Comic-Con: Creators’ Contracts and Controlling IP Focus of Zestworld Panel

“The guy that delivers lunch makes more money on the movie than we do,” said writer and artist Jimmy Palmiotti, summing up the situation of comic book creators signing Hollywood deals that pay them little while corporations rake in billions.

 The topic of creators getting a share of what they create was front and center Friday at Comic-Con during a panel titled “The Importance of Comic Creators Owning Their Own IP.”

The topic is very current, as earlier in the week The Hollywood Reporter exposed the very lopsided contracts writers and artists face when seeing the characters they create end up on screen.

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“Comics produce some of the biggest franchises, and we’re not seeing creators participating at the level that they should,” said Chris Giliberti, the CEO and co-founder of upstart digital comics platform Zestworld, which hosted the panel.

Headlining the panel were Palmiotti and Amanda Conner, who are known for their DC work such as Harley Quinn as well Phil Jimenez, known for his Wonder Woman work, Creed screenwriter Aaron Covington and Selena: The Series showrunner Moisés Zamora.

 Zestworld is working in what it sees are the three main comic creator streams: publishing, art and commissions, and IP rights and Hollywood adaptations. The 1-year old company launched its webcomics in the spring featuring new work by seasoned creators such as Palmiotti, Connor and Jimenez. Commissions was launched several weeks ago, while the IP tool is brand new.

The company, which lets the creators hold on to the rights of their comics, is hoping to help writers and artists make better Hollywood deals and even generate deal flow.

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“I wish I could go back 20 years and slap myself for an hour because I did some stupid deals,” said Palmiotti, whose co-creation Painkiller Jane was turned into a Syfy series.

Connor and Palmiotti, who have long worked for DC, admitted they eventually began holding back creating characters because of unfair compensation.

“A lot of times we were kicking ourselves and going, ‘Ah I wish we didn’t give that one away,’” said Connor. “We’re a lot more careful now.”

Creators pulling back is the reason readers see heroes facing off the same villains over and over again. Nobody wants to author new persons, said Palmiotti.

“Current contracts don’t compensate us. There is nothing worse than seeing a movie make a billion dollars and you get a check for 10 grand,” he said.

Jimenez, who will be launching his series Otherworlds for the platform, said no one is holding back when working on characters that are part of them: “What is lovely about a form like this is you get us at our most excited.”

Of course, with webcomics that use the scrolling method of reading popularized by one of the form’s largest purveyors, Webtoon, the generation of writers and artists who learned their craft making traditional print comics have adjustments to make.

“I have to relearn how to do storytelling and pacing,” said Connor. “It’s like art school all over again for me.”

Jimenez agreed the new form was fueling his creative juices. After being in the business for so long, the idea of learning a new format is exciting.”

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