The Marvel Cinematic Universe has shot to the forefront of the entertainment industry in the last decade, but none of its success would be possible without the comics it adapts. Names like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are constantly thrown around in connection with the Marvel universe, but there have been countless creators involved since the company was founded in 1939 as Timely Comics.
Marvel Comics has been constantly adding to its roster of heroes and villains over the years. Ms. Marvel just recently broke the record for the shortest gap between her first comic appearance and live-action debut.
With the billions of dollars involved with the superhero genre and the massive paychecks that actors receive, most would assume the creators of these heroes to be living the high life. But the reality of the situation is far from that as Marvel and DC have both developed a reputation of underpaying their comic creatives, something which will only get worse after the latest news.
Marvel Underpaid Black Widow's Yelena Belova Creator
The Hollywood Reporter recently published an article that revealed how Marvel Studios may have scammed the creator of Florence Pugh's Yelena Belova when adapting her into the MCU.
Comic writer Devin Grayson and artist J.G. Jones, who created Yelena in 1999, were under the impression they would each receive $25,000 for Black Widow after signing a contract agreeing to compensation for Belova's use outside of comics. Their eventual payment in November instead came in at $5,000 with no reasoning given.
After Yelena later appeared in three episodes of Hawkeye, Grayson should have received $2,000 per installment, or $1,000 if she were to split it with Jones. Grayson recently made contact with Marvel in July and was told they had calculated the original figure wasn't right and offered $300 per episode instead.
The report goes on to describe how Marvel maintains ownership of the character, but Grayson signed a "Special Character Agreement" in 2007. The agreement promises Marvel will compensate her with $25,000 for a theatrical appearance, $2,000 per episode of television over 30 minutes, and $1,000 for under half an hour.
Any action figures produced of the character should entitle the writer to $5,000 for a figure released in one year, $10,000 for two years, and $25,000 for anything over three years. Video games create a pot of at most $30,000 which will be split among the creators with characters involved.
However, language was hidden within the agreement that allowed Marvel to significantly lower the promised payments. Grayson and other creators speaking to The Hollywood Reporter described the language as misleading, with the $25,000 offer most prominently shown in the document.
Jones was contacted by The Hollywood Reporter and confirmed he received a figure similar to Grayson. Based on his conversations with other creators, he referred to Marvel's financial promises as a "bit of a bait and switch:"
“Having spoken to a number of creators, Marvel’s financial offerings seem a bit of a bait and switch. They throw out a large number, then little by little they whittle down the actual payout.”
Is Marvel Mistreating Comic Creators?
Marvel appears to have built a reputation among comic creators for how it treats the people behind its biggest heroes. Around the release of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, America Chavez creator Joe Casey even shared his regret for creating the character under Marvel due to their "spotty track record on dealing fairly with creators:"
"In all seriousness, it was probably not the wisest move on my part to create any new characters for Marvel Publishing -- considering their spotty track record on dealing fairly with creators -- however, in the case of America Chavez, I did it, and regardless of where things are at on that front, I'm definitely psyched to see her in a movie that costs more than the GNP of certain developing nations."
The Winter Soldier co-creator Ed Brubaker offered a similar sentiment while The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was doing the rounds. The Marvel veteran shared his feeling that he and other character creators "kind of got a bad deal" as MCU ventures rake in billions while they are only compensated with a few hundred or thousand:
"As the years went on, I started to just think well, why am I not getting anything for this really? Like how can we really get thanks to or credit, but like these movies are making billions and billions of dollars, and it feels like we just kind of got a bad deal.”
Looking at how poorly Marvel is compensating its comic writers for the use of their creations, Disney and the publisher clearly need to step up their game. From a legal standpoint, Marvel obviously owns the rights to these characters that were published under its umbrella, but properly compensating the creators would be a major gesture.
There have been far fewer reports about how DC treats its comic creators, but most claims indicate it offers a similar payday to Marvel. With these record-breakers obviously being impossible without the genius creators behind the heroes and villains, it's time to begin compensating them accordingly.
Even the figures promised in the agreements in this report are truly ridiculous compared to how much superhero blockbusters rake in. So, to hear Marvel has been paying out even lower than they had agreed is truly insulting to those who made the superhero brand what it is today.
Black Widow and Hawkeye are streaming now on Disney+.