Tag: Kurt Busiek

More from Busiek on that Final Fantasy Comic

For those of you just joining us by way of a link from Kurt Busiek or CBR, welcome. I guess I should probably figure out something interesting to say so you'll feel like sticking around for a bit. For what it's worth, I've written quite a bit about Final Fantasy over the years, and three posts I wrote about FF7 back in 2011 (the first on mods for the PC version, the second on iconic images, and the third a general look back on the game) are pretty consistently the most popular thing on the site.

In lieu of me saying anything interesting, I'm going to quote a little bit more from Kurt Busiek on the unfinished Final Fantasy comic, in the comments section of the Robot 6 article on the subject.

I will also add that if the book came out, I don’t think that Final Fantasy fans would be particularly happy with it. It was 1991, and I was a workmanlike-but-not-particularly-noted writer. Dell Barras was a workmanlike artist, and, well, the covers were gorgeous.

But I don’t think I really started to make strides creatively as a writer until VAMPIRELLA: MORNING IN AMERICA (late that year) and the industry didn’t notice ’til MARVELS in 1993.

So, while I barely remember the details, I expect it was a workmanlike story that made sense but wasn’t particularly memorable, with workmanlike art and great covers.

And heresy upon heresies, I changed things (with Squaresoft’s permission). I thought it was so odd that the manly heroic lead was named Cecil and his loyal buddy was named Cain (really? You name the loyal guy Cain?) that I suggested maybe they needed Americanized names, and Squarest agreed. I don’t remember what I changed them to, but Squarest liked them enough that they asked if I’d be interested in a staff position making the games more American-appropriate. We never talked much about it, because I wanted to freelance. But I bet fans devoted to the game wouldn’t have liked the changes, especially not from a current POV, looking back.

What can I say? I wasn’t particularly a Final Fantasy fan — I’d played their first US game a little, and the second wasn’t even done yet.

He adds, in a later comment, that the bible he'd been given didn't even mention that Kain spends half the game betraying Cecil, and talks a little bit more about the original (FF1-based) outline he wrote.

(If he had been involved in localizing the game, I'm willing to bet it would have been better than what we initially got. But he'd have still been contending with cartridge space limitations and weird Nintendo censorship.)

Mignola Final Fantasy Covers

Well now. It appears that Kurt Busiek just reblogged a Tumblr post by Alex Chung, which, in turn, links back to a post I wrote back in '012 about Busiek, Barras, and Mignola's unfinished Final Fantasy comic (based on Final Fantasy 4).

So since that old post is probably getting a little bit of new traffic, I should follow it up, now that I have a couple of Mignola's covers for the series.

This one is via Chung's post, and would have been the cover to issue #2:
Final Fantasy #2 cover

And this was sent to me just over a year ago by Dale Jackson, who owns the original art; it would have been the cover of #4:
Final Fantasy #4 cover

Alex, thanks for linking to my post and for including the #2 cover; Dale, thanks for the heads-up on the #4 cover and I'm sorry it took so long to post it.

Kirbys and Marvel Settle

Today, Marvel and the Kirby Estate released a short joint statement:

Marvel and the family of Jack Kirby have amicably resolved their legal disputes, and are looking forward to advancing their shared goal of honoring Mr. Kirby’s significant role in Marvel’s history.

It's finally over.

I've revised my 2010 form post, The King's Ransom, for what I hope will be the last time.

A bit of context, since I wasn't updating the blog back in June (though I did tweak the aforementioned form post): the Kirby heirs were appealing the case to the Supreme Court, and a number of amicus briefs were filed in the case by prominent groups including the Artists' Rights Society and the International Intellectual Property Institute. Among others, Bruce Lehman, former director of the USPTO, argued that the instance and expense test that the previous judgement against the Kirby heirs hinged on violated Supreme Court precedent.

The Supreme Court was set to decide whether or not to take the case in just a few days.

Kurt Busiek says, in the comments section at The Beat:

Considering that the Kirby Estate didn’t seem to have anything to lose by going to the Supreme Court, but Marvel/Disney had a lot on the line, I’m thinking (or hoping, at least) that this was a decent settlement for the Estate. Given the timing — if the Supreme Court had chosen to hear the case, no settlement would then be possible — it virtually has to be a deal spurred on by the side that doesn’t want the case to go to the Court.

However unlikely onlookers think it might be that the Court would take up the case, and however corporate-friendly the Court may seem to be, the stakes are very high, and a settlement may have seemed a better plan than rolling the dice.

Busiek, of course, doesn't have any inside knowledge of the case, but I find he's been extremely knowledgeable about the facts and issues involved.

Mark Evanier -- who does have inside knowledge of the case -- started off this morning by joking that he can finally finish his Kirby biography, and then added, in a second blog post:

If you're coming to this page in search of details and commentary, you've come to the wrong place. I will be saying nothing about it other that I am real, real happy. And I'm sure Jack and his wife Roz, if they're watching this from wherever they are, are real, real, real happy.

I noted, back in a 2013 post about Archie v Penders, that the thing about settlements is that their terms are typically confidential. It's likely that we'll never know the precise details of the Kirby settlement. (If I were a betting man, I'd say Marvel probably agreed to give them the same profit-sharing deal that it gives current creators -- but that's just a guess, and it's worth what you paid for it.)

One thing we will know is whether the settlement involves more prominent creator credits for Kirby. Marvel's creator credits have been inconsistent up to this point -- the original 2002 Spider-Man movie has a "Created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko" credit right upfront, and Agents of SHIELD credits Lee and Kirby at the top of each episode, but other movies have buried creators' names at the bottom of the end credits under a nebulous "special thanks" section. I expect from here on in we'll be seeing much more prominent "Created by Jack Kirby" credits in comics, movies, and TV shows. Guess we'll know soon enough.

And speaking for myself -- I guess my boycott's finally over.

Which is good, because that Mike Allred Silver Surfer sure looks great.

Welcome Back to Astro City

One morning when I was fourteen years old, my uncle asked me, over Sunday breakfast, if I'd heard of Astro City.

"It's great," he told me. "There's this kid who comes to the big city because he wants to get a job as somebody's sidekick."

"Sounds like something out of The Tick," I said.

"Kind of," he responded, "except that it's played totally straight."

So I picked it up, and Uncle Jon was right -- it was wonderful.

I don't remember if #4 or #5 was my first issue, but in short order I'd bought all the back issues too, including the trade of the original miniseries. I haven't missed an issue in the 16 years since. And most of them have been downright sublime -- while, at worst, some were merely all right.

Astro City has disappeared a few times over the years, usually owing to writer Kurt Busiek's chronic health problems. Yesterday, after a nearly three-year hiatus, it relaunched with a new #1. And it was delightful.

Straight away we're introduced to a new character (though one, Kurt teases, who we've seen before) called the Broken Man. He looks like Bowie in Labyrinth or Dream in Sandman, and he breaks the fourth wall and addresses the reader directly as he narrates the rest of the issue.

And what an issue it is. It's new-reader friendly and makes for a great jumping-on point -- but it still manages to pack plenty of nods in for the old fans. Brian Kinney, the kid who came to Astro City in 1996 to become a sidekick? He's in there. And some other familiar faces are too.

It feels like going home. It feels like checking in on old friends you haven't seen in years. And there's only one other comic book that makes me feel like that: Love and Rockets. I think it takes a pretty specific set of variables -- a strong, singular vision by the same creators over a sustained period of time, who are willing to let you feel that passage of time as their characters grow and age, and who are confident enough in their world-building that they can take a break from the same old characters, explore the world, and check back in on the old cast a few years later.

Reading Astro City is like coming home. There's a purity to it, and a joy, and an earnestness. In a time when the superhero genre and superhero fandom are dominated by cynicism, Busiek, Anderson, and Ross aren't afraid to show a world that's bright and full of wonder. And to tell a story that has a complete beginning, middle, and end all in one issue, even if it is Part One of something.

It's not entirely free of irony -- the Broken Man makes a crack about the previous story arc a couple of pages in that made me laugh -- but it's cheerful. It's a book that remembers that superheroes can be both fun and awe-inspiring.

Or not. Because, as much as anything else, it's also a book about ordinary people going about their ordinary lives in an extraordinary world. Regular folks, going to work, living their lives, raising their families.

And that's why Astro City struck a chord. And why it continues to resonate, two decades in. The title aside, it's not really about the city -- though the city is certainly important -- and it's not about superheroes -- though they're pretty important too. It's about people.

And in the new Astro City #1, Kurt Busiek delivers a solid story, with faces new and old, new mysteries, and the prospect of plenty of adventure to come.

As for Brent Anderson, he's really hitting his stride again too. I was a little disappointed with some of his recent work as he began experimenting with digital inking, but in this issue he's back to his crisp old self. His Samaritan, in particular, is a joy to see again, and he handles the rest of the sizable cast with aplomb. Whether he's doing an action scene or just swooping in on an ordinary family, he keeps the action brisk and dynamic. And I'm particularly fond of the new, Kirby-inspired alien character who shows up near the end of the issue.

Ross's cover (I got the "main" one, I guess?) is great as always, but this time it's more remarkable for its composition than for its detail, as 2/3 of it is the dark shape of two doors opening out on the world. It fits the story nicely -- both reflecting the mysterious door as a focal point, and drawing attention to the reader looking in on this world from outside, another key element of the story.


So, by all means, go out and buy the new Astro City #1.

And in the meantime, the original, 1995-vintage Astro City #1 is free on Comixology.

If you want a few more recommendations, my favorites are the first three trades, Life in the Big City, Family Album, and Confession. You can read them in any order (chronology is important for the later ones, namely The Dark Age and Shining Stars, though those appear to be out-of-print at the moment anyway).

And while I urge you to support your local comic shop or independent bookseller, well, if you'd rather do the Amazon thing here are some links that I'll get a kickback on:

  1. Life in the Big City (original miniseries -- 6 self-contained issues)
  2. Family Album (ongoing series #1-#3, #10-#13 -- some self-contained issues and short story arcs)
  3. Confession (ongoing series #4-#9, a single story arc, plus a short story from #1/2)
  4. Tarnished Angel (#14-#20, another arc)
  5. Local Heroes (#21-#22, the eponymous 5-issue miniseries, the Supersonic one-shot, Since the Fire 9/11 tribute -- mostly self-contained single-issue stories; I think there's one two-parter in there)

...and from there it looks like kind of a mess, with The Dark Age and Shining Stars apparently out of print for the time being. I'm guessing that'll change soon; maybe I'll update this post when they're easily available again. Meantime, it looks like the individual issues are pretty easy to get ahold of.

Anyhow, all this to say...I love me some Astro City, and the new #1 did not disappoint. I'm glad it's back.

Busiek and Mignola's Unfinished Final Fantasy

You know, I seriously considered just calling this post "Busiek and Mignola's Final Fantasy" and then opening with a "Before you get excited..." but ultimately decided that would have just been mean. (As it is, it's already misleading to say "Busiek and Mignola", as Mignola was just doing the covers.)

Can't remember what made me think of it -- maybe it was when I was going through my searches and saw a bunch for both busiek and final fantasy -- but I recalled that Busiek had alluded to a cancelled Final Fantasy project. Now, Kurt's been damned active over on FormSpring, so I figured I'd ask him about it -- but then I figured hey, maybe I should actually do some research first.

Didn't find much, but there was a bit of discussion about it in a CBR thread called Series that Never Saw the Light of Day -- which is also where I first heard Mignola was the cover artist, and Dell Barras (who I'm not familiar with) did the interiors.

Busiek showed up in the thread and explained a bit about the series and what happened to it: it was for Hollywood Comics, a Disney imprint that "either never got launched or was killed off almost right away".

Most interestingly, he gave a short explanation as to when this was and which Final Fantasy(s) he was adapting:

This was so long ago that when I was first assigned the project, I did a story outline, and the people at Squaresoft liked it a lot, but said, "Uh, well, this is good, but we're about to do a new version of the game, can you revise it to be about FINAL FANTASY 2 instead?"

It required a top-to-toe restart, because the characters in FINAL FANTASY are footsloggers, ordinary soldiers and adventurers, while the characters in FF2 are princes and leaders and such, which makes for a whole different kind of story.

But yes, it was based on FINAL FANTASY 2, though Dell Barras's interpretation of the Japanese designs maintained basic designs but spun it into a very, very mainstream-American style.

That'd be the American FF2, of course, AKA FF4. I'm sure it would have been fun -- and featured better dialogue than the original SNES translation of the game.

Anyhow, after finding out those tidbits, I decided to ask Kurt this:

How far along was the Final Fantasy adaptation (or adaptations, since you had to switch games partway through) before being scrapped?

His response:

The first version was a detailed outline. The second was a complete script for all four issues, I think, plus lettered art for at least one and penciled art for one more. Four nice Mignola covers, too.

Niiiice.

Wonder where all that stuff went and whether anybody has it now. All I've seen is this ad, in the above-linked CBR thread (and presumably from the FF1 period):

Image: Ad for the series

I haven't been able to find anything else, even any of the Mignola covers, which is a pity -- but hell, one more thing to add to my "things so obscure you can't find them on the Internet" list. (Course, if anybody can prove me wrong, do feel free to shoot me a link...)

(Update 2015-01-04: I now have the covers to issues #2 and #4; you can see them in the post Mignola Final Fantasy Covers. I still haven't seen #1 or #3, or any interior art.)

But via Robot Mutant here's a Joseph Dellagatta FF piece homaging Mignola, anyway:

Image: FF7, Hellboy style

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.

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.

The King's Ransom

So, another month, another piece of news on Jack Kirby's heirs seeking termination of copyright transfer from Marvel. And another thread made up of the exact same absurd comments.

For the sake of my time and blood pressure, I've decided to just copy down all the very very stupid comments people keep making, followed by explanations of why they are very very stupid, and just preemptively copy-paste it into the comments thread of every article I see on the subject from now on.

I'll probably come back and revise this post here and there, so if it pops up new in your RSS feed every now and again, well, consider it a Living Document.

(Thanks to Nat Gertler for feedback and corrections.)

Revision notes:

  • 2011-08-02: Updated to comment on the outcome of Marvel v Kirby
  • 2012-05-23: Updated to discuss the Avengers movie, correct some bits where I conflated modern work-for-hire law with pre-1976 work-for-hire law, and include some brand new clichés I'm sick of seeing
  • 2014-06-24: Rephrased a remark about the now-overturned Superman ruling; updated the instance-and-expense section with some information on the current challenge to the lower court's ruling; updated some dates and links.
  • 2014-09-26: Updated to reflect the news that the case has been settled and will not be taken to the Supreme Court.
  • 2014-10-01: Added a link to a Kurt Busiek post on CBR.
  • 2014-10-10: Added a few more lines about the settlement, and one new numbered comment/response since I've been seeing a lot of the "The Kirbys may not have sued bu they provoked a suit" argument.

Thad Boyd's Preemptive Response to Comments We Are Definitely Going to See in This Thread

  1. "Kirby's heirs didn't do the work, Kirby himself did! Therefore, they don't deserve any money for it!"

    Yes, that money should go to the people who actually did the work. Like Disney. Who could forget Bob Iger's classic run on Fantastic Four?

    Snark aside, there's a valid point to the argument that Kirby's heirs shouldn't get the rights. I personally believe that copyright law lasts far too long and these characters shouldn't belong to Kirby's heirs OR Disney/Marvel at this point, and should be in the public domain. But until that day comes, can we at least acknowledge that Bob Iger didn't contribute any more to the development of these characters than Kirby's heirs did? And that, if Kirby had made more money in his lifetime, he would have left it to his children?

  2. "The Kirbys shouldn't have sued Marvel!"

    You've got it backwards. MARVEL sued the KIRBYS; only then did the Kirbys countersue.

    The Kirbys simply filed a request for termination of copyright transfer; it was MARVEL who responded with a lawsuit.

  3. "The Kirbys may not have sued Marvel, but they knew that filing for termination would RESULT in a lawsuit. The suit is the Kirbys' fault, regardless of who filed it."

    While it is true that the Kirbys would have known that Marvel would probably choose to sue them, it was still Marvel's choice. Marvel didn't have to sue; it could have chosen to negotiate outside the court system.

    As it eventually did, with the final settlement in 2014. Marvel CHOSE years of litigation before agreeing to a settlement.

  4. "Kirby didn't do all the work himself! Don Heck and Larry Lieber co-created Iron Man, Steve Ditko gave him red and gold armor, Joe Simon co-created Captain America, Ang Lee's Hulk is based on Peter David's run, the movie version of Magneto is way more like Claremont's version than Lee and Kirby's, Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch made Nick Fury look like Samuel L Jackson, and on and on!"

    I completely agree -- all of those people should receive a share of the profits from the films based on their work, too.

    What I don't understand is taking that line of reasoning to the conclusion that NONE of them should receive anything.

  5. "Marvel can't AFFORD to pay everyone involved in creating the characters and stories adapted in its movies."

    Of course it can. Avengers grossed over a billion dollars.

    It is especially clear, following the settlement, that Marvel can afford to make a deal with the Kirbys -- because it has.

  6. "Isn't it convenient how Kirby's heirs waited until there were successful film franchises based on his work before they asked for the rights back? If it's so important to them, why didn't they do this years ago?"

    Because they couldn't. Copyright transfers can't be terminated until 56 years after the property's creation.

  7. "The Kirby kids should just get jobs!"

    The youngest of the Kirby "kids" was born in 1960. Do you really think they've all just been sitting around, unemployed, for the past several decades, waiting for the moment when they could try and get Dad's copyrights back?

  8. "It was work for hire, so Kirby never had any claim to the rights."

    Yes, that's what the judge ruled on July 28, 2011.

    But consider this: There was no work-for-hire contract. Jack Kirby was a freelancer. There is no evidence that he signed ANY contract with Marvel prior to 1972.

  9. "Kirby was an employee of Marvel, so he never had any claim to the rights."

    No, he wasn't. There was no employment contract. Jack Kirby was a freelancer. There is no evidence that he signed ANY contract with Marvel prior to 1972.

  10. "But he KNEW it was work for hire, because that's just how things were DONE in those days."

    The law does not recognize "just how things were done". What it DOES recognize in determining whether a pre-1978 work was made for-hire is the instance-and-expense test -- that is, did the creator make the work on his own initiative ("on spec") and then sell it, or did he create it at the publisher's request, to the publisher's specifications, and get paid a set rate by the publisher regardless of whether or not the work was published?

    The question of whether Marvel paid Kirby for art it didn't use is key. And the judge's ruling was based on Stan Lee's deposition.

    Other people who did freelance work for Marvel, including Stan's brother, Larry Lieber, said that freelancers were not paid for unused pages. Ultimately, the judge relied primarily on Stan Lee's deposition to support the claim that Kirby was paid for unused pages.

    Marvel's key documents were agreements Kirby signed in 1972 and 1986 claiming his previous work had been done on a for-hire basis. Kirby's agreement, in writing, that this was the case is legally damning, but still not hard evidence that the works actually WERE for-hire; Kirby signed these documents under duress, and the 1986 one was famously a condition for Marvel returning his original art.

    It bears noting that work-for-hire agreements cannot be made retroactively; if Kirby's 1963 work was not for-hire, he couldn't MAKE it for-hire in 1972. Furthermore, the 1972 document itself is contradictory -- it asks Kirby to assign all his copyrights to Marvel, and then suggests he never had any.

    The Kirby heirs attempted to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court; they submitted an amicus brief challenging the instance-and-expense test and its application in the lower court's ruling. Bruce Lehman, former director of the US Patent and Trademark Office, filed an amicus brief arguing that the instance-and-expense test violates Supreme Court precedent. And, ultimately, Marvel chose to settle, just days before the Supreme Court would have decided whether or not to take the case. This suggests that, at minimum, Marvel believed there was a CHANCE that the Kirbys might prevail, and was unwilling to risk that outcome.

  11. "This will destroy Marvel Comics and all my beloved characters!"

    Most of Kirby's characters were co-created with Stan Lee. Stan has already agreed not to seek termination of copyright transfer (presumably because Marvel gave him a much, much better deal than Kirby), so that means Marvel will keep a 50% stake in them no matter what. The Kirbys will not be given editorial control and will not have veto power over Marvel's decisions; all they get is royalty payments -- which, incidentally, Jack never got from Marvel.

    This was exactly how the Superman rights operated between 2008 (when Jerry Siegel's heirs were awarded 50% of the rights) and 2012 (when that ruling was overturned): DC continued to publish Superman comics, they just had to compensate the Siegels.

    Kirby's lack of fair compensation during his lifetime is relevant here: stuff like this doesn't happen in a vacuum. It's too late for Jack or Jerry to get their due, but these legal battles have an impact on still-living creators -- chiefly, publishers will give better deals to their talent in order to keep them happy and avoid future lawsuits. Every time a writer or artist gets a royalty check from Marvel or DC, he has guys like Siegel and Kirby -- and their heirs -- to thank for fighting that fight.

  12. "I work hard at my job, and I don't expect an ownership stake in my work."

    Unless you were doing freelance work in the comics industry prior to 1978, your job is not analogous to Jack Kirby's job, your agreement with the company you work for is not the same as Jack's agreement with the company he worked for, and your heirs' claim to the work you do is not equivalent to Jack's heirs' claim to the work he did.

  13. "So if I built a house --"

    Copyrights are not houses.

  14. "So if I bought a house --"

    Copyrights are not houses.

  15. "So if I sold my house --"

    Copyrights are not houses.

  16. "So if I filed for a patent --"

    Getting closer, but copyrights are not patents, either.

  17. "Marvel lived up to its end of the bargain and doesn't owe Jack anything."

    Even assuming this is true (and I think the King would have something to say about that if he were still with us), you could just as easily frame this as "Kirby lived up to his end of the bargain and his heirs don't owe Marvel anything." Marvel got sole ownership of the copyrights for 56 years, which is exactly what Jack agreed to. That agreement is about to expire. What you're suggesting is that Marvel should automatically get to keep the copyrights for 29 more years than Kirby ever agreed to, in exchange for nothing.

  18. "This is an insult to Jack's memory! He would have wanted all the money to go to Marvel, not his family!"

    Have you ever noticed how most people on the Internet would rather crank out an ill-informed, knee-jerk response than spend the same amount of time using Google to find out whether they're actually right or not?

    Leaving aside the question of how many people would REALLY rather see the profits from their work go to the company they work for than their children, Kirby's relationship with Marvel is a matter of public record, and it wasn't a positive one. He did not feel that he received either the compensation or the credit that he deserved.

  19. "If it was so bad, why did he keep working there?"

    He actually quit, on several occasions, due to disputes with the company: once in the 1940's, again in the 1960's, and finally for good in the 1970's.

  20. "If it was so bad, why did he keep coming back?"

    He came back in the 1950's because the market was crashing and many of the other publishers were going out of business. He came back in the 1970's because he had been offered a better deal than he'd had before -- that was the point at which he sold his rights, though it bears repeating that this was prior to 1978 and the sale would have expired at 56 years from the date of each character's creation.

  21. "Jack Kirby didn't create anything; all he did was design costumes for characters Stan Lee came up with."

    Have you ever noticed how most people on the Internet would rather crank out an ill-informed, knee-jerk response than spend the same amount of time using Google to find out whether they're actually right or not?

    Even if all Kirby had ever done was design the look of characters, that would be sufficient for an ownership stake. But he did considerably more than that.

    Writing at Marvel was a collaborative process. The "Marvel Method" was that Stan would float a plot outline, the artist would draw the pages, and then Stan would fill in the dialogue. Sometimes Stan's outline was detailed, sometimes it was rough, and sometimes there was no outline at all and he wouldn't know what was in the comic until he saw the art. In those cases he'd just write the dialogue -- and even then, he would often use the artist's dialogue suggestions.

    Artists at Marvel had an active role in developing characters and stories. Kirby, Ditko, and others felt that they were not given the credit they were due, and their contributions were underplayed. The fact that you didn't know how much Kirby did and believed all the heavy lifting was done by Lee would seem to prove that point.

  22. "What about Spider-Man? Kirby didn't create him!"

    Kirby worked on an early version of Spider-Man that bore little resemblance to Ditko's final version. I would tend to agree that his claim to Spider-Man is tenuous, but the court may decide that his heirs are entitled to some share in the copyright -- probably not the 50% they'd expect for the Fantastic Four, but some smaller portion.

    I've seen some commenters speculate that the Kirbys never expected to win the Spider-Man rights but asked for them as a tactical maneuver -- in a legal dispute, it's good practice to ask for more than you want, wait for a counter-offer, and negotiate from there. This seems plausible, but Kirby DID claim that he had co-created Spider-Man.

  23. "Marvel took all the risk; Marvel should get all the reward!"

    I see this one all the time, and it's rather baffling. Are you arguing against the very CONCEPT of royalties? Try running that one by most comic book writers or artists today and see how far you get. And that's without getting into other creative industries like books, music, film, and television.

    Aside from that, the notion that Marvel took all the risk relies on the assumption that Kirby was paid whether his work was published or not. Again, while the courts have upheld this claim, it is widely disputed.

  24. "This is unethical!"

    Ethics are personal and subjective. I think it's unethical for a company to pocket billions of dollars on the back of a man it never paid more than a modest page rate, 20 years after his death. You, presumably, believe it's unethical for a dead artist's next-of-kin to try to turn a profit from characters he willingly sold off 40 years ago. We can agree to disagree on the ethics of the situation.

    The law, on the other hand, is much less ambiguous. When Jack Kirby sold his rights in 1972, he did so under a copyright law that stated they would go into the public domain starting in 2014. When Congress changed that law in 1976 (effective in 1978), it changed the terms of the agreements Jack and others had signed. As such, the new law included an escape clause for anyone who had sold his copyright under the old law: he -- or, in the very likely event that he didn't live long enough, his statutory heirs -- could terminate the transfer when the original expiration date came up.

    Whether you think the law is ethical or not, it's the law, and it's not being disputed in this case. If Kirby's works were not for-hire, then he owned a portion of their copyrights, and his heirs are legally entitled to reclaim that portion.

    The size of the portion, and that "if", are the only legal points in question here. Did Kirby sign any work-for-hire contracts? His heirs contend that he didn't, and the court agrees that there is no evidence that he did. Marvel's work-for-hire case is based partially on documents that Kirby signed years after the fact, and partially on Stan Lee's widely-disputed contention that Kirby never worked on spec.

    If this exact same set of circumstances were to occur today -- a freelancer were to create a work without a prior written agreement acknowledging it as work-for-hire -- then the freelancer, not the publisher, would own the rights.

    And if the Kirby heirs could actually produce hard evidence that Jack worked on spec and submitted ideas, on his own initiative, that Marvel never used and that he was not paid for, then that would prove that at least some of the work he did was not on a for-hire basis.

    I can't help thinking that, if any such evidence exists, it was somewhere in the piles of original art that Marvel agreed to return to him and which someone then left unattended next to an elevator.

I grant permission for anybody to reuse this post, in whole or in part, so long as they grant attribution. And don't go nuts with that "or in part" part; no selectively excerpting partial sentences to make it seem like I meant the opposite of what I did.

And, for further reading, check out the following links, which have much more thorough rundowns of what copyright law says, why it says it, and how it specifically applies in the Kirby case: