Gerry Conway is possibly one of the most prolific creators in DC’s long history. With the notable exception of writers/editors such as Carmine Infantino, who was responsible for the bulk of the Silver Age movement at the company, Conway has contributed more to the source material responsible for DC’s recent run of television success than any other single writer.
Among his many creations are Cisco “Vibe” Ramon, Felicity Smoak, Caitlin “Killer Frost” Snow, Count Vertigo, and Firestorm. And these are just the characters who are already on TV in either Arrow or Flash. Conway is equally responsible for Vixen, Power Girl, Killer Croc, and Jason Todd.
Today in a blog post on his own site, Conway took DC Entertainment to task for its denial of equity in those characters, a practice established under the regime of the now-departed Paul Levitz.
“According to DC, Sterling Gates and Derlis Santacruz didn’t create Caitlin Snow. Don Newton and I didn’t create Jason Todd. Ric Estrada and I didn’t create Power Girl. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster didn’t create Superboy. Bob Kanigher and Carmine Infantino didn’t create Barry Allen.
These characters just appeared out of nowhere.
But the money for their exploitation goes directly into DC’s bank account.”
With Levitz gone, DC Entertainment President Diane Nelson has chosen to utilize what Conway calls “a marvelous catch-22 that allows them to cheat creators” by declaring characters to be derivative rather than original creations. Power Girl is derivative of Superman, the Caitlin Snow Killer Frost is derivative of the original Crystal Frost, et cetera, et cetera. This means that creators of these characters see no ancillary benefits when they make their way to the silver or small screens, effectively cutting them off from the most popular and well-known versions of their creations.
The major exception to this, at least in Conway’s case, is Firestorm. When asked about the situation with the rights surrounding Ronnie Raymond and Professor Stein, Conway told Capeless that “[the] agreement predates this”, meaning that he will see some residual benefit as the character makes his way into the planned spin-off from Flash.
What this means in terms of the larger picture for the Big Two is that creators will be reluctant to produce original characters while working under their mastheads. The effects of this creative brain drain are already being felt around the industry, as more and more creators flock to independent publishers such as Image Comics, which allow them to retain ownership of their creations and profit from their use across media platforms.
Why would a creator working in today’s comic book market, with it’s steadily growing revenues and public awareness, relinquish the rights to their best ideas in exchange for the marketing push and connectivity offered by operating in one of the Big Two’s universes? Simply put, they wouldn’t.
In a 2013 interview with ComicBookResources, Conway told Jeff Robbins “I think that’s partly why the two main companies, for the last 20 years, haven’t created anything new. Because people aren’t stupid.”
As it’s Tuesday, fans of the CW’s Flash will be flocking to their television sets to take in the latest adventures of the Scarlet Speedster and his trusty companions. As they do, they would be well advised to remember that the minds which brought the characters to life receive nothing for their efforts, no matter how much success their televised incarnations enjoy.