Beard: Writer at odds with ‘Gotham’ TV series use of characterWritten by Jim Beard | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Though it doesn’t debut until the fall, the new Batman-related Fox TV series “Gotham” is already mired in controversy over one of its characters.
Veteran comic writer and novelist Alan Brennert, in a July 7 Facebook manifesto of sorts, claims DC Comics and its parent company Warner Bros. refuse to hear his request for equity in a character he co-created for a 1981 Batman story, Barbara Kean, the then-fiancée of the future-Commissioner James Gordon.
Brennert said he was told by a DC representative that the character was “derivative” of the existing Barbara Gordon character – Batgirl – and therefore ineligible for equity royalties. When he cited an example of other creators’ receipt of payment for appearances of their own “derivative” characters in filmed works, he claims the lines of communications with DC went silent and remain so.
It’s also important to note the writer states he’s “not in this for the money, but the principle,” as payments for such use can be less than $45 dollars per usage.
In an exclusive interview with Toledo Free Press, Brennert said DC’s growth over the past few years is behind the treatment he received.
“DC Comics is now DC Entertainment,” he said. “Since the move from New York to Burbank, and the departure of [former DC president] Paul Levitz, they have become much more vertically integrated with Warner Brothers; that’s who’s calling the shots now. And having worked in Hollywood for 36 years, I can assure you that all the protections I enjoy as a screenwriter — residuals, pension and health, recurring character payments — the studios would take away in a minute if it weren’t for the creative guilds. Comic books aren’t unionized, so studios like Warners can take away all these bothersome payments to writers and artists, and they’re starting to do it already with redefinitions of ‘net revenue’ and the like.”
Brennert’s exposure of the practice went viral within hours of his posting, and while he’s pleased that people find the event of importance, he remains both pragmatic about the original impetus behind Barbara Kean’s creation in 1981 and proud of her subsequent expanded role in the mythos by other writers.
“She appeared in one panel,” he said. “No one had ever shown the mother (or in this case, mother-to-be) of Barbara (Batgirl) Gordon and I thought it would be a nice wink at the reader to show that Babs obviously got her beauty, brains and even name from her mother. Comics historian John Wells says that there were two appearances of a (Golden Age) Mrs. Gordon in 1951, and after my story she’s appeared ‘52 times to date since.’ Plus DC retroactively renamed the Golden Age version ‘Barbara’ only six months after my story came out. So that’s very flattering, it’s gratifying to know I came up with a character that has become a part of Batman continuity, and in more than one medium.”
In all, Brennert hopes that the situation may yet be resolved and insists it doesn’t sour him to creating characters for corporations in the future.
“I wrote a handful of comics stories out of love for the characters, but I never made it a livelihood, and for pretty much this reason,” he said. “I prefer to work in TV and film, where I have contractual protections, and novels, where I own my own characters. But not all comics publishers offer the same onerous terms as DC and Marvel, so who knows? Never say never.”