I’m not a journalist. Though occasionally I play one on the internet. But Richard Gagnon, via comic book creator Steve Bissette, is looking for proper journalists who are planning to write about the new Amazing Spider-Man 2 movie. If you know such a person, why not pass this on?
I’ve decided to help Steve Ditko by taking the time to once a week write a reporter that puts out a story about the upcoming Spider-Man movie. I don’t know if any of them will break the story in a public enough fashion to get the attention of Marvel/Disney, but at least it’s an effort to try to do something. If others can do the same, maybe Marvel/Disney can be shamed into doing something for him. Here is the message I sent Michelle Breidenbach, who wrote the linked article.
I was reading your article, “Next Spider-man movie to be made in New York with state tax breaks” and was wondering if you know much about how Spider-Man‘s creators financially get nothing for the billions of dollars in profits Marvel makes from the character through movies and merchandising.
Spider-Man was created by Stan Lee, who you may be familiar with, and Steve Ditko, who you may not have heard of. Stan wrote Spider-Man while Steve drew the comic. Their creative roles weren’t quite that clear cut because of how Marvel made comics.
At the time Spider-Man was created, Marvel was a second-rate publisher that put out comics that followed trends that were making money for other publishers. Stan Lee was the only salaried editor/writer/art director at Marvel. Instead of full scripts breaking down the comic panel by panel similar to a screenplay, the only way that Stan could keep up with all the comics he was writing was to give the artist a summary of the story. The artist would then break the story down, fill in any gaps, and often create new ideas and characters to fill the pages. Stan would get the art, with stuff he hadn’t even put in the story, and write the script that filled in dialog balloons and captions. That process put the burden on artists to tell much of the story.
As Marvel became more successful, Stan‘s time decreased and his top artists might only get a one-sentence plot idea that they would have to create an entire story from. There were times that Stan had no input to the comic till the artist delivered pages for a story that they created completely on their own. Creative disagreements between Stan and Steve left them not communicating for two years such that Steve Ditko plotted the entire course of that period’s comics, creating villains and supporting characters–all without any input from Stan Lee. Stan was then left with looking at the art and Steve‘s notes and having to create a script on the fly. Steve Ditko quit Marvel when promised royalties were never paid as Spider-Man‘s popularity was starting to show up as merchandised toys in stores and a forthcoming Saturday morning cartoon announced.
The day Steve quit was the last day that he ever earned a penny from his four years of creating and defining the world of Spider-Man. His entire monetary income for all his work on Spider-Man probably earned him less money than the costume designer for the Spider-Man movies made when they slightly tweaked the costume for the character onscreen. Stan Lee‘s long association with Marvel has left him quite well-to-do as the company’s best known spokesman even though he likewise never directly got royalties from his co-creation of Spider-Man.
Steve Ditko, on the other hand, has favored creative freedom over money and consequently has done considerably less well. He is now 85 years old and still works on his own small-press comics. I would imagine that his social security income is unimpressive since he hasn’t worked on any top comics since Spider-Man. When he worked on Spider-Man, Marvel had some of the lowest page rates in the industry, so he didn’t do well there. Meanwhile, Marvel was bought by Disney for $4 billion for its intellectual property and none of the writers and artists that created those properties saw a penny from that massive sale.
I don’t know if this is a story that you would have any interest in following up on, but it does represent a nice human drama of one man being ignored by a giant company that partly owes its fortunes to his creativity. Steve Ditko is a man of very strong morals. He would rather starve than violate the moral code that he lives by. The work-for-hire practice that his art was bought under used the legally shaky practice of granting the publisher all rights to his work on the back of the paycheck that he endorsed. The problem with that business practice is that it represents a secondary contract after the work is completed–meaning that the rights weren’t given away by the original contract, but were to be ceded as an additional concession to be paid even though the original contractual agreement to deliver art was completed. Steve hasn’t pursued legal action against that because he understood that the characters he created and co-created weren’t his. His issue is that he was verbally promised a royalty that he never received. It would be nice if he could see a little of that royalty before he dies. About the only way I can ever imagine that happening is if Marvel/Disney are publicly embarrassed into doing something to help this old man whose ideas profited them so greatly.
As a side note, DC Comics was similarly put in a position to providing a small pension for Superman‘s aging creators before the Christopher ReevesSuperman movies were released. I wish companies had the decency to do things like this on their own to reward the people that made them rich. Since they don’t, they have to be shamed into doing the right thing. It’s a pity that they don’t emulate the selfless heroic behavior of the characters they publish.