The blog 20th Century Danny Boy has a fascinating bit of reading in this post, examining the lawsuit brought in the late 90s by Marv Wolfman against Marvel Comics, trying to claim ownership of the character Blade (amongst others) and seeking $35 million in damages. Marvel called John Byrne as a witness for their side, basically to state that everyone working at Marvel at the time, including Wolfman, knew that they work they were doing was “work for hire,” and thus they didn’t own any of the characters.
Anyway, there’s a lengthy portion of the court transcripts reproduced, with Byrne being questioned by the lawyers for both sides. However, the bit I found very interesting was this part, where under questioning by Wolfman’s lawyer, Byrne divulges how much money he’s made for his various projects:
Q: You have earned over ten million dollars at Marvel?
A: That’s probably fair.
Q: If you had a chance that you would have to create your own character that wouldn’t earn any money and a pre-existing iconic character for which you could earn ten million dollars over 20 years, would it be fair to say you would rather work on a character of someone other than yourself?
A: If we are doing it on money, the largest royalty I have ever received was for Alpha Flight.
Q: During your career, you earned $20 million from others than Alpha Flight?
A: Right. I should point out I did not earn ten million specifically from Marvel. I would say ten million probably in the course of my entire career. I have made four or five million doing the Next Men, which I created to own at Dark Horse.
Q: You worked also at DC on other existing, pre-existing iconic characters?
A: I like working on the iconic characters, if that is what you are going for. Yes.
Q: We don’t dispute that. Between Marvel and DC where you were working, $20 million is a fair assessment?
A: You said ten.
Q: Ten million over 20 years?
A: Ten million over 20 years is probably fair.
Q: How much of that ten million is Marvel? Five or six or seven million?
A: Yes. Well, again, it would be hard to break it down. I made a lot of money doing Superman. That wasn’t for Marvel. I probably made a couple million dollars doing Superman.
Q: Let’s look at Marvel. Five or six or seven million?
A: Five maybe, over the full 25 years of my career, I probably made five.
Did you catch that? He claims to have made $5 million just off his creator-owned work, The Next Men. And a “couple million dollars” for his Superman work.
This also reminds me of Byrne’s deal on Alpha Flight, as explained by former Marvel Editor in Chief, Jim Shooter:
Yes, Byrne made $32,000 in royalties for Alpha Flight #1. I personally handed him the check. I don’t know what a 1% royalty on Alpha Flight is worth. That 1% is the “title creation royalty,” by the way, meaning that even if he is no longer doing any work on the book, he still gets a royalty.
Those were the good ol’ days of comics, when the market was huge and there was plenty of money going around…