Posts tagged Tom Spurgeon
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.
Alex Toth was another artist whose name was a household word at Continuity of the 70′s. With a so much seasoned and young talent alike referencing comics art masters, to better evaluate the quality of new work, Toth’s subtle line and mesmerizing imagery were spoken of and shown around frequently. Platitudes for his art covered storytelling intricacies, an almost abstract use of black shapes, delicate drawing and stunning visual clarity. Everyone had something to learn from Alex Toth’s work. In a tribute, upon his passing away in 2006, Tom Spurgeon took note of Toth’s artistic achievement.
People will say he was a great craftsman, and they’ll be right, but what Toth did was a little further along than that. Toth reached that scary point where it felt dangerous to look at some of his best work; you ran the risk of being pierced by a force that practically shimmered on the page, that inhabited every image, like a master chef’s dessert so rich it made your eyes water in protest, or a singer’s voice so pitch-perfect it made you want to leave the concert hall, if only to catch your breath. His handwriting exuded an element of purity in cartooning that could outclass other artists’ fully-rendered sequential art. Toth’s black and white work in particular displayed an almost transcendent understanding of drawn art as a visual story component. When we as readers come to a greater understanding of the effect that great art has on the reading of comics, Toth’s reputation is likely to grow even larger than it is today.
Alex Toth was also known to have a short fuse, especially for young artists seeking advice or criticism of their work. Still, he often extended himself above and beyond the norm. His informative critiques are considered as gold to the craft. But they also came with a price of being a target for the master’s angst.
The late Dylan Williams suffered it happily. He eventually thanked Toth with a touching story about their friendship, struck over correspondences that also revolved around their common love for comics art.
I’d take breaks for a month or two. I would eventually dig up some new old art and we’d write back and forth. It was around that time I found out I had leukemia. I never told Alex… I don’t think this comic is much of a tribute to Alex but it is the only way I know of telling him thank you.
Steve Rude suffered a famous encounter after sending a Johnny Quest story to Toth for appraisal. It ended a little less friendly than the affair with Dylan, as Rude elaborated in respones to Toth posted by David Marshall.
Oh, when I did receive Alex’s letter, I called him. It started out nicely enough, but when I attempted to explain the things I felt him in error about, he let out a few curse words and hung up. That’s what I recall of this situation. If it helps people to learn from my mistakes, then all the better.
Some years later, Warren Ellis pulled no punches commenting on the story between Toth and Rude, in his Do Anything column at Bleeding Cool, where he also criticized Toth’s career as being somewhat of an unfulfilled destiny.
Toth was another angry man of comics, a world-class artist who knew everything about storytelling except what made a good story. He was famous for his handwritten critiques of other artists: his destruction of comics artist Steve Rude (who spent a lot of time in the 80s doing Kirby pastiche work) got out into the wild a few years ago, and you can find it on the web fairly easily. It is at once a masterclass in storytelling intelligence — Rude is a wonderfully gifted illustrator, but storytelling isn’t his strong suit — and an appalling portrait of Alex Toth as an embittered intellectual sadist. Nothing he said was wrong, but he nonetheless manages to paint a picture of a man who would argue with his own breakfast over betrayals real or imagined. A man who hated “mature content” in modern comics, he is perhaps best known today for his original design of SPACE GHOST, who survives into the present as a parody show host.
I’m not sure that Ellis’ comment can be considered as entertaining as that it’s delivered by a writer who spares little arsenic and laughs for things that might crawl up his own sleeve.
Only a minor sampling of turbulence that raged within, and around, a giant and master of the comics craft. Like Spurgeon said, recognition of Alex Toth’s influence will only escalate in time. Analysis of his cumulative body of work will become a pursuit of comics readers, creators, critics and historians, for generations to come.
New addition to Portraits of the Creators.
Dylan Williams was an Indie creator, publisher and the force behind Sparkplug Comic Books, a collective of alternative press talent that contributed volumes to the genre under the umbrella he provided. At 39, he lost the battle with cancer this weekend. His own work sometimes offered thought provoking reflections of mainstream comics, but his broad palette extended far beyond.
Remembrances of Dylan are appearing across the comics web, echoing a big loss to the alternative comics scene. Tom Spurgeon has fielded most of them in a collective memory post and has written an in depth bio at The Comics Reporter. He also suggests some support for Sparkplug is appropriate, in light of financial uncertainty around Dylan’s medical expenses. Generally, it couldn’t hurt anyway, Sparkplug Comic Books carries an extensive line of books that reveal Dylan’s uncompromising support of the genre and its creators.
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.
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.
It’s somewhat daunting to be reminded of fellow colleagues in the creator community defending DC and Marvel, during heated debates on the “creator revolution” (I wonder what happened to that, or did some of the comics press effectively kill it by turning a blind eye to the real debate?), against my charges of their mistreatment of creators as being the root cause for their intentionally keeping the industry in a constant decline mode.
But every once in a while a series of events converge to give us a clearer picture of the ugly practices of major publishers, relative to creators who are the source and cause of their success, and who are mostly discarded like bloody rags when they’ve been sucked dry of stories and properties with which publishers build their empires.
At Bleeding Cool, Rich Johnston reports about the Kirby Estate losing the Summary Judgement against Marvel for Entitlement to Termination of properties that Kirby co-created with Stan Lee. He posted the entire document of the ruling which is a revealing statement on the mitigating conditions creators work under, relative to Intellectual Property rights they should ostensibly have a legal avenue by which to reclaim. Looks like it was an easy win for Marvel who can now be even more emboldened against such future claims.
And in contrast, over on Tom Spurgeon’s The Comics Reporter, he posts links to two articles by creators, revealing a realization and fighting spirit that we can hope to see more of, and touching on mitigating instances of publishers’ behavior towards writers and artists:
1. WAKE UP: Matt Seneca on a Marvel tribute to Gene Colan in Daredevil.
2011-: It isn’t the tribute itself, which is a touching example of hearts in the right place and even carries traces of what seems like genuine emotion at points. It’s what it stands for: a tiny gesture of remote pity by an immortal giant watching the lives of the people who built it pass more quickly than they should. It is a hypocritical expression. A lie.
This is what happens to the lives that give themselves to the world’s most beautiful medium. This is what working in comics does to people.
Something is wrong.
2. SNEAKER PIMPS: Warren Ellis on publishers lying to and pitting creators against each other.
Not only are they fostering a creative condition where even Eddie fucking Campbell can’t triumph, but they are finding new and interesting ways to piss off more people than they’re hiring. Now, comics has no shortage of resentful people – but do you really want to create exponentially more? People who can identify the exact individuals who fucked them over, and wait?
Commercial comics can be enough of a snakepit even in relatively benign times. But bringing back a process both demeaning and creatively inferior, and just fucking lying to people about it? I don’t like what that says about the next cycle in the field. I guess the Nineties really are coming back.
If the Kirby judgement is any indication, and it certainly seems to be, it looks like things will get worse before they get any better. But will this help awaken the comics community, creators, fandom and press alike, to overcome an overriding complacency we continue to try to resist?
Or will we be forever wooed by 52 Relaunches and Retailer Gimmicks meant to divert attention away from the more sinister reasons for the decline of the printed comic book?
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.
It seems the creator revolution, as dubbed by Heidi MacDonald, is taking a mid-semester break.
It is expected actually because how many really engaging ideas can Indie creators come up with for dodging comics shops and DC/Marvel’s dominance of publishing? Adding to this venue is the stifling notion that most news sites don’t seem interested in the subject as they load their web pages with more and more fluffy and fun news about the colorful projects and creators making headlines.
But I’m of the mind that we have to take ourselves more seriously sometimes, like a lot of us did in school – and that everything doesn’t only have to be fun and fluffy. In school we had to take things seriously if we wanted good grades. And I don’t think it’s serious to talk about a creator revolution when we’re in denial about what we’re revolting against.
By default, a revolution means an overthrow of an undesirable regime. So, patting ourselves on the back as if we’re conducting a revolution when we’re acting more like scaredy teenagers seems silly at best. We have to get our hands dirty to start rebuilding our fallen house of comics.
This is my virtual class on the creator revolution, and for lack of anyone else stepping up, I’m going to be the teacher who grades everyone. Until I see an initiative better than the petition cited at the head of this page, everyone’s grades will be relative to their position on it. No offense really intended to any of the students. If you want a better grade, study the situation with a little more depth to understand why we need to promote and sign the petition. Or you can make your own virtual class and grade it as you like.
Here we go with the class report card.
Eric Powell: (A+) – Well done Eric for getting the ball rolling with your poignant and hilarious video. The serious message that followed the first… ahem, act… is one of the more inspiring observations the class has seen. Unfortunate that your fellow students couldn’t bear your message and compelled you to remove the video. But it did its job in opening the dialogue and for that you are commended.
Steven Niles: (C+) – That you are an extremely talented writer may not be enough for a good grade in the class of the creator revolution. Your well received article in response to Eric’s video fed the fears of your fellow students and discouraged their courage. What do you mean by “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.”?? This is a revolution class! Not for smoochy goochy with DC and Marvel. Let’s do some more homework, sir.
Kurt Busiek: (C+) – You’re also an amazingly talented writer with a lot of credits in comics, but the revolution needs more than good comic books right now. It needs the courage to stare into the eyes of the undesirable way the business is being strangled, dominated and neglected by DC and Marvel who seek greener pastures outside of comics. Your challenging the teacher’s comments as if to say that the big 2 are working in good faith for the good of the industry, is an extreme case of denial – not the river in Egypt. It is not the best way to get a good grade in the revolution against an oppressive regime holding down the comics. A little more consideration of human nature, my good fellow, could help improve the grade in the next semester.
Mike Dubisch: (A+) – You’re a brilliant artist and creator with a heart of gold and courage of a tiger, who drew me into the class with a call to hear me out, after challenging Steven for his kid gloves treatment of DC and Marvel. The revolution needs you Mike, right up there in the top ranks of leadership.
Tom Spurgeon: (A+) – You’re a light to your fellow class members. The clever way you fed the fire of revolt is nothing less than brilliant. But the articulate speech you delivered to explain what we’re up against will become a lesson for generations to come.
Rik Offenberger: (A+) – You were not only a trailblazer for the comics on the internet, but are now also trailblazing the way for the creators with your excellent interview. With it, you’ve paved the way for the dialogue that needs to now be nurtured amongst the creators, reporters and fandom.
Heidi MacDonald: (B-) – You know I think you’re one of the more promising students, and you are the one who led the charge in spreading the word about the revolution. But because you take sides in the debate and effectively influence discussion on it, you’ll get a less than excellent grade right now. Chin-up though, a word or two about the petition, which is a viable and reportable story, will go a long way towards taking you to the top of the class… where you really belong.
Rich Johnston: (B-) – You’re also one of the more promising students. And though you haven’t led a charge for the revolution, you did help out with a runaround in the beginning. But it’ll be imperative for you also to fulfill your destiny as a reporter and tell your readers about the petition. There will be no way around that… unless you come up with a better incentive for public pressure on DC and Marvel. Which I don’t put past you at all. Either way the grade will improve in accordance with next semester efforts.
Daniel Best: (A+) – You, my friend, are a front line power in the war against publishers who’ve driven the comics into the mud. There isn’t a better researcher who’s mindful of the injustices of the industry to its creators.
Jon B. Cooke: (A+) – Though your contribution will only be known in the upcoming issue of The Jack Kirby Collector, your signing the petition openly is a brave statement by one of the more revered comics historians in the industry.
Comicon Pulse: (A) – Just for being a good fighter and helping pass the word around. You built a great vehicle and community and are destined to do very big things things with them.
J. Caleb Mozzocco: (B+)Your nice words on the open letter are only rivaled by the awesome comment on the beard. You deserve a better grade but your blog has no contact info in order to send you updates. What kind of an outfit are you people running at Blog@Newsarama anyway? Shouldn’t you have an accessible link for sending in stories? Let’s get it together guys and plug the petition already.
Fandom: (AAA+) – A special grade for all the special things that you, the fans, do to help spread the word on the petition and campaign…and who are the lion’s share of signatories. You are the grassroots voice of the people that will guide the comics into victory. It’s only a matter of time that more creators begin to discover the faith and trust you place in them…and begin to reach for the role of leadership that you know to be their destiny.
I was far away from comics when Dwayne McDuffie emerged into the medium with a talent and humanity that crossed genre and inter social barriers. We had occasion to exchange a few words on the web that only sharpened the widely held sense of the extraordinary writer, producer and humanist he was. The comics industry and world are poorer for your untimely departure, Dwayne. Condolences to family and friends.
Click image above to go to Tom Spurgeon’s Collective Memory of Dwayne McDuffie