In lengthy post on his Tumblr page last Thursday, 47-year veteran comic book writer Gerry Conway outlined a purported change in the way DC Entertainment handles royalty payments to writer and artists credited with creating DC characters still in use in various media, including comic book, TV and film.
Among the roughly 500 comic book characters Conway claims to have created or co-created for DC between 1969 and 1985 was Felicity Smoak, a minor supporting character that was adapted into a supporting role on the CW's Arrow, and (along with Al Milgrom) Firestorm and the Firestorm supervillain Killer Frost. In 2013 DC Comics introduced a new version of Killer Frost created by Sterling Gates and Derlis Santacruz, whose alter ego Caitlin Snow was adapted into a (for now) civilian member of The Flash's team in that CW freshman drama.
With that setting the stage, here's Conway's full post detailing the issue from his perspective, republished with his permission. DC declined to comment to Newsarama on Conway's allegations.
Who created Caitlin Snow on #The Flash? According to @DCComics, nobody
Who created Caitlin Snow, the alter ego of Firestorm super-villain Killer Frost, who appears regularly on The Flash?
According to DC Entertainment, nobody.
That’s right. Caitlin Snow, the brilliant scientist working for Harrison Wells, fiancée of Ronnie Raymond and friend of Barry Allen, aka The Flash, sprang fully formed into existence without a creator or creators.
But that’s okay, because, by the logic employed by DC Entertainment, nobody created Barry Allen either.
Let me explain. See if you can follow me here.
As I’ve described elsewhere (http://comicsequity.blogspot.com), many years ago DC Comics established the first program to provide comic book creators with a share in the revenues generated by their creations in other media. This concept became known as “creator equity participation” and it was a small but significant step toward compensating creators for their work beyond a simple page rate. For me, personally, it’s been moderately lucrative (thank you, Bruce Timm, for putting Killer Croc in the animated Batman) but in recent years it’s also become an increasingly frustrating and, lately, infuriating process.
The reason, I believe, is the shift of corporate culture at DC Comics that occurred around the time Paul Levitz left his position as publisher.
As a comic book creator himself, Paul displayed a protective empathy for creators. Once the creator equity concept became policy, Paul applied it liberally and proactively– often notifying writers and artists their creations were due to receive equity participation when creators would otherwise have no idea. For thirty plus years, under Paul, creators were valued and supported as equity partners. (We can argue about the level of support, whether the percentage creators received was commensurate with their contributions, but we can’t deny that the support was there, and it was consistent.)
All of that changed when Paul left, and DC Comics became, officially, DC Entertainment, a fully subsumed cog in the Warners Entertainment wheel.
I first learned how this change would effect DC’s approach to creators equity when I received a letter from DC Entertainment’s new president, Diane Nelson, informing me I would no longer receive equity payments for Power Girl because she was now considered a “derivative” character. To soften the blow and show “appreciation” for my “contribution” she enclosed a check for $1000.
Thank you, Diane.
The next thing I learned about DC Entertainment’s new approach to their comic creators equity program was just as distressing, given how many characters I created for DC over the decade-plus I wrote for the company: if I wanted to receive an equity participation contract for a character I created, I had to request one, in writing, for each character, before that character appeared in another media, because DC would refuse to make equity payments retroactively.
By a rough guesstimate, I probably created over five hundred characters for DC between 1969 and 1985. Most of them were minor one-shot creations, and some of them, like Felicity Smoak (now a regular on Arrow) were minor supporting characters who’ve taken on a new life in other media. Unless I’m willing to commit a large chunk of my life to tracking down each character and filing a separate equity request in anticipation that somehow, some day, one of these characters might end up on a TV show, I risk being cut off from any share in the fruits DC enjoys from the product of my labor. A share which DC acknowledges I’m due– but which DC refuses to assist me in receiving.
Thank you, DC.
But now we come to the catch-22 of DC’s new approach to creator equity agreements. Assuming I perform my due diligence (which should really be DC’s due diligence) and dig up references to characters I’ve created that might soon be appearing in other media (maybe as a chess piece, or a Heroclix figure, or a recurring character on The Flash), and assuming I file the necessary request form in a timely fashion– DC can still decide, unilaterally, that my creation is “derivative” and they don’t owe me a dime.
What, exactly, is DC’s definition of a “derivative” character?
It’s a character that DC decides was “derived” from some other previously existing character.
For example, Power Girl– “derived” from Superman, because, like Supergirl, she’s a relative of Superman. Which means I can’t claim to be her co-creator because Superman is a pre-existing character. Fair enough, I suppose. The logic here is that Superman is the original creation, so Power Girl is derived from that original creation, so in effect, Power Girl is an extension of Superman, which means, by this tortured logic, that Power Girl was more or less created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
This was the tortured logic National Periodical Publications tried to use back in the 1940s when Siegel and Shuster sued National for the rights to Superboy. National (the company that preceded DC) argued that Superman was the original creation, which Siegel and Shuster sold to National, and that Superboy was just a “derivative” creation. A court-appointed legal referee found that Superboy was in fact a unique creation and that National was guilty of copyright infringement. Sadly for Siegel and Shuster (and for creators everywhere), legal expenses forced the creators to sell National the rights to Superboy in a consent decree that obscured this fundamental finding. But the finding is pretty clear:
Characters “derived” from other characters are legally unique, and DC’s claim that “derivation” deprives creators of any equity participation rights in those characters is nothing more than an immoral, unethical, deceitful and despicable money grab.
Yet, it gets worse.
Let’s say DC agrees you created a character, like, for example, Killer Frost. In your original creation, Killer Frost had a secret identity named Crystal Frost. Later, a “new” Killer Frost is created for the New 52, and this new Killer Frost has a secret identity named Caitlin Snow.
You’ll be pleased to hear (I hope) that DC agrees I and Al Milgrom are the co-creators of all manifestations of “Killer Frost.” We are also considered the co-creators of Crystal Frost. And, of course, by the twisted logic that credits Power Girl as a derivation of Superman, Al and I must also be the creators of Killer Frost’s New 52 secret identity, Caitlin Snow.
No. We’re not. And DC insists we are not. And I agree with DC.
Caitlin Snow was created by Sterling Gates and Derlis Santacruz.
Except, according to DC Entertainment, she wasn’t. Because she was “derived” from the original creation of Killer Frost.
Which means Al Milgrom and I created her.
Except, according to DC Entertainment, we didn’t.
Nobody created her.
Or, rather, nobody gets credit and creator equity participation for creating her.
And that, my friends, is truly obnoxious and despicable.
DC Entertainment has created a marvelous catch-22 that allows them to cheat creators by using both sides of an argument to serve DC’s interests.
According to DC, Sterling Gates and Derlis Santacruz didn’t create Caitlin Snow. Don Newton and I didn’t create Jason Todd. Ric Estrada and I didn’t create Power Girl. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster didn’t create Superboy. Bob Kanigher and Carmine Infantino didn’t create Barry Allen.
These characters just appeared out of nowhere.
But the money for their exploitation goes directly into DC’s bank account. - Gerry Conway