Spinning out of a Facebook discussion, cartoonist and educator Steve Bissette is making a case for a boycott of Marvel over how shabbily they have treated Jack Kirby and his heirs:
A few key points:
* I don’t question the legal logic Marvel’s attorneys made, and the court decision reflects. However, nothing is being said about the conditions under which Kirby signed, and was pressured to sign, the contracts presented. I don’t think “extortion” is too unfair a word to use, particularly in the very public case of the Marvel artwork “return” contracts.
That is a moral issue here, and Marvel’s pattern of decades of effectively slandering, maligning, and dimissing Kirby and his legacy is, too.
* If, in the 1970s, Neal Adams and Jerry Robinson hadn’t rallied around Siegel & Shuster, who had multiple signed settlement contracts with National Periodicals to wield against them, agreements they had signed over their lifetimes (agreements they and their legal reps—like Albert Zugsmith—had negotiated), nothing would have changed.
Adams and Robinson brought to the public the moral case, the moral outrage, over the treatment of the creators of Superman.
At that time, the legal matters were considered “settled.”
C’mon, folks: Jack changed a century, the medium, the industry, our lives, and Marvel.
Let’s change how the rest of this onfolding story goes.
* The very public pattern of undercutting Kirby’s legacy as a co-creator of properties of great value to Marvel Comics (see Stan Lee’s and Martin Goodman’s revisionism on Captain America) dates back to 1947, and the first edition of Stan Lee’s “The Secrets of Comics” pamphlet.
Bissette calls on people to ask questions of Marvel regarding their treatment of Kirby at panels throughout 2012 — let’s call it a “Kyrax2.” Because it’s Bissette, it’s a long piece, but it’s worth a read.
Tom Spurgeon has some thoughts on this, and boils it down to the main points:
What remains most troubling about what Marvel has done and continues to do to many of its contributors and their families is how deeply unnecessary all of it seems. Marvel has resources out the wazoo. They have plenty of publishing money to provide royalties to a creator or an estate on work republished, even more movie money to make payments to creators for use of their characters in a movie, and tons of accrued cultural capital to properly give folks credit for a storyline or character without damaging the all-precious brand. To habitually punish their past runs needlessly counter to the way they treat a number of their current creators happy to be partnered up with them, and the generally positive attitude most people have in comics towards their current editors and publishing people.
There’s more from Tom, too, but…he’s right. Marvel’s continued disdain for the legacy of Jack Kirby is one of the most shameful practices in comics. I don’t say that this policy is the brainstorm of anyone currently running Marvel. It goes way back to other businessmen who needed to bleed every penny from the ideas of someone who could do what they never could: create.
But the policies have been continued to this day. Even while the Thor and Captain America movies use visual ideas that Jack Kirby incontrovertibly created to make a billion-dollar franchise.
Marc Toberoff had vowed to keep fighting despite what looked like a devastating legal setback. Maybe more of us should keep fighting.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.