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Marvel Studios Under Fire for Underpaying Comics Creators

New information has come to light about how much Marvel pays the writers and artists responsible for their profitable superheroes. It's not pretty.
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Avengers: Endgame featured
Disney Movies/Marvel Studios

Comic giants Marvel and DC may be raking in billions at the box office, but they’re apparently paying next to nothing to the original creators.

New reports indicate that comics creators and writers — who laid the groundwork for these multi-billion dollar entertainment franchises — aren’t getting paid what they deserve.

Since 2008, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has pulled in well over $20 billion at the box office. Movies like Black Panther, Iron Man 3, and Captain America: Civil War have grossed more than $1 billion on their own. Avengers: Endgame pulled in $2.792 billion at the worldwide box office.

All that makes the MCU the most lucrative movie franchise of all time. To put it in perspective, the MCU more than doubles the next franchise in terms of worldwide gross: Star Wars.

money flying around
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Okay, so with numbers like that, it’s safe to assume everyone’s getting a fair cut for their work… right?

How Much Are Comics Writers and Artists Making for Their Work?

If you created an iconic comics character that was featured in a box office hit, what would you expect for your ideas and hard work? Because at Marvel, they apparently think a few grand and a premiere ticket is enough.

According to a new report from The Guardian, Marvel only pays comics writers and artists $5,000 if their stories are used in MCU feature films. Oh, and they’ll get an invitation to the premiere of the movie, too.

The Guardian notes that multiple sources have confirmed that this is Marvel’s standard practice, and added, “Sources described it as a tacit acknowledgment that compensation was due.”

Special Character Contracts Exist. They Don’t Sound Fair, Either.

Rarely, creators have been offered a “special character contract,” which allows them to claim earnings when their work is used in the MCU. At DC, it’s a “creator equity” contract. But as it turns out, these contracts may not be as fair as they sound. Marvel doesn’t even offer these contracts to creators as a rule.

“I’ve been offered a [special character contract] that was really, really terrible, but it was that or nothing,” an unnamed Marvel creator told The Guardian. “Then instead of honoring it, they send a thank you note and are like, ‘Here’s some money we don’t owe you!’ and it’s five grand. And you’re like, ‘The movie made a billion dollars.’”

Writer Ed Brubaker has also spoken openly about how little he got for his work when his character jumped into the MCU. Brubaker, along with artist Stee Epting, is responsible for Bucky Barnes (aka the Winter Soldier).

“For the most part, all Steve and I have got for creating the Winter Soldier and his storyline is a ‘thanks’ here or there, and over the years that’s become harder and harder to live with.”

Ed Brubaker, in a recent mailing list newsletter

He does acknowledge that it is work-for-hire work, but even still, that seems seedy. And extremely unfair — especially when you look at how profitable the MCU has become.

Artists Are Vital to the Franchise

Let’s be clear, here: the MCU would not exist without the comics creators. The MCU literally owes everything to the many writers and artists whose original work served as inspiration for the franchise that people now enjoy around the world.

The fact that they’re not being compensated fairly is deeply concerning… but I can’t exactly say I am surprised.

Scarlett Johansson in 'Black Widow'
Marvel Studios

We’ve also recently seen Scarlett Johansson come forward with a lawsuit concerning her pay (or lack thereof). With this new information concerning compensation of comics creators, it’s safe to say that Disney and Marvel might be feeling the heat. Here’s to hoping that it will put pressure on major studios to change the way they compensate the artists they’re profiting from.