If I asked for a commissioned piece by JB that was a version of a classic X-Men cover, and paid JB for said work, Does this break copyright?
JB: Freelancers doing drawings for the fans, and getting paid for them, is a convention of the industry almost as old as the industry itself. Traditionally, it has been considered free advertising, and "fair use". Mostly, for the Companies to try to shut it down would simply be too much trouble. Can you imagine trying to maintain a watchful eye on every convention, in every state, every country? The mind boggles.
When the problem rises is in reproduction. A few years back Marvel shut me down when I printed up a few hundred copies of a Fantastic Four miniposter that I intended to sell at a convention, donating the proceeds (proceeds, not profits) to Breast Cancer Research. If you were to order up a recreation of a favorite cover, that would not be a problem. If, however, you (or I, or anyone) sold prints of that recreation, then copyright would be infringed.
It's my understanding that this is essentially what happened to Carl Barks. Disney was prepared to look the other way when he was doing duck paintings for paying customers. They clamped down when he started selling prints. (9/9/2006)