Tag: Creators’ Rights

Comics!

Here are some of the comics I picked up last week that I liked. (They may not all be last week's comics; I'm kind of on an every-two-weeks cycle right now.)

iZombie #28 -- a satisfying ending, on the whole; it's rushed and all gets a little Allred-y in the end, but it works.

I've liked how the book has gradually moved toward a world where Portland is just this kinda weird, offbeat place where all the monster-people are just one more minority group, and somewhere where they're just regular dudes and are accepted. It's like X-Men without the angst. I'd certainly be interested in seeing Roberson and Allred revisit this series some day -- wonder what it takes for the rights to revert.

Action Comics #12 -- So wait, did this issue just start out like that, or was there a lead-in last issue that I completely forgot?

This is Morrison in full-on sprint-to-the-finish mode, like his last arc on New X-Men. He's throwing out interesting ideas a mile a minute and then abandoning them just as quickly.

This issue resolves the "Clark Kent is dead and Superman has a new secret identity" arc, which was an interesting idea I think he could have spent a bit more time on. The resolution -- well, there is no resolution to a "Clark Kent is dead" plot that isn't some sort of copout; honestly I kinda like that Morrison just ran with it and went for the biggest copout he possibly could. (I have mixed feelings on the landlady -- I kinda wish she'd just stayed as some eccentric old lady.)

Best part of the issue, though: Superman reading every medical textbook in the library and then performing surgery. Always fun to see him use his powers in an unusual way.

Batman #12 -- I don't know if there's anything in this world I love more than a done-in-one man-on-the-street story. This just so happens to be a done-in-one woman-on-the-street story drawn by Becky Cloonan and Andy Clarke.

If I have a criticism, it's that there are two penciler credits at all -- Batman is currently a four-dollar, 28-page book; typically that's one 20-page story and an 8-page backup, but this issue it's one continuous story that just switches artists (and, apparently, writers, though that's less obvious) on page 22. Now, both artists are great! But the transition is jarring. It feels like someone failed to hit a deadline and they had to bring in a backup artist -- that's not what actually happened, but it's what it feels like.

So, points off for a kinda weird presentation decision, but aside from that, a damn fine book.

Rasl #15 -- Welp, it's an ending. I'm curious how the whole thing will read together as a complete work, but as it is it wound up being kinda like Planetary in that its publishing schedule was so far apart that I couldn't remember what was going on by the time a new issue rolled out. To that end, I guess the significant portion this issue spends on Rasl sitting in a car explaining the plot to Uma is helpful.

It looks damned good -- Smith remains possibly the best cartoonist of his generation --, and there are some satisfying developments and twists on the way to the end. But I still feel like this is a series that sorta went off the rails after the first few issues. Again, maybe reading it straight through will leave me feeling differently about it.

Not bad as an ending, though.

Friedrich Appeal

Since everybody loves my Creators' Rights posts: per 20th Century Danny Boy, Gary Friedrich is making good on his plan to appeal the ruling on the Ghost Rider rights.

Quick recap: Friedrich sued Marvel for the rights to Ghost Rider, claiming he had never signed over his ownership stake in the character. (He co-created Ghost Rider with Roy Thomas and Mike Ploog, though he claims he created the character in 1968 and that Marvel failed to register the copyright for the published story in 1972.)

Marvel countersued, on the grounds that Friedrich was selling signed Ghost Rider prints -- and Friedrich is a writer, not an artist, keep in mind, so the art wasn't his work.

The suit ended in a Marvel victory, with Marvel agreeing to drop the countersuit in exchange for $17,000 as payment for the prints and Friedrich agreeing not to refer to himself as "the creator of Ghost Rider" for financial gain.

Friedrich is penniless and in poor health and, as you might expect, regardless of its legal merits this rankled a whole lot of fans and pros.

Speaking of which, you can buy a Generic, Non-Infringing Flaming Skull T-Shirt for $12 at World of Strange, with the proceeds going to Friedrich; the art is by Steve Bissette, Rick Veitch, Bob Burden, Billy Tackett, Nathan Thomas Milliner, Sam Flegal, and Denis St. John.

So now Friedrich is appealing the ruling.

The most interesting piece of new evidence he's introduced: a creator-owned Lee/Kirby Silver Surfer book from 1978. Why this is important, quoting Daniel Best:

At one point during Friedrich's deposition he was asked the following question: "Q. Are you aware of whether any other freelance writer of Marvel comic books owned the rights in any of the characters or stories created by that writer," in relation to the period of 1971 to 1978. The answer was no, and Marvel's lawyers accepted that, for the understanding in this case is that everything produced by Marvel in the 1970s at least, belonged to Marvel and was duly copyrighted. This isn't the case. In 1978 Marvel published The Silver Surfer, a graphic novel which contained a copyright legend naming not Marvel, but the books authors - Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Importantly it falls on the cusp of the work-for-hire contracts, but a savvy lawyer might well be able to argue that Marvel did indeed produce work that was owned not by the company, but by the authors from the time period of 1971 to [1978]. Unfortunately this news might have come a bit late to be of any use to Gary Friedrich, but the battle isn't over yet.

The book seems like a pretty serious outlier; it was a case of Kirby, already unhappy with his work-for-hire situation with Marvel, pushing for a different arrangement (and indeed a different publisher, as the book was published by Simon and Schuster). I find it hard to believe that a court will rule that Friedrich's work on Ghost Rider was not necessarily for-hire just because Kirby and Lee put out a creator-owned book with a Marvel character six years later.

The previous ruling did hinge on Friedrich signing back-of-the-check contracts, and that sticks in my craw. Back-of-the-check contracts are coercive (you already did the work expecting to be paid for it, and the company only shows you an agreement to sign after the work is already done?) and I would very much like it if an appelate court determined that they are not legally binding.

But I still don't think that's going to help Friedrich. The judge in Marvel v Kirby determined that Kirby's work was for-hire based on the instance-and-expense test and stated outright that it was irrelevant whether he signed a back-of-the-check contract or not. Similarly, precedent doesn't necessarily favor Friedrich's "I created the character 4 years earlier" argument; even if he can prove it, the judge in Wolfman v Marvel ruled that the Blade character who appeared in Tomb of Dracula was so substantially different from Wolfman's original pitch as to constitute a distinct, work-for-hire creation.

In short: I don't think Marvel's in the right here ethically, but I don't think Friedrich's prospects look good legally. I hope I'm wrong and I hope he gets something out of this, but I'm concerned that he's doubling down on a losing hand.

Ideally, this would be settled out of court. Ideally, Marvel would open itself to renegotiation with its pre-1980 creators and allow them to get the same equity deals that current creators do (something that DC has done -- DC's not perfect but it's better than Marvel on this subject at this time). Ideally, Friedrich would get some small share of Ghost Rider comics and movies, and be satisfied and not feel the need to sue to get that piece.

But unfortunately I don't see any of that happening. I'm worried that Friedrich is going to be pounded into the concrete once again -- but if he does win, it'll be a great thing not just for him but for creators everywhere.

Might Have Beens

It's a little weird to see things like, say, Ian Flynn doing a Sonic/Mega Man crossover for Archie Comics.

Because I wrote that story when I was 11.

(Okay, co-wrote it -- though I expect my collaborative partner would be happy for me to take all the "credit" for myself -- and it was Mega Man X, not the original Mega Man. But still and all...)

Ian Flynn and I were involved in Sonic fandom around the same time -- he went by Ian Potto in those days. I didn't really know him; we posted on different forums, but I remember seeing his name around. But, y'know, now and again it makes me wonder what would have happened if I'd stuck with it.

Per Wikipedia, Ian's about my age, give or take a few months -- but I skipped a grade. I expect I was starting college and Putting Aside Childish Things around the time he was submitting samples to Archie. Now I image laptops and he gets paid to do the shit I used to do for fun.

Which isn't to say I'd really consider writing Sonic comics for Archie to fit my personal definition of "livin' the dream", mind. You know the shit I go on about here, the way DC and Marvel treat their freelancers? Well, they're generous compared to Archie. Archie is like DC and Marvel used to be, before royalties, before creator credits, even, in most cases, before "house style" gave way to letting artists develop their own styles. Archie finally got around to crediting its writers and artists a couple of decades ago -- but if you piss 'em off they still might take your name out of the reprints.

And then there's Sega.

Ken Penders, one of Flynn's predecessors in the Sonic writer's chair, and an artist besides, was always pretty candid with the fans on the restrictions he had to work under. The book was marketed to 8-to-12-year-old boys (as he would constantly remind us), and so its content was inline with some dumb-ass Sega marketing guy's idea of a dopey eight-year-old's idea of a cool fifteen-year-old. Penders drew Sonic looking too depressed? Sega would send Pat Spaziante in to redraw his face to look more generally bored. Penders wrote a bit where Sonic, finding out that Sally wasn't dead after all, kissed her on the mouth? Sega made him change it to a peck on the cheek. Sonic was barely allowed to show an emotion north or south of 'Tude, barely allowed to like girls, and slept in a fucking race car bed.

(Let me stress that these are all real examples.)

So, y'know, it ain't exactly The Prince and the Pauper. I'm not crazy about my "career", and I grant that getting paid to write fan fiction about my favorite video game characters sounds like a pretty sweet deal. But in practice? Well, I wish Potto the best and I'm glad he seems a lot happier doing it than I probably would.

Why No Ditko/Marvel Boycott

Two days ago I mentioned, in passing, that while I'm boycotting Kirby-derived Marvel products, I'm not boycotting Ditko-derived ones.

Now, Ditko got much the same raw deal as Kirby back in the 1960's, and left under similar acrimonious circumstances.

But the major difference is this: while Kirby and his heirs asked for a better deal with Marvel and Marvel responded by suing them, Ditko was offered a better deal and he refused.

A couple of years back, Kurt Busiek said this in a comments thread at Robot 6:

And reportedly, Ditko also feels that Marvel owes him millions, and he's refused the money they've offered him as a bonus from the Spider-Man movie because he feels it's not enough. He thinks they owe him far, far more, and won't compromise his principles by settling for a lesser payment than he deserves.

He feels he was made promises that Marvel hasn't lived up to, going back to those inflatable Spider-Man pillows from the 1960s. That he's lived up to what he sees as his side of the bargain, and he won't renege on it even though he feels Marvel hasn't lived up to theirs. In his worldview, that shames them, not him.

But if you think Ditko thinks he doesn't deserve to be paid more than his page rate, then you're mistaken.

(While Busiek provides no primary source, he has a reputation for doing his homework; I am inclined to believe him on this one.)

I suspect -- though this is conjecture on my part -- that Ditko didn't merely refuse the money because he believed he was owed more, but that Marvel actually would have made him sign a contract stating that he was not entitled to any more. Rather like the one Kirby signed in the 1980's -- Marvel agreed to return Jack's original art in exchange for Jack signing a contract saying he had no claim to any of the characters he'd created. Marvel never lived up to its end of the agreement; the courts have found that while the statute of limitations has expired and Marvel is no longer obligated to return Kirby's art, it can still use that contract as evidence to prevent Kirby's children from reclaiming the rights to any of his characters.

So you can see why Ditko would be wary of signing anything Marvel offers him.

That said: he was offered something, and he refused it. It may have been a bad offer, he certainly had every right to refuse, but that's still fundamentally different from the Kirby situation, where both Jack and, subsequently, his heirs, have been denied anything at all beyond his original page rate, and Marvel has actually sued to keep it that way. Marvel's actions toward Ditko have been deplorable, but at least they've made a token effort to give him something.

Ditko, unlike Kirby, has also received a prominent creator credit in the Spider-Man movies (it's right upfront in the opening credits, as opposed to being buried 2/3 of the way down the closing credits). He certainly doesn't receive the recognition that Stan Lee does, but that too is a result of his own choices; as Mark Evanier recently put it:

The man has every right, of course, to refuse publicity and interviews but it's one of the reasons so many people think Stan Lee created Spider-Man all by himself. From Ditko's occasional letters in print, it's obvious this bothers him greatly...and it would bother anyone. But Lee is a great interview and Ditko is a non-interview and if you don't wave to the search party, there's a real good chance they're going to overlook you. I don't expect this to ever change. And nowadays when I talk about the many injustices in how the comic book industry has shorted major talents on money and/or credit, I've moved Ditko way down the list.

Ditko wants recognition but he refuses to grant interviews or even be photographed. While I can certainly admire his position -- that the work speaks for itself and that he should be recognized for his art instead of, say, being recognized for cameos in a bunch of movies based on it --, it's not a very realistic one.

In a nutshell, the reason I am boycotting Kirby-derived Marvel product and not Ditko-derived Marvel product is this: Kirby and his heirs have been denied money and recognition, while Ditko has refused money and recognition.

(In practice, lately it's amounted to the same thing. I haven't bought a Spider-Man comic in a couple years -- though I've been a Dan Slott fan since his Ren & Stimpy days and I hear his current Spidey work is great! -- and haven't seen Amazing Spider-Man. But as I've noted before, there's a difference between boycotting something and just not buying it.)

Shot Across the Bow

Warning: This post contains spoilers for the ending of the Avengers movie. (Though if you've made it two months without hearing about it, you probably don't care.)

So I've made it just past a month of posting every day, and closer to two months with Regular Updates. The post that kicked it off was about Avengers and creators' rights, and those types of posts seem to be my most popular ones. I've gotten E-Mails from a couple of unexpected readers at this point thanking me for my comments, and given that I get a couple of dozen visitors on a good day and most of those are people looking for Final Fantasy 7 mods, I'm a little surprised and flattered by that.

So here's another post about Avengers and creators' rights. Today we're going to talk about Jim Starlin and his creation, Thanos.

Thanos shows up in the end of the Avengers movie. He's only onscreen for a short tease, but it's a big moment, the reveal of the bad guy who set all this in motion and is now positioned as the major antagonist for the sequel.

More than that, actually: Marvel's working on a Guardians of the Galaxy picture, widely speculated to feature Thanos and give him some background before Avengers 2.

The LA Times' Hero Complex interviewed Starlin after Avengers came out, and it included this exchange:

HC: I spoke to Jerry Robinson once and I congratulated him on the billion-dollar success of "The Dark Knight" and he winced like I had poked him in the eye. Of course I instantly realized that watching Alfred, the Joker, Two-Face, etc. fill the coffers of Warner Bros. was like watching a son raised in another house with another family's name. I don't know the arrangements on this film, but has this project and its success been a mixed experience in any way?

JS: Very mixed. It's nice to see my work recognized as being worth something beyond the printed page, and it was very cool seeing Thanos up on the big screen. Joss Whedon and his crew did an excellent job on "The Avengers" movie and I look forward to the sequel, for obvious reasons. But this is the second film that had something I created for Marvel in it -- the Infinity Gauntlet in "Thor" being the other -- and both films I had to pay for my own ticket to see them. Financial compensation to the creators of these characters doesn't appear to be part of the equation. Hopefully Thanos' walk-on in "The Avengers" will give a boost to a number of my own properties that are in various stages of development for film: "Dreadstar," "Breed" and the novel "Thinning the Predators."

Of course, Thanos's appearance in Avengers has ignited some interest in the character; Marvel's got some new series with him coming out, as well as reprinting some old ones. In a recent post at Bleeding Cool, Rich Johnson saw a press release for a "new" Thanos miniseries and misunderstood Marvel's present-tense copy to imply that it was new work from Starlin rather than a reprint.

But it isn't. Starlin quit freelancing for Marvel back around the beginning of '04, citing the standard "irreconcilable differences".

And while I expect Starlin would get royalties if Marvel reprinted work he'd done in the past 25 years or so, these reprints are books he did back in '77, so he's most likely getting nothing for them.

So that's the story so far. Marvel is preparing a big marketing push involving Thanos, which may culminate in a major role in two Hollywood blockbusters. And it's not sharing anything with his creator.

So when Starlin posted a picture of Thanos on his Facebook account the other day, with these words:

This is probably one of the first concept drawings of Thanos I ever did, long before I started working at Marvel. Jack Kirby's Metron is clearly the more dominant influence in this character's look. Not Darkseid. Both D and T started off much smaller than they eventually became. This was one of the drawings I had in my portfolio when I was hired by Marvel. It was later inked by Rich Buckler.

that may sound like just a "Hey, here's a neat historical artifact I found, check it out" post. But Heidi MacDonald reads it as something much bigger, and I'm inclined to agree.

That seemingly-offhand reference to it being in his portfolio before he was hired by Marvel? What that actually says is, "Thanos was not created as work-for-hire, and I have proof."

I've talked, at some length, about the Kirby heirs' legal battle for the rights to Kirby's characters. Marvel v Kirby to date has hinged on Stan Lee's testimony and a lack of hard evidence contradicting it. Stan says everything Jack did at Marvel was work-for-hire and none of his characters were created independently of Marvel's requests, and Jack's heirs have been unable to produce art proving that he created characters on his own time before pitching them to Marvel. (I have opined, more than once, that such evidence was probably in the box or boxes of Kirby art stolen from Marvel in the 1980's before it could be returned to him; there is of course no proof of this but things certainly worked out well for Marvel.) There's no such problem here; Starlin has solid proof that he created Thanos before he went to work for Marvel, and therefore Thanos was not created for-hire.

Now, there are some other questions that arise.

The biggest is, did Starlin transfer the rights to Thanos to Marvel?

Marvel didn't keep good records at that point. Contracts were seldom formal affairs; more commonly, Marvel printed a legend on the back of a freelancer's paycheck saying that in exchange for the pay he transferred all rights to them.

Back-of-the-check contracts are dicey affairs. There's an argument to be made that they're coercive; after all, waiting until after an artist has already done his work expecting a payout for it -- a check he may very well need for rent and food -- and then hitting him with a "By the way, give up ownership or we won't pay you" doesn't exactly create an even playing field for negotiations.

Be that as it may, Marvel's back-of-the-check contracts were upheld recently in Friedrich v Marvel. I've heard that they were also upheld in DeCarlo v Archie but I can't find a primary source to verify that; the summary judgement I found appears to be based on later, more formal contracts that DeCarlo signed, not an original back-of-the-check contract.

But that still means that, if Starlin were to claim ownership of Thanos in court (and this is pure speculation, mind; he's made no indication that he intends to do so), Marvel would want to produce a copy of any contract he signed with them, back-of-the-check or otherwise.

(I've also heard that Starlin crossed out the legend on the back of his checks before signing them, though I haven't seen any primary-source verification on that claim. That would itself make for an interesting legal case -- even assuming back-of-the-check contracts are legally binding in the first place, what if you don't sign, or cross the contract out, and the check still clears? That might not be a wise thing to risk an entire suit on, but it would be fascinating.)

There's another wrinkle, as noted by Nat Gertler in The Beat's comments section:

We’re more likely to run into the Blade situation, which ended up resting (in my not-a-lawyer understanding of the case) not on the question of whether it was work for hire, but on the question of whether the similarities between the original Blade and the movie Blade were sufficient to be infringing.

That's an important point too. Marv Wolfman sued Marvel over the rights to Blade under similar circumstances, and a judge ruled that Marvel's Blade was so substantially different from Wolfman's version as to be legally distinct. And given that so far we've only had a brief tease of Thanos, Marvel's still got two films to make the "substantially different" case.

And there's another point to consider: even if Starlin did transfer the Thanos rights to Marvel, he's permitted to terminate the transfer after 56 years. Thanos first appeared in '73, so Starlin (or, if he doesn't live that long, his statutory heirs) can reclaim him in 2029. And Kurt Busiek (also in the comments section of that Beat post) suggests that this might be a negotiating tactic -- Starlin could agree not to seek reversion in exchange for a percent of royalties for Thanos's use, for example.

Indeed, that comments section is well worth reading, largely because of Nat and Kurt's input. There are a couple of the usual anti-creator types in there (and I'm pretty sure at least one of them is a troll, seeing as he wades right in and immediately says the most provocative and factually wrong thing he possibly can) but if you step over them and get to the people who actually know what they're talking about, you might learn something.

Speaking of anti-creator fanboys? Well, in the Kirby case the constant refrain has been "Kirby's heirs didn't do anything so they don't deserve anything." This, of course, is a case where a creator is still alive. Will that change anything? Will the people pooh-poohing the Kirby heirs' suit rally behind Starlin?

Well, to be fair, some of them might. But in general? Well, here's what one guy said to me a couple of months ago when I brought up Starlin's complaint that Marvel hadn't so much as bought him a movie ticket:

I think Starlin was about as uninvolved in the making of the movie as a person could possibly be. I'd wager I had as much to do with making The Avengers as Jim Starlin did. Granted, I didn't have a character show up for all of a 2 second reveal, but beyond that, our contributions were the same. Where's my free ticket?

(By the way, I got a free ticket to see Avengers. So that means I got more for the movie than Jim Starlin did.)

He went on to make a slippery-slope argument that compensating creators is equivalent to just putting the characters right out into the public domain and will end DC and Marvel, an absurd position I've dismantled previously. (tl;dr no dude a few million dollars for creators is not going to bankrupt the company that just made a billion dollars on its movie.)

Guys like that? It's not about the law and it's not about the ethics. It's The Spice Must Flow. It doesn't matter how Marvel treats creators, as long as it keeps putting out product to consume.

There's always a fresh rationalization on the horizon. "He signed a contract." No he didn't. "Well, he's dead now." Okay, but this guy's alive. "The character we know is the work of dozens of creators over a period of decades, so no one person can really claim credit to him." Even if that were true in some cases, Thanos is unmistakably Jim Starlin's character. "Well, it was only a tiny cameo, so he's not entitled to anything." And once Thanos has more than a cameo, it's going to be "Well okay, that's terrible, but the industry's not like that anymore; it's all better now." (A point Scott Kurtz raised recently, right about two weeks before Static co-creator Robert Washington III died of multiple heart attacks at the age of 47 and his family had to turn to charity to get him buried.)

There is and will continue to be a vocal minority of comic book fans who will side with the publishers no matter what. (Oh God how I hope it's a minority -- but I think it is. You can find a vocal population of people on the Internet who will angrily, zealously defend absolutely any dumbass position you can possibly think of.) And it's particularly galling when that includes guys like Kurtz, an actual cartoonist who makes an actual living from actual creator-owned comics. But The Spice Must Flow -- they like Marvel, they like the comics and the movies and the characters and the shared universe, and they see attempts at compensation by the people who actually created those characters as a threat. A threat to the free flow of those comics and movies or, perhaps even worse, the threat of making them feel guilty for enjoying them.

I think that's why justifications like "Well the heirs didn't do it so they don't deserve anything" and "Well okay, that's how it was in the Bad Old Days but it just doesn't happen anymore" are so prevalent: because they show a sympathy toward creators without actually indicting the current management at Disney/Marvel for any kind of wrongdoing. It means they don't have to feel bad about buying the latest issue of Daredevil (which, don't get me wrong, I hear is a really excellent comic -- and I'm certainly not asking you to feel bad if you buy it!).

But strip those away and there's always another excuse, always another justification.

And hell, maybe I'm just as knee-jerk in coming down on the side of creators over corporations. (Ken Penders might disagree -- I'm not allowed to post on his forums and I suspect it's because I once described his claims against Archie as "some legitimately crazy shit" -- but truth be told I hope he's right and I hope he wins. And yeah that comment was pretty out-of-line and I should probably walk it back to "I am skeptical but wish him luck.") But you know, I don't feel too bad about knee-jerk support of human beings. I don't mind being the guy who says "You know, if a movie makes a billion dollars, the guys who created the characters it's based on should get a higher share of that than zero percent."

Course, appeals to emotion aren't going to help Starlin get any compensation.

The good news is, he seems to have a better case and more leverage than most of the other comic creators who've fought Goliath.

Or maybe he just wanted to show people a drawing of Thanos. I dunno, I'm not a mind reader.

Zappa's Senate Testimony

Frank Zappa speaks to the Senate on the subject of labeling records for mature content, September 19, 1985. He doesn't really start in until about 3:30.

Transcript (via downlode.org; I've lifted HTML tags for formatting, not just the text, and hope I haven't overstepped):

Mr. Zappa. My name is Frank Zappa. This is my attorney Larry Stein from Los Angeles. Can you hear me?

The Chairman. If you could speak very directly and clearly into the microphone, I would appreciate it.

Mr. Zappa. My name is Frank Zappa. This is my attorney Larry Stein.

The statement that I prepared, that I sent you 100 copies of, is five pages long, so I have shortened it down and am going to read a condensed version of it.

Certain things have happened. I have been listening to the event in the other room and have heard conflicting reports as to whether or not people in this committee want legislation. I understand that Mr. Hollings does from his comments. Is that correct?

The CHAIRMAN. I think you had better concentrate on your testimony, rather than asking questions.

Mr. ZAPPA. The reason I need to ask it, because I have to change something in my testimony if there is not a clearcut version of whether or not legislation is what is being discussed here.

The Chairman. Do the best you can, because I do not think anybody here can characterize Senator Hollings” position.

Mr. ZAPPA. I will carry on with the issue, then.

Senator Exon. Mr. Chairman, I might help him out just a little bit. I might make a statement. This is one Senator that might be interested in legislation and/or regulation to some extent, recognizing the problems with the right of free expression.

I have previously expressed views that I do not believe I should be telling other people what they have to listen to. I really believe that the suggestion made by the original panel was some kind of an arrangement for voluntarily policing this in the music industry as the correct way to go.

If it will help you out in your testimony, I might join Senator Hollings or others in some kind of legislation and/or regulation, unless the free enterprise system, both the producers and you as the performers, see fit to clean up your act.

Mr. ZAPPA. OK, thank you.

The First thing I would like to do, because I know there is some foreign press involved here and they might not understand what the issue is about, one of the things the issue is about is the First Amendment to the Constitution, and it is short and I would like to read it so they will understand. It says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

That is for reference.

These are my personal observations and opinions. They are addressed to the PMRC [Parents’ Music Resource Centre] as well as this committee. I speak on behalf of no group or professional organization.

The PMRC proposal is an ill-conceived piece of nonsense which fails to deliver any real benefits to children, infringes the civil liberties of people who are not children, and promises to keep the courts busy for years, dealing with the interpretational and enforcemental problems inherent in the proposal’s design.

It is my understanding that, in law, First Amendment Issues are decided with a preference for the least restrictive alternative. In this context, the PMRC’s demands are the equivalent of treating dandruff by decapitation.

No one has forced Mrs. Baker or Mrs. Gore to bring Prince or Sheena Easton into their homes. Thanks to the Constitution, they are free to buy other forms of music for their children. Apparently, they insist on purchasing the works of contemporary recording artists in order to support a personal illusion of aerobic sophistication. Ladies, please be advised: The $8.98 purchase price does not entitle you to a kiss on the foot from the composer or performer in exchange for a spin on the family Victrola. Taken as a whole, the complete list of PMRC demands reads like an instruction manual for some sinister kind of “toilet training program” to house-break all composers and performers because of the lyrics of a few. Ladies, how dare you?

The ladies’ shame must be shared by the bosses at the major labels who, through the RIAA, chose to bargain away the rights of composers, performers, and retailers in order to pass H.R. 2911, The Blank Tape Tax: A private tax levied by an industry on consumers for the benefit of a select group within that industry.

Is this a consumer issue? You bet it is. PMRC spokesperson, Kandy Stroud, announced to millions of fascinated viewers on last Friday’s ABC Nightline debate that Senator Gore, a man she described as “A friend of the music industry,” is co-sponsor of something she referred to as “anti-piracy legislation”. Is this the same tax bill with a nicer name?

The major record labels need to have H.R. 2911 whiz through a few committees before anybody smells a rat. One of them is chaired by Senator Thurmond. Is it a coincidence that Mrs. Thurmond is affiliated with the PMRC?

I cannot say she’s a member, because the PMRC has no members. Their secretary told me on the phone last Friday that the PMRC has no members, only founders. I asked how many other District of Columbia wives are nonmembers of an organization that raises money by mail, has a tax-exempt status, and seems intent on running the Constitution of the United States through the family paper-shredder. I asked her if it was a cult. Finally, she said she couldn’t give me an answer and that she had to call their lawyer.

While the wife of the Secretary of the Treasury recites “Gonna drive my love inside you” and Senator Gore’s wife talks about “Bondage!” and “oral sex at gunpoint” on the CBS Evening News, people in high places work on a tax bill that is so ridiculous, the only way to sneak it through is to keep the public’s mind on something else: “Porn rock”.

Is the basic issue morality? Is it mental health? Is it an issue at all? The PMRC has created a lot of confusion with improper comparisons between song lyrics, videos, record packaging, radio broadcasting, and live performances. These are all different mediums, and the people who work in them have the right to conduct their business without trade-restraining legislation, whipped up like an instant pudding by The Wives of Big Brother.

Is it proper that the husband of a PMRC nonmember/founder/person sits on any committee considering business pertaining to the Blank Tape Tax or his wife’s lobbying organization? Can any committee thus constituted “find facts” in a fair and unbiased manner? This committee has three that we know about: Senator Danforth, Senator Packwood, and Senator Gore. For some reason, they seem to feel there is no conflict of interest involved.

The PMRC promotes their program as a harmless type of consumer information service providing “guidelines” which will assist baffled parents in the determination of the “suitability” of records listened to by “very young children”. The methods they propose have several unfortunately [sic] side effects, not the least of which is the reduction of all American Music, recorded and live, to the intellectual level of a Saturday morning cartoon show.

Children in the vulnerable age bracket have a natural love for music. If, as a parent, you believe they should be exposed to something more uplifting than “Sugar Walls,” support Music Appreciation programs in schools. Why have you not considered your child’s need for consumer information? Music Appreciation costs very little compared to sports expenditures. Your children have a right to know that something besides pop music exists.

lt is unfortunate that the PMRC would rather dispense governmentally sanitized heavy metal music than something more uplifting. Is this an indication of PMRC’s personal taste, or just another manifestation of the low priority this administration has placed on education for the arts in America?

The answer, of course, is neither. You cannot distract people from thinking about an unfair tax by talking about Music Appreciation. For that you need sex, and lots of it.

The establishment of a rating system, voluntary or otherwise, opens the door to an endless parade of Moral Quality Control Programs based on “Things Certain Christians Don’t Like”. What if the next bunch of Washington Wives demands a large yellow “J” on all material written or performed by Jews, in order to save helpless children from exposure to concealed Zionist doctrine?

Record ratings are frequently compared to film ratings. Apart from the quantitative difference, there is another that is more important: People who act in films are hired to pretend. No matter how the film is rated, it won’t hurt them personally.

Since many musicians write and perform their own material and stand by it as their art (whether you like it or not), an imposed rating will stigmatize them as individuals. How long before composers and performers are told to wear a festive little PMRC arm band with their scarlet letter on it?

Bad facts make bad law, and people who write bad laws are, in my opinion, more dangerous than songwriters who celebrate sexuality. Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religious Thought, and the Right to Due Process for composers, performers and retailers are imperiled if the PMRC and the major labels consummate this nasty bargain.

Are we expected to give up article 1 so the big guys can collect an extra dollar on every blank tape and 10 to 25% on tape recorders? What is going on here? Do we get to vote on this tax? Do we get to vote on this tax? I think that this whole matter has gotten completely blown out of proportion, and I agree with Senator Exon that there is a very dubious reason for having this event. I also agree with Senator Exon that you should not be wasting time on stuff like this, because from the beginning I have sensed that it is somebody’s hobby project.

Now, I have done a number of interviews on television. People keep saying, can you not take a few steps in their direction, can you not sympathize, can you not empathize? I do more than that at this point. I have got an idea for a way to stop all this stuff and a way to give parents what they really want, which is information, accurate information as to what is inside the album, without providing a stigma for the musicians who have played on the album or the people who sing it or the people who wrote it. And I think that if you listen carefully to this idea that it might just get by all of the constitutional problems and everything else.

As far as I am concerned, I have no objection to having all of the lyrics placed on the album routinely, all the time. But there is a little problem. Record companies do not own the right automatically to take these lyrics, because they are owned by a publishing company.

So, just as all the rest of the PMRC proposals would cost money, this would cost money too, because the record companies would need — they should not be forced to bear the cost, the extra expenditure to the publisher, to print those lyrics.

If you consider that the public needs to be warned about the contents of the records, what better way than to let them see exactly what the songs say? That way you do not have to put any kind of subjective rating on the record. You do not have to call it R, X, D/A, anything. You can read it for yourself.

But in order for it to work properly, the lyrics should be on a uniform kind of a sheet. Maybe even the Government could print those sheets. Maybe it should even be paid for by the Government, if the Government is interested in making sure that people have consumer information in this regard.

And you also have to realize that if a person buys the record and takes it out of the store, once it is out of the store you can’t return it if you read the lyrics at home and decide that little Johnny is not supposed to have it.

I think that that should at least be considered, and the idea of imposing these ratings on live concerts, on the albums, asking record companies to reevaluate or drop or violate contracts that they already have with artists should be thrown out.

That is all I have to say.

The Chairman. Thank you very much, Mr. Zappa. You understand that the previous witnesses were not asking for legislation. And I do not know, I cannot speak for Senator Hollings, but I think the prevailing view here is that nobody is asking for legislation.

The question is just focusing on what a lot of people perceive to be a problem, and you have indicated that you at least understand that there is another point of view. But there are people that think that parents should have some knowledge of what goes into their home.

Mr. ZAPPA. All along my objection has been with the tactics used by these people in order to achieve the goal. I just think the tactics have been really bad, and the whole premise of their proposal -- they were badly advised in terms of record business law, they were badly advised in terms of practicality. or they would have known that certain things do not work mechanically with what they suggest.

The CHAIRMAN. Senator Gore.

Senator GORE. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

I found your statement very interesting and, although I disagree with some of the statements that you make and have made on other occasions, I have been a fan of your music, believe it or not. I respect you as a true original and a tremendously talented musician.

Your suggestion of printing the lyrics on the album is a very interesting one. The PMRC at one point said they would propose either a rating or warning, or printing all the lyrics on the album. The record companies came back and said they did not want to do that.

I think a lot of people agree with your suggestion that one easy way to solve this problem for parents would be to put the actual words there, so that parents could see them. In fact, the National Association of Broadcasters made exactly the same request of the record companies.

I think your suggestion is an intriguing one and might really be a solution for the problem.

Mr. ZAPPA. You have to understand that it does cost money, because you cannot expect publishers to automatically give up that right, which is a right for them. Somebody is going to have to reimburse the publishers, the record industry.

Without trying to mess up the album jacket art, it should be a sheet of paper that is slipped inside the shrink-wrap, so that when you take it out you can still have a complete album package. So there is going to be some extra cost for printing it.

But as long as people realize that for this kind of consumer safety you are going to spend some money and as long as you can find a way to pay for it, I think that would be the best way to let people know.

Senator GORE. I do not disagree with that at all. And the separate sheet would also solve the problem with cassettes as well, because you do not have the space for words on the cassette packs.

Mr. ZAPPA. There would have to be a little accordion-fold.

Senator GORE. I have listened to you a number of times on this issue, and I guess the statement that I want to get from you is whether or not you feel this concern is legitimate.

You feel very strongly about your position, and I understand that. You are very articulate and forceful.

But occasionally you give the impression that you think parents are just silly to be concerned at all.

Mr. ZAPPA. No; that is not an accurate impression.

Senator GORE. Well, please clarify it, then.

Mr. ZAPPA. First of all, I think it is the parents’ concern; it is not the Government’s concern.

Senator GORE. The PMRC agrees with you on that.

Mr. ZAPPA. Well. that does not come across in the way they have been speaking. The whole drift that I have gotten, based upon the media blitz that has attended the PMRC and its rise to infamy, is that they have a special plan, and it has smelled like legislation up until now.

There are too many things that look like hidden agendas involved with this. And I am a parent. I have got four children. Two of them are here. I want them to grow up in a country where they can think what they want to think, be what they want to be, and not what somebody’s wife or somebody in Government makes them be.

I do not want to have that and I do not think you do either.

Senator GORE. OK. But now you are back on the issue of Government involvement. Let me say briefly on this point that the PMRC says repeatedly no legislation, no regulation, no Governnient action. It certainly sounded clear to me.

And as far as a hidden agenda, I do not see one, hear one, or know of one.

Mr. ZAPPA. OK, let me tell you why I have drawn these conclusions. First of all, they may say, we are not interested in legislation. But there are others who are, and because of their project bad things have happened in this country in the industry.

I believe there is actually some liability. Look at this. You have a situation where, even if you go for the lyric printed thing in the record, because of the tendency among Americans to be copycats -- one guy commits a murder, you get a copycat murder-now you’ve got copycat censors.

You get a very bad situation in San Antonio, TX, right now where they are trying to pass PMRC-type individual ratings and attach them to live concerts, with the mayor down there trying to make a national reputation by putting San Antonio on the map as the first city in the United States to have these regulations, against the suggestion of the city attorney, who says, I do not think this is constitutional.

But you know, there is this fervor to get in and do even more and even more.

And the other thing, the PMRC starts off talking about lyrics, but when they take it over into other realms they start talking about the videos. In fact, you misspoke yourself at the beginning in your introduction when you were talking about the music does this, the music does that. There is a distinct difference between those notes and chords and the baseline [sic — error in Congressional report] and the rhythm that support the words and the lyrics.

I do not know whether you really are talking about controlling the type of music.

The CHAIRMAN. The lyrics.

Mr. ZAPPA. So specifically we are talking about lyrics. It began with lyrics. But even looking at the PMRC fundraising letter, in the last paragraph at the bottom of the page it starts looking like it is branching into other areas, when it says: “We realize that this material has pervaded other aspects of society.” And it is like what, you are going to fix it all for me?

Senator GORE. No. I think the PMRC’s acknowledging some of the statements by some of their critics who say: Well, why single out the music industry.

Do I understand that you do believe that there is a legitimate concern here?

Mr. ZAPPA. But the legitimate concern is a matter of taste for the individual parent and how much sexual information that parent wants to give their child, at what age, at what time, in what quantity, OK. And I think that, because there is a tendency in the United States to hide sex, which I think is an unhealthy thing to do. and many parents do not give their children good sexual education, in spite of the fact that little books for kids are available, and other parents demand that sexual education be taken out of school, it makes the child vulnerable, because if you do not have something rational to compare it to when you see or hear about something that is aberrated you do not perceive it as an aberration.

Senator GORE. OK, I have run out of time.

Thank vou, Mr. Chairman.

The CHAIRMAN. Senator Rockefeller.

Senator ROCKEFELLER. No questions, Mr. Chairnan.

The CHAIRMAN. Senator Gorton.

Senator GORTON. Mr. Zappa, I am astounded at the courtesy and soft-voiced nature of the comments of my friend, the Senator from Tennessee. I can only say that I found your statement to be boorish, incredibly and insensitively insulting to the people that were here previously; that you could manage to give the first amendment of the Constitution of the United States a bad name, if I felt that you had the slightest understanding of it, which I do not.

You do not have the slightest understanding of the difference between Government action and private action, and you have certainly destroyed any case you might otherwise have had with this Senator.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. ZAPPA. Is this private action?

The CHAIRMAN. Senator Exon.

Senator EXON. Mr. Chairman, thank you very much.

Mr. Zappa, let me say that I was surprised that Senator Gore knew and liked your music. I must confess that I have never heard any of your music, to my knowledge.

Mr. ZAPPA. I would be more than happy to recite my lyrics to you.

Senator EXON. Can we forgo that?

Senator GORE. You have probably never heard of the Mothers of Invention.

Senator EXON. I have heard of Glen Miller and Mitch Miller. Did you ever perform with them?

Mr. ZAPPA. As a matter of fact, I took music lessons in grade school from Mitch Miller’s brother.

Senator EXON. That is the first sign of hope we have had in this hearing.

Let us try and get down to a fundamental question here that I would like to ask you, Mr. Zappa. Do you believe that parents have the right and the obligation to mold the psychological development of their children?

Mr. ZAPPA. Yes, I think they have that right, and I also think they have that obligation.

Senator EXON. Do you see any extreme difficulty in carrying out those obligations for a parent by material falling into the hands of their children over which thely have little or no control?

Mr. ZAPPA. Well, one of the things that has been brought up before is talking about very young children getting access to the material that they have been showing here today. And what I have said to that in the past is a teenager may go into a record store unescorted with $8.98 in his pocket, but very young children do not.

If they go into a record store, the $8.98 is in mom or dad’s pocket, and they can always say, Johnny, buy a book. They can say, Johnny, buy instrumental music; there is some nice classical music for you here; why do you not listen to that.

The parent can ask or guide the child in another direction, away from Sheena Easton, Prince, or whoever else you have been complaining about. There is always that possibility.

Senator EXON. As I understand it from your testimony — and once again, I want to emphasize that I see nothing wrong whatsoever; in fact, I salute the ladies for bringing this to the attention of the public as best they see fit. I think you could tell from my testimony that I tend to agree with them.

I want to be very careful that we do not overstep our bounds and try and — and I emphasize once again — tell somebody else what they should see. I am primarily worried about children.

It seems to me from your statement that you have no obligation — or no objection whatsoever to printing lyrics, if that would be legally possible, or from a standpoint of having the room to do that, on records or tapes. Is that not what you said?

Mr. ZAPPA. I think it would be advisable for two reasons. One, it gives people one of the things that they have been asking for. It gives them that type of consumer protection because, if you can read the English language and you can see the lyrics on the back, you have no excuse for complaning if you take the record out of the store.

And also, I think that the record industry has been damaged and it has been given a very bad rap by this whole situation because it has been indicated, or people have attempted to indicate, that there is so much of this kind of material that people object to in the industry, that that is what the industry is.

It is not bad at all. Some of the albums that have been selected for abuse here are obscure. Some of them are already several years old. And I think that a lot of deep digging was done in order to come up with the song about anal vapors or whatever it was that they were talking about before.

Senator EXON. If I understand you, you would be in support of printing the lyrics, but you are adamantly opposed to any kind of a rating system?

Mr. ZAPPA. I am opposed to the rating system because, as I said, if you put a rating on the record it goes directly to the character of the person who made the record, whereas if you rate a film, a guy who is in the film has been hired as an actor. He is pretending. You rate the film, whatever it is, it does not hurt him.

But whether you like what is on the record or not, the guy who made it, that is his art and to stigmatize him is unfair.

Senator EXON. Well, likewise, if you are primarily concerned about the artists, is it not true that for many many years, we have had ratings of movies with indications as to the sexual content of movies and that has been, as near as I can tell, a voluntary action on the part of the actors in the movies and the producers of the movies and the distributors?

That seems to have worked reasonably well. What is wrong with that?

Mr. ZAPPA. Well, first of all, it replaced something that was far more restrictive, which was the Hayes Office. And as far as that being voluntary, there are people who wish they did not have to rate their films. They still object to rating their films, but the reason the ratings go on is because if they are not rated they will not get distributed or shown in theaters. So there is a little bit of pressure involved, but still there is no stigma.

Senator EXON. The Government does not require that. The point I am trying to make is — and while I think these hearings should not have been held if we are not considering legislation or regulations at this time, I emphasized earlier that they might follow.

I simply want to say to you that I suspect that, unless the industry “clears up their act” — and I use that in quotes again — there is likely to be legislation. And it seems to me that it would not be too far removed from reality or too offensive to anyone if you could follow the general guidelines, right, wrong, or indifferent, that are now in place with regard to the movie industry.

Mr. ZAPPA. Well, I would object to that. I think first of all, I believe it was you who asked the question of Mrs. Gore whether there was any other indication on the album as to the contents. And I would say that a buzzsaw blade between a guy’s legs on the album cover is a good indication that it is not for little Johnny.

Senator EXON. I do not believe I asked her that question, but the point you made is a good one, because if that should not go to little minds I think there should be at least some minimal activity or attempt on the part of the producers and distributors, and indeed possibly the performers, to see that that does not get to that little mind.

Mr. Chairman, thank you very much.

The CHAIRMAN. Senator Hollings.

Senator HOLLINGS. Mr. Zappa, I apologize for coming back in late, but I am just hearing the latter part of it. I hear that you say that perhaps we could print the words, and I think that is a good suggestion, but it is unfair to have albums rated.

Now, it is not considered unfair in the movie industry, and I want you to elaborate. I do not want to belabor you, but why is it unfair? I mean, it is accurate, is it not?

Mr. ZAPPA. Well, I do not know whether it is accurate, because sometimes they have trouble deciding how a film gets to be an X or an R or whatever. And you have two problems. One is the quantity of material, 325 films per year versus 25,000 4-minute songs per year, OK.

You also have a problem that an album is a compilation of different types of cuts. If one song on the album is sexually explicit and all the rest of it sounds like Pat Boone, what do you get on the album? How are you going to rate it?

There are little technical difficulties here, and and you have the problem of having somebody in the position of deciding what’s good, what’s bad, what’s talking about the devil, what is too violent, and the rest of that stuff.

But the point I made before is that when you rate the album you are rating the individual, because he takes personal responsibility for the music; and in the movies, the actors who are performing in the movie, it does not hurt them.

Senator HOLLINGS. Well, very good. I think the actual printing of the content itself is perhaps even better than the rating. Let everyone else decide.

Mr. ZAPPA. I think you should leave it up to the parents, because not all parents want to keep their children totally ignorant.

Senator HOLLINGS. Well, you and I would differ on what is ignorance and education, I can see that. But if it was there, they could see what they were buying and I think that is a step in the right direction.

As Senator Exon has pointed out, the primary movers in this particular regard are not looking for legislation or regulations, which is our function. To be perfectly candid with you, I would look for regulations or some kind of legislation, if it could be constitutionally accomplished, unless of course we have these initiatives from the industry itself.

I think your suggestion is a good one. If you print those words, that would go a long way toward satisfying everyone’s objections.

Mr. ZAPPA. All we have to do is find out how it is going to be paid for.

Senator HOLLINGS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The CHAIRMAN. Senator Hawkins.

Senator HAWKINS. Mr. Zappa, you suy you have four children?

Mr. ZAPPA. Yes, four children.

Senator HAWKINS. Have you ever purchased toys for those children?

Mr. ZAPPA. No; my wife does.

Senator HAWKINS. Well, I might tell you that if you were to go in a toy store — which is very educational for fathers, by the way; it is not a maternal responsibility to buy toys for children — that you may look on the box and the box says, this is suitable for 5 to 7 years of age, or 8 to 15, or 15 and above, to give you some guidance for a toy for a child.

Do you object to that?

Mr. ZAPPA. In a way I do, because that means that somebody in an office someplace is making a decision about how smart my child is.

Senator HAWKINS. I would be interested to see what toys your kids ever had.

Mr. ZAPPA. Why would you be interested?

Senator HAWKINS. Just as a point of interest.

Mr. ZAPPA. Well, come on over to the house. I will show them to you.

Senator HAWKINS. I might do that.

Do you make a profit from sales of rock records?

Mr. ZAPPA. Yes.

Senator HAWKINS. So you do make a profit from the sales of rock records?

Mr. ZAPPA. Yes.

Senator HAWKINS. Thank you. I think that statement tells the story to this committee. Thank you.

The CHAIRMAN. Mr. Zappa, thank you very much for your testimony.

Mr. ZAPPA. Thank you.

I've read this a number of times throughout my life, and am always struck by just how intelligent it is. Zappa doesn't pull punches; he's biting and sarcastic -- but he also addresses the problem, the proposal, what's wrong with it, why music is distinct from film (over and over and over again, because the Senators clearly are not fucking listening to him), and a sensible alternative solution. He also lays out what he thinks the RIAA's ulterior motives might be, and makes an appeal for better music education in the bargain.

The Senators -- well, Gore comes off the best; a little on the obsequious side but reasonable and conciliatory.

Gorton (I loved him as the Riddler) comes off the worst; he contributes absolutely nothing to the debate and, as all reactionaries inevitably do, simply takes a moment to say something condescending to his obvious intellectual superior.

(In The Real Frank Zappa Book, Frank adds that Gorton is wrong and that in fact he got an A in high school civics.)

Exon -- who, as Zappa notes in the book, is not exactly the most liberal guy (and indeed would continue to push legislation for government censorship, sponsoring the Communications Decency Act of 1996) -- also comes across as fairly reasonable, agreeing with Frank's fundamental point that making the lyrics available to buyers is preferable to a ratings system.

So where'd we end up?

Well, there was no legislation, and no ratings system.

But lyrics were never visibly included with albums either.

As "compromise" there was a voluntary, vague "PARENTAL ADVISORY: EXPLICIT LYRICS" sticker.

Eventually, physical media gave way to digital, and, thanks in large part to fans who just don't give a fuck about copyright, it is totally trivial to look up the lyrics to virtually any song.

But the argument persists, of course.

I headlined my first Zappa post "As True Now", and unfortunately time flows like a river and history repeats. Video games are the boogeyman now, and the same damn-fool arguments keep rearing their ugly heads: "Well, a child can just walk into a store and buy a copy of Grand Theft Auto!"

Though that's calmed down since Brown v EMA, where the Supreme Court soundly rejected the notion of government regulation of violent video games.

And here's the funny thing: the closest recent analogue I can think of to Zappa's Senate testimony...is the words of the Justices themselves in oral arguments.

Sotomayor referenced Bugs Bunny and Spock. Kagan mentioned that her clerks had grown up playing Mortal Kombat and seemed to have turned out all right. Scalia -- God. I am not president of Scalia's fan club, so it pains me to say he fucking hit it out of the park. Hell, he even used Zappa's response to that hypothetical I just mentioned:

JUSTICE SCALIA: Not too many 13-year-olds walk in with a $50 bill, do they?

Even Breyer's dissent was well-reasoned. He's got a point: it is absurd that the government can restrict the sale of magazines that show nipples but not video games that show decapitation. He and I are absolutely agreed on that point -- we just disagree on what conclusion it implies.

Basically, we've got eight Justices who made intelligent, insightful arguments in Brown v EMA, and one who appears prominently in a Google search for "Long Dong Silver".

Well, the fight continues and it'll continue through whatever the hell medium is the next boogeyman. And while it's sad that Zappa is no longer with us to argue eloquently for common sense, I think history shows that common sense always wins out in the end.

A Meeting of the Minds

And continuing with Zappa and Kirby, here's...Zappa and Kirby!

No fooling!  It's a picture of Zappa and Kirby!

This one made the rounds back in aught-nine, after an article by Jeff Newelt at Royal Flush Magazine, who caught up with Ahmet Zappa to ask him about it.

The son of a gregarious rock star, Ahmet grew up meeting every celebrity musician under the sun. But it wasn't a rocker who gave Ahmet that first feeling of being around greatness. "I was not starstruck at all by rock stars because music is its own language and my father spoke it, so we spoke it," Ahmet explains matter-of-factly. "This totally demystified the fame or the celebrity. There was no currency for 'oooh, that guy sold a million records, we just cared about good music. One of the most significant moments in my life is when my dad said, 'meet Jack, he's the guy who created all those superheroes you love.' That blew my little mind. I thought it was awesome and weird that my dad had this friendship with this guy. It was like meeting like a real magician!"

[...]

"I remember Jack confided in Frank that he felt like the stories he created helped shape the Star Wars saga, that he saw direct parallels between his characters and the movie's story arcs."

Of all rock stars in the world, Zappa, famously an outspoken champion of free speech and artist's rights, was the ultimate sympathetic ear.

"He told my dad stuff like, 'Darth Vader was Doctor Doom and the Force is the Source' and that George Lucas ripped him off. Now this you may not know, and I was only a kid, but I remember learning at the dinner table that my dad was asked to write the music for Star Wars; he turned it down, he said he wasn't interested. That would've been really strange, the lives of us Star Wars fans woulda taken a different turn and that whole score woulda sounded like Tatooine Cantina music."

Give the article a read; it's also got a neat Rick Veitch illustration of Zappa as a Kirby-style superhero complete with outlandish headgear. Which is also available as a T-shirt at World of Strange!

On Alan Moore

Arguments on the Internet are waged through cliché.

Before Watchmen is out today. Alan Moore isn't too happy about it, and has made it abundantly clear that he did not approve it.

Bring this subject up, and sooner or later somebody -- perhaps even an ordinarily intelligent person -- is going to introduce the false-equivalence argument, "Did JM Barrie approve Lost Girls? Did Bram Stoker approve League of Extraordinary Gentlemen?"

I shouldn't have to explain why that is a stupid comparison, but let me just get it out of the way:

JM Barrie did not approve Lost Girls and Bram Stoker did not approve League because JM Barrie and Bram Stoker are fucking dead.

Alan Moore: Not dead. Still alive. Vocally complaining about the use of his characters and concepts.
JM Barrie and Bram Stoker: Dead. Not still alive. They do not have an opinion about Alan Moore.

Not remotely the same thing.

So, okay, point that out and whoever brought it up might concede that point, but then next on the list is "But Watchmen is based on the Charlton Comics characters; it wasn't original in the first place."

Well, you're getting warmer, but still no.

While it's true that the Watchmen cast is deliberately derivative, it is distinct. Rorschach is not the Question, Dr. Manhattan is not Captain Atom, and Nite Owl is not Blue Beetle.

I do think it would have been nice for Moore, Gibbons, DC, or somebody to offer Steve Ditko a check for inspiring their runaway success. (Ditko would likely have refused, because he is Ditko, but it would have been a nice gesture.) But I also think that that's a fundamentally different situation than if, say, the story actually had featured the Question, Captain Atom, and Blue Beetle and Ditko had been asking them not to make it.

Being able to create original characters who are clear analogues to existing characters is a good thing, and the comics industry is built on it. Superman is based on Doc Savage and Batman is based on the Shadow. But they are most certainly not Doc Savage and the Shadow; they're not merely distinct legally, but also morally and artistically. Just as the characters in Watchmen are distinct from their inspirations.

Even in current issues of League, where Moore is clearly using still-living creators' characters with the serial numbers filed off -- most notably Voldemort --, it's still not the same thing. Including a popular, culturally-important character in a minor role or cameo in an ensemble book and never referring to him by name is qualitatively different from making him the main character and sticking him on the cover.

All that said, there are some people who have made a fair point and a rational comparison in this debate: Alan Moore did spend most of the 1980's working on other people's characters. Superman, Batman, Green Lantern -- for someone who now bemoans DC's predatory contracts, he didn't seem too concerned about Jerry and Joe's cut when he wrote Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?

And that is a fair point. You can take this a number of different ways, I suppose -- it could be that Alan Moore was simply young and naive and didn't think about things like that in those days. Or it could be that he, Scott Kurtz-like, knew about the injustices of the past but naively believed that things were All Better Now.

Or, cynically, it could just be that he didn't care about unfair contracts until one affected him, or until after he was already rich enough that he could afford to tell DC off.

Honestly, that's a valid interpretation. I can respect that opinion. It's not flattering, but it's at least logically consistent.

And the other thing is, you know, Alan Moore is kind of a dick.

First, there are the blanket statements he constantly makes about everyone at DC and Marvel being terrible and doing nothing but rehash his ideas from 25 years ago. Now unfortunately, I do believe there's some truth to that -- grim-'n'-gritty stories attempting to duplicate Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns are a blight on the superhero genre -- but to say that there's not one person with a single original or creative idea at either company is just, by Moore's own admission, an insult delivered from a position of ignorance.

There's also a whiff of the paranoid conspiracy theorist to Moore's ranting about DC. I don't really think DC bought WildStorm just to get Moore back. And neither do I think that Steve Moore (friend, no relation)'s novelization of the Watchmen movie was scrapped out of petty revenge against Alan, acted out through coded threats transmitted through an unwitting Dave Gibbons -- I find it far more likely that someone at DC just realized that making a novelization of a movie that tried its hardest to be a shot-for-shot adaptation of an existing comic book they already published was a fucking stupid idea.

But his claim that DC was using Gibbons to send weird coded threats brings us to another problem I have with Moore: he has a pretty spotty history with his co-creators.

I think it's wonderful that he refused his share of royalties from V for Vendetta and Watchmen and insisted that it be given to David Lloyd and Dave Gibbons, respectively. I also think that it's a damn shame that, afterward, he accused them of being ungrateful and refused to speak to them ever again.

And that's something that I think too many people have ignored here: comics is a collaborative medium, Alan Moore didn't make these comics by himself, and unfortunately he doesn't just have a history of falling out with his collaborators, he also has a history of blocking their old work from being reprinted.

Steve Bissette -- who says he still has no idea what he said that made Moore refuse to speak to him anymore -- has spoken at length about his attempts with Rick Veitch to reprint 1963 and Moore's refusal to let it happen, and has noted, sardonically, that as much as he hates work-for-hire, it's his WFH collaborations with Alan that are still in print and earning him royalties, not their creator-owned work.

So while I still think Moore and Gibbons should own Watchmen, I acknowledge the very real possibility that if they did, Moore might still have declared Gibbons to be persona non grata and might very well have forced Watchmen out of print. We'll never know.


To the matter of the Watchmen contract: I don't think anyone was attempting to hoodwink Moore and Gibbons with the reversion clause; neither they nor DC had any expectation that the book would stay in print and never revert.

To that end, I can see DC's point that it tried, for decades, to reach an agreement with Moore that would be favorable to all parties, up to and including offering him the rights back if he'd write the prequels himself, and that he was intractable. And I can see Moore's point that DC was moving the goalposts and offering him what it had already agreed to give him, in exchange for more in return from him.

In that sense, it can be viewed as simply a dilemma, as two parties unable to reach an agreement (with Gibbons trapped in the middle) and both sympathetic to a certain extent.

On the other hand, there were cases where DC clearly took advantage of Moore and Gibbons, most notably in the case of the Watchmen buttons it sold as "promos" so that it wouldn't have to pay them their cut for merchandising.

And Moore has recently claimed that his contract actually stipulated that if he ever refused to agree to anything DC proposed to do with the property, they could hire their own lawyer to sign in his stead. And if that's true, then yeah, I think the contract was predatory.

Which does, of course, mean that Moore should have had a lawyer go over his contract in the first place -- I don't think anyone, including Moore himself, disagrees with that.

But what I don't quite get is the frequent line of reasoning, "He signed a contract, therefore he deserves anything that happens as a result of that." Well, legally, sure, but ethically that's far too callous a worldview for my tastes. The notion that it's Moore's fault for allowing DC to take advantage of him -- well, certainly he deserves some share of the blame, but what I don't get is how that absolves DC of any blame for actually taking advantage of him.

JM Straczynski's "Did Alan Moore get a crummy contract? Yes. So has everyone at this table. Worse was Segal [sic] and Shuster, worse was a lot of people" dismissal is particularly galling.

But JMS inadvertently brings up another point -- by being, himself, a perfect example of a famously difficult person to work with, a guy known for publicly criticizing the people who sign his checks, who DC puts up with anyway because he brings in good money.

Moore may seem intractable, but DC hasn't gone to much trouble to keep him happy. As Heidi MacDonald recently noted, he was willing to collaborate with them on a Watchmen retrospective back in 2000 -- but after that, DC pulled one of his stories, almost didn't publish Black Dossier, and never did publish it in the format Moore and O'Neill wanted.

Hell, Moore was even consulted for the V for Vendetta movie up until he read a script written by Americans who didn't even have a working idea of how British people talked or the basic structure of the British government.

Moore may be a crank, but MacDonald's point is sound: DC is making the same mistake it's been making since 1939. It's focusing on the characters as its treasure trove instead of their creators.

Way I see it, Before Watchmen will sell well at first and be largely forgotten in a year or two. It's another example, like the New 52, of short-term gimmick thinking -- it'll be a blip on the radar, rather than something that brings in new long-term readers and fans.

You know what could have brought in new readers and fans? New material by Alan Moore.

DC is so singularly focused on wringing every last penny out of Watchmen that it hasn't even stopped to consider what made the book great. It wasn't Ozymandias and the Comedian. It was Moore, Gibbons, and colorist John Higgins.

And maybe Moore was always going to get pissed off and take his ball and go home. Maybe nothing DC could have done would have been enough to get him to stay. Or maybe, if they'd gone to more trouble to keep their biggest-name creator happy, he'd still be around churning out new bestselling books for them -- we'll never know.


Course, there's also the point that Before Watchmen is a terrible idea in the first place, and it would still be a terrible idea even if Moore gave it his blessing -- even if Moore wrote it himself. (And yes, he was planning on it at one point.)

Watchmen is a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end. It stands alone, and should continue to do so. I love Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner (and I've enjoyed some stuff by JMS and Azzarello), but I'd much rather see them working on something new.


Discuss this in the Watchmen thread at Brontoforumus!

All or Nothin'

The most baffling argument I've been seeing lately to bolster the "Kirby's family shouldn't get any money" line is, "Well, it wasn't just Lee and Kirby who created the Avengers, it was Lieber and Heck, and Ditko designed the red and gold Iron Man armor, and Millar and Hitch made Nick Fury look like Sam Jackson and and and and and..."

Well, you know, I absolutely agree: Lieber, Heck, Ditko, Millar, Hitch, and plenty of other guys did very important work on Avengers over the years, work which made it into the movie.

The part where it gets fucking baffling isn't the first part, the "Lots of people made Avengers what it is" part. I get that. The part I just can't make sense of is "therefore none of them deserve any money."

Honestly, what the fuck is that?

I saw a guy on the ComicsAlliance comments section the other day argue that if Marvel compensated everyone whose work was adapted in Avengers, it would bankrupt the company.

What?

Tom Spurgeon recently wrote a lovely post titled These Comics-Makers Created The Avengers, spotlighting the writers and artists who made major contributions to the franchise that were used in the movie. He lists Stan Lee (the Avengers, Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Loki, Black Widow, Hawkeye, SHIELD, The Cosmic Cube, Pepper Potts, Jarvis, Nick Fury), Jack Kirby (the Avengers, Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Thor, SHIELD, Loki, the Cosmic Cube, Jarvis, Nick Fury), Don Heck (Iron Man, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Pepper Potts, and a good chunk of the early Avengers), Larry Lieber (Iron Man, Thor, Loki), Brian Michael Bendis (Maria Hill, Ultimate Nick Fury), Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch (The Ultimates, which the Avengers movie is largely based on, most notably in the casting of Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury), Joe Simon (Captain America), Don Rico (Black Widow), David Finch (Maria Hill), Mike Allred (Ultimate Nick Fury), Steve Ditko (the red-and-gold Iron Man armor and a shitload of other refinements of Kirby et al's characters), and Jim Starlin ([SPOILER]). I would have added Adi Granov to the list, too, as that's his version of the Iron Man armor up on the screen, but unlike most of the others he actually worked directly on the movies, adapted the armor for film himself, and got a paycheck and a spot in the credits that's not "Special Thanks".

So okay. That's fourteen dudes.

Let's say that you gave each of those guys (or their heirs, where applicable) a million dollars for making The Avengers. It doesn't have to be a million; that's just a number I'm picking -- partly because it's what Marvel gives Stan Lee every year, and partly because it's a pretty big chunk of change that you can reasonably assume none of them would refuse. (Except Ditko.)

So okay. That's fourteen million dollars. (Thirteen if you acknowledge that Ditko would certainly refuse; twelve if you take Stan out because he already got his million dollars.) Out of a movie that has grossed over a billion so far. Without factoring in merchandising, cable, DVD, etc.

According to mathematics, fourteen million is 1.4% of one billion. Or, 28% of the $50 million that Robert Downey Jr. allegedly made from the movie (according to anonymous sources, reported by Hollywood Reporter). Now, before anyone accuses me of saying Downey got paid too much or didn't deserve that money -- that's not my argument. He was in the movie; he's the main talent that this entire franchise was built on. And he's a great actor. Good for him, and I don't begrudge him a single thin dime he's earned from it. No, my point is merely that if Marvel Studios, Disney, Paramount et al can afford $50 million for one guy, it can afford a total of $14 million for fourteen guys.

"But," goes the inevitable argument, "it won't stop there! If you give money to those fourteen guys, everyone will want some! Where do you draw the liiiiiine? If you give money to those fourteen people, you have to give money to every single person who ever worked on an Avengers comic! And then the guy who drove the delivery truck is going to want a piece of the action!"

(I would like to add that that last bit is not an exaggeration. I saw a guy use that exact argument once in a debate about the Superman rights. I am not kidding even a little.)

Well, first of all, that's a stupid slippery-slope argument. Just because you agree to compensate fourteen or so people does not mean you agree to compensate everybody. That's stupid. If you make that argument, you're stupid, or at least pretending to be stupid.

(Well, I shouldn't say "at least" -- I happen to think pretending to be stupid is much worse than actually being stupid.)

You can draw a clearly-defined line. For me, it's a pretty simple one: the people who deserve compensation are the writers and pencilers who created any of the specific characters, costumes, locations, devices, or stories adapted in the movie.

And yes, there's ambiguity there. But guess what? Marvel's already got to sort out ambiguity. Is Scarlet Witch an Avenger or an X-Woman? Do the Spider-Woman movie rights belong to Marvel Studios or Sony? There are already lawyers whose job it is to sort out those distinctions; they can sort out whether Jim Steranko had a significant hand in the Avengers source material too.

(And an aside: on the "What about the inkers, colorists, and letterers?" question, I don't believe they qualify as creators but I do believe they deserve royalties. I don't think they should get royalties from the Avengers movie, but I absolutely think they should get royalties from any Avengers comics they personally worked on.)

Cartoonist Scott Kurtz recently put this asinine argument to work:

And to say that Jack Kirby is responsible for that Avengers movie is a ridiculous notion and insulting to the combined hard work of thousands, if not tens of thousands, of creators who have put their efforts into keeping our modern mythos of super-heroes alive and well.

Well, okay, there may be tens of thousands of people who have worked on superhero comics. Maybe. And yes, arguing that every single person who has ever worked on a superhero comic should get compensated for the Avengers movie would be incredibly fucking stupid. Which is, I suppose, the main reason that nobody, anywhere, ever has actually made that argument.

But for shits and grins, let's say a thousand people have worked on Avengers over the past 50 years or so. I think that's a pretty high number, but let's go with it.

So okay. In that case, if you were to compensate every single one of them, you couldn't afford to give each of them a million dollars.

But you know what? If you gave each of them ten thousand dollars, you would then be giving them about one percent of what the movie has grossed.

I am not, of course, literally suggesting that every single person who ever worked on an Avengers comic should be paid ten thousand dollars. I'm just saying that they could, and it would amount to a rounding error, which makes the weaksauce "If you give money to the Kirby heirs you have to give it to eeeeverybodyyyyy!" slippery-slope argument that much weaker.

Anyhow, that's a lot of words, and there are guys who've made this point a lot better than I have, in under 140 characters.

Evan Dorkin:

So, others worked on The Avengers et al after Kirby et al. That's your answer? Really? Buildings without foundations collapse, assholes.

Kurt Busiek:

Speaking as one who worked on AVENGERS after Kirby, @evandorkin -- I couldn't have done it without someone creating the characters and book.


Oh, and I updated my Preemptive Response post of answers to all the most obnoxious clichés that inevitably crop up in every discussion of the Kirby heirs' attempt to reclaim rights to his characters. Why, no reason at all.

Thad Doesn't Review The Avengers

Here's the thing: I'm boycotting The Avengers.

It was Steve Bissette who convinced me, in a blog post last summer just following the summary judgement against Jack Kirby's heirs. After that judgement it looks like the heirs will never receive their due through the legal system, and the court of public opinion is their last recourse. I haven't bought Kirby-derived Marvel product since.

People have argued this one up and down, and done it well -- James Sturm, David Brothers, Chris Roberson, Heidi MacDonald, Steve Bissette again -- so I'm not going to go into an extensive retread just at this moment. But to summarize:

Yes, Jack Kirby is dead. No, his children didn't write or draw those comics. Neither did Bob Iger or Roy Disney III, both of whom stand to make massive bank on this movie and both of whom are in the position of making a lot of money on this movie because of who they are related to. Captain America should be in the public domain by now, but he's not, again thanks to Disney.

Marvel gives Stan Lee a million dollars a year. His contract stipulates that if he dies before his wife, then she (who also did not write or draw any of those comics) will continue to get a million dollars a year until she dies.

Kirby should have gotten the same deal Lee did. And if he had, he would have left his money to his children.

Never mind the rights questions and the work-for-hire versus spec questions. (Personally I believe Kirby did at least some of his work on spec, and Marvel "lost" the evidence among the thousands of pages of art they contractually agreed to return to him and then didn't. But again, never mind that for now.) Just giving some form of compensation to the Kirby heirs at this point would be a step toward rectifying the injustices Marvel did to Kirby over the course of his life. Plus, as Kurt Busiek recently noted, if Marvel (and DC for that matter) started retroactively applying their current standard contracts to past creators, people like the Kirby heirs and Gary Friedrich would spend less time suing them and more time promoting their movies.

Anyway, here's the other thing: last night somebody handed me a free ticket to go see The Avengers, and I realized that yes, this was a loophole in my boycott. If I don't pay to see it, I'm not supporting it.

Now granted, Marvel/Disney/Viacom/whoever paid for my ticket, and it was part of a marketing strategy -- word-of-mouth, buzz, what-have-you. So here's my thinking: if I talk about the movie, then they've accomplished their goal, and I've broken my boycott.

So I'm not going to talk about the movie. If I say I liked it, then I'm doing just what Disney wants me to. If I say I hated it, then that misses the point -- then I'm suggesting people shouldn't see it because it's a bad movie, not for ethical reasons. If you choose not to see a bad movie, that's not actually a boycott. (I remember lots of people in various comments sections saying they would boycott Ghost Rider 2 over Marvel's treatment of Gary Friedrich -- I reminded them that it's only a boycott if they had planned on seeing the movie in the first place.)

But yeah, I saw it. And I'm going to talk about my moviegoing experience.

I suppose you could argue that I'm still giving them what they want, if you really believe there's no such thing as bad publicity and any mention of the movie is good for them...but, well, read on.


The movie was at 7 PM, and my fiancée and I arrived before 5. She'd eaten and I hadn't, so she grabbed us a spot in line while I found the nearest place to grab a slice of pizza.

The slice I bought was mediocre and I would probably not go back. I felt particularly disapponted inasmuch as the theater is a couple of blocks from my favorite pizza place ever, but I didn't have the time or the money for that spot.

(Tangentially, several nights before I'd had a dream where I was lost in the New York subway system trying to find a good slice of pizza. Because yes, of course you can find a slice of pizza on any given corner in Manhattan, but I was trying to find a really good place. I am sure that this is a metaphor for something.)

So anyway, I got back and grabbed my 3D glasses and my spot in line. I love my fiancée but I think I may have to fire her from holding-my-place-in-line duty. Holding someone's place in line requires more than just waving him over when he walks in; you also need to make sure that you leave enough room around you for a human adult to stand comfortably in.

And so began the hours-long wait in line. It went about how these things usually go: standing in line sucks, but you're there with other people who share a common interest. I was next to a kid who had just read Knightfall and gushed about it while describing The Brave and the Bold as "unwatchably terrible" -- well, at least he's a kid who's enthusiastic about comics.

'Round about 5:45, a manager came up to the line and announced that no cameras would be allowed in the theater.

Including camera phones.

IE, a thing that every single fucking person carries in their pocket, because this is two thousand and goddamn twelve.

Now, I know that this completely fucking boneheaded policy was Disney's and/or Viacom's fault, not the theater's. But what is the theater's fault is that they waited until we'd been in line for an hour to tell us. Yes, as it turns out it was written on our tickets -- in an illegibly-tiny, illegibly-antialiased font way down at the bottom —, but how the hell hard is it to post signage and tell the guy at the door to let everyone know as they come in?

So I went back to the car, along with at least one person from every single group in line. Fortunately, this allowed the line to rearrange itself in a way so that I actually had room to stand comfortably when I got back. And hey, it could have been worse -- as I discovered when the line started moving, the guys who got there first had to stand in a really cramped spot, next to lighted movie posters that gave off a noticeable amount of heat.

And then came the wands.

They didn't pat us down, at least, but there were actually people in suits outside the theater entrance who wanded us to make sure we didn't have cell phones on us.

Let me fucking tell you something, Disney and Viacom.

Captain America did not go to war and punch Hitler in the goddamn face so that he could wake up 70 years later in an America where people have to pass through security to see a goddamn movie.

All so that somebody wouldn't record a 3D movie with their fucking phone and post it on the Internet. Because that would really hurt this movie's business, I'm sure.

Well, the good news is it totally worked and nobody managed to sneak a camera into any of the screenings and post the movie on the Internet within a matter of houohhhhh I'm just messin' with you guys, of fucking course somebody did. I checked this morning, just for curiosity's sake, and yes, surprising absolutely no one, a bootleg cam video of the movie is now readily available on the Internet.

What, you mean irritating and inconveniencing law-abiding customers didn't actually stop anyone from pirating something? I sure never would have guessed that from every single time anyone has tried it, ever!

Anyway. After the wanding we were admitted into a theater that really was not big enough for the size of the crowd. I'm given to understand they opened a second one -- which means we would have gotten better seats if we'd shown up later, because as it was we wound up way too damn close to the screen. (We were in the second row. We were told the first row was reserved for press. If the people who wound up sitting there were press, they must have been there for their high school paper.)

The seats sucked, but on the whole I was surprised to find that they didn't really suck any more for a 3D movie than they would have for a 2D one. There was a sense that the whole thing was hovering above us, and of course since you are actually looking at a plane, yes, shapes distort depending on your viewing angle. And there were bits where the screen had some single massive object filling it that made my eyes cross. But still, I don't think it was any worse than if I'd watched a regular movie from that seat. The problem isn't 3D, it's poor theater design.

All in all, I would say the theatergoing experience left a lot to be desired, and I'm certainly going to remember it the next time I think about attending a prerelease screening -- or even a popular new release.

But I will say one good thing about it: it's the only time this century I've gone to a movie and nobody in the audience had a damn phone.


There's been some talk about credits over the last few days -- an interviewer asked Stan Lee why Jack Kirby wasn't credited in the movie and Stan gave the kind of tone-deaf response he often makes when people ask him questions about credit: he actually said "In what way would his name appear?" (He added that "it's mentioned in every comic book; it says 'By Stan Lee and Jack Kirby'"; I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he's referring to the original comics that Jack actually co-wrote and drew with him, because no, Jack does not get a creator credit on most of the current Marvel books.) I know Stan doesn't make these decisions (anymore), but I think he should have responded with "Well, that doesn't sound right; I'll ask around and see what I can do."

People have pointed out since that Kirby's name is in the credits. I didn't see it, but I think it was probably in the "special thanks" section 2/3 of the way down; the credits went by fast and the only names I caught there were Millar, Hitch, and Lieber. (And I'm certainly not saying those names don't belong there, mind; Lieber co-created Iron Man, and this movie is largely adapted from Millar and Hitch's The Ultimates -- indeed, I read an interview where Millar says they're not getting any compensation from the movie and if that's true I think it's outrageous.)

At any rate, my point is, I didn't see Kirby's name in the credits, and I was looking for it.

So, to answer Stan's question, "In what way would his name appear?" Well, Spider-Man had a big "Created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko" credit right at the beginning, and I think the Marvel Studios movies should have the same thing. I realize that Avengers, in particular, has a lot more creator credits, but I don't care; I still think they should be up onscreen in the opening titles, every one of 'em.

(An alternative idea, that I know could never actually happen but would like to see: in the end credits you get a prominent credit for each of the leads. The Iron Man helmet with Downey's name, the shield with Evans's, and so on. You could couple those with creator credits. Prominent, middle-of-the-screen credit saying "ROBERT DOWNEY JR.", and then, lower down and in smaller type, "Iron Man created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Larry Lieber, and Don Heck". Then the big "CHRIS EVANS", with a smaller "Captain America created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby". And so on down the line. No, this would never happen in real life, because I am talking about messing with the top-billed actors' credits, but...a man can dream.)


Playing: Xenoblade
Reading: The Neverending Story
Drinking: Lumberyard IPA. It was on sale at my local liquor store, and I checked the label only to discover that "Lumberyard" is actually the Beaver Street Brewery, my old college watering hole. It tastes like the good ol' days. And hops.