Posts tagged Marvel Comics

Help Gary Friedrich

The War Imposed Upon Us

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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.

Jack Kirby

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.

Gary Friedrich

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.

Community Solidarity to help Gary

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.

Training Ground

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.

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The Trials of Superman

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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.

THE TRIALS OF SUPERMAN

Blaq Books, Australia | 2012 | 1055 pages
ISBN: 978-0-9807655-2-6
Compiled and edited by Daniel Best
Copyright © 2012 by Daniel Best 

Eduardo Barreta

Have Peace Eduardo Barreto

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Eduardo Barretto, talented Uruguayan artist, has been around the comics periphery since my early days in the medium during the late 1970’s. First inking for Marvel and later, after I moved to Israel, he went to DC and gained recognition for his run on Teen Titans. When I returned to comics in the early 1990’s, he’d established a strong presence as a Batman artist, one of the characters I drew most then. He produced a few more well remembered projects like Speeding Bullets and Under a Yellow Sun before expanding towards other publishers including Archie,  IDW, Boom!, Crossgen, Dark Horse and others before returning to Marvel on Marvel Knights.

In 2006 he landed at King Features Syndicate and drew the Judge Parker strip.  His tenure there was disrupted once after a serious injury from a car accident and again while contracting meningitis in 2010, which left him unable to continue drawing. He returned to draw the Phantom strip for King Features last July, but the illness took its toll on the consumate professional creator a few days ago, on 15 December, at age 57.  We never met nor had any internet encounters but Eduardo’s been like a close colleague, perhaps if only by virtue of the recognizable feel for humanity that his work exuded, and the personal respect that fellow creators who knew him expressed for him. Godspeed Eduardo, your untimely departure is big loss for us all and for the medium you helped make better. Heartfelt condolences to grieving family and friends.

Eduardo Barreto in Portraits of the Creator’s Sketchbook and the biographical portrait on Wikipedia.

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Famous ROM #1 Cover That Wasn’t

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In one of the early Portraits of the Creators stories, titled One More Story for the Creators and featuring Jim Shooter, I recounted an incident from 1979 where he asked me to draw a cover for Rom the Robot #1. As it turned out, my first version of it wasn’t exactly considerate of Marvel’s look at the time, nor of what Jim had asked for. After a night of struggling with trying to redraw it, I ripped it up and returned it to him the next morning with a note on the back explaining why I did it. It was a volatile time indeed. The story (which included another incident of walking onto an empty airplane at La Guardia Airport in an attempt to get a free flight to Detroit) took on a rather mythological air over the years, especially since creator Bryan Talbot included it in his book, The Naked Artist, sporting a collection of sundry but hilarious stories about comics makers, mostly heard at convention after-parties.

A few months ago, Jim posted his recollection of the incident on his blog, as part of his experience with producing the Rom #1 comic book. He’s also been chronicling his extensive career as writer, chief editor and publisher. It’s an interesting collection of tales and opinions, notwithstanding some criticism of it on the web suggesting he might have re-written some of that history. All considered, however, there cannot likely ever be a story told since the dawn of storytelling, that doesn’t also have two or more conflicting versions as told by others. Jim’s blog gives the impression of a candid and unpretentious look at himself and his contributions to the medium. His history is rich and filled with industry intrigue. As I said the first time I recounted the event, his sense of grace has become an inseparable characteristic of his long and fruitful career. Jim’s talents, as a writer, editor and progressive mover of the medium are rarely disputed, even by his staunchest detractors.

Marc Miyake, a good friend to both Jim and myself, familiar to some readers as Amritas (from the days of Flaming Sword Productions), who has also connected between Jim and I on Facebook, gave me a heads up on Jim’s post about the cover of Rom #1. Because Jim and I had never spoken about it since, I left a comment on his blog acknowledging the conciliatory remarks he made. In a followup post, Jim responded with the following:

Dear Michael,

You, my friend, have always been a genuinely good person, even in “strange days.” I never sensed a drop of malice in you. I am proud to know you.

I know that you meant nothing against me or Marvel. I never harbored any ill will toward you, and I’m glad we had the chance to do something together again at DEFIANT. I do understand “…extreme states….” I’ve had a few imposed upon me, too. Not sure I always handled them well, or could have.

I think you are one of the most outstanding talents ever to work in comics. I hope you’re well. I wish all the best for you.

Thanks for writing.

Sincerely,
Jim

This would naturally be a good point to consider a closure to the story. But life can sometimes take us into depths that we might not always expect. A couple of days ago, Marc gives me yet another heads up about a new Jim Shooter post, Items of Interest. He’d apparently found, among other things, the original pencil art for Rom #1 from 1979 that he wanted me to redraw, but I instead tore up and returned to him. Curious about the timing was that for no apparent reason, I’d thought about the original torn cover earlier that morning, and had intended to ask Jim later in the day, whether he’d held onto the pieces or had saved a scan.

So here it is below, the famous unpublished cover that’s become somewhat of a myth and now has a face. Jim offered to return it but I’m really not that good at holding onto original art, and it seems to feel more at home in his good hands, having been there all these years. Also interesting in the comments thread was that Marc Miyake noted how much Frank Miller’s published version (above) echoed the layout for this unused original. Jim responded that he doesn’t believe Frank saw my version before doing his. So it seems there’s been a lot of psychic powers on display all around this story, though we couldn’t have made up a more fitting closure for it, even if we’d tried.

 

Stan Lee

Between A Man and His King

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The case made in The Jack Kirby Trigger continues to ripple through the comics community. As expected, the California District Court decision to deny the Kirby Estate a trial is eliciting not only industry-wide indignation, but also gutter level fandom bickering between Stan Lee and Jack Kirby camps. Here are some highlights:

  • Stephen R. Bissette has written two sequels to Honoring a Fallen King. Good reading in Part 2 and then also Part 3.  He is meticulously dissecting the history and details of the creative process relative to Marvel, particularly regarding the Lee/Kirby collaborations. He’s also bringing outside sources and comparisons that reflect on this process relative to the court decision. From the momentum on  his site, it seems he has a lot more on his mind and is determined to keep the debate on the front lines, at least in the periphery he reaches with his web site, which can be quite extensive given the volatility of talk in the comics community. His analysis is expressive of a fighting spirit that needs to become an epidemic. Part 2 delivers a condemnation of Stan Lee’s deposition testimony that continues to agitate many fans and professionals alike:

* If bile is being cast at Stan Lee, it’s because he hasn’t risen to the behavior of his heroic characters. 

Look, I like Stan (I met him once during my second visit to the Marvel offices in 1977; he smiled at me and was very kind and supportive in about two minutes).

The worst I’ve said (I think; correct me if I’m wrong) is he “damned” himself with his deposition testimony. I stand by that perception and statement.

I have great respect for Stan, what he did, what he wrote, what he built, but his deposition is shameful.

  • Heidi MacDonald’s coverage of Stephen’s first article at The Beat spurred a spirited but demonstrably civil debate in reader comments. Writer Kurt Busiek peppered the discussion with well researched analysis, as he’s prone to deliver, of the case history.  We’ve straddled opposite sides of creator/publisher issues in the past, but it’s no small satisfaction to see Kurt’s position and sharp review applied in this way to the case. John Morrow, one of two witnesses, along with Mark Evanier, whose deposition testimony was stricken from the record in the proceedings, also makes an appearance in the comments thread, in support of Kurt’s effort.
  • Michael Dean provides a little more perspective on the court documents at The Comics Journal. His summation becomes a reminder of how the intent of the 1976 copyright law has become near-castrated by Marvel and other entertainment media proponents:

Under pressure from entertainment companies, however, Congress has repeatedly extended the maximum limits of copyright terms, thereby adding value to intellectual property that it didn’t have at the time creators like Siegel and Kirby were turning their brainstorms over to publishers in exchange for modest pay checks. The Copyright Act of 1976 was meant to redress that to a degree, by giving the original authors a chance to benefit from the extended copyright terms. Arguably, the same principle ought to apply, whether you created something and then sold it as Siegel and Shuster did or simply accepted payment for your creative labors page by page as Kirby did.

  • Arlen Schumer joined a heated debate on Bleeding Cool Forums, posting The Auteur Theory of Comics, based on French cinema culture, wherein he stands in defense of the Kirby Estate by comparing an artist in the visual comics medium to a director in film. Such an analogy, Schumer states, would entitle Kirby with co-creation of the Marvel Universe that he contributed to. Arlen will be presenting his thesis during a panel at New York Comic Con, this Oct 13-16, as a visual presentation, followed by a panel discussion on the Kirby ruling, conducted by moderator Peter Coogan, Director of The Institute for Comics Studies and the Comics Studies Conference, and Rand Hoppe, Director of the online Jack Kirby Museum. A must event to attend for Kirby lovers at NYCC this year.
  • The Bleeding Cool Forum discussing Stephen Bisette’s first article and the Kirby/Marvel decision has mushroomed to a burgeoning 55 page thread with more than 650 posts as of this writing. I’ve been active in a lot of it and I can safely say it’s one of the more entertaining forays into discussing a legal battle that exists anywhere. It is also perhaps a more concise reflection of the spirit in fandom right now regarding the case. Though it may be winding down, it is a good read for tapping the pulse of fandom, which also carries quite a number of gems in single and multiple post exchanges.

Aside from trying to understand the legal issue of the 1976 copyright law addressing Work for Hire and reclamation of intellectual property rights by creators, upon which the Kirby/Marvel decision hinged, fandom appears to be locked in a sometimes furious battle of camps, each backing either the Lee or Kirby significance to Marvel, at the expense of the other. Indeed, many Kirby supporters are suggesting a sort of betrayal by Marvel, and de facto by Stan Lee, of the moral justice ideal, after which their superhero mythology is fashioned. It is not a small issue at all, which was also voiced by Tom Spurgeon in his report on Stephen Bissette’s first article calling for a boycott of Marvel.

I do know that we live in a world where lottery winners will sometimes give money to the people that did nothing other than print their tickets, where fans will give money to someone if they express a need and do so based on the fact they benefited not to the tune of billions of dollars and enduring wealth for generations of their families but based on a satisfying artistic experience or series of them, where people routinely share their good fortune with others without a court telling them to do so — and all without trafficking in some heroic ideal as their stock in trade. None of this makes sense. It needs to matter more than it does.

In support of Stan Lee, and as part of an effort to diminish from Kirby’s significance to Marvel, it’s been said that it was Lee himself who invented the title King Kirby as part of a branding gimmick that helped make Marvel a more attractive House of Ideas, and sell more comic books. It’s been further said that if Stan had not done so, no one would be calling Kirby a king today.

If it wasn’t for the cynicism in this charge, trying to further injure Kirby’s historical role at Marvel as crucial to its effective rise in the medium, then we might reflect on this historical tidbit with a certain musing, in that it is basically true as a launch pad for the nickname. However, the attempt to paint a distorted picture of the Lee/Kirby team, as if Kirby owes the perception of being king of comics art to Lee, well, that’s a very argumentative extrapolation that wouldn’t necessarily endure a test of simple logic.

For better or worse, the nicknames Stan Lee gave to creators were based on catchy rhymes, or complimentary sounds, with their names. Thus Kirby was dubbed ‘King’, while Stan, in ironic humility, settled for being merely ‘The Man’. That’s how it also was, for example, with ‘Jazzy’ John Romita, ‘Gentleman’ Gene Colan and ‘Nefarious’ Neal Adams. Even going by this result, it may be possible to conjecture that a ‘King’ could owe his kingship to ‘The Man’ who made him king. But such an allegorical reach also places a responsibility on a king to live up to his title in order for it to become embraced by the reading public. Indeed, such was the case with similar titles given to Elvis Presley or Michael Jackson, as examples, who would not have been remembered as such had they not risen to the occasion. Likewise, as far as most other such names Stan gave back in the days, few of them would have stuck if the creators could not live up to them. And it is ultimately one thing to try to live up to being ‘jazzy’, ‘gentlemanly’ or ‘nefarious’, but it’s an entirely different story to live up to and earn the title of being a King.

If Jack Kirby did not meet the expectations of professionals and fans with his work, as some have tried to suggest, then no one would remember him as a king today. More so, the title might become a source for scorn to the creator instead of reverence, if their work fell evidently short of the expectations that come with it.

This is clearly not a legal argument and is only raised in face of some rather disingenuous attempts to rewrite comics history and trivialize Jack Kirby’s role within it. Anyone suggesting that Kirby’s output after his collaborations with Stan, did not live up to his work at Marvel, which is an argumentative position in itself, well, it then becomes necessary to remind that the quality of Stan’s output also fell after the Lee/Kirby era. There is simply no way to make a reasonable case for Stan being the master writer without whom Kirby could not have risen to the heights he did. The very opposite of such a possibility, it would seem, is more likely.

At the heart of the litigation to reclaim the rights to Marvel properties by the Kirby Estate is an issue of a moral injustice and personal humiliation that Marvel, aided by Stan Lee, tried to inflict on Jack Kirby because he dared ask that their promises to reward him, should his work help the company succeed, be fulfilled. It is painfully human and humane to understand the combative mode Kirby entered into during his latter years, which ultimately brought upon him the bitterness of betrayal that caused him to lash out in all directions. It’s a natural reaction for someone who trusted the people he worked with, and reacted with resentful emotion upon having that trust become so horrendously shattered. It becomes a much more understood reaction when seen in light of how Marvel tried to destroy Jack Kirby morally and in spirit, by attempting to turn him into the villain, when he was in effect their victim.

It thus seems ludicrous to make any claims about Stan lee’s creative superiority to Jack Kirby in light of this sad history that Stan himself has lent a hand to the attempted revision thereof.

Stan Lee’s shared responsibility in the travesty rendered to the co-creator he’s most identified with, screams into the comics community these days and demands that moral justice be served between them. It may be that Stan Lee’s memory fails him in these later years, as some are saying. Or it may be that Stan Lee’s moral fiber is not made of the stuff that’s needed to make things right again between these two dearly beloved founders of the modern Superhero.

In either case, the result strengthens claims by Kirby historians who say it was the King himself who led the definition of the stories, plots and characterizations of the Marvel universe, and that Stan Lee’s part in it was, in essence, the more trivial.  For how are we to believe that the wonderful mind who gave us all of this fabulous mythology is the same Stan Lee who tramples the notions of moral justice and responsibility that the stories themselves exude? And all seemingly for his exclusive benefit, while towing the company line, at the expense of the artist who most contributed to his own success?

A King who earns his title will always be a king in the eyes of the people. But The Man who first gave him the title and then betrayed him, will not be favorably remembered by the same people who’ve come to love and honor the king.

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The Jack Kirby Trigger

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Aftershocks of Marvel’s victory over the Jack Kirby Estate are rippling through the comics web community. Of special note is a spirited plea, Honoring a Fallen King, by Stephen R. Bissette, the prolific artist known for his collaboration with Alan Moore on Swamp Thing, calling for an industry-wide boycott of all Kirby derived products at Marvel, including films, toys, games and all other merchandising products.

Stephen’s bold call to action is being received with unpropitious agitation at Bleeding Cool forums, where it’s quickly topped the 150 comments mark, and where many members are venting their often misguided angst, that entirely misses the point of the moral foundation on which Stephen makes his plea. A few good forum members are holding the fort in answering this barrage of antagonism there, but the general thrust of the discussion is peculiar for comics fans who claim to base their opposition to a boycott on legal and financial ramifications it could have, while entirely disregarding the moral injustice that’s been rendered to the Kirby Estate…and which also portends of an overriding cataclysm not only for the comics industry but also for our entire world.

On the opposite side, Tom Spurgeon has called for a consideration of Stephen’s plea at The Comics Reporter. Indeed, and in staying in true form to his outspoken discourse on the moral injustices of creator/publisher issues, Tom delivers yet another masterpiece of reasoning and heart-felt disassociation from the grossly unjust treatment of creators by major publishers.  It cannot be stressed enough how important a voice such as Tom’s is, within the expanse of mainstream comics journalism, that seems to be more and more avert to taking such a clearly and blatantly confrontational position towards Marvel and DC.

It would be hoped that Stephen Bissette’s call to boycott Marvel is a beginning of an avalanche of public outcry to come. Indeed, if there ever was a creator/publisher issue that should trigger widespread condemnation, then Jack Kirby’s enormous and fundamental contribution to the medium we love, and his tireless creative output that shaped the modern narrative, along with his definitive influence on the cultural success of Marvel properties… all these suggest that this is the single-most event that should send a wake-up call to creators, fandom and the comics press, for realizing a minimal degree of moral humanity, that we should be demanding a greater representation of in the comics.

The case for the Jack Kirby Estate cannot, however, be isolated from the larger picture of the comics industry, nor from the signs of the times we live in, where global public unrest over the financial demise of the middle-class is reaching decibel levels that have not yet been heard in recent history. 

It is this basis, evident in the shattered Obama dream; along with people taking to the streets in France, Spain and Greece; giving rise to the Arab Spring; and agitating the African and Far-Eastern nations, that is at the heart of the injustice rendered to the legacy of Jack Kirby. Yes, it is all woven into an intricate web and driven by the same power-lust and obliteration of basic moral and humane considerations, that are leading our world into an intolerable critical mass where the only answer will be a bursting of the bubble that comes at the risk of the highest price possible.

The toppling of our social, political and economic infrastructures, and our subsequently trying to pick up the pieces in order to prepare a better world for our children. Until we more fully understand the implications of such local events as Marvel’s victory over the Jack Kirby Estate, and strive to fathom the operative forces at the root of the problem, then we have little chance of being prepared for the storm to come, that this case heralds.

It would seem that this is as good a time as any to once again call for comics creators to join together and form a guild or union in order to better withstand the strengthened position of publishers in the wake of this court decision. I cannot however mislead myself or anyone else by believing such a possibility is visible over the horizon. It is not yet imminent nor visible. I cannot also deceive myself or others to suggest that this could solve the problem of creator/publisher issues. It will not nor can it. Comics creators, fandom and the comics press, generally do not yet feel the heat strongly enough to support such a minimal needed step towards rectifying injustices inherent in the medium. And even if they did, it is long past a time that a guild or union can be effective, considering how the root of the problem, which is far beyond the comics industry, has raised its head on the world stage over the last decade.

It was in this spirit that I proposed The Comic Book Creators’ Party, as a political union of creators, borne to address the larger global issues affecting the comics industry, back in 2004.

The site called on creators to organize for the 2008 elections in an effort to take leadership of the United States, under a platform calling for a vision for the success of all of humanity. And while most industry proponents scoffed at the notion, primarily citing that America wasn’t ready for such a message, it turned out that the Barak Obama victory of 2008, driven by a platform calling for the same vision, proved that America was indeed ready.

Part of the message in the website was to utilize the San Diego Comic-Con International as the event within which to announce the launching of the party.

I believe Stephen Bissette is right on target by calling for the boycott to culminate in a painful blow to Marvel at the 2012 SDCC International. This is one of the single-most events and vehicles at the disposal of the comics industry that should be utilized to loudly voice the cry for justice, and make it heard around the world.

But I cannot also deceive myself or others by suggesting such a possibility is imminent, or visible around the corner. Indeed most of the people who would lead such a clearly needed effort, and this includes creators, fans and the comics press, are not anywhere near prepared to raise such an aspiration to the forefront of discourse in the comics community and to begin working towards making it a reality. Even though it may be clear to a lot of people that the times have become more agreeable with such an effort. The barriers to such thinking and action appear to be two-fold. On the one hand, we have natural psychological checks in place which prevent us from initiating something that does not yet appear to have wider public support. On the other, we tend to maintain a complacency of action, if it seems that the action could threaten the stability of our local environment – regardless of how clearly we can see that the present path we’re on is heading for all-out chaos and anarchy that will likely obliterate any stability we’re holding onto anyway.

No, I cannot deceive myself or anyone by suggesting a revolution is around the corner. It is not. But I can tell you with unrestrained assurance that it is certainly at least a few neighborhoods away, if not actually the distance of only several blocks.

The critical mass cataclysm is coming. The fall of the Jack Kirby Legacy and Estate, trampled by the corporate insensitivity and greed of Marvel Comics, heralds a trigger for public outcry and unrest of the magnitude we can only hope for. Stephen Bissette has just squeezed the trigger and fired the shot that should be heard around the industry and the world.

I have not personally bought a DC or Marvel product in the last decade nor do I intend to. Nor do I believe the struggle will begin or end with Stephen’s call for the boycott. But for everyone frequenting comic book shops, it is imperative to take his advise and let retailers know why you’re not buying a Marvel product.  It is imperative to capture this momentum and elevate it into the front pages of the comics industry.

And it is no less imperative that we begin opening our eyes and utilizing all the tools at our disposal to put the more serious issues to the forefront of public talk. Having fun with 52 relaunches and retailer gimmicks is alright when placed in proportion. But such fun cannot continue to be the bread and butter of our lives, when it’s all leading us astray into a very dangerous future that will catch us unawares and unprepared.

It’s time to start getting ready for the more serious action coming our way, and that means raising the more serious issues into public debate.

 

Spider--Man 666

Hype Season Wars of the Big Two

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Who are DC & Marvel trying to fool?

I’ve become somewhat of a recurring artifact at Rich Johnston’ Bleeding Cool site and forums of late, where he extensively covers the DC 52 Relaunch, and Marvel’s responses, all the way to SDCC-2011, that just ended.

Marvel’s latest gimmick to compete with DC for the hearts of the industry is a series of covers featuring 150 comic book stores on retail variant covers of Amazing Spider-Man #666.

Well, keeping in rebel stride, I couldn’t help raining a little on the parade at one of the forums discussing it… perhaps only because of the misguided populism with which similar recent announcements from Marvel seem to be viewed and received.

Here’s the post for posterity… and for the record.

It’s wonderful to to get to know the comics shops across America, and the world, through this flamboyant gimmick.. and great to see the shops getting some well deserved attention and flattery from a publisher like Marvel who, along with DC, have pulverized them for the last 30 years with an iron fist over the Direct Market.

And I hate to be a party-pooper about it, but in a world where hype has replaced substance, and where a publisher can make an outrageous claim of saving the comics shops with this shallow buffoonery, maybe somebody should try to stay sober enough to keep an eye on the big picture. 

Nothing in DC’s Relaunch, or Marvel following step, has any indication of mending the incestuous sub-structure of the comics industry… which is much more needed to save the printed comic book from its self-driven path to perpetual-but-never-getting-there demise. 

Restructuring the Direct Market and opening up distribution to other popular outlets like newsstands, bookstores and everywhere else that will be happy to make a little extra profit from comics sales, along with a major nationwide promotional campaign, are much more needed right now than these grandstanding, publicity-ravenous, self-aggrandizing and maliciously deceptive cosmic-scale-bells-and-whistles-atrocities that the Big 2 are competing over.

As much as I love seeing the humanity of the retailers on these covers, I hope no one is yet lulled into believing substantial change will come through it. A few months from now, after the excitement over having sold a few more comic books to the same readers dies down, we can expect the comics press to return to lamenting the downward spiral of monthly sales.

DC & Marvel will sit back snug in their IP life-jackets and tell us that at least they tried.

And a lot of us will actually buy it. Wadda sham.

Spider-Man / Mary Jane Kiss in First Film

Origin of Spider-Man Film Kiss

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It’s hard to say whether the bottom panel in the page below was the inspiration for the famous Spider-Man kiss with Mary Jane in the first movie. It’s the splash of the story I drew for Marvel Team-Up #89. 1980, with Spider-Man/Nightcrawler, written by Chris Claremont, inked by Joe Rubinstein and last 3 pages penciled by Rich Buckler. Comics All Too Real, on Facebook, are among a few who seem to think so after I posted the splash there.

As was the case with drawing stories in Marvel Style, the art was done from a generalized plot without specific panel descriptions. Chris suggested Kurt hanging down to kiss Amanda but didn’t specify such a shot, which is more of a composition issue.  It seemed to make a stronger visual that may have well been the inspiration for Spider-Man’s legendary film kiss. Not far fetched considering how comics are being mined for Hollywood content, where many story plots and visuals from the rich comics history are making their way into mainstream films.

More interesting is how this iconic kiss in the first Spider-Man movie became so popular and has been copied by young lovers everywhere. Even babies and cats. Perhaps the biggest form of flattery considering its likely origin in that Nightcrawler/Amanda smooch at the airport more than 30 years ago. Click this link, or the image below, and scroll down, for a Google image search revealing how widespread it’s become.

Sam Argo's Moving Pictures

Sam Agro Takes the Lead!

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Sam Agro, the thoughtful and talented Canadian artist/writer who posted a series on the state of the comics that was covered here previously, has just posted an in-depth interview on the campaign to save the comics. Sam’s enthusiasm and thorough approach has made it an inspiration to get to know this caliber of people fighting for the comics and moving picture arts. This is a newly informative and greatly helpful push to the campaign. Pass the word around as much as you can.

It’s posted at two blogs he writes to simultaneously. Readers can choose the one most comfortable to the eye.

Links through Fighting Words and Moving Pictures… or images below.


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steveniles

The Revolution Is Where The Heart Is

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UPDATE: This is Steve Niles’ response to this post. I’ve placed it on top because I believe it’s more important than what I’ve written. Thank you, sir.

Sorry, I don’t see where choosing sides gets us. As I’ve said if I take sides against corporate comics, then I’d just be a hypocrite. Sorry to drive you crazy, but I’m not going to go off the rails just to please people. We have to be smart, slow and steady. If I had a bigger flag to wave, I would. Right now, the entire ship is going down and I don’t want to spend my last gasps of air pointing blame. Again, sorry I’m driving you crazy.

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Or…Why is Steve Niles Trying to Drive me Crazy?

It’s not a secret that I’ve been nominated several times as contender for the crackpot comics creators club, competing with the likes of Steve Ditko, Dave Sim, Neal Adams, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison and Frank Miller.

But is this a good reason for Steve Niles to try to drive me completely over the edge with his comments on the creator revolution?  You’re a good man, Steven. A visionary and skilled writer who is certainly deserving of having been dubbed the king of modern horror, or the writer who’s brought the fright genre back into public appeal. Which lays all the more responsibility on your shoulder when your commentary on the creator revolution is lifted into an embracing but sometimes fluffy comics media as spearheading the movement.  It was your first article that ultimately overshadowed Eric Powell’s video and its after effects are what caused him to remove it. That is a very big responsibility that you bear, good sir.

What’s driving me nuts is that I’m not sure what side you’re on anymore, Steve. Are you with the creator revolution or are you maybe a double agent for publishers and distributors who are doing everything they can so the revolution fails?  That’s the question driving me nearly crazy right now, which I’d like you to also ask of yourself and maybe feel a taste of the lunacy I’m talking about.

Ever since your comment in your first article: “First off, this is in no way an anti-Marvel or anti-DC thing. Those are great publishers to work for if you can find the work.” I’ve been trying to figure out what it is about this sentence that’s trying to drive me to the funny farm. But after reading your most recent entry, I’m almost convinced you want to do me in without even the benefit of a fair therapy session.

You see, Steve, I know that most people who think they’re sane agree with you about the greatness of Marvel and DC. I know it takes a real loony to pierce into the truth and realize that there’s nothing great about them – and that they are only made to appear great by the greatness of the great creators who endowed them with the false notion of their being great. Jack Kirby was great. Stan Lee is great (I know I switched the order but I’m just trying to bring back some balance into what greatness is about). Gene Colan is great. Dave Cockrum was great. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were great. Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson, Arnold Drake, Gil Kane, Carmine Infantino, Denny O’Neil, Roy Thomas, Walter Simonson… all these creators and many more too countless to mention, are great people who don’t need DC and Marvel to be great. They are great because of the greatness within them. DC and Marvel have no such greatness within them, that is not bestowed upon them by these great creators.

And when you spearhead a creator revolution, you have a big responsibility to properly represent the greatness of your brothers the creators – and not pass it on undeservedly to the publishers as if anything they do is great, or as if they are even great to work for.  Working for DC and Marvel is better than being run over by the train of economic oppression, but it’s not great, Steve. Not by a long shot.

But what’s really got me batty today is the statement in your last entry:

The one sticking point for me is that direct digital distribution can potentially cut publishers, retailers and even Diamond out of the revenue flow. This is good news for creators, but not good for those folks, so I’m on the fence.

Somebody help me pull all my hair out please, because I can’t believe you’re saying this Steve.  Are you paying attention to what you’re writing at all? Don’t you understand that DC, Marvel and Diamond have made millions and billions of dollars on the backs of creators, only to shut them out in the cold and end their lives destitute because these publishers and distributors are operating with the stone heart of thieves and liars as they drive the comics business into the ashes of extinction so they don’t have to be fair with the creators who make them look great? Don’t you understand this, Steve?

Don’t you know that by your attitude of “…good news for the creators, but” you’re gonna get me committed to an even bigger hall of insanity than the one everybody tried to put me in before? Is this what you want, Steve? I don’t think I know anymore. Maybe that’s what you’re really trying to do.

And the bottom line is that if the creators benefit a little and publishers and distributors might have their enormous revenue flow affected by it, then this causes you to sit on the fence.

Well…I never!

I never heard about a revolutionary such as you, Steve.  I don’t think there’s a revolutionary in the world who sits on the fence. Revolutionaries know exactly what they’re fighting for. They know exactly where their heart is. Revolutionaries don’t sit on the fence.

I just don’t know what to say anymore, really.  And the worst part is that the weakest part of your position is the one lifted up by the comics media as if it really represents what your brothers the creators are fighting for. As if it is any type of reflection of the voices coming from the comics community who have had it up to the wazoo with publishers and distributors (I’m leaving the retailers out of it because they’re victims themselves) who have callously trampled every good lot in the comics industry. The mainstream comics media has sadly lost touch with its audience, Steve. Your spearheading the revolution with comments like these, is a good example of what’s really thwarting it.

I have an idea. Why don’t you come down from your fence and take a walk with me into the loony bins of comics history. Let’s take a walk into the funny farms of great people who’ve made these publishers look great – and let’s see what shape they’re  really in beneath all the flowery words you write about the revolution.

It’s alright. We can always come back. I’ve done it a few times and they’ve been the greatest lessons that I’ve learned about this industry.

Let’s try to get off of fence and decide, once and for all, what side our hearts really belong on.

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