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On Bill Mantlo, Rocket Raccoon and Guardians of the Galaxy

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guardiansofthegalaxyposter On Bill Mantlo, Rocket Raccoon and Guardians of the Galaxy

When the trailer for August’s Guardians of the Galaxy movie hit a week ago—and when the GotG toys were unveiled at Toy Fair last weekend—something that has been pretty clear to diehard comics fans was obvious from the gitgo:

GOTGgif12 On Bill Mantlo, Rocket Raccoon and Guardians of the Galaxy

Rocket Raccoon is going to be huge.

While the character was a bit of a punchline in the Marvel U for many years, given Disney’s proven ability to market cute animals, and the evident (if the crowd at Toy Fair was any indication) excitement over a cute animal with a ray gun, Rocket’s future success is all but guaranteed.

And along with the talk of the trailer, how fresh it looks, and how much fun seeing Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot, the talking tree (voiced by Vin Diesel) interacting should be, there was mention of Bill Mantlo, the co-creator, with Keith Giffen, of the character.

This Bill Mantlo.

bill mantlo liz mantlo On Bill Mantlo, Rocket Raccoon and Guardians of the Galaxy
Although a prolific writer in Marvel’s Bronze Age—also known by nostalgics for a revelatory run on Rom Spaceknight and many other things—Mantlo left comics in 1987 after passing the bar exam, and worked as a public defender. On July 17, 1992 Mantlo’s life changed forever when he was hit by a car while rollerblading. He suffered irreversible brain damage which has left him institutionalized ever since. He was just 41 at the time of the accident, the father of two children.

The story by itself is a terrible, tragic one with no need of embellishment. Writer Bill Coffin dug into Mantlo’s life since then in this heartbreaking piece for a site that covers health and insurance issues—it will come as a surprise to few that our health care and insurance industries are pretty messed up, and when it comes to the care of the long-term disabled, even more so. It has been a horrible struggle for the Mantlo family.

In recent days, many have compared the excitement over Rocket Raccoon to Mantlo’s situation—and it’s a grim, depressing fact that no matter how many copies of comics starring Rocket Raccoon are sold, Mantlo will receive no royalties, because that’s the way the comics industry worked most of the time until the 80s and 90, and even now corporations aren’t required to share their profits—which can be BILLIONS OF DOLLARS—with the people who made those profits possible.

A call has gone out to donate to Mantlo’s care — perhaps the cost of a ticket to see Guardians of the Galaxy. And I think that’s an awesome idea.

When all this first started going around, my idea was to write an editorial shaming Disney, the studio behind Guardians of the Galaxy, for not doing something for Mantlo — perhaps a benefit screening of the film. Such a move would be all good PR and the money would be barely an eyelash of the money they have made from the Marvel characters, all of them created by men and women who were just making comic books for a page rate.

Such a thing is pretty unlikely, given Disney/Marvel’s very active legal actions to prevent those creators from getting ANY ownership of those characters. Simon, Kirby, Wolfman, Gerber…the list goes on and on of people who were defeated in court battles, or settled without setting precedents.

It’s shitty.

HOWEVER, while pointing out the shitty things corporations do, it’s also important to get all the facts. In a letter to Comics Bulletin, and several other comics sites, Mantlo’s guardian, his brother Mike has set the record straight on some easily misunderstood matters.

David, while I applaud your concern for Bill, and our family, I think you may have either misconstrued the facts or fallen victim to relying on false/spotty information. The Mantlo family is not, and was not, put into financial ruin by the tragedy that befell Bill. Yes, I agree that the shabby treatment by his insurance carrier at the time was disgraceful, but in reality he received an incredible amount of coverage (over $2 MILLION in less than 3 years), and like virtually every other policyholder in this country, he was able to obtain continued care (to this day) through Medicaid coverage. And, again because you are not privy to private contractual terms, you are way off base with accusations that Marvel has not compensated Bill adequately. Please don’t join in the spreading of false rumors. And above all else, anytime anyone (you included) wants to know anything about matters concerning Bill Mantlo, you really should consider contacting ME first, as I am his Legal Guardian (and brother, to boot)! Folks, on behalf of Bill I urge everyone to SUPPORT the “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY” film, and help it have TREMENDOUS SUCCESS. That will benefit Bill Mantlo more than anyone could ever imagine. Supporting the Hero Initiative is equally as worthy a cause, and of course, the Bill Mantlo Support Fund accessible through the Greg Pak “PAKBUZZ” site is always grateful and appreciative of any, and all donations. THANKS…..and GO ROCKET RACCOON!!!!!!!!!!! –Michael Mantlo


I’m guessing what Mike Mantlo is referring to here—”you are way off base with accusations that Marvel has not compensated Bill adequately”—is a recentish, but quiet, program that Marvel has to compensate creators for the use of their characters in movies. While it’s unlikely that the details of this will be made public, evidently, Marvel is AT LEAST PARTIALLY doing the right thing.

I’d like to think that Jim Starlin’s continued collaboration with Marvel, including working on the character he created, Thanos, is a sign that he has been treated fairly. I sure hope so.

To sum up, it SEEMS that Bill Mantlo has received some compensation from Marvel, and, at least his family isn’t destitute over this thanks to an insurance payment and the Medicaid safety net.

So is everything hunky dory?

No, not at all.

I still urge people to donate to Mantlo’s care—Greg Pak explains how here—and I STILL think Disney should do a benefit for Mantlo—or at least the Hero Initiative, the comics charity that helps creators in need. To put it in crass terms, it would be a feel-good story and a PR bonanza…and, as it happens, The Right Thing To Do.

The comics industry has a history of scant reward for creativity, and some burning injustices along the way, from Siegel and Shuster to Jack Kirby and on down the list. With billions of dollars now being made, the time is right to give back. The time is always right to give back.

At the same time, efforts that publishers have made to compensate creators shouldn’t be ignored, even if they are secret. Such things, when they happen, should be praised.

But it isn’t enough. Yet. Keep trying. There’s a long way to go before the sins of the past are washed away.

Comments

  1. michael mantlo says:

    Thank you, Heidi, for this wonderful piece. I appreciate your publishing the facts detailing how not everything is as wrteched as it seems to some when it comes to Bill’s situation, while at the same time understanding how horrible and life-altering a tragedy like that which has befallen Bill can be. Yes, the struggle continues…..and will for the foreseeable future. Financial matters aside, the release of “Guardians of the Galaxy” is going to offer Bill a rare moment of celebratory joy, and however brief that moment may be, that cannot be diminished and no one can take that away from him. Since the film’s first “sneak peek” announcement in 2012, through this most recent publicity blitz, Bill’s fans have stepped up to the challenge of supporting his cause, and have been INCREDIBLE! Superheroes, one and all, I will NEVER be able to adequately thank them for the outpouring of praise, compassion and, above all else, LOVE for Bill Mantlo that they have shown. So please…..everybody……let’s make “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY” the most memorable Marvel movie of ALL TIME! That will guarantee Bill an everlasting legacy like no other!! Thank you ALL! –Michael Mantlo

  2. horatio weisfeld says:

    I can only hope many will read this and that we will all take something from it.

    & Thanks very much for the reporting.

  3. Great article Heidi. I’ve been telling all my non comic book fan friends about this and I suggest others do as well.

    Oh, and let’s not forget for a tip-of-the-hat to Paul McCartney, cause if it wasn’t for the song “Rocky Raccoon”…

  4. Rob Barrett says:

    Mike, donation made. Bill’s creations and stories have given me a lot of pleasure in my comics reading career, and I’m glad to help however I can.

  5. Thx for this article Heidi. I was tempted several times to comment everytime a post appeared on Rocket Racoon, reminding people who created it and would not benefit from it. I’m glad I’m partially wrong. I still think Bill’s legacy in Marvel comics is way underrated by Marvel itself.

  6. Dear Heidi,

    You SEEM like a condescending a-hole, AT LEAST PARTIALLY, even when presented with the facts.

  7. Nicholas Winter says:

    It is worth noting that comic writers and illustrators are hardly the only ones that do work for hire that states clearly that they will get no residuals from whatever they worked on. One of the areas I work in is music publicity and I’ve talked to myriad musicians who have been session artists on records. It is extremely rare that their contracts will state that they will get any payment beyond that of the monies paid for their time in the studio.

    Heidi, have you considered the consequences of hundreds, or even thousands of contributors, to DC and Marvel getting residuals for their work? And who gets them? If an artist, writer, or character creator does get them, should inkers and pencilers? Should editors get them as well? Does each retain a say on future usage of their work?

    And the Legal Gaurdian correctly noted, most financial agreements are private in nature. That means you have no idea just how well a person is being treated by say Warner Entertainment. Fandom rumors about how a given artist is being treated are worth less than a pile of warm shit.

  8. @Nicholas Winter: Interesting how so many people in these conversations are always so quick to bring up contracts.

    Do you suppose Mantlo actually signed one? If so, do you think it was a real one, or do you think it was one of those coercive back-of-the-check types?

    And then straight into the slippery-slope argument. Disney can’t go giving that money to writers and artists; then they’d have to give it to inkers and editors too, which is a bad thing for some reason! That money should go to the truly deserving creators, like Bob Iger and Roy Disney III.

    Kudos to Marvel for sending some compensation Mantlo’s way. And a whole lot of head-scratching that anyone could possibly see that as a bad thing.

  9. We are talking residual paiements here. Not millions. CEO takes millions out of their company. On the other side, Hard workers have sometimes a tiny portion as an annual bonus. That’s at least this kind of bonus they should give when they know whithout a doubt that they will make millions thanks to the contribution of an hard worker artist not entitled to a % copyright.

  10. Ray Cornwall says:

    I’m glad to see that Mantlo hasn’t been ignored by Marvel. As fans, we always want the creators of these characters to be recognized; it sounds that Marvel’s actually done right here.

    Also, Greg Pak is a darn fine human being.

  11. Karl Waller says:

    It’s very easy to give into the simplistic need to climb onto the “They owe them so they should give them” High horse. Playing Devil’s advocate, everything cuts both ways. While I am sure these companies would love to compensate these creators for their contributions, their legal staff will do everything to put a stop to it. Since we are such a litigious country, any boon granted to a creator can (and will) be taken by an Attorney and turned into a lawsuit to turn that inch into a mile. The sad fact of ALL of these kinds of situations is that, with millions (or in some cases Billions) of dollars on the line, these companies often find themselves in a Kobyashi Marue situation. They can’t help, because helping gives someone the legal ammunition to take their properties away and if they don’t compensate creators (who absolutely deserve it) they take it in the face publicly. I am not saying these corporations are wonderful nor am I saying these creators are owed “the farm”. Just saying that that the way our legal system works, it prevents people from doing the decent thing……sad isn’t it?

Trackbacks

  1. […] That, uh, Guardians of the Universe movie thing is out soon. So Talking Raccoons one, Wonder Woman nil (and falling). Also, have you been wondering whether to see Guardians? Check this out. […]

  2. […] the creator of Rocket Raccoon, along with some venom for Marvel for not giving him royalties, but this follow-up on Heidi MacDonald's the Beat weblog (which refers in turn to this post on Comics Bulletin) reveals that Bill actually WILL be […]

  3. […] MacDonald of The Beat calls Disney on their treatment of Bill Mantlo, co-creator of Rocket Raccoon, who was […]

  4. […] Ben Doesn’t Understand Superheroes – Some background info on Rocket Raccoon’s creator: http://comicsbeat.com/on-bill-mantlo-rocket-raccoon-and-guardians-of-the-galaxy/ […]

  5. […] Rocket Raccoon exploitation we told you about is well underway, but when the exploitation takes the form of a series written […]

  6. […] ‣ Mike Mantlo, brother and legal guardian of Rocket Raccoon co-creator Bill Mantlo, sets the record straight about how, contrary to some of the stories circulating online, the writer was actually well compensated by Marvel and his insurance carriers after the accident that cut his writing and legal career short. (The Beat) […]

  7. […] We’ll have big discounts on everything in the store (TBA) and 20% of all purchases on Free Comic Book Day will be going to the Bill Mantlo Support Fund. Mr. Mantlo is the creator of ROCKET RACCOON along with lots of other great characters from the bronze age and has been under care for over 20 years after being struck by a car while riding his bike. You can read more about Bill here. […]

  8. […] you love Rocket, please consider a donation to the ongoing care of his creator, Bill Mantlo, who suffered a traumatic brain injury due to a hit-and-run accident in […]

  9. […] about GUARDIANS, I came across this article. It’s about Marvel making millions off of these characters while Bill Mantlo, the creator of […]

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