Robot 6

Quote of the day | High fives for ugliness

… given the shower of riches the industry has seen, the fact that the families of the primary creators have been reduced to seeking legal redress or making threats of same for four decades now is a total embarrassment for comics, and any company seeking a press high-five on their latest win in an ugly, pathetic spectacle like this one should be stared at as if they’re crazy rather than given one back.

Tom Spurgeon, who’s been helping David Brothers wave this banner all week.

It’s impressive that neither writer is calling for a massive boycott of anyone’s comics. That’s got to be tempting, but those kinds of calls can end up taking the conversation off the problem by putting it on the consumer. People on the fence about the issue can feel judged and resentful and even those who agree with the reasons for the hypothetical boycott often despair that it won’t do any good anyway, so what’s the point?

What Brothers and Spurgeon are doing is simply refusing to shut up about it. That gives the rest of us room to think and consider our own courses of action without shoving us into a corner and declaring that there’s only one appropriate way out of it. But it also doesn’t let us off the hook to pretend there’s not a huge problem.

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Comments

15 Comments

Kudos to these guys for continuing to shine a light on the skullduggery behind the door where our sausage…er comics are made. Sausage making seems like it would be a prettier sight to see at this point!

Excellent post by Tom. (And to those who haven’t checked out his site, I highly recommend it.)
It’s nothing short of depressing that so many fans of superhero comics choose to mock and insult creators and creators’ heirs who try to stand up for themselves. In the end it comes down to “I want my superheroes, and I want ‘em now, and screw all you ungrateful, untalented weirdos who actually want me to THINK before I plunk down my $4 per.” 

I thought Marvel and DC comics were made by robots anyway. Underpaid, malnourished robots who get sacked any time they talk about forming a union.

Kudos for holding companies’ feet to the fire, but- without going into a rant- I think Brothers’ specific arguments are simplistic and require a certain amount of moralistic juggling (“Pay Kirby’s family! Don’t even bring up Roy Thomas or Peter David or anyone else who helped flesh these characters into what they are today!”). I think past creators have every right to fight for recognition, compensation, the whole deal… But the championing arguments (Kirby and Moore, right now) are specific conditions that don’t address truly complex situation about who’s owed what and why. It’s not a simple case of “Marvel used Kirby and they should compensate.” It’s a case of policies in practice for decades with hired creative people and how to fairly compensate all of them. Because if you pay one, you pay them all. I don’t know how you can morally argue otherwise.

Moore’s case is similarly complicated in that his co-creator hasn’t openly objected to the Before Watchmen thing. Am I to say that Moore’s opinion on the case is more important than Gibbons’? Does the writer of a book have more say than an artist?

Again, I think this type of vocalizing on bad policies is great, but my issue is that they’re using specific, complex examples with simplistic solutions. That does nothing to help fix the broader problems like better contracts and- in one company’s case- royalties on collected editions. The cause becomes Kirby and Moore, not a better work-for-hire environment for everyone.

Just my two cents.

(Side-thought: If I’m a WFH TV writer, is my contract significantly different than in comics? Did the Simpsons writer who came up with- say- Frank Grimes get recognition and/or compensation for their creation?)

It’s entirely possible that Toberoff IS a sleazy opportunist — I don’t know the guy.

But the ruling that his stolen documents are now admissible BECAUSE HE REPORTED THEM STOLEN does strike me as something out of Joseph Heller.

But yeah, the larger point — that it’s friggin’ bizarre to see so many Internet commenters jump on the DC/Marvel bandwagon and flagrantly disrespect actual creators and their heirs — is an all-too-valid one.

I don’t think I’ve done any moralistic juggling. My CA post was explicitly about two situations that hastened my exit from the Big Two, and pretty much every other post I’ve made on the subject has shouted out Gerber, Ditko, Miller, Thomas, and plenty of others. Why would I think Kirby should get credit and (as a random example) Michelinie and Todd McFarlane shouldn’t?

The point of these specific situations is to point out that these situations still exist, and that they’re deplorable. Moore and Kirby are titans in the industry–if they’ll screw them, they’ll screw everybody, from Roberson to Waid to McDuffie to Gerber to whoever else. I’m not educated enough to hold forth on this in a more general way, so I just did what I could with the knowledge I have.

Thanks for getting what I was trying to do, and the boycott point especially.

Michael Pullmann

April 20, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Okay, can we have a new rule that from now on, only people who actually understand intellectual property law can comment on it?

Can we have a new from that from now on, experts such as yourself take the effort to educate rather than make snarky comments?

I’m curious what I posted (or in the side-thought, asked) that is so entirely incorrect in regards to IP law. Thanks.

Thanks for the response, sir. I meant no disrespect and my only direct exposure to your writing on the subject was the CA piece, which obviously was specifically about Kirby and Moore.

But even pointing out every specific time when this happened in the past doesn’t solve the problem, which is my point. We champion these “titans of the industry” as having either been outright cheated or signing unfair contracts (another topic altogether) and then… what? How do we go about solving these problems for all? Because in all of this talk, I don’t think I’ve heard a reasonable solution to those problems, because every one I’ve heard (pay Kirby’s family! Moore’s characters are his!) opens cans of worms as to other creators. This is far more complex than Kirby v. Marvel or Moore v. DC. It’s more even more complex Creators v. DC and Marvel, which is what most of these internet discussions on the topic seem to devolve into. Simply because I questioned the “Kirby was screwed, pay his family!” mentality, I’ve become a corporate apologist, and that’s not the case at all. I just would rather this conversation not devolve into moral black and white, because I think in the a lot of these cases, it’s not.

Many of Marvel’s actions in the Kirby situation are absolutely morally bankrupt, and we need to be angry about them. But those actions are specific to that case. Frankly, I don’t see a direct connection to The Avengers movie. If you want to make a general statement about the industry, fine. Using an example that’s so terribly specific isn’t a general statement, in my opinion. To my greater point, it shifts the focus of the argument altogether and that was my concern with you using Kirby/Moore in the CA piece: those are the causes you seem to be trumpeting, not the overall improvement to the Big 2′s condition. Again, I’m not saying that’s the case, just that that was my perception in reading the article.

sandwich eater

April 20, 2012 at 3:23 pm

That picture of the high five is so awesome.

@Dan – I think you nailed it. Also, comparing Moore’s situation directly to Kirby’s does a disservice to the latter.

What I find baffling about some of these arguments is how they blur together what would seem to be two opposing concepts.

One, “Jack Kirby created these concepts and that should trump everything else in terms of the distribution of financial rewards; the person who did the work is the one who should benefit from it.” This is basically an extreme meritocratic principal and, with some caveats, I’m certainly on board with it. As, I believe, most people are. Unfortunately, Mr. Kirby being dead, you have people making an awkward leap to…

Two, “So and so is an heir of Jack Kirby, who created these concepts, and in the absence of Jack, his heirs should benefit.” This is bizarre for a whole list of reasons. It’s basically an argument for hereditary transfer of wealth, even though in this case it’s wealth that Jack himself never possessed, which is where it starts getting really weird. Since Jack didn’t have the wealth in question, it’s necessary to invoke the meritocratic argument to justify a posthumous transfer of it to him, and then turn around and invoke an argument for inherited wealth in order to justify a transfer to his heirs. Yet the concept of meritocracy is diametrically opposed to that of inherited privilege! And you have both arguments not only being advanced by the same people, but being advanced at the same time in order to press the claims of creator heirs.

(And yes, I’m aware of the retort that one doesn’t have to advance an argument for inherited wealth because that’s part of the law, except this really dodges the issue; if your argument is that the law is justification by itself then the argument for overturning work-for-hire agreements falls apart, and if your argument is that work-for-hire law is bad but inheritance law is good, we’re back to underlying principles and I have yet to see any explanation of what consistent principle justifies making the disposition of intellectual property revenues both more meritocratic and more hereditary.)

Here’s my idea(s):
-We sack the companies.
-We sack the creators.
-Both parties suffer.
-The consumers win.
-End of story.
I’d rather see the entire publishing industry burn to the ground rather than have these draconian mockeries of justice and the legal system continue well into a time where everyone’s reading from a stupid tablet. No publishing industry=no printers=no Diamond Comics Distributors=no DC and Marvel. Money loses, people win.

I like Acer’s idea.

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