Marvel Comics and its parent company Disney are facing new criticism of the way they treat creators — this time from within their own ranks. Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates just wrapped up his run on the Black Panther comic books and discussed the ending in an interview with Polygon. Along the way, he mentioned some of the recent controversies about how creators are treated by Disney.
Coates spoke with passion about the medium of comic books and the adaptations that have swept the world in recent years, but he did not ignore the controversies that expansion has raised. He referenced the case of writer Ed Brubaker, who recently published a newsletter saying that he has "mixed feelings" about Marvel Studios using his work from comics for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier TV show. He wrote, "for the most part 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."
Coates agreed that this was not enough compensation or even creative credit for Brubaker and Epting. He admitted that he felt a similar — though less personal — frustration about the Black Panther movie. He said: "I'm not talking about myself here, because I feel like I'm somebody who is fortunate in the sense that I've been able to make a living in all kinds of other ways. But there are people who make their living off of comic books. And I wish that Marvel found better ways to compensate the creators who helped make Black Panther Black Panther."
"I wish that they found better ways to compensate the folks who made Captain America Captain America," he went on. "I'm talking very specifically here, I wish they found ways to compensate the author of the greatest Winter Soldier stories that you're ever going to read. I don't love that there's a Falcon and Winter Soldier show on TV and I'm hearing from Ed [Brubaker] that he can't even get in contact with ... I just don't love that."
"Look, I had a great time. I had a tremendous, tremendous time writing for Marvel," Coates went on, calling out the editorial team by name. "I am indebted to Marvel... I had great people working with me. The corporate side of this, though ... the corporate side of this is not pretty. It's not pretty at all. How you treat people who create the basis for this, I don't love it."
The creative rights of comic book writers and artists have been a source of serious debate for decades, going all the way back to the infamous lawsuit where Superman co-creators Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel sued DC Comics for the rights to their character. Superhero comic books today are "work-for-hire" agreements where creators acknowledge that they hold no intellectual property rights.
Disney has been facing other controversies recently, however, with the campaign "Disney Must Pay" trending across social media. Fans are incensed to find that the company has ceased paying authors for work on novels set in franchises Disney has since acquired — particularly Star Wars. A full and up-to-date account of this campaign was published by The Guardian last month.
Coates' final issue of Black Panther is out now, and the earlier volumes in his run can be found here on Amazon. Disney has not commented on the recent grumblings about Brubaker and continues to take each case in the "Disney Must Pay" controversy one at a time.