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February 7, 2012 3:24 PM   Subscribe


 
It takes a lot of corporate moxie to put Thor and Captain America on the big screen and have them battle for honor and justice when behind the scenes the parent company acts like a cold-blooded supervillain.

While I could not have more respect for Jack Kirby or more contempt for Marvel's treatment of him, this is asinine.
posted by Trurl at 3:33 PM on February 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


This is not a new story. You know that Marvel used to have a contracted stamped on the back so that the artists signed away their rights by endorsing the checks? The Comics Journal has been covering this for decades.
posted by Catblack at 3:36 PM on February 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


This reminds me to pick up some New Gods trades one of these days. And I feel even better about having always preferred DC to Marvel (not that DC is any great shakes either).
posted by tumid dahlia at 3:36 PM on February 7, 2012


Sigh. Seems like he's long gone and I'm much less concerned about his heirs right to live off of their father's work.

But.

Whenever I see these sorts of articles, I make sure to always try to remind myself:

Read your contracts carefully.
posted by chasing at 3:39 PM on February 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


I’m no legal scholar, so second-guessing federal judge Colleen McMahon is beyond me. But I know that Jack Kirby got a raw deal.

Recreational outrage.
posted by fatbird at 3:39 PM on February 7, 2012


While I could not have more respect for Jack Kirby or more contempt for Marvel's treatment of him, this is asinine.

Please show your work.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:39 PM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]




Here's a report on the Ghost Rider issue mentioned in passing in the article; the judge ruled that co-creator Gary Friedrich had relinquished his rights to the character when he endorsed one of the checks mentioned by Catblack.
posted by whir at 3:42 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Interesting article, but it tripped one of my fanboy triggers. It's "Spider-Man," never "Spiderman" Capital S, dash, capital M. I don't know if that's in the AP stylebook or not, but it oughta be.
posted by EatTheWeak at 3:45 PM on February 7, 2012 [8 favorites]


kittens for breakfast: "While I could not have more respect for Jack Kirby or more contempt for Marvel's treatment of him, this is asinine.

Please show your work.
"

I think he did so by quoting that phrase.

I don't dislike Slate as much as many here seem to; in fact, I really like it. I regularly listen to 3 or 4 of their weekly podcasts and also enjoy many articles I've read them. I think they do a lot of good journalism and thoughtful commentary between the fluff and anyway. calling an online magazine out for publishing trying-to-be-quotable linkbait seems like complaining about commercials during broadcast television when you don't pay for cable -- it sucks but it's obviously a necessary evil.

Because of that adoration, I'm always super relieved when I read a hyperbolic line like that from a Slate article before clicking through and find that it's not from one of the writers/editors over there that I respect.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 3:48 PM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I realize that there's a distinction between features and journalism but for god's sake, get to the point. By the end of page one he'd mostly talked about himself and his daughters and I decided not to try to find out the hard way on what page he actually said what his deal was with The Avengers movie.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:49 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Because of that adoration, I'm always super relieved when I read a hyperbolic line like that from a Slate article before clicking through and find that it's not from one of the writers/editors over there that I respect.

I'm not sure you really understand the situation, because it's not a hyperbolic line at all. You have a person who did not profit from his own creations -- he lost creative and financial control over them -- and the company he worked for then (which is, to be fair, not the same company at all now) pretty much does the "but it's not illegal" thing over and over again when they get called out over it. But this is a company that trades on stories that are about people doing things that are right, legal or not. What's legal comes down to whose lawyer has the biggest dick, and the answer to that question is Disney. What Marvel should have to address unflinchingly is whether their historical treatment of Kirby is moral.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:56 PM on February 7, 2012 [9 favorites]


Plus, you know, it;s not an exaggeration to say that comics companies were all founded by actual literal gangsters.
posted by Artw at 3:57 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Please show your work.

Marvel Entertainment is not "having Thor and Captain America battle for honor and justice". It is producing popcorn movies for profit. And a comic book fan who considers this unworthy of the ideals of the superheroes involved deserves either ridicule or pity.
posted by Trurl at 4:01 PM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Read your contracts carefully.

Sometimes the imbalance of power is such that that's not enough. What comic artists should have done decades ago is a little collective bargaining. Nothing fancy, just all show up in the editor-in-chief's office at the same time and say "we'd like a few changes".
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:02 PM on February 7, 2012


There was also some great coverage over at Bleeding Cool of the depositions given by the Marvel higherups (not just Stan Lee) for the Kirby family lawsuit.
posted by Catblack at 4:04 PM on February 7, 2012


Marvel Entertainment is not "having Thor and Captain America battle for honor and justice". It is producing popcorn movies for profit. And a comic book fan who considers this unworthy of the ideals of the superheroes involved deserves either ridicule or pity.

I don't think so. If you're too cool for honor and justice, what the fuck are you doing reading superhero comics?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:04 PM on February 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


What comic artists should have done decades ago is a little collective bargaining.

Screenwriters have certainly had an advantage there. Not paying them for reusing material online wasn't "illegal" either...
posted by Artw at 4:06 PM on February 7, 2012


If you're too cool for honor and justice, what the fuck are you doing reading superhero comics?

Escaping into a fictional world I understand as such.

Problem?
posted by Trurl at 4:07 PM on February 7, 2012


Classic X-Play: The Stan Lee Experience.
posted by symbioid at 4:10 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Problem?

You bet. Knowing that Captain America and Thor (well...maybe not Thor) are fictional characters is the sign of a healthy, fully-functional ability to sift fact from fiction. Placing honor and justice in the fiction pile is a sign of something very disturbing.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:10 PM on February 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


Nothing fancy, just all show up in the editor-in-chief's office at the same time and say "we'd like a few changes".

That doesn't really work when there are thousands of fanboys dreaming about working for Marvel or DC no matter what the pay or working conditions are. The Image founders, who were then working for Marvel, met with Marvel execs to try to get better compensation and were shown the door. McFarlane, Liefeld, and Lee were responsible for a succession of chart-topping first issues during the early-mid 1990s that sold millions of comics... they weren't scrubs, they were the heart of the company, but Marvel couldn't care less. If those guys couldn't do it, no one could.
posted by MegoSteve at 4:14 PM on February 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


You know who got screwed? The guy that invented Nylon. Sucks to be that guy.

I always kinda feel like some kind of corporate prick here, but the guy had contracts right?
This is why contracts exist. Most of the time, when we choose to work for a corporation instead of ourselves, we don't run the risks of losing millions of dollars, and we lose the chance to strike it rich.The company assumed the risk is pulishing the comics in exchange for the rights. Asking a company to forget about the contracts out of the goodness of its heart is asking it to deny its own nature.

Now if the question is how did Stan Lee get rich like a motherfucker and Kirby got the shaft? That would be an interesting article I think.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:19 PM on February 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


Nepotism. Stan Lee was married to the owner's cousin. No shit.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:23 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I guess I have mixed feelings about this. Kirby, unless I'm mistaken, made a living as an artist for most of his life, and was revered by a legion of fans and professional colleagues. He probably didn't get paid what he was worth, but there are artists who are harder done by.

I mean, yes, work-for-hire contracts suck. But I'm not sure I'm mad enough about it to boycott the Avengers movie. I'll probably just rent it, if that helps at all.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 4:24 PM on February 7, 2012


>If you're too cool for honor and justice, what the fuck are you doing reading superhero comics?

This shouldn't be answered with snark, Truri. The thing is, (and as a small disclaimer I'm friends with him,) Dirk Deppey one of the many past editors of The Comics Journal coined the term "Superhero Decadence" to describe what has happened to comics as the core fans and their tastes have grown up. The most shining/stinking example of this is, of course, Rise of Arsenal #3 The comic really is that terrible, but just an example of this horrid, jaded, coolhunting crap that has led comics as far from honor and justice as you can get. Because that nice, 'inspire the kids' stuff that you think comics were about, they aren't anymore; that doesn't sell. Kids don't buy comics anymore, fanboys over 30 do.
posted by Catblack at 4:25 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I guess I have mixed feelings about this. Kirby, unless I'm mistaken, made a living as an artist for most of his life, and was revered by a legion of fans and professional colleagues. He probably didn't get paid what he was worth, but there are artists who are harder done by.

I see this attitude about artists all the time. They were lucky to be doing something they liked so if other people became millionaires off their work while they just pulled home a paycheck, what's the big deal?

The implication, I guess, is that the fat cats at Marvel who made millions off of Kirby were really, really unlucky to have those shitty jobs that made them millions of dollars. Plus, they have to live their whole life knowing they're assholes. And also, when they die, you know, hell, since its easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle.

There's ample evidence that other companies (Harvey Comics, for example) allowed their work for hire people in the 60's to receive royalties for their work. "Work for hire" wasn't, ipso facto, giving up your right to future payments for your creations. At least not then.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:33 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I always kinda feel like some kind of corporate prick here, but the guy had contracts right?

People also seem to forget that most of these were another time, for all entertainment creators. How many of the actors in the hit shows of the early days had any form of royalties? Almost everyone from that era did believe in the "work for pay" (heck, as repulsive as i find Ditko's philosophies, he practices that today) and it was only until a certain time that people realized that it had a life that went on. Hard to predict the future, but hopefully we can let go of greed and pay the people who deserve it, and not to add to a simple corporate numbers game.

Kids don't buy comics anymore, fanboys over 30 do.

Far from true, while a lot of the money does come from people like me, my friends have an 11 year old son, and he's a bigger comics fan than we are, and so are his friends.

Escaping into a fictional world I understand as such.

Using metaphor and stories to relate to other fictional ideas? (hope, justice, love, etc, just as made up as Santa, elves, etc) Do you read any fiction? It's the same thing, no matter how you think of it as escaping if one group does it and yours is valid. i hope the only thing you read, watch, etc is non-fiction as every fiction could then be considered "escaping".
posted by usagizero at 4:35 PM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Stan Lee hasn't made out like a bandit that much either. There's a moment in one of the commentaries for Spider-Man where somebody asks him what it's like to rake in cash as a co-creator, and you can watch him realize in real-time how little he'd made on the deal.

There's an issue of Alan Moore's Supreme (which is an amazing comic, you should get the trades if you don't have them already) where the title character runs into a Kirby stand-in who is basically an always-creating god who casually spins out numerous fascinating worlds.

That will always be how I think of Smilin' Jack.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 4:48 PM on February 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


did you just equate love with Santa?
hahahhaha
hahahahhHAHHAHHA



AHAHHAHAHAHahHAHAHAHAH
whew...
HGAHGAGAGhAHHAHAHa

hahahaa
posted by Shit Parade at 4:48 PM on February 7, 2012


How much money does a dead guy need?
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:57 PM on February 7, 2012


Placing honor and justice in the fiction pile is a sign of something very disturbing.

I do not find the words "honor" or "justice" in Marvel Entertainment's mission statement:

Marvel's operations are focused on utilizing its character franchises in licensing, entertainment, publishing and toys... Marvel's strategy is to leverage its character franchises in a growing array of opportunities around the world.

But let's agree that justice for Kirby depends on us. Why does the author propose boycotting only Marvel films? Are Kirby's heirs less cheated by the sale of a Thor comic book than by the sale of a Thor movie ticket? Does he fear that applying too much economic pressure might hurt the cause? Or is he unable to bear the thought of missing the next issue of Uncanny X-Force?
posted by Trurl at 5:03 PM on February 7, 2012


No discussion of Stan Lee is complete without reference to the Dr. Infinity character in Daniel Clowes' Dan Pussey comics.
posted by Trurl at 5:08 PM on February 7, 2012


Nepotism. Stan Lee was married to the owner's cousin. No shit.

So what? When cast as an aspersion, nepotism implies incompetence. I think Stan Lee proved he was up to the job. Besides...

His duties were prosaic at first. "In those days [the artists] dipped the pen in ink, [so] I had to make sure the inkwells were filled", Lee recalled in 2009. "I went down and got them their lunch, I did proofreading, I erased the pencils from the finished pages for them".[10]

He was named editor at Timely (at age 19) in 1941. Then he took a few years off working stateside in the Army Signal Corps. The Lee-Kirby Fantastic Four collaboration didn't happen until more than a decade later, in 1961.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:11 PM on February 7, 2012


Do people who have a problem with work for hire here apply that to non-artists too? Should everyone be paid a % of what their work makes?

I don't mean that sarcastically, I'm curious. I mean, I work for a salary but have done things that make my company way more money than they pay me. I consider that, as Ad hominem states, a trade of risk v reward. I get a stable paycheck but I'm not likely to become a billionaire like the guys who founded my company are.

So, is the problem just that Kirby was underpaid (should have had a better salary / paycheck / etc), or that work for hire / fixed-rate employment is unethical, or what?

Outside of entrepeneurs, salespeople and some artists (big movie stars, for example) lots of people are just paid a fixed amount regardless of whether their work generates money or costs money.
posted by wildcrdj at 5:12 PM on February 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


santa is a quale, shit parade
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 5:15 PM on February 7, 2012


Why does the author propose boycotting only Marvel films?

It's a good question. He seems focused on them because -- and he's certainly right there -- boycotting them would hit Marvel a lot harder than boycotting their comics, which are read by a tiny fraction of the movie-going audience and account for not much of Marvel's bottom line.

For me, I'll just go full disclosure here and say I'm uncomfortable with boycotting Marvel Comics (just as I'm uncomfortable with boycotting DC Comics, which I know some people are doing in the wake of this bizarre Watchmen thing) because mainstream comics are right now about the only place where comics writers and artists can make a living. You have your Dan Cloweses and your R. Crumbs and, hell, even your Ryan Norths and your Penny Arcade guys, but for the most part, good fucking luck making a living in this medium if you don't work for one of the big comic book publishers. And a lot of extremely talented people do, and I see no great reason not to support them...and it's also worth noting that when most them create original characters, they own them. That's because of people like Jack Kirby and the battles they fought in public.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:19 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Y'know, if the past few weeks have reinforced anything, it's that Dave Sim is and always has been right, right, right.
About the industry stuff, not the Women Are Sucking Voids stuff. Regardless, he doesn't get enough credit for the former, though

Sometimes the imbalance of power is such that that's not enough. What comic artists should have done decades ago is a little collective bargaining. Nothing fancy, just all show up in the editor-in-chief's office at the same time and say "we'd like a few changes".


It's been attempted a few times, but for various reasons never worked out, obviously. For quite a long time, comics were the lowest rung on the commercial art ladder; you want more dough or you're out? See ya Charlie, we got ten schmucks aching for a shot at your chair in the shop and hack out this garbage. Pre-Backlash/Crash/Code, it seems that the best gig was to work for EC, who treated their creators quite well, relatively, but you had to be pretty fantastic to work there. Post-Backlash/Crash/Code, there wasn't a lot of work to be had. Marvel, apocryphally, was reduced to Stan Lee commissioning a couple of stories to a few lucky freelancers, including Kirby and Ditko, out of basically a broom closet. Come the Sixties resurgence you had a generation of hungry veterans grateful for work and a generation of fans who golly gee whiz couldn't believe they were making comics. In the Seventies there were serious attempts at creating a union that featured Neal Adams, but they either fizzled due to management interference, back-biting, or resulted in diluted associations that didn't have much juice, labour-wise.

Ironically, the lot of creators was somewhat improved when Martin Goodman, original publisher of Timely/Atlas/Marvel and the aforementioned relative who hired Stan Lee, started another company in the Seventies after selling Marvel. Confusingly also named Atlas, Goodman's new line attracted fan-favorite talent by practicing the zany strategy of not completely treating their creators like shit. Unfortunately, the comics were pretty shitty, and the company folded. Things gained more traction in the Eighties, but as MegoSteve mentions, even the most popular artists ended up leaving in the face of managerial hostility (Only to end up perpetuate their own shitty publishing practices - who would have thought that 20 years later, Image would be one of the better publishers, with some of the better books?)

And so things go.

Comics: Where Two Of The Best Proponents For Ethical Standards Are A Guy Who Has Some Serious Woman Issues And A Guy Who Is Scientifically Certain The Planet Is Gradually Expanding.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 5:20 PM on February 7, 2012 [9 favorites]


Cool Papa Bell: Nepotism. Stan Lee was married to the owner's cousin. No shit.

So what?


I was responding to the question "how did Kirby get screwed while Stan Lee made money." Not an inherent criticism of Lee's ability or contribution, just a large part of the reason Lee made some cash and Kirby made less.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:23 PM on February 7, 2012


We should restore reasonable copyright terms, 14 years for works owned by their individual creators, 7 years for works owned by organizations, problem solved.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:27 PM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Do people who have a problem with work for hire here apply that to non-artists too? Should everyone be paid a % of what their work makes?

That would help a lot with the whole social justice thing.

Also I have a solution for Mr. Sturm's dilemma: BitTorrent. Do unto Marvel as they have done unto Jack Kirby.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 5:29 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


boycotting [Marvel movies] would hit Marvel a lot harder than boycotting their comics

But then whatever kind of restitution for Kirby's heirs the author has in mind - let's say: creator's rights and retroactive royalties - now depends on the corporate decisions of the Walt Disney Company - for whom Marvel is a minor subsidiary. So he ought to be boycotting Disney.

But then that would be considerably more difficult.
posted by Trurl at 5:29 PM on February 7, 2012


"Do people who have a problem with work for hire here apply that to non-artists too? Should everyone be paid a % of what their work makes?"

Yes. That sounds pretty reasonable.
posted by kyrademon at 5:31 PM on February 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


But then whatever kind of restitution for Kirby's heirs the author has in mind - let's say: creator's rights and retroactive royalties - now depends on the corporate decisions of the Walt Disney Company - for whom Marvel is a minor subsidiary. So he ought to be boycotting Disney.

Well, I don't know; I would think a targeted boycott would send a clearer message, generally.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:33 PM on February 7, 2012


See, here's the thing: in the 1960s and 1970s, it's not clear that anyone really knew just how much money there was to be made. Or, rather, it was clear, and the answer was "not very much". In their heyday, Marvel and DC sold a few million (scroll way down) comics a year. In 1969, the zenith of comic book sales, when comics cost like $0.15, Marvel and DC, together, sold about 13 million books, total. That's like $2.25 million in sales. Between them.

Even adjusted for inflation, that's not a ton of money. I personally represent small businesses that do about that much business annually. The owners make about $150,000-250,000 a year. We're not talking about companies that are making scads and scads of money. Comic books are a high-volume, low-margin good.

So when Kirby et al are deciding, in the 1960s and 1970s, about the rights to their works, it wasn't like insisting on the IP looked all that important. No one was making all that much money doing comics, so it would not have been at all apparent that surrendering their rights--or, more properly, working under conditions where they never really had them to begin with--was going to cost them all that much.

It's only now, in the past twenty years or so, that comic book characters have really taken the culture by storm. Spider-Man was Marvel's first real film success. That movie, by itself, probably earned more money for Marvel than its entire history selling comic books. And they've been making two or three decent to good movies a year since then, the vast majority of which are commercial successes. But does anyone even remember the 1994 Fantastic Four movie? Because that was a thing. So really, it wasn't until 2002 that Marvel, as such, was making all that much money. The thing almost went bankrupt in the 1990s for crying out loud.

DC got a running start with its movies in the 1970s-1980s, but even they had hits and misses. Superman did very well, but Swamp Thing? The Batman movies in the 1980s and 1990s were okay but got progressively worse, and there was an eight-year hiatus before they went back to that well. Still, the list of really awesome DC movies only has two or three entries.

All that by way of saying that until the movies came out in the 2000s, neither Marvel nor DC was exactly rolling in dough. Sure, they're making bank now, but I don't think anyone could have predicted that even twenty years ago, let alone the fifty years ago we're talking about with Kirby here. So it turns out that Marvel was smart to insist on keeping the copyrights, but it took decades before that became clear.
posted by valkyryn at 5:35 PM on February 7, 2012 [13 favorites]


We should restore reasonable copyright terms, 14 years for works owned by their individual creators, 7 years for works owned by organizations, problem solved.

How, exactly, would that help in this case? Suppose the copyright in the original Kirby works expires while Kirby is still alive: Marvel still owns the relevant trademarks, and it owns the copyrights in derivative works created while the originals were still under copyright. Given the serial nature of comics, Marvel could easily coast on derivative works in perpetuity. It would be very difficult for Kirby to successfully produce "The Real Fantastic Four" or the like, especially without the capital required to start his own publishing company.

The only real effect would be that back issues could be copied and, with the trademarks removed, new derivative works could be created. But again, without the capital to effectively market and publish those new works, Marvel would probably maintain effective creative control over the characters.
posted by jedicus at 5:49 PM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've said it before -- for every Captain America or Fantastic Four, Jack Kirby created a thousand no-name jobbers like Kulan Gath, Amphibion, Sir Porga or Ten-For. Maybe he got underpaid for the work-for-hire characters being used in the movies now, but he probably got overpaid for most of the rest of them.

That's the thing about work for hire; it guarantees you a paycheque even if what you create goes nowhere, at the risk of giving up the big money on what your employer might exploit. Kirby didn't get screwed; he got paid.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 5:56 PM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


>I see this attitude about artists all the time. They were lucky to be doing something they liked so if other people became millionaires off their work while they just pulled home a paycheck, what's the big deal?

I didn't mean to be dismissive about this. I'm a professional artist, and I'm all for artists getting cut in, and living like kings. I'm not usually in the position of being an apologist for The Company, and I'm a little uncomfortable with it... but at the same time I'm not convinced that Marvel deserves to be singled out as more than a garden-variety example of the evils of capitalism.

That's all I meant to say. As for Kirby, bless him, they didn't and still don't have enough money to pay him what he was worth.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 6:12 PM on February 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


I know most of you don't want to hear this, but you know what the solution to this injustice is? Support Independent Comics. ESPECIALLY Webcomics. I own zero DC or Marvel publications, but I love my "Schlock Mercenary" and "Girl Genius" trade paperbacks. And I know that if/when either of them (or a few others) get made into movies, the real creators will have to be well-paid and respected. Which will make for MUCH better movies. But why should the MPAA Member Studios (who also own DC and Marvel) go to them when drooling fanboys eat up the umpteenth superhero reboot? (Okay, the current Batman-ery is good, but that's all Christopher Nolan's work, which would've been just as good without the Big Brand Name, just not as popular with the drooling fanboys).

And, hey, Sing or Swim, welcome to MetaFilter. I for one would like to see your work; put some links in your profile or in MeFi Projects, if it qualifies.
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:26 PM on February 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've said it before -- for every Captain America or Fantastic Four, Jack Kirby created a thousand no-name jobbers like Kulan Gath, Amphibion, Sir Porga or Ten-For. Maybe he got underpaid for the work-for-hire characters being used in the movies now, but he probably got overpaid for most of the rest of them.

Oh, honestly, this is such a pantsload. The first batch of properties you cite -- to say nothing of the ones you didn't, like the original X-Men -- have brought Marvel hundreds of millions of dollars just in the last decade, to say nothing of all the money they've made in the decades before that. This is actually more ridiculous than the people who like to say that Siegel and Shuster only created Superman, so congrats on your no-prize, true believer.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:27 PM on February 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


We should restore reasonable copyright terms, 14 years for works owned by their individual creators, 7 years for works owned by organizations, problem solved.

Yeah, I don't really see how this would fix anything either. Under those terms, Kirby's own claim to, say, Thor, would have been up in 1976. Thor certainly wasn't a hundred-million-dollar property at that point.
posted by Amanojaku at 6:28 PM on February 7, 2012


A lot of the value in Kirby's characters (or Stan Lee's, or Bill Finger's, etc. etc.) is surely the result of extensive ongoing investment and marketing over the years -- not just, or arguably even mostly inherent in the original creation. Is there an outcry for royalties for the guy who invented the chicken mcnugget? Should there be?
posted by sevenyearlurk at 6:40 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is actually more ridiculous than the people who like to say that Siegel and Shuster only created Superman, so congrats on your no-prize, true believer.

And if Kirby had had the resources and ability to exploit those characters himself instead of creating them for a paycheque, his heirs would have had a good chunk of that hundreds of millions. But he didn't, and they don't.

In fact, every time Kirby did creator-owned work, it failed miserably. Go figure.

In any case, no, it's not "more ridiculous", it'a more on point, because there is a vast panoply of characters that one can point at; orders of magnitude more than were created by Siegel & Shuster and over a much longer period of time. Kirby created for Timely/Marvel for decades before he moved over and created for DC -- and under yet another work-for-hire contract.

The only "pantsload" is the mislain belief that his heirs somehow deserve a piece of a pie that Kirby himself never expected to share in.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 6:43 PM on February 7, 2012


In fact, every time Kirby did creator-owned work, it failed miserably. Go figure.

Kirby worked on almost no characters that he hadn't created himself. The only reason his creator-owned characters were less successful is that he was well past his creative peak by the time creator ownership was much of a thing in comics. In any case, it's sort of a bizarre non-point that you're fumbling to make here...the non-creator-owned properties that he was successful with were also his own creations. That the work Kirby outright owned was not more successful was basically just bad luck and bad timing.

In any case, no, it's not "more ridiculous", it'a more on point, because there is a vast panoply of characters that one can point at; orders of magnitude more than were created by Siegel & Shuster and over a much longer period of time. Kirby created for Timely/Marvel for decades before he moved over and created for DC -- and under yet another work-for-hire contract.

You're right, there is a vast panoply of characters that one can point at, and I see no reason in the world why Disney is somehow more entitled to make a profit from them than are the heirs of their actual creator. If that's the point you're trying to make, I don't think you're doing a great job. The problem is that Kirby created under conditions that really don't exist today, and it was less a matter of him doing his own thing vs. work for hire than, for most of his career, a matter of work for hire vs. unemployment. That's a shitty choice, and he made the one anyone would make in the same position. We know that's a shitty choice today, and that's why most creators get better deals now. Neil Gaiman, who created The Sandman under very similar conditions, renegotiated with DC a couple years in, when his book was taking off, and by his account got a much better deal. Because, again, we know this is a shitty deal. We know better now.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:59 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


"I have decided to boycott The Avengers." - I am James Sturm's impotent rage.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 7:00 PM on February 7, 2012


kyrademon: "Do people who have a problem with work for hire here apply that to non-artists too? Should everyone be paid a % of what their work makes?"

Yes. That sounds pretty reasonable.


What about the people who work for state agencies or non-profits? How about the people who do things that have non-quantifiable value, like the service and support personnel? What about people who work on projects that end up losing money in the end? You know, it's not always their fault - it could just be bad marketing or bad timing or maybe the entire market went sour.

Also, nobody really works alone on these projects. How do you quantify the contributions of the individual members?

I understand why you think it might be fair, but I think it's both unimplementable and not as fair as you think it would be.
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:07 PM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Shrug. You're factually incorrect in so many ways it isn't worth the effort to educate you, Kittens, and your snide attitude makes that choice easy. Go in peace.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 7:42 PM on February 7, 2012


What about people who work on projects that end up losing money in the end?

A thousand times this. Shit, just look at, say, Kamandi. Kirby creation for DC, ran 59 issues. Two hardcover reprints so far. Sort of derivative work, and yet influential, and DC's tried gamely for decades to bring the character and his world back. In the end, still a money-losing proposition, and yet nobody suggests that Kirby's estate send DC a cheque.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 7:49 PM on February 7, 2012


I guess I'll just have to live forever in my terrible yet highly detailed and magisterially well-informed ignorance, bereft of all I might have learned this eve. I thank you anyway, ten pounds of inedita, for all that could have been.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:49 PM on February 7, 2012


Kamandi. Kirby creation for DC, ran 59 issues. Two hardcover reprints so far. Sort of derivative work, and yet influential, and DC's tried gamely for decades to bring the character and his world back. In the end, still a money-losing proposition, and yet nobody suggests that Kirby's estate send DC a cheque.

Poor example - if Kamandi was box office poison, why would they bother reprinting it? After Kirby returned to Marvel, the series continued for a while - featuring early work from Kieth Giffen - but was caught up in the DC Implosion. OMAC would have been a better choice, but even then, DC's certainly recouped their investment.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:00 PM on February 7, 2012


Poor example - if Kamandi was box office poison, why would they bother reprinting it?

It's a good example because if it had been profitable we'd have seen the subsequent four volumes, printing issues 21 through 59. But nothing in five years. The restoration work would have already begun on the second book when the first one was in the order pipeline. So it's a sure bet that it was a money-losing project.

Why they chose to try reprinting Kamandi? I guess whoever was in charge of the reprint department at the time made a case that it would sell and Paul Levitz approved it.

And I think in the long game, OMAC has also lost them money.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 8:10 PM on February 7, 2012


Ad hominem: "Most of the time, when we choose to work for a corporation instead of ourselves, we don't run the risks of losing millions of dollars, and we lose the chance to strike it rich.The company assumed the risk is pulishing the comics in exchange for the rights."

I think the issue is not so much that they didn't get paid as agreed for the comics, but that they don't feel like the rights to use the works in other ways, say in a stuporhero movie, were sold.

Also, I don't get the impression that they were paid for their work no matter what, as an employee would normally be. They got paid by the page, AFAICT. Were I king, work-for-hire wouldn't apply unless the work was done while the author were salaried. Only in that situation is the employer truly accepting the full risk of the endeavor and all that entails. Pay-by-the-page seems more like an independent contractor type situation.

I also don't like the sleaze involved in checks purporting to be contracts for anything other than an unconditional transfer of funds between two parties.
posted by wierdo at 8:23 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's a good example because if it had been profitable we'd have seen the subsequent four volumes, printing issues 21 through 59. But nothing in five years. The restoration work would have already begun on the second book when the first one was in the order pipeline. So it's a sure bet that it was a money-losing project.
Why they chose to try reprinting Kamandi? I guess whoever was in charge of the reprint department at the time made a case that it would sell and Paul Levitz approved it.

Ah, I misread (Though I still think your example was poor), you're talking about the two archive reprints (#1-10, #11-20). Those books are horribly overpriced ($50 each), which I totally agree probably hurt them in the long run. However, DC's recently reprinted the series in Omnibus format (#1-20, $50). It sold approximately 1500 copies upon release, which I think is reasonable for a book like that at that price.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:36 PM on February 7, 2012


Hey, guys, I just dropped in for some educating. Interestingly, though, I'm pretty sure DC has begun to back off on doing Archives, period, and has begun reissuing Kamandi in new omnibus editions. The more you know!
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:38 PM on February 7, 2012


That The More You Know shooting star was mine! Mine!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:41 PM on February 7, 2012


~*
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:42 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not going to boycott Marvel movies. No, I'm not going to try to attach some moral significance to my decision to not see them, and stay away from superhero movies in general. I think 90% of them are annoying pandering action movie crap.

They can all die. I will wander the streets toling the bell for them. I will wear a black robe and stand outside the studio, extending a bony finger towards them, chanting "doom." The bloom of the black lotus will be mysteriously sent to Chris Hernsworth, who will slip into a sleep from which he will never awake. The howling wolves will sing outside, and a flock of the blackest crows will perch upon the gates of Paramount. The number of their days has been counted. They can all right fuck off.
posted by JHarris at 9:22 PM on February 7, 2012


"Do people who have a problem with work for hire here apply that to non-artists too? Should everyone be paid a % of what their work makes?"

Yes. That sounds pretty reasonable.


I don't think I can afford to pay a percentage to the Chinese workers who craft my Metafilter posts.
posted by happyroach at 9:31 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Of course, suggesting that the workers should be paid something similar to the owners is socialism. Screwing the creators and workers is the American way.
posted by Joey Michaels at 10:49 PM on February 7, 2012


Of course, suggesting that the workers should be paid something similar to the owners is socialism. Screwing the creators and workers is the American way.

If it weren't for capital, labor would never create anything.
posted by ryoshu at 10:55 PM on February 7, 2012


That will always be how I think of Smilin' Jack.

I don't think I've read a Marvel comic since 1970, but I could swear it was Smilin' Stan and Jolly Jack back then.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:24 PM on February 7, 2012


"I do not find the words "honor" or "justice" in Marvel Entertainment's mission statement:

Marvel's operations are focused on utilizing its character franchises in licensing, entertainment, publishing and toys... Marvel's strategy is to leverage its character franchises in a growing array of opportunities around the world.
"

Wait, you read super hero comics for the leveraging of character franchises in a growing array of opportunities? I can't wait to see whether the New Mutants are able to write off their expenditures under the X-Force brand this quarter! (Finally, a job for Cipher!)

Also, clearly, if something isn't mentioned literally in the corporate mission statement, it can't be a factor in the fictional narratives produced by a media company. Likewise, fictional narratives have absolutely no resonance in life outside of those fictions — how awkward it would be to know that Brave New World or Animal Farm had a political message outside of escapist entertainment.
posted by klangklangston at 1:28 AM on February 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


No one in the golden and early Silver age of comics imagined that there would be stables of characters earning billions of dollars a year 60 years down the line. Christ, no one understood what "earning billions" even rationally meant at the time, certainly not in the comics industry. I think fairness would dictate that yeah, Kirby deserves a share of the giant pile of money but in the end, what we have is a company that legally made a giant pile of money and a person wondering if they could have some of it. I don't agree with Marvel but it's not like I'm surprised they said no to that request. That's what companies sort of do--not give away their money because it's "the right thing to do."

If I sound cynical, I observe this as a cartoonist and a copyright holder- while it's likely no consolation to Kirby or his family, if there's a gift he left us even greater than his characters, it's the realization that 40 years later there are countless more opportunities for creators to hold their own copyrights and control their own success.

Today there are webcomics that have more daily readers than people who buy an issuse of Spider-Man. It was as unexpected as the success of Spider-Man back in the 60's. The difference is that the creators still own it all. Ultimately, the greatest remedy for the injustices of the past will be the future. I've said a ton of sappy lines in this one comment so I'm going to stop now and get my coffee.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 4:18 AM on February 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


If it weren't for capital, labor would never create anything.

Crikey. Do you actually believe that? Does that mean that the wheel wasn't invented until a marketing budget had been assigned?
posted by veedubya at 6:15 AM on February 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


I don't know a lot about Jack Kirby or what his personality was like, but I suspect a large part of Stan Lee's relative success has to do with his amazing ability to tirelessly shill himself and his past and present creations. I worked at the his ill-fated internet startup in 2000. The first X-Men movie opened that summer, and Stan gave a number of interviews using our snazzy dot com comic-book themed office space as a backdrop. The man has probably told the story of how the X-Men came to be thousands of times, but every interview he gives he makes it sound like he's telling it for the first. You wind up liking the guy because he's such a good huckster, not in spite of it.
posted by usonian at 7:21 AM on February 8, 2012


Does that mean that the wheel wasn't invented until a marketing budget had been assigned?

ummm, no, but whoever invented it certainly needed the materials to create their prototype. Also, labor would never create anything certainly applies to items that are made for sale. Craftspeople need to have enough in reserve to be able to feed themselves even when they're spending money/other resources on creating whatever it is they are hoping to trade.
posted by bardophile at 8:18 AM on February 8, 2012


^ What comic artists should have done decades ago is a little collective bargaining.

Dial B For Blog:
As chronicled in the first chapter of this series, DC Comics was sold in 1967. Then, in 1968, longtime DC writers Otto Binder, John Broome, Arnold Drake, Bill Finger, Gardner Fox, Bob Haney, Francis Herron, and Dave Wood confronted DC management in hopes of securing higher page rates, medical insurance, and some sort of retirement plan. The only artist involved was Kurt Schaffenberger, severely limiting the group’s bargaining power. When DC’s Jack Liebowitz reacted by employing stall tactics, the writers attempted to form a union.

“After 25 years of acquiescence,” John Broome wrote in a letter to Julie Schwartz, “the volcano finally exploded.”

DC management reacted by “freezing out” the union agitators, slowly driving the writers who had built their universe right out of the company. By 1969, when Kinney bought Warner Bros., making DC a part of a huge national conglomerate, most of them were gone. “We were out on our necks, and other writers were brought in,” Gardner Fox told Batmania magazine. The “new talent” included Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, who went over to DC in 1970, the same year longtime Superman family editor Mort Weisinger retired. The Silver Age of comics had come to a close.
Another source.
posted by Superfrankenstein at 9:15 AM on February 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Does that mean that the wheel wasn't invented until a marketing budget had been assigned?

'Well, you’re obviously being totally naive, when you’ve been in marketing as long as I have, you know that before any new product can be developed it has to be properly researched. We’ve got to find out what people want from fire, how they relate to it, what sort of image it has for them.'

Ford Prefect: "Stick it up your nose,"

'Which is precisely the sort of thing we need to know. Do people want fire that can be fitted nasally?'

'And the wheel what about this wheel thingy? It sounds a terribly interesting project.'

'Ah, well, we're having a little difficulty there.'

Ford: "Difficulty? Difficulty? What do you mean, difficulty? It's the single simplest machine in the entire Universe!"
'All right Mr. Wiseguy, you're so clever, you tell us what color it should be.'

Also, labor would never create anything certainly applies to items that are made for sale.

Well, money is a human invention. Necessity drives labor. Profit is a convenient fiction. Not that it being a fiction doesn't mean it's a useful notation. But y'know, Jonas Salk didn't have his eyes on making the big bucks.
I'd agree though that art is subjective in worth. But lemme go on a tangent concerning the production of quality work vs. the 'sale' aspect ...

Outside of entrepeneurs, salespeople and some artists (big movie stars, for example) lots of people are just paid a fixed amount regardless of whether their work generates money or costs money.

There's like a perfect storm of equity vs. empathy/compassion here that sort of puts the two at odds even as they're driving towards the same goal.

In terms of contracts, you had, back in the day, indentured servitude and no one thought anything of it. It was a contract after all. Sacrosanct. And if the terms were usurious, tough. You 'voluntarily' signed up for it.

On the other hand, there's the 'but for' argument. But for Marvel's marketing, blah de blah, Kirby wouldn't have been able to get work or made any money at all.
There's a kernel of truth there, but I don't buy into the whole deal. People with dedication and talent will always produce quality work.
So the question is whether the system of presenting someone's work is exploitative such that there are disincentives to produce.
That is, all the emphasis is on maximizing profit so you wind up exploiting genuine talent so much that it drives them away.

Same sort of deal with counterfeiting. You can make money doing it. But do it enough and all money becomes worthless.

So asking Marvel to give Kirby some respect is, in that sense, asking for incentives to produce quality work.
As it is, I think it's pretty obvious, given Marvel did almost go bankrupt, and given the mass of garbage produced by fanboy types and editors with hard-ons irrespective of story or quality, that those incentives aren't there.

And that Marvel doesn't care about producing anything decent when it can make a profit screwing creators and shipping garbage.

I read a bit ago (on here I think) about why Adam Sandler produces schlock. There's no percentage in making quality work.
I don't know though that that is about fans taste so much as the marketing angle and distribution monopoly. I think people recognize quality work, and they aren't getting it, hence the anger.

Although the piece itself, yeah, little hyperbolic:
If Mitt Romney is right, and corporations are people, perhaps Marvel/Disney has the capacity to feel shame.


*sigh*
posted by Smedleyman at 9:28 AM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


You know that Marvel used to have a contracted stamped on the back so that the artists signed away their rights by endorsing the checks?

Whaddaya know, this appears to be true (though a fuller picture would be nice, both sides preferably. And where did they get it?) Still, seems like overkill. I mean, surely the other contracts went much the same end? This stupid thing, simply cross it out and and initial the cross-out and you should be able to deny any connection between cashing the check and agreeing to the terms, no? Any lawyers familiar with this sort of thing?

Another thought occurs - Imagine it's 1965 or so and you're the president of Marvel. You know that some comics take off, some die quickly. Those that take off can go on for years, helping to underwrite those that die quickly. Comicbook Guy notwithstanding, like as not it's the character rather than the creator who is bringing in the customers. So, since this is a series rather than a one off, can you really afford to give the whip hand to one guy who may or may not feel loyalty to the company? Suppose he gets hit by a truck, where does that leave the franchise? Insofar as the regular output of The Amazing Overlordman is vital to your ongoing business, you would be insane not to want to keep the rights under your control.

That said, yes, they could have done better by him after the fact, however difficult it might be to square that with the obligation of fiduciary responsibility to the shareholders. My heart is always with the creative types, and so, good luck to XQUZYPHYR and those like him.
posted by IndigoJones at 9:40 AM on February 8, 2012


There should be some reserve of support for "academically respected" artists, Smedleyman. Any artists creating works like The Watchmen or Maus should simply receive a government stipend regardless of whether anyone without designs on a literature or arts degree reads it. If for no other reason then because such works increase the ideological soft power behind the country creating them in the long run.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:44 AM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't know a lot about Jack Kirby or what his personality was like, but I suspect a large part of Stan Lee's relative success has to do with his amazing ability to tirelessly shill himself and his past and present creations.

Agreed about Stan. But as for Kirby's personality... due to obscure processes I have come into the possession of an entire interview DVD devoted to Jack Kirby. From this, I judge that the man was impossibly charming. He comes across exactly like a beloved grandfather who had a hugely interesting life before hitting it big, except when he hit it big he created Galactus and Darkseid.
posted by JHarris at 12:36 PM on February 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


So much bad info floating around in this thread. This didn't start in the 60's, it started in the 30's. To put it lightly, Siegel and Shuster got fuhhhked. Those guys didn't even get credit for 40 years. The idea that comics have not created lots and lots of money, for people who had nothing to do with the characters and stories except they owned the printing presses, is laughable. DC was almost totally built on the back of Superman. Go ahead and pick up The Maximortal (if you've ever read or suggested Supreme and haven't read The Maximortal... well, you're missing out) Vietch puts a fairly dark spin on the history, but it does maintain the larger truths. Take a look at the wiki on Independent News. That was company that went from having trouble staying afloat to a making millions in a few short years. If you do the math on the inflation, then they were pulling in excess of 40 million a year in todays dollars. Pretty good for a guy who was initially hawking nudie mags.

I'd like to know, how people can even claim that the creators of these highly profitable entities are not due? How does it even makes sense for that kind of value to be passed onto to someone else?
posted by P.o.B. at 12:54 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd like to know, how people can even claim that the creators of these highly profitable entities are not due? How does it even makes sense for that kind of value to be passed onto to someone else?

The impression I'm getting here is that many people feel its because "they signed something so too bad, so sad."
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:41 PM on February 8, 2012


Personally, I've been handed a sheet of paper that essentially said "sign or fuck-off", and hindsight is 20/20 on dealing with those situations, but trust me when I say your first thoughts are about food on the table rather than if proper value is being transacted. If everyone agrees that an improper thing happened, then what's the problem with remuneration? It's not like it doesn't exist, or is even a hard concept to grasp.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:47 PM on February 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm with P.o.B. on this one. This is one of the reasons the world is the messed up way it is -- big companies are always taking advantage of the fact that people need money just to live in order to extract value from the system by forcing disadvantageous economic transactions with their employees. I wouldn't go so far to say that all employer/employee transactions are like this (employers could gain greater value than employees could gain from their efforts because of their access to capital of various sorts), but it is still everywhere.

Arguing that creators shouldn't have signed is laughably naive -- the choice is almost always sign or starve, or at least sign or exclude yourself from being a functional member of society. Just because it's legal doesn't make it moral.
posted by JHarris at 9:49 PM on February 8, 2012


but trust me when I say your first thoughts are about food on the table rather than if proper value is being transacted. If everyone agrees that an improper thing happened, then what's the problem with remuneration?

That seems to be the issue at the creation of the work. No one knows it's going to be huge or not. But you can more or less see, at that point, whether someone is a hack or dedicated to producing something worthwhile.
So I completely agree there should be some equity in recognizing potential future gain.

Once it becomes the future though, it seems like, as it regards Kirby, folks are chasing something that's genuinely lost.

I mean I completely think he got screwed. No question. And there should be some recognition for him.

I don't think anyone could pull a dime out of Marvel's sphincter with a Monster Truck, but, y'know, recognition.
It's human nature though to chase past value.

The money isn't really real. And that goes two ways. Which I think Marvel (and other folks savvy with economics, myself not among them) uses to ride that edge.

The money wasn't 'there' when Captain America, et.al. was created. So there's this assertion that, well, the value isn't really there either.
But that's akin to saying since Van Gogh didn't take home a big paycheck in his lifetime his work wasn't worth anything.
Well what the hell makes it worth something now?

Where the problem lay is, from the other side, chasing the money that wasn't there. Because it really wasn't. It's imaginary. As imaginary as it is now. Except now, it is there.
So it's not really worth it to argue the money, as money. Chasing ghosts. Marvel can genuinely say "hey, we paid him for his work" type thing.

And intuitively (as seem above) people seem to know that's b.s. but can't really lay down why, logically, the moral equity should equal the practical reality.

But!

It's like the Monty Hall problem. You don't know which door has the money/car and which has the goat and Marvel is pretending that it's random.
Except it's the one opening certain doors rather than others (in contract form).

Which is why, in the Monty Hall problem it pays off more to switch. Monty knows where the car is (otherwise he might have opened the wrong door). And why it's obviously such a scam on Marvel's part to force the participant (by contract) to not have a choice whether to switch or not.
In this case, say, take a percentage of future royalties, merchandising, whatever, from the character based on some formula (sales, work, contribution, whatever).

Point being, the math is doable and it's pretty obvious who's wound up on the short end of the equation.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:26 AM on February 9, 2012






This month, I feel like the comics industry is some crazy murder house intoning: GET OUT.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:59 PM on February 9, 2012 [2 favorites]




The Gary Friedrich stuff is pretty hilarious. I think the obvious solution is for the internet to create enormous amounts of fan-fiction, and to begin to give away anonymous e-comics of it. Bonus points for using the likeness of Cage.
posted by Shit Parade at 11:02 AM on February 12, 2012


Apparently Friedrich is just about destitute and going to lose his house. Neal Adams and Steve Niles are trying to help out.
posted by marxchivist at 9:42 AM on February 14, 2012


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