Document Type



Intellectual Property Law


Before Superman first made the world believe a man can fly or Captain America greeted Hitler with a punch to the face, comic book publishers sought to exercise command over all the characters and stories that writers and artists put to paper. Until recently, this one-sided industry culture regarding ownership—reinforced by decades of court rulings in publishers’ favor—left creators with few avenues by which to retain control of their art. The legal norms that enforced creators’ subservient position in the comic book copyright ecosystem drove these authors to seek out and construct alternative systemsfrom which they could realize the benefits of ownership.

This Note first shows that creators’ resistance to copyright inequity has been the chief factor driving innovations in the comic book industry over the past eighty years. Where creators were once almost entirely dependent on major publishers for work, the alternative systems developed in response to this inequity have enabled writers and artists to negotiate with publishers on equal footing and often from a position of power. The Note then weighs the benefits and drawbacks of modern routes available for publishing creator-owned comics, with a focus on the frontier of Substack newsletters’ noncopyright system, which for the first time offers some creators the “industry-changing” opportunity to receive up-front payment while also retaining ownership of their works.