On Business: The Creator's Bill of Rights

By | Tuesday, September 08, 2015 1 comment
You don't hear much about the Creator's Bill of Rights any more. Not that the comics industry heard much about it back when it was drafted in 1988. But here on the day after Labor Day, I thought I'd put a small spotlight on it.

As I'm sure you're aware, creator's rights have been an issue in comics pretty much since Day One. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster signing over the rights to Superman in 1938 is sometimes referred to as the industry's original sin. In the later 1970s and early 1980s, the issue became a topic of regular discussion. Neal Adams tried forming a comic creators union in 1978, Jack Kirby fought a fairly public battle just to get his original artwork back in the early 1980s, and publishers that specialized in creator-owned content began popping up.

After a dispute with Diamond Distributors, Dave Sim tried pulling together other comic creators to try establish some rules designed "to protect their rights as creators and publishers and oppose exploitation by corporate work for hire practices and the power of distributors to dictate the means of distribution." (Quote from Wikipedia.) The group, which included the likes of Steve Bissette, Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird, Larry Marder, and Richard Pini among others, drafted the following Creator's Bill of Rights...
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:
  1. The right to full ownership of what we fully create.
  2. The right to full control over the creative execution of that which we fully own.
  3. The right of approval over the reproduction and format of our creative property.
  4. The right of approval over the methods by which our creative property is distributed.
  5. The right to free movement of ourselves and our creative property to and from publishers.
  6. The right to employ legal counsel in any and all business transactions.
  7. The right to offer a proposal to more than one publisher at a time.
  8. The right to prompt payment of a fair and equitable share of profits derived from all of our creative work.
  9. The right to full and accurate accounting of any and all income and disbursements relative to our work.
  10. The right to prompt and complete return of our artwork in its original condition.
  11. The right to full control over the licensing of our creative property.
  12. The right to promote and the right of approval over any and all promotion of ourselves and our creative property.
Scott McCloud is generally cited as the primary author.

Although news of this did run in The Comics Journal, very few people paid it much mind. Perhaps because there were more independent publishers out there, and there were still several distributors in existence? Coupled with the demise of the Comics Creators Guild and Kirby's "success" in getting art back from Marvel, perhaps the Creator's Bill of Rights was no longer seen as necessary by some people. Very few people, including many of its original proponents, claim it had much impact, if any. Image co-founder Erik Larsen denies it had any impact on that group's decision to create their own company, while Denis Kitchen dismissed the document as "generally naive and unrealistic."

While it may be that the Creator's Bill of Rights was drafted at precisely the wrong time, and was seen by some as "pie-in-the-sky", I wonder if it's worth discussing again, but now with the backdrop and context of webcomics and digital publishing. What would that initial discussion have been like if it happened today, nearly three decades later?
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jlroberson said...

Nice to see someone bringing this up again at long last. You're correct, it should. What Bissette, Sim and the rest fought for long ago has been forgotten by a lot of younger creators. It hasn't been good for the industry.

And then there's the new avenue of e-books, where any attempt for a self-publisher to try to even the ground with the big corporate stuff comes a cropper via arbitrary and appeals-free banning of content, as I discovered this week. Some detail on that (and a link to Sequential talking about it) here:


I believe they are connected issues. Again, great post. I've shared it.