Unfortunately, superhero comics tend to be where creator rights go to die. It may be understandable that the company that employs the artists get a cut of the cash for a character, but sometimes creator end up seeing barely a penny for wildly successful heroes they created. They can struggle in poverty while comic book companies make millions off their idea. And unfortunately, this has been going on since the beginning. Let’s take a look at comic book creators who didn’t get their fair share when it came to their comic book creations. By the way, if you want to help out any of these creators financially, an organization called The Hero Initiative will help you do just that.
Do you have any creators to add? Say so in the comments!
When I say creators getting screwed goes back to the beginning of superhero comics I mean the very beginning- as in the birth of Superman. He’s one of the world’s most famous heroes and many would say his creation was the birth of superhero comics as a longlived genre, so you’d think his creators would have had it made. But this wasn’t true at all.
Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman at age 17 and 5 years later, they sold the rights to the character to Detective Comics for a mere 130 dollars. In return, they received a ten year contract to produce all Superman-related work. The character was quickly syndicated for newspapers and Seigel and Shuster naturally wanted to a raise for doing this additional work- they asked for their pay to go from ten to fifteen dollars a page. What they received in response was an affronted letter from an editor that said such an audacious request took his breath away.
To say Superman was wildly successful was an understatement, and his creators were entitled to a percentage of the profits, but instead they received claims that the character has actually “lost money”, despite appearing in a radio programs and cartoons.
Jerry Siegel later submitted the concept for “Superboy” to the company, and was rejected. He went off to fight in World War II, and while on the warfront, learned that the company was now publishing his Superboy concept without his permission or knowledge and keeping all the cash. What’s more, Siegel and Shuster’s bylines was being used without their permission. They sued and won regarding Superboy and the use of the byline, but still lost out on Superman. They got a meager sum and were broke two years later. When Superman got a movie deal, the pair had to contact the company and demand a sum. It wasn’t until the 1970’s they got a yearly pension and legal battles over who owned Superman raged on even after the creator’s deaths.
Jack Kirby helped create Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, The Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Thor and many more successful characters that make a boatload of money- but far from giving him the proper compensation for his creations, Marvel refused to even hire his on as a regular employee with health benefits. Like Siegel and Shuster, he tried to sue for the rights to his characters, and like them, he lost.
In the mid 1980’s, Marvel tried to convince Kirby to sign away all his rights to the characters he created or else they would not return his very valuable original art that they possessed. Eventually they relented and gave him back some of his art, but not nearly all of it. Stan Lee admitted after Jack’s death that he should have gotten more recognition.
As I’ve written before, while Bob Kane is credited as the creator of Batman, it was Bill Finger who did all the real work. Kane really just came up with the name- Finger came up with the costume, who had the idea he shouldn’t have superpowers and should be a detective, his tragic origin and even wrote the first Batman story despite being uncredited. He also came up with the Batmobile, Comissioner Gordon, Robin, Gotham City, Catwoman, The Joker and so on.
But when Bob Kane showed the character to DC Comics, he negotiated a deal where only he received the credit and benefits. Much like with Stan Lee, it wasn’t until after Finger died that Kane admitted Finger deserved co-credit- and it wasn’t until last year he started getting included in the “created by” section of Batman comics and movies.