What does it pay to create a superhero like Wolverine or the Punisher? Initially, about $350.
After that, it kind of depends on whether you're working with DC (more generous to artists) or Marvel (less so).
In interviews with TheWrap on Wednesday, Wolverine co-creator Len Wein and Punisher co-creator Gerry Conway said they only received $15 to $20 for each page they wrote of the comic books that debuted their iconic characters.
For years, that was it. Wein said he also recently received a "not unreasonable" check for the new film "The Wolverine." Conway hasn't gotten anything for "The Punisher" films, but Marvel has tried over the years to repay him, he said.
The "X Men" franchise, anchored by Wolverine, has earned more than $1 billion — about $280 million of which came from the Wolverine films. The two Punisher films earned more than $40 million.
"To be fair, the companies are at this point trying to find ways to compensate people," Conway said. "Because of the nature of the way the business was at the time … we knew what we were doing. We didn't think any of this was going to have any legs. We thought the business was going to collapse, to be honest with you."
The two spoke at a Television Critics Association panel in advance of the PBS show "Superheroes: A Neverending Battle," along with "Spawn" creator Todd McFarlane, and, by phone, "Batman" star Adam West.
Wolverine and the Punisher are Marvel Comics characters. DC Comics was more generous with creators, Wein said.
"When I work for DC, anything I create I get a piece of," said Wein. "Lucius Fox, for example, who was in the last trilogy of Batman movies played by Morgan Freeman, bought my new house. At Marvel, I did see a check off 'The Wolverine,' the current film. But as a rule I don't any of the ancillary money off of all of the toys and soaps and shampoos and skateboards and God knows what else that features the character."
Though Wolverine has appeared in six films, Wein was only paid for the latest one because of esoteric rules requiring the film to be named after the character, he said. The rules are strict enough that he wasn't paid for "X Men Origins: Wolverine."
"They sent me a not-unreasonable check for the latest one," he said.
When pressed on the amount, he only that it wouldn't be enough to pay for another house.
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Wein introduced Wolverine with artists John Romita Sr. and Herb Trimpe. The Canadian mutant debuted in "The Incredible Hulk" number 181. Conway created The Punisher with Romita and Ross Andru, and he debuted in "The Amazing Spider-Man" number 129. Both arrived in the same year, 1974, after the Silver Age that produced Spider-Man, The Avengers, and other Marvel icons. It was also the year Wein became Marvel's lead editor.
Payouts to creators have improved in recent years, in part because fans have taken over the industry. Among them are former DC Comics president Paul Levitz, who has tried to track down artists to compensate them for their work. Levitz was the one who persuaded Wein to sign the contract that gives him royalties for Lucius Fox.
"Every time I see Paul Levitz, I kiss him," said Wein.
In the early 1990s, McFarlane launched Image Comics with other artists, in part because Marvel didn't pay them for creating characters. At Image, creators own their creations. Among its biggest successes are McFarlane's "Spawn" and "The Walking Dead."
West provided comic relief to all the talk about underpaid artists. Asked during the panel what was hardest about playing a superhero, he quipped: "Not being one, really."