Robot 6

Comics A.M. | James Sturm on why he’s boycotting The Avengers

Artwork by James Sturm

Creators | Market Day creator James Sturm explains he’ll be boycotting The Avengers movie because he believes Jack Kirby, co-creator of many of Marvel’s longest-lasting characters,  “got a raw deal”: “What makes this situation especially hard to stomach is that Marvel’s media empire was built on the backs of characters whose defining trait as superheroes is the willingness to fight for what is right. It takes a lot of corporate moxie to put Thor and Captain America on the big screen and have them battle for honor and justice when behind the scenes the parent company acts like a cold-blooded supervillain. As Stan Lee famously wrote, ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’” Tom Spurgeon notes the position seems to mark a shift for Sturm, who wrote the Eisner-winning 2003 miniseries Fantastic Four: Unstable Molecules for Marvel. [Slate, The Comics Reporter]

Michael Chabon

Creators | The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay author Michael Chabon discusses a recent short story he wrote for The New Yorker about a comic book writer and artist who had a falling out, noting who they may or may not be based on: “Well, the obvious answer is Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Stan and Jack met in the forties, began collaborating during lean times in the fifties, jointly revived the fortunes of Marvel Comics in the sixties, and then underwent a creative divorce that seems to have resulted in a certain amount of acrimony on Kirby’s side. So the outlines of the story are similar. But Feather and Conn are not Stan and Jack; their fates, their experiences, their biographies, and their personalities are quite different. Jack Kirby died in 1994, still idolized by fans, surrounded by his loving family, as far from the embittered loneliness of Mort Feather as you can be. And Stan Lee is still going strong, a potent creative force who seems to bear up under the tribulations and triumphs of a long and interesting life with the élan for which he has always been famous.” [The New Yorker]

Comic strips | The Chicago Tribune has spoken: Editors pulled last Friday’s Doonesbury strip because it “broke from its satirical mission in order to deliver a direct fundraising appeal for a specific charity that the author favors. The Tribune’s editorial practices do not allow individuals to promote their self-interests.” [The Daily Cartoonist]

Amelia Rules!

Creators | Robot 6 contributor Brigid Alverson talks to Jimmy Gownley, creator of the all-ages Amelia Rules series, about his experiences from self-publishing to signing a multi-book deal with Simon & Schuster. During the interview, Gownley dropped a bombshell: His next Amelia book, the eighth in the series, will be his last—at least for a while: “Amelia was a huge learning experience for me. I came out the other side a very different person and artist. I want to take all those lessons and put them into one book that combines all of that.” [Publishers Weekly]

Editorial cartoons | Times are tough for editorial cartoonists, but The New York Times cattle call for artists to provide work on spec for their Sunday Review section — and the measly fee of $250 per cartoon for the winners — is raising a hackles in the cartooning community. [Comic Riffs]

Creators | Ao Meng chats with French artist Boulet a.k.a. Gilles Roussel, about his recent webcomic Darkness, among other topics. [NOVI Magazine]

The Hookah Girl

Creators | Erica Friedman interviews artist Marguerite Dabaie, creator of The Hookah Girl, a memoir of growing up in the Palestinian Christian community in the U.S. [The Hooded Utilitarian]

Commentary | Librarian Robin Brenner and the contributors to the Good Comics for Kids blog discuss whether the inclusion of dialogue in graphic novel biographies makes them fiction. [Good Comics for Kids]

Commentary | Joe “Jog” McCulloch pays a visit to Dredd Reckoning to discuss Vol. 17 of Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files with host Douglas Wolk. [Dredd Reckoning]

Copyright | Mike Lynch calls out MSNBC’s Up with Chris Hayes show for displaying a cartoon by Lian Amaris without asking her permission, let alone compensating her. To his credit, Hayes responded on Twitter, saying “we absolutely should have credited it and will rectify.” [Mike Lynch Cartoons]

Academia | Columbia University librarian Karen Green lays out a possible typology of comics, discussing the different ways they can be broken up for teachers who want to use them in a variety of different academic settings. [comiXology]

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Comments

51 Comments

Whine, whine. All the creators got bum deals back in those days. Creators STILL get bum deals but the savvier ones try to avoid them now or place the value of opportunity over money.

I understand but, I don’t care. They are doing a great job with the characterization, I just wish Kirby’s family could receive benefits from the films and such.

Co-creating is co-creating. But I still think that going to the lengths of boycotting a film AFTER ALL THIS TIME of getting the shaft is ridiculous. Jack and Stan made these characters iconic in the Golden and Silver Age, where was the boycott then?

Comic fans really are entitled shits these days. Jus’ sayin’.

Why is this a story? Really? I mean, I love Jack Kirby…he will always be The King, but there are more important issues and things to boycott.

Wahh! Why is the bad man telling me I shouldn’t see something I want to see? Waah!

This is an important story because the way people Kirby, Siegel and Shuster and umpteen others were treated is something like the ‘Original sin’ of the comic-book business. It taints all of the corporate funnybooks that you read and shame on you if you’re too myopic and self-interested to man up to it.

James Sturm didn’t have those feelings when it was his turn to exploit Jack Kirby creations for Marvel Comics.

Right, because we’re all saying Jack Kirby SHOULD have been ripped off and stiffed on what he was owed.

You’re arguing from a point no one is making. What we are stating is that this person sounds like a big crybaby. I’d rather hear from the Kirby estate or his relatives than someone worshipping Kirby like a drooling acolyte. We’re all aware as comic book fans how creators were denied profits and royalties for their own creations.

Guess what, though? There are 13-14 million people out of work. Some people in this country can’t get married. I love comics as much as the next nerd, but this is hardly a story.

Now if Stan Lee finally fesses up about how HUGE Kirby was for Marvel and how they should pay his estate tons of royalties…THAT would be a story, and worth reading. I doubt anyone will notice this dude or follow his example (especially considering how Iron Man was co-created by DON HECK and Stan Lee).

Also, what Darryl said. Stop aping a great man and do your own work. Become the next innovator, but make sure to have business savvy.

The real reason to boycott this movie is because it is mediocre, brainless rubbish

I wonder if this guy is going to boycott the new Batman too. Bill Finger got screwed.

Also, I’m really disappointed in the hypocrisy inherent in newspaper strips. No one would think of pulling Mutts even though every fourth strip is an ad for the Humane Society because Mutts is one of the few strips that is both entertaining and unlikely to offend. Meanwhile Mallard Fillmore is offensive on every level and I never hear about it getting censored (because “the liberal media” is a myth).

“the liberal media” is a myth

Wrong.

James had no problem doing Unstable Molecules, which I’m sure was of benefit to Marvel and used characters that Stan and Jack made famous. Is Marvel okay when you collect a paycheck?

Maybe the checks for FF: Unstable Molecules bounced and that’s what set him off.

@ Hysan

I’m sorry about the overripe tone of my last couple of posts. A lot of it is cumulative frustration that every time this topic is raised it occaisons a tidal wave of rationalisations and sophisms from the fan “community” that – as Chris Mautner wrote in a recent and well-argued piece on this site – boil down to “me wanty”. I’m sorry if you feel I argued from a false premise. In your first post you expresed bemusement that this was a story. James Sturm, as well as being a promient comics creator is the principle of the Centre of Cartoon Studies. As both a creator and an educator I would respectfully suggest that Mr Sturm is entitled to a platform from which to express an opinion. He’s not just some angry guy on the internet like you or I.

The people who are up-in-arms over how creators got “screwed” back in the day are missing the point that it was a different time back then. No one, and I mean NO ONE, knew the far-reaching effect and staying power these characters would have in both the market and the public consciousness.

Think of traditional artists/writers/poets/inventors/etc. in the past who went pretty much unnoticed during their lives and died penniless, only to be greatly regarded by future generations. Jack Kirby was respected by the general public as well as his industry peers for what he created and received numerous awards DURING his lifetime. And he certainly did not die penniless.

The biggest difference is that classical artists typically created single works, whereas Kirby & Lee worked in a dynamic, serialized medium that was meant to continue on after their contributions. Any shabby treatment (by today’s standards, at least) on the part of Marvel or DC is in the past and those responsible no longer work there. I see no fault on the side of either publisher for continuing to give us stories about characters we enjoy.

A lot of people here are calling Sturm a hypocrite for previously working under work-for-hire conditions for Marvel using Stan and Jack characters. One of the great things about calling someone out for hypocrisy is that it neutralises any moral critique that they may be making. Good work guys! In Sturm’s case the fact that he has an about turn on this issue is part of what makes this story newsworthy (see the Tom Spugeon link). It’s also pretty emblematic of a shift in the relationship between the indie comics community and Marvel over the last couple of years. Don’t expect to see anything like the ‘Strange Tales’ anthology again for a very, very long time.

@Disco – bullshit. Exploitation of labor in various forms is as old as the pyramids. And it’s still around today

The “it was a different time” argument shows an ignorance of history and of human nature – as if we’ve somehow as a species moved past the desire to take advantage of others when we can

Sturm’s not necessarily a hypocrite for changing his portion. People are allowed change their views on issues. But unless he’s writing the Kirby family an apology letter and cutting them a check in the full amount he received for writing Unstable Molecules, then he’s just giving lip service to the “ideals” he claims to be championing.

@ Disco Magic

Jack Kirby worked his ass off to make a middle class living and, yeah, that’s better than a lot of folk do. The properties he created/ co-created have generated billions of pounds subsequently. You don’t think the Kirby Estate is entitled to a settlement that acknowleges this?

And yet Kirby hired artists and writers to work for him under the same terms at Mainline Publications (with Joe Simon from 1954-55).

He was well aware of how the work-for-hire system worked. Just because he and his corroborators were more successful at creating characters for their publishers than the others means it should be re-written for them after-the-fact.

@Dawson,

Like any other employee or contractor, Kirby was entitled to the fair wage he agreed upon when he took the job. That’s the way it was and is. At the end of his Slate piece, Sturm says:

“If I really wanted to spoil Marvel’s party, I’d take a page out of a comic book and exact revenge on the company in one fell swoop. All I would have to do is jump into a time machine, travel back 51 years, and transport Jack Kirby to an alternate dimension. Without Kirby, Marvel would cease to exist.”

Problem is, there is no time machine. That’s the point. We don’t have the power to go back and change what already happened. We can only improve things moving forward. The current state of the comics industry is vastly improved with regards to things like creators ownership rights and royalties. Anyone who says otherwise is just plain wrong. Much of that change was spurred by later generations’ reactions to what happened with Kirby. That’s his legacy. But it doesn’t change the baseline fact that no other industry in the would be expected to make the kind of retroactive reparations comics fans seem to think that Kirby is owed. It’s just not how businesses work or ever will. If they did, the potential fallout could result in a cascade of lawsuits that could have a serious economic/financial/legal impact. It’s not going to happen and no one with a clear view of how business and the economy works should really expect it to.

@ kalorama

This is obsequiousness and defeatism masquerading as ‘realism’.

Let’s apply the flavour of your argument to another boycott scenario – the protest against sweatshop labour in developing nations. The pragmatic realist might argue that multinational corporations need to protect their bottom line and in a globalised world it is incumbent upon them to find labour at the cheapest price possible. And after all the multinationals aren’t doing anything illegal. Of course what the truly clear-sighted know is that these practices are unethical and demeaning to everyone involved. Boycotts exert moral pressure targeted at the bottom line on corporations that would otherwise hold on to every possible commercial advantage. And, yeah, I know its hyperbolic and probably offensive to compare the Kirby situation to the situation of subsistence labourers but an injustice is an injustice is an injustice. I boycott Gap and Nike too you know. Some of us have an unfashionable belief that the world should and could be better than it is.

See, I’m actually going to have to agree with Francis and others now. Just because it was “how things were done” doesn’t make it right. Marvel SHOULD pay royalties to the Kirby estate. Period.

I just don’t think this guy is going to make that happen. That’s all.

@ Francis,

Your argument is, of course, a massive and ignorant strawman of the kind commonly employed by people whose arguments consist entirely of emotional indignation unleavened by actual logic, fact, or knowledge. It goes without saying that working in comics isin no way, shape, or form comparable to working in a 3rd world sweatshop and that making such a comparison reeks of grand moral ignorance of the worst and most despicable kind. Casually tossing out a weak meaningless line like “an injustice is an injustice is an injustice” far from excusing it (which was clearly your failed intent) only compounds your lazy sophistry. If you’re going to take such an inherently specious route that nonetheless fails to come close to making your (or any) point, why not go the full monty next time and just compare it to slavery? At least then you get full bang for your morally valueless buck.

Standing up for what’s right is “whining” ?

*sigh* why do you read superhero comics then? For the leotards?

@ kalorama

What say we both dial back the rhetorical ante, huh?

To be fair, Unstable Molecules was pretty good.

More fair: Kirby’s Fantastic Four is better. Not really the point. I simply grate at the notion of a guy who actively participated in the exploitation system (of the work of the very man in question) telling anybody about morality.

Not even a humble expression of regret within. That bothers me.

Jack Kirby died in 1994. I doubt that he cares much about this nowadays.

Thor was created by Vikings.

Captain America was created by Joe Simon.

So very ironic that the image implies these characters were stolen from Jack Kirby.

@Rich: Superhero Thor was not actually created by Vikings.

Jack Kirby co-created Captain America.

Jack Kirby said under oath that these were work-for-hire creations and the contracts were honored. It’s his family that sued Marvel after he was dead. So there’s greed on every side of the equation. I wish they (corporate Marvel) would have taken better care of the King. However, if you could count on corporations to do the morally right thing, our economy might not have collapsed a few years ago. Wishful thinking at best.

@SeanS: “Jack Kirby said under oath that these were work-for-hire creations and the contracts were honored.”

He wasn’t under oath, but yes, he stated it in a contract.

Which he signed in return for Marvel agreeing to return his original art.

Marvel did not return his original art.

“It’s his family that sued Marvel after he was dead.”

Actually, it’s Marvel that sued his family after he was dead.

@Francis,

You probably should have considered that before you upped it in the first place, shouldn’t you?

Thad,

You left out the part that where other Marvel artists were only required to sign a single-page release to have their work returned to them Kirby was forced to sign a four-page contract that, unlike the other artists, pretty much only allowed him physical custodianship of the pages and refused him the ability to sell or reproduce them without permission from Marvel.

He did get some of his work back but it was a fraction of the estimated 8,000 pages he drew for the company over the years. Marvel says most of it disappeared in one way or another, including a bunch that had been stored in Jim Shooter’s office — which Shooter said was the safest room in the building.

Brian from Canada

February 8, 2012 at 5:32 pm

Nobody here understands the film business.

Royalties are deserved based on investment — or for payment of service. Kirby did not provide a service. Yes, he CREATED the characters, but the rights are owned wholly by Marvel, which is putting up the entire cost of production (and therefore deserved of profits).

The actors provide a service and it’s in their union contract to get royalties in return of continued use of their face. The director and scriptwriter have it in their contracts as well as continued revenue for a job that’s impossible to repeat. Note that Kirby could, while alive, create new comics for revenue. Making another movie isn’t so easy.

Stan Lee gets a royalty because he acts as “executive producer,” a credit he gets for giving his okay on the films. Without that, there would be some very upset fans. IF Jack Kirby were alive, I am positive he might be reached out too — but he is not. And his family has no right to act in his place because they WEREN’T there inside his head to know exactly how it goes. They can only guess… but so can Kurt Busiek, Mark Waid, etc. for being there so long.

Whatever disagreement the Kirbys have with Marvel, their lawyer is pushing for OWNERSHIP and not royalties. Royalties can be increased due to pressure (as was with Seigel & Shuster in the seventies). What the Kirbys want is 50% of the characters their father created, which would put them in control of Marvel and its corporate future.

@Brian said

“IF Jack Kirby were alive, I am positive he might be reached out too” (his use of all caps, and misuse of the word too)

OK – so did they “positively” reach out to Ditko and give him Spider-Man money??

Or Len Wein with Wolverine money? Or Marv Wolfman with Blade money? Or Gary Friedrich with Ghost Rider money?

@Darryl Ayo Brathwaite: If you read the whole essay, Sturm writes, “I dreamed of someday working for Marvel and in 2003, I actually got to write a four-issue Fantastic Four miniseries. In tribute to Kirby, I even incorporated some of his actual panels into my story. At the time I had little reservation about working for Marvel. Since then, things have changed.”

Seems pretty clear that he regrets his involvement in the project and wouldn’t make the same decision today.

@ kalorama: “You probably should have considered that before you upped it in the first place, shouldn’t you?”

Well, having been described as a moral monster, it seems clear to me that there’s little mileage in carrying on a discussion with you. My comment might have been silly kalorama but yours was sillier.

Don’t be dense, Chad. I read the essay more than once. I don’t care. Look at how he starts with his personal experience with the work, down to his kids liking Marvel heroes. But slyly slips in the fact that HE HIMSELF participated in exploiting Kirby creations deep in the middle of this essay.

Trying to trick people’s minds. That is a CONFLICT OF INTEREST, and I have had it with people in comics not calling people on their bullshit. Fuck. THAT.

I don’t CARE if he has had a change of heart, he has a lot of nerve trying to lecture anybody. In 2000, it was common knowledge that Kirby got ripped off. Is it really going to be cool for people to exploit Kirby’s work for money and turn around years later and say “I had a change of heart,” without offering an apology, without offering Kirby’s heirs money, without doing ANYTHING apart from standing on a soapbox and playing the role of the moral crusader?

FUCK.

THAT.

I’m glad that some people on this thread never had a change of hart on any issue. The court case was a line in the sand moment for a lot of people. I am boycotting Marvel, because Marvel/Disney will do to Kirby what Disney did to Iwerks.

You are another one who is dense. There’s nothing wrong with having a change of heart. There is something intensely wrong with getting on one’s soapbox about it after having profited in one’s own career at the expense of those who you now feebly “champion.”

Think about it, he’s profiting again: getting paid now to write this editorial by that Slate site.

No sense of humble humility at all

Darryl, I think plenty of people are calling him on it: you, Tom Spurgeon’s linked post, commenters here. While you might have wanted Sturm to do more by way of apology — I agree that offering to pass along at least some of his money from Unstable Molecules, either to the Kirby family if they want it or an appropriate charity, would have been a nice gesture, given what he’s advocating here — but Sturm does express some regret at his decision to do Marvel work, admittedly late in the essay.

But I also think it’s a little over the top to lump a guy who got paid for one four-issue miniseries years ago in with a company that’s made millions off exploiting Kirby’s work, while at every turn doing everything they can to make sure he and his family never got fairly compensated for his creations while they continue to made hundreds of millions of dollars off them.

Of course, I’m a big hypocrite, too. I still buy Marvel product, despite feeling that it’s long overdue for the company to at the very least initiate a program like the one DC has where past creators get something when their work is exploited in other media. (Not that DC’s perfect, but that’s a rare example of one of the big two doing something to benefit creators that they had no legal obligation to do.) I give to the Hero Initiative when I can, but I also recognize that this is treating the symptoms and not the doing much to change what’s creating a need for the charity’s services.

I guess I didn’t see this essay as a moral lecture so much as an explanation of why Sturm’s thinking on this matter has changed (probably in no small part due to Stephen Bissette’s influence). If people want to follow him, great, but I don’t see him passing any great moral judgment on anyone but Marvel. I will tell you this, he (and Bissette) have got me thinking about skipping Avengers, and writing Marvel to tell them why.

But what’s your take on the best route for someone who’s sympathetic to these issues to follow? Boycott any and all Kirby-derived Marvel product (or Siegel-derived DC product, for that matter), despite this taking cash out of a local comic shop’s bottom line? Boycott just the movies, which is where the real money is made? And just to be clear: I’m not trying to be snarky here, I’m genuinely curious how you personally negotiate the ethical minefield involved for comics fans.

Darryl, Mr. Sturm did nothing wrong by working at Marvel. His mini did not make him millions of dollars. He did a story that at the time he thought honored Kirby. After thinking about it he changed his mind and wanted to get out the word on a boycott. This boycott was talked about at the time the court ruling came out. I have not bought a Marvel comic since. Marvel IMHO owes the Kirbys the same deal as Lee’s.

@yumph: “OK – so did they “positively” reach out to Ditko and give him Spider-Man money??”

They offered. He refused.

As I understand it, it’s because they would have made him sign a contract like the ones Kirby signed saying they didn’t owe him anything else.

Googam son of Goom

February 9, 2012 at 3:19 pm

law law law. la la la

@Thad – you’re making that up. Show me your source

@ Thad

I don’t know if Marvel ever did anything “positive” to Steve Ditko. Marvel held on to his original art for many years and refused to return it to him. Eventually the companygrudgingly capitulated due to the negative publicity and returned his drawings, which were by then extremely valuable. However, after getting them back, Ditko, has refused to sell any of his artwork estimated to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Apparently they’re lying on his studio floor. The man is apparently living a frugal life surrounded by a lot of valuable assets. To me that is indicative of a person who knows he’s dealt with the “devil” and refuses to play their game, a man with integrity. I don’t know about you, but I certainly wouldn’t be taking cash from a company who treated me like that, just so they look sympathetic in the public eye.

Marvel is a souless money-making machine, like many other conglomerates and shouldn’t be offered some kind of bizarre sympathy and/or excuses from fanboys who like to believe it’s the Merry Marching Society.

@yumph: Making it up? I don’t know if you’re trolling or just socially retarded, but giving you the benefit of the doubt, here’s my source: http://robot6.comicbookresources.com/2010/01/kirby-family-attorneys-respond-to-marvel-lawsuit/#comment-21966 — post by Kurt Busiek, Jan 2010. Quoting Kurt:


And reportedly, Ditko also feels that Marvel owes him millions, and he’s refused the money they’ve offered him as a bonus from the Spider-Man movie because he feels it’s not enough. He thinks they owe him far, far more, and won’t compromise his principles by settling for a lesser payment than he deserves.

He feels he was made promises that Marvel hasn’t lived up to, going back to those inflatable Spider-Man pillows from the 1960s. That he’s lived up to what he sees as his side of the bargain, and he won’t renege on it even though he feels Marvel hasn’t lived up to theirs. In his worldview, that shames them, not him.

But if you think Ditko thinks he doesn’t deserve to be paid more than his page rate, then you’re mistaken.

I don’t know what Kurt’s source is, but he’s got a reputation for doing his homework.

@Prong: If you look at the context of the post, where it says “positively” I was quoting Yumph quoting Brian from Canada, who was using the word in the sense of “certain”, not “good”.

And I’m certainly not condemning Ditko for refusing to accept a bonus from Marvel in exchange for signing a document saying they didn’t owe him any more. Kirby signed a document affirming that he’d worked for-hire in exchange for Marvel returning his art; where did it get him? His art was never returned, and the contract was used against his children in court.

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