Who Is The Mystery DC Comics Credit Thief? Not Paul Levitz…

Aaron Couch wrote a much-shared article for The Hollywood Reporter looking at Marvel and DC comic creators talking about the lack of credit and payment for TV shows and movies based on their work, something we've talked about on Bleeding Cool at length. But there was one specific nugget that was brand new and caused quite a stir. Couch quoted former DC Publisher and President Paul Levitz, who confidently went out of his way to get compensation for comics creator work being used by multi-media at, saying;

For years, the job of determining payments on something like The Dark Knight fell to Paul Levitz, who served as DC's president and publisher from 2002 to 2009. One payment category was money owed for creating a character. Other categories were murkier, such as comic storylines Nolan borrowed from, like the classic storyline The Long Halloween by writer Jeff Loeb and artist Tim Sale. Then there were categories even less easy to define. "Christian Bale liked looking at Tim Sale's work before he would go out and strike a pose," says Levitz. "I'm not sure how you value that. But when you have a movie that is as successful as Batman Begins or Dark Knight, it says that there's something there. And you should say thank you in some fashion… It's really good business. No contract can cover every possibility in a creative world. If you act in a fashion where you treat people in a way that they think they've been treated fairly, the next creative person is more interested in working for you."

Which is fine and dandy and something comic book publishers and their studios today could learn more from. But what went viral was the following statement;

 THR learned of an instance in which the co-creator of an A-list DC character secretly maneuvered behind-the-scenes to have themselves listed as the sole creator on paper, with regard to merchandise or adaptations, cutting their partner out of payments. According to a knowledgeable source, the other co-creator only learned of this maneuvering years later when a Warner Bros. theatrical employee noticed the discrepancy ahead of the release of a movie featuring the character. (The wronged co-creator now receives payments, but is said to not be on friendly terms with their former collaborator.)

Which A-List DC character? Which co-creator? Speculation was rife. The issues with Batman and Bob Kane, and Superman and Siegel and Shuster were too old (and also mentioned elsewhere in the article), Black Lightning for which credits have been contended over the years hasn't had a movie, just a TV show, but one suggestion from DeepSpaceTransmissions went a little viral, especially after Rob Liefeld quote tweeted it, adding "oh wow".

Who Is The Mystery DC Comics Credit Thief? Not Paul Levitz…The image of that credit was an erroneous one, taken from a Brave And The Bold cartoon broadcast after Paul Levitz was no longer at DC Comics, that solely credited Huntress to Levitz. Huntress also appeared in the Harley Quinn movie. But if the unnamed creator was indeed meant to be Paul Levitz, wouldn't Aaron have asked Paul Levitz about it when interviewing him for that article? It would also have been very surprising, Levitz is not longer Publisher/President or has control over what DC credit or don't in various media, but a recent credit from the comics does list Joe Staton and Bob Layton as well as Levitz. I contacted Levitz for his thoughts and Paul told me "just for the record, Huntress has equal equity shares held by Joe Staton, Bob Layton (the inker and kibitzer) and me. I don't think I have equity in any creation, for DC or otherwise, that exceeds the artist co-creator. Feel free to quote." And I have. He also posted the following on his Facebook page;

There's a thread going around mistakenly identifying the Huntress as a character on which I have sole equity or finnacial participation because of a misreading of an article in Hollywood Reporter or an accidental miscredit some time back. For the record, I share equally with each of Joe Staton and Bob Layton, my two collaborators on her origin. As far as I can recall, I've never had more equity in any character I created than the artist, whether at DC or elsewhere.
While equal participation for the writer and artist doesn't always represent the actual division of contribution, it seemed a fair default setting when we established the idea of character equity at DC decades ago, and generally seems in line with how copyright treats 'joint works' — creative efforts intended to be merged. Though I'm certainly aware of times when circumstances or negotiations led to different divisions, I continue to believe that in comics' collaborative process this is usually the best deal to do.
And frankly, I take as much pleasure in seeing Joe and Bob get their checks (or later contributors to the Huntress' mythos get non-contractual bonus payments) as I do cashing my own. It delights me that our collective work lives on decades later, and a system I helped build with Jenette Kahn, who initiated it, allows us to benefit from it.

On the same thread, Bob Layton and Joe Staton indicated that everything is fine with them as well. Levitz followed up to say;

One point and one mental exercise: virtually all equity deals are done prospectively, before work on the project begins (as they should be). But work evolves, both as collaborators grow, working methods change, and the tale being told takes its own paths. In my judgement, that's another reason to set equality as the default approach, the closest we can get to philosopher John Rawls 'veil of ignorance' basis for fairness.
A lot of discussion in comics looks retrospectively at who deserved what, and who contributed what to a project or series. Think of the endless debate about Stan and Jack. It's a fair scholarly exercise, but extremely difficult if it's a practical moment.
I used to use the following example to illustrate the challenge: you have a set amount of money, call it a rights fee or a bonus pool. The amount is irrelevant to the exercise, so let's just call it $100. You are in charge of dividing it among the comics creative folks whose work is represented in, say, the first X-MEN movie. Stan, Jack, Chris, Len, Dave, John, who else? There's no one fair answer. (This isn't offered to criticize what Marvel did or may have done, which I don't know, just to show how complicated it gets and using an example that I had nothing to do with.). Have fun.

The finger moves on – and I don't mean Bill Finger.

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About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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