Ed Brubaker, the writer responsible for bringing Bucky Barnes back as the Winter Soldier in the comics and a creator so key to Marvel’s 21st Century success that they gave him a cameo appearance in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, is having trouble getting excited for Falcon and the Winter Soldier. The Disney+ series, which stars Sebastian Stan in the role of Bucky and Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson, draws heavily from aspects of Brubaker’s nearly decade-long run as writer of Captain America, but because of the nature of Marvel’s work-for-hire contracts, he isn’t getting any money out of the deal.
This is a common frustration for creators whose stories or characters are adapted to the screen — even moreso at Marvel where their film and TV output has been so prolific and profitable, but many creators say the deals are not as creator-friendly as they are at some other publishers.
“I probably will watch [the show] as some point,” Brubaker told Kevin Smith on the latest episode of the Fatman on Batman podcast with Marc Bernardin. “I’m conflicted about it, because I knew going in it was work for hire, but also when I was writing it they didn’t have their own movie studio and weren’t owned by Disney, so the idea that this character would go on to be a huge franchise where kids would come trick-or-treating at my house dressed as him [seemed unlikely].”
Brubaker said that he appreciates being a part of this character that has made such a pop culture imprint and made so many people happy — singling out the “Stucky” slash fiction fans whose numbers have exploded since the movies started — but he told Smith that he often feels like Marvel is being needlessly disrespectful to comic book talent, and it feels personal.
“I feel a bit conflicted because on the one hand that’s amazing and I never expected that,” Brubaker admitted. “I thought that would be the end of my career and instead it’s this thing that has gone on to become a huge phenomenon. But at the same time, as the years went on, I started to just think, ‘how come we’re not getting anything like this really?’ How can we get like a thanks to, or a credit, but these movies are making billions and billions of dollars, and it feels like we just got a bad deal. I remember sitting there during the third movie and knowing how much…I had actually turned down this tiny little thank-you check because I was like, this is an insult. This is ridiculous. It hurt my feelings, actually. I’m an artist, I write these things, and I was watching that movie and like a third of that movie is a plotline that I wrote for a year in my comic book about Bucky training all these other Winter Soldiers. The whole B plot and a lot of the emotional arc from the movie is something that wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t written these comics, and I was just sitting there and everybody who I knew was in that heater with me. Also I was in the overflow theater by the way of this movie for some reason. That’s another one where it’s like ‘twist the f—ing knife.'”
He said that the movie’s afterparty was another indignity, when he and artist/co-creator Steve Epting had to text Sebastian Stan to be let into the event, after Kevin Feige’s assistant failed to put the pair on the list.
“If I never make a dime off the Winter Soldier, I still have one of the best lives of any comic book writer in the history of the medium,” Brubaker said, trying to keep his frustration in context. I’ve spent the last ten years, fifteen years, writing things that I own completely, and I have a wide enough audience because of doing stuff like Gotham Central and Catwoman, but mainly because of my time Captain America. I wrote Captain America for 8 years and I developed a huge fan base during that time. I launched Criminal, which was my first fully creator owned book when I had just finished doing the death of Cap stories which had sold a million copies and Sean Phillips, my artist, had done Marvel Zombies with Robert Kirkman which had sole like half a million copies. So we were at the biggest our name recognition could ever be and we launched the least commercial…an indie crime comic. And it sold so much that we could continue to do it and that just felt like a victory. But now it’s been 15, 16 years and we’re still doing these books, and that has just steamrolled into its own career to the point where now we’re just going straight to graphic novel. I have this whole library that I’ve been able to do and so much of that wouldn’t have existed if ti wasn’t for the Winter Soldier. So it’s not cut and dried, right?”
Brubaker acknowledged that some of his recent Criminal stories had been inspired by his experiences with corporate comics, saying that he felt like Kevin Smith’s heart attack had “kind of woken up our whole generation” and that around that time, he was saved from drowning, and that for months after that he suffered trauma from the near-death expeirence.
“All I could think was, I’m leaving my wife with nothing. I’m leaving her with debt. I mean, maybe she’ll be able to sell my library to Hollywood or to Robert Kirkman or somebody, to make enough money to pay off our house, but it was like we owed money on this house, I had just finished a TV project that I had spent two years on and was exhausted, and I just thought, we’re doing OK but how was she going to survive after that?” Brubaker said. “How would she pay off the rest of this house and be able to live where she wants to live? That was all I thought was, I gotta get back in; this can’t be it for me….I thought about that, and I was like, it’s ridiculous that being a co-creator of The Winter Soldier, I should not have to be worried about providing for my wife if I die right now….Part of me’s like, I knew what I was getting into, everybody goes through this, but at the same time, I can’t deny that it’s hard for me on a personal level. It actually hurts my feeling sa bit. I said something about it publicly like a month ago because I’d check my public email for my newsletter and there’d be hundreds of people, press and fans, wanting me to talk about the show, ‘aren’t you so excited for the show?’ and I’m like, ‘I might be the only person in America not excited for this show. When I see the ads for the show, it actually makes me kind of sick to my stomach.’ As a company, why would you want that to be the way the creators feel? When I work with people I try to give them the best deal possible, and if something ends up a bigger thing, I try to adjust their deal so that they can enjoy that to. I want everybody to feel like they got a fair deal, and they were treated well. But I see these ads and stuff, and it just kind of hurts a little bit.”