There’s been a ton of controversies lately over who owns certain comic characters, the actual creators, or the companies they work for. All of these cases lead to one real conclusion, read your contract!
Alan Moore vs DC – There was this graphic novel from the ’80′s called “Watchmen” that you may have heard of. It was written by a guy named Alan Moore, and the book was released by DC Comics. It sold pretty well. Anyway, Alan Moore was promised the rights to the story after one year of the book being out of print, but you know what? The book ended up becoming a classic and never went out of print. Anyway, DC Comics was bought up by Warner Bros., and they made a Watchmen movie. Now DC (Warner Bros.) is going to release more Watchmen movies, against the wishes of Moore. Even though Moore created the story, he actually doesn’t own any of it, or so say the courts.
Corporations 1, Creators 0.
Jack King Kirby vs Marvel – Marvel has their problems, too. Jack Kirby, who along with Stan Lee helped create some of Marvel’s original and most iconic characters like The Fantastic Four, X-Men, and The Hulk, doesn’t have any ownership of anything either. Kirby, dubbed King Kirby by fans, died in 1994, and his family has ben trying to get some ownership of these characters form Marvel, but to no avail. Marvel, which has since been bought by Disney, owns it all, and Kirby and his family get nothing.
Corporations 2, Creators 0.
Gary Friedrich vs Marvel – Speaking of Marvel (Disney), they have a character named Ghostrider, who was created by a guy named Gary Friedrich. Wait, he wasn’t created by Gary Friedrich, he was created out of thin air by the enigmatic entity known as Marvel-or so say the courts. Ghostrider has made Marvel a ton of money over the years, and has even spawned a couple of feature films, but Frierich gets nothing. He took Marvel to court over the whole thing, and not only did he lose the case, but he was counter-sued by Marvel (Disney) and now he can’t sell any Ghostrider art, or promote himself at conventions as “the creator of Ghostrider”, and he has to pay Marvel (Disney) $17,000. Even though Friedrich is practically destitute, the courts have decided that he must pay this multi-billion dollar corporation $17,000, and have essentially taken away his only real source of income.
Corporations 3, Creators 0.
Tony Moore vs Robert Kirkman - You might be saying to yourself at this point, “Well heck, I guess I shouldn’t work for these big corporations. Maybe I should just work with my friends and retain complete ownership and control over my own creations.” Hold on there, buddy. Even that’s not as safe as you might think. Ever hear of a comic called The Walking Dead? Yeah, it’s a hit TV show now. It was created by writer Robert Kirkman, and his childhood friend Tony Moore. Well, now Moore is suing Kirkman and claiming that he was duped into signing away creator rights to the Walking Dead. No corporations here, just two friends who seem to be having a falling out over money.
Corporations 3, Creators 1, Co-Creator 0.
I’m not saying anyone in these situations is right or wrong. When a corporation, or even a friend, hires you, it’s pretty typical that the corporation will own anything you create on company time. Some companies, like Disney, often have employees sign contracts that state that anything they create outside of work hours belong to the company as well. The moral is that as a creator, you have to be very careful with your ideas. Read your contract, and be aware that at the end of the day, corporations aren’t in business to be your friend, they are in business to make money, and if you try to take their money, watch out.