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John Constantine Creators Could Profit From NBC TV Series, But Who Are They?

The Saga of The Swamp Thing 37 John Constantine
DC Comics

Last week it was announced that NBC is developing a new TV series based on the DC Comics character John Constantine, best known as the star of Vertigo perennial Hellblazer. The television project is helmed by writer/executive producers Daniel Cerone and David S. Goyer. It’s a potentially exciting prospect, but it appears that Constantine’s creators may only see a piece of the pie if the show actually goes to broadcast – and the identity of the creators of record who may benefit is somewhat unclear.

Constantine first appeared in Saga of the Swamp Thing #37 in 1985, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Rick Veitch and John Totleben, with a cover by Steve Bissette and Totleben. The character’s design is credited to Bissette, who commented on his Facebook page on Monday, “As of this morning, it appears there will be NO payment to the Constantine creators for this series.”

Bissette’s understanding of the arrangement is that the TV show option is an extension of the option for the 2005 Constantine movie, starring Keanu Reeves in the title role. Bissette went on to say;

This option apparently rolled out of the already-paid-for option for the CONSTANTINE movie in the 1990s. Thus, we’ll only see $$ waaaay down the road, it appears, IF this series makes it to being a series. If it makes money. If it trickles down.

Will update you if/as we learn more.

But we will see $$ from any comics/graphic novels sold from the spillover of interest, FYI.

Hollywood accounting: gotta love it.

In other words, the reason Bissette and any other Constantine creators with a financial stake in the character’s media exploitation won’t see money from the television series development fee is because they were already paid for it. If Bissette is correct, the original rights agreement allowed for a television series such as this, and thus no additional option fees are being paid to anyone, as those rights never reverted. However, as Bissette states, the possibility exists for he and his co-creators to enjoy the rewards of a Constantine TV show should it actually make it to broadcast and become profitable, particularly in the form of royalties from Hellblazer graphic novel sales.

That Bissette will only earn what he’s contractually obliged to is not very revelatory, but what’s interesting is that it’s not entirely clear who is affected by this arrangement. Alan Moore long ago ceased accepting compensation for adaptations of his work for DC. Rick Veitch and John Totleben may also have received compensation from the 2005 movie. Jamie Delano and Garth Ennis, who had influential runs on Hellblazer, were both credited for their contributions to the 2005 movie, possibly because characters they created were featured in the adaptation. Artist John Ridgway also worked on the Hellblazer series at launch, so there may be as many as six or more creators with a stake.

DC has in the past given compensation to creators both to honor contractual commitments and in informal recognition of their contributions, though the latter was a hallmark of former DC president Paul Levitz. Compensation to the owners of John Constantine appears to be based on a formal arrangement, but in this instance it’s based on a contract that already paid out eight years ago. An option is not the same as a sale, and NBC has committed to pay a penalty if it does not air the John Constantine pilot, so there’s a guarantee of more money in here somewhere — it’s just not clear where it’s going.

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