Public Domain #1: The Trivializing of Comic Creators

Something that could only ever happen in fiction, of course!

As far back as the creation of Superman, comic books have been a disruptive medium, showcasing the hard truths of society and supporting noble causes. Nevertheless, during the past few years, we have seen a shift in the way stories are told. Current comics are more explicit in discussing real-world issues through a non-superhero lens, in a more varied way regarding tone, structure, art styles, and more. It feels like a natural response to the times we are experiencing and shows the importance of using every tool to get a positive message to the public, especially on sensitive topics.

One of the issues that have also gained relevance is corporate greed. It affects the comic book industry directly, in the form of paying the creators their due. Because, currently there are a lot of creations that are making massive profits in other mediums, but because of the initial conditions, the creators are not getting paid. Some recent cases were Ed Brubaker and the Winter Soldier and David Aja and his designs for the Hawkeye show. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. These creators played crucial roles, and because of the conditions agreed, they haven’t been compensated for the current impact of their work.

Public Domain #1 by Chip Zdarsky | Image Comics
Public Domain #1 by Chip Zdarsky | Image Comics

This topic has many layers: there is an economic point of view regarding the conditions reached when the agreement happened, but there is also an ethical and social impact, making it a never-ending discussion. Questions arise: If the movie studio is making, let’s say, 1 billion dollars, shouldn’t the creator get at least 1% for their contributions? An amount that doesn’t affect the studio but massively affects the creator’s household? Should this be treated as charity? As a thank you? How do we quantify this amount? Or, what is equivalent; how do we measure the social impact of high-tier characters such as Superman, Black Panther, or Kamala Khan in the communities they affect, and how does this impact translate into earnings for the creators?

Public Domain is a comic that tackles these issues from the mind of an all-star creator, Chip Zdarsky, who does everything besides edit his work. It is the story of Syd Dallas, an artist who created a famous character, now adapted to the big screen by a big movie studio. Even though he is the creator, the movie studio and the people behind the movie get all the attention. Needless to say, they are the ones making the big bucks. Also, the movie’s protagonist is an actor who doesn’t know the characters and doesn’t care much for them or the comic books. The writer of the comics gets some recognition and credit because he works with the studio and knows how to market himself. But no one cares about the artist behind the idea. That is until, searching through some old files, an assistant discovers that Dallas is the legal owner of the character.

Public Domain #1 by Chip Zdarsky | Image Comics
Public Domain #1 by Chip Zdarsky | Image Comics

This book is a profound analysis of everything going and could continue to go wrong in the modern entertainment superhero world. In its pages, we see the lack of interest from the movie studio in portraying an accurate story. Their only interest is in the money via repeating the winning formula. They don’t care about who created the book or the fans of the comic books. They do not respect nor honor the source. It is just corporate greed. And the viewers and general audience love it.

Most of the people that can realize the problems behind the massive blockbusters are comic book fans because we are the ones that read the comics and know the history, which is the beauty and the horror of it. If we gatekeep and keep comics for ourselves, the creators get ignored by the big media, and we complain because people don’t care for them or the comics. But when they care, we gatekeep and tell them that they only care about the movies and that they are not real fans. It is a vicious circle that only we can help each other escape from. Unfortunately, in a world dominated by capitalism, the best way for the public to make a change is by pressuring the big companies, which is why the audience needs to be aware of these issues. And only comic book fans can get them there.

Public Domain #1 by Chip Zdarsky | Image Comics
Public Domain #1 by Chip Zdarsky | Image Comics

Ironically, I don’t think this book is for new readers because it is based on previous knowledge of the movie industry, superhero movies, and the comic book industry. At least if you want to understand the real struggles behind it. But at the same time, I would love for more people to read this book to take a peek into how comic book creators and fans feel when everyone seems to notice the movies but not the comics. This book is an insightful behind-the-scenes into the industry and the not-so-pretty aspects behind the big cinematic universes.

In conclusion, Chip has done it again. Another hit book. Another banger that, through jokes, satire, and fun characters, delivers a powerful and relevant message. I’m so excited to see where he takes us next because, as this book is inspired by what happens in real life, the possibilities are endless. Hopefully, one day we could see a movie made from this book.

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