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Creation Stories

"X-Men: Appropriation": The Case For Better Comic Book Artist/Film Studio Relations

Artist Bill Sienkiewicz explains his social media rant on his missing art credit, and why studios need to do more to embrace comic creators.

"X-Men: Appropriation": The Case For Better Comic Book Artist/Film Studio Relations

X-Men: Apocalypse, 2016

[Photo: courtesy of 20th Century Fox]

Veteran comic illustrator Bill Sienkiewicz was accustomed to seeing his works-for-hire reused without compensation. But a Hollywood studio using his image for publicity purposes without credit, notification, or a cross-promotional offering was the last straw.

For a San Diego Comic-Con campaign, 20th Century Fox adapted Sienkiewicz’s 1983 image from Marvel's Dazzler No. 29 into an album cover for a Taylor Swift song giveaway for attendees preordering an X-Men: Apocalypse digital release, which comes out in fall. (The promotion nodded to its use as an album cover in a scene that, ironically, never made the final cut, but that star Sophie Turner teased on Twitter.)

Sienkiewicz—known for New Mutants, Elecktra: Assassin, and his graphic novel Stray Toasters—only learned of the promotion when fans recognizing his work approached his booth for signatures. That’s when he became irate.

Sienkiewicz vented his anger on Facebook and Twitter, prompting several articles in the comic and entertainment industry press.

"I received no prior notification (a common courtesy), no thank you (ditto), no written credit . . . on the piece or in connection with the premium, absolutely no compensation, and no comp copies of the album," he wrote. "Do I have the right [to] expect decent treatment and some kind of . . . acknowledgment?"

Marvel's Dazzler No. 29

Here, he tells Co.Create that his outburst was less about complaining than highlighting the lack of credit he and many comic creators get from the studios. For example, Newsarama noted that X-Men: Apocalypse failed to credit Louise Simonson, the Apocalypse character cocreator (with Jackson Guice), who told New York Magazine she also wasn’t invited to an advance screening of the film's May release.

Bill Sienkiewicz

Sienkiewicz adds that such oversights often lead to missed marketing opportunities for artist-studio partnerships that could make money, increase movie buzz, and foster goodwill among fans frustrated with film interpretations of their favorite comics.

"Neither Fox nor Marvel did anything legally wrong," he says. "This points to relationships with the creative comics community, which could be improved. This artwork went from being a movie prop to a premium promotional item at Comic-Con; that crossed the line for me.

"The marketing idea was a good one," he adds. "But they could have generated more goodwill and revenue doing a cross-promotional venture instead of a poor quality reprint that looked like it was pulled from a thumbnail online. They could have paid me to do a higher-res version to sell, an image of Taylor Swift on the cover, or touch this one up. They could have given me copies to sell at my booth. In essence, they’re not optimizing their creative resources."

Even fans were suggesting similar cross-pollination.

"I did this piece in the 1980s as a work-for-hire, so I know I’m not going to get any money from this," he adds. "But not even offering credit is just blatant disregard. I’m not the Jack Kirby or Bill Finger estates, but I’m well known enough to be in a position to speak on behalf of other creators who have had similar experiences, but are afraid to speak out for fear of reprisal."

Fox could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, Sienkiewicz's posts have struck a chord with colleagues, who have been weighing in on the thread. "Pointing out things like this makes people aware, and hopefully the right people, and then things hopefully change in the process," commented Jimmy Palmiotti, who’s currently writing DC Rebirth’s Harley Quinn with his artist wife, Amanda Conner, with Sienkiewicz on covers.

X-Men: Apocalypse, 2016

"Things like this happen all the time and over time, less and less," he adds. "The Marvel and DC movies have been doing a great job of including creators in the credits and thank-yous, and this all had to start somewhere. With this album art, I am thinking now that Fox is aware of this, they will hopefully step up to the plate with Bill…and in the future be more careful about what they use and the credits given. With so much comic material being used these days, it’s been a slow learning process but I feel things will be getting better."

Sienkiewicz agrees. "If enough creators and fans bring it to the studios' attention, maybe they’ll realize we can be part of the team from creating the source material through the final marketing."

[UPDATE: Sienkiewicz said that April Carretta, SVP global communications, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, contacted him Aug. 2 to acknowledge his concerns and send him copies of the Dazzler print.]

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