By Jennifer Harman

With debate still raging over whether it’s time to pronounce traditional-print newspapers as “dead,”  you might be surprised to learn that paper-based comic books are still doing fairly well for themselves. North America’s estimated overall comic book market size rose from approximately $320 million in 1997 to $680 million in 2010, with the average cost of a comic book rising from $2.62 a book to $3.58.

In 2008, comic book giants Marvel and DC Comics took in a total 70 percent of comic book retail sales, with Dark Horse bringing up the rear at 6.5 percent. Movies like Superman Returns and Iron Man help to fan the flames of nerdom that keep comic books a wanted commodity. As long as Time Warner and Disney can find heroes to make movies out of, it’s safe to say that comic books are here to stay. Like newspapers, however, comic books are finding competition on the internet: Webcomics.

He's pink. He's boneless. He's a cartoon cat with a cult following.

Webcomics are like a bizarre cousin to the comic book. Unlike comic books, which require a team of artists, writers, editors and a publisher, any Joe Schmoe with an idea, a modem and MsPaint can craft a webcomic for all the world to see. There are literally thousands of webcomics available on the internet, some more popular than others. What’s more, almost all webcomics are free. This, of course, begs the question: How do webcomics make money?

The short answer is simple: Most don’t.

It’s pretty difficult to commodify something that is solely-Internet based, so webcomics get creative. Unlike comic books, which are a commodity in and of themselves, webcomics rely on their fan base for money.

Webcomic revenue can come in the form of donations, where generous readers donate to the noble cause of supporting their favorite webcomic artists. It’s not a very reliable way to earn revenue, so comics like SMBC develop campaigns to reward readers for donating.

Other means of making money involve selling ad space on the comic’s webpage. Every click on an advertisement nets money for said comic. Interesting to note, retailers get much more out of that relationship than the comic does. Even though most readers will never click one of the online ads, studies have shown that simply seeing it on the page influences their decision to purchase the product. Scary.

That same boneless cat. Commodified.

Merchandising is one of the more lucrative means of making money for a webcomic. Just as with comic books, notable webcomic characters and quotes can become plushies, t-shirts, coffee mugs… even belts. Webcomic artists who draft their work by hand will sometimes sell the original prints. And if they’re lucky, the better webcomics even get published, turning them into a shiny, new physical commodity.

Sadly, it won’t be long before product placement becomes another viable source of income for webcomics. (Some are already embracing it.) The webcomic PvP, which partnered with Wizards of the Coast for funding, may have set the standard for webcomic product placement deals. The hope is that webcomics remain open and transparent about their relationships with these corporations, though that’s iffy.

In the end, as with other internet media, the viewers are the real commodity.

On The Media

USA Today

Warner Bros.

Iron Man movie – Marvel

Comic Rank

SMBC Donate Page

Something*Positive

AOL News

Least I Could Do

Comics Alliance

PvPonline

Wizards of the Coast

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By Jennifer Harman

With all his merchandise, his movies, his comic books and his television cameos, the character Superman is essentially a cash cow. Partially owned by DC Comics, which is owned by Warner Bros., which, in turn, is owned by Time Warner, Superman is just a drop in the bucket. Time Warner, for those who’ve never heard of it, is the largest media corporation in the world. As part of the “big six,” the multi-billion dollar corporation competes directly with the other five large media corporations, which include Disney and Viacom. If you want to get a better grasp of who-owns-what characters, check out this nifty link, (thanks to Food Stamp for pointing me to it).

Time Warner is a complicated business. Although the company deals in media and electronic entertainment, it’s still incredibly diversified. Time Warner owns HBO, Turner Broadcasting System, Warner Bros. Entertainment, Time Inc., Time Warner Investment Group and Time Warner Global Media Group, all of which have their own subsidiaries.

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A sampling of what this corporation controls.

Because nothing is ever simple with large corporations, Time Warner does NOT own Time Warner Cable. Although originally controlled by Time Warner, Time Warner Cable spun out in 2009 and is now its own company.  The split, as the company’s site claims, was to help Time Warner “become a more streamlined portfolio of businesses focused on creating, packaging and distributing branded content,” to give both companies greater flexibility in decision making processes and grant investors greater choices when they’re deciding whether to invest in the companies’ stock. It probably helped that Time Warner Cable paid more than 10 dollars a share for the split, netting Time Warner $9.25 billion. That’s right. $9.25 billion is what it costs to divorce from that large of a company.

(Going off on a tanget here– I was rather peeved by the amount of effort it took to research Time Warner, simply because “Time Warner Cable” seems to be more frequently in the news. Apparently, neither company saw benefit in a name change. I disagree.)

Time Warner is a big fan of these spin-outs, as it also did the same thing with AOL in 2009. With so much back-and-forth in terms of owning and then not owning a company, it’s a wonder that Time Warner is also able to keep up with its plethora of media commodities and intellectual property.

Take Happy Birthday, which is owned by one of Time Warner’s subsidiaries, Warner Chappell. Singing this simple little ditty for commercial purposes can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $30,000 in royalties. These royalties net the company almost $2 million a year and not even the Girl Scouts are immune to these charges. This, mind you, is for a song that a school child might have written, and that Time Warner certainly didn’t. The rule of corporate personhood gives Time Warner the rights to drag your butt to court for ignoring their ownership and copyright rules.

If corporations are human, (an idea I find appalling) then I’d like to argue that Time Warner’s a little more than that. With all the strength and influence this company wields, it’s its own terrifying Superman.

Time Warner (Stakeholder Letter)

New York Times

UMKC

Snopes

ABC News

Food Stamp

Myths and Legends/owners

Happy Birthday

New York Times

Time Warner

Time Warner Cable

Teleprison

 Columbia Journalism Review

By Jennifer Harman

When in my previous posts, I mentioned that DC owns Superman, I glossed briefly over the idea that there was more to the story. DC owns the name, “Superman” and some of his trademarks. Sort of. Because, actually, it’s complicated. Really complicated.

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This belongs to DC.

As recently as 2008, DC was involved in a rather serious copyright battle with the descendants of the Siegel family. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were the joint creators of the great and glorious superhero. This fight has lasted longer than 70 years and isn’t quite finished.

Back in 1938, Siegel and Shuster sold the copyright rights to Superman for just $130 dollars. In the over 70 years since then, DC has made millions on its bullet-deflecting superhero. This includes money from the movies, the comics, the merchandise, the television shows, the licensing rights and the copyright infringement lawsuits.

The great copyright battle began in 1947 when Siegel and Shuster, incensed by the fact that they were earning a mere $100,000 a year as opposed to the millions of dollars DC was raking in, hired a lawyer to sue for greater rights to the Superman character. The court ruled against them and the duo subsequently lost their jobs at DC. Shocking.

In the 1960s, the copyright license to Superman expired, and Superman’s determined creators once again drug DC to court, attempting to regain their rights to the character. Once again, the court ruled that the rights belonged to DC.

In 1976, a new copyright law was passed that finally turned the copyright tide in the Siegel family favor (Shuster has no descendants by this point.) The Copyright Act of 1976 had a termination provision that allowed an author (or his descendants) to renegotiate the assignment of copyrights for any work produced prior to 1978. Essentially, the provision was designed so that an author might be paid proportionately to what their work was worth, after the work became a commercial success.

In 1996, the Siegel family petitioned to terminate DC’s rights to the Superman character. This time, the court ruled in their favor.

Because Time Warner owns both DC and Warner Bros., DC tends to sell its movie rights to Warner Bros. as opposed to other companies. This sort of vertical integration usually benefits Time Warner, except in the case of Superman, where it served to add one more complication to the insanity that is the Superman copyright battle. Time Warner argued that the Siegel and Shuster families are owed a portion of the profits DC made off of the Superman movies, (licensed to Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.) and not any of the profits made by Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. off the same movies (remember, both companies are part of Time Warner).

In this instance, while Time Warner would have received profits from both companies, Siegel estates would earn profits from just DC. This time, the court ruled against Time Warner.

So now who owns what?

The Siegel and Shuster estates own the original copyright from Action Comics #1 (the first comic Superman appeared in). This includes, among other things, his character, his costume, his Kryptonian backstory and his love affair with Lois Lane.

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Why yes, you CAN put a price on love.

Conversely, DC owns anything that occurred after that point: Lex Luthor, various Superman trademarks and all profits earned from the foreign market belong to DC.

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Quick check: Is it in English? No? Belongs to DC.

In 2013, thanks to another copyright extension, Superman will fall under the total control of the Shuster and Siegel estates. Can’t wait to see how that goes.

The New York Times

Great Krypton

Geeks Are Sexy

Hahn Loeser Parks

Film Esq.

Variety

Comic Book Resources

By Jennifer Harman

In my last post, I mentioned the creation of the world’s first superhero: Superman. Dreamt up by teenagers Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the Man of Steel’s super powers include superstrength, flight, x-ray vision and making money.

In 1966, DC sold almost 720,000 comic books about the Kryptonian hero. With the advance of technology, comic book sales have declined drastically, but Superman is still providing DC (a division of Time Warner) with plenty of the green stuff (and I don’t mean Kryptonite).

The first Superman movie, (there have been several) raked in over $7 million opening weekend in December 1978. It belongs to Warner Bros., which is yet another subsidiary of Time Warner.

Christopher Reeve as Superman (1978)

Superman Returns, which hit the big screen in 2006, netted nearly 53 million dollars in its opening weekend.

Warner Bros. is also responsible for Smallville, a CW television series that started in 2001 and tracks Superman’s teenage life. CW, by the way, is a joint venture between Warner Bros. and CBS. CBS is owned by one of Time Warner’s major competitors: Viacom.

And that’s just the beginning. Superman’s company is capable of amazing synergy. In 2009, they partnered with Adidas to produce the Superman shoe. DC also partnered with the New Era cap company to create Superman hats.

You want these kicks.

That’s just a sampling of the sort of synergy and collaboration tied to the Man of Steel. There is a wide variety of Superman merchandise available, all of which has to give DC a share of the profit.

Looking at all the ways Superman has been commodified, it could be argued that DC’s superpower is the power of copyright law. Unfortunately for the company, Jerry Siegel’s heirs are equally empowered. It’s been determined that DC has only 50 percent control of the Superman copyright and DC is likely to lose it all in the next few years.

With another rumored Superman movie already in the works, it’ll be interesting to watch DC scramble to rake in some more profit before it has to hand over the reins.

Enter The Story

Time Warner

IMDB

Warner Bros.

CW Television

Viacom

Newsarama

Sample Sales Shop

Comic Book Resources

DC

By Jennifer Harman

Most comic historians agree that true comics began in the 1900s. This isn’t to say that there weren’t comics before then, just that they didn’t really develop their following until 1865, when one of the first comics, called Hogan’s Alley, found its way into the New York World newspaper.  Once started, comics caught on quick, finding their way into newspapers across the country. The first comic book was published in 1933. And in June 1938, two teenage boys, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, created the world’s very first superhero: Superman.

One of the original comic book covers.

Comics have come a long way since our Man of Steel was first introduced. For the past fifty years, two major publishers have dominated the American Comic book industry: DC and Marvel. DC, which claims Superman as one of its properties, is the smaller of the two. It’s now owned by one of the six big media corporations, Time Warner. Time Warner, (which boasts a diversified group of assets that include HBO, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network and others) utilized its impressive synergy skills to orchestrate Superman’s transformation from THIS: To THIS: The Superman character has been in a multitude of movies and television shows. He was even a member of The Justice League, which aired on Time Warner’s very own Cartoon Network. Time Warner, which boasted a whopping 32,000 world-wide employees this time last year, competes head-to-head with Disney‘s Marvel, for the biggest slice of the comic character pie. The Walt Disney Company is the largest media corporation in the world and the DC/Marvel battle is Internet-famous.

A quick Google search nets tons of “Marvel versus DC” webpages, which pit character against character, storyline against storyline and nerd against nerd. The best, of course, are the YouTube fan-vids. This one was made when X-men Origins (a Disney Marvel production) and DC’s The Watchmen came out around the same time. It starts to really paint a picture of the companies’ rivalry at :55 (the rest of the video isn’t that great, sadly.) Interestingly, theyrule.net grants the two companies only two degrees of separation. John E. Bryson, from The Walt Disney Company’s board of directors and Lisa Barry, on Time Warner’s board of directors are both also on Boeing’s board of directors. This might explain how we get comic-book crossovers like the one below. Oh, and a quick glance over Disney’s legal notices page shows that it is absolutely swamped with obnoxious little ©’s and ®’s. Just to warn anyone thinking of making their own crossovers, the Walt Disney Company takes copyright pretty seriously.

A Brief History of Comic Books – By John Petty

DC

DC Database (Wikia)

Mike’s Amazing World of DC Comics

Time Warner

Marvel

Disney

Metropolis Plus

Columbia Journalism Review

The Legality

They Rule