to sell their originals for 30 times or more the amount of what they got paid to produce it for publication.
And sometimes there are people who do the world's most wonderfully intricate, beautiful artwork in the world, and they can't sell their works for any significant money to save their life.
In other words, there are Rob Liefelds, and there are Mark A. Nelsons.
Life ain't fair sometimes.
I crunched some numbers regarding the ROI for original artwork vs back issues here:
And came to the realization that any published comic books written and drawn by Frank Miller at this point are basically promotional vehicles for the sale of his artwork.
Rick – some would argue that when the company pays the artist for the work, they are paying the artist to draw the comic book page for purposes of publication only. Once it is published, the art goes back to the artist to do whatever he pleases with it, except, perhaps, publish/print it (depending upon contractual agreements, ownership, etc…). Which means, the artist may keep it or sell it. I could be wrong, but I seem to remember reading that somewhere.
Jim? Any comments?
Sorry, some bad english, but hope everybody got the point.
By the way…. the only reason we artists continue to draw on paper (nowaday you can do it all directly on the screen of a wacom)is the value of the original art. If we are not be allowed to keep it anymore, the paper support will vanish in a couple of years (naturally I'm talkin'mainstream comics, an artist on fantagraphic or similar have another kind of attitude)
I was lucky. My graphic design program instructors never said anything against comics. and there were quite a number of fans in my class. As a matter of fact, my instructor was a fan of Alien and got to read a few of my reference material. He also expressed admiration for guys like Duncan Fegredo and identified for me some of the techniques used.
As to the return of original artwork, I think the companies had it right: It belonged to the companies. They paid for it. Why should anyone else make money out of company property and trademarks? Giving it back was a generous courtesy.
And they still are kinda nice, allowing some artists to make money on commissions — no matter what those artists (like John Byrne) claim: that it's free advertising for the company.
In 1976, Craig Russell felt that he should get all of the artwork back from a Doctor Strange Annual that he had plotted & drawn, and Marv Wolfman had scripted. Marvel (and Marv) disagreed. When Craig went up to the office to claim the art, he secretly removed all of the word balloons from the art and put them in a paper bag and handed them to the secretary and said something to the effect of "Here's his contribution," and walked off with the art. I might have some minor details wrong, but that's the gist of the story, which was told by Craig in an interview with Steranko in Mediascene #39, I think. Craig's sometime collaborator, Don McGregor, always returned the original art he got to the artist.
If a writer contributes to the art, as an artist, he should get some of that art back; but if he contributes nothing to the actual art, he should get only what he contributed: the script. True, scripts aren't as collectible or valuable as original art, but comics are still, primarily a visual medium, and that's just the way it is.
Since is the first time I write, I must say that the blog is a magnificent reading experience, and it get better every day. The letter column story is fantastic: little Jimmy taught old Stan how to make comics. No, wait, how to IMPROVE them. Talk about PERSONALITY(and maybe a little 'I know better' attitude, that, for good or bad, seems to have accompanied your whole career)But maybe high self-esteem is the only way to get it to the top.
It's my understanding that most "educated people" still look down on comics. My instructors in the graphic design program at DMACC certainly seemed that way. They did everything they could to dissuade myself and a few other students from pursuing careers in comics. I don't think it ever occurred to them that we weren't studying to be graphic designers. We were studying to to be better artist and to learn how to make comics.
As far as original art is concerned, I think it should go directly to the artist – even if the artist doesn't have any legal claim to it.
The way I heard the story is that Marv and Len were accused of stealing some original artwork that had not been destroyed yet and so they were asked not to return, although Dick Giordano was the only one to keep giving them work. I heard it was really an editor with a drinking problem who was lifting the original pages.
As to Dave Cockrum getting the 2-page spread, he did. In the Best of the Legion Outpost (or the Legion Companion), he said he did get them back and finally sold them for a good price. Good for him.
I think it was at the request of Neal Adams that artwork should be stopped from destruction and it was all kept somewhere until a decision was reached as to what to do with it. And Neal had a lot of power during those days.
I believe the pre-1970s attitude of comics publishers was 'We bought your artwork from you, why would we then give it back?'
They felt they were buying a physical product. Likewise for the animation industry. And music too – the studios always kept the master tapes, aka the 'originals'.
I encountered a similar mentality in the '80s when I was drawing cartoonish postcards for a souvenir company. They saw themselves as buying my original art from me, and it was therefore rightfully theirs. I also wasn't allowed to sign my art – another parallel with early comics publishing.
Nowadays, all of my art is digital and there IS no original art per se. Clients now–finally– understand that they are merely purchasing the reproduction rights from an artist. By the same token, I have no originals to resell!
GREAT story about Joe Sinnott, and I'd love to hear more about him. He's not done a lot of fan interviews, but even what I started reading comics in the mid 70's, I quickly learned to seek out books he had inked because they always looked great.
And if anyone ever inked Kirby better, I've not seen it…and I have a LOT of Jack Kirby comics.
Jim, at one time, as you say, most artists didn't want their art back; they had nowhere to store it, it wasn't perceived as having any monetary value, and they were more interested in finishing and getting paid for the next job.
Therefore, surely artists suddenly wanting all the rules rewritten so that they could benefit from something they had already been paid for could be regarded as nothing more than sheer opportunism based on sour grapes syndrome. Y'know, "Why should someone else make money from something I didn't want, thought was worthless, had already been paid for, and belonged to someone else anyway?"
Isn't that pretty much the same as if I sell something for what I think it's worth then hear that the buyer has later sold it on for more than he paid me? I may understandably grudge him profitting from my work, I'm not really entitled to a percentage, am I?
Sorry for being long-winded, but what's your view on this?
I agree that pencilers & inkers should be the ones who get the art returns. I hear of side deals being made where the writer is gifted certain pages, but that is the exception. I believe it should not be the rule, ever.
Jim, I would love to know your insight on this possible real-world scenario: Disney might one day revoke Marvel's policy on art returns, as they (significantly more than Warner Bros.) have been so vociferously protective of their properties & characters, that everyone who works on anything Mickey, simply are not allowed to keep the originals they produce.
Originals (storyboards, previsualization development work, prop designs, statues, etc.) are, by contract and policy, literally the property of Disney.
What happens when or if Disney puts a halt to this policy at Marvel, leading the way for Warner Bros. and everyone else? I believe this will send damaging ripples throughout the industry, greatly affecting business at conventions. Great or greater damage to a number of the artists themselves, who depend on that extra income to supplement their livelihoods, could be wrought.
That's a bomb that I would hate to see go off in this industry. It's one I can easily imagine happening, though. If or when that would happen, I suspect it would be only the beginning of the various kinds of policy changes by Those In Charge that could cripple the comics industry as a whole.
Those In Charge tend to do such things, wantonly.
Jim, do you think this would or could ever happen? Have you heard any talk from significantly higher-ups from any companies about such a thing?
It's a butt-clenching, sphincter-tightening possibility that a lot of people would shudder to think about.
@ Jedi Jones
I think you nailed the reason why writers shouldn't get any of the artwork: I love my Pia Guerra and Charlie Adlard originals. I've bought artwork when I hadn't purchased or read the comic book, because I liked the artist. Brian K. Vaughan and Robert Kirkman do NOT factor into the purchase decision. I buy the artwork because I like the artist, not because I care about what the writer wrote.
Joe S. Walker
In the Sixties and Seventies production-standard videotape was very expensive, and since many programmes had little chance of exposure after one or two broadcasts economy dictated re-using the tape. A lot of the shows that have survived exist as film recordings or other second-generation copies.
Re comics art, surely the success of Roy Lichtenstein had something to do with it? If people would hang his stuff on a gallery wall, why not the real thing…?
"But the same thing has happened with TV shows."
There are many episodes of 60s BBC TV programmes, including such cult favourites as Doctor Who, which no longer exist, due to the master copies having been taped over. In particular, very few complete stories exist from Patrick Troughton's time as the Doctor. A similar story applies to popular sitcoms of the day, such as Dad's Army and Steptoe and Son (remade in the US as Stanford and Son).
I think Jim is spot on in his assessment of how comics and the artwork were viewed. To understand why people would have thrown it out, think of how you treat a cereal box. There are people who collect cereal boxes, but most of us have no qualms about throwing them away. I doubt the original artwork involved in the creation of the box gets treated much differently.
Granted a cereal box isn't exactly an entertainment product. But the same thing has happened with TV shows. There are apparently no original copies left of the Siskel and Ebert program from when it ran on PBS up through 1986. Roger Ebert has said the TV station may have taped over them in the 1980s rather than spend money on new tapes. The shows weren't considered a valuable asset. Probably the same thing happened to many other shows that no one remembers.
Even now, I'm not sure that all original comic artwork has value. There have been lots of comics from lots of companies printed over the last 20 years, many of which have probably been forgotten or had artwork people didn't like much. Someone has to want to keep that art around if it's not going to be thrown out.
Of course, with any entertainment, it's almost impossible to predict which stuff will be remembered later and which won't. Not to mention, most people's ideas of "art" in the '60s would have been something like paintings. Could anyone imagine a panel grid layout used in a 10-cent comic book being the type of thing anyone would hang on the wall? I can see why original artwork might not have been valued back then.
As to whether writers deserve pages, I believe Jim has said that some writers including himself (and I think Larry Hama and Chris Claremont) would either draw rough layouts or carefully describe what was to be drawn in each panel. In those cases, it seems like they definitely are contributing to the artwork. Layout is a part of what makes a drawing work. Would The Thinker statue be the same if the figure were posed doing a different action entirely? On the other hand, no collectors are going to call an original X-Men art page a "Chris Claremont original."
Ultimately I don't think this is an issue with "right or wrong" answers. It would be up to any company to decide what deal they wanted to make with their employees in terms of artwork ownership. Maybe some employees would even prefer to be paid more and let the company keep the original art.
I can see the company's point-of-view in considering it an asset, since it could aid in making reprints available at a later date. I guess keeping the physical art wouldn't be technologically necessary for that nowadays though. Certainly a film company would always keep the original film masters on hand for possible reproductions later. And a toy company would maintain ownership of their prototypes to use again or base new toys on later.
I don't think too many other entertainment industries give away the production materials that were used in making their products. Would the artist who created a prop for a movie get to keep it? Maybe, but I'm not sure what the custom is in that industry. I can even imagine props being handled as carelessly as the comic art used to be, perhaps being given away to anyone who's there at the right time. Certainly at least some of the time, the studios store the props for potential future use. I'd also be curious to find out how animation cels have been handled over the years.
I googled "Blackie Barker." Spiderfan.org mentions Jim Shooter's letter in their review of the issue. They say that the character was actually named "Blackie Gaxton," which explains why Stan Lee didn't remember who he was. I also found that a character named "Blackie Barker" did appear in Strange Tales in the '60s. He was a mobster who partnered with Asbestos Man.
The Japanese prove that comics don't have to be just for civilians or just for geeks. The big question is, what will bring American civilians back to comics?
How many times do I have to repeat myself: more Blue Estate and Black Kiss, less Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns.
If I recall correctly, Dave Cockrum up and quit "Superboy and the Legion" because DC rudely refused his polite request to return to him the double-page spread of Bouncing Boy and Duo Damsel's wedding…not the entire book, just two pages. I wonder, were those pages ultimately destroyed, or were they "liberated" and are now in some collector's hands? I'd like to think they eventually made their way to Dave.
And didn't Marv Wolfman get invited to exit from DC in the early 70s because someone in the front office objected to him "stealing" the old artwork he was supposed to be cutting into confetti? I know that he and Len Wein, among a handful of others, saved a good deal of Golden and Silver Age work.
I was wondering if anyone read the letter on the first page of the letter column from Mrs. Rhoda Katerinsky. She says, "While I am not an indiscriminate purchaser of only comics, they seem to be good with much that is useful, pleasurable and entertaining." Mrs. Katerinsky, I concur.
I don't remember the fact that I had a letter published ever coming up with Stan. Thanks for the kind words. This is the most collaborative mass medium ever invented. Even the creators who don't talk listen.
I agree with the sentiment raised by Chris above. I know full well that I couldn't even hope to get a message to any former sports hero/favourite musician/singer from my youth, let alone have them respond, yet here I am leaving messages which the EiC of Marvel during my comic reading days can respond to if he sees fit. That said, I bet there are prima donnas in the comic world also…
By the way, Jim, those skinny ties like in the last two photos above are back in fashion now…have one or two myself. Of course, I won't kid myself that I look COOL or anything!
Did you ever remind Stan of that old lettercol once you were working together?
One of my favorite things about the hobby is how accessible the professionals are. If I wrote a piece of fan mail to a professional athlete, I doubt I'd ever hear back. However, I've corresponded with a number of people in the comic book business and have never come away with the impression that I was a nuisance or a geeky outsider. The fact that you and other creators take the time out of your schedules to interact with fans is great and I hope people don't take for granted.
Regarding the return of original art:
If the company didn't pay the writers there would be no scripts. Should the company get a share of the original art?
If there were no one buying the comic book, there would be no stories and art produced. Should all the byuers of comic books get a share of the original art?
The writers parents? Because if they hadn't …
We have to draw the line somewhere I think, and to me it's if you have worked on the physical piece of artwork. As a writer, the script is your "original art".
Well said. 🙂
/Joakim (Comic book writer, artist & editor)
Roger Owen Green
I see Joe Sinnott regularly at a comic show in Albany, NY. He's STILL a sweetheart of a guy.
If I was the artist working with Alan Moore on Swamp Thing. He could have all my artwork as long as I got his original manuscript.
Paul F. P. Pogue
I have to confess that the funniest part of this, to me, was reading the Spider-Man letters page and seeing that jokes at the expense of Stan's legendarily poor memory were being made as far back as 19-freakin-64.
You described the old school comics biz attitude as,
"Who cared what six-year-olds thought, anyway?"
I think Weisinger cared enough about what kids thought to have letters pages and a "Bits of Legionnaire Business" section. Now I wonder:
— What was the first comics company to publicly address fandom? EC?
— What was the first comic with a letters page? The GCD lists features titled "Letters" going back to 1937, but according to this data (which may not be complete), letters were a sporadic feature up through the 40s until Fox featured them in its romance magazines before EC regularly published them the following year.
"No need to train new people. The average age of the creators and publishing people crept upward. So what we had here was, to a great extent, increasingly older men (and a few women) making what they thought was throw-away entertainment for little kids."
could be paraphrased to describe the current audience of American comics:
"No need to recruit new readers. The average age of the audience crept upward. So what we had here was, to a great extent, increasingly older men (and a few women) buying what they thought was collectible entertainment."
The geeks won in the end. But how sweet is their victory?
The Japanese prove that comics don't have to be just for civilians or just for geeks. The big question is, what will bring American civilians back to comics?
Your fellow Marvel letter writer Pete von Sholly hit the big time. I always enjoy recognizing names of future pros in old letter columns.
Nice of Spider-Man to hand over the check. I'm sure the X-Men appreciate the favor. They must have been off on a mission …
By coincidence, the other night I was reading the Comics Interview article with that photo of you in front of your portrait. Bill Sienkiewicz is a master of realism!
I too am "primarily a word person," so maybe that's why I also don't see any "reason the writer SHOULDN'T get a share of the originals." Some have compared comics artists to directors. Some treat directors as the creators of their films. But if there were no screenwriters, there'd be nothing for the director to direct in the first place.
Lee in Limbo
Great story. Thank you.
One of the legends I heard from those days is that the interns that were tasked to destroy original art were slowly replaced by fans. When the fan-interns were tasked to destroy art in the paper-cutter, they would carefully cut the art between the borders. Then, after hours, pull the art out of the trash and re-assemble it. Probably a Len and Marv operation. 🙂
It's scary, but as an adult, I realize just how dependent the medium is on pictures, and how disposable the writing (no offense Jim) actually is. I throw comic books away all the time now, but pay good money for original artwork and frame it.
Well, the writer should have got his original typewritten script in return. That's his "original".
The writer didn't contribute to the actual physical artwork, so he/she shouldn't get any of it.
Maybe an original page to the letterer since he/she contributed to the physical piece of art, but not the writer.
Patrick Daniel O'Neill
Maybe it's because I'm primarily a word person, but I see no reason the writer SHOULDN'T get a share of the originals. As Jim notes, without his initial input–plot or script–there'd be nothing for the artist to draw in the first place. Saying the writer shouldn't get a share of the original art in comics is like saying the writer of a motion picture shouldn't share in the profits.
It's amazing to me how they just threw that stuff away!
Jim, sometime in the 90's, my wife was watching QVC and saw a "comic book guy on there" and pulled me in. There you were, hawking a copy of Moon Knight #1 with your autograph on it. That issue has a special place in my heart, as it was the first series I ever collected on my own, all thanks to a friend who picked it up for me when I was sick to a)make me feel better and b)because it was a #1.
That turned out to be one of my all time favorite series, and that issue on QVC is the one and only I time I ever actually bought anything off of a cable shopping channel. It still sits in my basement, displayed on a shelf next to a USS Enterprise toy and some of my wife's medical books. It's also one of the few things I'd actually label 'prized possession.'
So, thank you for that.