Creators deserve to be paid, not thanked

Recent ‘Hawkeye’ controversy highlights compensation issues in the comic book industry

Written By Jake Dabkowski, Editor Elect

It’s Christmas time, which means one thing: a plethora of Christmas-themed and Christmas-adjacent holiday specials flooding the market. This year marks the release of a big one: Marvel Studios’ first holiday themed project, “Hawkeye.”

The series is a clear adaptation of Matt Fraction and David Aja’s run on the character from a few years back. This run is the obvious run to adapt. It has an iconic and distinct visual style and features one of the best, if not the best, storylines the character has ever gone through. The distinct style of this comic is very clearly not only the inspiration for the series but the fundamental basis for the entire show, which is a good thing. Adapting one of the best runs of a character is the logical thing to do when making a show based off of a comic book character. There’s just one problem: Fraction and Aja aren’t being credited properly.

While Fraction was consulted for the show, he only ended up being consulted after “Late Night With Seth Meyers” host Seth Meyers told the production team at a behind-the-scenes meeting to get in touch with Fraction. Fraction is credited as a consulting producer, but Aja received no such credit, nor any sort of payment. Aja even expressed his frustration with the situation at Disney, saying “even better: stop crediting, start paying.”

Credit and payment have always been an issue in the comic book industry, going all the way back to the origins of the medium. When Superman was first sold to DC Comics, creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were only given $130. Batman co-creator Bill Finger died impoverished because he and his family never received royalties for the character because Bob Kane had, up until recently, received all the credit for creating Batman. Finger only recently received credit following decades of legal battles involving his estate and DC Comics.

What a lot of these disputes boil down to is that these characters are owned by giant corporations. Marvel Studios owns the rights to Hawkeye, and likewise they own the rights to Fraction and Aja’s run. There is no legal obligation for Marvel to pay them. When the run originated, there was likely never any sort of belief that this run would ever be adapted into any sort of series. The very concept of Disney+ hadn’t been created, and even though the Marvel Cinematic Universe existed at the time, no one could have predicted the generation defining franchise it would go on to become.

One way that this has been pushed against is by some companies creating creator owned comic books, however these are slim when compared to the amount of comics that are company owned. Another famous example of this is the character of Howard the Duck, who was created by Steve Gerber. When Gerber left Marvel Comics, he argued that he deserved the rights to Howard the Duck, because his contract had allegedly originally stated that he would own the rights. When Marvel refused to give them to him, he created a character named Destroyer Duck.

Here’s where it gets interesting: in the early 2000s, Gerber was contacted by Marvel to do a new Howard the Duck miniseries, which he turned down. A few weeks later he was asked to do a new Destroyer Duck miniseries, which he initially turned down, but then decided he would do both miniseries and cross them over. The miniseries involves the two universes crossing over and ends with a bunch of Howard the Duck clones being made. The clones are all destroyed in the Marvel miniseries, but it’s revealed in the Destroyer Duck miniseries that the Howard the Duck left in the Marvel universe was a clone, and the original Howard the Duck has returned to the Destroyer Duck timeline, meaning Gerber once and for all got his creation back.

Unfortunately, most people don’t get options like the great Howard the Duck switcheroo, and ultimately Fraction and Aja don’t own the rights to the likeness that they created. The ultimate issue is that Disney is a multi-billion dollar (and when I say multi I mean multi) corporation. To pay Fraction and Aja would be drops from a bucket. Fraction and Aja are also both thanked in the credits of the show (animated credits that are stylistically ripped straight from Aja’s artstyle, no less), so it’s not like Disney isn’t directly aware of what they are doing.

What this boils down to, even if it may not seem like it, is a labor issue. Corporations are currently utilizing the labor of creators to produce streaming hits and millions of dollars in profit. The least they could do is properly compensate creators for their work.