If you’re going to work for a big company, you’re going to be exploited. But we were lucky, because the work was so much fun.
— Elliot S! Maggin, on his experiences writing for DC Comics in the ’70s.
Creators’ rights was a big topic at the ’70s panel I attended a couple of weeks ago at Comic-Con International. Moderator Mark Evanier asked how Maggin and the other panelists had felt at the time about the previous generation of comics creators from a business standpoint. Steve Englehart shared that he’d come into the industry just as Jack Kirby was leaving Marvel for DC without any royalties. He said, “I remember saying, ‘I’m not going to end up in a situation like that where I’m not getting paid for the stuff that I created.’ As it turned out, I didn’t listen to myself.”
Englehart said it with a smile, though, and to my surprise, that was the most critical anyone on the panel ever got about their treatment by the big comics companies. Maggin’s comment above came shortly after.
As someone who feels pretty strongly about creators’ rights, it’s easy to assume that creators are even more passionate about it than I am, but that’s not always the case. It wasn’t just that generation of creators, either (not that these particular panelists intended to speak for all of their peers, which obviously they don’t). In a recent interview, James Robinson replied to a question about whether his and J. Bone’s The Saviors was the start of a creator-owned track for his career. “I don’t know,” he said. “I would like to do more of my own stuff, of course, but I’m one of those guys that just enjoys writing these characters. I know everyone talks about, ‘They’re not yours, they’re owned by the corporation,’ but that’s just a part of the reality of it that, if you’re willing to accept it, there’s a lot of fun to be had writing these characters.”
My point in bringing this all up is that different people feel different ways. That should go without saying, but it doesn’t. I forget it all the time, and it’s helpful to remember that for all of the Jack Kirbys, Gary Friedrichs and Alan Moores, there were and are some people having experiences like Maggin and Robinson. In the same way, corporate-rights advocates shouldn’t dismiss the stories of those who’ve been treated unfairly and are complaining about it. It’s not that the truth lies somewhere between the two viewpoints, it’s that both are simultaneously valid. Embracing the fun of creating the adventures of DC and Marvel superheroes doesn’t negate the need for better treatment of writers and artists. There’s no good reason why creators can’t have fun and be fairly compensated.
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