At the end of March during the debut run of the Marvel Cinematic Universe series “The Falcon and the Winter Solider,” comic book writer Ed Brubaker published a newsletter in which he said the show and the buzz around it were making him feel “a bit sick to [his] stomach.” Brubaker co-created the Winter Soldier character in 2005 along with artist Steve Epting. While the MCU and actor Sebastian Stan have popularized the character across the world, Brubaker wrote that “all Steve Epting and I have gotten 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.”
Brubaker exposed a common issue at Marvel: Work-for-hire comic book writers and artists don’t get compensated for creating characters and storylines now propelling the MCU on film and television. Marvel owns the Winter Solider, not Brubaker, so the studio doesn’t have to pay the writer for using the character in “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” or any Marvel Cinematic Universe property.
A new report on the matter from The Guardian mentions other comic book creators who have had to fight to be fairly compensated by Marvel. Jim Starlin, who created Thanos, “negotiated a bigger payout after arguing that Marvel had underpaid him for its use of Thanos as the big bad of the MCU.” Fellow comic book writer Roy Thomas “got his name added to the credits of Disney+ series ‘Loki’ after his agent made a fuss.”
As reported by The Guardian: “According to multiple sources, when a writer or artist’s work features prominently in a Marvel film, the company’s practice is to send the creator an invitation to the premiere and a check for $5,000. Three different sources confirmed this amount to the Guardian. There’s no obligation to attend the premiere, or to use the $5,000 for travel or accommodation; sources described it as a tacit acknowledgment that compensation was due.”
IndieWire has reached out to Marvel Studios-owned Disney for further comment.
In Brubaker’s case, however, his name reportedly wasn’t even on the list for the “Captain America: The Winter Solider” premiere. Sources told The Guardian that “Brubaker and Epting showed up in tuxedos to the premiere party” for the 2014 MCU tentpole and weren’t allowed in, prompting Brubaker to text Sebastian Stan to let them in.
Sources also told The Guardian that “remuneration for contributing to a franchise that hits it big varies between the $5,000 payment, nothing, or — very rarely — a ‘special character contract,’ which allows a select few creators to claim renumeration when their characters or stories are used. There are other potential ways to earn more — many former writers and artists are made executives and producers on Marvel’s myriad movies, cartoons and streaming series, for example — but those deals depend on factors other than legal obligation.”
Ta-Nehisi Coates has developed a strong relationship with Marvel as the writer of an acclaimed “Black Panther” comic run. The acclaimed writer also wrote his own “Captain America” series following Brubaker and Epting. The Guardian reports that Coates believes “Marvel has moral obligations to its artists and writers that go beyond contracts.”
“Long before I was writing Captain America, I read [Brubaker and Epting’s] ‘Death of Captain America’ storyline, and ‘Return of the Winter Soldier,’ and it was some of the most thrilling storytelling I’d ever read,” Coates said. “I’d rather read it than watch the movies — I love the movies too — but it doesn’t seem just for them to extract what Steve and Ed put into this and create a multi-billion dollar franchise.”
Coates added that writers deserve better treatment from the studios no matter how big their names are and regardless of what their contracts say. “Just because it’s in a contract doesn’t make it right,” the writer said. “If I have some kind of leverage over you, I can get you to sign a contract to fuck you over. It’s just legalist.”
Head over to The Guardian’s website to read the report on Marvel in its entirety.