Marvel and DC may be the show, but the only thing you’re really getting there is a paycheck. It’s great to be able to work on characters you’ve read about your entire life and add to their canon, but you generally don’t get anything out of that besides a paycheck.
Yes, times have changed and you get some participation points if a character you may create becomes popular. The latest character to become vastly popular is Harley Quinn: created on Batman: The Animated Series, she jumped to comics, and now, she’s made the jump to movies. Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, her creators, are getting paid well for her creation. However, not every character can do that. The comics landscape is literally strewn with characters that tried to catch on but just didn’t. You don’t have to look back any further than the 90s and Image Comics to see that.
Marvel and DC have basically closed their doors to new talent. “Go create a comic, and if you’re good enough, we’ll find you.” This is what they’re telling new people. And what’s been happening the last few years is that creators are making their mark at Image, and then Marvel and DC contact these creators when they see what they can do. Eric Stephenson, the publisher at Image, likens it to poaching.
It’s difficult to build something in comics. Even though the characters we love and adore have been around for longer than most of us have been alive, the creators of those characters aren’t getting much money at all for them. Not when you have companies owning the characters, and creators back in the day signing bad deals that basically ripped their hard work away from them.
Image is held up as the standard for creators to build something, and it’s the bastion of creator-owned work. However, in order to really build something that will support you, you have to continue to create, you have to do collected editions, and you have to continue to create. (Basically, even though it’s exceptionally difficult, you have to follow the Kirkman model for The Walking Dead: floppies are the loss leaders for the trades, which help to fuel the floppies. It can turn into a chicken and egg thing, but here, you know the floppies have to come first.)
This is difficult, it calls for money you may not have as a creator, and it presupposes you have a property worth a continuing saga/collected editions, something that will connect with readers. You have to prove it first. That’s the only way you can really build something.
You can try to use any cachet you gain at Image to parley that into a gig at Marvel or DC, and then try to take any following you may gain back with you to a creator-owned project. It can happen.
Whatever you do in comics, it should be about trying to build something. Comics doesn’t owe you anything, so you have to make the best of it that you can, while you can. Unless you become very adept or are very good at continually reinventing yourself, you will have a shelf-life.