Indie and Disney master Don Rosa has posted online the final chapter of a bio intended for a collected edition of his works. After it was rejected by Disney. Rosa explains his decision to retire from drawing comics last year as the result of both the psychological effects of years of working, his failing eyesight, and some ongoing difficulties with how Disney deals with its comics licenses. It’s an entertaining read—especially for how his early years intersected with those of his hero, Disney artist supreme Carl Barks, but it’s also not hard to see why Disney may not have been thrilled to publish it.
How many people know how the “Disney system” of comics works? When I describe this to some fans when asked about it, they often think I’m kidding them or lying. Or they are outraged. But it’s an unfortunate fact that there have never been, and I ultimately realized there never will be, any royalties paid to the people who write or draw or otherwise create all the Disney comics you’ve ever read. We are paid a flat rate per page by one publisher for whom we work directly. After that, no matter how many times that story is used by other Disney publishers around the world, no matter how many times the story is reprinted in other comics, album series, hardback books, special editions, etc., etc., no matter how well it sells, we never receive another cent for having created that work. That’s the system Carl Barks worked in and it’s the same system operating today.
How can such an archaic system still be in operation in the 21st Century when royalties have been paid in other creative publishing endeavors for literally centuries? All book authors, musicians, actors, singers, non-Disney cartoonists, even people who act in TV commercials… they all receive royalties if success warrants it. Even Disney pays normal royalties to creators and performers in its own movie and TV and book and music businesses. As near as I can tell, correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s only the creators of Disney comics who have no chance to receive a share of the profits of the success of the work they create. And yet Disney comics have never been produced by the Disney company, but have always been created by freelance writers and artists working for licensed independent publishers, like Carl Barks working for Dell Comics, me working for Egmont, and hundreds of others working for numerous other Disney licensees.
Why is this? I don’t know.
While Disney-owned Marvel (and soon Lucasfilms) operate under the modern royalty system, the last I knew, licensed Disney kids’ comics the world around indeed operate under the system Rosa describes. Which is a shame.
Best wishes to Rosa for improving health and an enjoyable retirement.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.