Sunday, August 19, 2007

Who's the Creator?

On his blog, comics creator Stephen Bissette writes about his pleasure that the illustrator of Neil Gaiman's novel Stardust, Charles Vess, is given credit as co-creator of the source material in the Paramount movie adaptation of the book. He also writes about how movie adaptations of comic books seldom give credit to illustrators; and that the whole concept of giving creators credit for comics has been dodgy at least since Alan Moore insisted that his name be taken off the credits for V for Vendetta and Constantine (and that he receive no money for them).

That got me thinking about the provenance issues for movie adaptations of comic book characters who have been around for decades, and who are the product of diverse hands over the ages.

That isn't a problem with Stardust, since it was a standalone illustrated novel with one writer and one artist. But consider a character such as Marvel's Wolverine. Wolverine apparently originated as a suggestion by editor Roy Thomas, which writer Len Wein developed. The visual design for Wolverine was devised by John Romita. Wein and artist Herb Trimpe then created the first comic-book adventure for the Canadian mutant. Then Wolverine was picked up for the revived X-Men comic; and the cover artists for the first appearance of the New X-Men, Gil Kane, redesigned Wolverine's costume into the look more familiar today. Dave Cockrum illustrated the X-Men issues with Wolverine. Then after an issue and a half, writer Chris Claremont took over. He, more than any other creator before or since, shaped Wolverine's character into the one eventually depicted in the X-Men movies decades later.

So who created Wolverine? Who would you credit in the upcoming Wolverine movie?

Or take Batman. Bob Kane, who devised the original concept for Batman, had a contract with DC for years requiring that he be credited as the creator of the Dark Knight. But writer Bill Finger reportedly devised Batman's look, as well as much of his background; and is credited by most as at least the co-creator of Batman.

But the story does not end there. The Batman who appeared in the 2005 movie BATMAN BEGINS did not step unalloyed out of the character's first 1939 comic book appearance.

In the federal district court opinion, Netzer v. Continuity Graphic Associates, Inc.,
963 F.Supp. 1308 (S.D.N.Y. 1997), Judge Sweet wrote about Neal Adams, "Adams was and is a comic book and commercial artist well known in his field for, among other things, his creation of Batman." That is quite a trick, considering that Adams was born after the first comic book appearance of Batman. Yet, in a way, it is true. Adams is not the creator of Batman, but he is a creator of Batman. His artwork for Batman stories in the late '60's and early '70's, which visually redefined the character, created (in part) the version of the charactor that exists today -- the one depicted in BATMAN BEGINS. (Indeed, according to Adams's Website, Adams received some money from Warner for the movie -- in part, perhaps, because a character Adams indisputably co-created, Ra's al Ghul, is in the movie.) By the same logic, Frank Miller, David Mazzuchelli, Steve Engelhart, Marshall Rogers, Dick Giordano, Denny O'Neil, and several others might be considered "creators" of Batman. Who do you credit?

The creator-credit issue becomes even more complicated when the issue of creation is in dispute. Comics writer Gary Friedrich is currently suing Marvel over the ownership of the character Ghost Rider. Friedrich, who wrote the intial appearances of the supernatural cyclist, contends he created the character and brought him to Marvel. Roy Thomas has written that he came up with the concept of a skull-headed (or masked) cyclist; and artist Mike Ploog added the flames streaming from the character's head. Ploog has stated he doesn't remember who came up with the character. Small wonder that the recent GHOST RIDER movie didn't credit any writer or artist for creating the character. (Unsurprisingly, when Friedrich, Ploog, and Thomas sat together on a Marvel '60's and '70's panel at the Comic-Con last month, the subject of Ghost Rider didn't come up. Instead, Friedrich and Thomas talked fondly of their pre-comic-book days together as ushers in Missouri.)

The first step in deciding whether or how to credit comic book creators of decades-old characters is to answer the question: who are the creators?

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