Marvel's history of not paying artists explored: Moon Knight artist reveals he hasn't been paid for Mr. Knight's MCU appearance

Marvel Comics (Image via Education Images/Universal Images/Getty Images)
Marvel Comics (Image via Education Images/Universal Images/Getty Images)

On February 12, Empire published an exclusive image of Mr. Knight in the upcoming Moon Knight Marvel X Disney+ series. Following the first look at the alternate iteration of the vigilante, the artist who designed the character reacted to the live-action adaptation of Mr. Knight.

Comic book artist Declan Shalvey took to his Twitter to express his enthusiasm about Mr. Knight's appearance on the show. He even labeled the feeling as "surreal."

However, when fans commented on him receiving payment for Mr. Knight's on-screen arrival, Shalvey insinuated that he had not received any compensation for the show's usage of the character.

Hello Mr. Knight…Seriously, this is NUTS. I drew something out of my brain, and now it’s a real thing in a TV show…?Such a surreal feeling… I can’t quite describe it.#MoonKnight #MrKnight

In his reply to a fan, the Irish comic book artist said that he expects some form of credit on the show for the character design but does not expect any further compensation from the studio. Shalvey added that receiving payment for Mr. Knight's on-screen appearance in Moon Knight "would be nice."

@wandaskory Stop crediting JUST writers, mostly when the visual tribute is… just that, straight based on @davaja cover. Comics are a team work

Marvel Studios has faced a lot of backlash from divided fans for unfairly compensating the creators for their characters' appearance in MCU properties. The debate on whether comic book writers and designers should get payments for their characters or storylines used on-screen projects began in 2009.

At the time, renowned comic book artist and writer Jack Kirby's estate filed a lawsuit to terminate 45 of his comic books. However, Marvel won the case as the comic stories and designs were commissioned under "work made for hire."

Last year, a report from The Guardian suggested that any artist or writer whose work from the comics is utilized heavily in any MCU project only gets $5,000 in compensation. The compensation is accompanied by an invitation to the premiere of the project.

Aligning with this, in March 2021, the co-creator of Winter Soldier, Ed Brubaker, revealed that he and Steve Epstein (the other co-creator) only received "thanks" for their work. The artist insinuated that he was not paid for the Winter Soldier's involvement in the Disney+ MCU show, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. He wrote:

"...for the most part, all Steve Epting and I have gotten for creating the Winter Soldier, and his storyline is a "thanks" here or there."

Later, while speaking to Kevin Smith and Marc Bernardin's Fatman Beyond podcast, Brubaker said that he was paid more for his cameo in 2014's Captain America: The Winter Soldier than for actually co-creating the character.

Meanwhile, in October last year, Hawkeye's Disney+ show was teased. The show was heavily based on Matt Fraction's Hawkeye comic run, with artworks from David Aja. When the first poster for the series was released, it was clear that it was based on Aja's cover for the comic series. At the time, Aja took to his Twitter and jokingly tweeted:

"...Stop crediting, start paying, haha."
@Bruno_Redondo_F Even better: Stop crediting, start paying, haha.

The legal explanation for Marvel's lack of compensation


Most of the work done by artists and authors for Marvel Comics can be termed as "work made for hire." While in regular circumstances, the work's creator gets the copyrights over its usage, in cases of "work made for hire," the rights are generally owned by the employer.

In the late 2000s, Kirby's estate lost the case as the "Copyright Termination right" clause of the artist did not apply for "work made for hire."

However, the Copyright Revision Act of 1976 states that the rights of the work would revert to the original artist or author after 60 years. Last year, multiple artists sued Marvel Comics under the act and claimed ownership of their characters. The group included artists like Larry Lieber and the estates of Steve Ditko, Don Heck, Don Rico, and Gene Colan.

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Edited by Prem Deshpande
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