Marvel's 1978 Work For Hire Agreements

You may have seen these documents, or similar ones, elsewhere, but they're worthy of yet another run.  These are the standard forms that Marvel had their creators sign in 1978 in order for them to continue to work for them.  As Neal Adams said at the time, "SIGN THIS DOCUMENT AND YOU’RE SIGNING YOUR LIFE AWAY!"  That didn't stop people from signing though and to understand why people signed is to put yourself back in time to another era.  For the bulk of the people working at Marvel, and DC, were from the Golden Age of comic books.  They'd made good money with steady, solid work, in the 1940s and the early part of the 1950s, only to have the proverbial rug pulled from beneath their feet.  Most wanted to work and, more importantly, they wanted to keep the money coming in.  Depression babies.  They knew what it was like to be poor, so they probably thought that it didn't matter who owned what or what the wording was, if signing the agreement meant more work then so be it.

Both sides were right.  The creators who signed continued to draw a wage, and those who fought for more rights and ownership eventually got what they wanted in the form of creator owned comics and better deals.  It's just that the bulk of those who fought were either financially stable, had contacts elsewhere (advertising and the like) or powerful enough to buck the trend.  It was one thing for Neal Adams to stand his ground, God love him, but it was another for a Jim Mooney or a Mike Esposito to do the same - Jim and Mike didn't have the same clout as Neal.  It was one thing for Neal to tell people to fight, some could and some couldn't.  And for some, such as Mike, they'd been burnt once when they tried a similar thing, to form a union of artists, and as such they were reluctant to back such a move again.  And during all of this the agreements were quietly signed, some with a bit of pressure from editors ("Hey, don't sign, no big deal, we have other artists waiting outside who want the work,") and some because they knew that it was a battle that they couldn't win.

That didn't make it right though, but it doesn't lessen any respect I have for anyone who did, or didn't, sign the agreements.


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