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Legal | The estate of Arthur Conan Doyle has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to overturn a June decision by the Seventh Circuit affirming that the 50 Sherlock Holmes stories published before Jan. 1, 1923, have entered the public domain. The estate had long insisted licensing fees be paid for the characters and story elements to be used in movies, television series and books, but author, editor and Holmes expert Leslie Klinger refused to fork over $5,000 for an anthology of new stories. In a series of legal defeats, the Doyle estate not only lost any claim to the stories but had to endure stinging public reprimands by Judge Richard Posner, who labeled the licensing fees as “a form of extortion” and praised Klinger for performing a “public service” by filing his lawsuit.
In its petition to the high court, the Doyle estate continues to cling to its argument (gleefully dismantled by Posner) that Holmes is a “complex” character that he was effectively incomplete until the author’s final story was published in the United States; therefore, the entire body of work remains protected by copyright. Hoping to draw the interest of the justices, the estate points to a circuit split on the matter of extending copyright. The lawyers also repeat the unsuccessful argument that Klinger’s case shouldn’t have been heard until after his book was published. In June, Supreme Court Justice Elena Kegan refused to issue a stay to prevent the Holmes stories from officially entering the public domain. [TechDirt]
Sean Howe’s Tumblr is full of interesting supplementary material that work as visual erratta to his great book Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. Now the author has highlighted a series of letters sent to the young Jim Lee (as recently posted by Lee to his Instagram account); they’re great, a fantastic lesson for any artist at the start of his or her career: keep trying, keep growing, keep submitting.
Sean Howe, author of Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, looks back to 1987 for a rare ad promoting what was supposed to be the first appearance of Youngblood, by a 19-year-old Rob Liefeld and Hank Kanalz. However, as Megaton Comics Publisher Carlson related on his blog, Megaton Special #1 Starring Youngblood received only about 1,200 orders — “the independent comic market was glutted back then,” he writes — and the issue was never printed.
Sad story, sure, but I hear Liefeld did pretty well for himself, and a slightly different version of Youngblood finally saw the light of day about five years later, as the first title published by Image Comics. Kanalz turned out OK, too, serving as the longtime general manager of WildStorm and, now, senior vice president of Vertigo and integrated publishing for DC Comics.
In a related posted, Howe also has a 1991 ad for Liefeld’s The Executioners — ““rebel mutants from the future come to destroy their past”” — accompanied by an excerpt from Marvel Comics: The Untold Story detailing how the House of Ideas threatened to sue … for pretty obvious reasons.
Hello and welcome to What Are You Reading?, our weekly look at the comics, books and whatever else we’ve been checking out lately. Today we are joined by guest Evan Young, an “influential pioneer” of digital literature and creator of the digital graphic novel The Carrier. He’s currently raising funds for his next project, The Last West, via Kickstarter, so head over there and check it out.
To see what Evan and the Robot 6 team have been reading, click below.
Retailing | Diamond Comic Distributors has announced it will return to Chicago April 24-26 for its annual Diamond Retailer Summit, held in conjunction with the April 26-28 Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo . The three-day event includes presentations from sponsoring publishers, focus groups, and retailer workshops and roundtables. [Diamond Summits]
Awards | Johanna Draper Carlson has resigned as a judge for the 2012 Glyph Comics Awards following a disagreement over which works are eligible for the annual honors. Carlson believed judges should be able to nominate comics (as is the case with the Eisners), but the organizers limited the pool to comics that were submitted to them, which resulted in a smaller group of nominees. [Comics Worth Reading]
Sean Howe, the author of Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, regularly shares artifacts from Marvel’s history on his Tumblr, and this week he posted a memo from 1972 that details where the characters fell in the pecking order–with each ranked as “very important,” “important” and “not as important.”
Publishing | As part of its coverage of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Variety spotlights DC Entertainment’s digital moves, particularly its “Digital First” initiative, with titles like Smallville, Arrow and Batman: Arkham Unhinged, and the increase in sales since the company began going day-and-date with its comic books in September 2011. “What we launched last year as an experiment, we’ll increase the frequency now because it’s gotten so popular,” Hank Kanalz, senior vice president of Vertigo and Integrated Publishing, says of Digital First. [Variety]
Retailing | Halifax, Nova Scotia, comics retailer Calum Johnston is looking for a new location for Strange Adventures, as the current location is being redeveloped and the rent will go up as a result. Johnston would rather pay for more staff than pay a higher rent: “When people come in looking for a major title like the death of Peter Parker in Marvel Comics’ The Amazing Spider-Man, they inevitably have questions about other titles. It is important to have staff available to keep customers up to date on new developments and titles.” [The Chronicle Herald]
During the 1960s creation of Marvel Comics, when Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko conceived the core stable of characters and the emerging shared-setting of the Marvel Universe, the line’s writer/editor/spokesman Lee created a fictional Marvel Bullpen.
Based on the crowded, raucous studio environment of the Golden Age, which Kirby actually worked in and Lee essentially interned in, Lee’s Bullpen presented he and his collaborators and employees as a big happy family, joyfully creating comics for their young readers an environment that could seem as fun as working in Santa’s workshop.
At the time of its creation, Lee’s fantasy might have been a pure invention (although later, after Kirby and Ditko left the publisher and Lee was promoted out of his hands-on control of the line, such an environment would occasionally come into existence, depending on the year, the employees and the owner at the time), but it did hint at an aspect of reality.
The characters who were making Marvel comics were in many ways just as colorful and talented as the characters starring in them; the story of Marvel Comics is at least as exciting as any story in Marvel comics. And, in a very real way, Sean Howe’s book Marvel Comics: The Untold Story is probably the Marvel story of the year—bigger, more epic and with greater conflict and drama than Fear Itself or Avengers Vs. X-Men or even that billion-dollar feature Marvel Studios released over the summer … the movie’s monstrous success being what gives Howe’s book a sort of validating end-point, a raison d’etre; to both Lee’s decades-long ambition to see Marvel characters on the big screen, and owner after owner’s ambition to become very, very rich off the heroes Kirby and company created.
Manga | Tezuka Productions, which handles the works of Osamu Tezuka, has signed a deal for Diamond Comic Distributors to distribute its comics, toys, T-shirts and other products outside of Japan. [Previews World]
Comics | Sean Howe, author of Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, discusses the clash between the creative drive and the corporate interest, as it played out at the House of Ideas: “There’s certainly a cautionary tale in there, but I think it’s inevitable — because Marvel Comics is a really rich example of the way that pop culture works and that the Marvel story really gets to the way that art and commerce are always going to be battling it out in pop culture. If you’re trying to have mass appeal and artistic expression at the same time, there are going to be compromises. And when you bring powerful corporate interests into the equation, it’s pretty predictable what will happen.” [The Phoenix]
“She was a nonentity, a pretty face. She brought nothing to the mix. It made no sense to me that Peter Parker would end up with a babe like that who had no problems. Only a damaged person would end up with a damaged guy like Peter Parker. And Gwen Stacy was perfect! It was basically Stan fulfilling Stan’s own fantasy. Stan married a woman who was pretty much a babe — Joan Lee was a very attractive blond who was obviously Stan’s ideal female. And I think Gwen was simply Stan replicating his wife, just like Sue Storm was a replication of his wife. And that’s where his blind spot was. The amazing thing was that he created a character like Mary Jane Watson, who was probably the most interesting female character in comics, and he never used her to the extent that he could have. Instead of Peter Parker’s girlfriend, he made her Peter Parker’s best friend’s girlfriend. Which is so wrong, and so stupid, and such a waste. So killing Gwen was a totally logical if not inevitable choice.”
— veteran writer Gerry Conway, in Grantland’s excerpt from Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, explaining why, upon John Romita’s suggestion, they decided to kill Peter Parker’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy instead of his elderly Aunt May, creating one of the most memorable Spider-Man stories of all time. Judging by the excerpt, which offers a terrific snapshot of the Marvel workplace in the 1970s — prominent drug use, struggles with Stan Lee, trend-chasing — Sean Howe’s book will be a must-read. It goes on sale Tuesday.