Most of the time, artists dote on their work like a parent to a child. They care for them and defend them whenever some asshole tells them they’re shitty.
Other times, the art dicks them over like Macaulay Culkin suing the pants off mom and dad. And it’s not such an uncommon occurance, but to list every major example would mean this would never get published. So here are just eight, whether the artist was left penniless or they left a legacy they didn’t even want.
1. Bill Finger, ‘Batman creator’, gets the finger by DC and Bob Kane
Watch any Batman movie and you will see “Batman Created by Bob Kane” every time. And it’s BS, because Bob Kane made squat.
From tracing other comics strips to ratting out the creators of Superman from suing DC (more on that later), Bob Kane’s only real input into the Batman character was some vague superhero with bat wings. Literally anything else we know about Batman — the slick car, the gadgets — was all the work of Bill Finger, a freelance writer Kane sought help from. And when it came time to give Bill Finger the credit he deserved, Bob Kane gave him the finger. Presumably while laughing like The Joker (who Bob Kane also stole from Finger).
In 1974, Bill Finger died in poverty in New York. He was believed to have been buried in a potter’s field, and thankfully he wasn’t. But being buried anonymously and thinking that’s plausible for Bill Finger proves just how much Kane was an egomaniacal villain.
2. Bill Mantlo’s Rocket Raccoon Gets Voiced by Bradley Cooper, He Gets Brain Damage and Insurance Bills
Bill Mantlo came up with the idea of a hot-headed space raccoon that likes to shoot things, and that movie made $700 million worldwide last year. So of course he’s living a life of luxury until he passes with grace and dignity, right?
Absolutely not. After a prolific career in comics, the world thanked Mantlo for his contributions to pop culture with a hit-and-run crash in 1992 that left him permanent brain damage. His condition worsened over the years and his insurance company advised him to take on long-term care — which they just so happened to not cover. He was forced to sell his assets just to get on Medicaid, and Marvel’s residuals for using his characters was (disputably) insulting.
But Marvel has softened, and even gave Mantlo an early screening of Guardians of the Galaxy, which he described as “the best day of my life.”
3. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster Are Super-Screwed Out of Superman
It’s almost amazing: these movies can make hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office but the artists who created them in the first place can die broke. There is an entire charity devoted to helping comic book artists and writers, The Hero Initiative. When a charity is needed to help a whole industry age with dignity, something isn’t right.
Just because we don’t want to fill this list with too many comics: Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the creators of Superman, arguably the greatest comic book creation of all time, got dicked over hard. They got raw ends of every deal made with DC and later Warner Bros, and had to fight to get their names credited in the 1978 Superman starring Christopher Reeves. Even after their passing, their family is still feeling it.
4. TLC Chased Waterfalls, Declared Bankruptcy
Does it get any more clear than that moment at the 1996 Grammys? The conflict between TLC and their labels have become the stuff of legend, the kind that just creates E! True Hollywood Stories by itself. But it’s still staggering how selling 11 million copies and making $75 million off a record can still lead a pop group to filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy just a year later.
5. Winnie the Pooh Poo’d All Over A.A. Milne’s Career
Prior to writing Winnie-the-Pooh, full of characters that now gross countless millions for parent company Disney, writer A.A. Milne was a serious playwright and essayist. He was more interested in mysteries, detective thrillers, and even condemning essays against the great wars of his time. But he wrote Winnie-the-Pooh for his kid, actually named Christopher Robin, as a kind of one-time deal before hoping to move on.
And the world said “Nope.” After struggling to change his satire publication Punch into something more legit and earning recognition as a playwright, Milne hoped to write what he wanted. But he was coerced to keep writing Winnie-the-Pooh and grew to resent the stuffed bastard. As did his own kid the books were written for, Christopher Robin, who was teased in school with the little shits reciting book verses at his face.
6. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Turtle Power’d Over Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird
Yes, comics again. But this time, the artists got so successful, they weren’t allowed to do anything else.
In the early ‘80s, two writers named Kevin Eastman and Peter Laid were goofing off in a brainstorming session when one of them drew a turtle dressed like a ninja. Using money from a tax refund, they self-published a book featuring more of these goofs. It sold like crazy.
As Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles skyrocketed, their creative freedoms with it came spiraling down. Originally a bloody satire targeted for older readers, its merchandising deals with Playmates Toys, Inc. exploited the creations into the massively popular cartoon that has followed a generation of nerds into their thirties and forties.
Their work on Ninja Turtles overwhelmed the creators so much. In a 1993 interview with Comic Book Rebels, Peter Laird said he discovered he “no longer enjoyed drawing. It was a real shock, because if I ever had anything that I could rely on… it was that I loved to draw.”
7. Warrant Does Not Want a Bite out of “Cherry Pie”
First written on a pizza box that is now on display at a Hard Rock Cafe in Florida, “Cherry Pie” is one of Warrant’s biggest, most iconic hits and has become a staple in dingy truck-stop strip clubs across the world.
But the band felt that “Cherry Pie” overshadowed the rest of Cherry Pie, the album, which they didn’t want to name “Cherry Pie” in the first place. In a 2006 interview with VH1, Warrant lead Jani Lane said, “All of a sudden the album’s called ‘Cherry Pie,’ I’m doing cherry pie eating contests, the single’s ‘Cherry Pie’ . . . my legacy’s ‘Cherry Pie.’ Everything about me is ‘Cherry Pie.’ I’m the Cherry Pie guy. I could shoot myself in the f—king head for writing that song.”
8. Stephen Foster, “the Father of American Music,” Got Like a Hundred Bucks
“Oh! Susanna.” “Campton Races.” “Old Folks at Home.” And like 200 more. All composed by Stephen Foster, largely credited for birthing the American music industry. The songs were as American as apple pie and shaped the psyche of a nation that was just growing.
Except he made the crucial mistake of doing all of this before “copyright” was a thing. In 1848, he was given exactly $100 for “Oh! Susanna,”, which is less than $3,000 today. He died at the age of 37 with just a few cents in his pocket, and he accumulated roughly $15,000 from all of his work, in total.
The American Dream: You can come up from nothing, and still die broke as hell.