Why Disney+’s ‘Hawkeye’ revived debate about pay for Marvel comic creators

Hawkeye Disney+
Hailee Steinfeld as Kate Bishop in ‘Hawkeye.’ Disney
  • The Disney+ Marvel series “Hawkeye” has sparked conversation about compensation for comic creators.
  • The main issue is around ownership over new characters and stories.
  • Some top creators have signed deals with digital publications because they’ll own their work.

Disney+’s new Marvel series, “Hawkeye,” has sparked renewed conversation about compensation and credit for comic creators whose work inspires popular shows and movies.

The show, which stars Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton/Hawkeye and Hailee Steinfeld as Kate Bishop, is heavily influenced by writer Matt Fraction and artist David Aja’s 2012 “Hawkeye” comic-book series.

Fraction is credited as a consulting producer and Aja received a “special thanks” credit. They will both be compensated for their work in relation to the “Hawkeye” TV series, according to a source with direct knowledge of their agreements. A second source with direct knowledge confirmed Aja would be paid. Fraction didn’t respond to a request for comment from Insider.

Still, despite receiving some payment, Aja still seems to think the industry could do better.

In October, he replied to a tweet with “Stop crediting, start paying.” And on Monday, he replied “totally” to a Twitter user who said, “I wish we lived in a world where all you creators who defined these wonderful characters were compensated fairly for the sweat, blood and tears you put into these stories!”

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A panel from Fraction and Aja’s ‘Hawkeye’ comic series. David Aja/Marvel Comics

Creator compensation at the “big two” comic publishers of Marvel and DC have come under scrutiny this year after stories from The Hollywood Reporter and Guardian.

The stories highlighted some creators’ criticism of work-for-hire contracts that give no ownership to the comic creator. Some creators sign more lucrative deals than others, but they never own any new characters they create or storylines they introduce. 

That dynamic is why some of the industry’s top creators have signed deals with digital publications like the newsletter company Substack and the Amazon-owned digital-comics service Comixology, where they have ownership of what they create.

In August, comic writer James Tynion IV called his Substack offer the best contract he’d “ever been given in a decade as a professional comic book writer.”

Kate Bishop and Hawkeye in Hawkeye
Hailee Steinfeld will play Kate Bishop in the ‘Hawkeye’ series alongside Jeremy Renner. Marvel Studios

Marvel can offer a separate agreement to a comic creator if their original character appears in a show or movie. It’s based on a stipulation in Marvel’s contracts called a “special character” policy, which Insider obtained an example of. But the agreement makes it clear that Marvel, not the creator, decides what is or isn’t a “special character” and that Marvel still owns the rights to the character.

Fraction and Aja didn’t create Clint Barton or Kate Bishop, so they wouldn’t be able to make a “special character” claim on them. (Barton was created in 1964 by Stan Lee and Don Heck, and Bishop in 2005 by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung as part of their “Young Avengers” comic series.)

But the TV series does borrow story ideas and minor characters from Fraction and Aja’s comic, which played a role in their compensation, the source with knowledge of their agreements said.

While some creators may be compensated for shows or movies, plenty of creators still see ownership of their work as more lucrative in the long run.

“We’re seeing that comics are one of the main food groups for the film, TV, and game industries,” said Joe Illidge, a former DC editor and current executive editor at the comics magazine Heavy Metal. “Creators are looking at that and thinking about their future. That future is based in IP ownership.”