Recent Battle Skirmishes
I’m a little behind on putting together some thoughts on recent industry discussion on Jack Kirby, and the situation with Ghost Rider creator Gary Friedrich. The latter has prompted a few changes on this site that have taken some time to put together. Before we get into all that, here’s a little recap of recent events.
A fresh round of community angst seems to have started with creator James Strum calling to boycott Marvel over their mishandling of the Jack Kirby legacy, following in the footsteps of the Steven Bissette call for a similar boycott last summer. We’ve posted about it here and here on this site. Talk about the Kirby legacy saturates the comics web community. As happened with the Bissette controversy, discussions in fandom forums on the Strum boycott quickly degenerated into arguments over the effectiveness of such a measure and whether Jack Kirby even created the characters that comics history gives him credit for. It’s an interesting and all too familiar phenomenon that turns fandom forums into a battleground between publisher supporters and those of creators. A revelry of aggression, confusion, disinformation, distortion and conflict that has nearly paralyzed such calls to action and halted what could have been a more effective display from comics fandom in support of such campaigns.
Then news broke of the judgement on the Gary Friedrich litigation against Marvel for the character Ghost Rider. Daniel Best has posted some reports which can be seen here, that have spread across the comics net and also to some mainstream media. The litigation started around the same time as the release of the first Ghost Rider film Marvel licensed in 2007, starring Nicholas Cage. It ends now on the eve of release of the second film, which looks very much to be a box-office success and one of the popular film events for 2012.
The familiar battleground fodder in the Kirby campaigns managed to overpower debate in this case also, at least if measured by talk at Bleeding Cool forums and The Beat comments, which together seem reliable enough as a compass for the general mood in fandom on these issues. In a counter-suit against Friedrich, Marvel had also won a judgement for payment of $17,000 from Gary in compensation for his profits from selling Ghost Rider covers, posters, art and paraphernalia for the last couple of decades since not having any income from writing comic books.
Part of the discussion is about Marvel’s counter-suit and victory against Friedrich, which is feared to have ramifications and become a serious challenge to creators who even sell sketches of copyrighted characters through their web sites or at conventions – even though it’s been assumed, by unspoken waiver, to be a legitimate means of raising supplemental income for artists. Heidi MacDonald elaborates in this post, which also explains why there’s a considerable amount of back-stage talk that Marvel had no choice given how Gary conducted the case. Marvel seems to be saying this will have no ramifications on other artists. Ty Templeton seems to tow the company line with an “ouch” critique of Friedrich’s case in this cartoon. Steven Bissette disagrees with Ty and the judgement against Friedrich in this Facebook Note.
Tom Spurgeon raises the ante in this reverberation, which is worth reading between the lines…and words.
Steven Niles, bless his soul, rose to action with a PayPal donation account to help Gary, who has been ill, financially devastated from the trial costs, and is apparently in danger of losing the home he and his family own. The call has been picked up and supported in much larger numbers than what the general mood in fandom hinted at. Neal Adams posted a statement to the comics community urging everyone to pitch in and help give Gary a little financial breathing space. Just to remember that Gary Friedrich is the primary co-creator of a character starring in one of this season’s expected blockbuster superhero movies. The film opened this weekend and looks to be a pretty good production at this stage, on its way to a healthy profit margin.
The campaign to raise funds for Gary Friedrich, given the verdict and judgement against him, seems paramount for the writer’s well-being and that of his family. Anyone who can donate original art or other items for auction is urged to contact Neal Adams. Paypal donations at Steven Niles site. Please consider helping out.
With that behind us, let’s all sit up for a moment and get a little uncomfortable.
The Lies We Live With
We, the community of fans, journalists and creators, concerned about this and similar issues, have inadvertently become paralyzed by our own reluctance to use tools available to us in order to help improve the conditions we all operate under in the comics industry. We are playing by the rules of the enemy, namely DC and Marvel, who, like most other profit driven corporate entities, have taken advantage of a runaway, renegade and mostly hostile-to-the-common-people world economy, and have brought the comics industry to a state of near demise in order to maximize profits outside of comics publishing, utilizing the properties they get from creators, which they control.
We will remain at near paralysis until we are able to break the unspoken taboo that assumes us beholden to DC and Marvel as industry leaders and foundation stones, whom we are reluctant to confront effectively, on the deeper issues that affect the medium and everyone contributing to it.
The Big Lies
If there was any doubt that DC and Marvel are intentionally keeping the comics publishing business on a death bed for everyone else as well, last summer’s New 52 reboot from DC seems to dispel any remaining confusion. The reboot was preceded with the self-serving trumpet sounds of DC putting comic books back on the map. They said this re-writing the DC Universe would open the market for new readers. They promised to utilize mainstream media, television and cinema advertising to make it popular for everyone to be seen with comic books again. They said it was the dawn of a new day for the comics.
Six months into the hoax and the DC bubble seems to have burst with as little fanfare as being able to claim a slightly larger market share than Marvel for the initial months of the reboot. No new reader base and no serious publicity campaign for the comic books. To make things worse, the hoax was accompanied by a digital sales initiative that’s diverted attention away from the plight of printed comics books and has been followed suit by most every other publisher, cementing a feeling that the printed books are now on notice of termination. That entire hoopla last summer, all that noise and public relations pretension, has effectively died out without improving, not in the very least, nor promising to improve, anything in the business of comics publishing for the common good of the market.
Like everything else DC and Marvel do, they do it for a public relations buzz which only helps their other-than-comics merchandise. That’s all they need to do, really.
The Bigger Lies
DC and Marvel don’t need nor want the business of publishing comics to grow and flourish. Because if it did, then there would be many more Siegel/Shuster/Kirby/Friedrich cases dragging them to spend exorbitant funds to defend their absolute control of the properties and absolute corporate greed. They rather prefer to spend immense resources on lawyers battling creators instead of just being a little more fair with the artists and writers who’ve been the content backbone of the companies, without whom there would be no comics industry.
A perpetually dying medium, especially one that continues to produce raw material for exploitation in other arenas, is the best way to keep getting the raw material at the lowest possible cost. No one will ask for more from a publishing industry hanging by a thread.
Armed with this grim reality, DC and Marvel, owned and managed by the most powerful media conglomerates in the world, can posture themselves as doing “what they need to do” by virtually raping the destitute creators who helped build their expansive property base. And they do it with a brazen enough face that we, the comics community, are left to bicker among ourselves as to the merits of one particular circumstance, while ignoring the larger dilemma that publishers are driving the industry into, effectively paralyzing any action that could put a little more pressure on them to do the right thing for the collective good of the comics industry.
The War Imposed Upon Us
In our near paralysis to help improve the general state of affairs, comics industry activists are not entirely impotent, as evident in the overwhelming grass-roots support to help disadvantaged creators when a need rises. We live with the situation because we are basically at war, even though we are reluctant to acknowledge it. We are at war not only against DC and Marvel, but the entire world population is at war with an economy whose heads have altogether shed any semblance of collective responsibility. We are at war against a prevailing attitude that the strong among humanity have no collective responsibility for the general welfare. At war with the notion that the strong hold the upper legal prerogative to rape and plunder every good portion of this world that their hands can reach.
We are at war but we are not yet training to be soldiers. We’ve settled for being as paramedics who tend to our wounded – but we have few soldiers on the front lines. These few who are fighting the good fight are operating in a near vacuum without the needed full support of populist systems such as the voice of fandom and the comics press behind them…who all tend to agree that something’s wrong and needs to change. But we are not yet fighting the war that’s been waged upon us, which we need to do in order to help bring a change.
I’ve long held that the way we live our lives is itself the training ground for the wars imposed upon us in our journey through this world. I also understand the notion that taking a defensive measure in offence to wars imposed upon us, by itself defines us as warriors also. I’m alright with that, though I understand that a lot of voices in the periphery disagree with the need for such a definition.
Within this outlook on life, I’ve been somewhat of a gypsy soldier in training myself, moving around the comics web community where I’ve been able to try to add something to the talk that stimulates towards seeing the larger picture we’re contending with. The Web Activism section at my Wikipedia biography highlights some of these activities that have been covered in the comics press.
As such that the entire world is our training ground, I’ve not concentrated much on a focal discussion forum for these activities at this site. A previous attempt to start something like that here was apparently too early and suffered a natural fadeout. It may still be too early or entirely unsustainable for such an environment here. But like I hinted at the head of the article, it seems that an imperative move is needed at this juncture. And so, even in suffering a potential fail, I’ve started somewhat of a discussion forum training ground for myself and anyone interested in participating.
Announcing FUSION Fourms
FUSION Forums is a registration-free think tank, at this stage.
Its goal is to take a step beyond discussion, into the realm of web activism on behalf of the common people within the comics industry and beyond.
Its hope is to establish a sort of task force of activists who will slowly saturate the comics web community with the need to take a stand and apply a little more public pressure on the “strong forces” who are waging the war against us.
It may take some time to come together, or it may not do so altogether.
But we will at least have tried to fight back.
If you see the war coming, join us and help prepare yourself and others.
From the family…
Hall of Fame artist John Severin, one of the last of the legendary EC artists, has died at age 90. Severin—whose sister Marie was also a famed artist and colorist for Marvel—was among the greatest draftsmen of the EC crew. He was especially well known for his Western comics, which were meticulously researched and elegant in their line. [,,,more at The Beat]
Never had the opportunity and privilege to meet John Severin. I had started a portrait of him some days ago to fill a missing Wikipedia biography image. But with the news, that page has been polished in the last while and a relatively recent photo has been uploaded. Heartfelt condolences to the grieving family. John is a giant among his peers.
A few recent images
Continuing the production of new portraits for Portraits of the Creators Sketchbook, whose subjects are largely chosen of late by a need for biographical images in their Wikipedia articles, a new Barry Windsor-Smith portrait now joins the sketchbook.
Sometime during the summer of 1976 I was taking a break from work at Continuity to read a Dr. Strange story in Marvel Premiere #3, from 1972. It was illustrated by Barry Windsor-Smith and inked by Dan Adkins, towards the end of Barry’s memorable run on Conan the Barbarian.
The story begins with Dr. Strange brooding the streets of New York with a feeling of impending peril all around.
I remember finishing the opening sequence with a sense of exhaustion from reading it, which strangely identified with how Dr. Strange felt in the story. It wasn’t necessarily the classic Stan Lee text which caused it, but rather the very moody imagery. I found myself going back over it to try to understand how Barry had pulled off such a excellent effect on the reader. What struck me most about it was how in several key panels, the movement was directed from right to left, against the natural reading flow.
Barry had broken a cardinal rule of storytelling about movement in panels needing to be from left to right, so the composition would remain harmonious with the direction the eye traveled while reading. He did this in order to create a new rule, that breaking the first rule contributes to a feeling of disharmony; or the feeling of impending doom that Dr. Strange had throughout this sequence. A reader has to struggle with trying to move on to the next panel, when the present one is pointing them backwards to the previous one. In this case, it resonated with, and amplified the discomfort that the Dr. Strange was experiencing in the story itself.
Some time later during a First Friday gathering at The Studio, I mentioned to Barry the effect his storytelling in that issue had on me. I asked him about his use of contrary movement in the opening sequence. He responded with enthusiasm that someone had noticed what he’d done, saying it’s the first time anyone mentioned this detail to him. I’m still not certain today if Barry didn’t just say that so I’d feel good about having noticed it.
This happened only a few years after the comic book appeared and it was still during the early period of fandom, long before the information super-highway turned the art of comics reviews into an avalanche of analysis. So I think it’s not far fetched that I might have been the first one to mention it to him, though not at all likely the first to have noticed it. This particular issue has received critical acclaim from reviewers on the web. It’s also become a popular back issue that brings a hefty price on the market. A quick eBay search shows almost a hundred copies currently being sold. In one such listing, for a graded CGC issue, the bidding is at $469 as of this writing, with more than 15 days to go till the auction closes.
Barry and I connected again after my long disengagement from the comics scene in the 1980′s. Sometime around 1995, in the aftermath of industry news about my case for Ms. Mystic being dismissed due to the Statute of Limitations, Barry contacted me by email to offer some support. It wasn’t just a short email communique. Barry, who never seemed to do anything half-heartedly, sent an extensive letter with much good advice and life-philosophy, coming from a friend whose concern could be felt through every byte of the email. It was the dawn of a new age of communication that we hadn’t dreamed would descend upon us so quickly back in the mid-1970′s. Last year we connected again by email over his Facebook page, that he didn’t seem too happy about spending much time with. I’ve since also cut down presence on mine. But it’s all helped to catch up on old friends, and compensate for being out of touch over the years. And especially seeing how the colleague’s work developed. Barry Windsor-Smith’s “Internet Portfolio” remains one of the more inspiring and compelling legacies of the comics medium. His Wikipedia biography tells the story quite well, as does the bio on his own web site.
Though there’s hardly a specimen of Barry’s art that’s not a memorable creation onto itself, there’s something especially compelling about his project Rune, done with Malibu in 1994. The protagonist he developed allowed Barry to let loose with a more fluid and playful drawing approach, which seemed to have an effect on everything else as well. Machine Man, Weapon-X and Barry Windsor-Smith: Storyteller have become exquisite masterpieces of illustration and graphic narrative, as does nearly everything Barry Windsor-Smith touches. Below is a select gallery, with much gratitude to our friend Joe at Grantbridge Street and other Misadventures. All images are copyright by their respective owners.
It was the turbulent time in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks when Alan Weiss told me over the phone that Gray Morrow was no longer with us. He didn’t get much into detail other than about his deteriorating illness. Gray had been suffering a severe case of Parkinson’s disease. He passed away on November 6, 2001. Alan also said that Jon B. Cooke was preparing a tribute for him and asked if I wanted to contribute a drawing and a few words. I did both and it was published in Comic Book Artist #17, February 2002. I recently found a scan of the drawing at our good friend Steven Thompson’s web-tribute to Gray Morrow, Shades of Gray. Steven is the fabulous curator of Booksteve’s Library of cultural delights. The Gray Morrow blog is a wonderful peruse and highly recommended for a memorable ride with some of the sweeter eye candy to behold in comics art.
Gray Morrow was a frequent visitor during Continuity’s heyday in the 1970′s. His towering gentlemanly presence was immediately felt when he walked into the studio. He seemed to always bestow an atmosphere of calm and serenity. The same quality that was also the hallmark of his art.
Mark Evanier, in tribute, said that Gray Morrow had fallen between the cracks of the industry with a realistic style that mainstream publishers didn’t believe would be received well by readers who were more used to the action and melodrama publishers liked to promote. There was nothing really melodramatic about Gray. Nor about his art. It wasn’t overly forceful or violent. It didn’t scream out at the reader. It rather whispered and tantalized with an air of grace, rhythm and harmony. Perhaps this was one of the reasons it looked more realistic than mainstream art. It was calm, settled and quite every-day looking. Just like most of our visual world is. That was also its strength.
Evanier additionally noted that regardless of how strongly publishers believed they knew what the comics reading audience wanted, the bottom line was that comics sales have never really reflected the marketing savvy that publishers claimed. They had never succeeded in breaking the barrier of the hardcore fan market. Which seems like good reason to believe that artists such as Gray Morrow, whose work was a little to the side of mainstream, were placed on the fringes of the industry without due cause, other than perhaps publisher or editor presumptuousness. Some artists were simply not given a chance to compete within the monotonous house look that publishers had carved out for themselves. Given this reality, it is not out of the question to assume that this is one of the reasons that actual comics sales have always floundered. Publishers have been trying too hard to predict a market that is apparently far more diverse than their marketing shortsightedness could admit to.
It apparently took a great deal of conviction for Gray Morrow to persevere with his style in the face of pressure from colleagues and publishers to move closer to the center. Or rather let loose with more angst and melodrama. But this conviction was also the same quality within Gray that sought to bestow a more peaceful and harmonious visage to the comics medium. Gray Morrow wasn’t a fighter in that sense of the word. He didn’t believe that he needed to struggle with his art in order to shape it into what the publishers wanted. The fight he fought was to quietly persevere in his work and allow it to speak for itself. He lived this conviction about his art, and his life, all the way till the end. When his illness became evidently irreversible, Gray Morrow surrendered to it, in the same way he had surrendered to the vision of harmony and grace that he believed his art should evoke.
Gray Morrow’s art feels much more at home today within the more diverse medium that’s rapidly evolving. He was too good a man and an artist for the comic book industry of his time. So good that he’s made an indelible unique mark on it, and profoundly predicted many of the current trends in comics art.
Images from Steven Thompson’s Shades of Gray
Readers who frequent Daniel Best’s blog, 20th Century Danny Boy, are likely familiar with his coverage of prominent intellectual property rights trials and stories of late, including the Jack Kirby Estate VS. Marvel and the Jerry Siegel Estate VS. Warners/DC Comics. He’s been able to get his hands on an extensive amount of court transcripts, contracts and other documents relating to these and many more happenings in the comics periphery. His postings have practically pioneered a surge in documenting this type of material, and making it accessible to the public.
Daniel has now compiled the extensive documentation from the Siegel Estate VS. Warners/DC trial into an online book that he’s offering for free download in PDF format. The Trials of Superman is published by his own imprint Blaq Books. A polished presentation that transcribes the original documents into digital format, made much easier to read considering the shear volume of material. Having read some of it in the original postings, I recommend this book highly for some behind the scenes history of the comics industry, as told under oath.
Daniel sums up the book on his site:
Every word uttered in court is here – with one notable exception – and the testimonies of Mark Evanier and Paul Levitz are fully intact. You’ll read Levitz explain the many deals done for Superman from an insider point of view and how DC Comics very nearly bought Marvel Comics in the late 1990s. You’ll read Evanier discussing how Siegel and Shuster have been screwed over the decades, along with mention motion picture and entertainment experts giving their own views on just how valuable the Superman property is.
Blaq Books, Australia | 2012 | 1055 pages
Compiled and edited by Daniel Best
Copyright © 2012 by Daniel Best
Mary Blair was one of the profound influences on the world of animation, injecting it with an artistic flair and delightful simplicity that also placed her work in the category of fine art. Last year Google celebrated her 100th birthday with a Google Doodle, to honor her career with the Disney Company. It brought my attention to her Wikipedia biography that had no copyright free portrait image – and not even the traditional infobox that bio portraits are placed in. I’ve been meaning to rectify this for a while and finally got around to it. A refreshing addition to Portraits of the Creators.
Images of Mary Blair’s art from The Art of Disney Animation
Most of the creator portraits for the last couple of years have been chosen by a need for them in biographical articles at Wikipedia. As an active editor for about 5 years now, I’ve become enamored by the comics project there. A unique synergy of the collaborative encyclopedia and a medium rife with content, has made the project one of the more fascinating and informative among its sister entertainment industries.
The portrait of Al Feldstein below is the latest. In this case, the biography itself was in dire need of repair. No inline citations caused it to be saturated with obtrusive tags directing editors to try to improve the article. The few external references it had were mostly dead links that needed some research to be restored. There was also an important section hidden in the editor text box because it was a large quotation from an interview Feldstein had once given. Wikipedia prefers not to use such large bodies of text directly from sources, and advises editors to paraphrase them in their own words, to uphold encyclopedic style. I spent some time finding and formatting citations, and reshaping hidden texts, as I was joined by a project editor who helped with final polishes. The result was an effective and gratifying fix for a biography of an important artist and editor, well deserving of good representation.
Feldstein’s interviews about his early career carry some of the more fascinating and revealing stories about the “wheeler-dealers” who shaped the comics industry in its infancy. His covers at EC Comics became an imprint of look and design for their time.
My generation grew up on the editing brilliance of Al Feldstein. At the helm of Mad magazine from 1956 to 1985, he shaped one of the more memorable satiric journals to ever see publication. An era wherein an entire generation affirmed the cultural relevance that Mad had achieved. Under his tenure, the publication grew to 8 times its circulation, from the time he started editing it.
Soon after retiring from Mad, Feldstein moved into rural Wyoming and then to Montana, where he lives today, producing detailed and colorful Americana paintings of landscape, cowboys and wildlife. He also manages a guest house on his 270 acre ranch, the proceeds of which go to rescuing injured wildlife in the region.
Al Feldstein – Portraits of the Creators Sketchbook
Gan Golan and Erich Origen, creators of The Adventures of Unemployed Man that I illustrated a chapter in, have been visibly active as official Super-Hero representatives of the Occuppy Wall Street movement. Now Gan Golan, true to finest activist tradition, has partnered in an affilliate movement, ArtIsMyOccupation, for the benefit of creators from the broad range of the arts. Here’s the press release, have a look and show some support if inclined.
Hello Occupy Artists, Musicians, Performers, Printmakers and Pranksters!
We are culture workers. We are part of the 99%. And today, we are excited to be launching a new project to support occupy artists, called ArtIsMyOccupation.
ArtIsMyOccupation (AMO) is a project founded by artists and for artists who are involved in Occupy and other movements for Economic Justice. Our sole mission is getting artists who are working on the front lines of social change the resources they need.
We are now accepting applicants for the first round of grants. Visit our website for more information.
Find AMO online:
Be sure to JOIN so we can update you about ongoing opportunities to receive support. Also, anyone can donate to the AMO Artists’ Fund, where 100% goes to the 99%.
*FORWARD THIS WIDELY*