I have talked to several artists and writers since I started doing this for CBD, and usually our conversation will evolve into talking about their dream projects. Most times the comic creator will say their dream job is to work on a character they create themselves. There is a desire to work on something that is yours and yours alone. If you are working for an established comic book property like Batman, Superman or Spider-Man – you are continuing on the legacy of the character and in some cases it doesn’t lead to much in the way of creating new characters or mythos about the title character.
Also creating a new character gives you a level of control of the look, feel and personality of that character. Creator’s rights is a nice thing. It can be very satisfying to see a creation of yours come to life on the printed page.
But does creator’s rights make the comic book industry stale? Or does it only affect the “big 2” comic publishers, while smaller publications thrive?
If you look at Marvel and DC over the past decade, there haven’t been too many new characters come out for the comics. There were some characters who were “re-imagined” when DC launched the New 52. But on the most part there haven’t been any characters to really jump off the page and become household names. Even Marvel has introduced some new characters like Ghost Rider, Nova and Ms. Marvel. But they are just older characters with new characters portraying these long-time Marvel personas.
Sometimes it feels like the same thing all over again… just “All New Now!”
There is one character that really sticks out in my mind that the creator retained ownership of the character, and has been able to move to another publication with that character. That’s Neil Gaiman’s Angela.
Angela first appeared in Spawn #9 as an adversary of Spawn. Neil Gaiman was the writer on that issue, with Todd McFarlane doing the artwork. Over the years there was a long legal battle between Neil Gaiman and Todd McFarlane. In 2013, Neil Gaiman retained full ownership of the character and brought her over to Marvel Comics. This summer there is going to be a Thor/Loki 5 issue series that will create more to the origin of Angela by revealing that she is the daughter of Odin and half-sister to Thor and Loki.
This is the pinnacle of creator’s rights, where not only does the character show up in another book – it shows up in another company all together.
If all creators could have ownership of a character like Neil Gaiman has with Angela, I think that would lead to more creativity and more new characters hitting our comic pages. Not only would the creator have control, they could take that character with them to their next place of employment. Imagine if Rob Liefeld had complete ownership of Deadpool. Would we see “The Merc with a Mouth” duking it out with Batman on the streets of Gotham City? Or would the character have faltered somewhere along the line because every writer and artist brings something new to the table every time they get the “reigns” of the character?
New ideas and characters should be created just for the sake of creation. It shouldn’t matter who owns the character. Because if it is popular it will have a life of its own and be that creator’s legacy and stand the test of time. That’s how comics started and it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
While it’s certainly possible, generally speaking, I don’t believe this premise holds true. The success of a character is much like any other relationship. There are many external factors and basic chemistry to consider.
We all love to “rage against the machine” but I don’t believe that guys like Jack Kirby could have made his creations successful without the help and backing from an institution like Marvel.
We all like to fantasize about having more control and autonomy but many creatives are actually poor business people. I’ve met some incredibly talented persons who just don’t know what to do with their abilities. By nature, most of us are huge procrastinators and we wont do the things we should unless we have to. Then we complain about it.
Hollywood loves to tell underdog stories so that we, the masses, can believe for a moment, that with a little effort… we can do it too. The reality is, if we are able to do it… we would be doing it. Success is often accidental anyways… Only arrogance makes people believe they had anything to with their destiny.
Angela as Odin’s daughter will essentially be a new character. She may retain the name, but without the history, the name has no meaning. She might as well be called Jessica… and it would work just as well.
I don’t believe Gaiman owns Angela anymore. He sold her to Marvel. She’s no longer a creator owned character. Other than stuff coming out of Icon, nothing at Marvel is creator owned. They don’t want to have to deal with rights when it comes to exploiting their properties how they see fit.