"Once creator ownership was on the table, the moviable properties were largely works that creators maintained ownership of."


theatrical-comic-book-movies-in-creator-ownership-era.gif

Nat Gertler has made a chart, and even though his name is not Clarissa, it might just explain it all for you.

Gertler’s chart shows all the movies based on comics properties since 1982 (chosen as a significant benchmark in the “creator ownership era”) and shows that creator ownership did change the equation.

What can be seen is that once creator ownership was on the table, the moviable properties were largely works that creators maintained ownership of. Of the large mainstream publishers that preexisted the change, Marvel and Archie have published no new company-owned properties that have reached the big screen. DC has published four over those 30 years. In contrast, in just the 10 years preceding 1982, Marvel launched 6 purely-Marvel-owned properties that would later become movies, including a couple that were made into movies within 15 years after creation (so it’s not merely a matter that company-owned concepts take longer to reach the screen – although they seem to – that prevents post-1982 Marvel material from showing up.)


Now why this should be…another significant date on this timeline is 1989 when the first Tim Burton Batman film because the fastest grossing film of all time. It was the pre-dawn of the “pre-awareness” model, and although nerd pre-awareness wouldn’t come about until the Internet took control, that loomed even larger in 2002 when the first Raimi Spider-Man movie replicated the effect and became one of the fastest grossing movies of all times. Of course, since then here have been lots of comic-based movies—but exploiting that company-owned back catalog is either all they can, or all they WANT to do.

Comments

  1. David Oakes says:

    Why would Marvel Entertainment WANT to make the Hellboy movie, or Scott Pilgrim?

    The fact that half the movies made are Indie properties says more than vague claims of creator owenership. Of course, all it may say is that half the properties are Corporately owned.

  2. Scratchie says:

    Whoosh.

  3. Sam Thielman says:

    A nit worth picking: “V for Vendetta” shouldn’t really be blue; it should be, I don’t know, purple or something. Moore and David Lloyd sold the unpublished scripts and pencils to DC along with the completed chapters from the U.K. based magazine “Warrior” so that they DC would republish the old episodes and allow them to complete the new ones. They did this under the exact same terms Moore and Dave Gibbons accepted when they created “Watchmen,” sadly: that they would get the rights to the property back after DC let the book go out of print for a year. The movie was DC’s decision and only DC’s decision, and they reaped the vast majority of the profits from it.

  4. John Warren says:

    WEIRD SCIENCE was based on a comic book? I had no idea.

  5. jacob goddard says:

    Surprised to find out so many of those early Dark Horse comics aren’t creator owned.

  6. Aren’t Bulletproof Monk and the Losers creator owned?

  7. Sam: I’m charting off of the original publication of the property, so V counts as creator-owned for the Warrior appearances; they dealt away the rights (including the film rights) from the position of an established and known property, a very different situation from a publsher investing in the blank page.

    Jacob: There’s perhaps a little asterisk that goes on The Mask and Timecop; they were created or co-created by Mike Richardson, head of Dark Horse. I don’t know whether he still (or ever) fully owns the company, and releasing it as part of a line makes it a bit different than, say, if Cartoon Books Inc is technically the owner of Bone, when it’s really just the name Jeff Smith works under.

  8. JSH: Bulletproof Monk was a Flypaper Press deal; I assume it was done under similar terms to the ones they once discussed with me, where they would own the property and the creator would retain financial involvement but not control. The Losers was a revival (to some degree) of a previous DC property; I assume DC retains ownership to it. (I don’t have any issues handy, but I note that it doesn’t show up as an exception on their copyright page – http://www.dccomics.com/copyright – the way that Red does.)

  9. Glenn Simpson says:

    Weird Science was the name of a horror anthology back in the day; it wasn’t necessarily a comic about the ongoing adventures of two geeks who create a woman on the computer.

  10. As neither Marvel nor DC has created any wholly new standalone properties of lasting note since about 1991, this isn’t entirely surprising. The question is whether that failure to create new properties is truly attributable to the rise of creator-ownership. I’m not entirely convinced that it is- there was a good long overlap in the 80s and 90s, after all, before creator ownership came to be seen as a routine way to go. Were the big two publishers failing to create new properties in the last twenty years, or were they simply not trying at all because they were content to rest on the back catalogue? (Or could it be that they’re failing for another reason – for example, that their back catalogue of superhero properties is SO strong within its genre that there’s really no space for further variations on the theme to find a place alongside them in the same line?)

  11. Glenn: yes, but the Weird Science title was licensed and the content appears to be a (very) loose adaptation of a story in Weird Science issue 5, in which a man seeks a beautiful artificial woman be made to serve his needs – the original art is for sale here: http://www.lewiswaynegallery.com/al-feldstein-weird-science-5-cmplt-8-pg-made-of-the-future-orig-story-art-p-6841.html

    Paul: Good questions. Or are the publishing arm just so focused on shorter term sales numbers that it’s better to launch the 7th X-book than to push something new and unrelated, but which may grow to have a life of its own, which would serve the licensing/film studio needs in the longer term? Hard to tell.

  12. Very interesting. Makes the 2014 potential Deadpool movie a pretty unique case.

  13. horatio weisfeld says:

    As neither Marvel nor DC has created any wholly new standalone properties of lasting note since about 1991, this isn’t entirely surprising. The question is whether that failure to create new properties is truly attributable to the rise of creator-ownership.

    >>
    @Paul O’Brien:

    I think a better question to ask might be if a whole lot of people, who might have otherwise created whole mountain of valuable stuff for this era’s comic book companies, haven’t wised up- and instead spent their time working in other businesses, like breaking rocks in the local quarry (even if that means they aren’t being as creative as they might like).

    …yes they have.

  14. R. Maheras says:

    It’s a nice chat and all, but I don’t get what the revelation is here.

    It’s almost like you’re saying, “Since the advent of the automobile, more people are now driving.”

    Or, more to the audience, since comic book companies started returning original art, more artists are now selling their original art.

    When the then direct market opened up distribution channels for independent publishers in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and thus made creator ownership a viable, relatively low-cost option for creators, it was inevitable that there would, from that point on, be more new characters published independently than through the big companies.

    However, what has remained the same, regardless of the source of the character, is that only a very tiny fraction of creative properties have any widespread appeal, and thus, long-term value.

    That said, if a new character with, say, Iron Man-type potential does emerge, it is now obviously much more likely that an independent creator will reap the rewards rather than a big company.

  15. jacob goddard says:

    I know for a fact that the creators of Bulletproof Monk received no money from the film.

  16. jacob goddard says:

    Any info on stuff overseas?
    Persepolis, Akira, Cemetery Man, Danger Diabolik, etc?

  17. DanielT says:

    Superman’s first film was Superman III? And shouldn’t that be 1938?

  18. Very interesting. Doesn’t it just mean though that people who own their characters are more willing to cut a smaller deal than producers trying to negotiate the film rights from a larger company or massive corporation. Say what you want about the product, both DC and Marvel (esp. DC) have been very frugal about protecting the brand. An alternaue universe version of this has maybe 15 SUperman movies, thus diluting it (probably). This is all pre-wait-we-can-reboot? era, too which might change things a lot. But cool to see it like this.

  19. horatio weisfeld says:

    It seems today’s one really big “creator owned” property is not on this list of movies..because it’s a TV show.

  20. You are missing The Phantom off this list.

  21. DanielT: Superman’s first post-1982 film was Superman III. That’s the period of films I’m tracking.

    John: This list focuses on properties originating in comic books, not comic strips – hence no Phantom (nor Garfield, Marmaduke, Over the Hedge, etc.)

  22. @Horatio: History shows that (for better or worse) there has never been a shortage of creative types who will work for not very much money because they place greater priority on having an outlet for their work. If the page rates didn’t deter creators from signing up in the 50s, 60s or 70s, it’s hard to see why that would change in the 80s – unless of course a better alternative outlet had become available.

    While the 80s coincides with creator ownership becoming a possibility, I don’t recall it really taking off as a mainstream phenomenon for quite some time after that. In the 80s it was the province of pioneers like Dave Sim; in the 90s, creators like the Image founders who had already made their name at Marvel and DC. I don’t think creator ownership came to be seen as a routine option for the average creator until the internet era.

    It’s possible, of course, that there were other factors driving creators away from Marvel and DC by the 80s – for example, maybe they saw better creative opportunities outside the field of comics altogether, or maybe by that point Marvel and DC were already so obsessed with preserving their respective legacies that they held little appeal as a creative outlet except to creators who wanted to do just that. (Even the Vertigo books, after all, were initially dominated by revamps of existing properties.)

    I think there’s been a vicious circle for decades now that publishers think new properties don’t sell, and so they rarely make a serious effort to launch one. New properties at Marvel and DC either simply don’t exist, or are shoved out with little promotion to wither and die. Publishers, retailers and readers alike all get sent the message that what sells is the old favourites (even though they’re the only thing that’s ever really given the opportunity to succeed in the first place), and that reinforces the impression that it’s just not worth investing in new properties because they always fail anyway. To a large extent it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    There’s also another possible factor which I alluded to above, which is that it really is almost impossible for a new superhero concept to get traction in a marketplace dominated by a small number of exceptionally strong properties many of whom have maintained their appeal for generations. Of course, in theory, the answer to that would be to diversify into other genres, and the market has shown a limited appetite to support that.

  23. MBunge says:

    I’m not sure this proves anything besides the fact that as the “comic book movie” became a thing, producers found it easier to buy the rights to independently owned material rather than deal with the corporate-owned stuff. I mean, is Mysterymen any more “moviable” than Power Pack or Speedball?

    Now, I do think it’s clear that creators have stopped creating as many new characters as they did back in the day and I would guess that ownership concerns have something to do with that. But I think it’s also clear that publishers and editors have stopped asking for new stuff and that obviously is contrary to their own ownership interests, which means there’s something else going on.

    Mike

  24. Mike: You may be right that it’s easier to get the rights to independent stuff… but there has been no shortage of movies based on corporate-owned stuff during this period. Look at the ten years prior to 1982 – there are 6 new Marvel-owned properties that got turned into movies (Punisher, Blade, Wolverine, Ghost Rider, Howard the Duck, Elektra.) They are, among them, the lead properties in eleven movies, ALL of which came out after 1982, and most of these characters didn’t start showing up in movies during the first half of the post-1982 period, so if it was just a matter of deciding that licensing movies from the big two was too much hassle, it took a long time to reach that decision.

  25. MBunge says:

    Nat Gertler: I’m not saying you’re completely wrong, just that there are many other factors not present in that chart. For example, the “comic book movie” really only took off in the 90s, a time when creator-ownership was well-established and a moment when non-Marvel and non-DC properties were much more high profile (thanks to the comic boom) than previous decades. As I said, what makes Mysterymen or Tank Girl or The Crow more “moviable” than Power Pack or Speedball or even something like Nexus? The former being more contemporaneous to the “comic movie craze” than the latter likely has something to do with it.

    And there’s also the Dark Horse factor to consider. For reasons I’m ignorant of, Dark Horse has had a real pipeline to Hollywood that has left most other publishers, including DC, behind. A whopping 6 of your post-1982 creator owned comics that made it to film have a Dark Horse pedigree. I would bet that whatever connections Dark Horse has made a big difference in stuff like Mysterymen, Tank Girl and Virus getting the big screen treatment.

    Mike

  26. Oh, I understand there’s more going on than is in the chart – the chart as I see it more raises a question than provides a definite answer. When I went to make the chart, I expected some change over time… but I didn’t expect quite so strong a pivot just at the very spot I’d chosen (and just to be clear, 1982 was picked as the relevant date in comics history before the chart was made; this is not a case of someone shooting an arrow then drawing the bullseye around it.)

  27. >> For reasons I’m ignorant of, Dark Horse has had a real pipeline to Hollywood that has left most other publishers, including DC, behind.>>

    We in the business call that reason “Mike Richardson.”

  28. R. Maheras says:

    jacob goddard wrote: “I know for a fact that the creators of Bulletproof Monk received no money from the film.”

    How does something like THAT happen in this day and age? Were they so desperate to see a film of their property made they waived the licensing fee?

  29. Really great list Nat. I never would have suspected it to come out that way.

  30. >> How does something like THAT happen in this day and age? Were they so desperate to see a film of their property made they waived the licensing fee? >>

    Unscrupulous publisher, as I recall.

    kdb

  31. horatio weisfeld says:

    I don’t think creator ownership came to be seen as a routine option for the average creator until the internet era.]

    >>

    @Paul O’Brien:

    I think what we call “creator ownership” in comic books certainly began w/ TMNT (in early 80s) — this exploded into a massive attack of creator owned (copycat TMNT) comics in late 80s — and went nuke w/ Image in early 90s… All of this happened (many) years before the internet.

  32. >> I think what we call “creator ownership” in comic books certainly began w/ TMNT >>

    Hell, no, that was 1984.

    By that time, Marvel had been publishing creator-owned comics under the Epic imprint for two years. And Eclipse started in 1978.

    TMNT kicked off the black-and-white boom, but what led to creator-owned comics as we know them today was SABRE, by Don McGregor and Paul Gulacy, published by Eclipse in ’78, ELFQUEST by Wendy & Richard Pini (also 1978) and CEREBUS by Dave Sim (in 1977).

    There were certainly creator-owned books before then — Simon & Kirby owned some of what they did in the 1950s, for instance, and there were the undergrounds and other example — but creator-owned comics as we think of them today is almost all a reaction to those three seeds. Eclipse inspired other publishers (including Marvel, which based its first Epic contracts on Eclipse’s contracts) and ELFQUEST and CEREBUS inspired other self-publishers. And those they inspired inspired more, and on down the line.

    There were many, many precursors, to be sure, but in this sort of thing you’re not merely looking for the first instance, you’re looking for the rocks that started rolling and then started other rocks rolling and that led to an avalanche. And that was pretty much CEREBUS, ELFQUEST and Eclipse.

    kdb

  33. And after all that building around 1982, realizing that Destroyer Duck wasn’t actually the first but seemed key and relevant and besides, the earlier ones were 1982, I realize that no, the first issue of Captain Victory is dated November of ’81.

    Heck with it, I’m sticking with ’82.

  34. This does fit with the small boom Marvel had with turning their properties into live action throughout the 70s, from the Hulk television series, to live action versions of Spider-Man, Captain America (the motorcycle helmet!) and even Doctor Strange.

  35. Oh, but what about the straight to vid movies Marvel did in the early 90s, from the Hulk TV movies, to Captain America (Frank Langella’s Red Skull!) and Punisher (Dolph Lundgren)? Also, TV films of Generation X and Nick Fury, and even later, SyFy’s Man-Thing bomb?

  36. horatio weisfeld says:

    “Hell, no, that was 1984.”

    “By that time, Marvel had been publishing creator-owned comics under the Epic imprint for two years. And Eclipse started in 1978.”

    S&K 50s
    & CEREBUS, ELFQUEST / Etc, etc, etc.

    >>

    Sure — you guys certainly right about those properties and creators being among the true trailblazers.

    What I was getting at was that TNMT (by clearly showing that one could become VERY WEALTHY from such things) seems to have set off an avalanche of self publishing and/or creators willing to do a lot of work to start their own companies (or to work for “creator friendly” publishers) w/ less upfront –against hope of a later “creator ownership” payday.

    Without TMNT I doubt there would have been Dark Horse, Image – and other (large by some measure) corporate entities that were established respecting something like what some call “creative ownership.”

    I really didn’t post to go through all the history in great detail (or to cheat anyone out of hard earned credit due) — but just to point out that this movement began, and CREATORS SAW “CREATOR OWNERSHIP” AS a VIABLE OPTION, LONG BEFORE THE INTERNET became ubiquitous.

  37. horatio weisfeld says:

    Back @ Paul O’Brien :

    I think you do have a good point regarding the internet in that recently it has become very difficult for a creator to publish a single “hard copy comic series” without getting involved (to one degree or another) with a corporate entity.

    Now that a creator can easily publish anything they care to in digital form, we have a situation somewhat resembling what we had (for a short period) in “hard copy comics” publishing (25 years ago), before a number of marketplace implosions wrecked cash flow and distribution .. Lets just hope history does not repeat itself / :)

  38. >> Without TMNT I doubt there would have been Dark Horse, Image >>

    I bet there would have been. TMNT kicked off the black-and-white boom, but Dark Horse and Malibu (which birthed Image) were walking in the footsteps of Eclipse more than Mirage.

    And I should have mentioned STAR*REACH, as well, which Mike Friedrich launched in 1974, and which was an important influence on all that 1977-78 stuff I mentioned.

    kdb

  39. >> I really didn’t post to go through all the history in great detail (or to cheat anyone out of hard earned credit due) — but just to point out that this movement began, and CREATORS SAW “CREATOR OWNERSHIP” AS a VIABLE OPTION, LONG BEFORE THE INTERNET became ubiquitous.>>

    I agree with you there. But as someone who published his first non-fanzine creator-owned comics story the same year the Turtles debuted (or maybe the next), I wanted to point out that we saw it as a viable option before the Turtles, too.

    We saw it in COYOTE and DREADSTAR, in CAPTAIN VICTORY and NEXUS, in MS. TREE and SABRE and A CONTRACT WITH GOD and CEREBUS and ELFQUEST.

    And the people who did those saw it in STAR*REACH and THE FIRST KINGDOM, and those people saw it in ZAP COMICS and THE FABULOUS FURRY FREAK BROTHERS.

    And so on. But we certainly agree, it predated the Internet era.

  40. TMNT may have made some cash, but not every storyteller is in it to make cash.

    And as far as marketplace explosions, with the economy the way it is, there is no way on Earth that kickstarter and the like can keep up the momentum. I see it as lowest common denominator, like the biggest paypal donate button possible, all essentially begging money of strangers. But money everywhere is getting tight. I worry that small press will take some seriously blows in the next couple of years or more, as only those who are strictly into it for telling their stories will be willing to meet the sacrifice.

  41. Every success helped, some more than others, but even before Turtles, established mainstream names like Kirby, Ditko, Grell, Gerber, Chaykin, and Miller were working regularly in the creator-owned realm.

  42. horatio weisfeld says:

    TMNT may have made some cash, but not every storyteller is in it to make cash.

    >>

    Sure. My thinking is it takes a balance to sustain a movement. Maybe Van Gogh was thinking, “One day these paintings will make me rich!” – Y’know?/:)

  43. horatio weisfeld says:

    Don’t forget COMICO :)

    Otherwise: Although I stand by my earlier reasoning, that the massive cash generated by TMNT lit what became the huge 80s fire for both self publishing creators and creators determined to gain more rights,

    I also believe what happened to independent comics (as they, for a time, seem to drive the whole industry) in the 80s, should be seen first and foremost as a harsh lesson about the ubiquity of “financial bubbles” and “boom and bust business cycles” rather than so much gains in “artistic freedom” and “ownership rights.”

  44. We shouldn’t forget Comico, nor First, nor Fantagraphics, nor Capital, nor… and hey, when we start doing that, we see that there were a lot of attempts to start comics companies in the days before the Turtles, although there was certainly some acceleration after (although that wouldn’t be the final point of acceleration; once can see many companies trying to emulate Valiant after that company’s successful launch). As with any new business, few survive three decades later; some left us with beautiful contributions that linger today, others are mere trivia bits for those of us who spent too long haunting the back issue bins. But I doubt the entrepreneurship would’ve stopped had Kevin and Peter not had their notable success.

  45. horatio weisfeld says:

    And as far as marketplace explosions, with the economy the way it is, there is no way on Earth that kickstarter and the like can keep up the momentum. I see it as lowest common denominator, like the biggest paypal donate button possible, all essentially begging money of strangers. But money everywhere is getting tight.

    >>

    @Richard Caldwell:

    I don’t think KStarter has to (or should) set off a publishing explosion of the like that followed TMNT but otherwise I’m not at all sure you’re right about what you say– especially if KStarter publishers begin delivering products at prices closer what they might sell for in stores – at that point there will no longer be an element of (the dreaded) altruism needed. A lot of the people who fund KS projects may in fact be wealthier folks who feel “empowered” by facilitating projects (as opposed to merely purchasing material that has already been printed), and so they will not stop funding if the economy worsens (Shucks:does that smell like altruism again?) –me thinks KStarter does represent a serious existential treat to “establishment” media production — big question is will the “establishment” be able to subvert stuff like this into some twisted form of the status quo .. theeey will certainly try / :)

  46. @Horatio
    I just feel kinda dismayed hearing some folks latch onto KS like it’s manna. They completely drown out how few KS projects actually get funded. Crowd sourcing has never been a sure-fire bet, not even going back to Blanche DuBois.

  47. horatio weisfeld says:

    I just feel kinda dismayed hearing some folks latch onto KS like it’s manna. They completely drown out how few KS projects actually get funded. Crowd sourcing has never been a sure-fire bet, not even going back to Blanche DuBois.

    >>
    @Richard Caldwell:

    You may see/know a lot that I do not — I far as the comics stuff goes, I seem to come across (mainly through scrolling back through KS) few projects that were accepted by KS and then not funded. If I’m so far missing the whole boat on unfunded projects, could you suggest a good resource (or search technique) for getting the a full picture of what has and HAS NOT been funded? Again: most of comics stuff I see on KS seems to have been funded – so my assumption (so far) is that KS staff is doing as great job of assessing the comics submissions/imposing some standards (at least as far as what its funders might be interested in) – and so. is demonstrating that it can sustain its business model. Please enlighten me. Thanks.

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