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Quote of the day | Grant Morrison on Siegel, Shuster and Superman

Action Comics #1 by Grant Morrison and Rags Morales

Action Comics #1 by Grant Morrison and Rags Morales

[CBR:] From Siegel and Shuster through later chapters on Kirby or Jim Starlin, you cover a lot of the creative life of the people behind comics and how one informs the other, and you make some particular observations about Siegel and Shuster’s desires as artists as well as professionals. There’s so much chatter over the lawsuits over Superman and what not, but for you, did you feel like the characters transcend some of those debates on their own terms, or is that creative personality something that informs how our whole industry works even to today?

[Grant Morrison:] Well, to me it’s never been honestly what’s interesting about this stuff. I think the stories outlast all of those complications. You look at the people who created those characters, and they’re all dead. But the characters will still be around in 50 years probably – at least the best of them will. So I try not to concern myself with that. These are deals made in times before I was even born. I can say from experience that young creative people tend to sell rights to things because they want to get noticed. They want to sell their work and to be commercial. Then when they grow up and get a bit smarter, they suddenly realize it maybe wasn’t so good and that the adults have it real nice. [Laughs] But still, it’s kind of the world. I wouldn’t want to comment on that because it was something I wasn’t around for. I can’t tell why they decided to do what they did. Obviously Bob Kane came in at the same age and got a very different deal and profited hugely from Batman’s success. So who knows? They were boys of the same age, but maybe some of them were more keen to sell the rights than others. It all just takes a different business head.

All-Star Superman and Action Comics writer Grant Morrison takes a hands-off approach to the conflict over the rights to Superman between Warner Bros. and the heirs of the character’s creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, in conversation with CBR’s Kiel Phegley. Well, sorta hands-off: First he says he’d prefer not to comment because he wasn’t there, but then he points out that Bob Kane secured a much better deal for himself (though not for Bill Finger) at around the same time.

Interestingly, even as the costume changes and potential origin tweaks of the upcoming Superman reboot leave industry observers wondering if they’re a form of insurance should WB and DC lose the Siegel/Shuster legal battle, Morrison has repeatedly gone on record saying that his new Action Comics #1 is directly inspired by Siegel & Shuster’s original, from Superman’s more limited power set to his emergence as something of a street-level social crusader to the constant sense of forward motion the young writer and artist brought to the Man of Steel’s first adventure — an adventure Morrison close-reads to insightful effect in his new book Supergods. If Morrison could once again talk to Superman about himself, what might he say about all this?

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Argh! Tiny cape! Hulk Smash Tiny Cape!

As I understand it, Bob Kane got a better deal because his father lied about his age after Batman became a hit, in order to declare the original contract he signed unenforceable, and then had a new deal negotiated once they were in a position to claim that DC didn’t own a proven-valuable property.

kdb

“As I understand it, Bob Kane got a better deal because his father lied about his age after Batman became a hit, in order to declare the original contract he signed unenforceable, and then had a new deal negotiated once they were in a position to claim that DC didn’t own a proven-valuable property”

Yep, that’s the story I know either. Kane lied about his age and then his father confermed the lie and the contracts had to be renegotiated

I’m glad this excerpt was singled out because it certainly soured me to read such an indifferent assessment of Batman and Superman’s true origins to come from Morrison of all people. It’s such a weak cop-out to the real grime DC’s done to their creators. What does the longevity of the icons have to do with finally addressing the wrongs DC has committed? That in this day and age no prominent Batman writer like Morrison (especially Morrison as he studies the past canons of these characters like no other) has stood up to say Bill Finger’s name should be on the Batman byline and also these words, have solidified my view on what I’ve suspected all along of Morrison’s prominence in corporate comix: in spite of how his approach has led to some classic work, his take on heroes bordering on fetishization has led him to ignore the whole picture. As his book Supergods would indicate, he doesn’t find any other take on the costumed crime-fighter, superpowered or not, to be essential. And though it sounds like a stretch, I’m inclined to believe with disillusion that he doesn’t see anything that gets in the way of his understanding, as worth addressing. Then again, it may just be cuz he doesn’t find it interesting. The creators may be from a time before you but so are the characters. I agree Mr. Collins, What would Superman say?

Niles Day – I’m inclined to agree. This comes off as a half-assed excuse for corporate thievery. I know Morrison’s love for superheroes is absolutely paramount but to care about them more than actual, non-fictional human beings is a disgusting sort of sin.

Grant. I love you. I mean, I love your work. Having said that: you really should care about how the creators were/are treated if only because it could be you one day. May you never go broke. Also, everyone remember in the days before 9-11 the Taliban destroyed all statues depicting other deities: a large one of the Buddha was blown to bits and the media went crazy about the destruction of an important historical/cultural work? At the time I thought what about how these bastards treat women? Who cares about art when people are being killed. Who cares about Superman when their creators lived in roach infested slums?

Re: Bob Kane– well, even before the incident where Kane claimed he’d been a minor, it’s my understanding (going on mainly the Gerard Jones book) that Kane brought in a lawyer to hash out his contract with National/DC. Jones represents that Siegel and Shuster did not do so, which if true has to go down in history as one of the biggest mistakes ever. And it’s all the more puzzling because at the time DC bought Superman, S&S weren’t two poor Cleveland kids any more. They’d been selling their work regularly to DC for 2-3 years up to that point and should have been relatively solvent, even before the Superman deal.

I don’t see anything despicable in what Morrison has said. The ethics of the deal DC negotiated can make fertile ground for discussion, but none of that discussion will show DC putting a gun to the creators’ heads to make them surrender Superman. I think it’s quite possible that S&S were just a little too hungry for a hit, and didn’t think about all the consequences.

We venerate EC today. But was William Gaines any more of an angel than Jack Liebowitz? (Well, probably more of one than Mort Weisinger, because everyone sounds nicer compared to MW!)

There are any number of horror stories about creators who did nasty crap to their friends and relatives, but ended up producing great artworks. Should we dismiss the works because we don’t like the workers?

Does anybody know how much bad blood there was between Kurtzman and Gaines after he denied Harvey the 51% controlling interest in MAD?

It seems to me that Kurtzman railed against Gaines once or twice in JOURNAL interviews, but I got the impression he disliked Al Feldstein even more. I seem to recall that the moment Feldstein stepped down as MAD’s editor in 1985, Kurtzman promptly submitted work to MAD. Whether ’twas printed or not I do not know.

What happened to all the people badmouthing Morrison? Hello?

Bueller?

If it makes you feel better gene, I think that quote from Morrison is a load of self serving crap. I just think that Kurtzman and Gaines is a more interesting angle on this whole debate and it rarely gets talked about. Gaines was always known for treating his employees really well and fostering report between fans and the artists but he was definitely still a businessman and he could be shrewd and paternal. I think the Superman case has more details that really favor the rights returning to the Siegels (it clearly wasn’t work for hire in even the shady Marvel check contract way and the law is clear that the rights revert to the heirs as a consequence of extending terms of copyrights), whereas Kurtzman’s split always seemed to me like a band breaking up over creative differences. Still, it’s worth pointing out that the man we think of as the best champion of artists rights in the industry in that era still maintained a strict employer>employee relationship with his staff when push came to shove.

I wouldn’t say your opinion of Morrison makes me “feel better,” but I’d like to debate it and see why people Morrison’s wrong to point out (rather kindly, I thought) the elephant in the room: that no matter what scurrilous things DC did, Siegel and Schuster showed damn poor business sense when they signed their contract.

It’s been said that one Golden Age publisher– I think Lev Gleason– did have some sort of profit sharing plan for innovators. But whatever the truth of that, it would seem that EC made no greater committment to innovators than DC did: create something new for the company, and maybe the company will recompense you by the kind act of keeping you working for your next paycheck.

“why people *think* Morrison’s wrong”

“So mr Morrison what do you think of the company you work for and the lawsuit it is currently involved with?”

I mean…really.what did you expect?.

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