Did you hear about the big corporation that blacklisted its star creators after a legal battle? Or how about the top professionals that became embroiled in an ever escalating game of blame and shame? These aren’t the latest plots from today’s comics. Instead, they’re only two of the many creator feuds to be linked with the comics industry over the years. The behind the scenes drama is often just as riveting as the adventures depicted on the page, with the cast of characters just as varied. Publishers, editors, writers, artists – each appear in these tales, with each one the hero of their own story.
RELATED: 15 BLOODIEST Feuds In Comics History
Over the years, comics fandom has thrilled to tales of creative differences, editorial edicts and marketing malfunctions, making it clear that the truth is every bit as strange as fiction. While some feuds (including the breakdown in relations between Stan Lee and both Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko) are well known, others have been the subject of less scrutiny, particularly if they took place in a time before one unfiltered Twitter post could set the Internet alight. We here at CBR have looked back over the years in search of scandal, to bring you 15 of the most epic creator feuds.
15. SUPERMAN’S CREATORS VS DC COMICS
Siegel and Shuster were among the first superstar creators, with their new character – Superman – establishing the template for the modern superhero. The root of Jerry and Joe’s future problems was that when they sold the first Superman story to DC Comics, in 1938, they also sold DC the copyright to the character (as was standard industry practice). Superman’s success meant that for comics creators, their wages were significant – reputedly $75,000 each in 1941. The problem was, with Superman making DC millions, they believed they were not getting their far share of profits and sued DC for the rights. They lost, resulting in their being fired from DC and having their names removed from all Superman stories.
14. JOHN BYRNE VS JOE QUESADA
John Byrne returned to Marvel in the late ’90s, working on the relaunched Spider-Man titles alongside Howard Mackie. No stranger to working on multiple projects, Byrne also launched a mutant book: X-Men: The Hidden Years. With Byrne writing and drawing the book, this was intended to feature stories that bridged the gap between Uncanny X-Men #96 and the introduction of the new team in Giant size X-Men #1. Unfortunately for Byrne, there was a significant change in Marvel management, with Joe Quesada replacing Bob Harras as Marvel editor-in-chief.
One of Quesada’s first acts was to trim the number of X-titles, with The Hidden Years being one of the causalities with #22. It’s fair to say that Byrne did not take the news well. The bad feeling between the men effectively ended Byrne’s tenure at Marvel during Quesada’s reign, with Byrne’s regular digs at Marvel on social media making sure of this.
13. AL MILGROM VS BOB HARRAS
Writers and artists often pick up the acclaim and plaudits, but how often is the inker on an issue the main source of attention? Unfortunately for Al Milgrom, the attention he received for his work on Universe X: Spidey, wasn’t the kind he might have wished for. During the issue’s production, Bob Harras was fired as Marvel editor-in-chief in August 2000, and replaced with Joe Quesada. While Harras had been a successful group editor for the X-Men line, his spell as Marvel EIC was more divisive. When the issue was released, eagle-eyed readers noticed that in a background scene, Milgrom had adorned several books with the message: “Harras, ha ha he’s gone! Good riddance to bad rubbish, he was a nasty S.O.B.”
In a comedy of errors, the addition had been caught before printing, yet still appeared in the published product. Regardless, the incident meant that Milgrom had his freelance contract with Marvel terminated.
12. ROBERT KIRKMAN VS TONY MOORE
The Walking Dead is one of the great modern comic success stories, its zombies lumbering across comic stores, book stores and television schemes. Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard have collaborated on the comic for over a decade, with the first six issues of the comic drawn by Tony Moore. Moore and Kirkman, who were childhood friends, created the series together, and Moore provided covers for the first 24 issues. In 2012, however, Moore sued Kirkman for access to The Walking Dead‘s profit statements. Moore had previously signed his stake over to Kirkman in return for a proportion of future proceeds. The lawsuit stemmed from Moore’s desire to ascertain exactly how much he was owed.
With the TV success of The Walking Dead the lawsuit gained much media interest. It was eventually concluded in December 2012, the two men declining to give any details other than that an amicable agreement had been reached.
11. GARY FRIEDRICH VS MARVEL COMICS
Many disputes over the rights and ownership of characters stem from the concept of work for hire, where any characters created become the property of the company rather than individual creators. A recent dispute of this type concerned Gary Friedrich, who in 2007 sued Marvel in an attempt to receive royalties for Ghost Rider. Friedrich argued that he had developed the character independently in 1968, subsequently selling the concept to Marvel before writing Johnny Blaze’s first appearance, in 1972. When the Ghost Rider film was released in 2007, Friedrich sued Marvel in an attempt to get royalties he thought he was due.
Friedrich lost the case and, in a further blow, was counter-sued by Marvel/Disney for selling unauthorized Ghost Rider merchandise. This blow to Friedrich, who was in ill health, attracted significant media attention, with the two parties eventually agreeing to an undisclosed settlement in 2013.
10. TONY ISABELLA VS DC
Debuting in his own series in 1977, Black Lightning was one of DC’s first major African-American superheroes. Tony Isabella came up with the concept for the character, writing the first 10 issues of the series, while Trevor Von Eeden was brought on board to contribute to character design and draw the series. After the cancellation of Black Lightning’s first series, in 1978, Isabella sought to buy out DC’s interest in the character, only to find that DC declared Von Eeden as the co-creator. This contrasted with Isabella’s belief that the character was introduced under a partnership between him and DC instead of through work for hire.
Over the next few decades, Isabella was very vocal about DC’s approach and their poor treatment of him and the Black Lightning character. Finally, in 2017, Isabella and DC resolved the dispute, the official credit line now stating: “Black Lightning created by Tony Isabella with Trevor Von Eeden.”
9. JIM OWSLEY (CHRISTOPHER PRIEST) VS THE SPIDEY OFFICE
Before he made a triumphant return to Marvel with the acclaimed Black Panther series in 1998, Christopher Priest – then going by the name of Jim Owsley – was a young editor in the Spider-Man office in the mid ’80s. Taking on the post at the age of 22, he soon found himself caught up in the power struggle within Marvel at this time, much of which stemmed from the mixed feelings of creators towards Jim Shooter, the then Editor-In-Chief.
Priest has since detailed the tough time that he had in this role, trying to prove himself as a young editor and trying to satisfy both creators and Shooter. It was a thankless task, culminating in Priest removing Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz from Amazing Spider-Man, a move that he thought Shooter wanted. This set off a chain of events that led to hurt feelings, harsh words and, ultimately, Priest’s departure from Marvel for several years.
8. JOHN BYRNE VS PETER DAVID
Two prominent creators not afraid to speak their mind, the two have engaged in verbal spats on numerous occasions, with Byrne’s antipathy towards David appearing to date back to when he was working in Marvel’s sales department. Byrne’s run on Alpha Flight was heading towards a shocking moment in #12 where Guardian, the team’s leader, would be unexpectedly killed. Byrne has claimed that David showed retailers xeroxes of the death before the issue hit the stand, spoiling the surprise. David claims that the pages were an unlettered dream sequence, with it being Byrne’s reaction that convinced retailers of their authenticity.
Whatever the truth, the verbal slings and arrows have shot back and forth ever since. It even appeared in the comics, where Byrne’s run on Incredible Hulk, following David’s lengthy run, was his attempt to restore the Hulk to what he believed the established version should be.
7. MICHAEL TURNER VS TOP COW
The sadly missed Michael Turner was one of comics’ hottest creators in the late ’90s and early ’00s, with his work on Witchblade and Fathom securing him a legion of fans. After spending the early part of his career with Marc Silvestri’s Top Cow Productions, Turner left in 2002 to set up his own publishing company, Aspen MLT Inc. Unfortunately, this move brought Turner’s career to a temporary halt. In May 2003, Turner filed a federal lawsuit against Top Cow, claiming that the company had been threatening Aspen’s printers and distributors with litigation in order to discourage their working with Aspen.
The dispute appeared to revolve, in part, around the ownership of several of Turner’s creations, including Fathom. The conflict quickly escalated, with Top Cow counter-suing Turner, alleging that he poached Top Cow employees when setting up Aspen. Thankfully, both parties were able to reach a settlement later that year.
6. CHUCK DIXON VS DC COMICS
During the ’90s, Chuck Dixon was one of DC’s most prolific writers. A driving force behind the Batman line, Dixon had lengthy runs on Nightwing, Robin, Birds of Prey and Batgirl before leaving for CrossGen. He returned to DC in 2004 before abruptly announcing in June 2008 that he was “no longer employed by DC Comics in any capacity.” Dixon later claimed that his career was affected after he started voicing his political views, as one of the industry’s most prominent conservative-leaning creators.
Dixon developed this theme in a 2014 Wall Street Journal essay, bemoaning the liberal bias of modern comics, and expanded on his views in a fascinating interview on the Milo Yiannopoulos show where he claimed that “if your politics aren’t right, it’s impossible to get any work [from Marvel and DC].” In May 2017, his first new work for DC in years debuts: the miniseries Bane: Conquest.
5. NEAL ADAMS VS THE COMICS INDUSTRY
Legendary creator Neal Adams was one of the main advocates for creator rights in the ’70s, at a time when work-for-hire contracts meant that the real power was with companies rather than individual creators. He lobbied for the return of original artwork to artists and was the prime mover behind the attempted formation of the Comic Book Creators Guild, an attempt to unionize comic creators. The proposed manifesto of this group included recommended pay-rates for publishers, but despite interest from A-list talent, the initial attempt to form the union didn’t work out.
Adams was also a driving force behind the lobbying efforts that led to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster receiving public and financial recognition from DC Comics for their creation of Superman, while many comic creators have spoken of how the support and belief of Adams helped them to begin their career in the comics industry.
4. MARV WOLFMAN VS MARVEL
With artist Gene Colan, Marv Wolfman created the Vampire hunter, Blade for the Tomb of Dracula series, in 1973. While Blade played a prominent role in the series and received his own series years later, he was never one of Marvel’s most popular or recognizable characters. This changed in 1997, when Blade become one of the first Marvel characters to star in their own motion picture. Shortly before the release of the film, Wolfman sued Marvel Characters Inc over the ownership of many characters he had created for the company, including Blade.
Wolfman’s claim was that he was not employed under a work-for-hire contract when he created Blade, meaning that he was entitled to copyright ownership and a corresponding increased share of the profits. Unfortunately, after a trial in which a variety of Marvel employees, including John Byrne and Jim Shooter, were called to give evidence, the judge ruled against Wolfman.
3. ALAN MOORE VS GRANT MORRISON
Alan Moore and Grant Morrison are two of the most famous writers in comics, renowned for their innovative use of the medium. They’re both magicians and they both started off in the UK comics scene. However, this doesn’t mean that they’re the best of friends. In reality, the feud between them has been long-lasting and shows no sign of coming to an end. Moore has claimed that Morrison has spent a career imitating his work, with Morrison retorting that his earliest published work predates Moore’s.
As Moore stated in one interview, “I’ve read Morrison’s work twice: first when I wrote it, then when he wrote it.” Moore has also taken aim at Morrison’s portrayal of magic in his works, contrasting Morrison’s The Invisibles with his own Promethea. The two creators may be revered by comic fans, but it’s clear that it would take more than a magic spell to reconcile the feuding pair.
2. JACK KIRBY VS MARVEL
Jack Kirby was rightly revered for his immense contribution to ’60s Marvel, before leaving the company in 1970 after his working relationship with Stan Lee became irreparable. After a spell at DC Comics, Kirby returned to Marvel in 1976 where he wrote and drew several titles, including Captain America and Machine Man. Unfortunately, this work was not universally well-received by fans, while there are also reports of some creators not affording Kirby the respect due.
After Kirby left Marvel for a final time, in 1978, he engaged in a lengthy struggle to have his original artwork returned. Eventually, in 1987, after sustained pressure from fans and creators, Marvel returned a small proportion – approximately 2000 pages. Legal issues continued after Kirby’s 1994 death. In 2014, Marvel and the Kirby family settled a legal dispute over Kirby’s rights to the characters he created or co-created.
1. BOB KANE VS BILL FINGER
History may record Bob Kane as the creator of Batman, but the true picture doesn’t paint him in a very flattering light. While Kane came up with the idea for the character, it was developed by Bill Finger who invented many of the key features in the Batman mythos. This was not known to the wider public: Kane had negotiated a contract that signed away his ownership of the character for a number of trade-offs, including a mandatory byline on all Batman comics. Therefore, whether a comic was by Bill Finger, Jerry Robinson or another creator, it was only Kane’s signature that readers saw.
Kane continuously downplayed Finger’s role in Batman’s creation, referring to him in a 1965 letter as a liar who was “taking credit for much more than he deserves.” It was only years after Finger’s 1974 death that Kane publicly acknowledged his influence, although even this was tempered with faint praise.
Have we missed any creator feuds of note? Are there any creators or editors whose behavior is indistinguishable from supervillains? Let us know your suggestions in the comments below or on Facebook!