Jul 29, 2011

Kirbys Lose Copyright Case; Fans Rejoice and Will Still Complain About Wonder Woman's Pants

The reports are out everywhere that the estate of Jack Kirby has lost the summary judgment on the claim on the characters he co-created for Marvel. The court ruled that it was all work-for-hire, and so the Kirby heirs will not get their slice of the pie, unless the decision is overturned in the appeal that I believe is inevitable.

If you've followed The Comics Cube! for a while, you know where I stand on the matter. Although I have at times regretted the tone and words I chose to communicate my sentiments, such as here, I do still stand by all those sentiments.

Remove sentiment and emotion, though, and you'll know that this was always a bad case for the Kirbys to win. Daniel Best says it best here. His sentiments also echo mine for the most part, and like him, I'm sad (and very angry) that the courts would rule Kirby's role in the creations of  Thor, Ant-Man, and Iron Man as that of a mere artist, which is not only wrong (though I get it for Iron Man), but I think sets a dangerous legal precedent for artists and collaborators all over.

The Kirby heirs kind of shot themselves in the foot here, by making grand statements that implied that Kirby created everything and Stan contributed nothing, going so far as to say that Kirby even created characters that predated him and characters like Wolverine, to which he had no contribution. They should have prepared better. They should have known better.

But my issue with this is a simple one: it never should have gotten to this point. Ever. I firmly believe that Gene Colan, whose most notable contribution to comics is probably putting Daredevil on the map, should have been treated better with the appropriate royalties throughout his life, and that he should not have been selling his art by the end of it just to pay for his medical bills. So of course, it stands to reason that Jack Kirby, the greatest creator in the history of the business — and I dare anyone  to challenge that — should have had those benefits to an amplified degree. Even if Marvel won the case, that wasn't my issue. The issue was that the Kirby should have been getting royalties all this time.

It's actually apt that this ruling came out two days after I saw this interview The Guardian held with Alan Moore, where Alan has this to say about the industry:

It has abused and mistreated creative people for decades. It has never treated people fairly. And there is something a bit odd about people who spend their every working hour depicting the exploits of superheroes – of people who always stand up for the underdog and fight against the oppressor, the tyrant, the supervillain – and who have never once when the artists and writers that they professed to admire are taken out and put to the wall. This is an industry where if you mention the idea of, say, forming a union, you'll just get shrill nervous laughter in reply.

And that's what I don't get. Look around the Internet. Look around message boards. You'll see fans — not corporate shills, but fans — rejoicing about this, and because it's the Internet, some are tasteless, some are coarse, some are rude, and some seem to take really great pleasure in the ruling, saying that Kirby got what he deserved, that his family deserves nothing (and I suppose Robert Iger's does), essentially putting the letter of the law in front of social responsibility, which all  seems very odd to me, considering that this is an industry based on putting what's right before what's legal.

What I don't get about these fans is that these are the same ones that will contest you on this on moral grounds — I'm not talking about the people who just argue the legalities, because, really, I get it — but there are fans who have obviously not read anything about the case, who will generalize, who will bring it back to Jack Kirby "deserving it" since 1961, and who will justify cruel and unfair business practices, such as what has happened to Jack, Alan, Bill Finger, Jerry Siegel, and Joe Shuster...

...and these same fans will complain to no end about Wonder Woman having pants on her costume. Will still go on and on about Spider-Man not being married. Will still go on and on about how Stephanie Brown will not be Batgirl come this September.

My friend Pól sums it up thusly: "If you change the colour of a comic book CHARACTER's boots, comic fans go into a berserk rage. But screw over a comic book CREATOR, and they'll line up to sing your praises. I hate this fucking business sometimes."

I don't get it. I really, really don't. There are fans who would stage protests against a character's costume change, but screw over a creator and you have these fans cheering you on. Is it because these same fans are the ones so afraid of "losing" their beloved characters, that any change made to them, whether it be a cosmetic, superficial alteration or one of ownership, threatens their worldview? Do they cling to these characters so badly that we can't see what's actually right done in the real world? What happened to social responsibility, the type of which these superheroes advocate? Are these characters that much of an escape that they instantly take precedence over our little corporeal lives?

"How can they do this to Bucky?" "How can they have Squirrel Girl in the Avengers?" "Why are they breaking up Lois and Clark?" "Poor Stephanie!" "Get those pants of Diana!" You hear these cries all the time.

What about, "Let's make up for those decades we mistreated Jack?" How about "Let's get Marvel to pay Gene some royalties so he doesn't have to worry about money at the end of his life?" How about "DC should really just leave Alan alone, since it's obvious he doesn't want to deal with them"?

No, we get, "Jack deserved it," "Gene knew what he was getting into," and "Alan should be thankful he got to write Batman."

And then we'll get back to "Get Spider-Man and Mary Jane back together," "Oh ho ho, look at those V-neck collars," and "How can they make Superman revoke his American citizenship?"

Guys, these creators are real people, who have worked hard to bring you the stories you have enjoyed over generations and decades.

And please remember, as powerful as fiction is, it's just that: fiction. It will exist forever and ever, no matter what happens to them now, no matter where the copyright goes, no matter how much money is paid.

Please, accord these creators the respect they deserve. You may not take their side on the legal end of things, but you don't need to take so much glee in their pain, so much joy in their losses. You owe them that.

If you love Jack Kirby, I encourage you to get KIRBY: GENESIS by Kurt Busiek, Alex Ross, and Jack Herbert. It features all the concepts every created by Jack that the Kirby estate owns. The second issue is out on the stands right now.


Darrell D. said...

Duy, my friend, as always you say what I am thinking.
I went through this in the 80s, when I was out there trying to do my part to help Kirby get his artwork back.
It wasn't much; wrote letters, and I dropped ALL Marvel books.
The man deserved MORE.
The fact that he doesn't have a co-creator credit on the countless Marvel books that feature his creations is sickening.
And, you know what?
I am no longer going to stand up for Stan Lee after reading the fiction that he spun in his depositions. He KNEW. He was where he was due to the the benefit of nepotism, and I believe in Karma; his 'sainthood' is stained by his inactions, and all you can do is shrug.
And the fans are the worst. Most are knuckle-dragging, self-entitled addicts who only care about getting their weekly fix; and others are just cruel idiots who have a 7 year old's understanding of IP and copyrights.
I swear, if I see another analogy of 'My father built a building for a company, does that mean I can come back years later and BLOO BLOO BLOO'
Ok, rant over.

Duy Tano said...

Well said, Darrell. I'm not gonna take the Stan-bashing to the level that some do (where they claim he did NOTHING, which is just untrue), but I wish he stood up for his artists. How the courts can rule that the visual aspect of the character isn't part of the creation is BEYOND me. How Stan can stick to his story — the whole thing where he thinks that coming up with an idea is tantamount to the full creation is beyond me.

Darrell D. said...

Stan can stick to his story because it benefits him, and more importantly, helps the narrative he has worked so hard to protect for Marvel all these years.
I won't actively bash him, either, but I am done defending him. I won't bother posting, 'Well, I think Stan was important to the creation of...' when I see someone post about how Stan is a credit hog.
He's shown he isn't worth it.

Jeremy said...

"There are fans who would stage protests against a character's costume change, but screw over a creator and you have these fans cheering you on."

Come on Duy, you're smarter then this. Fans don't go out to conventions dressed as Jack Kirby. They don't make fan fiction and discuss the latest issues of Alan Moore and his big wacky beard. They don't watch the movies and think, "Man, that Simon and Kirby, so amazing!"

Some do. You do. Most don't. As long as people get their entertainment, they can give a damn about the creators or what's "morally right". YOU know that, I know that, and pretty much every one working in the entertainment industry should know that: you are here to entertain us, when you stop doing that(or possibly get in the way of doing that), people aren't gonna care. You're just a name on the front of the cover the vast majority of people.

Duy Tano said...

You're really rockin' my faith in people here, man.

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