201110271649.jpgEarlier today we noted Stan Lee’s penchant for pacting. Sadly, his partner in the Marvel Age, Jack Kirby, did not live to see the era where his creations and influence dominate pop culture. In fact, his family is right now engaged in a bitter dispute with Marvel Comics over the rights to the characters he created.

Some have called, passionately, for a boycott of Marvel over this. and they would have the high ground. But if a boycott isn’t your style. Nat Gertler has started his own way to remember The King, a program called A Buck for Jack, which suggests you donate a dollar every time you go see a movie based on Kirby’s creations.

Now, I don’t want to miss these films – they’ve got filmmakers like Kenneth Brannaugh, Jon Favreau, and Joss Whedon, stars like Robert Downey Jr. and Natalie Portman, and a pretty good track record of quality. But I feel uncomfortable going to these movies knowing that they are not benefiting the goals of the man who brought so much creative energy to the work. So here’s what I’m doing: for every film I go to see that features Kirby-crafted concepts but made without financial tribute to Kirby, I’m giving a buck to Kirby’s legacy. For now, it will be by giving that money to the Jack Kirby Museum; if I ever find a way to give it to the Jack Kirby heirs instead, I will start directing the money there.

The campaign is completely unaligned with the proposed Kirby Museum, the Kirby heirs, or any other official entity. But it sounds like a good way to watch a Marvel movie and at least make some kind of concrete contribution to keeping Jack Kirby’s memory alive.


  1. A bad voice is telling me I should download the movie(s) and give money to Kirby’s estate instead. I’m trying to ignore it.

    Corporations usually only listen to the dollars they gain or lose. If they continue to gain and don’t lose then they see any reason to change.

    Fans giving money to Kirby’s estate directly doesn’t hurt Marvel/Disney, in fact it kinda lets them off the hook. But I wouldn’t discourage people giving money to the estate and/or museum.

  2. “and they would have the high ground.”

    Only if you believe Jack Kirby was a complete moron and was unware of the work-for-hire rules he had created under for virtually his entire career.


  3. “Sadly, his partner in the Marvel Age, Jack Kirby did not live to see the era where his creations and influence dominate pop culture.”

    This is not even vaugely correct. He did live to see it, but was not compensated even as he saw others profit, which makes it even more galling.

  4. MBunge, judicial interpretations of WFH rules changed greatly over the course of Kirby’s life, becoming much more company-friendly after 1965 (and pretty much after Kirby’s big era of creation for Marvel). The rules were fluid enough that Marvel felt compelled to get Kirby to assign his copyrights to it in 1972 — something that would make no sense if the WFH rules were as clear as you seem to think.

    The “high ground” reference is appropriate; the Kirby heirs lost almost entirely because Stan is still alive and Jack is unable to counter his self-serving testimony.

  5. The thing that’s nice about this is that if you’re really incensed about this, nobody is stopping you from sending matching dollars anywhere you want.

  6. @MBunge–

    “Only if you believe Jack Kirby was a complete moron and was unware of the work-for-hire rules he had created under for virtually his entire career.”

    No, not exactly–anyone with a more than cursory knowledge of the situation knows that Marvel behaved punitively towards Kirby, withholding his original artwork at the same time that they were giving other artists’ their own and at the time that they were also handing it out to others besides Kirby.

  7. I’ve been following the issue since 1970 and I happen to agree with Mr. Bunge. Jack certainly was no fool.

    And Mr. Southworth, if you had more than a cursory understanding of the whole original art issue, perhaps you wouldn’t be so quick to criticize Mr. Bunge. For the other side of the story, see: http://www.jimshooter.com/2011/04/jack-kirby-artwork-return-controversy.html

    I think Jack knew exactly what he was doing in the context of his era, and I’m sure he did the best he could to make the most lucrative deals possible under the circumstances. But the fact is, at certain points in his career he had to make some hard decisions, and, like all of us, he had to ultimately live with them.

    For the record, I think Jack was one of the greatest comic book creators who ever lived, and an artist whose work had a huge influence on my own.

  8. @R Maheras–

    I’m very familiar with what Jim Shooter has written over the years about the incident, and I’m also familiar with what many, many others (including Gary Groth and The Comics Journal) have written about it. Not having been there to witness it myself, I’m forced to draw my own conclusions.

    To read Shooter’s description of his involvement in the situation, one might see him as a fair-minded crusader for artists’ rights. In my experience, both in talking with friends of mine who did work for Shooter and in reading a lot about him, it appears to me that nothing could be further from the truth.

    Shooter’s involvement notwithstanding–even if it was big bad Jim Galton that kept poor defenseless Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter from helping the little guy–Marvel for years fought with Kirby over credit and other issues, particularly that of the return of artwork he produced for the company. Much of that artwork was shredded, much of it sat moldering in storage, much of it was stolen, given away, etc., but not to Kirby himself.

    I believe, as a matter of fact, that there are indeed two sides to this argument, and I see value in both of them, that Kirby created work for hire and that Marvel owed him nothing but what was agreed to, and that a gazillion-dollar corporation can afford not to be petty to a man whose work built that corporation’s property.

    The straw man argument here is that someone must believe Kirby was a “moron” to think he deserved better treatment. I didn’t criticize Mr Bunge, I criticized his disingenuous tactic.

  9. Mr Bunge hardly used a straw-man tactic. He just pointed out the fact that Kiby was nothing like, say, the fresh-faced and ignorant Boys from Cleveland who sold away their rights to Superman for a song.

    When Kirby created or co-created all of those Marvel characters in the early 1960s, he did so with full knowledge andunderstanding of the conditions of the industry as they existed then. Nothing more and nothing less. He was a seasoned pro with more than 20 years in the business — including a stint with Simon as a publisher where their arrangement with their hired talent was no different than DC, Timely/Atlas/Marvel or any other publisher. He knew he had no rights to the characters he drew (whether he created them or just re-worked someone else’s characters), and he certainly had no expectations about getting his original art back, since, circa 1961, no one did. Even the publishers dumped or shredded the stuff wholesale.

    In short, Kirby HAD no expectations of “better treatment” circa 1961 except that he wanted a decent page rate for a decent day’s work. Projecting contemporary expectations onto someone from a totally different era serves no purpose and does nothing but weaken any argument regarding unfair treatment.

  10. >> In short, Kirby HAD no expectations of “better treatment” circa 1961 except that he wanted a decent page rate for a decent day’s work.>>

    This is not actually as settled as you seem to think.

    From accounts of those who’ve talked to him about it, Steve Ditko feels he was verbally promised a share of licensing income of the characters he co-created, and that Martin Goodman reneged on it.

    If those promises were made, then were they made to Kirby, too? As for what rights creators felt they had and what rights they felt they were selling, as well as what rights the law determined they were selling, that’s not as simple a question as the “everyone knew what rights were conveyed by often-nonexistent contracts and non-explicit-bargains” proponents think, either.

    It’s the pro-publisher argument, but that doesn’t make it fact.


  11. But I’m not seeing seeing any of the marvel movies BECAUSE of my respect for Jack. I’m not buying any marvel comics based on his work either.

    Meh, ill throw the family a couple of bucks anyway. This self imposed boycott is saving me a ton of dough.

  12. Kurt — I specifically used the phrase “circa 1961” because most of Marvel’s big ticket characters were created from 1961-1963 — long before Marvel’s popularity boom a few years later and well before anyone at Marvel had any expectations of any return beyond a straight page rate.

    I’ve seen absolutely no evidence in the 40+ plus years I’ve been following this issue that indicates creators at Marvel were promised anything other than a straight page rate when they and Stan created the core characters we all know and love today in those early years at Marvel.

    The promises issues attributed to Ditko do not appear to have been made until 1965 or so — long after Spider-Man was created and fleshed out — and only after that character (which was supposed to be a one-shot, as we all know) showed strong sustained sales.

    In short, it wasn’t really until the late 1960s, when fandom was booming and there was a growing demand for back issues, historical insight, creator information, and all other things comics (such as original art), that creators themselves started taking notice that there was more gold in them thar’ hills than anyone had ever imagined.

    But that was definitely not the case in 1961.

  13. Whether Jack was being screwed with his knowledge, that still means he was being screwed. It’s not like he had a choice or liked it.

  14. I should have guessed that this would devolve into the usual back and forth.

    I think Nat Gertler’s idea is a great one, and I just donated $3 for this summer’s big-screen viewings.

  15. Kurt — One other point. Your Ditko example is actually quite the anomaly for that era, and, if I had to wager how the whole issue was raised in the first place, I’d bet it was Ditko who brought the whole idea of some type of profit-sharing up. None of the other publishers in that era had anything like creator ownership, profit-sharing, or bonuses for big-selling titles. Ditko was always a forward-thinker, and if/when he raised the issue, it was likely in 1965 when he was getting full credit for “plotting” (which, in Marvel Method terms, meant he was basically the sole creator/story-teller — with Stan adding the dialogue later). But I agree that because he left Marvel the following year, for reasons as of yet not verified openly by him (and more than three years before Kirby) speaks volumes, I think.

    I’ve always been pretty militant about creator-owned material, and was already making a consistent effort to copyright my work as early as 1974. But I cannot, in good conscience, re-write history for those who didn’t think about such things or care until it became topical and others around them started maiking noise. When savvy adults of sound mind make agreements — whether written or otherwise understood — those agreements should stand. If one really cannot live with a working arrangement, they can always go elsewhere or find a different line of work. I did.

    I’m a big sports buff, and while I think a player should try and negotiate the best contract they can, I am against players who hold out to try and renegotiate a contract that is only partially executed when a team is successful or the player has a banner year.

    That said, if an owner wishes to provide a bonus for performance above and beyond, or offer a new contract, that’s different.

    Yet, one never sees the reverse: i.e., no player ever gives money back to an owner when a player vastly underperforms while under a fat contract.

  16. The great tragedy is that the defense of this moral wrong is the legal right. ESPECIALLY amongst superhero fans. Superheroes are fundamentally based on moral rights; not contracts, not legislative process, not greed. Well, except for Daredevil, but you get my point.

    Any way; Why waste two hours of your life staring at forgettable acting and special effects with budgets that could end hunger worldwide when you could spend THE SAME AMOUNT OF MONEY and have some of Jack Kirby’s art to travel to for the rest of your life?

    I think Nat Gertler’s idea is fantastic. I hope people follow through!!!

    (P.S. the two best films based on Kirby’s work are Masters of the Universe (supposedly based on He-Man) and Star Wars. I think Warren Ellis pointed this out a while ago.)

  17. Gil Meche gave back $12 million to the Kansas City Royals when he decided to retire rather than to take another year he was due, specifically because he felt he underperformed. So there you go. That took about two seconds of googling “player gives back money,” which I admit isn’t 40 years of following an issue that wasn’t on just about anyone else’s radar until 25-30 years ago. Talk about your Ditko-like outliers!

    The idea that Jack Kirby knew full well what he was doing in terms of laws that later had to be retroactively applied isn’t a settled one, but for most people it’s beside the point — they could have done much, much, much better by Kirby and still could do better now. They could at the very least match what they’d done for Lee.

    Jim Shooter is allowed to express his side of the story, and folks are allowed to express their disdain of that side, and have certainly done so.

    This should all be beside the point of Nat’s program, which steps outside of this kind of legalistic thinking.

  18. During discovery Gene Colan, Joe Sinnott, Dick Ayers, Jim Steranko, and Neal Adams, all gave sworn declarations saying they never considered their work as “work made for hire.”
    The only paper work related to their work they saw was on occasion a stamp on the back of the checks which indicated they were selling first publication rights.
    So are all the above men liars? Or is it more likely they viewed the publishers as gangsters.

  19. Pat — There are big problems with your argument.

    First, I’ll bet none of those sworn declarations were made back during the era I mentioned, circa 1961. Why? Because no one cared about second printing rights, originals, or anything beyond the standard page rate. Going by memory (always a dangerous thing), the first artist I remember addressing the issue of original art was Jim Steranko, and I’d guess that was in about 1971 or 1972. Prior to that? Bupkus.

    Second, if Colan, Sinnott and Ayers were so adamant about such things, why did they continue to go back and work for “gangsters” for, in some cases, more than 50 years? Why didn’t they, like Jack Davis, Everett Raymond Kinstler, and others, just move on and work elsewhere?

    By the way, the stamps on the backs of the checks did not just relinquish “first publication rights” — at least not the check from Marvel I signed back in 1974. I believe it relinquished all rights.

  20. >> But that was definitely not the case in 1961. >>

    As noted, I don’t think such certainty is warranted, nor the implications you draw from your assumptions. But I agree with Tom:

    >> This should all be beside the point of Nat’s program, which steps outside of this kind of legalistic thinking.>>

    I’m not posting to have the argument all over again, because it’s irrelevant to what Nat’s doing. I’m posting merely to counter the idea that the things you’re so certain about are actually so. I’m content to point out that these things aren’t settled, rather than to try to settle them.


  21. Irene Vartanoff, on the paycheck stamp and Jack Kirby:

    When I worked in comics, in the 1970s, there were no contracts between creative people and the corporations. Eventually, a rubber stamp on the back of the Marvel freelance check claimed it was work for hire. We all ignored the stamp and endorsed above it. In law, your signature ends the legal document. Anything below can be considered a later addition to which you did not agree.

    However, the truth is, it was work for hire and everyone knew it. But that was implicit, not explicit. Therefore, arguable in law. No editor I sold a story to at DC told me “Now, you understand this story you have come up with entirely on your own is work for hire as a contribution to a collective work owned by someone else.” That’s just not how business was conducted then. There were a few people who were important enough to have contracts or were rumored to have same. I am not sure exactly what kind of deal Bob Kane had for Batman that kept his signature on comics he never even drew, but it was the foundation of great material success for Kane outside of comics. Wikipedia even says his fame was such he’d sell paintings he didn’t even paint. Go figure.

    The Kirby case is more complex because Kirby had been an owner himself in the 1940s, and knew more about ownership rights than the average creator. In his later years, as I understand it he did sign some contracts, both with Marvel and DC. I don’t know the details of his particular case but obviously it had some merit or it wouldn’t have gotten this far in the court system. Kirby may have had an expectation of ownership.

    The entire piece is worth reading. She doesn’t approve of how Kirby was treated, or how the system runs.


  22. While the work made for hire statute is unfair, open for exploitation, and should be revisited by lawmakers, the key to the Kirby case wasn’t Toberoff trying to show Kirby worked for Marvel while not under contract and as a result his work was not work for hire.
    Instead Toberoff concentrated on trying to establish Kirby created characters and plots on spec, and then tried to sell them to Marvel.
    Toberoff argued this in several different ways. He showed how similar the Fantastic Four’s basic plot and characters were to Kirby’s Challengers of the Unknown, and that Kirby’s Spiderman was almost identical to the Simon and Kirby character “The Fly” (itself based on the Simon/Oleck/Beck version). He introduced testimony from Susan Kirby who said she had seen her father creating the character pitch pages for the various members of the FF, and recalled her father saying he had named the Invisible Girl after her. And he introduced a proposed re-boot of Thor, and New Gods model sheets Kirby had tried to sell to Marvel (Roy Thomas mentions having seen them), but which Kirby held back as part of his attempts to negotiate a deal with Goodman. The fact is Kirby had been developing new characters and offering them to publishers in the form of pitch pages since the 40′s. Jim Shooter recently mentioned on his blog he held in his hands Kirby’s Spiderman pitch page. Kirby’s pitch page for “The Boomerang” was printed in TJKC #13, but the bulk of Kirby’s pitch pages for Marvel haven’t survived. Perhaps they were cut up and used as covers, pin-ups, or house ads?
    Confronting Toberoff’s argument that Kirby created characters at home, and then brought them to Marvel for sale (clearly not work for hire), was Lee’s deposition testimony he alone created every basic plot and core character before ever speaking to Kirby.
    Toberoff never tried to argue Kirby was due some co-creator status based on the theory Kirby only paced, and visualized Lee’s stories. If Kirby’s contribution was all based on Lee’s seminal ideas then very obviously Kirby’s work was “work for hire” because he did nothing until after the core concepts were created by Lee, and it was the creation of the basic ideas which was the basis of the case.
    The key point is was it Kirby pitching ideas to Lee (a riff on the Challengers, a revamped Fly), or was Lee coming up with those basic ideas and feeding them to Kirby.
    Lee was the only first hand witness to what went on between the two men at the time, and Lee claimed he created every idea and plot by himself. The judge saw no witness who could contradict his testimony, case closed.
    The idea an artist deserves co-creator status for what he brings to the table in the form of the pictures he draws, and a feeling the current copyright law is unfair are deserving of attention, but have little to do with the Lee/Kirby situation where Kirby adamantly maintained he brought core ideas to Lee, and they were then purchased.

  23. Tom’s point is well-taken–the whole subject of the article here is not whether Marvel behaved poorly or Kirby was due this, that or the other–the point of the article is that if you would like to pay tribute to Kirby’s creations, you could donate a dollar each time you see a movie, buy a book, whatever.

    It’s like Congress in here–we’re all arguing about the outlying “wedge issues” instead of addressing the actual subject.

  24. Regardless of the legal status of the case, I think this program is a great idea. Why not recognize Kirby’s immense contributions to comics and give his family a little thank you whenever you see a movie based on his characters? I know I will, from now on! And come next May, I’m going to promote the heck out of it to all of my friends.

  25. BTW. It appears to me there may be readers who are not really aware of exactly what is being proposed here.
    Nat has no affiliation with the Kirby heirs or estate.
    Any donation is going to the Kirby Museum which is a web page having no affiliation with the Kirby heirs or estate.
    And if I understand Nat’s comments correctly the Kirby Museum has not endorsed Nat’s idea.

  26. This “A Buck for Jack” idea is very generous and well-meaning, but in a way it is asking the public to redress a very private wrong, which is the greed of big corporations that refuse to share their benefits with the artists who made them possible.

    Kinda reminds me of the bailouts with public money for rogue Wall Street firms that don’t even make a pretense of remorse.

    I’m sure the guys at Marvel LOVE this idea, since it demands nothing from them and helps everybody feel better about poor Jack. I very much doubt they’ll feel any embarrassment if the campaign catches.

  27. Keep inj mind though it isn’t a buck for Jack. It’s a buck for the Kirby Museum which is apparently (?) being solicited without the Kirby Museum’s affiliation.
    The Museum director Rand Hoppe wrote on Kirby’s birthday (Aug. 27)
    “Did you know Steve Bissette is boycotting Marvel product until Marvel pays the Kirby family, and acknowledges Kirby as the co-creator of all of the properties he co-created? Frank Santoro is doing so. I am doing so, as well.”
    The goal of the boycott is to put pressure on Disney.

  28. Keep in mind that the “guys at Marvel” weren’t around when all this was going on; many of them were in grade school, and the corporate parents of the company have changed hands many, many times.

    I’d bet that most of the guys at Marvel do love this idea and love Jack Kirby, too, and many of them might be donating to the Museum as well.

  29. Well, despite my differences with some regarding what transpired at Marvel 50 years ago, I have donated money to the Kirby Museum in the past, and I will invariably do so again in the future. It’s a great legacy to Jack, and I hope it’s around forever.

  30. >> I’m sure the guys at Marvel LOVE this idea, since it demands nothing from them and helps everybody feel better about poor Jack. I very much doubt they’ll feel any embarrassment if the campaign catches. >>

    Embarrassing Marvel isn’t the point, of course. If that’s your aim, you want a different program.


  31. There’s room in my life for donating dollars to the Kirby Museum AND for criticizing Marvel.

    I guess we should all blame Jack Kirby for not hitting Marvel with a retroactive agreement or two instead of the other way around. And not having a contract worked so well for Don Draper.

  32. For each person that sends me a dollar, I’ll send Marvel a drawing of a current major stockholder naked and saying stupid stuff and dancing around like a dummy.

  33. The Kirby Museum had no prior endorsement of the idea (nor rejection; neither they nor the Kirbys were exposed to it.) However, since the announcement of the campaign, the Kirby Museum chose to retweet the announcement, as well as a link to this article – http://twitter.com/#!/jackkirbymuseum

    Having said that, I hope that future money will go to the family, and that I’m presented with some sort of family Paypal address to promote. Since launching the campaign, I have reached out to someone who knows members of the family, with the aim of achieving that result, so that people who have embraced this campaign will be giving them money for Avengers, Thor 2, Iron Man 3, and any other otherwise-unrewarded Kirby projects that may arise.

    One does not need to see this as “righting a wrong” so much as promoting good. If we want to encourage people to make works that are both great and popular, it helps to create examples of rewards for that success which are more like Charles Schulz or even J.K. Rowling, and less like the what Kirby received during his life.

  34. Another option is buying material where the money actually goes directly toward the Kirby estate, like Image Comics’ Silverstar HC.

    It’s worth noting the largest check ever issued to the Kirby estate came from another Image/Kirby project, Phantom Force.

  35. Maheras,

    You would work for ” Gangsters ” to if Your Family Income dependeed upon you.
    I know Many artists in that era and they ALL SAY THAT THERE WERE NO OPTIONS BACK THEN LIKE TODAY’S ARTISTS!!!!
    Easy to say when You are Not in that situation.

  36. Joe, In a perfect world of supermen, the artists would have all quit drawing comic books, and gone to work in a rock quarry.

  37. Joe — No other options? There are always other options — and I speak from experience.

    I think one of the biggest reasons creators back then stayed on with these “gangstaer” in vast numbers is because there was far less risk doing freelance work at fixed page rate than there was borrowing or funding projects on one’s own and trying to tiptoe through the publishing/distribution minefield of that era.

    Do you know what the success-to-failure ratio was (is) for new comics titles? Compound that with the fact that even the most seasoned publisher had no idea which would books would be successful and which ones wouldn’t.

    Look at the track record of creators — some truly exceptional creators — who tried to form their own companies and failed.

    It’s a brutal business that needs lots of capital to cover the vast majority of books that will fail and lose money. Then, when that rare book or trend comes along that actually is highly successful, that’s what finally subsidizes the losers.

    Goodman had to be pinching himself every day during the early 1960s when the sales figures trickled in for his Marvel titles because it was just so unprecedented at that juncture in the comics biz.

    Keep in mind that a creator could (and did) jump ship when the checks stopped coming and/or a publisher went belly-up.

  38. I’d like to know if Marvel, DC and other Publishers are paying Kirby’s heirs royalties for the numerous reprints of his work that we are being published lately.

    (Maybe even if they do the print runs are very small for the Masterworks, Omnibuses and Archives)

    Do they receive any money from the films now that MARVEL acknowledges him as Co-Creator?


  39. Francisco, Marvel does not pay royalties to the Kirby heirs or estate.
    Marvel and Lee absolutely do not acknowledge Kirby as a co-creator of the characters and plots. Just the opposite. Lee and Marvel describe Kirby as an artist who illustrated Lee’s ideas.
    I haven’t seen the films, but I’m pretty sure Kirby is credited with being a creator of the comic books. It’s no different than saying the people currently writing and drawing for Marvel are creating comic books.
    The legal dispute was over who created the characters, and if those characters were created by Kirby who then pitched the concepts to Marvel.

  40. Patrick wrote:

    “Joe, In a perfect world of supermen, the artists would have all quit drawing comic books, and gone to work in a rock quarry.”

    In a perfect world of supermen, wouldn’t the supermen have busted up all the rocks so that all the artists could sit around drinking mai-tais?