'X-Men: Apocalypse': Artist Bill Sienkiewicz on Work-for-Hire and Involving Creators in Movie Promotion

New X-Men: Apocalypse Still - H 2016
Courtesy of Sophie Turner/Twitter
"It was more disheartening than it should've been," the artist said of seeing his work used on the 'X-Men' promo without advance notice.

Bill Sienkiewicz is an illustrator with a resume that many would kill for.

In comics alone, he's worked with Frank Miller, Alan Moore and Brian Michael Bendis, worked for Marvel, DC and many other publishers, with mainstream illustration work appearing in Entertainment Weekly, Spin magazine and on album covers for RZA, Roger Waters and Kid Cudi. Despite this, he tells Heat Vision, "If you want to see Western Civilization fall, all you have to do is completely repeal work made for hire. It would drive the companies completely into ruin — or, at least, into being more equitable."

The reason for the declaration is a promotional giveaway for the digital release of Fox's X-Men: Apocalypse at last month's San Diego Comic-Con that repurposed artwork he'd created for a cover to Marvel's Dazzler comic book in the 1980s without credit or prior notice.

Sienkiewicz took to social media last week to express his unhappiness about the item — a prop album cover that had been previously used in a promotional image for Fox's X-Men: Apocalypse. He first became aware of the prop after fans approached him at the show and asking for signatures.

The original image was created for the 29th issue of Dazzler, midway through a run of painted covers for the series by Sienkiewicz. "It was a lot of fun, because they gave me free rein to play with it," the artist remembers about the run. "For that particular cover, I actually did do a 12' by 12' piece of artwork, and then my wife at the time and Eliot Brown — he was kind of Marvel's in-house photographer — and I went to Times Square, and she held up the piece and they snapped a photo with all the lights in the background."

When it comes to his concern over the promotional giveaway, Sienkiewicz was very clear that he's not making any claim to the work itself. "Back when I first started working for Marvel, all the creators had to sign a work for hire contract," he explains. "On the backs of the checks — back when you had to sign the checks — you had another small version of the work for hire contract on the back of the check, so when you endorsed the check, you were reconfirming the work for hire situation. It was ironclad. They really wanted you to know that was the case."

Thanks to his longevity as an illustrator, he's used to seeing work he's created for comics turn up elsewhere with little notice. "A lot of times I find out about these things online," he said. "I did an Elektra cover and Marvel turned it into a large poster. In those situations, it's always nice if they send you copies of the piece. There was a period back in the [former Marvel editor-in-chief] Jim Shooter era, where he would go upstairs and get an additional usage fee, but those days are long gone."

Sienkiewicz said that he's not upset that the cover was used in the movie — as he put it, "that's great, it's a nice little nod and I appreciate it" — but that it was the way the image was used as a promotional item at this year's San Diego Comic-Con that raised flags for him.

"The fact that they didn't give any art credit on the actual piece — they're not legally required to do so, and I'm not angry at them for that," he says. "I'm sure, in the lead-up to San Diego, like everybody, they were rushed trying to get everything ready. But still, it was more disheartening than it should've been. If they'd come to me and said, hey, we're doing this… The way the piece looked, it looks like they'd taken a thumbnail off of Google and used that."

"I just think it would have been nice to have gotten some kind of nod and credit on the actual piece, and certainly some copies," he continued. "They could have come to me and said, 'Hey, we're doing this, do you mind if we have some copies at your booth' and run with it. We could've run with it together, and I think that's something they continually miss."

That might be about to change, however; Heat Vision has learned that Fox has reached out to Sienkiewicz following his speaking out to apologize, and to offer copies of the promotional release. "It was a brief phone call, but I did raise the point about freelancers being an untapped resource for promotional campaigns, and they seemed amenable to that," Sienkiewicz explains. "I appreciate the gesture of the comp copies and the apology. The door's been opened. Hopefully this will encourage an ongoing dialogue."

X-Men: Apocalypse will be released on digital HD Sept. 9. Sienkiewicz is currently working on Parisian White, a new comic book series with writer Kelly Sue DeConnick, for Milkfed Criminal Masterminds and Image Comics, for release in 2017.