Who owns art? When a picture is created and the artist is paid by a client, what does that client own? The physical rights to the artwork? If I buy a Van Goth tomorrow do I have the right to take it out in the backyard and burn it? If I own the physical artwork, do I also own the right to who publishes and makes prints of that work?
In animation, everything you draw is turned over to the studio and it belongs to them. (Or so they say.) I recently saw a bunch of Alex Toth drawings that belonged to an animation studio that had been tossed out in the trash when the studio had closed. I asked my friend Joe Kubert shortly before his death about how he felt concerning a Hawkman cover that DC gave away that sold for $180k…none of which went to Joe. Philosophically, and humorously, Joe replied: "In those days were you stealing art, or just taking out the trash."
One of the things that happened in my generation in comics was that the physical artwork was returned to the creators by the companies. (Except in the case of folks like Jack Kirby, who refused to sign the "waiver of all rights" paperwork that was sent along with the returns.) And more importantly, the companies started paying the artists royalties if they reprinted the work. I recently took issue with IDW over there refusal to continue to pay royalties on the work they have been reprinting. Here are a couple of the e-mails that went back and forth.
On Feb 2, 2013, at 1:50 PM, Mike Vosburg wrote:
Since you've been reprinting my GI Joe stories without any compensation, do I get
discount at your store?
When initially sending comps for a title, we don't normally send comps for contributors on reprint materials which is why you didn't receive any initially. I've packed up some copies of GI Joe Classic TP Volume 1-3 and the GI Joe Complete Collection HC Volume 1 for you though; if you forward me your shipping address I can get them on the way.
If you're interesting in purchasing through the IDW online store, we don't have any type of discount code that we can provide, but if you reply to this message with the titles that you're interested in I can do a manual order for you with some type of discount (most likely 20-25% off retail depending on the title).
8291 Aero Place, Suite #150
San Diego, CA 92123
February 4, 2013 4:11:36 PM PST
Believe me, I have enough copies of GI Joe that I certainly don't need anymore. My complaint is the
publishing companies that reprint work by artists without paying any compensation to those people.
I always find it amusing that the same folks who sit on panels at comicbook forums bemoaning the
injustices that were done to Siegel and Schuster and Jack Kirby, et alia always have the same answer when they start publishing: we don't legally owe you anything if we have the rights to your work. I don't expect that to change, but I don't have to like it. Quite honestly I don't really want a discount, I
just want to let you know what I think of your company. Great books, same old sharks running the place.
February 5, 2013 12:46:29 AM PST
Your comments below are neither fair nor accurate. We compensate everyone for everything owed. With reprints, we pay a large licensing fee and royalties to the licensor. The deal we make with them is that they are licensing the rights to all the previously published material, which they own outright. We have never been privy to past deals with previous publishers and creators, nor should we if the licensor owns all the material, which they do since it was all done on a work-for-hire basis. If you or any creator who ever worked on any of this has a contract stating that you are owed royalties for your work on all subsequent volumes or reprint editions of your work, I am very happy to introduce you to the proper people at CBS/Paramount to see that you are compensated along the terms of any past contract you signed.
I do really hope you see the difference here. There are no "sharks" running this company, and we pay everyone on time and fairly for their work when we've contracted to do so. Any past arrangements that never involved us are between you and the licensors, who, again, I am happy to get that dialogue started if it should be. But we are doing as contractually obligated, paying the licensors. And more--we do send comps to anyone whose work is reprinted (even though we don't emblazon the book covers with your names so there can't be any accusation of us trying to profit off your names), even though that's not something we have to do, but we do it because it's the right thing to do.
I hope you can see the difference between this and your comparisons to Kirby, Shuster, et al. This was all clearly work made for hire with contracts that stated so, this is not a publisher screwing a creator out of his creation. Please let me know if you have paperwork showing that you are owed money and I will do everything I can to see that you get it from the licensor.
Chief Creative Officer/Editor-in-Chief
February 5, 2013 9:34:54 AM PST
The bottom line is that the work that we did as creators continues to be reprinted without any compensation being paid. The two things that my generation of cartoonists fought for were return of originals and at least a token reprint fee on any work that we did.
I recently had a Classics Illustrated I did 20 years back printed by a company called Papercutz (who had "bought" the material from whoever owned First Comics). I was never paid for part of the work, never had the originals returned, and wasn't even contacted when the book was published. And no one really wants to talk with me when I try and contact the people involved.
When I worked on the GI Joe animated series every year they would tell us that there wasn't much in the budget to give us a raise, but if we all did the extra work and were team players, there would big raises next season. Then next season we'd hear the same spiel and there would be no raises. The older guys who grumbled about this were said to have an attitude...and there were always plenty of young faces to replace them. Twenty five years later those cartoons are still playing on cable TV (which I'd have to pay extra even to watch) and someone is still making money off the work.
I'm afraid the comparisons to Kirby, Seigel and Schuster, Laurel and Hardy, and thousands of other workers in the entertainment business are exactly the same.Creators of material deserve compensation. Hell, Mark Twain writes about it in his autobiography. Certainly Woody Guthrie wrote about it:"As you travel across this country, you'll meet all kinds of men; some will rob you with a sixgun, others with a fountain pen." You keep talking about contracts, but the real issue is not a legal one, but a moral one.
I'm currently storyboarding a new version of the musical "Annie" that is being planned. I was appalled when I watched the first two versions and discovered that Harold Grey, the creator of Little Orphan Annie wasn't even given a credit line. I guess he didn't have a contract. But then in Hollywood, as a screenwriter the first thing that is required of you is that you sign over ownership of you script to the studio if you want to get a movie made by a major studio. Now that's a contract.
No one expects to get rich in comics, but we do expect a certain amount of respect. Even Marvel and DC still pay royalties, that charming "gift" (as it used to say on the back of the check) they sent us. Whatever wonderful books that you folks are producing, you seem to have no qualms about ignoring your responsibility to the original creators of the material...because they have no contract.
And my apologies for calling anyone a shark. Any self respecting shark would never ask to see a contract before they took a bite out of their victim.
February 5, 2013 9:44:20 AM PST
WHat should that reprint be, Mike? Who decides that? The licensor? The creators? I looked into a percentage fee for someone in the past and, not factoring in the accounting costs and royalties we pay to the licensor--who, again, represents that they alone own everything outright and no other reprint royalties are contractually obligated--it worked out to literally pennies, maybe up to $10. Us sending copies of the books far exceeds any meager royalties even if we were able to break them down by every single creator whose work is contained in the books.
And no one really wants to talk with me when I try and contact the people involved.
Well, you know that's not the case here. It's not always easy to track everyone down on these older works, which frankly don't throw off much revenue anyway, but the fans like them.
I'm afraid the comparisons to Kirby, Seigel and Schuster, Laurel and Hardy, and thousands of other workers in the entertainment business are exactly the same.
It's absolutely not, Mike. Absolutely not. Did you create G.I. Joe? Did other comic creators create G.I. Joe? It's not the same at all. And contracts in the '80s, while likely still not completely fair to creators, were nowhere near the level of unfair that those creators had to deal with on their own creations.
And your "moral" contract is something we address better than other creators, like those who screwed Kirby et all. Copies of the books outweigh the tiny royalties, if indeed there would even be any, and we do that not out of any obligation but because we want to. And creators can often sign and sell those for much more than the maybe-$5 check they might get even if we were able to do what you say.
Once again, the licensor, who charges us enormous licensing fees in many cases, is the one who owns this property outright. So they are where you should be focusing your ire.
We credit everyone, we do everything right by everyone wherever possible. But based on your comments here, you choose to need to vilify us. You expect me to arbitrarily cut a check to you with no paperwork stating you're owed it from us (you're not--if anyone would owe you, it's the licensor); and you continue to throw around ugly words at us. So there's little point in me trying to explain things to you rationally any further. Good day, sir.
Chief Creative Officer/Editor-in-Chief
One of the things that Chris seems to be telling me is that IDWs books are selling so poorly that what they would be paying out in royalties would be minimal. (My royalties from Marvel on this material were always in the $100s at least.) So why are they printing books if they aren't selling. As Art buchwald quipped, "If this movie makes any more money we'll all be in the poorhouse." And they seem to have no qualms about using the names of artists on the covers of the book to add to their sales; they only hesitate when they have to send out money. Now IDW isn't the only company with this policy. In the letters above I mentioned my treatment by Papercutz over the printing of my Kidnapped adaptation. Dark Horse doesn't pay royalties on any "licensed" books they print. Traditionally, neither Marvel or DC has ever attempted to pay the talent for the incredible amount of work that has been and continues to be reprinted in the foreign markets.
When I had finally left the series I get a desperate call from Denny O'Neil asking me if I can knock out an issue because Russ Heath had never delivered on a deadline. While he couldn't offer me a bonus, Denny reminded me of how well the royalties were on this book. So I quickly pencilled another issue and sent it on. When the book came out, of course it was Russ's work. I never received even a phone call of explanation from Denny, much less the promised royalties.
On the plus side of GI Joe, there were all the great storyboard artists I worked with at Marvel Production.That was a whole different experience.)
Of course, things don't change much in comics, and probably won't. Within the next few years the Marvel and DC libraries will all start appearing on line as digital books. Let's see how much of that money, if any, ever finds its way back to the creatives. One of the company excuses is that often they can't find the artists to send the money to after so many years. How about a standard reprint fee payable to the Heroe's Initiative if you can't locate someone? So we get back to the question at the beginning of this rant: Who owns art?
Which is why the only books that I ever work on anymore are creator owned. While Lori Lovecraft and Retrowood have never made me a lot of money, what remunerations have come in go directly to me. Okay, the pay is miserable, and the boss is a monster, but I really love working on my own material. Here's a quick peek at my latest project, which you'll be seeing more of on Vozwords in future installments.
|(Below are a few images from my sketchbooks I did while developing the character. Besides Adam Ray and his friend Mr. Ard, there is his old girlfriend Ankhesenamun and the you sweeties he has betrayed her for: Nefertiti.)