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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Why We Haven’t Seen A New Original Superhero in Twenty Years at Marvel and DC


Why aren’t their new original superhero characters made to relate to today’s tweens and teens? Why hasn’t their been a new generation of superheroes with stories that relate to today’s social and political situations? Why hasn’t there been a new breakout character in the last twenty-five years? The answer to that question is simple: MONEY.

People like Stan Lee plead for creators to make new characters. But at the Big two comic publishers Marvel and DC most creators have to work under a “Work for Hire” contract. And under that kind of contract a creator like myself signs away ALL the rights to any intellectual property we create while working there. So if we create a character who becomes popular we get absolutely no compensation for it.

In contrast if a writer like myself takes that same character to a Trade publishing house and write those same adventures in a Kids’ book or Young Adult fantasy Fiction we get to not only get to publish our work but we also get to retain all our intellectual property rights. And those rights can be worth millions if not billions of dollars.

Creators like myself who publish work or self publish work own almost all their remaining intellectual property rights including foreign publishing rights, eBook publishing rights, film rights, television rights, Trademarks on character designs, action figure rights for multiple scales from two inches to two feet, and licensing rights on merchandising and marketing. And a savvy writer or creator with a good business sense can capitalize on selling those rights to build wealth for themselves.

Under the current “Work For Hire” agreements used at Marvel and DC use a writer or a creator like myself has no financial incentive to create characters for a publisher like Marvel or DC. It’s just more profitable for a creator like myself to take a concept to an indie comic book publisher like IDW, Boom! Dynamite or Image where we retain not only creative control but ownership of all our rights. But in most cases, Creators are just taking their work to a trade publisher to be produced as a Young Adult Novel. Thanks to the success of book franchises like Harry Potter and Twilight Most new tween and teen readers and readers of all ages tend pick up Young Adult books and have a stronger positive impression of YA titles than they do of comics.

What further exacerbates the situation regarding the development of new characters is that creators like myself find the comic book industry virtually impossible to break into. Unfortunately, there’s no internship program or even apprenticeship for writing comics. Heck, you can’t even find a class that teaches comic book writing at a local college! Trying to find an entry point into the comic book industry is almost as impossible as finding an entry point into comics these days.

It’s easier to break into trade publishing than the comic book industry. It’s easier to break into Hollywood than the comic book industry. You can easily find books on screenwriting and publishing. You can find the names for all the people and the prodcos and publishing houses in Los Angeles and New York. But finding out who the editors are at a comic book publisher?

Good Luck. No one has figured that out for the last twenty-five years.

And because creators like myself can’t answer that question no one has created that new breakout superhero for twenty-five years. Many of the concepts creators like myself have come up with like Isis that would have probably become comic books instead became YA novels, fantasy novels, graphic novels or even TV shows and movies.

So that new breakout superhero is having their adventures. In a YA novel, a fantasy novel like the Harry Potter series or the Twilight series, A Graphic novel or even on a TV show like Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

And a whole host of writers and artists like myself are honing their talent in places outside of the comic book industry. And due to this brick wall in editorial that keeps new people out and old veterans in, archaic business models for compensating creators and just plain old apathy the big two publishers continue to suffer from creative stagnation.

I’ve been wanting to write comics since the 1990’s. Unfortunately I couldn’t find an entry point to work in the trade. And when the industry collapsed in 1993 due to the numerous gimmicks and excesses, I gave up my lifelong dream of writing comics and started working on novels. Later on in my writing career I started writing YA fantasy fiction like the Isis series.

What many readers don’t know is that Isis was originally planned to a comic book character. And I originally planned to make the stories a series of graphic novels. But because I couldn’t find a way to get an internship or even an entry-level job at a comic book company in the 1990’s to learn the craft of writing comic books I was forced to take the story over to the fantasy market of trade publishing.

And now that I’ve learned about Work for Hire and the poor compensation that comic creators receive at the Big two publishers I see that was the right business decision. Currently I own all the rights to the Isis character and her supporting cast and I’m in a better position to make business deals such as licensing if that possibility ever comes to fruition.

Where do I see the next breakout superhero coming from? Thanks to the lack of compensation for creators and the inability of new artists and writers like myself to access the job market there I don’t see them coming from Marvel or DC. Instead see that next big breakout superhero character coming from the Indie comic publishers, self-published webcomics or the YA Book market. In these marketplaces creators like myself have the financial incentive to produce new content and share our work with a large diverse audience. Right now new readers are accessing new characters in places like YA series, toys like Monster High and other forms of media. If just one of these concepts had been introduced as a comic it could have been the next breakout character for Marvel or DC.


  1. Good article and video as always. Could you do a blog or video about Milestone Comics?

  2. Excellent commentary, Shawn and so true; trying to break into the comics industry can be a nearly impossible feat to achieve. Kudos to those fortunate enough to get their foot in the door.
    That shouldn't discourage you from taking your future and properties into your own hands and making it work for your financial betterment for years to come.
    Personally I strongly urge all aspiring creators, but in my case, black creators to not beg for inclusion from those that might throw you the proverbial crumb if you're lucky of course, while bastardizing your vision, YOUR BABY in the manner they deem fit...namely the BIG TWO, Marvel & DC.

    The Internet can be a great place to reach that faction of readers thirsty for something fresh and innovative. It just takes a bit of work, alot of love and networking from those in the same boat such as yourself. And above all else, respect your readers. They are the ones that keep us relavent.

    Much love, breh. Keep up the good work.

  3. Remember Milestone guys still own their characters. DC can only publish them and put out trades and split any profit. That's why you haven't seen Static because even if they don't use him-DC still has to PAY Milestone.
    The only reason DC is trying to use them now is because of what Marvel is doing and rumor has it Warner Brothers wants the pandering to white males to STOP.

  4. Thanks Mike. Been wanting to write this one for a while now. The comic industry has been impossible for many like myself to break into for 25 years and the industry is suffering because of it.

    Most creators see the success of J.K. Rowling with Harry Potter and Stephanie Meyer with Twilight. Both these women are billionaires with multi-million dollar franchises. So a creator doesn't want to give up that kind of money to Marvel an DC for crumbs.Both these cases pretty much changed the game in publishing and the big two of the comic industry is going to have to offer profit sharing if they hope to get new characters for their catalog.

    I'm finiding with the Internet a writer and an artist can find their audience and reach new readers. POD and webcomics have opened up a new market for comics and if a new character does get discovered, a creator gets to keep all their rights.