By now everyone including the Hollywood trades has linked to Steve Bissette’s Facebook post about the Constantine TV show and the fact that he won’t get any money for the script currently being written:
As of this morning, it appears there will be NO payment to the Constantine creators for this series.
This option apparently rolled out of the already-paid-for option for the CONSTANTINE movie in the 1990s. Thus, we’ll only see $$ waaaay down the road, it appears, IF this series makes it to being a series. If it makes money. If it trickles down.
Will update you if/as we learn more.
But we will see $$ from any comics/graphic novels sold from the spillover of interest, FYI.
Hollywood accounting: gotta love it.
While this story fits comfortably within the familiar narrative of comics creators not getting paid for their work on characters later exploited in billion dollar movies…in this case, I don’t think the story is that simple and here’s why.
John Constantine the character debuted in Saga of the Swamp Thing #37, which was written by Alan Moore. Although the interior art was by Rick Veitch and John Totleben, Bissette and Totleben drew the cover and are credited with designing the character (who was based on the appearance of Sting, a musician popular at the time.) Moore, of course, long ago gave up any interest in option money for movies or TV based on his characters and signed royalties over to Bissette and Totleben for Constantine.
What’s a bit misleading about this headline is that it’s likely no one is getting paid residual rights for this TV show yet—ppartly because it isn’t a TV show yet. As Bissette stated, it’s part of the original option for the property. Without knowing all the details of this agreement and so on, TV deals don’t pay a lot of money upfront. Option money is often minuscule (four figures) and bigger bucks come down the pike. (Robert Kirkman is being paid as a producer on the Walking Dead TV show—I’d guess he’s getting a salary for that, but residuals take a loong time to roll out.) The Constantine TV show is just in the script stage now, so there isn’t anything to make money off of. More money kicks in at every stage — if a pilot is made there will be more money, if the pilot gets picked up, another payment, a DVD, more money and so on. PLUS, I’m told this kind of “character equity” money is paid out twice yearly—it isn’t a daily accounting.
What I think it’s important to point this out is that WB has been pretty good thus far about paying for the use of characters who have “character equity” deals. Creators have been paid for the use of characters in video games, live action and cartoons — I know people who got royalty checks for less than a dollar, but DC/WB still sends them out. It’s true that the “participation” rules have been changing in the new world order, but this is an area where DC has been pretty honorable up until now—you could argue that it should be more money, or more credit or whatever, but since we don’t know people’s bank accounts, and shouldn’t, it is speculation as of now.
I think Bissette’s transparency here is admirable, but even he points out that if it gets made into a series he will get paid some money. And he’ll profit in the shorter term from royalties on books—an area where everyone acknowledges DC has been an industry leader. (Ask creators about Marvel royalties and you’ll often get a very different answer.)
This “Bissette got no money” makes for a good headline, but it simplifies a complicated situation.
The Constantine situation in particular is even more complicated, as Andrew Wheeler points out:
That Bissette will only earn what he’s contractually obliged to is not very revelatory, but what’s interesting is that it’s not entirely clear who is affected by this arrangement. Alan Moore long ago ceased accepting compensation for adaptations of his work for DC. Rick Veitch and John Totleben may also have received compensation from the 2005 movie. Jamie Delano and Garth Ennis, who had influential runs on Hellblazer, were both credited for their contributions to the 2005 movie, possibly because characters they created were featured in the adaptation. Artist John Ridgway also worked on the Hellblazer series at launch, so there may be as many as six or more creators with a stake.
If Constanstine DOES go to series—and the way the deal is structured, if NBC passes on making a pilot, they will have to pay a hefty fee for the script—I would expect to see a LOT of little checks being cut for characters who appeared along the way. The Hellblazer saga is a shared universe in many, many ways.
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.