high-functioning fuckup

INKSTUDS and “AVENGERS ASS…..” oh damn it all to hell.

well, the INKSTUDS interview is up and running. i like this show a lot, and am always happy to talk comics with Robin, the host. check it out.

when i did the interview, afterwards i immediately felt like i had  not done very good job expressing my feelings about the ongoing Jack Kirby/ Marvel/ Avengers situation, and began typing out what you see below. so i’ve been typing this over the course of the week–some of it is redundant, and i go off on some tangents, but skip to the bold type half-way down for the crux of the thing. also, for clarity’s sake– in the interview, at around 51 minutes, i’m talking about the Hero Initiative, and stop my sentence and say “I don’t want to give them a DIME of my money”. to be clear, my brain misfired and i am now talking about MARVEL, not the Hero Initiative, that i “don’t want to give a dime” to. i DO want to give the Hero Initiative a dime, and i would like them to receive a great many dimes, now and in the future, from me and many other people. anyway, here goes.

it’s old news now, but the Avengers movie has cracked a billion dollars. far past what anyone expected, apparently, and people expected quite a bit. the thing is huge , and it’s only just begun. as all you nerd readers know full well, there’s been a bunch of controversy in our little world about all this of late, mostly centering around one man– Jack Kirby.

we all know who Jack Kirby is: how he is responsible for (at the very least) half of the creation of a majority of the characters in this movie, and lets face it: much of the American Comics industry as we know it. i could go on about Kirby at great length (and someday i might), but for now lets just say– NOBODY is denying that Jack Kirby had a critical part in establishing and creating the foundational framework (both visually and otherwise) that all these characters rest upon. NOBODY. i’m not saying Stan Lee didn’t have his part in that, but come on. and all you nerds will also know the incredibly shitty treatment Kirby got while he was alive from Marvel, and that continues almost 20 years past his death. however you cut it, this man has had a hand in earning Marvel BILLIONS of dollars in revenue; that is not a made-up, inflated-for-effect number. Avengers movie aside, you’ve got the Hulk movies. and Thor. and the X-Men. and…that’s just movies– not comics, not licensing, not lunchboxes or underoos or Comic Books, for that matter.

and what did he get in return? in the 80’s, Marvel refusing to return his original art to him, on top of a bunch of other egregious, insulting BS. these days, just constant legal stonewalling and a near-total denial of his legacy; no credit beyond some intermittent lip service, and certainly not a damn bit of money. and that, everyone, is plain wrong. it’s been wrong for a long time but this new wrinkle makes it even uglier. a billion dollars.

there’s been a slew of different ideas in the comics community regarding how to deal with this– from all-out boycotts of Marvel, to creators leaving in protest, to giving to worthy comics creator advocacy groups like The Hero Initiative and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

i hate to say it, but with this thing hitting a billion dollars in 19 days, “hitting them where it counts– in the pocketbook!” makes sense, but in this case…well, too late. they’ve got a BILLION DOLLARS in said pocketbook, and the whole problem here is that that really is all they give a shit about in the first place (this, of course, has nothing to do with what each individual’s conscience might dictate). and the response to the Hero Initiative has been  just over $2000 as of this writing. which– don’t get me wrong– is great; it’s $2k that wasn’t there before the movie, that’ll go towards a good cause. but in the face of the other number, it’s rough.

between this and the recent “Before Watchmen” stink, all i know of the world of mainstream comics is this: you all SUCK. i’ve been WAY out of that loop for a good long time and seeing the reaction to this stuff is pretty horrifying and unbelievable. someone comes out and says “there’s a moral point to all this, beyond the (dubious) legal point” and the fanboys descend like flies on a not-quite dead corpse. Alan Moore saying “this is terrible. i don’t want money, i want this to not happen”? the faithful legions respond with “well, it’s nobody’s fault but their own if they signed a shitty contract” and “why can’t those cranky, bitter old hacks just be quiet?”. and it’s not just that, it’s delivered with a sort of righteous indignation that makes me fear for the future– it’s as if they DESERVE to not take any of these issues into account whatsoever, and HOW DARE anyone intrude upon their little world.

why? because they want to enjoy their arrested development entertainment with a clear conscience, and all this other stuff muddies the water in a way that makes them uncomfortable.

but this whole attitude also extends to the “creative” types who RUN these 2 companies, which is unbelievable to me; to a certain extent, it can be expected from the top of these heaps– the controlling entities of Disney and…what, is it Warner Brothers? all they know or care about is that Marvel and DC are holdings, and this is the numbers these various holdings are yielding– they don’t care if it’s superheroes or belly bongos, as long as it’s paying. but the OTHER guys, it just boggles the mind– i mean, Jim Lee is/ was a cartoonist, correct?! some of the quotes from the dudes involved in the Watchmen knockoffs (J Michael somethingorother, i have to admit i know virtually nothing about this guy except that he’s a) popular and b) said some extraordinarily heinous shit regarding his involvement in Before Watchmen…and i don’t know about Darwyn Cooke, but i liked his Parker stuff…you really don’t give a rip? classy.) are displaying an astounding disregard for the concept of “shitting where you live”. you guys are supposedly in comics because you LIKE COMICS, right? have fun with your cash, folks. and do NOT come bitching when that beast comes and bites you on the ass; you are perpetuating this behavior.

what this all amounts to is, frankly, what’s wrong with the whole damn world (so it should be no surprise that it occurs in comics as well, i guess) and it’s this: “fuck you jack; i’m getting mine.” only in this case it’s a literal “Jack”.

and–Stan Lee is Stan Lee. my opinion of him changed considerably after reading Tom Spurgeon and Jordan Raphael’s excellent bio of him— in the comics world, he’s usually reviled or tolerated; to the rest of the world, he is the face of Marvel and comics in general and in a bigger way, comics as a whole (and another long piece that i’ll maybe never write someday is how damaging it’s been to have “Stan The Man!” as the public face of the artform here in the good old USA for 60 years; i mean, Tezuka was an intelligent, thoughtful humanitarian. Herge was an elegant, refined dude. Stan is, and always has been, the carnival barker in the goddamn geek tent.)

but with matters such as these, Stan Lee  is a transparent opportunist at best, and at its worst a fucking coward. look at this guy: he’s reveling in it— he goes on to mention NEW and DIFFERENT superhero movies he’d love to see, that were ALSO created by Jack Kirby. and Stan Lee has made obscene amounts of money off of what he co-created (and before you ask– NO; i don’t begrudge him that money on that basis; as i said, he DID have his part. the problem with Stan is that he takes THE WHOLE PART. and yeah, the many people/ freelance writers and artists along the way who added to the Marvel mythos along the way, why aren’t THEY getting a cut as well? i don’t know. i mean, Capitol Records sure did write and record a lot of great Beatles songs. hell, we wouldn’t even KNOW about the Beatles if it weren’t for Capitol Records, am i right? and furthermore, it’s a damn good thing those 4 guys don’t get anything when anybody plays their songs on the radio or wherever; i mean, some of them have been dead for YEARS. same goes for, say, someone who covers one of their songs, records it and puts a new spin on it. those people shouldn’t and don’t get paid either, right? that’d be stupid.)

so, i don’t have any answers here. other than this: the world is the world and some things never change; there are people who have a gift for creating things and there are people who are very good at making money. very rarely do those 2 things coincide. and that whole– “well, there’s no excuse for stupidity and signing a bad contract– that’s YOUR OWN FAULT.” argument…yeah, fine. so that makes Marvel as a corporation– what, completely entitled to this, because they were able to pull this shit off for numerous decades? because they were SMARTER? i don’t know if that’s what i would call “smart”, necessarily. and in the end, i don’t care about what contracts Jack Kirby and Alan Moore signed– call me naive (and i probably am…) the legal system was supposedly set up as a means to determine and enforce what was “right” in society. thousands of people and numerous corporations making buckets of money off of this movie and the Kirby Estate not seeing a dime? that’s just wrong. where are all the Hollywood actors and their “real men don’t buy Marvel” signs now? more than one person has brought up the fact that all these untold millions have been made in a genre whose entire deal is creating hyper-moral characters who “uphold justice” and stand for “doing what is right”.

actually, over the course of writing this, i think i DO have an answer– not THE answer, but an idea anyway: it’s somewhat presumptive on my part, and it is NOT what “should” happen, but it falls under the category of “the least you could do”.

i think Marvel comics should pay for the Jack Kirby Museum. they should fund the thing in its entirety, right now– and not a temporary, pop-up (which would still be awesome), but a permanent, brick and mortar space. what is that– 10, 20 million bucks to do it right? that’s a drop in the bucket. and all profit from the museum in perpetuity could go to the Kirby estate.

and there’s where the presumption comes on my part– what SHOULD happen is that Kirby is given some credit on all his creations and a commensurate slice of the action. but i don’t think that’s going to happen; do you? so, this would be a simple, classy way to honor the man and his contribution, without endangering their precious legal status as “creators” of the work in question (and, again, as i write this– all of you who are yelling about “well, they did it under a work-for hire contract”, which, yes, is legally binding– what you are then saying is that THE CORPORATION IS THE CREATOR OF THE WORK AND CHARACTERS, both morally and legally. that, effectively, NO ONE CREATED the stuff, just this amorphous, profit yielding, non-human entity. you’re ok with that, as an ongoing and seemingly perpetual situation? HAVE FUN.)

from what i know of Jack Kirby, he would want his creations to help take care of his family, and that he would want a place his grandkids could go to see his life and work celebrated. if Marvel (or DC for that matter) would’ve ever just said, at ANY point; “this guy has been incredibly important in our success; let’s take care of him” (in the same way that a guy working at a Ford plant gets a pension) — not to the tune of millions of dollars (which, after all, is what Stan got), just taken care of the guy as a valued piece of their ongoing success– someone who shaped this thing at the outset, and set the template for what’s going on right now (which is, essentially, “making money hand over fist”), i don’t think you would’ve ever heard a peep from the Kirbys, the creators, anyone. that is, of course, just conjecture on my part, but i do think we’d be looking at a different thing than we are now. i mean, how much have they spent in legal defense on these issues?

what they probably want on the corporate level is for Jack Kirby to disappear. and more than boycotting the Avengers movie, i think that’s the most important thing here; not forgetting what this guy did, or allowing those people to forget. and obviously, this little community is where we keep that respect alive and vital– the general populace does not know who Jack Kirby was, and how it relates to taking the family out to a popcorn flick on Sunday. people IN comics are the ones who know the story, and care.

i actually believe that, framed in a less rant-fueled, angry setting, a campaign to get Marvel (and Kirby did no small amount of work/ creation for DC, either) to pony up for the museum is a pretty damn good idea, and i would urge saner, more reasonable minds who agree with this idea to put it forth in whatever way they deem fit.

look– i’m not even a superhero guy. i’m a fringe cartoonist who makes comics with funny animals yelling at each other. but Jack Kirby was a force of nature; the breadth of his ideas is incalculable, and that goes double for his VISUAL ideas. my respect and love for Kirby, and my appreciation of what he did with the art form i love, is absolutely without bounds. he was pure comics.

and i’ll tell you this: Herge hasn’t disappeared. nor has Tezuka. and Jack Kirby won’t, either.



10 Responses

  1. Damn straight!

    May 25, 2012 at 10:44 am

  2. I really like the idea of the museum. I tend to generally side with understanding where Marvel & DC are coming from, that they can’t really perpetuate running their businesses the way they have if they give all the creative people with huge hits big cuts & so they can’t set those precedents unless they want to fundamentally restructure the business (which would probably mean even crappier mainstream content than we currently have with lower paid moneys to those working on the mega-books (Spider-Man, Superman, Batman) resulting in more people abandoning the field to more lucrative markets for creative types). But the museum (along with that a lot of the creative people have been compensated with good will money well beyond their contracts – regardless of if it is fair from what percentage of creativity they put in, it is legally beyond fair) would be a great idea.
    One of the thing that I had pointed out to me about Kirby’s lawsuits in particular that I don’t like is he has a ton of content that he made & characters for other companies than Marvel & DC that are not considered valuable commodities & for me if you want an argument about creative rights to seem valid you need to go after your property of no value as well as those of high value. Only going after what is currently of high value today makes the moral argument fall away into a money one & I think all of us want it to be about creator rights more than creator money.

    May 25, 2012 at 1:20 pm

  3. hey man I agree with everything but that red type is impossible to read on a black background JSYK

    May 29, 2012 at 2:41 pm

  4. admin

    i changed it. to PINK. you fault, thor.

    May 29, 2012 at 10:26 pm

  5. admin

    and also– this is from a facebook post, but don’t want to re-type it all; there’s some salient points in there.

    Peter Schilling Jr: I honestly can’t even begin to imagine Marvel making a Kirby Museum. And, honestly, if they do, there’s one thing I know: you will hate that museum. This is so similar to baseball’s HoF, a patriotic, uber-right wing place, that, yes, has some beauty, but is so controlled by the machine that it leaves one feeling covered in oil when emerging from its hallowed walls. A Marvel museum (there’s really no chance of a Marvel funded museum to one man) will be a bright beacon of light championing the amazingly wonderful corporation known as Marvel, with perhaps a Kirby exhibit that will undoubtedly drive Kirby lovers up a wall. Now, obviously, it would be impossible for an individual or group to create a Kirby museum, since Marvel would sue the living crap out of anyone who tried, but if we’re really concerned about making Marvel acknowledge Kirby, in the credits of movies, etc. that’s going to require boycotts, and hitting them where it hurts, the pocketbook being the only place it hurts. Stop seeing their movies, stop buying their products, and more importantly, communicate why you’ve stopped. Show up at the conventions and protest the crap out of the place. That in itself is a long shot, but you have to take long shots in life. A Kirby museum is a pipe dream, which I think distracts us from the things we *can* do.
    9 hours ago · Like

    James Romberger: There is already a Kirby Museum, that’s what they are talking about. Not started by Marvel. It’s virtual and might be made a real place with some help, but the current director would have to stick to his guns and not let them dictate to him.
    2 hours ago · Like

    Zak Sally: peter, with all due respect you need to read my original article before labeling it “distracting” and a pipe dream; i address the boycott idea, and if we’re talking “pipe dreams” it’s that that particular strategy is going to have any effect whatsoever given the 3.3 billion dollars the movie has currently made, and the fact that it is rapidly approaching the THIRD HIGHEST GROSSING MOVIE OF ALL TIME. it WOULD potentially have an effect in THIS situation– that the general consciousness and awareness of Jack Kirby and his contribution made its way out to the public. and James, that’s also my assertion in the original article, that whatever proceeds came from the proposed museum (again, peter– this is through the folks who ALREADY HAVE a Kirby Museum established digitally, and who are looking to create a permanent, brick and mortar establishment; my proposal was that Marvel FUND said museum, not “building a museum to Kirby”, which, yeah, is ridiculous on the face of it. this would be THROUGH the Kirby Museum people, who are the deepest of Kirby lovers, and have established, non-Marvel-centric cred and curation. would Marvel be then able to call the shots? i suppose there’d be some “you cannot slam/ slander/ accurately comment on past Marvel injustices towards Kirby”, but beyond that, fuck no. end of wildly protracted parenthesis) would go directly towards the Kirby Estate. which i think (and again, this is just my assumption based on stuff/ interviews i’ve read with the man himself) is what Kirby would have wanted. i don’t want to get on my pedestal here, but it seems that the legal battle is all but lost; the work-for hire contracts he signed are ironclad (and a product of the bullshit, draconian times that they came from, but that unfortunately holds no water legally); he’s got no case. they own the shit, and aren’t going to do a damn thing unless a) they are shamed or b) it seems like a good PR thing to do or c) a combination of the 2. the conversation needs to shift from “what is LEGAL” to “what is RIGHT”. or the whole thing is sunk, beyond us fanboys. as a i said in my piece, the logical best hope for the Kirbys $-wise seems to be keeping the guy’s work and legacy a living, breathing thing; the only sure thing is that if this is forgotten, or fades from view, they will never see another dime. and this would be a way of Marvel in SOME WAY acknowledging this man’s contribution. as (again) i said this isn’t what SHOULD happen, but it moves things forward in a positive way. and all this bickering gets the Kirby Estate exactly what it is getting now– nothing.

    May 29, 2012 at 10:35 pm

  6. Claude Parish

    It’s hard to not get angry about Marvel’s treatment of their goose that laid the golden egg, but I try. Every time I come across a fanboy who gets all girly in the face about Stan Lee showing up at his local meat market, I spout facts at him like it’s actually going to make a difference.
    I can usually tell about ten seconds in if I’m wasting my breath.
    Kirby and Ditko are the main victims of Marvel’s ‘screw the artist/creator’ policy.
    If these new ‘artists’ who move a stylus around on a screen and call it drawing would get a good look at Marvel’s past, they may want to consider a career in commercial art or game design.
    There was a time when I would have paid Marvel to let me draw for them, but the eye opening I got in the mid 80’s froze that career path out for me.
    There is no justice coming for Kirby or Ditko any time soon.
    If I could see it coming, I’d straddle its back and whip its butt all the way into town.
    Marvel screwed the geniuses who made them.
    I guess I should just be satisfied with that truth.

    May 30, 2012 at 12:57 am

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  8. patrick ford

    Zack, Great to see you comment at length on this issue. On the whole the reaction within comics has been a non-reaction. Not to say there haven’t been a number of notable exceptions.

    You said: “NOBODY is denying that Jack Kirby had a critical part in establishing and creating the foundational framework (both visually and otherwise) that all these characters rest upon. NOBODY.”

    Actually there is a very obvious exception to that, and his name is Stan Lee. Lee testified in two sworn depositions that he alone created every Marvel character 1958-1963 without ever speaking to Kirby. Have Lee/Marvel/Disney been so effective that people now see Kirby’s role as simply being a penciler?

    The old school thought of Lee/Marvel fans has always been the reason Kirby “needed” Lee was because Kirby had too many ideas, was bursting with characters and plots he needed Lee to channel the torrent. The new Lee/Marvel/Disney version is Kirby was Lee’s penciler. In other words Kirby did for Lee what Dave Gibbons did for Alan Moore. Now the case could be made any penciler is doing at least half the work, and ought to be credited as a co-creator. In that sense I think even Lee/Marvel/Disney agree people like Ditko and Kirby were co-creators of the COMIC BOOKS. The creation of characters and concepts which can be copyrighted is a different matter, and that is what the lawsuit Marvel/Disney brought against the heirs was about.

    The judge said in her ruling the case was not about fairness, and yet many people rushed headlong to embrace the idea Marvel/Disney should be fair.

    The judge also said “Marvel’s case stands or falls on Lee’s testimony.” Could that be any more clear?

    Lee was not dragged into the case. Marvel/Disney sued the Heirs four years prior to the 2014 date where the Heir’s would have been able to try and reclaim the copyrights to the characters Kirby created. Lee was not only the person whose testimony was the basis of the judge’s ruling. Lee also leaned on his own brother Larry Lieber who had balked at giving a deposition. Lieber testified that when he told Lee he would rather not be involved his brother Stan Lee told him, I wouldn’t want to see you lose the Spider-Man strip. Lieber also mentioned the Spider-Man newspaper strip has been his primary source of income for many years.

    Anyhow…The case was never about Kirby being Lee’s penciler, and Kirby drawing really cool looking super suits. The idea pencilers like Don Heck, and Dick Ayers, etc. should be seen as co-creators of COMIC BOOKS and that as such Marvel/Disney should be fair and give them some kind of gratuitous compensation is a concept I fully support. This case was about character creation. Who was bringing characters to who. Lee said he created every character, the judge accepted his testimony, and that was the foundation of her ruling.

    May 31, 2012 at 7:45 am

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  10. tony p

    I think you’re right that marvel does want kirby to disappear, and that is truly sickening. Ditto for any and all commentary defending this greed and exploitation.

    June 3, 2012 at 12:52 am

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