Tag: Creators’ Rights

75

According to the Internet, today is the 75th anniversary of the publication of Action Comics #1, the first appearance of Superman.

There's rather a lot I can say about Superman -- from how the people who think he's boring are wrong, to my disappointment at the recent decisions in the Siegel and Shuster heirs' attempts to reclaim the rights.

But I'm not feeling so hot right now, so instead I'm just going to leave you with the very first Fleischer Superman cartoon. In which he punches fucking lasers.

Ditko Kickstarter

There are lots of reasons I'm happy to be back to work.

It's something to do during the day. I'm working with good people. It's fun and it's challenging. It's the shortest commute I've had since 2010, the closest thing to a programming job I've had since 2004, and the highest-paying day job I've ever had. I don't have to stress out about how I'm going to pay bills and buy groceries; I can sign up for a new healthcare plan instead of worrying about when COBRA's going to expire. I can post Zappa songs with titles like I Promise Not to Come In Your Mouth without worrying that'll be the first thing a hiring manager sees when they Google my name.

But you know what single thing has made me happier than anything else now that I've got an income?

I got to contribute to the Ditko Public Service Package Kickstarter.

I've been meaning to buy some of Ditko's creator-owned work for literally years at this point, and this is the easiest it's ever been. The Kickstarter, as the name implies, is to reprint the 1991 Ditko Public Service Package, and various levels of backing get you various other Ditko goodies courtesy of publisher Robin Snyder. At $20 plus $5 shipping, you get the book plus a selection of back issues of The Comics!; for $40 plus $6 shipping you get lots more Ditko material. I spent the $46 and look forward to getting my comics. More than that, I hope that the success of this endeavor leads to Snyder coming back to Kickstarter with more out-of-print Ditko material in the future.

And it is a success; it's already exceeded its goal by thousands of dollars. And that money's not just going to independent publisher Robin Snyder -- it's also going to independent cartoonist Steve Ditko.

I talk a lot about creators' rights here, and comic book creators' in particular. I talk, even more in particular, about Marvel's shabby treatment of its creators.

If you buy a Spider-Man comic, movie ticket, DVD, action figure, pajama set, Ditko doesn't get shit. But if you buy a creator-owned Ditko comic from Robin Snyder, you're buying from the only publisher Steve Ditko trusts -- and you're supporting Ditko himself, at his most raw, unfiltered, and personal.

My thanks to Robin and Brigit Snyder for the opportunity. And my thanks to Steve Ditko for being Steve Ditko.

There's about a day and a half left -- if you want some creator-owned Ditko comics, you've still got time.

And if you miss the Kickstarter, you can always order from Robin Snyder by mail; see the Steve Ditko Comics Weblog for details.

What a week.

I was planning on writing about last week's excellent issue of Saga, but I haven't gotten around to it.

I'm planning on eventually writing about my concerns about the new, Priest-and-Bright-free Quantum and Woody series, but I'd like to wait until there's more information and, ideally, Priest and/or Bright themselves weigh in.

I got a job this week. That's a pretty big deal. Actually I had to choose between two offers, which isn't a dilemma I've had since, oh, 2006.

Today I peed in a cup, bought comics, and went to my cousin's fourteenth birthday party. It was a good time.

Mostly I'm very much looking forward to getting back to work. I'm a little nervous about the new job, as I am every time I have a new job, and a little nervous about whether I've made the right call, as I am every time I have to choose between two jobs. But I'm not a big worrier. What will be will be. It'll turn out, eventually. Keep moving forward.

Concerning Tolkiens

A few weeks back, Tom Spurgeon had this to say:

[F]or some reason I ended up with this Christopher Tolkien Le Monde interview in my bookmarks folder. It's instructive to read something about a family wanting certain rights returned or better rewarded when most people really like what's been done with those rights as opposed to their either not caring or actively hating the result. One of the reasons a lot of our comics-related issue discussions remain unsophisticated is that we frequently choose to fight our battles along fundamental "I like it"/"I hate it" lines and then kind of furiously stare at the other issues involved until we can find a way to make them comply to our initial impression. It's no way to move forward.

He's not wrong. Given my established stance on creators' rights -- and creators' heirs' rights -- I'd be remiss in not confronting this conundrum.

Now, I like the movies. They're not perfect (The Two Towers, in particular, completely botches the narrative arc, overemphasizing the importance of Helm's Deep and an inexplicable new Osgiliath subplot while shunting the two actual climaxes of the book to the first act of the third movie -- and in one case, removing it from the theatrical cut entirely), but on the whole they're really pretty good. But yeah, there are some uncomfortable facts surrounding them.

To reiterate: my stance is that copyright law lasts far too long; in my opinion The Hobbit should have been public domain by now. But given that it isn't, we should respect the rights of the creators -- and given that, in this case, JRR Tolkien is no longer with us, we should respect the rights of his heirs. For legal purposes, the Tolkien Estate is JRR Tolkien.

But there are a couple of other factors at work here, too.

It was JRR himself who sold the film rights. Willingly, and with the intent to make sure his heirs were cared for financially.

That said, he was taken advantage of. Ever hear of the first ever Hobbit movie? It was made in a month, ran 12 minutes, and was only screened once -- because Tolkien's lawyers were incompetent, and left a loophole allowing the studio to retain the rights to Lord of the Rings as long as they produced a full-color film by a given deadline. Length and distribution were not specified; a 12-minute movie screened once satisfied the contract.

It wouldn't be the last time lawyers worked to game the system. Forty years later, Warner would produce the blockbuster Lord of the Rings film trilogy, and, through the usual Hollywood creative bookkeeping tactics, claim that it had not turned any profit and therefore they didn't owe any money to the Tolkien Estate. It took a lawsuit for the Estate to receive any money from the films.

(This is the point in any creators' rights debate where some corporate apologist inevitably explains to me that publicly-traded companies are beholden to their shareholders and therefore obligated to hoard as much money as humanly possible and do everything they can to avoid paying a single cent more than they have to. Why, it would be unethical for them not to try and get out of paying the Tolkien Estate! I welcome any such apologist to explain to me precisely how it was in Time Warner shareholders' best interest to expose the company to multiple lawsuits -- not just from the Tolkiens but from Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, who New Line also tried to stiff -- and trap The Hobbit in development hell for the better part of a decade, to the point where it appeared for quite some time that it wouldn't get made at all.)

And there's one more sad old saw that the apologists like to trot out: "Well, what did the heirs ever do?" That's one I see a lot in the conversations about the heirs of Jack Kirby, or Jerry Siegel, or Joe Shuster, et al.

I think it's a hollow argument. Creators do their work expecting to leave something for their families, and dismissing heirs outright effectively means giving luck-of-the-draw based on the age at which a person dies. (Do you believe Jack Kirby should have received money from The Avengers if he had lived to 95, and would have left that money to his children? If so, why do you believe his children don't deserve that money just because he died at 76? If not, then what the hell does it matter whether his heirs did the work or not, if you don't think the guy who did do the work shouldn't have been compensated for the adaptation?)

But even if you don't buy that line of reasoning, well, this is one case where "What did the heirs ever do?" is a pretty piss-poor rhetorical question. Because in this case the answer is "Assemble, edit, and publish about 30 of his books." Make no mistake -- Christopher Tolkien hasn't simply sat back and waited for checks to roll in; he has made it his life's work to get as much of his father's work into print as humanly possible. And it's not so simple as just finding old pages and retyping them -- many of the writings are fragmentary, and many would be incomprehensible without Christopher's extensive annotations. Without his work, Tolkien's body of published work would be far poorer.

Actually, that brings up another point entirely: the Hobbit movie isn't simply an adaptation of The Hobbit. It includes material from Unfinished Tales -- a book which I'm fairly confident Warner, MGM, et al do not have the movie rights to.

Now, I'm sure Warner's got very expensive lawyers on this. And maybe I'm misremembering -- it's been years since I read Unfinished Tales, longer since I read Lord of the Rings, longer still since I read The Hobbit. Maybe the LotR appendices have enough information about the Fall of Erebor, how Thorin earned the name Oakenshield, Gandalf's meeting with Thráin, and the White Council that Jackson, Walsh, Boyens, and del Toro can plausibly claim that they only adapted material from The Hobbit and LotR -- but if I were the Tolkien Estate's lawyers, I'd be poring over the movie right now looking for material from Unfinished Tales and any other posthumously-published Tolkien work that the studios never bought the rights for.

All that said? I like the LotR films and the Hobbit film. I'm sorry that Christopher Tolkien wishes they didn't exist, and I feel a little bad about that. I feel worse still about how the studios have treated the Tolkien Estate, and I believe it's genuinely unconscionable that they tried to stiff them out of compensation for the films. And yes, I suspect that the latest movie does adapt material from books it's not legally allowed to. (I'm also none too happy about the reports of union-busting and animal mistreatment, come to that.)

Stuff like this is personal. I believe that, for example, The Avengers hit a point where I couldn't in good conscience pay to see the movie; I believe that The Hobbit, despite the caveats above, did not. I believe the point that Tolkien's heirs do get a substantial amount of money from their father's work -- even if they had to go to court for some of it -- while Kirby's and Heck's heirs don't is a major reason for that. Spurgeon's point is intriguing -- but I really do like to think I've formed my opinions based on the circumstances of the dispute, and not simply looked for facts that made me feel good about seeing a movie I already wanted to see.

tl;dr I think The Hobbit was pretty great. There are some uncomfortable things going on behind the scenes and we should think about those. Personally I don't think they justify a boycott -- but everyone should be aware of them, consider them, and come to their own conclusions.

Business

Frank Zappa: Portrait of the Artist as a Businessman, by Rob Partridge and Paul Phillips, Cream, 1972. Courtesy once again of afka.net.

Frank discusses the business side of things. He was certainly a much savvier and more thorough businessman than most rock artists, then or now -- but his comments about what a good deal he has with Warner Brothers are an indication that he still had some hard lessons left to learn; he'd be singing a much different tune a few years later.

Simone Wants to Stick Around

The other night I pondered whether Gail Simone would stick with DC or go off and do her own thing. Well, per her tumblr:

I am not giving up on the idea of a major trans character in an ongoing mainstream title without a fight. I want a clear, unambiguous trans character in a prominent, unambiguous and unapologetic role THIS YEAR.

Sure sounds like she's planning on continuing with DC. Or, if not them, moving over to Marvel.

As I indicated the other night, I have mixed feelings about this. There's a part of me, a big part, that loves seeing prominent creators leave DC and Marvel behind and go do their own thing.

But on the other hand, DC and Marvel are still important, their characters are still important, and they're still well-known and accessible (well, commercially, if not narratively). Simone's made a career of bringing more diversity to the DC Universe, and the American comics industry is legitimately better for it.

It bears adding that the most prominent transgender character in the DC Universe right now is probably Shining Knight in Demon Knights, by Paul Cornell, Diógenes Neves, and Bernard Chang. Cornell's done a great job of picking up the baton from Grant Morrison, taking Sir Ystin in a different but altogether natural direction following his introduction in Seven Soldiers. Demon Knights is, itself, quite possibly the most diverse book in the entire superhero genre, but Cornell has pulled off the rather neat trick of making the cast feel organic; each character fits and none ever feels like a token.

(And, per The Outhousers, Cornell's also been one of Gail's most vocal defenders since the announcement of her firing.)

I've got no idea what Gail's got in mind with a book starring a transgender character. I wouldn't bet against a Shining Knight solo book at DC, but there are plenty of other possibilities. Given the Big Two's penchant for recycling characters ("Green Lantern, but black", "Blue Beetle, but Hispanic", "Batwoman, but a lesbian", or, for that matter, "Shining Knight, but transgendered") I'd expect it to tie into an existing brand -- maybe someone from the Batman or Superman family, though I'm thinking it would really be quite appropriate to have it be a character tied into Wonder Woman -- not only has Gail written Wonder Woman before, but Wonder Woman's been the superhero genre's beacon for nontraditional sexual mores since 1941.

It'll be interesting to see what she's got up her sleeve and whether she can get DC or Marvel to publish it.

But in the meantime, she does have some creator-owned work in the pipeline: the Kickstarter-funded Leaving Megalopolis with Jim Calafiore, and something called Field Trip with Amanda Gould, to be published by Mark Waid's Thrillbent.

From Straight to Bizarre

The trailer for the documentary about Zappa's independent labels. You can get it on Amazon but I'm not convinced it's legit. Seeing as how it refers to itself as a DVD-ROM and is listed under Books. Not sure where you can find a legitimate copy; if anyone does, be sure to let me know and I'll update this post.

Bissette on Ditko

Bissette's got a post up today about The Creativity of Ditko, Craig Yoe's latest gorgeous, thoroughly-documented collection of Ditko's work. I picked up a used copy of The Art of Ditko a couple months ago and I share Bissette's sentiment: it's incredible, but it does have a bit of an uncomfortable undercurrent, knowing that Ditko receives no money from these volumes and wishes they didn't exist.

Bissette covers Ditko pretty regularly. In this piece he links to a couple of previous essays, one of which is a response to Bob Heer's interpretation of the famous story of Ditko using original art as a cutting board. (To summarize: Greg Theakston once told a story of seeing cut-up original artwork in Ditko's apartment and pleading with him to stop using it as a cutting-board; Ditko refused. Heer believes that Theakston is not lying but that he misinterpreted the situation -- Ditko didn't cut up the artwork himself, it was probably returned to him in that condition, and, Ditko being Ditko, he didn't correct Theakston's assumption. Bissette adds that it's very unlikely that Ditko would have been using heavy enough paper stock in those days to serve as a cutting board, and that publishers used to frequently cut up original art after they were done with it.)

And Bissette reminds us, where Yoe doesn't, that Ditko is still active and still publishing through Robin Snyder.

The work is obscure because Snyder is a small publisher and doesn't use the Internet, but Bissette makes the reasonable point that the reason Ditko only works with Snyder is that Snyder is the only publisher who ever treated him right (other than the long-defunct Charlton Comics).

Bissette's covered Snyder's catalog in the past, too; he wrote a great post last year, in the wake of the Marvel v Kirby judgement, about everything Ditko's published about his years with Marvel. He references a long run of magazine articles Ditko published, around the time the first Spider-Man movie was released, which are still available through mail order. I keep meaning to check with my local comic shop and see if they can put in an order for some of those issues -- I'd be happy to order directly from Snyder, but I also think my LCS might be interested in stocking a few extra copies -- but money's been too tight. Still, one of these days...


Update 2012-09-12: Bissette has a followup post up; go read it!

It includes a response from Craig Yoe himself; among other things he disputes the claim that Ditko is opposed to the existence of these books -- Yoe says he's been in touch with Ditko and, while he's chosen not to participate or profit, he hasn't objected to them either, and approved Paul Levitz's introduction to Creativity. (No word on whether he approved Stan Lee's introduction to Art.)

There are also some fantastically thorough posts by Rob Imes in the comments section; one is a list of recommendations for Ditko's more recent, Snyder-published work, and another is a lengthy rumination on collections like this that do not compensate the original artists.

Happy Birthday, Jack

Image: Orion and Lightray on the rocket, New Gods #6
Scan found at Glass Walking-Stick in a Google Image Search

Today would have been Jack Kirby's 95th birthday.

I think it's safe to say that he was not only the most important figure in the history of superhero comics, but the most important figure in American comics, of any genre.

And according to Mark Evanier's afterword to Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus, Volume 2 (now in paperback!), he drew that page up top in an hour.

Speaking of Evanier, he posted a remembrance today, along with Steve Bissette and countless others. Heidi MacDonald has a great selection of Jack's art, plus a photo of Alan Moore towering over him.

It's also Read Comics in Public Day.

But most importantly of all:

Jack's granddaughter Jillian has started a campaign called Kirby4Heroes, a fundraiser for the Hero Intiative. I've spoken of the Hero Initiative before, but to review: it's a charity that helps support comic book creators who are down on their luck. Unfortunately, there are quite a lot of those; here are some testimonials (including some from folks who are, sadly, no longer with us):

Kirby's legacy is not only as an artist, storyteller, innovator, and Man with Big Ideas -- he worked hard to make sure his fellow creators could make a decent living. Because in the old days many of them didn't -- and, sadly, today many still don't.