Tag: Spider-Man

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.)

Revisionist History

I read something kinda odd yesterday.

It was linked at Robot 6. It's a piece from a British rapper by the name of Akira the Don, explaining on the Huffington Post why he isn't going to go see Amazing Spider-Man. And there's this little bit in there:

It's not being made because a bunch of people really wanted, more than anything else, to tell the best Spider-Man story they could on the sliver screen. It's being made to stop the rights to the character reverting from Sony back to Marvel. Who, as we have seen, make much better superhero movies than Sony.

Now, before I go any further, I'd like to establish two things.

One: I hate the fucking Huffington Post.

Two: While I am boycotting Kirby-based Marvel product (eg the Marvel Studios films), I am not at present boycotting Ditko-based Marvel product (eg the Sony Pictures Spider-Man films). I haven't seen Amazing Spider-Man, but I still might.

I'd go into a bit more detail, but my reasons for those two points could really each make for a complete post, so I think I'll leave them as something to write about later.

Anyway. It's quite clear that Mr. the Don wrote this with his tongue firmly in cheek and is not serious about it. And also, he (rightly) praised Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2. So I'm not really trying to argue with him or tear his post down. But that one line is just kinda weirdly fascinating to me and I want to look at it a little further.

Marvel. Who, as we have seen, make much better superhero movies than Sony.

Really? I mean, Avengers has been a huge critical and financial success, but...are people's attention spans so short that that's going to become the conventional wisdom? The latest Marvel Studios movie was better than the latest Sony movie, ergo Marvel makes much better superhero movies than Sony?

I mean, look. I liked Thor okay. Story was pretty middling, but the art direction was fantastic.

But you wanna tell me it was better than the first two Raimi Spider-Man movies? Really?

Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man 2 -- all got pretty mixed critical receptions. And Punisher: War Zone? Let's put it this way: I was ten paragraphs farther down before I even remembered to scroll back up here and mention it.

Really, when you take a look at it, Sony and Marvel are pretty well even -- each has two big successes and a handful of mediocrity. Marvel's got Iron Man and Avengers, and Sony has the first two Spider-Man movies.

And then there's Fox, which I think probably also fits that bill: the first two X-Men movies were pretty successful, but the rest of their output hasn't been. (Maybe X-Men: First Class? I liked that one, anyway.) Fox may lose just based on the sheer volume of crap it's put out: X-Men 3, Wolverine, Daredevil, Elektra, Fantastic Four vs. Annoying Sarcastic Businessman, Fantastic Four vs. Giant Cloud of Gas...

Anyway. What Mr. the Don clearly means is that he wishes there wasn't this pesky matter of the outstanding movie rights at Sony and Fox, and that Marvel could get all its characters in one basket and we could see, say, Spider-Man and Wolverine in Avengers 2. As a fan, I can certainly relate to that desire; I really think the shared-universe aspect is what's made both Marvel Comics and the Marvel Movie Universe special.

But it's foolish to suggest that Marvel makes much better superhero movies than Sony.

Because -- just as in the comics -- it's not about the corporate rightsholder, damn it. It's about the creative team.

Avengers didn't succeed because it's Marvel, no matter how badly Marvel wants to say it did. Avengers succeeded because of Whedon and Downey and Ruffalo and Johansson and Hiddleston and Jackson and Evans and Hemsworth and Evans -- and, yes, the people who wrote and drew the stories it was based on, like Kirby and Lee and Heck and Millar and Hitch.

And the first two Raimi Spider-Man movies didn't succeed because they were Sony. They succeeded because of Raimi and Maguire and Simmons and Robertson and Campbell and Molina and Dafoe (and in spite of Dafoe's costume). And Ditko and Lee and Romita and Conway and Kane.

And don't get me wrong, there is something to be said about huge media conglomerates owning huge stables of characters who can all meet and interact. There is an episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold that features both an adaptation of an old Mad spoof and a team-up with Scooby-Doo. It is awesomesauce.

Or, hell, the recent Avengers cartoon where Ben and Johnny come over to the mansion for poker night. That was great! And it's too bad that we can't see something like that happen in a movie because of rights entanglements!

But that stuff's not great just because it's DC/Time Warner or just because it's Marvel/Disney. It's great because great people -- writers, artists, actors, directors -- put it together.

I Just Don't Get Fanboys.

Last week I wrote a post on fanboy entitlement, as exemplified by people who are positively enraged that the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon is for kids instead of thirtysomethings.

It included this bit:

Of course, muddying the waters a bit is last week's announcement that Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes has been cancelled in favor of a new Avengers cartoon series. And this does look like a case where a cartoon got low ratings due to complete mismanagement (there were no episodes airing when Thor and Captain America came out last year, and the decision to pull the plug was clearly made before Marvel/Disney had the opportunity to gauge any ratings boost caused by the Avengers movie or the USM synergy) and replaced with something that looks like a potential Jeph Loeb Pet Project. So, you know, that is an actual example of the fanboys probably being right -- except, you know, the part where they declare the new series to totally suck based on one (admittedly sucky) promo image and absolutely nothing else.

Well, funny story about that: Bleeding Cool ran a piece today about that announcement.

And there is one internet user called Nabil Elmjati who seems to have started a one man covert war against [Ultimate Spider-Man] and Marvel Animation.

[...]

Nabil appears to have created the site Marvel TV News which runs stories about [Marvel] animation and games, but mostly about how awful the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon is, and how everyone hates it. It is registered to a "Nabil Mjati" in Morocco. So, you know. That's him.

And then he posted the news that the Avengers Earth's Mightiest Heroes would be cancelled and [replaced] with the cartoon Avengers Assemble. He also [quoted] from a press release, purported to be "print only", saying "The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes won't be renewed for the 3rd Season. Marvel Animation will present their newly developed series Marvel's Avengers Assemble in 2013."

[...]

Only problem was that the quote was made up. There was no official press release. It was a lie that few chose to question.

There is certainly the rumour that Earth's Mightiest Heroes has been cancelled. It may well be replaced by the new Avengers Assemble. But no official word. Marvel TV News made up an official quote and all the websites followed suit without checking.

Mea culpa. Dude "quoted" a "print-only" press release and I didn't question it. I've updated my earlier post in light of the BC piece.

In my defense, by the time I wrote that post the linked TV Guide interview had been posted, with Loeb confirming work on the Avengers Assemble TV series. That supports the claim that Earth's Mightiest Heroes is cancelled but does not actually confirm it, and is certainly not the same thing as a print-only press release. And before we go any farther, it bears noting that Bleeding Cool is the British tabloid of comic book news sites, and itself best taken with a grain of salt.

But, still and all: there was no press release, and Marvel TV News is a bullshit site by some guy who just really, really hates Ultimate Spider-Man.

Which is just, you know, fucking weird.

I get into it a bit with a guy in the comments section of that Bleeding Cool post -- one of those guys who just does not understand why Marvel wants to target its cartoons at the kids, and who just doesn't care anymore and wants to make very sure that everybody knows just how much he doesn't care. Okay. So that's run-of-the-mill fanboy entitlement. A basic lack of perspective. I don't really get it, but it's a common, somewhat mild condition.

It stops somewhere short of this Elmjati gentleman's apparent obsession -- per the BC article, he hasn't merely set up a phony news site to "quote" completely made-up press releases, he's also repeatedly harangued Joe Quesada on Twitter and actually set up a phony Jeph Loeb Facebook profile and then encouraged people to deluge it with angry comments.

And...I mean, just god damn, what is wrong with that guy?

Christ knows I've wasted a lot of time arguing with people on the Internet about superheroes, but running a full-time campaign of astroturfing, sock-puppetry, and downright fabrication has seriously never crossed my mind.

Sometimes, Cartoons are for Kids.

We've been spoiled.

My generation, I mean.

We grew up on Batman: The Animated Series. A cartoon that was made for kids but which attracted a huge following among adults, won two Emmys, and still holds up twenty years later not only as an intelligent and sophisticated show, but as one of the high water marks in animation, period.

And if you think that spoiled us, well, consider this: by the time I was in college, Dini, Timm, Burnett, et al were still playing in that sandbox, still expanding that universe, with Justice League.

And there were more to follow. Teen Titans, The Batman, Batman: The Brave and the Bold -- they all had their detractors, but ultimately they were well-received by adults.

And then there's the Marvel side. Sure, the 1990's X-Men and Spider-Man may have been pretty bad in hindsight, but Spectacular Spider-Man was quite probably the best cartoon Marvel's ever put together, and Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes may very well rank at #2.

So that's a murderer's row of fantastic cartoons, enjoyable by adults -- so I suppose it's easy to see where some fanboys got to feeling so entitled that they're offended by the very idea of superhero cartoons for kids.

There's an article over at ComicsAlliance about Ultimate Spider-Man being picked up for a second season. For some reason this has made people in the comments section very angry.

It's not just that they don't like the show -- I mean, that's fine. I like it (it's got Agent Phil Coulson as the high school principal, it had a Frog Thor episode, and even a cameo by Doop!), but seriously, it's okay if some people don't!

That's different from being offended at the very idea that the show is written for children and not for you. I mean, dude -- get over yourself; of course it is.

The Beat had an article to that effect recently too: Area man surprised to find Spider-Man cartoon aimed at children. It featured this quote by a gentleman named Jim Mroczkowski, which I think strikes to the heart of the matter:

No, of course Ultimate Spider-Man doesn’t float your boat. You aren’t eleven years old.

In other words: no, I’m not enjoying this program about my favorite character by my favorite creative team, but what if this particular children’s show about a colorful superhero was a cartoon on the Disney Channel intended for little kids, as opposed to an epic meant for 37-year-old homeowners?

Now, back during the era of Superfriends, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, and assorted other superhero shows which apparently were mandated by law to include the word "friends" in their titles, this observation would have fallen straight under the heading of "Well no shit." But again -- the Batman: The Animated Series generation is so spoiled it's lost track of that obvious point.

There is another aspect to this: the notion that this has displaced something we loved.

Spectacular Spider-Man was cancelled, and now we have Ultimate Spider-Man. Ergo, as far as fanboys are concerned, Ultimate Spider-Man is to blame for the cancellation of Spectacular Spider-Man.

Now, that's not actually true. But this is the Internet. Bring up Seiken Densetsu 3 and within five minutes someone will be along to rant about how it was cancelled for the vastly inferior Secret of Evermore. This is not actually true, and has long since been thoroughly discredited, but entitled fanboys don't like letting facts get in the way of simple explanations.

Spectacular Spider-Man was cancelled because the rights to animated Spider-Man reverted from Sony back to Marvel. That's the major reason. The bankruptcy of 4Kids Entertainment, the station that aired it, and Disney's purchase of Marvel, likely did not help, but it was first and foremost a rights conflict. Ultimate Spider-Man was made because Spectacular Spider-Man was cancelled, not the other way around.

Of course, muddying the waters a bit is last week's announcement that Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes has been cancelled in favor of a new Avengers cartoon series*. And this does look like a case where a cartoon got low ratings due to complete mismanagement (there were no episodes airing when Thor and Captain America came out last year, and the decision to pull the plug was clearly made before Marvel/Disney had the opportunity to gauge any ratings boost caused by the Avengers movie or the USM synergy) and replaced with something that looks like a potential Jeph Loeb Pet Project. So, you know, that is an actual example of the fanboys probably being right -- except, you know, the part where they declare the new series to totally suck based on one (admittedly sucky) promo image and absolutely nothing else.

And this has been the pattern. Teenage Batman in the future? The fanboys cried that that was a terrible idea. Teen Titans? When it was new the fanboys proclaimed that it was far too juvenile; now that there's a followup coming, those same fanboys are declaring that's too juvenile, and why can't it be mature and sophisticated like the old series?

Fanboys hated The Batman -- and admittedly, it took a couple seasons to find its sea legs, but it got pretty good after awhile.

Fanboys hated Batman: The Brave and the Bold, but it turned out to be an absolutely ingenious series, smart, funny, and firmly rooted in the works of Dick Sprang and Jack Kirby.

There's a phrase for this, in Transformers fandom, for people automatically hating a new series entirely because it's different and not because it's actually bad: "TRUKK NOT MUNKY!"

I guess I've drifted somewhat off-point.

My point is twofold:

  1. Don't declare that you hate a show until you have actually seen it;
  2. If you do hate it once you see it, that's okay, but maybe you can stop short of actually being offended that a cartoon featuring your favorite superhero is designed for children.

That's all.

(Now if, on the other hand, an eight-year-old happens to be offended that there are five different monthly Batman comics and every single one of them is written for people over thirty, then yeah, I think that qualifies as a legitimate complaint.)


* Update 2012-06-19: According to Bleeding Cool -- a site itself best taken with a grain of salt --, Marvel has made no such announcement and the site reporting it is run by some guy who just really, really hates Ultimate Spider-Man. That said, Jeph Loeb did indicate, in a TV Guide interview, that there is a new Avengers cartoon coming, which grants some credence to the claim.

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:

When a City Goes to War...

I'm involved, off and on, in a lengthy project to try and consolidate my nearly 20 years' worth of comics, bag, board, and sort them. (Precisely how to sort them presents a rub -- presumably first by year and then by title, but figuring out how many months' worth of comics will fit in any given box creates a huge headache. And many comics do not print the goddamn year on the cover.)

Tonight's run through about 100 different comics from ten to fifteen years ago was largely discouraging -- most of them were from my unfortunate X-Men phase. (There was even a Clone Saga ish of Spidey in there.) As I started going through issues of Generation X, I felt a burning desire to apologize to myself for all the stupid, stupid things that seemed like a good idea when I was a teenager. I'm big on taking responsibility for my mistakes, no matter how young and misguided I was when I made them.

But then I hit on my nearly-complete run of TMNT: City at War and that reminded me that, dammit, I made mistakes, but I still had pretty damn good judgement at times, too. It's a source of constant consternation to me that I am missing one issue of that arc -- #56, to be exact.

If you have a copy you want to part with, let me know. I'll trade you a #48, as I have two copies of it for some reason.

Meantime, guess I'll keep an eye on eBay -- I was briefly thrilled to see somebody selling a TMNT #56 there, but it turned out to be the Archie comic, not the Mirage one.

And I really should start checking out comic shops in my neighborhood. I've still been shopping at my old store in Tempe despite it being 30 miles away, because they've been good to me over the past ten years or more and I am a loyal customer. But they don't have a great back issue selection, and they're also 30 miles away.

Edit, 2007-05-20: I got a message today from somebody asking if I was still looking for TMNT #56. The answer is no; I found it -- and filled the rest of the gaps in my vol 1 collection, too -- on nostalgiazone.com a few months back. Thanks anyway.

I am still missing the bulk of the original Tales series, so if anyone has any hot tips on those, let me know. Thanks.

No Spoilers

(Okay, one spoiler. But it's for Batman Begins, which everybody's probably already seen by now anyway.)

This is just completely fucking absurd.

(And yeah, my referrals from the Bioware page have pretty much dried up, so I'm going back to gratuitous use of the word "fuck". In fact more gratuitous than usual in this post.)

Look, it's nice seeing comics get mainstream press attention (even if it's for shit like the new Batwoman being a lipstick lesbian -- who also happens to be Officer Montoya's former lover, because of course all the lesbians in Gotham know each other. Apparently in the Marvel U all African superheroes are childhood friends, too.), and I'm sure this will boost sales for an industry that could really use them, but you don't goddamn post a headline spoiling the ending of a comic within hours of it hitting the stands.

This is complete horseshit, and it's symptomatic of the complete lack of respect comic books get as a medium.

I mean, seriously. Can you imagine a paper running a story with a headline spoiling the ending of a movie that came out that same day? Even a movie about superheroes? Did you see any papers running headlines like "Henri Ducard is Actually Ra's Al-Ghul"? Or how about "X, Y, and Z die in X3"? (See that last one? The movie's been out for weeks and it's still too soon for me to be comfortable writing spoilers for it.)

The press doesn't print articles that ruin, right in the headline, endings of new movies. Or new books. I suppose they do with new TV, but they at least wait until the show's aired on the west coast. Oh, but this is a comic book. It's not like anybody cares about spoilers for a comic book.

And so there I am, sitting at work on my break -- I am still at work and certainly have not had a fucking chance to go to the comic store yet -- and the Huffington Post sees fit to tell me how Civil War #2 ends.

Fuck you, Huffington Post. And fuck everybody else who blabbed about this today without so much as a spoiler warning. Fuck you from the bottom of my heart.

And another thing: if you're going to write a headline about Spider-Man, get his fucking name right. Spider-Man. With a hyphen.

And as for anyone who wants to be surprised by the ending of Civil War #2, you'd better go pick it up right now, and do your very best not to watch, read, or listen to any news before you get it, because I don't know how long you can make it without somebody jumping out and ruining it for you.

You fuckers think that just 'cause a guy reads comics he can't start some shit?