Tag: Marvel

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.

Important Comics

Today's the anniversary of a couple of things.

It would have been Jack Kirby's 96th birthday.

And, more importantly -- as the King himself would surely have acknowledged --, it's the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington.

I was at a loss for precisely how I was going to tie these two events together in the same post -- and then I remembered Congressman John Lewis has a comic book out.

Stephen Colbert interviewed him a couple of weeks back:

Lewis discusses not only his new comic trilogy, March, but a comic that inspired him in 1957: Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story. An excellent summary by Andrew Aydin at Creative Loafing Atlanta says:

Richard Deats, [the Fellowship of Reconciliation]'s Director of Communications in the 1990s, laid out FOR's motivation and purpose behind the comic in a 1997 letter, saying, "The comic book was originally intended to convey to semiliterate persons the story of nonviolence and its effectiveness as seen in the Montgomery movement. The medium of the highly popular comic book was believed to be the best way to reach masses of exploited African-Americans."

And that's what comic books were: they were a way of reaching the masses. They were literature for the illiterate.

And as with all mass-media means of distributing information to the poor, this upset the elites.

When comics first appeared in American newspapers around the turn of the twentieth century, they were seen as gutter trash. In the decades that followed, they were scapegoated for society's ills, culminating in Senate hearings, the Comics Code Authority, and the devastation of an entire American art form.

In a way, Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story was exactly what the elites feared: it upset the social structure. It gave teenagers like John Lewis ideas.

It's ironic that the comics medium's greatest foe, Fredric Wertham, was also an ardent progressive in the Civil Rights Movement -- if he had never written Seduction of the Innocent, he would instead be best remembered for the doll study used in Brown v Board. Wertham was right, in a way, about comics' potential as a disruptive force, as a powerful tool for influencing young people -- but he chose to fear the imagined impact of fictional crime and horror stories, rather than see the true potential of comics as a force for good, for education, for organization, for social justice.

Kirby, of course, saw boundless potential in comics, in a way few people ever have. He used comics to advocate for social change, too, though he preferred fiction and metaphor, and is best remembered as a superhero artist (though his work crossed all genres and invented some). He saw superheroes as modern mythological figures -- as New Gods -- as aspirational avatars.

In the 1940's, Kirby co-created Captain America, advocating for US intervention in WWII when that was still a controversial position. In the 1970's, his Forever People were technologically-advanced, alien hippies. In the 1960's, The Fantastic Four gave us The Hate-Monger, a supervillain in a Klan hood who turned out to be Adolf Hitler himself. It also gave us this guy:

The Black Panther

That image is courtesy of Brian Cronin's Comic Book Legends Revealed, which notes that the Black Panther didn't look like that in the final published comic -- his half-mask was replaced with a full mask, making it less immediately obvious that the Black Panther was, in fact, a black man -- indeed, possibly the first black superhero. (Inevitably when you refer to a comic book character as "the first" of anything, that's going to lead to debate -- sometimes that debate can miss the point entirely and turn into mere nitpicking over comic book trivia, though other times, as in Who Was the First Black Superhero? by JV Halliburton II, it can explore the richness of comic history and highlight all the important characters who have helped to build and shape it and make it more diverse.)

Today Mark Evanier wrote a lovely remembrance of his friend and mentor, and among many other things he had this to say:

Jack was all about something new, something exciting and something that took whatever he was doing to the next level. [...] Jack was first and foremost interested in producing something that would take comics to some new plateau, creating new opportunities and new possibilities.

Kirby believed in comics. So did Martin Luther King and Alfred Hassler. So does John Lewis.

And so does Jillian Kirby. I've written before about her Kirby4Heroes fundraiser for the Hero Initiative, a charity that helps struggling comic creators. As we celebrate her grandfather's birthday, don't forget about the less fortunate who have helped shape the comics medium over the years and decades.

It's Marvel v Kirby, not Kirby v Marvel

I haven't had time to read the full judgement yet in the appellate court's recent decision in Marvel's favor in Marvel v Kirby.

What I have had time to read is multiple otherwise-reliable comics sites getting the basic facts of the case wrong -- indeed, the most basic fact of the case, which is who sued whom.

Matt D Wilson's article on the story at ComicsAlliance says,

Kirby’s heirs brought their suit over the characters in 2009, as the push to make huge-grossing movies featuring characters Kirby co-created (like The Avengers, which has made more than $1.5 billion) was really heating up. Marvel and parent company Disney countersued the next year.

(Wilson also incorrectly claims that the rights to the Silver Surfer were part of the dispute -- they weren't; the dispute concerns works created between 1958 and 1963, and the Surfer first appeared in 1966 -- and then misspells Gary Friedrich's name.)

Heidi McDonald's piece at Comics Beat -- a site which is ordinarily one of the best for coverage of comic book copyright disputes, due to lawyer Jeff Trexler's contributions -- is titled "Marvel wins appeal in lawsuit brought by Jack Kirby’s heirs", and its first sentence also refers to "a lawsuit bought by Jack Kirby’s heirs". Which is fucking baffling considering that right there on the same page Ms. McDonald has embedded a PDF named marvel-v-kirby.pdf that starts out like this:

11-3333-cv
Marvel Characters, Inc. v. Kirby

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT
August Term, 2012
(Argued: October 24, 2012 Decided: August 8, 2013)
Docket No. 11-3333-cv
-------------------------------------
MARVEL CHARACTERS, INCORPORATED, MARVEL WORLDWIDE,
INCORPORATED, MVL RIGHTS, LLC,
Plaintiffs-Counter-Defendants-Appellees,
WALT DISNEY COMPANY, MARVEL ENTERTAINMENT, INCORPORATED,
Counter-Defendants-Appellees,
- v -
LISA R KIRBY, NEAL L. KIRBY, SUSAN N. KIRBY, BARBARA J.
KIRBY,
Defendants-Counter-Claimaints-Appellants.
-------------------------------------
Before: CABRANES, SACK, and CARNEY, Circuit Judges.

Again, I haven't had time to read the full judgement yet -- but Heidi McDonald apparently hasn't had time to read the first line, the list of parties, or the filename.

And look, I really like Heidi McDonald, and I really like Comics Beat. But I think this is terrible. It's one thing for somebody in the comments section to spout the common misconception that the Kirbys sued Marvel -- hell, it's pretty much a given! --, but it's another entirely to see it in the headline on a reputable site.

The Kirbys did not sue Marvel in 2009. They filed for termination of copyright transfer. Marvel sued them in 2010; only then did the Kirbys countersue.

I am sure that this is an honest mistake, on McDonald's part, on Wilson's part, probably on the part of some (but certainly not all) the people who repeat the same misinformation in various comments sections across the comics Internet.

But while it may be an honest mistake, it is not a trivial one.

Facts are important. Details are important. The question of who sued whom is important.

The claim that the Kirbys sued Marvel in 2009 is false. That is not a matter of opinion; it is not subject to dispute. The Kirbys did not sue Marvel in 2009 -- that is a fact.

Any narrative which maintains that the Kirbys sued first is, likewise, false, and presents an incorrect, misleading picture of the very nature of the suit.

And that even someone like Heidi McDonald, who is sympathetic to the Kirbys, has inadvertently bought into and repeated the false narrative that they sued first says a lot about how pervasive that narrative has become.

Marvel's Statement of Purpose

I'm in the home stretch of Sean Howe's excellent Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, and this quote from the beginning of chapter 17, I think, sums up what's wrong with the company in a nutshell:

The Los Angeles Times, CNN, and USA Today all chimed in about Liefeld, Lee, McFarlane, and the other renegade artists who were standing up to big business. In response, Marvel president Terry Stewart made a statement that "the importance of the creative people is still secondary to the (comic book) characters," a stance that hardly discouraged Marvel's new image as a corporate overlord.

(Brackets in original.)

Howe comes back to this point in chapter 19:

In June 1994, Frank Miller paid tribute to Jack Kirby, delivering a keynote speech at an industry seminar in Baltimore. [...]

Marvel Comics is trying to sell you all on the notion that characters are the only important component of its comics. As if nobody had to create these characters, as if the audience is so brain-dead they can't tell a good job from a bad one. You can almost forgive them this, since their characters aren't leaving in droves like the talent is. For me it's a bit of a relief to finally see the old "work-made-for-hire talent don't matter" mentality put to the test. We've all seen the results, and they don't even seem to be rearranging the deck chairs.

Creators who complained about defections to Image and other companies, he continued, were "like galley slaves complaining that the boat is leaking." The age of company-owned superhero universes -- the Jack Kirby age -- was over. "It's gone supernova and burned itself out, and begun a slow steady collapse into a black hole. We couldn't feed off the genius of Jack Kirby forever. The King is dead, and he has no successor. We will not see his like again. No single artist can replace him. No art form can be expected to be gifted with more than one talent as brilliant as his. It's a scary time because change is always scary. But all the pieces are in place for a new proud era, a new age of comics. Nothing's standing in our way, nothing too big and awful, nothing except some old bad habits and our own fears, and we won't let that stop us."

The crowd rose to its feet.

(Ellipsis mine.)

Miller was right in some ways and wrong in others.

The bottom fell out of the market soon after, for both Marvel and Image. Jim Lee is now one of the Editors in Chief at DC; McFarlane and Liefeld have become punchlines (and so, for that matter, has Miller). Post-bankruptcy Marvel has done a pretty damn good job feeding off the genius of Jack Kirby -- in films. As for the comics, well, they're selling decently enough but are, at this point, largely the R&D branch for upcoming Disney movies.

Marvel still believes the creative people are secondary (and that's giving them the benefit of the doubt). Marvel is wrong.

Yes, Iron Man is more popular now than he was during Jack Kirby or Don Heck's lifetime. That's not just because Iron Man's a great character -- though I happen to think he is --, it's because of Robert Downey Jr, and Jon Favreau, and Gwyneth Paltrow, and Jeff Bridges.

When you think the characters are primary and the creative people secondary, you get a film like Daredevil. Or, at best, Fantastic Four. Compare the numbers -- and you'll forgive me from switching over to DC for this, but they've got a much longer history of film franchises -- compare the numbers from Batman and Robin to the numbers from The Dark Knight, or the numbers from Superman Returns to the numbers from Man of Steel, and tell me that the characters are more important than the creative people.

And that, of course, is just looking at it from a mercenary standpoint -- because really, that's what Marvel as a company cares about. That's not even getting into quality. My unsurprising opinion is that you're a lot likelier to get a high-quality film or comic when you've got high-quality creative people working on it.

And Marvel's policy of treating its characters as primary and their creators as secondary has resulted in fewer and fewer original characters added to its stable. Sure, lots of creative people still love to play in Marvel's sandbox -- and then save their original ideas for creator-owned work.

Take a look at the characters who've starred in films or TV shows over the past couple of decades. Superman and Batman are from the 1930's. Green Arrow and Captain America are from the 1940's. The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Daredevil, and the Avengers are from the 1960's. The X-Men are also from the 1960's, though their most popular character, Wolverine, is from the 1970's. Blade, Ghost Rider, and Swamp Thing are from the 1970's too (and so is Howard the Duck, if you really want to bring that up). The New Teen Titans, Elektra, the Tick, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the Mystery Men are from the 1980's. Static, Spawn, Hellboy, and the Men in Black are from the 1990's. The Walking Dead started in 2003, Kick-Ass in 2008.

It's not an exhaustive list (see Nat Gertler for that), but it's an eye-opening one. Marvel and DC have a strong library of characters -- from decades ago. Most of the successful new characters, though, are creator-owned.

But hey -- Disney's biggest franchises are already from the 1920's to the 1950's (and many of them are based on public-domain material that's a lot older than that). Disney doesn't need to create new product. When the copyrights to the first Mickey Mouse cartoons come close to expiring, Disney can bribe Congress to extend them. If Disney needs to add new material to its portfolio, it can buy a company like Pixar or Marvel.

And as Disney's purchase of Lucasfilm and, to a lesser extent, Viacom's purchase of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, shows, even the most successful creator-owners eventually want to retire and are willing to part with their works.

Star Wars -- hm. Maybe I have found an example where the characters are more important than the creator.

Course, that's just because he was ripping off Jack Kirby.

Gary Friedrich

There have been a lot of disheartening rulings, over the past few years, in cases where comic book creators or their heirs attempted to reclaim the rights to their work: the Siegels, the Shusters, the Kirbys. And Gary Friedrich.

Friedrich -- co-creator of Ghost Rider with Roy Thomas and Mike Ploog -- has fallen on hard times. Like far too many creators in comics, he's gotten old and poor and sick while the company he used to freelance for has made millions off his work. Like far too many creators in comics, he tells a story of the company promising far more than what it delivered.

Friedrich sued Marvel in an attempt to reclaim the rights to Ghost Rider. Marvel countersued -- Friedrich had been selling signed Ghost Rider prints without giving them a taste -- and, because Friedrich is not an artist, he was signing other people's Ghost Rider art.

Friedrich lost. And not only did he lose, but Marvel made an example of him. They sought not only $17,000 from a man who was too broke to pay his medical bills; they also demanded that he stop publicly referring to himself as the creator of Ghost Rider. I've seen lots of creators lose cases like this -- but never seen terms that seemed so punitive and downright mean-spirited.

Friedrich appealed. And today, a three-judge panel unanimously vacated last year's ruling.

Via Reuters:

On Tuesday, a unanimous three-judge panel of the appeals court deemed that Friedrich's 1978 agreement with Marvel was ambiguous.

"First, the critical sentence defining the 'Work' covered by the Agreement is ungrammatical and awkwardly phrased," Circuit Judge Denny Chin wrote in the 48-page opinion. "Second, the language is ambiguous as to whether it covered a work published six years earlier."

The appeals court found that Marvel was not entitled to a judgment based on its argument that a statute of limitations has expired. The court also found that there is a genuine dispute of facts regarding the authorship of the character.

And The Hollywood Reporter quotes Chin further:

Spotlight 5 had been published six years earlier by a different corporate entity (Magazine Mgmt.) and had grown so popular that Marvel had already reprinted it once and had launched a separate Ghost Rider comic book series. Given that context, it is doubtful the parties intended to convey rights in the valuable Ghost Rider copyright without explicitly referencing it. It is more likely that the Agreement only covered ongoing or future work. Hence, there is a genuine dispute regarding the parties' intent for this form contract to cover Ghost Rider.

There are several points at issue. First, like in the Kirby case, the question of whether the work was created for-hire, in which case Marvel would be the legal author, or whether Friedrich and Ploog created that story independently and therefore co-authored it and sold it to Marvel. Thomas, unlike Friedrich and Ploog, was an employee of Marvel, and the extent of his role is disputed -- was the book authored by Marvel? Co-authored by Marvel?

And, like in the Siegel and Shuster cases, there is a question as to whether (if Friedrich was a legal co-author of the work) he gave up the right to reclaim the copyright. Chin's quote above is instructive: put frankly, it requires quite a stretch to believe that Friedrich would have knowingly given up his right to termination for such a small amount of money.

I believe that legal point is also at the root of the Siegel, and especially the Shuster, cases. That the Siegel and Shuster heirs would have deliberately given up their rights to reclaim Superman for the small amount of money DC offered them -- especially the Shusters, whose payout was reportedly only tens of thousands of dollars -- defies common sense.

All that said, while this gives Friedrich another chance, it doesn't give him any guarantees -- indeed, the appellate court has already noted several facts in Marvel's favor. Jeff Trexler runs down the facts, and compares the case to Siegel's 1974 case against DC.

I don't know what Friedrich's chances are -- I wish him the best but fear that recent trends aren't on his side -- but this case has repercussions beyond his case. Even if he loses again, this case raises more questions about Marvel's 1970's-era contracts -- and that could have some serious repercussions throughout the industry.

Kirby on Work-for-Hire

One of the most common facts Kirby critics cite -- well, the ones who actually have a basic understanding of the facts of the case, anyway -- is that he sided with Marvel when Joe Simon attempted to recapture the rights to Captain America in 1966.

I'm reading Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, by Sean Howe. It's an excellent book, and recommended.

And I just came across the exact wording of Kirby's statement on the subject. It appears on page 77 of Howe's book, and he cites a post on 20th Century Danny Boy, which has a scan of the statement.

It reads, in part:

I felt that whatever I did for Timely belonged to Timely as was the practice in those days. When I left Timely, all of my work was left with them.

Kirby certainly seems to be suggesting that the work he and Simon did for Timely in the 1940's was work-for-hire and not spec work. As such, that does seem to undercut any later claims he or his family might make that he believed he and Simon created Captain America independently and had a right to terminate the transfer of copyright.

Critics of the Kirby Estate's legal maneuverings over the past few years cite that this shows that Jack knew his work in the 1960's was work-for-hire, too.

But does it?

Because from where I'm sitting, it seems to indicate exactly the opposite.

Kirby says, "I felt that whatever I did for Timely belonged to Timely as was the practice in those days." Why the past tense? If Kirby believed that the work he was doing in the 1960's was work-for-hire, that it was owned by Marvel, and that he had no stake in it -- why would he refer to that arrangement as what "was the practice in those days", decades earlier? Why wouldn't he use the present tense? Why wouldn't he indicate that this was still the practice at the time he was writing that statement, if he believed that to be the case?

Kirby's words in this document clearly imply that he believes the work-for-hire arrangement is a thing of the past, and not a standard agreement at the time he wrote the statement in 1966.

Ditko Kickstarter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Stupid Ideas in Digital Distribution

Stop me if you've heard this one: a media company does a promotion, is totally unprepared for the traffic it generates, the servers are obliterated so that legitimate customers can't access their stuff, and all the while pirates are still able to trivially obtain the media in question.

I'm talking about Comixology and Marvel, but I could just as easily be talking about EA ('cept that last part I guess; to my knowledge there's no crack to run SimCity without a network connection as yet).

Marvel started a big promotion the other day: 700 free issue #1's through Comixology.

The demand took down the Comixology site for two days. And it's still running slowly.

To blame for all this? Two things:

  1. a client-server distribution model with only a single website available to download from, and
  2. DRM on the files to make sure nobody else can set up a mirror.

Well, I should say "to make sure nobody else can set up a legal mirror", because, well, if you've been on the Internet for five minutes and are not a complete dumbshit, you're probably aware that anyone who wants those comics can trivially find pirated copies.

Go the legal route, with Comixology? You get a proprietary file that you can only read in their program. Provided you can access their fucking website at all.

Go the illegal route, through some dodgy website? You get a CBR, or a CBZ, or a PDF, which you can read in any program that supports that format. And you don't have to worry about whether a single specific website is actually working in order to acquire that file.

It doesn't take a fucking genius to see which is the superior, more customer-friendly option.

Let's talk about what customers want. Hey, I like comics. Let's start with me. Here, maybe this will help you get a feel for just how much money you could potentially squeeze out of me:

27 shortboxes, a long box, and a stack of bags a couple of feet high of books I haven't boxed yet

Not pictured: 14 more shortboxes, plus about 2/3 of a bookcase taken up by hardcovers and trades.

My point is, I have spent a fuck of a lot of money on comics over the course of my life.

You know how much I've spent on Comixology? Zero. The Dark Horse digital store? Zero.

And make no mistake: that's not just because I prefer physical comics. I do, but I've downloaded any number of free comics from both those stores. I've read them and I've enjoyed them. I'd be adding those 700 Marvel #1's to my collection right the fuck now if the website were functional.

But free is the amount I am willing to pay for a DRM-infected book, comic or otherwise. If you won't let me read the file on whatever computer I want, in whatever program I want, then you're not getting a damn dime from me.

I realize I'm not the guy Comixology's trying to appeal to here -- they're trying to draw in new readers, not people who know what happens on Wednesdays. I get that. I'm not the target audience here.

But the target audience is getting timeouts too. Not just new readers coming for the Marvel promo, but existing customers who can't access their accounts.

So, here are a couple of points to start with that I think should be blisteringly obvious:

The very idea of restricting access to a free digital giveaway is completely fucking insane.

Why put DRM on something you're giving away for free? What conceivable reason is there for this? Why would you want to restrict copying of a free promotion that you are doing?

And why only make it available from a single distributor?

I mean, I get the reasoning behind that one, at least: they want to turn people into Comixology customers. They don't want people to just grab the free comics and never bother coming the the Comixology site. I get the theory.

But in practice, well, how's that working out for you guys? You getting any customers out of this thing?

Here's the right way to do it: just post all 700 files in a big torrent file. Make them CBR/CBZ format. And stick an ad for Comixology in every file.

Ever see a popular torrent collapse under the weight of high demand? Of course you haven't. Because that is the opposite of how BitTorrent works. BitTorrent is at its absolute best on files that are in high demand.

Now, I know why media companies don't take advantage of BitTorrent: because that would legitimize BitTorrent. As far as the publishers are concerned, BitTorrent is synonymous with piracy. They want the protocol banned entirely -- so of course they're not willing to acknowledge that it can be used as a tool for legal distribution, and a very very good one at that.

So instead, they opt for DRM-encumbered files distributed through a traditional client-server model -- and create this gigantic fucking debacle. And you know what their takeaway from this is going to be? "Well, obviously we need to make sure we've got more bandwidth next time." They're going to think that the problem is that their stupid distribution model wasn't implemented correctly, not that their stupid distribution model is stupid.

"Let's just make sure we've got more bandwidth next time" was EA's solution to the authentication problems that Spore users faced in 2008. 5 years later, did it work?

As long as you're thinking that the fix is a better delivery mechanism for DRM-infected content, you're doing it wrong. The problem will persist.


But you know, there are lots of great digital comics out there that aren't from Comixology and aren't DRM-infected. I've gushed about Mark Waid's Thrillbent before; those are all DRM-free and free to download. I also enjoyed the first issue of Dracula the Unconquered by Chris Sims, Steve Downer and Josh Krach; it's DRM-free and only costs a buck.

The point here isn't merely to castigate companies who do it wrong -- please reward the ones who do it right.

Best/Worst of Times, etc.

Yesterday I talked about Karen Berger's imminent departure from Vertigo, the disappointment I feel as a Vertigo fan, and the excitement I feel wondering what she'll do next.

And you know, that's kind of the perfect metaphor for what it feels like to be a comics fan in general right now. There's just so much bullshit -- but there's so much gold, too.

Since the 1940's, the American comics industry has gone through a regular, 20-year boom-bust cycle. We're in an odd-numbered decade, so if the pattern continues that means we've got another bust coming. And while I think Marvel and especially DC are full-speed-ahead on stupid management decisions to cause the next one, this one's not going to be like the others -- it's going to be smaller, it's going to be confined to those two major publishers, and it's going to happen even as their characters and brands increase in popularity.

Now, both companies seem dead-set on repeating most of the worst excesses of the 1990's -- variant covers, new #1's, big summer crossovers, increasingly muddled continuity reboots, Jim Lee -- and don't seem to get the idea that this is going to go much like it did in the '90's, with a brief boost to sales followed by a crash as everybody gets sick of this crap. DC, in particular, is currently being run by bean counters at Warner who think their best shot at relevance is pushing the Reset button on their universe again and putting out prequels to Watchmen.

Even still, DC's still managing to put out some great books. Dial H is fantastic, Demon Knights is a joy, and Animal Man and Frankenstein were both pretty great until they muddled into an unnecessary crossover. I really don't think it's a coincidence that the best books coming out of DC are the ones that are subject to the least corporate interference and are the least subject to the whims of shared-universe continuity.

And that's just DC proper. Take the the industry as a whole and there's a stunning variety of wild, beautiful, original books -- Saga, Chew, Manhattan Projects, The Massive, to name just a few. There are even some wonderful licensed books -- Adventure Time, Popeye, Godzilla: The Half-Century War. Prophet shows that even a 1990's Liefeld property can turn into a brilliant, offbeat science fiction series worthy of classic Heavy Metal. Dark Horse Presents demonstrates the depth and breadth of modern comics at its greatest, at 80 pages for $8 a month.

And that's just the new stuff. As far as classic comics, there's an embarrassment of riches. When I gave my cousin a copy of The Completely Mad Don Martin -- a collection of the cartoonist's entire Mad output, in two oversized hardcover books in a slipcase, weighing in at about 25 pounds -- my uncle looked at it and said "Did you ever think you'd see anything like this?" The mere idea that, in two generations, Mad has gone from being dismissed as trash to being given reverential treatment.

There's so much in print -- Floyd Gottfredson's Mickey Mouse, Carl Barks's Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge, exhaustive collections of Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes, Bloom County, Terry and the Pirates, Dick Tracy, Prince Valiant, Mary Perkins On Stage, Pogo, Tintin. You can get the complete Bone in a single black-and-white volume or a dozen color trades from Scholastic. Love and Rockets is collected in paperbacks or hardcovers, pick your Poison River. The other day I was at the library and saw a huge hardback collection of Walter Simonson's entire Thor run (only the worthy may lift it). There are glorious hardcover collections highlighting the work of Kirby, Ditko, Wood, Davis, Kurtzman, Wolverton, Eisner -- the choices are staggering.

And that's just the stuff that's in print.

You wanna talk about digital? You can buy the entirety of Quantum and Woody right the fuck now (and there's a rumor of two finished-but-never-published issues on the way too). Sure, digital comics has its issues -- DRM and the inevitable platform fragmentation and compatibility problems that DRM causes -- but it's still early days and that stuff'll get ironed out.

And that's just the stuff you have to pay for. Head on over to a site like Digital Comic Museum and you can gaze upon thousands of public-domain comics, completely free of charge.

And that's just the stuff that's available legally.

You want a comic that, for various rights reasons, will never be reprinted? Jack Kirby's 2001? Moore, Bissette, Veitch, et al's 1963? The infamous Air Pirates Funnies? Can't stop the signal; they're easier to find now than they were when they were in print.

So, all in all? It's plenty easy to get frustrated with the direction DC and Marvel are going in. It's easy to foresee their readership tanking and bringing on another crash and panic. But Avengers and Dark Knight Rises are still Hollywood blockbusters; their publishers aren't going away -- and even if they vanished overnight, there would be so much good stuff left to fill the vacuum that I, for one, wouldn't miss them...much.

Truth is, for all the bullshit, I don't think there's ever been a better time to be a comics fan -- not even the 1940's.


And I shouldn't have to say this, but just to be perfectly clear: I am absolutely not advocating illegally downloading comics that are commercially available. Support publishers you like. Support creators you like. Support your local comic shop.

And if you download a work that's out-of-print, or otherwise acquire a book that doesn't benefit the creators or their families, it's a good idea to buy something that does. You like 2001 (or, for that matter, any of Kirby's Marvel work)? Buy Kirby: Genesis and send some money his family's way. Like 1963? Pick up some Swamp Thing trades, and keep an eye out for Bissette's Tales of the Uncanny.

Or whatever it is you're into. Bottom line? Find something you love, support the people who make it happen, and tell your friends.

ParaNorman

It was a busy weekend! I had a friend in from out of town, then had my cousins over for cartoons and games, then had more friends out of town and went drinkin' with them.

Caught a couple movies, too, including ParaNorman at the cheap theater. I liked it!

First of all: it's a kids' movie that does shit you're not supposed to do in a kids' movie. My favorite gag involved the rather gruesome image of the ghost of a dog who had been hit by a car. It's funnier than it sounds.

The flick does some fun things with genre conventions, has the usual kids' movie message that it's okay to be different, adds the rather more complex message that bullying is caused by fear and begets more bullying -- but mostly it's just a damn pretty, weird, creepy, funny, unconventional kids' horror movie, from a couple of directors whose resumés include Flushed Away, Coraline, and Corpse Bride.


Playing: Oh so very many things. This weekend we threw down on Scott Pilgrim, Gears of War, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (purchased used -- my boycott remains unbroken), and most recently Batman: Arkham City, which my cousin loaned me. I was going to buy the PC version to use with my sweet PC graphics card, but on finding out it had SecuROM I decided not to pay for it and just borrow the Xbox version instead -- you listening, Square Enix? Of course you're not.