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The Creator's Bill of Rights (officially, A Bill of Rights for Comics Creators) was a document drafted in November 1988 by a number of independent comic book artists and writers, designed to protect their rights as creators and aid against their exploitation by corporate work for hire practices. Issues covered by the Bill included giving creators proper credit for their characters and stories, profit-sharing, distribution, fair contracts, licensing, and return of original artwork. The Bill's legacy is a much more creator-friendly comics industry.
Creator's rights has long been a source of conflict in the American comics industry, going back to the medium's late 1930s origins. Creator-owned titles began to appear during the late-1960s underground comix movement, and in the superhero genre with the mid-1970s creation of the short-lived company Atlas/Seaboard Comics.
During the 1970s, superstar artist Neal Adams was politically active in the industry, and attempted to unionize its creative community. In 1978, Adams helped form the Comics Creators Guild, which over three dozen comic-book writers and artists joined, including Cary Bates, Howard Chaykin, Chris Claremont, Steve Ditko, Michael Golden, Archie Goodwin, Paul Levitz, Bob McLeod, Frank Miller, Carl Potts, Marshall Rogers, Jim Shooter, Walt Simonson, Jim Starlin, Len Wein, and Marv Wolfman.
Around this same period, industry legend Jack Kirby, co-creator of many of Marvel Comics' most popular characters, came into dispute with the company over the disappearance of original pages of artwork from some of his most famous and popular titles. (Kirby had quit working for Marvel in 1979, angry over what he perceived as the company's mistreatment of him.) Best-selling creators like Alan Moore, Frank Miller, and many other stars became vocal advocates for Kirby. Neal Adams also petitioned to have his Marvel originals returned, and the pair won their battle in 1987, when Marvel returned original artwork to him and Kirby, among others. This decision helped lead to the modern industry's standard practice of returning original artwork to the artist, who can earn additional income from art sales to collectors.
Alan Moore himself became increasingly concerned at the lack of creator's rights in British comics. In 1985, he noted that he had stopped working for all British publishers except IPC, publishers of 2000 AD, "purely for the reason that IPC so far have avoided lying to me, cheating me or generally treating me like shit." He joined other British creators in decrying the wholesale relinquishing of all rights, and in 1986 stopped writing for 2000 AD as well. Moore's outspoken opinions and principles, particularly on the subject of creator's rights and ownership, would see him burn bridges with a number of other publishers over the course of his career.
Other creators' similar and repeated clashes with DC Comics, First Comics, and other publishers led to an industry-wide debate about the issue. On the other side, independent publishers of the early 1980s like Pacific Comics and Eclipse Comics were strong promoters of creator-owned properties; their enticement of popular creators (such as Kirby) to their pages helped push the issue to the fore and put pressure on industry giants Marvel and DC. (In fact, in the fall of 1988, shortly before the signing of the Creator's Bill of Rights, DC revised the company's work-for-hire agreements to give more power to individual creators.)
Eventual Creator's Bill of Rights signatory Dave Sim was motivated to take part in the Bill's creation by a 1987 incident surrounding The Puma Blues, a comic book published through his company Aardvark One International. Sim had fallen into dispute with Diamond Comics Distribution over Sim's decision not to use Diamond to distribute the Cerebus graphic novel High Society. As a result, Diamond National Account Representative Bill Schanes informed Sim: "If it is your intention to pick and choose which products you want distributors to carry, it should be our privilege to choose what we wish to distribute. Therefore, it is our feeling we should no longer carry and promote Puma Blues." At that time, Diamond distributed an estimated 33% of the series' print run. (Ironically, Schanes had formerly been publisher of Pacific Comics, itself an extremely creator-friendly publisher.) Sim hosted a creators' summit in the spring of 1988 where he spoke out about the issue of publishing and creator's rights.
Through a series of meetings, in November 1988 a document was finalized at the "Northampton Summit," held in Northampton, Massachusetts, and signed by all in attendance. Scott McCloud was the principal author of the Bill; other artists and writers participating in the Bill's creation included Sim, Steve Bissette, Larry Marder, Rick Veitch, Peter Laird, and Kevin Eastman. An early draft of the Bill was published in the July 1989 issue of The Comics Journal, which had covered the issue thoroughly in its pages over the years. The Bill's final draft was published in the September 1990 issue of The Comics Journal.
In 1989, DC created the Piranha Press imprint, which featured creator-owned alternative titles. In 1990, signatory Eastman founded the creator-friendly Tundra Publishing to embody the ideals of the Bill from a publishers' standpoint. As part of the initial group who "got together to form the" Bill, Eastman felt obligated to expand it beyond theory and into practice, providing a creator-friendly forum for comics creators to work for a publisher while maintaining ownership of their work.
In 1992 a number of popular Marvel artists formed their own company, Image Comics, which would serve as a prominent example of creator-owned comics publishing. DC's Vertigo imprint, launched in 1993, was the company's first successful attempt to routinely publish creator-owned series. From the start, Vertigo founding editor Karen Berger was committed to creator-owned projects.
The legacy of the Creator's Bill of Rights continues to be felt throughout the industry, where it is now common for high-profile writers and artists to be awarded royalties and/or creator-ownership of their creations.
For the survival and health of comics, we recognize that no single system of commerce and no single type of agreement between creator and publisher can or should be instituted. However, the rights and dignity of creators everywhere are equally vital. Our rights, as we perceive them to be and intend to preserve them, are:
- The right not to have our work published by publishers turned off by this.
- The right to full ownership of what we fully create.
- The right to full control over the creative execution of that which we fully own.
- The right of approval over the reproduction and format of our creative property.
- The right of approval over the methods by which our creative property is distributed.
- The right to free movement of ourselves and our creative property to and from publishers.
- The right to employ legal counsel in any and all business transactions.
- The right to offer a proposal to more than one publisher at a time.
- The right to prompt payment of a fair and equitable share of profits derived from all of our creative work.
- The right to full and accurate accounting of any and all income and disbursements relative to our work.
- The right to prompt and complete return of our artwork in its original condition.
- The right to full control over the licensing of our creative property.
- The right to promote and the right of approval over any and all promotion of ourselves and our creative property.