Saturday, August 10, 2013

WACKIER THAN THE RED SKULL: Court Rules With Marvel/Disney Over The Kirby's

I don't normally weigh in on creator wars over comic properties, as they are always such sad stories of capitalism over ethics and I try to keep IADW a pretty positive comic place. But this is Jack Kirby and when a movie based on his creations doesn't feature his name or give his family a decent cut of it's $1.5 billion haul, something is seriously wrong. You know the movie, it featured these guys;

Cap has no idea how right he is. If you took away every character that Kirby co-created (which is pretty much every star of a Marvel title that lasts above issue #32), there is no way Disney would've even looked twice at buying the remaining 'House of (Kirby's) Ideas'.

Yet today's ruling that his surviving family members have no claim to any of his creations, from Lady Sif to Cyclops, because his work was done as "work for hire" is meant to be 'just'. What it is is 'balls'.

Whether you like his style or not, without this man's work there would be a massive void within comics - Marvel may not even have lasted this long. I realise it is paramount to giving away money, but you'd think Marvel, as a sign of respect, would without being forced to, want to make things right. Especially with the Kirby's.

Treating people fairly when they've done you a good deed isn't just an ideal for Captain America comics, it is for the people who still take home a paycheck from them too.

 What do you think?  Read the full Reuters press release here for all the tragic details.


  1. And obviously they did like SOME of his style, because those costumes have been relatively unchanged since his day. The entirety of the the Asgard set was a homage to Kirby. I watched the extras on the video. They said so. This is a bleeping shame. The King's family should get money. Is there a petition? A bake sale? Something?

  2. I have to assume that judges all the way up to a federal appeals court know the law far better than I do, and by extension the Copyright Acts of both 1909 and 1976--and as harsh as this is bound to sound, their deliberations carry far more weight with me than any rumblings of outrage among fandom, since evidence and arguments have been presented by both parties and each side has been duly heard in the cold light of day. The end ruling constituted a 57-page opinion which, from what I've seen, is thoroughly familiar with Jack Kirby's history, Stan Lee, and Marvel Comics itself, as well as the context in which the Kirbys argue vis-à-vis Kirby's extensive contribution to the creative process. Most of the decision seems based on the technicalities of Lisa and Neal Kirby being "indispensable parties" to the suit--but it's clear that the main issue has faced all due scrutiny. Pgs. 50-51 of the opinion cut to the chase:

    "...Kirby's works during this period were hardly self-directed projects in which he hoped Marvel, as one of several potential publishers, might have an interest; rather, he created the relevant works pursuant to Marvel's assignment or with Marvel specifically in mind. Kirby's ongoing partnership with Marvel, however unbalanced and under-remunerative to the artist, is therefore what induced Kirby's creation of the works.

    "Marvel also played at least some creative role with respect to the works. Kirby undoubtedly enjoyed more creative discretion than most artists did under the "Marvel Method," a fact Lee readily admits. ... But the only evidence on the issue indicates that he did not work on "spec" (speculation) -- that is, he worked within the scope of Marvel's assignments and titles. ... There is no disputing, moreover, that Marvel had the power to reject Kirby's pages and require him to redo them, or to alter them, a power it exercised from time to time. ... And there is evidence that Kirby collaborated with Lee with respect to many of the works.

    "... Marvel's inducement, right to supervise, exercise of that right, and creative contribution with respect to Kirby's work during the relevant time period is more than enough to establish that the works were created at Marvel's instance." (citations and deposition notations omitted where ellipses are indicated)

    As a die-hard fan of Jack Kirby, I can certainly be disappointed that the man wasn't better compensated for the wealth of work that he turned in--as well as wish that he might have received a bigger piece of the pie, given the financial and P.R. windfall that Marvel is now enjoying. But I also can't discount the fact that he went into his employment with Marvel with eyes wide open. For what it's worth (and admittedly, aside from the monetary), Kirby has the undisputed recognition of his contribution to Marvel by way of the people who he sought to please the most--his fans. I agree with Dan that Marvel might well have struck a deal with the Kirbys simply out of good conscience, and long before this suit was ever conceived--though I'm sorry to say that that, too, would have had to be carefully worked out under advice of counsel.

    (I'm sorry, Dan, I feel like I've abused your comments area. I probably should have made it a separate post! :) This is indeed meaty subject matter.)

  3. Its a disgrace, though hardly a surprising one is it. Lets face it, Marvel have a well-renowned death-grip on all their creators' works. The relatives of Kirby were never really on a good standing, legalese wise.
    The King's own children have tried to emulate his success in bringing out their own work, and that is a fitting legacy of some renown. His family gave their lives to the industry, just read any of the tomes devoted to this master. Even when he was drawing monster comics in the barren 1950s, his wife Roz would often invite fans in for tea who were passing by and wanted to see Jack. This was a quiet following [maybe too quiet in retrospect as Marvel have all too well took advantage] and a long traditional standard of sticking with the tried and true and trusted - not for them today's bitter experience of being dumped for being too old [Jerry Ordway] or axed for not being grim and gritty enough [Kevin Maguire who only today was dumped from Justice League 3000] or marginalised [Ron Lim, the Bierbaums, any number of fill-in artists].
    Comicsfan has posed some very good arguments, that hold water on the moral level but unfortunately cant be worked into suitable legal juncture; one part of their argument can easily be swayed by another, but then lawyers have never needed any assistance nevertheless any encouragement to work that out.
    Remember when Marvel brought out the big selling Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D trade about ten years back and Steranko went around comic-cons asking fans NOT to but it, because of Marvels policy towards its artists and also because Marvel didn't ask permission of Steranko to use his 60s work, and he patently refused to sign copies of the tpb's. I bought a copy [I had to- this was Steranko and this was his S.H.I.E.L.D classics] but agreed with him about Marvels dubious business practices.
    Nothing more to say, really. Im not surprised by this outcome, just upset the King's legacy will only live on in the memory of his fans.
    On the FF forum I inhabit, we have been having a healthy rocking 'n' rolling debate [for the past ten days now!] over who contributed the most to the FF comic script-wise - either Stan Lee or Jack Kirby. His name still incites debate and devotion in equal measure. We can argue over who did what but one thing no one argues over is the worth of the man, the only man who many of us believe if he hadn't existed, then comics as we know them either wouldn't be here or be vastly altered from what we've grown up with.
    Jack Kirby is - not was, is - worth a THOUSAND of those who work in what is increasingly a grubby industry.

  4. Anonymous4:28 pm

    I'm gonna go along with Karl on this...he said it a lot more eloquently than I could. Maybe the Kirby estate doesn't have a legal case, I don't know. But they sure as shit have a moral case, and as we all know, being adults, what's right and what's legal are two different things. I'd support anything that would give the Kirby heirs a little recompensation. At least give the guy a creator credit, for chrissakes. M.P.

  5. Thanks for all the awesome comments folks! They're all great reading and points. I think what seperates Jack from other creator/publisher disputes is the volume of creations and the fame they've gained.

    Marvel Studios bust a gutt to drop Stan Lee in, and while Kirby is obviously unable to do the same, opening credit kudos or even a SHIELD agent with his name etc vould be arranged.

    The best book on Jack's life is the book Kirby. It shows both big publishers dumped on him at times. DC hired him to draw Superman, then hired someone else to redraw Supes in all panels to make him look more Curt Swan-ish, but he deffinitly didn't enter any of his various contracts aware these repercussions would evolve.

    As he got older his priorities changed and royalties became more important as his speed slowed. Renewal of service contracts were matched with clauses removing rights to sue over past, present and future transactions and worse. But drawing and creating was his moneymaking skill - what choice did the guy have for his family?

    I type this wearing a Marvel t-shirt of five key characters, two using Jack's art, one in Gene Colan's - if they are that recognisable in art you'd think a dime or two would drip back to their families, as for some like me, it plays a decision in the purchase.

    I think anon has my point of view best. Marvel needs to stop being a Mickey Mouse outfit and let go the Scrooge McDuck tendancies. Legally they don't have too, but ethically they should draw a line in the sand and say 'look we fu#&%@ked up. from now on Kirby gets atleast equal props as Lee if not more depending on characters at hand, and we'll see his family right as he is helping us provide for ours right now'.