The Second Circuit Court of Appeals handed Marvel a significant victory this morning, upholding a 2011 ruling that Jack Kirby’s contributions to the publisher in the 1960s were work for hire, and therefore not subject to copyright reclamation by the artist’s heirs.
However, as Tom Spurgeon first reported, the appellate court vacated the New York district judge’s summary ruling against two of Kirby’s children, California residents Lisa and Neal, on jurisdictional grounds; the judgment against Susan and Barbara stands.
Secondarily, the Second Circuit upheld the lower court’s exclusion of expert testimony offered by John Morrow and Mark Evanier on behalf of the Kirby heirs, agreeing that “their reports are by and large undergirded by hearsay statements, made by freelance artists in both formal and informal settings, concerning Marvel’s general practices towards its artists during the relevant time period.”
We’ve all seen Hello Kitty grow from a quirky Japanese import into a household name, but do you remember the time its corporate owner set out to “conquer comics”? Me neither, but I learned a lot from reading comic/animation historian Fred Patten’s excellent post on Cartoon Research called “Sanrio And Me.”
In 1978, Sanrio held a series of press conferences in the United States trumpeting its goal to, as Patten says, “take over the American comic book industry and the moribund theatrical animation industry.” With an office in Santa Monica, California, the means for doing that was a slick manga anthology publication called Lyrica (which it had already launched in Japan) and a full-length animated feature called Metamorpheses, which executives promised as their Fantasia, referring to the Disney feature that had been reissued the year before. Metamorpheses had a trial run in the Japanese edition of Lyrica as a comic strip by American animation artist Dan Morgan, who did double-duty in the movie’s art department.
It was jarring to me. I respected and loved the work of all of them. I also liked them all on a personal but individual basis. But when I saw what the comic book industry was doing to them, I think I liked it a little less. Those men all deserved better.
– Mark Evanier, commenting on the observation by Howard Chaykin that Gil Kane, Joe Kubert, Carmine Infantino and other DC artists “regarded each other with distaste, frequently bordering on genuine loathing.”
It’s stuff like this that brings home to me how screwed up the comics industry was for so many years. I understand on an intellectual level that things were bad, but hearing how it inspired jealousy and soured relationships puts it into an emotional context that I hadn’t felt before.
I’m not saying we have a utopia today, but creators do have more options if they want more than what they’re getting from work-for-hire. Creator-owned comics are not only more welcomed than ever by readers, but they’re also proving popular with people outside of comics, which can turn into real money. Again, I’m not saying we’ve reached the Promised Land yet, but I think it’s fair to say we’ve at least left Egypt.
I’m reading Glen Weldon‘s Superman: The Unauthorized Biography, and I’m still in the chapters on the Golden Age. What’s struck me was just how quickly Superman became a national phenomenon. Within a year of his first appearance in an anthology book (that he wouldn’t be on the cover of for another five issues after the first), there was a syndicated newspaper strip about him. According to Weldon, Time magazine called the character “the No. 1 juvenile vogue in the U.S.” Within two years, there was a radio show. Within three, Max Fleischer’s studio was making animated short films. And then there were all the dolls, games, puzzles, and coloring books. That was a stunning amount of success in a very short amount of time.
Mark Evanier has a fascinating, and unflinching, assessment of a period of Carmine Infantino’s storied comics career that’s gone largely overlooked in the obituaries that have appeared since the artist’s death on Thursday: those five years, between 1971 and 1976, when he served as publisher of DC Comics.
It wasn’t a great time for the company, or the industry, as newsstand distribution changed, printing costs increased, comics price raised — from 12 cents to 15 to 25 — the number of pages increased (with reprint material added to the mix), leading to a drop in sales and, ultimately, Infantino’s replacement by Jenette Kahn. (It’s also a scenario eerily familiar to anyone who’s been reading comics for more than a few years, as publishers struggle time and again to adapt to changes in the marketplace.)
But wait, there’s more: “Infantino always insisted he was not responsible for that failed strategy and he certainly didn’t cause the distribution crisis,” Evanier writes. “He might have been able to make the company more creator-friendly but maybe not … and even with that impediment, he managed to come up with some pretty good books. What he couldn’t seem to do was to keep them running long enough to find an audience. The minute it was clear or even suspected something new wasn’t selling as well as Batman, it was terminated. A few comics were even, quite literally, cancelled before there were any sales figures in on them at all [...] A lot of those books were terrific. True, Green Lantern/Green Arrow by O’Neil and Adams only lasted fourteen issues but with a different man in charge, it might not have existed at all. Give him credit for that. Give him credit for helping move comics into a new era by among other things, treating covers as intended works of art rather than copy-heavy sales pieces. Give him credit for all the new careers that were launched during his time in charge. And a lot of comics that were considered flops during his regime — considered that by him as well as others — are still with us, some reprinted time and again in expensive hardcover editions with their characters turning up in other media and current comics. Time-Warner is now making a lot of money off some of Carmine’s ‘failures.’”
Really, you should read the whole piece.
Awards | Frank Doyle, who wrote thousands of Archie Comics scripts, and Steve Skeates, who wrote for both Marvel and DC Comics, will be honored with this year’s Bill Finger Award for Excellence in Comic Book Writing. Both were chosen by a unanimous vote of a committee headed by Mark Evanier. The awards will be presented July 13 during the Eisner Awards ceremony at Comic-Con International in San Diego. [Comic-Con International]
Legal | The Oatmeal creator Matthew Inman’s war with Funnyjunk has heated up the Internets over the past few days, but Andrew Orlowski questions why Inman didn’t simply send FunnyJunk a takedown notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act when he realized his comics were being posted without permission. “Without the DMCA, Inman found himself in a knife fight armed with just a stick of celery,” Orlwoski said, and he blames his failure to use it on “nerd web culture.” “Inman didn’t use the ammunition available to him at all — he simply decided to play the victim. Whether he did so through naivety, ignorance or cynicism, it is impossible to say.” [The Register]
Creators | Ahead of the premiere of the documentary With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story, the 89-year-old Lee discusses the big-screen success of his co-creations, the fairy-tale appeal of superheroes, his favorite character (he doesn’t have one), and a time when he was embarrassed to admit he wrote comic books: “Oh well, in the beginning, comics were the lowest rung on the cultural totem pole. I’d go to a party and people would say ‘What do you do?’ ‘Um, uh, I’m a writer’ and I’d try to walk away. And the guy would follow. ‘What do you write?’ ‘Oh, er, stories for kids.’ Well finally he’d pin me down and I’d say, ‘Okay, I write comic books’ — and boy, he couldn’t get away fast enough. Now, though, I walk into a party and someone sees me and they say, ‘Sorry, excuse me a minute, President Obama, I have to go over and say hello to Stan Lee.’ Well, okay. Slight exaggeration on my part.” [The Star-Ledger]
Conventions | The Calgary Sun previews this weekend’s Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo. [Calgary Sun]
Conventions | Jimmy Jay wonders whether Comic-Con International in San Diego could expand to two weekends, like the Coachella Music Fest. [ComicConMen]
Conan the Barbarian meets his dumber alter ego in April when Dark Horse presents a four-issue Conan/Groo the Wanderer crossover. While Conan is clearly the brainier of the two mighty warriors, Groo creators Sergio Aragonés and Mark Evanier are scripting the comic, so Groo will have the home-team advantage. Thomas Yeates is handling the art and Tom Luth the colors. Yeates has penciled other Conan comics as well as Dark Horse’s adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Outlaw Prince.
While April 1 would be a logical release date for a book like this, the chances are that no one would believe it, so it’s due out on April 18.
“What struck me in all the phone interviews was what a small fraction of Jerry’s life was getting covered. I don’t think most people realize how politically involved he was in issues of Free Speech (especially that of cartoonists) in countries where they don’t cotton to any kind of dissent. I don’t think most folks know how involved he was in the mid-seventies campaign to establish a credit line and pensions for Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster on Superman. Most folks know that Neal Adams spearheaded that campaign and his efforts were vital in making Time-Warner realize that a horrendous situation had to be rectified and put right. Not to take anything away from Neal but it was Jerry Robinson who negotiated with senior Time-Warner execs of behalf of Siegel and Shuster. It was Jerry who closed the deal.”
Publishing | Mark Evanier, who is providing editorial assistance on Fantagraphics’ long-awaited Walt Kelly Pogo collections, notes that the first volume has gone to print. “My friend, the lovely Carolyn Kelly, lovingly supervised the loving restoration of her lovely father’s lovely strip and she also did the lovely design of this lovely book and its lovely dust jacket and the lovely imprints under that lovely dust jacket. Sure sounds like a labor of love to me. Not that the contents need any help but the strips are supplemented by a foreword from writer (and friend o’ Walt’s) Jimmy Breslin and essays/annotations by Steve Thompson, R.C. Harvey and myself. If I were you, I’d read all that text stuff after I read the strips themselves about eleven times.” [News from Me]
Comics | Todd Allen runs through some of the “actual changes” to the DC titles come September, noting the eight new (or fairly new, or returning after being absent) writers, plus four who have been “poached” from Vertigo. [Indignant Online]
Comics | Martin Wisse takes The Atlantic to task for publishing an “utterly dull and middlebrow” list of 10 nonfiction graphic novels they called “masterpieces.” He notes that when commenters call out the author for not listing any works by Joe Sacco, she responds that she “chickened out” on including Footnotes in Gaza because “the topic is so polarizing.” Tom Spurgeon has commentary as well, noting, “It’s galling that an author can admit to not including something for publication because they were afraid of Internet reprisals and not be automatically fired and/or laughed out of town.” [Wis[s]e Words, The Comics Reporter]
“The legacy of his artistic storytelling and abilities played a key role in cementing the enduring popularity of characters like Daredevil, Iron Man, Howard the Duck, Blade and Dr. Strange, and garnered him praise and fans the world over,” columnist George Khoury said in an obituary on Comic Book Resources this morning.
In lieu of flowers, Colan’s friend Clifford Meth is asking folks to contribute to a scholarship being set up in Colan’s name for The Kubert School. Details on how to donate can be found on Meth’s blog.
Fellow creators, fans and friends of Gene Colan are sharing memories. Here are a few; as always, click through to see the entirety of what they have to say about one of comics’ legendary artists:
Clifford Meth: “I knew this day would come but it came too quickly. It’s been a rare pleasure working with Gene. He knew who he was—how valuable his contributions to the world of comic art have been—how prized it remains by so many. Yet he never felt less than grateful to anyone who’d even read a single panel that he’d drawn. Until he was too weak to hold a pencil, he put his whole kishkes into everything he drew—whether it was a $5000 commission or a small drawing for someone’s child. And he was never satisfied with his artwork but always eager to learn a little more, do a little better, try something new. At 84.”
Hello and welcome to What Are You Reading? Our special guest today is Ryan Cody, creator of Icarus and illustrator of Villains and Jesus Christ: In the Name of the Gun. You’ll be seeing more of Icarus around these parts starting very soon …
To see what Ryan and the Robot 6 crew have been reading lately, click below.