CBR exclusive art from Avengers #3
This morning’s Cup O’ Joe coffee klatsch between Kiel Phegley and Joe Quesada included a lengthy segment on the whole digital royalty flap from last week. Specifically,Marvel has had them in the works for the last two years, but could only finalize the plans recently — the first payments will be going out soon after San Diego. Quesada explained the rather unorthodox publicity campaign for the roll-out:

Kiel Phegley: I think, really, the question people have been asking most about in terms of this is why Marvel hasn’t been publicizing their plans for royalties in the same way DC did? Is there some specific reason why these issues aren’t made public knowledge?

Joe Quesada: We just didn’t think it was an issue. When we made our announcements that we would have electronic comics on the iPad, iPhone and PSP, that, to me, was the only real announcement that was important for the public to know. Internally what creators make, whether it be their page rate or incentives, wasn’t really an announcement for the general public. The only time I guess an announcement like that would be important to make publicly would have to be if you’re trying to win some sort of public relations war, which I kind of get in some ways. But when we announced our e-comics, the whole incentive issue wasn’t anything we felt we had to advertise. What was important is the fact that we are now in that domain and looking to succeed beyond anyone’s imagination and continue to preach the gospel of the world of comics. You know, now that I think about it maybe my initial answer to your first question was wrong – there might be something to learn here. Next time we announce a new publishing initiative, I’ll see if our marketing team can make it a point to announce that we will be paying creators page rates, incentives and every other little thing we do behind-the-scenes. [Laughs]

Dedicated industry watchers will note that Quesada uses the word “incentive” as opposed to “royalties,” an important distinction on a corporate legal level.
Asked about Marvel’s overal disparity in the royatlies offered, Quesada replies:

There are differences I’m sure. I’m not privy to DC’s entire incentive plan as I’m sure they’re not privy to the entirety of ours. But at the end of the day I’m sure we are better in some areas than they are and they are better than we are in some others. However, I think when you add it all together and you push and pull the numbers, it all breaks down to be about the same. It’s just coming from different pools. However, the big difference is the Marvel books on average and across the board sell more than DC books and that affects incentives in a very, very big way and it’s obvious that Marvel’s iPad announcement really helped cement us as the industry leader.

So the race is still on.

As we said the other day, any transparency that helps creators make informed decisions about the best deal for them — and helps younger creators get some idea of what the business landscape should be like — is a good thing, as far as we’re concerned. And based on our emails and IMs, a lot of creators agree. With Marvel and DC engaged in a fairly aggressive behind-the-scenes for the hearts and minds of creators this summer, you might expect to see a bit more of this kind of thing.

For the comics READERS in the audience, later in the interview, Quesada mentions the recent Avengers summit which included Brian Michael Bendis, Matt Fraction Ed Brubaker and Christos Gage:

We’re talking about much broader stories at this point. Matt and Ed came to the table with a huge, let me re-emphasize huge idea for the Marvel U, and the entire room got stoked. It’s still at the bare-bones stage, but we found a great theme and structure by which to start hanging stories on. This will all most certainly change, gather momentum and get fleshed out once we have our next summit, which is our big Marvel U get together in which everyone is in the pool. This is really where the magic starts to happen, as more and more people start giving their input and look at the structure that we bring to the table with fresh eyes. It ends up being an incredibly exhausting creative endeavor but really priceless in the sense you have so many brilliantly creative brains locking in and doing the Borg hive-mind thing.


  1. You know, Joltin’ JoeyQ might be privy to DC’s policies as a creator what with his work for DC in the 90’s. His work on The Ray and Sword of Azrael counts him as a creator who might benefit from DC’s royalties policy.

    I’m not trying to stir up a hornet’s nest or anything. I’m just sayin’ that he might be in a better position than some to know…

  2. I know comics is a weird, relatively insular industry, but I see where Quesada is coming from in the comments above re: what the public needs to know. I’d never expect a TV network or movie studio, for example, to announce royalty rates paid to actors and writers in a public forum unless it were solely industry-oriented.

    Perhaps the distinction for comics is the gray area between fans and creators, or the closeness between those two camps given they interact frequently at conventions and online, etc. Anyway, I’m happy to hear any news that makes life more comfortable for creators.

  3. I don’t think DC made their announcement with the general public in mind — I think it was intended for the freelance community, and was disseminated from there.

    That said, yeah, maybe this stuff *isn’t* all that important for the public to know (and we certainly have no right to the details of anyone’s compensation), but if you have an interest in comics beyond that of a passive consumer, I think there’s good reason to want to know that the people who make the stuff we enjoy are being compensated fairly and equitably for their work.

    Unfortunately, just saying “There are differences I’m sure” really doesn’t begin to explain why, for example, DC feels that royalty payments ought to be made even where there’s no legal obligation, where Marvel does not.

  4. “Next time we announce a new publishing initiative, I’ll see if our marketing team can make it a point to announce that we will be paying creators page rates, incentives and every other little thing we do behind-the-scenes. [Laughs]”

    Yes, it would be nice if he did this as a way of potentially differentiating current royalty practice from historically and contemporary abusive reimbursement practices. It would also be nice if Quesada didn’t blithely laugh away the idea of advertising the relative ethics of their royalty and / or incentive practices.

    Good to know that Cup of Joe still exists to allow the public unmediated access to Marvel’s churlish company line!

  5. “Good to know that Cup of Joe still exists to allow the public unmediated access to Marvel’s churlish company line!”



  6. I agree that Joe Q was wrong to laugh off the discussion. Marvel’s got a bad history with royalties. Len Wein still hasn’t seen a dollar for reprints of his X-Men work, if I remember correctly.

  7. Sphinx,

    by the same token, both Geoff Johns and Jim Lee would be privy to Marvel’s policies, seeing as they both have titles available for sale thru Marvel digital.

    so ya think mebbe they had some insight into what Marvel ISN’T doing?

    and kudos to the “journalists” at CBR for not asking Joey to distinguish, once and for all, between “incentive” and “royalty”.

  8. The difference between incentives and royalties is a big one. Incentives are paid when sales reach certain benchmarks, i.e. if they make it you get paid if they don’t you don’t.

    Royalties are paid on a per copy basis. Regardless if you sell 1 or 100000 you will get paid something.

  9. @Rich: That’s because the royalties earned by actors/writers/directors are covered by their union contracts. So everybody already knows what they are. If you recall, the big sticking point in the writers’ strike was over royalties for digital. It was very public.

  10. Just for clarification, movies, TV shows and publishers announce how much they’re paying their their staff all the time. Maybe not royalties specifically, but certainly the upfront contracts. All you have to do is turn on E! or open Variety to see all that info. And, yeah, Variety may be an industry paper, but DC’s press release was sent to industry news sites.

  11. Thanks for mentioning that Dave. That’s a very good point.

    “And, yeah, Variety may be an industry paper, but DC’s press release was sent to industry news sites.”

    Maybe that’s the rub, though — there’s hardly any distinction between the fan press and industry press for comics. That’s another discussion altogether, I suppose.

  12. So Marvel’s argument is, they ‘announced’ it first but didn’t tell anybody?
    If they didn’t tell anybody it’s hardly an ‘announcement’ is it?

  13. @SvenJ –
    That’s a good point about Jim Lee and Geoff Johns. Geoff Johns especially since I believe I saw Geoff John’s run on The Avengers available for purchase on Marvel’s iApp. I don’t believe I’ve seen any of Jim Lee’s work available yet via iApp tho’…

  14. To follow up on other comments: union contract negotiations in other media are always public because transparency ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS works to the benefit of creators, and any collective bargaining outfit knows this. So, even if there is absolutely nothing hinky going on, the mere appearance of being secretive is enough to raise the suspicion of anyone who has ever paid attention to these issues. So yeah, while individual paychecks are obviously private, there is an expectation in many fields of entertainment that reimbursement is or at the very least should be based on open and transparent standards. Because otherwise the system is easily abused – and that’s the history of the first half-century of the comics industry, give or take.

  15. I don’t think Joe is taking this seriously enough. His casual tone of “royalties versus incentives, maybe we will tell the public something, maybe we won’t…” is a bit patronizing, isn’t it?

    The “public” includes your creators, their agents (in Hollywood or NYC), your shareholders, your competition, “your” journalists, retailers, merchandisers, book buyers, librarians, and yes, even the non-comic buying public.

    So yeah, it IS public relations 101 !

  16. At the very least, let’s hope from here on out that creators brought into the Marvel pen for the first time have the forethought to ensure their contracts cover ALL avenues of distribution. I can see newer artists letting things slide in their contracts because of Marvel saying “it’s a gift to work here”. Business is business. Don’t be suckered into getting paid less.

  17. I was primarily interested in the summit material.

    I’ve never been involved in a creative brainstorming session, but I did attend a lot of corporate meetings while I was at Sprint Corp. “Idea” meetings practically never produced good ideas.

    I’d think that for a creative brainstorming session to be successful, most or all of the writers attending would have to be good writers, and rank highly enough to not worry about antagonizing anyone. Formula writers would tout their formulas; retcon-dependent writers might suggest, “Hey, why don’t we retcon this!”; people who don’t think logically would offer story ideas that wouldn’t make any sense. Bad writers would tend to reinforce each other’s negative aspects.

    Back when writers concentrated on their own series, a fan could avoid bad writers and not be concerned about ____ ruining the series that his favorite writer was doing. In this era, a bad event can affect practically everyone. It would be nice to know how frank and technical criticism is at such summits. Back when “Dark Reign” was planned, did anyone comment, “You know, “Dark Reign” — it just strikes me as a storyline aimed at nine-year-olds. There’s no real-world connection. Osborn and his flunkies are cartoonish.”? I’m guessing that there was no criticism of that type.


  18. Perhaps Joe doesn’t want to discuss incentive pay because the plan isn’t the same for all creators working for Marvel. If he came out and said creators get .25 a copy and it wasn’t true for all of them he’d have a labor issue on his hands.

    In many businesses, like insurance or retail, people have different threshholds to hit for different bonuses.

  19. Thanks Torsten–JR JR is one of my favorite “mainstream” guys…his art on Thor a few years back was great, I didn’t place this as his.