Peter G (sinetimore) wrote,
Peter G
sinetimore

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Marvel Tries To Vaccuum Up Kirby

I'm a fan of the late, great Steve Gerber, who got royally shafted on Howard The Duck by Marvel, simply because he could't bring in lawyer funds like they could.  Whenever I contemplate what career exits I might have in comics, the ghost of Gerber accompanies me, reminding me of his work but how a company's desire of ownership denied him what was rightfully his and they got away with it because they financially outlasted him, even with the contributions to Destroyer Duck and the money he made elsewhere (fun fact:  Gerber created Thundarr The Barbarian).

Overlooked in the little tour is another ghost who I don't notice, but really should -- Jack "King" Kirby.  Kirby, unfortunately, became the crash test dummy of the entire comic industry.  When comic books started attaining cultural icon status, Stan Lee marginalized Kirby's contributions, becoming one of comic's icons.  Kirby couldn't get his original artwork back, and he didn't see one thin dime for co-creating the X-Men and the Fantastic Four  or his contributions to other comic characters like Spider-Man.  He left Marvel and went to DC, where his pencils on Jimmy Olsen were altered whenever Superman was on panel because Supes had to be drawn a certain way.  Basically, Kirby ran into all of the industry's obstacles set up for the convenience of the parent company at the expense of the individual doing the work.  He taught people how important it was to read those contracts and keep your eyes open.

Kirby's contributions to Destroy Duck were not a surprise to me, as he has long complained and tried legal means to get his artwork back.  No doubt, he saw Gerber as his brother in arms and worked on Destroyer Duck (for free) as a show of solidarity and in hopes that Gerber could succeed where he had failed.  Kirby died in 1994, but his heirs have kept up the fight.  It's always tempting to dismiss such lawsuits as people trying to cash in, but if you can read about everything Kirby went through, what he was denied, and still think this is just a cash and carry lawsuit, you have no heart beating within you.

The lawsuits continue to this day, and something I hadn't considered just came down the pipe.  One of the lessons I learned when I was trying to be a screenwriter was "You don't screw with the Mouse."  If you do something for Disney, you take what they give you and move on.  Try and get more or haul them into court and they will fuck you up.  (This is why I loved Pixar's deal with Disney.  Disney thought they held all the cards.  They learned otherwise, and Pixar dictated their terms.  Officially, Pixar is a subsidiary of Disney.  Unofficially, everyone knows who is REALLY calling the shots in the animation department now.)

Marvel got a buyout offer from Disney.  The stockholders approved the deal a little over a week ago.

On Friday, Marvel showed the Disney influence.  They have countersued Kirby's heirs.  When copyright law was being reworked to deprive the public domain of things it was legally entitled to, a number of changes were made to allow people to hold on a little tighter.  Among them was a change that made it easier to re-acquire rights you may have lost.  Kirby's heirs were using this angle to recapture the rights, and had sent notices to several companies that the rights to certain characters would revert from Marvel to Kirby's estate, beginning in 2014.  Marvel is trotting out the whole "work for hire" and is asking a federal judge to invalidate the 45 notices sent.  After all, we're talking millions of dollars from Spider-Man, X-Men, Hulk, etc.  This could jeopardize a lot of big deals with a lot of big money shooting around.  So Marvel is taking the initiative and trying to cut it off.

And on the other side of life, Gerber and Kirby are reliving old times.  And crying that the old times haven't ended yet.
Tags: art, comic books, comics, important life lessons, news, original comic art
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