Monday, July 9, 2012

Comic Books, Thanos, and Intellectual Property

So I'm sure we've all seen "The Avengers" by now. If you haven't, that's your problem, I'm going to spoil the very ending anyway and I'm not hiding it behind the jump.


They all eat shawarma.

Oh, and Thanos was behind the entire plot.

Thanos the Mad Titan is well-known for trying to get in Death's pants and for bringing the Marvel Universe to its knees with the Infinity Gauntlet, but that's neither here nor there.

Much like Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. showing up in "Iron Man", Thanos' inclusion in the movie 'verse was simultaneously meant to excite comic fans and intrigue those who don't read the comics, who would then ask their excited companions what the fuss was about.

So now Marvel is doing a bit of a Thanos push. He's recently appeared in the heinously bad "Avengers Assemble" comic, which is intended to get the movie-goers into comics (I really doubt it will succeed) and it's implied that he will be heavily involved in the probable "Guardians of the Galaxy" movie that will probably be announced this week, as well as in the inevitable "Avengers 2".

Meanwhile, the creator of Thanos, Jim Starlin, has been a little cheesed off. While he hasn't taken legal action yet, he does seem a little offended that Marvel is doing stuff with his character and not paying him or even inviting him to screenings or press events.

Now, as reported on DigitalSpy, Starlin has posted his earliest drawing of Thanos and is passive-aggressively asking for some sort of compensation.

To quote: "This is the second film that had something I created for Marvel in it - the Infinity Gauntlet in Thor being the other - and both films I had to pay for my own ticket to see them," and also, "Financial compensation to the creators of these characters doesn't appear to be part of the equation."

My heart goes out to Starlin, really. It does suck that he has absolutely no control, creative or otherwise, on the character he created and that he isn't seeing a cent for the new things being done with the character. And if, as this article implies, Marvel has lost their records of whatever agreement they reached with Starlin regarding his work, then he is well within his rights to demand some sort of financial arrangement for Marvel's use of the character that he legitimately proved to create.

HOWEVER, I do not think Starlin has any moral or ethical right to demand financial compensation just because he created the character. It may be within his LEGAL right depending on the circumstances, but I don't think he has any genuine right to be upset about the state of things.

The fact is, Marvel and DC have ALWAYS done this. Writers and artists are hired, many coming on ready to pour out their own ideas, and then Marvel or DC owns those creations. The writers and artists are paid for their initial work, but unless they strike a unique deal with Marvel or DC, the intellectual property is not theirs.

Every single movie Marvel or DC has made has used ideas stemming from at least dozens of creators hired. Heck, every single COMIC Marvel or DC has made has used ideas stemming from those creators. And practically NONE of those creators are paid for anything they themselves did not work on specifically. In other words, the reason Jim Starlin didn't get a free ticket to "Thor" or "The Avengers" is because he didn't work on those movies.

It's how Marvel and DC have lasted this long. They have an empire of intellectual property that is not dependent on any one creator. Frankly, if it didn't work this way, every superhero would only have one creator and once they left, Marvel would have to start with a different superhero. A collective universe would be virtually impossible.

Now, I'm not defending Marvel and DC's practices or behavior, let's be clear. I do think that even if they have no legal obligation to pay respects to the original creators for many of their ideas, it would be nice if they at least had a policy of attempting some kind of respectful relationship.

As an example, Alan Moore was notoriously screwed over by DC. He signed a deal with them and they effectively owned all of his work and he could do nothing to stop it. Even when he requested that his name be taken off the movies based on his work, they initially refused to do so.

DC had no obligation to Moore, so they gave him no respect.

However, when the "Watchmen" movie was being developed by Zack Snyder, the director made peaceful gestures towards Moore. Even though he pretty much knew that Moore had no interest in participating, he still gave him every opportunity to be involved in the production, give his blessing, and to see the movie upon its completion. The artist, Dave Gibbons, took full advantage of this. Moore, obviously, did not. Even so, Snyder held no ill will against him, respectfully took Moore's name off of the project and never used his name in the marketing, and did everything he could to respect the source material. While Moore of course detested the movie's mere existence, as far as I'm aware he never said a negative thing about how Zack Snyder treated him.

This is what I'm talking about. Respect. I think Marvel SHOULD have sprung for a free ticket to the premiere for Jim Starlin (even if it would have fueled rumors about Thanos) and any other creators involved in the origins of the characters of the movie. They SHOULD have told him they were intending to make Thanos a part of it. They SHOULD have given him the opportunity to be creatively involved, even if he wouldn't be paid for the experience or have any executive powers. It's just the classy thing to do and it might have even led to some valuable input regarding the portrayal of the characters.

Even so, that's not what we're talking about here. As Starlin puts it very specifically, he's expecting "financial compensation."

Sorry Jim, but that's not how this works.

This is like if you're in a no-strings-attached sort of relationship with someone. You meet up, have a few laughs, get laid, everyone has a good time. You know going in that they have no commitment to you and what you see is what you get. Then that person gets married to someone. Should you still expect to be getting laid? Of course not. Your relationship has ended as you knew it probably would. Does it suck to be you? Totally. Would it be nice if that person still tried to be kind towards you, assuming you never did anything to piss them off? Yeah. But if you post on Facebook about how that person used you and how if they really cared about you they would make things right and give you some action on the side, then you're being immature.

Jim, it doesn't matter if you created Thanos before you decided to work for Marvel. If you owned the intellectual property rights to the character when you started working for Marvel and then signed a document granting them those rights in return for the chance to publish a story around Thanos and of course for compensation for the titles you specifically worked on, then you are getting exactly what you signed on for.

If Marvel still has those initial documents, then they legally own Thanos and the only financial compensation you'll get is from people who buy back-issues of comics you wrote after being inspired to learn more about the character. That's the deal you signed, that's what you agreed to, and that's what happens to EVERYONE.

Heck, even Stan Lee doesn't get paid for his work. It might seem like he does since he gets an Executive Producer credit on just about every Marvel movie and since he always has a cameo and he is basically Marvel's cheerleader/crazy uncle, but he doesn't get paid for the characters he created either. Nor does he get paid for his Executive Producer credit or his cameos. He does all that for kicks. Because he wants to be involved and because Marvel likes having him as their public face. He probably gets paid for his publicity work, but that's about it.

Jim, if they started paying you, they'd also have to start paying Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and Joe Simon and Larry Lieber and Steve Ditko and Don Heck and Roy Thomas and Gary Friedrich and Brian Michael Bendis and David Finch and Don Rico and Bryan Hitch and Mark Millar and that's just if we're looking at the CREATORS of the primary intellectual properties of just "The Avengers". If we looked at anyone who ever wrote or did art for any of the comic books that might have inspired elements of "The Avengers", Marvel's historians and lawyers would be working overtime and probably have to pay off possibly hundreds of people and even THEN they'd be opening themselves up to frivolous lawsuits from anyone they ever worked with looking for a slice of the billion-dollar pie.

This is why Marvel is ABLE to do a movie like "The Avengers" in the first place. They own all of the intellectual property. You, Jim Starlin, probably do not, and even if Marvel has lost track of the documents saying as much, you still probably signed them. You knew who you were getting in bed with. Anyone who knows enough about the industry to even get work with Marvel or DC knows what working with them entails. It's the price you pay for making your work a part of their universe.

I'm sorry Marvel has stopped returning your calls and has married a billionaire that they're really happy with, but don't go acting like Marvel owes you more than you already got.

Besides, you even admit that Thanos is basically a Metron/Darkseid rip-off. It's kind of hard to feel sympathy for you when Thanos was pretty much clearly intended to be something you'd bring to Marvel. Heck, as you can see, Iron Man's head is in the initial drawing that you posted since you initially intended the character to be used in an Iron Man comic.

You might as well have been offering Thanos on a silver platter.