Many comic book heroes use superpowers to defeat their evil foes and save the world. But their creators still need lawyers to negotiate their contracts. Who would have ever thought that “comic book lawyer” was an actual legal niche? We know a former professional dancer who spun into it by chance.
Meet Caitlin DiMotta, a performing artist turned attorney fortunate enough to heed two career callings - the arts and law. After a chance encounter pointed her to law school, she befriended a renowned comic book creator who helped open her eyes to a community she has come to love.
Whether you’re a DC or Marvel fan (or have never opened a comic book), listen to Caitlin talk about following her instincts to build a practice, working with talented writers and artists to publish comic books and get them to the big screen, and witnessing firsthand the fascinating transformation of Captain Marvel.
[00:00:00] John Reed: A lot of people don't know this about me, but Batman and I grew up together.
[00:00:05] What I mean is the Batman that I know and love evolved as I evolved. I first met Bruce Wayne through Adam West and the reruns of the hopelessly camp 1960s version of Batman as well as the Saturday morning Justice League cartoons, which I imitated frequently on my elementary school playground.
[00:00:23] Later, Michael Keaton's version in Tim Burton's “Batman” and “Batman Return”s introduced more of the character's depth. I was older and I appreciated the maturity that Michael Keaton brought to the character but without the “Wham! Pow! Bang!” of the TV show.
[00:00:39] But then came Christopher Nolan and his Dark Knight trilogy and a brooding, conflicted, and haunted Bruce Wayne. This was the most grown-up, complex depiction of Batman, the one I related to the most. Christian Bale will always be Batman to me, no matter how many adaptations come up in the future.
[00:00:58] A lot of years passed between the TV and film versions of those Batmen. But what I discovered in the gap was comic books. In those pages. I learned the backstories. I unraveled Robin's various name changes. I felt the grit of Gotham City. I saw the emotional depth of the Batman character. And when you thought the story might go stale, along came another writer-illustrator-creator who told a new story based on a slight nuance or a radical departure from the prior series. Sure. It was a revisionist history, but I loved it.
[00:01:32] Comic books are magical. Despite the thin paper stock and the relatively few words on a page, they offer as much dimension is “Moby Dick” and “War and Peace.” They both honor the canon (the hero's fictional universe) and they expand it.
[00:01:49] Maybe the most exciting aspect of comic books and graphic novels is that they can be about anything. They tell stories of history, of current events, of religion. They showcase characters' strengths as well as their weaknesses.
[00:02:02] Today's guest is – herself -- a comic book hero. Once a professional dancer, she had a chance encounter with a set of incorporation documents that would forever change her life. The law took hold of her like the venom of a radioactive spider, propelling her down a path with the power to protect and defend clients who create new stories and resurrect and reinvent old ones. Mild-mannered lawyer by day — and by night, too —she is a Sticky Lawyer action figure waiting to happen. I am thrilled to welcome Caitlin DiMotta to the show.
[00:02:36] Caitlin DiMotta: Well, thank you so much for having me. What an introduction. Except for the spider part, because I got to tell you I am arachnophobic, but I'll take it.
[00:02:45] John Reed: We have a lot to talk about. First, although you currently live and work in Los Angeles, you have a pretty strong connection to Michigan, particularly Northern Michigan.
[00:02:54] Caitlin DiMotta: I went to Interlochen Arts Academy, the boarding school up in Traverse City for my junior and senior years of high school. I was a dance major there.
[00:03:04] John Reed: What was your intention?
[00:03:06] Caitlin DiMotta: I was fortunate enough to begin dancing in professional companies at 13. At the time I was in Boise, Idaho, with my family, and there was a moment there right after my sophomore year where I tried to convince my parents, I'm just going to get my GED. High school is not that important, and this is more important. And my parents, of course, said absolutely not. Interlochen turned out to be our compromise.
[00:03:33] The director of the dance department back then was teaching at a dance summer program nearby. And I really wanted to meet her, and the choreographer I had worked with was really wanting me to meet her. So, my mom and I just got in the car, drove to I think it was Pocatello, Idaho. I took her class. She was very impressed. And by the time we had driven home I had an answer, a voicemail on my answering machine saying, “We want you. We think you're fabulous.” So, I sent in my transcripts, I got accepted, and a month later I was on a plane. Interlochen changed my life in a million different ways. And I really don't know where I would be without it.
[00:04:18] John Reed: So, with all of this fantastic training and education, after the snow melted, they let you graduate and leave. And then what did you do?
[00:04:29] Caitlin DiMotta: I really had to do a lot of soul searching where I wanted to then go and dance and train and enter the professional world. Eventually I tried going to normal college and being a normal kid for about six months and that did not work. It was not for me. I ended up moving to Chicago. A friend of mine was there already. Similar body to mine, which sounds weird, but all the dancers who might be listening would understand what I mean. And she said, “You know what? Come to Chicago. They go wild for the way we look here. We're classically trained, but we can dance on point. We can do everything, but we look like fit young women. We look the way that people want us to look here.”
[00:05:14] John Reed: I just have to interrupt for a second. I had no idea there was a regional dance body type distinction.
[00:05:23] Caitlin DiMotta: Oh, yeah. New York City Ballet, you had to be tall. Not super tall, but "ish," and super skinny. If you wanted to go to the Pacific Northwest Ballet, you had to be very skinny, but you also had to have great feet. I can breakdown for you all the different body types in each company in the world. Chicago was a place where there was more of a foothold for jazz and hip-hop and modern dance. The Chicago dance scene wasn't as focused on everybody looking the same.
[00:05:54] John Reed: So, a couple of questions. We haven't heard one particular word yet and that's law. But in conjunction with that, is there an expiration date on a dancer, whether it's New York or Chicago? And if so, was that something on your mind?
[00:06:12] Caitlin DiMotta: I did not know a single dancer who was dancing past the age of 27 and they were very rare. After so many years of lack of nutrition and like an insane amount of physical wear and tear, your body just breaks down. So, I had this notion around 20, 21 that I was starting to break down a little bit. I started thinking like, “I'm getting slower.” And that was distressing.
[00:06:45] I remember speaking to my mother at some point at that time and saying, "Mom, I don't know what to do with myself. I've never been good at it anything else. What do I do?" And my mom, bless her, was like, "Anything you want. Because you've never tried anything else." And she was right. And all I had to do really ultimately was wait for an opportunity to present itself, just open my mind to new possibilities. And it happened. It did.
[00:07:20] Because the community is so small in Chicago, you get to know all the other dancers, all the choreographers, everybody really well. And there was one man that I danced with in several companies. And he was a fabulous choreographer, and he said one day, "I'm going to start a company myself. Will you dance for me?" I said, "Oh, sure. Of course, absolutely." I loved his choreography, his growth. It was so fun and so cool, and always made you look great. A couple of weeks later, "Hey, would you mind helping me with some back office stuff? You went to college, like you can figure this out.” And I said, "Sure, how hard can that be?"
[00:07:59] The first thing he asked me to do was help him file paperwork with the IRS to become a 501(c)(3) organization, which is a nonprofit organization. And I don't know what I'm doing. And I said, "Cool. I'll figure it out." I took a look at what was back then 12 pages of an application. And it took me three months and about four visits to free seminars given by Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts in Chicago. They were incredible as well. Because I just couldn't wrap my mind around what was being asked. And I knew there was a deeper question. It wasn't the right answer on the IRS paperwork. It was what not to say. So, I just figured if I kept going and I kept sort of trying to absorb the information, I would figure out how to get our nonprofit status and not screw it up.
[00:08:56] So finally, I did it. And I remember at one point sitting there with a friend, another dancer in the company and saying, "God damn it. Somebody needs to go to law school." And she looked at me. And she said, "You. You've already gone to college. You should go." And that was the sign my mom talked about, that I had a skillset, something that you could translate into a practical job that didn't have an expiration date. A job that I didn't have to be skinny and pretty anymore.
[00:09:28] I had spent so many years in the most elite performing arts boarding school in the country. And not once had anybody ever told us or taught us or mentioned here's how you work for yourself. Here's how you lease a theater. Here's how you form a company. Here's how you develop a contract for your dancers so that they have obligations and commitments to each other. Here's how to write that. No one, nothing, not a peep. Nothing.
[00:09:59] I really thought, “Oh my God, I speak artists.” I know what artists need. I know things that an average lawyer wouldn't even think to ask. Maybe I should learn how to do that and then help people who create for a living protect themselves. They can delegate that responsibility to me, of the business of their art. And I will take care of them. They tell me what they need, what they're afraid of, I'll translate it into business or into law or whatever and make it happen for them. So, I applied to law schools, and I got a full ride to UNM, University of New Mexico. And so, I went to UNM and then, and I was like, what's the risk? I got a full ride for free. What was the risk? I could just do this and if it doesn't work out, I'll just do something else.
[00:10:50] John Reed: So, you get your degree, and then what happens?
[00:10:53] Caitlin DiMotta: In Albuquerque, at that time, there certainly weren't any real transactional jobs. So, I was doing criminal defense and civil rights, which I could get very passionate about. And I realized I really couldn't do drunk driving defense for the rest of my life. I really had to figure out a different path. A friend of mine in law school said, "You know, my dad needs an associate, and he wants someone green who knows nothing." And I was like, “Oh, that's me.” “And he does transactional law up in Santa Fe. You should call him. His name is Lenny Katz.” So, I called him up and I said, " I hear you're looking for an associate. I know nothing. Can I work for you?" And they ended up hiring me.
[00:11:34] So I moved up to Santa Fe and my job with Lenny was basically any transaction that came into the firm. One day, it could be a multimillion dollar real estate development deal for a LEED-certified building. The next day, it could be a vessel license for a catamaran they wanted to buy. And it was fabulous training because Lenny taught me how to build a contract. When someone comes in the door and says, "I want to do this. No one's ever done this before. These are the parameters." Lenny taught me how to build a deal out of a client's dream essentially.
[00:12:17] John Reed: You realized in Chicago that you spoke dance and that if you could speak law, you could be a translator between the two. The realities of being in Albuquerque post-graduation, was that the dream denied, dream deferred, or more interesting things to pursue then representing artists?
[00:12:38] Caitlin DiMotta: Dream deferred, because it just wasn't anything there. I really should have gotten out of there sooner. I should've gone to California. I should have taken the California bar. In Santa Fe, then I was back on track then, you know? They're “Oh, hey, you know, you like doing nonprofit stuff.” I got four clients that are nonprofits. One's a gallery. One's an artist. One's a collective. One's a theater. So, I started doing a lot more of the artist representation, not as much as I wanted, but more importantly, I think, as I look back, I was learning the skills that I would need later on.
[00:13:15] I was there for a couple of years, very rigorous training. I think my billable hour requirement those days was 2,200 hours a year. And I would regularly come in at 2,400. I worked like mad, but again, it was the discipline of dance. It was just not weird to me to work and be focused for eight to ten hours a day. It just wasn't strange to me.
[00:13:38] John Reed: You had all the rigor and discipline for all those years. And so, you were able to bring that to the practice.
[00:13:45] Caitlin DiMotta: For sure. And so, I did that for a couple of years, which feels like a long time. And when you're billing that many hours, it really is a long time. I got married and we thought, you know what? It's time to go. We need to move. We need to be somewhere else. We need to be in a bigger city. My then husband was trying to become a writer. And so, it was really on me to support us. So, we ended up moving to Seattle.
[00:14:12] John Reed: Caitlin, have you ever heard of the character, Stevie Hunter?
[00:14:17] Caitlin DiMotta: Stevie Hunter? No.
[00:14:20] John Reed: Well, then let me tell you, let me tell you, Stevie Hunter was a professional dancer, but an injury to her knee ruined her career and forced her to discontinue her dancing full-time. As an alternative, she began teaching dance classes and quickly became a best friend to the new mutant named Kitty Pride and her surrogate mom, Storm, one of the original X-Men. She even advised Professor Charles Xavier. Now Stevie doesn't have any mutant powers, but she teaches and guides Kitty and others. And despite her best efforts to avoid disputes, she joins them in fights with demons and supervillains. And at one point, she even tried to overturn the unjust Mutant Deportation Act enacted by Congress. Do you see a certain familiarity there?
[00:15:14] Caitlin DiMotta: I do. I do. I've been negotiating some stuff with Marvel. I'm going to have to give him shit about never mentioning Stevie Hunter.
[00:15:23] John Reed: This, of course, leads me to ask. What's your origin story? How did your comic book law practice begin?
[00:15:32] Caitlin DiMotta: Well, John, I will tell you. It happened about a week after I moved to Seattle and met one of the — I did not know this at the time — but I think one of the brightest, most incredible writers in the last 25 years in comics. A man named Ed Brubaker. Ed Brubaker and his wife, Melanie, opened their arms to Duffy and I, my then husband, and within a week of living in Seattle, they became some of our closest friends.
[00:16:05] Over dinner, we would talk about all sorts of things that were going on in Ed's business. And Ed was at that time working primarily for Marvel. He had done great things for DC. Gotham Central he had done for DC, which then became some of the foundation of the newer Batman movies that Christopher Nolan did. Just an incredible writer. At that time that I met him, he had just developed the Winter Soldier. He's the creator of the Winter Soldier. He became famous because he "killed Captain America." And he was just at the top of his career as far as Marvel and DC, the corporate comics go, superhero comics go.
[00:16:49] He had a very robust creator-owned library. But at that time and it's similar now, but then the amount of work and dedication and constant marketing, the interdisciplinary skills that went into having a creator-owned career, it was so intense. Mel, his wife, ran all of the back office of his comics business, all the contracts, all the negotiating with foreign publishers, all this stuff Mel would do. So, we'd sit around, and we'd talk about issues that came up or negotiation strategies, and I just learned the business. And at one point, Ed said to Duffy, "If you want to be a working writer, you should start writing comics because it's a great way to make a good living and we always need good writers.” Duffy pitched an idea to Image Comics, which was back then certainly not the behemoth it is now, but it was getting there. And Image accepted, or green-lit it, and then we looked at each other and thought, “Well, now what do we do?” And so, I thought, “Okay, well, I'm going to need to figure out how to negotiate the image contract. I'm going to have to figure out how to make all the deals with the writer, the artists, the letterer, with the colorist, manage this entire process of creator-owned comics.” This was 2009, 2010. There were no jobs for me. At one point I said to Ed, "I think I'm just going to have to hang a shingle." Ed said, "Well, do you want to represent me?" And I said, "Yes, I do."
[00:18:31] I started representing Ed and I had learned about the comics business from him and from Mel — better teachers I could not have planned — and then experiencing how to do a creator-owned book, literally as a member of the community. And so, from that point on, Ed told everybody he knew that he had a new lawyer, and she was also a member of the community, and her husband had a book at Image. And we would have to go to conventions, we'd go to signings, I'd meet creators. I talked to them. I knew what they were afraid of, but I also knew how to fix the problem. I knew how to read the contracts, draft the contracts. I knew how to shape the relationship between the creators in a fair way. I knew how to explain it to them and then also then translate it back into a legal document that could help them feel confident.
[00:19:28] John Reed: We're going to take a quick break. And when we come back, Caitlin will share more of her insights about the comic book world. Stay tuned.
[00:21:35] Now let's get back to our guest.
[00:21:36] I am delighted to be back talking with professional dancer turned comic book lawyer, Caitlin DiMotta.[00:21:45]
[00:21:45] The person who creates the book is the creator. And that may or may not be the writer, the illustrator, or it could be both. But then you start getting into the technical, as you said, the letterer and then other very specific roles.
[00:22:03] Caitlin DiMotta: Yes. A writer or an artist, usually they're a team, will come to me and say, we want to do a book. We want to do a book at Image. Eric has greenlit our book at Image. What's it called? You're the artist, you're the writer. Awesome. Do you guys want to split everything 50/50? Do you want to do some other sharing arrangement? Let's put that all into an agreement. And then what happens if one of you wants to step off the book and has to be replaced? What happens then? Then we concretize it into what I call a collaboration agreement.
[00:22:34] Usually it's the artist and the writer who own the property together. But typically, because of how long it takes to write a page of comics versus how long it takes to draw, usually the writer has other responsibilities, like marketing, PR, dealing with the publisher, dealing with the lawyer, dealing with the agent, dealing with anybody else.
[00:22:56] Most people ink their own work, but some people don't. So usually, an inker is hired on a work-for-hire basis. And so, you have to do a contract with the inker. They get a page rate, maybe they get a profit incentive. On top of that, you have a certificate of authorship that you need them to sign that says that the writer and artist own everything with all the results and proceeds of whatever they did.
[00:23:20] And then the pages are colored by a human being — I would say they're more like a cinematographer in the film and TV and film industry where they set the mood. A great colorist is somebody that just enhances the book and the art in an incredible way.
[00:23:39] You only really notice bad coloring. A great colorist is just the secret sauce. You do a work for hire deal with them. Then they may get a profit incentive. The great ones get a little piece of the upside. My philosophy is “be generous in success.” If there's success to be had, spread it around.
[00:24:03] Then there's the letterer. It used to be somebody who would literally get the physical pages and make a layer of the balloons and then hand-letter all of the dialogue, all the sound effects, everything on top of the physical pages of the art. Now, it's done on computer, but you do still have people in the industry who will hand-letter stuff. And, oh my God, it's beautiful. A great example of an incredible hand-lettering is 'Casanova' by Matt Fraction. Dustin Harbin would do the most incredible letters. Incredible. All by hand.
[00:24:45] But letterers themselves are work-for-hire. And then you may even have a freelance editor who is work-for-hire, who will help be the air traffic control person. Keep everybody on task. Keep everybody moving along. And then at the end of the day, everything is flattened and then uploaded to the image server and then sent to the printer. That's it. I look at some of these pages and I think it's such an incredible craft and the end product is so impressive — more impressive when you know how much goes into it.
[00:25:20] Before I started, no one had ever thought, “Oh, I need to have a contract between me and my artist to understand copyright, to decide who owns what, who has control, how do we split the upside?” And you can imagine how messy that can get. Not every publisher had a contract with the people creating their work. Famously, Marvel and DC even. You would cash your check and on the back of it, be like, you agree this is work for hire. And if you cash the check, that meant that was the contract. It's stupid, but they did it.
[00:25:51] At that moment in time in 2010, 2011, there wasn't a great deal of adaptation of comic books into film and television. It was very rare. There were always Hollywood producers at Con trying to attach themselves to properties, but nothing would happen. Then I had to help people in the industry understand how to deal with interests from third parties to adapt their stuff.
[00:26:18] I got into this business right at the time where people started actually making money. They started actually having successful books and that's when the problems start. I was able to step in at that time and help people make their relationships, their handshake deals, distill all of that into a document that made sense to third parties. And then also build relationships with publishers, step in and be the person that the publisher could talk to and negotiate with so that the creator felt like they weren't really putting their personal relationship with the publisher, with the human, on the line.
[00:26:54] That was very uncomfortable for people then to say, "Look, well, I really know this editor, this friend of mine. And I don't want to, I don't want to ask for that because I don't want him to think I'm greedy." And I would say, "No, no, no. You don't ask for shit. I'm going to. They can, they can focus on me, let me negotiate with them. If you want something, we just ask. What are they going to say? No? Okay, they say no, but maybe they'll say yes."
[00:27:21] John Reed: When you say “book,” is that synonymous with a single issue or is that all of the books that comprise a series, for example?
[00:27:30] When I say book, I mean the intellectual property itself, the title, right? One of the things I found interesting about working in, um, in Hollywood for the last eight years, one of the things that I find so interesting is that people find the word “comic book” versus the word “graphic novel” somehow more elevated. More elegant. And what I've explained to people is, “No, you're literally describing the method in which it is delivered to the public.” A comic book, a single issue comic book, something that is on sale every month, we call them floppies. There are usually five to six "single issues" in a story arc. And then the arc itself is collected after issues one through six come out. There's a trade paperback that collects those six issues and that's volume one of a story. A graphic novel is usually something that is start-to-finish in that one volume, that one single volume, like a movie. So, when I say book, I'm just kind of encompassing every possibility, because if someone wants to put out a graphic novel, or they want to put out a comic book series, to me, it makes no difference.
[00:28:50] John Reed: What are some things that most people -- lawyers and non-lawyers alike -- don't know about the comic book industry?
[00:28:58] One of the things that I think can be intimidating, but it's also quite lovely is how closely knit the community is. It's a very small community of professional comic book creators, one that I really adore. They love the industry. They were fans. They'd been drawing on the back of napkins since they were kids. They're extraordinary storytellers.
[00:29:23] Caitlin DiMotta: I also think that people have a misconception that comics is all about superheroes. And that's true to an extent. What I try to do is encourage people who say to me, "I'm not into comics. I'm not really into superheroes." I usually say, "Me neither. But there's so much more than just that. Look, read Ed Brubaker's ‘Criminal.’ Read ‘Bitch Planet’ by Kelly Sue DeConnick. Jason Aaron wrote probably one of my favorite series of all time and it's called ‘Scalped.’” The art is absolutely breathtaking. There's an entire universe of great literature that doesn't have anything to do with heroes or capes, or maybe it does, but they're just not wearing capes. They're all stories. They're all hero stories. They're all stories of lost people, of tragedy and drama and love and injustice. And there's so much out there and even more so now than ever before, when the audience reading comics is getting broader and broader and more inclusive. I mean comics really suffered greatly from its inability to bring women and people of color into the fold.
[00:30:40] John Reed: Let me ask you about it because you mentioned Kelly Sue DeConnick. You're talking about diversity and breadth in the audience. What does the industry look like now relative to the people working in it?
[00:30:54] Caitlin DiMotta: I would say in the time I've been working in the last 15 years, it has majorly shifted from mostly white men in the industry. I know several people of color, women or men, who changed their names. Their nom de plumes are more sort of middle of the road, and they don't identify them. I know women who changed their names, go by initials, or change their names, so that people think they're men. That kind of flattening out - trying to try to get work in the mainstream - happens. Not so much now. Create-our-own comics, I would argue, have always been made by people of color, by women. And it's just that they don't get as much attention, right?
[00:31:42] John Reed: How big is the comic book lawyer community, and how many other Caitlin DiMottas are there?
[00:31:51] Caitlin DiMotta: Well, unfortunately, it's not big. At the beginning, people didn't really understand the value of having it. Especially at the beginning of a career, frankly into the middle of a career, the money isn't big. So, the idea of paying a lawyer to do something that you could with your best friend that you're sure will never screw you over, it's hard to convince people to do that. And I didn't try to convince people to use my services. What I just tried to do is just to talk and I would talk to anybody. If they had questions, I wouldn't charge them. It was harder on me because I still had a family to feed. But at the same time, I felt like the community has to understand the value of a lawyer before they can accept and embrace that they need one.
[00:32:39] John Reed: That's such an important point. If you give with the expectation that you will get, you will be disappointed. If you give with the expectation of good karma, then I think you are happy, you are valued, and you do a greater service to the profession, to the image of lawyers, than being greedy.
[00:33:05] Caitlin DiMotta: That's why going to conventions was so important, because I would meet artists. I would meet writers. I would meet people. They'd see me. They would get to know me. They would know I'm a member of the community. And that majorly helped me. Understanding what they need and why. from a personal perspective, was also important.
[00:33:24] I would like for there to be more lawyers in the comic book industry because there's only one of me. There's only so much I can do, and I try to be as available as I possibly can. I have a lot of clients and now I'm getting to the point where I've been in this business long enough that I'm having conflicts. I can't be the only one knowing what I'm doing.
[00:33:47] It's important to me to know that people are protected regardless, because this industry has been preyed on pretty bad by publishers, by film and TV, studios, and networks. And understanding how this business works and how these deals are put together and what the people need and want is important to me. I don't care. I'll give it away for free. I really truly feel that way because there's room for everyone. There's plenty of business to go around and it's an important enough industry of storytelling and it has so much value that it's really important to protect them.
[00:34:21] John Reed: With the advent of the creator as celebrity, how has that changed your practice in your representation of those folks? What are you doing now to help them manage that celebrity, or sometimes mitigate that celebrity, that you weren't doing before?
[00:34:40] Caitlin DiMotta: This question is a great one because it also relates to your digital footprint and the way that you conduct yourself online. On the one hand, I would say comic book creators have historically, because of conventions, they have been historically very experienced in dealing with fans and all the various challenges that come up when you have fans of your material and then you come face to face with them. You're in a convention, you're sitting at a table, you're sort of a sitting duck. People can come up and tell you how much they hate you, tell you how much they love you, tell you how much they absolutely hate the fact that you did such and such with this character and issue 376. I'm telling you the details that the fans will hold creators to is intense. I've seen it a million times.
[00:35:37] You have social media where people are anonymous and say all sorts of things to you. I mean, I even experienced this a little bit myself when I had a public Twitter account where I talked about something in the industry, and some random person would send me a death threat.
[00:35:54] A lot of creators have gotten very comfortable with their public persona and dealing with fans. Other creators, maybe their special sauce is that they're not tolerant of fans and they will clap back, and they won't tolerate stuff and they will be really aggressive back. Maybe that's something that's good. In the creator-owned business, you are your own marketing executive, you are in charge of absolutely everything. There's a lot of pressure to make sure that you know the way that you deal with fans is respectful because it's your stuff that you're trying to sell. So that's one thing.
[00:36:33] When you start working for Marvel and DC and you become popular through your work with them, you have to deal with fans that have been there longer than you have. They might have their own preferences and their own whatever, or their own ideas, or they liked the other writer better. And you have to learn how to deal with that. One of the things that I have to do sometimes is step in when things go awry on social media and maybe a creator is getting attacked by a fan or whatever. And it's about a DC or Marvel character. I might get a call from DC or Marvel that says, "Okay, so-and-so is like yelling at a fan. We can't have that happen."
[00:37:19] Now, I think it's starting to cool down a little bit, but there was a point a couple of years ago, a few years ago, where everyone had access to creators all the time, and that can be a lot of pressure for creators to withstand. The hardest part, I think, is when creators are put out there to field all of this fan interaction by Marvel and DC and then Marvel and DC don't back them up.
[00:37:46] John Reed: In my introduction, I use the term canon. People might associate that with the Marvel Universe, all of its various characters, timelines, etc. As you've explained, those are aggressively protected. So how does the creator negotiate to diverge or significantly add to the canon? I mean, at some point Superman died and was later resurrected. Robin becomes Nightwing. And there's been a succession of Captain Americas. Is it just the luck of the pitch?
[00:38:21] Caitlin DiMotta: Yes.
[00:38:22] John Reed: Is that what it comes down to?
[00:38:25] Caitlin DiMotta: It's luck. Yeah. It can be as even as mundane as this. Let's just use Marvel as an example. I'm going to beat up on them a little bit. Sorry, Marvel. But Marvel will say, “We have no idea what to do with this character. We think we should do something. We have no idea.”
[00:38:43] Bucky Barnes, some dumb ass sidekick of Captain America, falls off a train and we never find him again. Ed Brubaker said, "You know what? What if he's captured? And what if by the Russians? And what if he's a sleeper agent?" That's Winter Soldier. It was just a pitch.
[00:39:04] They say, “We want to reboot Captain Marvel, but we have no idea what to do with her. So, let's take pitches. Let's see who comes up with something that's really interesting and then let them do it.” And that's what happened with Captain Marvel in 2010 with Kelly Sue DeConnick. She was totally selected blind, completely blind. They had no idea she was who she was, but she pitched Captain Marvel as an actual captain. She wanted to take her out of a leotard and put her in a flight suit. She outranks Captain America. She's a real captain.
[00:39:42] I'll never forget Captain Marvel. I'll never forget that because I was right there with her when we did her deal for Captain Marvel. And then 10 years later, I'm driving down Wilshire Boulevard and I see billboards. It's really incredible. It's an incredible thing that I've been able to witness in my career to see something like that happen.
[00:40:01] John Reed: Let's close with some rapid fire questions. Are you ready? Okay.
[00:40:07] Favorite comic book?
[00:40:09] Caitlin DiMotta: Favorite? You're going to get me in trouble, John.
[00:40:14] John Reed: All right. All right. Okay. Fair enough. I'll skip to the next one then. Maybe this will save you. Maybe not. Favorite superhero?
[00:40:24] Caitlin DiMotta: Favorite superhero? Probably, has to be... no, it has to be Captain Marvel.
[00:40:34] John Reed: I thought you might go with She Hulk being the lawyer there.
[00:40:39] Caitlin DiMotta: I almost say She Hulk because of the lawyer angle and because I'm absolutely certain that whoever came up with her at Marvel hated lawyers. But she does have my hair, too. So maybe it is She Hulk, I don't know.
[00:40:53] John Reed: Favorite villian?
[00:40:54] Caitlin DiMotta: My favorite villain in comics... I think it's probably the chief from 'Scalped.' He was so scary. Yeah.
[00:41:04] John Reed: Super power you'd like to have?
[00:41:07] Caitlin DiMotta: The ability to speak and comprehend any language that's spoken to me.
[00:41:11] John Reed: Caitlin. this has been more than a treat for me. I want to thank you for taking time to talk with me today. You know, in my intro, I confessed my love of the Dark Knight, so this has been kind of a fanboy opportunity for me.
[00:41:26] If people want to learn more about you, where can we point them?
[00:41:29] Caitlin DiMotta: I'm at the law firm of Cowan, DeBaets, Abrahams & Sheppard in Beverly Hills. And if people want to reach out and have questions or want to connect, they can certainly email me and find me there.
[00:41:43] John Reed: Again, Caitlin, it has been a pleasure learning about you and your practice and your superpowers. Thank you again.
[00:41:50] Caitlin DiMotta: Thank you so much, John. This has been lots of fun, and I'm really honored to be here.
[00:41:54] John Reed: And thanks to all of you, our growing community of Sticky Lawyers listeners — Sticklers — for tuning in.
[00:42:02] If this is your first time listening to Sticky Lawyers, I hope you'll download other episodes wherever you get your podcasts. You can also visit stickylawyers.com, where you can view episode transcripts, see additional information about our guests, and recommend a standout attorney who might be a future guest.
[00:42:20] Producing Sticky Lawyers is a labor of love that everyone at Rain BDM is excited and proud to do. Help us spread that love by telling your friends, family, and colleagues about the podcast and giving us a rating or review on our website or on Apple Podcasts or on Google Podcast or wherever you get your podcasts. It would mean a lot to us.
[00:42:40] Until next time, I'm John Reed, and you've been listening to Sticky Lawyers.
Comic Book Lawyer
Caitlin DiMotta is a partner in the Los Angeles office of Cowan, DeBaets, Abrahams & Sheppard. She represents the interests of artists, writers, personalities, and creators in the television, literary, comic book/graphic novel, and motion picture industries. Her interest in the world of arts and entertainment is grounded in her personal experience, She enjoyed a decade-long career as a professional dancer, performing with national and international dance companies and freelancing for nationally renowned choreographers before embarking up a successful legal career.