I WANT TO PREFACE THIS BY SAYING I HAVE NO VERIFICATION, BUT SO FAR, I HAVEN'T FOUND ANYTHING TO CONTRADICT IT. THIS DOES NOT MEAN IT'S TRUE. ESPECIALLY BECAUSE IT'S TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE.
Jim Steranko is a longtime comic guy who worked for Marvel when they were doing the check contracts. For those who don't know, for a while, a common ploy was to put wording on the backs of checks where the recipient had to sign to endorse the check. By endorsing the check, you were also agreeing to the terms just above it, signing a contract. And quite a few publishers put in there an assignation disclaimer that, by signing the check, you agreed you did work for hire and surrendered your claims to whatever you were being paid for. This is known in legal circles as a quitclaim deed.
This is an asshole move on several levels. Not the least of which is that comics don't pay shit. People in the field need every last dime as soon as they can. If they refuse to sign the check, they don't get paid and possibly lose their homes. It could also be used as a bait and switch in contracts. You get a contract with a publisher that you keep the rights to whatever unless you willingly surrender them. Guess what happens when you sign that check. What's that? Legal challenge? With what money? Remember, you can barely afford food, and the publishing company has an army of lawyers that eat and live really good. Your chances of winning are not good.
Now, legal challenges have been made. As far as I'm aware, pulling this manuver is no longer legally enforcable (although keep your eyes open anyway. Remember, part of it is that it's just not worth the money you'd shell out for a lawyer, so just accept you're getting screwed). That doesn't help people from back in those days, though. People like Steranko.
Steranko supposedly never lost the rights to the things he came up with. And he didn't need a lawyer. When Steranko got his check and saw the boilerplate on the back that he surrendered the rights, he simply crossed it out and signed the check.
Don't laugh. It is legally enforcable. By doing that, he rejected the terms Marvel was offering. Because Marvel allowed the check to go through and didn't stop payment or contest what had happened, it was seen as Marvel's offer being rejected and Marvel was fine with it, voiding their claim to his work. It supposedly went to trial when Steranko tried to enforce his rights, and Marvel just about shit when they found out about the ticking time bomb they had missed.
Like I said, I don't have absolute proof this is true, so take it with a grain of salt.
But if it is....
After all the fast moves Marvel has done, from their treatment of Kirby to Steve Gerber and others, this is funnier than hell.
And if it is true, Steranko is my new hero.