The Comics Journal has a pretty cool article concerning David Mazzucchelli, artist for the landmark Batman: Year One comic book series, and his struggle for quality control over his artwork for DC Comics – artwork he created under ‘work for hire’ contractual agreements, I suspect.
‘Work for hire’ is a contract used for freelance illustrators which effectively signs away any rights they might have over the artwork they create with company-owned properties.
DC Comics, a division of Warner Brothers, is repackaging the Year One series without working with Mazzucchelli, and he’s understandably frustrated at the quality:
“DC just sent me this book last week, and I really hope people don’t buy it. I didn’t even know they were making it, and I don’t understand why they thought it was necessary — several years ago, DC asked me if I’d help put together a deluxe edition of Batman: Year One, and Dale Crain and I worked for months to try to make a definitive version. Now whoever’s in charge has thrown all that work in the garbage.”
A few points on this, as an outsider (‘outsider’ being the operative word):
- DC is in no way obligated to Mazzucchelli on a corporate level, given the contracts involved in the agreement, even though he produced truly amazing work for the series and obviously wants to retain the dignity, the integrity of his work.
- DC should politically engender themselves to work with Mazzucchelli to ensure quality control standards are in place with the artist intimate to the project.
- This is a management challenge regardless of the legalities – corporate mentality operating squarely within the purview of a creative environment or, if you like, a corporate environment working under the constraints of a creative field.
- I don’t believe Mazzucchelli has control issues in this situation. He has quality control concerns. I also believe that’s an important distinction to make.
As an artist, I empathize with Mazzucchelli, but I don’t feel it’s good form to go on record against your employer. That’s compounding a disservice with another disservice. First, I’d assume Mazzucchelli would get royalties off the sales, so it’s a little bit self-destructive biting the hand that feeds. Second, doing so quite possibly kills any chances of getting further work (which he may not care about).
A better approach to this might have been to say ‘I was uninvolved with this project’ while aiming the conversation directly at the previous version on which he did have some creative control.
It’s an honest, more respectful compromise. Mazzucchelli wins. DC wins. Comic fans win.