Saturday, July 31, 2010

Support Kirby


It is no secret that I'm a huge fan of Jack Kirby. Frankly, he is probably the most consistently important creative inspiration to me, as an adult.

And that's not just me. Kirby created generations of comic book characters that have brought countless hours of joy and inspiration to countless millions of readers, as well as those who've enjoyed the many movies and television work based on his creations.

To name some highlights:

He co-created Captain America, The Newsboy Legion, Boy Commandos, Boys' Ranch and Young Romance, and, as such, as the legend goes, the romance comic itself, with Joe Simon.

He co-created The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, The X-Men, The Avengers, Nicholas J. Fury, of both Howling Commandos and Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. fame, The Two-Gun Kid, The Silver Surfer, The Inhumans and The Black Panther with Stan Lee (as well as Larry Lieber and Don Heck, in a couple of cases).

On his own he created Challengers of the Unknown, The New Gods, Mister Miracle, Kamandi, The Demon, OMAC, Devil Dinosaur, The Eternals, Machine Man, Captain Victory and Silver Star.

And that doesn't include the iconic side characters and villains, such as Red Skull, Doctor Doom, The Watchers, The Sentinels, Galactus and Darkseid, or his 2001: A Space Odyssey adaptation.

Frankly, no one in comic book history even comes close to matching his level of output, his creativity, his influence or the amount of joy and inspiration he brought the world over.

Add the next two most important creators together and they still might not even be important. Considering the relative sales of comics in the various eras in which Kirby worked and today, I'd bet not many would approach however many comic books sold on which he worked directly.

Currently, Marvel Comics, which owns most of the most valuable of the creations I just listed, doesn't even provide a standard credit to him on the titles he created or co-created. The inordinately successful movies based on them either have no creator credit or a small note within the final scroll.

In his report, With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story, Jeremy Goldstone writes, "Lee was then asked who was the most talented person he worked with, to which he instantly replied, 'Jack Kirby! And not just because Evanier is in the room!'

"Lee continued to extol Kirby's virtues. 'He really was a writer with drawings and no one wrote better with him. And every drawing he did was exciting. I don't even think Jack had to think about it, it just came natural. When Jack drew something, he started at the top of the page and worked his way down, it's like it was all in his mind and he was tracing it onto the page. Jack was absolutely the most imaginative and talented guy I've met and I've met many talented people.'"

And his estate gets no compensation.

It is shameful.

There may be legal excuses for all of it, but there certainly is no moral justification.

They have been shameless in their exploitation of Kirby's creations, and even more shameless in their lack of recognition of how much of his work and talent they all thrive on.

Currently, the Kirby estate is suing for their right to Copyright Reclamation under the Copyright Term Extension Act.

There are a number of resources on the specifics, but you could start with Unpacking the Kirby Reclamation Case by Kiel Phegley.

Currently, with the resources of Disney behind them, is going to go to the wall with this one.

For decades, Marvel has essentially screwed other creators with some regularity to avoid setting a precedent that might open the door to Kirby, or his estate, getting a claim on the vast number of creations that he was responsible for, in whole or in part. They have not provided him with proper credit on works based on his creations, and have long resisted it, and specifically avoided doing it in a variety of unscrupulous ways, often limiting it to a "thank you".

So, after writing Thor!, in which I expressed my excitement about the upcoming Kenneth Branagh adaption of Kirby/Lieber/Lee comic book character, I find this message from Stephen R. Bissette, "Why is it OK to boycott The Last Airbender due to perceived racial slights, but embrace Thor derived from a dead creator's mythic legacy sans a penny going to the Kirby family? Do you REALIZE what POWER you, the fan base, have in swaying Marvel's movie division to finally give the Kirby ...clan their due???"

Well, damn! Thor is one of the two Marvel Kirby creations I'd most like to see done as a movie (the other is Nick Fury), so the idea of boycotting it is not my favorite.

But then I do feel that this is morally important.

Marvel and Disney need to be publicly shamed. What they are doing and what they have done is reprehensible, regardless of whether they can create a legal justification for themselves or not.

Prior to the release of Superman: The Movie, Neal Adams helped lead a campaign to help get Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster some of what they deserved, including reinstatement of their proper credits and a pension.

They did this by publicly shaming DC Comics and Warner Bros..

For a similar campaign to work now, it would probably need someone like a Neal Adams to lead it. If a handful of geeks like me skip the movie, it won't really make a difference. Someone needs to get the message to the average movie-goer who otherwise just sees a lot of shiny lights and something to do on a Friday night, and show them that there are real people involved in it's making, real people with real rights.

Is that going to happen? I'd certainly like to see that.


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