Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Marvel settles with Jack Kirby estate

(Photo taken by Suzy Skaar for "The Art of Jack Kirby" (Blue Rose Press, 1993)

It's taken me more time than I thought to comment on this news item, and I hope I've learned a bit more about the artist/employer relationship. When it comes to Jack Kirby, and all the work he has produced, it stirs up a lot of passion in comic fans.

And that's not a bad frame of mind, but it may not be useful when dealing with our current business climate. (My commentary will naturally be biased towards the artist.)

When Disney acquired  Marvel Comics, it seemed like mixing oil and water. I could not see how Disney's wholesome, family image could be balanced with Marvel's gritty superhero themes. Except for the profit motive, of course.

Marvel Comics had been owned and passed along by quite a few different corporations over the years since the first Lee/ Kirby days.The issues of who created which characters, and who signed their rights of ownership away as work for hire seemed to settled.

No one knew who would create the next Mickey Mouse or Superman, so these guys cranked this stuff out just to earn a paycheck. Comics were considered disposable, like old newspapers. Case closed, or so it seemed.

However, I learned recently from a debate on LinkeIn that the families of Siegel and Shuster, the creators of Superman, had been getting some kind of royalties, or share of the profits that the Superman character had generated for DC comics over the years. 

"With great power comes great responsibility"

(Simpsons copyright Fox)

Even though I'm a comic fan, I missed this information somehow. My assumption is the public having an image of the families of the creators of Superman being "left to starve" created bad press. And so a new arrangement was made to cut the heirs of Shuster, if not Siegel, in for some of the profits. Guess I need to hang out at more comic conventions. 


Getting back to the settlement with the Kirby estate, a commentator on LinkedIn noted that this Lee/Kirby feud may have been old baggage that Disney did not want to lug around anymore. I can just picture their reluctant hands going down a little ways into those deep pockets and tossing the Kirby descendents a few bones. 

Whether the DC/Siegel and Shuster settlements set some kind of legal precedent will take more digging on my part. (Hooha!) But knowing the image Disney wants to portray may have spurred them into pouring oil on these troubled waters, even though it's quite late in the game.

Another thing that surprised me was how a faceless organization like Time/Warner could have made such a "warm and fuzzy" move with the Superman heirs. By faceless I mean that Disney had Walt, and Marvel had Stan Lee. But Time/Warner has no real "faceman", other than Bugs Bunny. 

Rant time: Business is business, and a deal is a deal, but maybe the world is getting tired of these huge media conglomerates winning ugly. Or else these corporations just want to avoid any more embarrassment.

But here's to Jack, still the King!

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