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ThatNickGuy said on May 22nd, 2012 at 9:32 am

Honestly, given the amount of money that the movie has made, I don’t see why they couldn’t just take a fraction of it and give it to the Kirby estate. And then do the same for any future Avengers and Kirby-created related movies.

It wouldn’t make up for the years of abuse previously, but it would certainly calm both the estate and the irate fans like myself who have believed Jack has always deserved better treatment for all he’s done for the business and the art form.

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Travesty said on May 22nd, 2012 at 9:42 am

I really don’t understand what his deal is. I feel like he has some bizarre pathological need to do these things every so often so that people will take him seriously as a Real Guy In The Comics Industry, and every time he does it he comes across as petulant, insecure and more than a bit asshole-y.

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I have said this on a post focusing on Before Watchmen, and I’ll say it again: Alan Moore’s personal actions do not affect whether or not he has been treated fairly. I personally think he’s become more and more unpleasant and willfully ignorant, and that turns me off. But it’s still wrong for him to be mistreated over Watchmen, and we should be able to admit that instead of going “He’s mean towards writers I like, so he deserves to be screwed!”

Just a minor footnote here, but it bothers me when anyone argues that Moore acting like a jerk now justifies DC’s actions towards him in the past.

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Travesty said on May 22nd, 2012 at 10:42 am

Seconded on both fronts. I’ve always found Moore to be hit or miss at best and more than a bit crankish and pervy at times but he made DC a lot of money and they have refused point-blank to uphold the agreement they made with him and that’s completely unacceptable.

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As for the main thrust of the argument…yeah. I don’t know what Kurtz was thinking, other than “I gots to get me some of that Internet Controversy!” And while I like it whenever a creator of a good webcomic is able to live off of that comic, it’s impossible to ignore that the vast majority of webcomics, even the best of them, aren’t feasible enterprises on their own. Even the ones that become financially self-sustaining take years of work and effort, on top of the regular career the creators have to work. So arguing about how the Internet is the unalloyed future of comics doesn’t ring true to me. It’s definitely a part of the cutting edge of comics, but it’s not some panacea that will free creators from worrying about how pursing their passion will still allow them to eat. Especially since it’s not a meritocracy; some really middling (or even downright terrible) webcomics become successful while others languish in obscurity, or at least without enough financial support to become a full-time pursuit.

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tucker stone said on May 22nd, 2012 at 10:51 am

This was really well done. Thanks so much for writing it.

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Benjamin said on May 22nd, 2012 at 11:03 am

Marvel sure looks like the bad guy here, but I have trouble seeing Kirby’s estate as the good guy.

I get that there are legal and moral arguments. The legal arguments, though, just bring to mind that, yes, “corporate control over IP is growing more grasping and tenacious” and U.S copyright law is, basically, insane.

But whenever I read “Jack Kirby’s estate”, I translate that to “other lawyers who want a piece of the pie” — “Jack Kirby’s estate” essentially just being another corporate player.

And even if “Jack Kirby’s estate” is actually his sympathetic, bed-ridden, poverty-stricken widow who was knee-capped by a Marvel executive years ago, it’s probably and not necessarily that, and its certainly not Jack Kirby himself.

And as such, the moral arguments don’t resonate much either. So maybe Kirby himself wasn’t justly compensated by today’s standards, but I get lost when it becomes “Jack Kirby’s estate deserves greater compensation than what he and it received”.

So is it just that Marvel/Disney is a monster, and any attempt to cut it down is applauded? I actually understand that a bit better, but would prefer to see Marvel start a Jack Kirby Fund or something like that (the Hero Initiative?) — I don’t think rewarding or awarding the Kirby estate is the way to do it.

Would a 100% estate tax have nullified this case? I guess I just don’t have much sympathy for the players in this case that are still alive…

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@ThatNickGuy – because if they open that door, even just a crack, it opens them up to a lot more…as a corporation, they simply cannot let that happen.

@Travesty – actually, the problem is that DC is sticking to the agreement, Alan Moore just doesn’t think that agreement is fair now. This is definitely one of those letter vs spirit of the law situations.

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Travesty said on May 22nd, 2012 at 11:07 am

@Randal-more or less what I meant, yes. But the clarification is important.

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Travesty said on May 22nd, 2012 at 11:08 am

Most notably they’re doing everything they can to abide by the letter of the agreement in such a way that they never have to actually give anything back to him.

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actually, the problem is that DC is sticking to the agreement, Alan Moore just doesn’t think that agreement is fair now. This is definitely one of those letter vs spirit of the law situations.

This isn’t quite accurate. The agreement between Moore and DC was that the rights would revert to Moore and Gibbons once the comic went out of print, and at the time it was promoted as a victory for creator rights precisely because comics inevitably went out of print at that time. Then DC started keeping Watchmen in print via trade paperback – the first time they had ever done this.

In short: DC is exploiting a loophole in the comic that was essentially unprecedented at the time and which contravenes the promises they made to Moore and which they promoted for their own benefit.

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I hate Kurtz as much as (or more than!) anyone, but he has one point, even if the details of it are wrong: fundamental changes in US copyright law have made the epic, underhanded screwage of Kirby, Siegel, and Schuster rarer. Creators still get screwed, of course, but it’s not the complete circus of horrible that works for hire used to be. Notably, DC’s poor treatment of Moore is about moral rights, which we still don’t honor, but he was not screwed out of the cash.

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The problem with individuals dealing with corporations is that corporations will always win. They have the resources to overwhelm any individual. When they law isn’t on their side, they have the resources to simply get the law changed or to simply ignore it without any significant consequences.

In the case of Jack Kirby, at the time he worked, comics were essentially disposable entertainment for kids. They weren’t valued and the people who created them weren’t valued. The companies that produced comics were generally small organizations that, in some cases, had connections to organized crime. The artists and writers who worked for companies like Marvel and DC in that era were viewed, and often viewed themselves, as employees whose work belonged to their employers.

Over time, things began to change. Comics began to get attention as a more or less respectable art form, and the creators started getting attention for their work. Comics fans started growing up and getting positions of power within the entertainment industry. They recognized a market for television and movies based on the comics they enjoyed as kids. And where there’s a market, there are corporations.

Here are the facts of the matter. Unless the courts tell the corporations involved that they have to pay the estate of Jack Kirby so many dollars or such a percentage for works derived from characters and concepts he created or co-created, it is never going to happen. It isn’t that the corporations can’t afford it, or even that they’re too greedy to let go of the pittance that would go to Kirby’s estate. The problem is the precedent that it would set.

What American corporations like Disney want is perpetual copyright and complete corporate ownership. They have the wealth and they own the politicians in order to make this happen as long as they keep moving forward with their efforts.

This business with Jack Kirby’s estate, or Alan Moore or any other insignificant creator (from the corporations’ point of view)? It’s a nuisance that they can just ignore or wait out. If it ever proves to be other than a nuisance, then they will pay to have the law changed so that it goes away.

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William Kendall said on May 22nd, 2012 at 11:34 am

Scott Kurtz sounds like a jackass of the first order….

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Dan Radice said on May 22nd, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Okay, so I’m NOT defending DC here at all, but…

“The agreement between Moore and DC was that the rights would revert to Moore and Gibbons once the comic went out of print…Then DC started keeping Watchmen in print via trade paperback – the first time they had ever done this.”

THIS is the part that always raises questions for me, as it implies maliciousness on the part of DC, but is that actually the case? Did DC keep Watchmen in print simply to spite Moore or because it did fantastically well and actually justified staying in print?

Even if Watchmen staying in print wasn’t probable when the contract was signed, it was still possible. DC put forth a rather sneaky deal, and Moore signed it with poor foresight.

That being said, I always just wished they’d give him everything he wanted just so he’d write Superman again.

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Travesty said on May 22nd, 2012 at 12:32 pm

@Dan Radice-The problem here is that at the time this was entirely without precedent. They made the decision to take a course of action which heretofore simply didn’t happen and the end result was that Moore and Gibbons haven’t received the rights since. At that point there’s really no question that this was intentional. They did indeed put forth a sneaky deal, one which meant that they never had to produce the goods.

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“If you’re a member of an industry that let Dave Cockrum die in a VA hospital after helping give us most of the X-Men characters that comprised three blockbuster films and you get pissy about what Mark Waid said, then you deserve to remain on this sinking ship.”

–Scott Kurtz, in response to the Sergio Aragones/Mark Waid kerfluffle at the Harvey Awards, August 2010.

Frustrating that 2012 Scott seems to be an entirely different person than 2010 Scott. Which is it, Scott? Do we take care of creators and their families, or don’t we?

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Steven H said on May 22nd, 2012 at 1:14 pm

The thing I can’t stand about this argument:

But I am a grown ass man, and I can tell you this: the real world does not operate like the morality plays we see acted out on the silver screen in movies like “The Avengers.” Life can not be summed up by “that’s not fair.” It’s not as simple as “Give Jack’s estate some money, Marvel. You can afford it.” That’s not pragmatic thinking. That’s cynicism. And I’m so tired of the cynicism.

…is that, well, the world does work that way. Because Marvel could just make the choice to do that, it’s not like breaking the speed of light or subverting the laws of thermodynamics. “That’s not how the world works!” is one of the dumbest, most patronizing arguments around.

Also, yeah, I can not for the life of me figure out what the hell he means with that cynicism bit. “You want Marvel’s management to make a show of good will that allows both parties to win and helps finally drag the entire industry out of a shady, underhanded past? YOU CYNICAL BASTARD.”

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I am a bit torn about the Kirby thing. On the one hand, I have signed work-for-hire contracts, fully aware of the fact that I was signing away any future rights to the characters and concepts I created. I did so in the fairly sure belief that what I created was not likely to be a hidden goldmine for the company involved, but I also did so knowing that if someone made a billion-dollar “Feng Shui” movie, I was getting dime zero. But I was a fully grown adult making a business decision that I thought was a good one. Would I feel bitter if someone else made piles of money off of that RPG supplement? Yes, and the winged pigs would help to console my sorrows. :) Would I know that it was my own fault and not that of the company that put that contract in front of me? Yes, I would.

That said, the simple PR value in compensating Kirby’s estate should have been enough for Marvel to do the right thing here, and it’s a damn shame they didn’t. They can spend some money, as a promotional expense if nothing else, to show that they care about the ethics of their business, and they should.

As to Kurtz, he’s just an idiot.

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highlyverbal said on May 22nd, 2012 at 1:25 pm

@Randall: “because if they open that door, even just a crack, it opens them up to a lot more”

@Lamar: “The problem is the precedent that it would set.”

(I am not sure if either of you are suggesting that there would be a LEGAL precedent created by making a We Love Jack Kirby Trust Fund for Needy Comic Creators, but I am going to assume you are NOT suggesting that.)

There is no need to worry about this slippery slope.

— Kirby is an exceptional case, due both to his core involvement for several key, successful properties AND his pre-modern compensation received

— even if Kirby were not unique, the comics industry is at little risk of changing its relations with creators (trust me, the comics industry is VERY resilient, very robust on this point)

— finally, the opportunity to defuse some of the popular anger might reduce the need for future accommodation. (do right by Kirby now and you are forgiven for Moore, no one even likes that guy… that sort of thing)

=========

The slope is not slippery. I am not even sure it is a slope.

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Norman Rafferty said on May 22nd, 2012 at 1:40 pm

I wonder how Kurtz would feel if Electronic Arts spun off a movie with a big fat troll that quotes pop-culture lines. EA technically owns that character, it’s from Ultimate Online. It really doesn’t matter that Kurtz has devoted most of his life to making that troll character popular, does it?

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Hutchimus said on May 22nd, 2012 at 1:47 pm

“This isn’t quite accurate. The agreement between Moore and DC was that the rights would revert to Moore and Gibbons once the comic went out of print, and at the time it was promoted as a victory for creator rights precisely because comics inevitably went out of print at that time. Then DC started keeping Watchmen in print via trade paperback – the first time they had ever done this.

In short: DC is exploiting a loophole in the comic that was essentially unprecedented at the time and which contravenes the promises they made to Moore and which they promoted for their own benefit.”

…or they kept in print CAUSE IT MADE MONEY! DC, as a part of Warner Brothers, is in the business of making money. That is the only reason the Watchmen TPB was kept in print. Not to stick it to anyone, or to exploit a loop-hole. They kept in print for a profit, and would be doing a disservice to their shareholders if they didn’t.

As an aside to the Alan Moore argument; how is that no one out there is arguing for proper credit to the creators of those characters? You know people like; Steve Ditko, Joe Gill, Pat Boyette, and Pete Morisi.

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Travesty said on May 22nd, 2012 at 2:20 pm

@Hutchimus-Nobody’s saying that those people don’t deserve credit. We’re talking about a bad faith agreement that DC made with Moore and Gibbons about their work. At this point the two have basically been told ‘You can have the rights to these characters, all right: when hell freezes over.’ As you’ve pointed out DC is profiting, but they are profiting at the expense of the people who made the thing in the first place. And if this is the industry standard for how comic book companies treat their creators it’s no wonder that the industry is in the state it’s in.

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Urthman said on May 22nd, 2012 at 2:21 pm

I’m torn because Kurtz’s article is dumb and I agree almost completely with MGK’s rebuttal, but I think that in an ideal world the Avengers would be in the public domain by now and that Disney or Warner Bros or Kurtz or MGK could make movies or comics about these characters without owing Lee or Kirby or their estates anything.

I particularly don’t like the idea that Kirby’s heirs are owed something by people who use characters their father or grandfather created. I guess in a world where Disney can sue people who use characters created by Walt and other long-dead folks, Kirby’s heirs ought to get the same deal, but I’d rather nobody got that deal.

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I’m not saying we shouldn’t learn from this. I’m saying we’ve ALREADY learned from it. I have no doubt that we learned from it. The black and white creator-owned books of the 80s. The exodus of Marvel creators to form Image in the 90s. The indy comics movement now. Webcomics. Kickstarter. We’ve learned this lesson, folks.

If by “we”, you mean “the people who aren’t Marvel or DC”, then yes. Yes, “we” have learned something. Apparently, we have learned not to trust DC or Marvel and to attempt to use independent venues for our comics. Doesn’t pointing out how creators have to avoid or actively leave Marvel basically defeat the entire purpose of Kurtz’s post about how Marvel’s actions are no big deal?

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Hutchimus said on May 22nd, 2012 at 2:30 pm

Why was it a bad faith agreement? If the property (which was based on pre-existing characters BTW) wasn’t profitable, DC wouldn’t have continually published it. Unless DC can be shown to have planned on keeping Watchmen in print for eternity, thereby bucking tradition, before the agreement was signed, it wasn’t a bad faith agreement.

There are no white or black hats in these discussions.

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dirge93 said on May 22nd, 2012 at 2:44 pm

Why is it that when somebody says something in the past, they’re held to the same standards of it in the present? It’s really annoying when done in politics (“Joe Candidate said he supported the issue in 2002, but in 2012 he changed his mind!”), but here it just seems pedantic.

I mean, I get that it’s fresh new news to some people that Kurtz said something 2 years ago, but so what? Other than that it just strikes me as more internet nerd rage. Both on Kurtz’s part and the part of MGK. Couldn’t we have more “why I should write X” entries?

Digressing a bit as for Watchmen…. “Why yes, the product you created for us will be yours as soon as we no longer make money from it. But we expect it to make lots and lots of money, or else we wouldn’t have published it in the first place. Of course, we’re not sure how you’ll make more money off of it after we bleed it dry, or else we wouldn’t give you the chance to get it back. We’re a business, we’re evil and you know this you long-haired hippy.”

It’s not the first time a brilliant creator displayed terrible business sense, but I can’t really imagine Moore going in expecting Watchmen sales to die out.

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Sean D. Martin said on May 22nd, 2012 at 3:55 pm

@Hutchimus: Why was it a bad faith agreement? If the property (which was based on pre-existing characters BTW) wasn’t profitable, DC wouldn’t have continually published it. Unless DC can be shown to have planned on keeping Watchmen in print for eternity, thereby bucking tradition, before the agreement was signed, it wasn’t a bad faith agreement.

That seems right to me. From how I’ve seen the DC/Moore-Gibbons Watchmen contract described here I don’t see that DC is doing anything legally wrong.

Seems to me (with the useful benefit of hindsight) that Moore-Gibbons made a bad deal. “We’ll give all rights to you once the book goes out of print” is essentially “We’ll let you have it once it’s no longer worth anything.”

So a) unless M-G were expecting to find some value that DC didn’t, they were looking forward to getting something largely value-less. And b) while there may have been every reason to expect the book would be out of print in some number of years (that being how it had happened with every previous book) a careful lawyer would ensure that M-G got what they were looking forward to by just including “… when it goes out of print or in X years, whichever comes first.” Again, if the expectation on all sides was that the book would go out of print in X or so years (as every previous book had) neither side would object to including the foregone conclusion.

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The “Watchmen is based on pre-existing characters” argument is one of the shiftiest of shifty rhetorical dodges. If Moore hadn’t explicitly pointed out the ties between the Charlton characters and his own work, NO ONE would have noticed other than, maybe, some particularly insightful commentarians noticing that Rorschach was a riff on Steve Ditko. Chances are excellent Nite Owl would be seen as a Batman knock-off, and the Comedian as a fascist Captain America. This is the thing: by this standard, EVERY SUPERHERO is “based on pre-existing characters”, and the fact that Moore is commenting on archetypes is crucial to the work, so he has firmer ground to do so than most.

Sorry, that one’s bugged me for a while.

And yeah, anyone who thinks DC didn’t behave like a bunch of gangsters in re: Alan Moore’s contract (they also kept the profits from T-Shirt sales by claiming them as “promotional items”, to use one example) is fooling themselves. The thing is, yes, they’re technically legally within their rights…but in doing so, they’ve lost one of the greatest talents to ever grace comics, and thereby hurt themselves and the medium. In literally any other medium–especially print publishing, which is probably the closest analog to comics, business-wise–the suits may try to screw over the creatives, but they at least have the common sense to say “Hey, that guy who just wrote something that scored us a lot of money and critical acclaim? We should probably try to keep him happy.” Comics, on the other hand, are an industry that’s historically been run by a bunch of thugs who can’t see past the ends of their noses, and Moore is hardly the first monumentally creative person to be treated like shit. He’s just the first to take a real stand on it, rather than cringing and suffering the indignity because he can’t stand the thought of not being allowed to write Batman. Whenever a creator makes like Moore, or the Kirby estate, the corporations shift a little further to having to treat themselves like a real business with a product worth taking seriously. This is why fans owe it to themselves to support Kirby’s estate, Moore, and the creators in general, and why Kurtz’s statement labeling this attitude “cynical” is extra-triple nutty insane with cuckoo juice. What’s cynical is continuing to support an industry that drives away its best talent to continue producing generic crap.

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It’s not the first time a brilliant creator displayed terrible business sense, but I can’t really imagine Moore going in expecting Watchmen sales to die out.

Then you don’t understand the fundamental shift in the comics industry that Watchmen (and DKR) created. As MGK noted above, Watchmen was the first comic to go straight from floppies to trade with no real gap in between.

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Don’t really feel sorry for the Kirby estate. Kirby was a grown man when he did the work, I’m not sure I see him as being so blind as to not know how it would have all gone down.

I know Kirby is held up as a poster child of creator rights, and a lot of my favorite comic writers (like Ellis)pay him homage (sometimes unnecessarily so), but while Kirby was a co-creator of many characters and comics I love today, I really don’t feel we need to sing his praises. I mean, okay, big deal. He got screwed, I guess, he felt bad. People feel butthurt for him. In hindsight, probably should have gotten a lawyer to look over the contract, but I’m pretty sure ‘work for hire’ is pretty cut and dried. Whatever.

The Kirby estate can go fuck themselves, though. Yeah, Marvel fucked over Grandpa, but that doesn’t entitle you to anything. When the crux of the argument is ‘I should get money for what Grandpa made’, I don’t think you get the moral high ground.

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I was listening to the Avengers soundtrack while reading this and applauding.

Does this make me a bad person?

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At the end of the day I think most Kirby supporters are full of shit. All the creators that have worked for marvel and have drawn or written any of Kirby characters dont give shit back. Im pretty sure theyre houses are filled with original art and scripts that they can auction off for his estate, but they dont. Every fan who talks shit is still buying Avenger books and go to see all the movies. The comic book business is a business. A business does not have morals.
Word is Moore didnt even read his contract and if Watchmen was as good as you thought it was going to be, did you really think it would go out of print? Why are people crying over a grown man who made a bad business decision.
At this point who is the “Kirby Estate” whose pocket would all this owed money be going to.

hey just my thoughts

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honestly, I’m on Marvel’s side on this.

DC may have been wrong with the way they treated Simon and Schuster and Bob Kane, but Marvel’s dealings with Kirby and DCs with Moore don’t seem nearly on the same level of wrong, if they’re wrong at all.

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Sean D. Martin said on May 22nd, 2012 at 7:23 pm

@Harris: hey just my thoughts

That implies some thinking was actually involved. I don’t see much evidence of it.

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Candlejack said on May 22nd, 2012 at 7:24 pm

Harris, have you done even a quick look into the average salary of comic book writers and artists?

Most of them barely make more than I do, and I work at Walmart.

They do not, I assure you, have houses full of priceless treasures they sit on like dragons on a hoard of gold.

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@candlejack
A lot of artist keep theyre original art pages and scripts. Im just saying at what point do people stop complaining and try to help.

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@Harris: Um…you should probably be told, before you stick your foot in your mouth even further, that one of the big sticking points in the whole dispute between Kirby and Marvel is that they refused to return his original art, even though they were contractually obligated to do so, and would frequently give it away as souvenirs to people. Saying, “Why don’t they just sell his original art?” is, quite literally, adding insult to injury.

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>DC may have been wrong with the way they treated Simon and Schuster and Bob Kane

By “Simon and Schuster” I’m sure you mean “Siegel and Shuster” and by “Bob Kane” I’m sure you mean “Bill Finger.” DC did more than right by Kane – Kane screwed Finger and helped DC screw Siegel & Shuster.

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Christophe said on May 22nd, 2012 at 11:01 pm

“When the crux of the argument is ‘I should get money for what Grandpa made’, I don’t think you get the moral high ground.”

It’s right up there with “Our current shareholders should get the money made possible by businesses decisions made by long-since retired and/or dead executives.”

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Das booch said on May 22nd, 2012 at 11:25 pm

@Jason I HIGHLY suggest you Google “Kirby and Goliath: The Fight for Jack Kirby’s Marvel Artwork” and tell me with a straight face that what Marvel did wasn’t wrong.

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I’m not sure if it’s really up to Quesada, or Quesada who bears responsibility. He’s “Chief Creative Officer”, but this is really a question of corporate property, not creative or editorial decisions. Quesada might be able to get a Kirby credit inserted into Kirby-originated properties, but might not have the clout to get it done if legal says not to because it’d strengthen the Kirby estate’s case.

If anyone is responsible, it’d be Isaac Perlmutter, Marvel CEO, who probably doesn’t give a rat’s ass about Kirby.

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@john i wasnt talking about kirbys art work. try reading everything and then make a comment

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If Moore is getting royalties from the never-out-of-print Watchmen, and DC is fulfilling the agreement, I’m not sure it’s so bad.

It’d be a lot worse if DC were doing the barest minimum to keep Watchmen ‘in print’, just enough to satisfy the agreement and avoid returning the rights, but not enough to provide any meaningful royalty income or real presence in the market.

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Speaking to the point of how webcomics are not the solution to the issue, there’s an interview on Dark Horse’s website where the creators of Dr. McNinja and Axe Cop- things I’d consider mid-to-high tier webcomics -essentially swap notes on how to starve to death as slowly as possible.

I may be wrong, but it looks to me like webcomics are pretty much like any other dotcom-boom idea: if you weren’t in on it before 2002, you’re fucked.

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Oddstar5 said on May 23rd, 2012 at 12:36 am

Let me point something out that has been left out of this discussion: officers of a publicly traded corporation have an ethical and legal obligation to maximize the value of the corporation’s share on behalf of the stockholders. Joe Quesada can’t just decide to give a bunch of The Avengers movie’s profits to the Kirby estate because he feels that Kirby got screwed over. That’s not his money. It belongs to the shareholders of the Disney corporation.

Furthermore, let me reiterate what others have said here and elsewhere: Marvel had a contract with Jack Kirby. They fulfilled every obligation to Kirby that was specified under that contract. Under that contract, and under the laws of copyright as they existed at that time, Marvel held the sole rights to the work that Kirby did for them. There is no basis for dispute about this; that’s why a court recently ruled against the Kirby estate in a summary judgment. That means the Kirby estate had no case.

As for this claim that it was unprecedented that DC would keep Watchmen in print forever so as to maintain the rights forever, this is not really unprecedented. They basically did the same thing with Wonder Woman: their original deal with William Moulton Marston was that if they stopped publishing Wonder Woman, the rights would revert to Marston or his estate. That’s why Wonder Woman stayed in print after the end of the Golden Age even as most other superhero comics died out.

But even if it were unprecedented, it would not matter one bit. DC’s obligation is to honor the contract they have with Moore. They have no obligation to behave in a way that would reduce their profitability just to help out Moore. On the contrary, they have a very real obligation to the shareholders of the TimeWarner corporation to maximize their profitability.

And that’s the real point: Marvel and DC are for-profit businesses. They are not charities. If you have a contract with them, expect them to do exactly what the contract specifies, and no more. If you make a business deal with them, and later decide that you made a bad bargain, that’s too bad.

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Travesty said on May 23rd, 2012 at 12:39 am

@Oddstar5-‘Let me point something out that has been left out of this discussion: officers of a publicly traded corporation have an ethical and legal obligation to maximize the value of the corporation’s share on behalf of the stockholders.’

This is a mantra from the eighties which has absolutely no legal truth to it whatsoever.

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Oddstar5 said on May 23rd, 2012 at 12:45 am

Really, Travesty? And your basis for this claim is what? Your extensive study of corporate and business law? Corporations and their officers get sued (granted, usually frivolously) for not fulfilling this obligation. I myself have received (trivial) awards as a result of class-action lawsuits I have been a party to (against my will, but the problems with class-action lawsuits are a whole other discussion). Corporations exist to generate wealth for their shareholders.

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Travesty said on May 23rd, 2012 at 12:46 am

@Oddstar5-And more to the point, it’s a cowardly ethical dodge. Even if they do have this ‘obligation,’ it’s WRONG. If society says you have an obligation to do everything you can to cheat people who are working for you and try your hardest to trick them out of their rights to the things they’ve done for you that are making you rich, doing what society says makes you a coward. Every time someone props up ‘maximizing profits’ as an excuse they are encouraging everyone involved to treat everyone else just a little more shittily. And if a company absolutely can’t survive without doing this it simply has no right to exist.

There.

I said it.

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Oddstar5 said on May 23rd, 2012 at 12:57 am

It’s not wrong, Travesty, and your position is totally illogical. Why is it right for Jack Kirby or his estate, or Alan Moore, to maximize their profitability, which is what they’re trying to do, after all, but wrong for the people who hold shares in Disney and TimeWarner to do the exact same thing? It was the corporate owners of these intellectual properties who took all the risks, don’t forget. Marvel and DC were contractually obligated to pay Kirby and Moore even if their works never made a dime. That was the bargain Kirby made: he got a certainty of a small fee, while Marvel got a chance of a big payoff.

Words have actual meanings. Cheating people means promising to do something for them in exchange for whatever they’re doing for you, and then not doing it. Doing exactly what you promised is not cheating. For Marvel to insist that they only owed Kirby what they agreed to in the contract is not cheating. For the Kirby estate to claim that they are entitled to more than what was specified in the contract is cheating.

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Travesty said on May 23rd, 2012 at 1:17 am

Except that Marvel explicitly broke contract with Kirby, repeatedly. See above and their refusal to give him his originals, which they were contractually obligated to do.

And I’m not even talking about ‘maximizing profits.’ See, this is why this argument is going off the rails here. I’m talking about people having the right to their own work and being told that no, actually, they don’t, prior agreements notwithstanding. The case DC has that they’re upholding their end of the bargain is built on an overt break of trust, that they gave terms for when Moore and Gibbons could have them and then did everything they could to make sure that would never happen. Is this legal? Yes. Is it right? Do you really want that to be right? Are you really going to side with the people who have driven a brilliant, albeit these days crankish, writer away from the industry? I mean, seriously, look at where modern comic books are. Tell me DC and Marvel haven’t both driven themselves into a creative rut. Don’t you think that maybe, just maybe, the industry’s mindset is at least partially to blame?

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highlyverbal said on May 23rd, 2012 at 1:26 am

@Hutchimus: “how is that no one out there is arguing for proper credit to the creators of those characters? You know people like; Steve Ditko, Joe Gill, Pat Boyette, and Pete Morisi.”

This embarrassingly obvious strawperson is provably false; plenty of people have and are arguing for proper credit, up to and including Moore himself.

Do you think the rights should go them or DC but just not Moore?! Give us a fucking break. If you thought Moore should have them over DC but others had claims that might trump Moore’s, then your position might have a shred of intellectual honesty; and it would be worth parsing this thread-jacking nonsense with you.

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highlyverbal said on May 23rd, 2012 at 1:33 am

@Oddstar5: “Let me point something out that has been left out of this discussion: officers of a publicly traded corporation have an ethical and legal obligation to maximize the value of the corporation’s share on behalf of the stockholders”

You do understand why oil companies (are permitted by their shareholders to) donate money to environmental causes after a big spill, right? And it doesn’t break capitalism, right? And they’re just giving away money, by golly!

(I assume you are smart enough to construct the rest of the analogy.)

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highlyverbal said on May 23rd, 2012 at 1:38 am

@jon H: “It’d be a lot worse if DC were doing the barest minimum to keep Watchmen ‘in print’, just enough to satisfy the agreement and avoid returning the rights, but not enough to provide any meaningful royalty income or real presence in the market.”

I agree with this completely. This speaks exactly to whether DC should be accused of violating the spirit of the agreement. Great comment.

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It seems to me that there’s a lot of talk about what’s legal and what isn’t legal in this discussion. I suggest we change the emphasis.

To be sure, DC and Marvel have certainly done some illegal things here. Exhibit A, Tom Spurgeon documents some of the Shady things DC has done with “Watchmen”:
http://www.comicsreporter.com/index.php/twelve_not_exactly_original_notes_about_there_soon_to_be_more_watchmen_writ/
Exhibit B, Marvel gets straight-up evil with Jack Kirby’s property:
http://www.tcj.com/kirby-and-goliath-the-fight-for-jack-kirbys-marvel-artwork/

But legality aside, let me be the latest of many to say that the issue should not be “what is legal?” but rather “what is just?” It’s easy to forget that these are two distinct questions, and occasionally, legality and justice completely diverge.

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Oddstar5 said on May 23rd, 2012 at 1:53 am

Highlyverbal, they do so because they believe that reducing the public relations damage is worth the price, and there exists substantial evidence that they are correct. As such, they are serving their shareholders’ interests by doing this. If you could produce evidence that there would be any such benefit to Marvel or DC, that would be one thing, but you can’t and I doubt you yourself even believe it. The millions of people seeing the The Avengers don’t care about the Kirby estate, and would not buy extra tickets if only Disney would share profits with the Kirby estate.

Travesty, if Marvel had broken their contract with Kirby, then he would have had a case. They didn’t and he didn’t. The summary judgment is available online. Go ahead and read it. There was no breach of contract. Losing a summary judgment really means you have no case. It means that there is no sane interpretation of the facts whereby you might be right.

And yes, Travesty, I do want this to be right. I think honoring one’s word is a pretty basic moral principle. Alan Moore gave his word. That’s what signing a contract is. He promised that Watchmen would continue to belong to DC, its corporate parent, and said parent’s stockholders, as long as they kept it in print. Those stockholders have since invested millions of dollars in this intellectual property in the belief, fully supported by law, that held clear title to the property. DC promised, in turn, to return the property to Moore if and when they let it lapse from print. This promise was clear and explicit. They have kept their word.

You are not going to convince me that it’s okay to break your word just because you want more money. I’m worried that you seem to have convinced yourself of this.

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I don’t think, at this point, anything would placate the comic fans who’ve taken up arms on this particular issue – if Marvel were, tomorrow, to take a gigantic truck filled with literally tonnes of money and leave it parked in the driveway of the Kirby Estate, all you would hear about would be how Marvel was trying to buy itself some salvation and that the money wasn’t enough and oh by the way the next cause celebre is creator X who also deserves at least three truckloads of money.

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Travesty said on May 23rd, 2012 at 2:08 am

Oddstar5-I feel like you’re going out of your way not to listen to me at this point. It’s not about money. This isn’t even about what’s legal. I’m saying that this is about what’s right. Incidentally, thank you, Tice With a J, for bringing it up: the clarity helps.

You can say that they upheld their end of the bargain, but they’ve only done so in the meanest, most meager “literal genie” sort of way. These are companies, yes. But saying that at the end of the day they exist to turn a profit is to piss on every last comic that ever gets made. Anyone who steps into the field of comics and expects to become some kind of millionaire rock star is fooling themselves. I’m going to go out on a limb that people go into comics because they have ideas for comics, and I’m saying that it’s a shitty industry we have that rakes these people over the coals every time they come up with something profitable.

But honestly I’m done arguing this, because I’m not going to change your opinion. Yes. What they’ve done qualifies as legal, or at least legal enough. And they can take that to their shareholder meetings. But there’s simply no reason for the industry to operate on this standard. It kills goodwill, it drives people away from them and, again, seriously, have a look at the offerings at your Friendly Local Comic Book Store from the big two. Like what you see?

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In general, you’re one of my favourite bloggers out there. Remembering that you don’t take any of Scott Kurtz’s BS always shoots you right up to number one.

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Oddstar5 said on May 23rd, 2012 at 2:31 am

Everyone always thinks that the other person isn’t listening when he doesn’t agree. I’m not convinced you’ve been listening to me, because you seem to think that I’ve only been arguing that Marvel and DC’s behavior has been legal, even though I have also been arguing that their behavior has been moral. I’d don’t think they did anything wrong.

To answer your question, no, I happen not to be such a big fan of the big two’s output, especially nowadays, but so what? That’s just my personal taste. I’ve pretty much always preferred offbeat, less-popular titles. That’s never had anything to do with how the big two treated creators. I’m not going to start buying Iron Man or whatever if only Marvel would “do right” by the Kirby estate, whatever you think that means (you say that it’s not about money, so I wonder what you think “doing right” would mean). Obviously, my tastes are in the minority, which is why the titles I read aren’t very popular. Marvel and DC are the big two precisely because their titles are the most popular. There’s no real evidence for your claim that their behavior is “driv[ing] people away from them,” but I must point out that that is not a moral argument. That’s an argument purely about self-interest; it says they should do what you want because it would be better for their business, not because it’s morally right.

Anyway, it’s as clear that I’m not going to convince you as it is you will not convince me, so this will be my last word on the subject as well.

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Brian T. said on May 23rd, 2012 at 3:29 am

I kind of wish Harris would go back to watching Burn Notice. Anyway…

Scott Kurtz is allowed to see the Kirby situation as being different from how Dave Cockrum got treated. But he is still a giant douche.

Also, back when I still actually read his comic he periodically had to beg his readers to donate money to keep him in business. So, unless he has a Scrooge McDuck-style money bin now, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for him to argue that the Internet is the way to go.

It might be different if we were talking about Achewood, where Onstad was able to live on what he made from the strip and assorted merch sales for a while. But even then, it was a big deal that he earned enough to quit his day job. Because who else was able to do that at the time? The Sluggy Freelance guy, maybe?

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My god check out this tweet he added to the topic:

I won’t be on twitter today, guys. I’m boycotting electricity until the Nicola Tesla estate gets the credit and money they’re due.

I don’t know whos more stupid Scott or his followers who think this is clever and not painfully stupid.

(fixed that for you– MGK)

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dirge93 Why is it that when somebody says something in the past, they’re held to the same standards of it in the present? It’s really annoying when done in politics (“Joe Candidate said he supported the issue in 2002, but in 2012 he changed his mind!”), but here it just seems pedantic.

Gods, this is breathtakingly stupid. It’s not that Kurtz has changed his mind in the last two years, it’s that in the last two years he’s held mutually incompatible positions and in both cases insulted the people disagreeing with him.

Which for me is the real issue here. Not that Kurtz is wrong (though he probably is), nor that his argument is poorly structured (though sweet zombie Ganesha, it is), but that he’s screaming abuse at everyone who takes a different position. He’s literally calling those who disagree on the (rather complicated) topic of intellectual property rights real-world bad guys.

Hardly pedantic to ask why he was one of ’em two years ago, then, hmm?

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Ok now I don’t even know what I am doing wrong now.

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Thanks for this. I read Kurtz’s piece the other day and was just flabbergasted by the wrong-headedness, and now you’ve saved me the effort of ranting about it!

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The majority of you arguing based on your own personal morals and feelings. There is no morals section in a contract. And no one has stated how they personally plan to help the kirby estate.

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Somewhat late points on that Watchmen comic:

Moore and Gibbons weren’t giving DC “the rights until DC had no use for them”. They were giving DC the rights, so DC could print it, and they’d revert once they stopped being printed, as all comics did.

Are there any comics aside from Watchmen and DKR that haven’t gone a year out of print for two or three decades? I don’t think so. This is a highly unusual corner-case.

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@jonny
I don’t think there’s any other books comparable to Watchmen and DKR. They were pretty much the first of their kind.

I just don’t understand why someone would think a great book would go out of print. Moore was thinking for the time being and not the future. DC knew the possibilities for that book.

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While I think Kurtz is absolutely all over the place to a ridiculous degree, I will say that I took issue with this:

“Now, granted, there is an argument against Kirby-screwage. It demands that you take the position that we must all be eternally vigilant against others who might try to screw us over or exploit our weakness for their own advantage rather than believe that we should rightly expect some sense of community and fellowship even from corporate entities. It is Randian and it is cold and it is heartless, but it is intellectually consistent and had Kurtz made it, I could at least maintain some respect for him even if I thought making it made him, by default, kind of an asshole. ”

We SHOULD be ever-vigilant against those who would try to screw us over. The responsibility for what we do, agree to, or say ultimately lies with us. Now back in Kirby’s day? Yeah, the shenanigans therein were harder to quantify and tougher to fight. Today? Not so much.

And we SHOULDN’T expect some sense of community and fellowship even from corporate entities. Hope for it? Sure. Strive for it? Absolutely. EXPECT it? Can’t get behind that. What I CAN get behind is someone saying “I don’t agree with your practices, and thus I prefer to take my talent elsewhere.”

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“The slope is not slippery. I am not even sure it is a slope.”

I’m not arguing that paying the Kirby estate or whatever would set any sort of legal precedent. I’m arguing that that’s what the corporate vampires fear would happen.

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A lot of people seem to hold up this idea that just because something is allowable on a piece of paper, that it instantly becomes completely morally acceptable. While we obviously do need such contracts for a lot of aspects of our society, our obligation to fellow human beings does not end there, and if you decide what is moral based solely on what the law allows, you are probably a terrible person.

In the case of the people in power as regards Kirby, Moore, and many others, it would be a simple thing to go beyond the contract in order to thank them for their hard work. In addition to simply being the right thing, it is actually logical. This allows people who have made these companies rich to feel appreciated as well as be prosperous, which ensures that they will continue to do such work. It also shows people outside that the company involved is to be trusted, and ideas could be shared with them without being double-crossed. It is a small loss of profit to do this, yes, but in the long-term, the benefits would far outweigh such losses. Most importantly, the people in power would not be penalized for going beyond their contracts in a positive way. They have the power to do so. All it takes is the will.

And this is why I believe human logic and executive logic are different things. Short-sighted greed and betrayal, while they do tend to make a little bit more money in the present, always result in greater damage in the future, the killing of golden geese, and often devastating one’s own markets when people become wise to such behavior.

To get nerdy for a second, we’re not Ferengi, and our society should not strive to be Lawful Evil. One can obey rules without being heartless, and one can seek profit without destroying the individuals who bring about those profits. All it takes is some compassion and logic. Why would anyone be better off without those?

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Oddstar: “Let me point something out that has been left out of this discussion: officers of a publicly traded corporation have an ethical and legal obligation to maximize the value of the corporation’s share on behalf of the stockholders.”
This is a popular libertarian/free market position that doesn’t make much sense. The same people who hold it also argue that corporations have no obligation to anyone who buys their product or does business with them: If you’re stupid enough to buy a bad product, well, caveat emptor.
So shouldn’t this apply to stockholders? If it’s ethical to screw over customers, why is there any ethical restriction on screwing over shareholders? If Disney’s current management rips them off hey, caveat emptor–go vote them out at the next stockholders meeting, why don’cha?
The only difference is that ripping of customers doesn’t hurt the moneymen and ripping off shareholders does.
This is a general observation on the use of this argument, not related to Oddstar. But I will say his argument that there’s no other ethical obligation other than to shareholders is bullshit, even if it’s legal.

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“A lot of people seem to hold up this idea that just because something is allowable on a piece of paper, that it instantly becomes completely morally acceptable. While we obviously do need such contracts for a lot of aspects of our society, our obligation to fellow human beings does not end there, and if you decide what is moral based solely on what the law allows, you are probably a terrible person. ”

No, the problem is that whatever is legal is the reality. You can fight to change the reality, and wish it were something different, but the reality is the reality.

“Morality” (like it or not) is not codified, inconsistent from person to person (UNRELATED EXAMPLE: Quick! Abortion, morally appropriate or no? GO!), and is pretty difficult to define in any sort of universal way (aside from the simplest/largest/most obvious examples – e.g. don’t kill, don’t steal, etc.).

I can’t speak for others, but I look at things from a legal standpoint in order to see what the prevailing reality is and what works within those guidelines.

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@Matt- I will grant you that moral matters are not always black and white, and sometimes there are unintended consequences which blur the lines of right and wrong, but I don’t feel that this is the case here. Loyalty, fairness, and respect for people who have shown you the same are pretty easy things to get right. If a person’s hard work helps make you rich, don’t stab them in the back or take away things that allow them to live a prosperous life. Intelligent, reasonable people can get this stuff right with a little bit of effort, and if the laws and contracts don’t support it, then again, we either change those, or go beyond them in a positive way.

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Looks like Scooter is aiming to get himself some work at Marvel. He’s always like this when he’s up to something self-serving and mercenary. Best treat him like he deserves: With mockery.

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@jidasfire you are arguing morals in the business world of a country built on slavery. Kirby estate will get its money right after black people get 40 acres and a mule. Neither will happen.

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TrueTroll said on May 23rd, 2012 at 12:19 pm

because if someone writes enough paragraphs about anything, there will be people who decide that he has written something of substance based on the number of words produced.

Much like this article! This argument can be used for any polemic on the internet.

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highlyverbal said on May 23rd, 2012 at 1:13 pm

@Oddstar: “If you could produce evidence that there would be any such benefit to Marvel or DC, that would be one thing, but you can’t and I doubt you yourself even believe it.”

First of all, I do believe it, and I did even before the argument went down this little cul-de-sac. (To verify, see my comments above re: the slippery slope fallacy of Randall & Lamar.) It is certainly uncontroversial that the big comics houses are taking a public relations beating over how they treated their creative talent in earlier eras; much like oil spills, no one is willing to endorse this conduct. I challenge you to find any community of popular support for it. And, much like oil spills, this beating might increase as the public loses patience with certain kinds of rapacity.

But most importantly, you now seem to be suggesting that the central issue is the degree to which it can be established or measured that Marvel seems wrong to not be helping Kirby. Which seems to me to the whole point of the original post, and suggests that anyone emphasizing the salience of say, shareholder interests, would be kinda not helping.

Shareholders will permit a remedy to the exact extent that the thesis of the thread is correct. Your contribution amounts to declaring that if the thesis is wrong, it’s going to be super mega wrong. Agreed.

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highlyverbal said on May 23rd, 2012 at 1:20 pm

I wonder what Kirby’s (et al) reasonable expectation of Congressional copyright extension shenanigans, decades later, was when he signed anything.

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Allen Smith said on May 23rd, 2012 at 1:51 pm

Don’t think Kirby signed anything at the time he was cocreating all those concepts, although copyright law as it is now requires an express work for hire provision. The copyright laws otherwise were revised to help the corporations. Congress has some honor, they’re going to give the big corporations what they paid for in lobbying and campaign contributions, etc.

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@Harris: Maybe not. I’m not saying I expect greedy, self-serving jerks to magically see the error of their ways and put things right. Still, just because there’s always been bad in the world and there always will be doesn’t mean we should just be okay with that. Maybe we can’t solve all problems, but just assuming that badness in the world means nothing could or should be done seems rather defeatist to me.

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There’s also the fact that it would be both so easy and so long-term beneficial to just act like humans instead of monsters that it makes those who do seem rather silly and barbaric.

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Tristan said on May 23rd, 2012 at 2:06 pm

This is ridiculous. I have to start with the terrible metaphor that, animatedly, kept me from reading farther. “But there is a difference between putting an awesome flame-job on your car, and building the car”

A car is built by hundreds, it is designed and engineered by hundreds, and it is done so using technology that has been incrementally added to by thousands. That’s much closer to what Scott Kurtz was saying then whatever your saying. It actually is a correct metaphor, you just aren’t aware of what you are talking about.

Jack Kirby created some characters, and wrote for and drew them. Other people have since worked on those characters and added substantially to them. Back to the car metaphor: What’s the moral way to distribute the money? Does everyone who has ever worked on the Mustang get a cut of every mustang sold now? Do you send that money all the way back to the person who invented the internal combustion engine? Of course not, because that is stupid.

We should probably take into account that, according to Wikipedia, when Jack Kirby initially left Marvel in 1970 he was paid the equivalent of just over $200,000 a year. Not too shabby, frankly, and certainly not poverty level. I know people want to believe that a portion of every dollar forever that is made off of the ideas he once had should go to him (or people who are labeled as ‘his estate’), but I’ve yet to see a cogent argument for it. The person who developed the McDonald’s logo isn’t getting a cut of every hamburger sale, The children of the person who designed the VW Beetle are not getting checks for every Beetle sold, etc, etc.

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Authors get a cut of every book sold. TV writers get money every time an episode they wrote is aired on TV, in syndication or as a rerun. Screenwriters are supposed to get residual money from movies they’re credited on, though Hollywood math is legendarily dubious in this regard–but the initial paycheck is usually enough to make up for it.

People are arguing as though creators getting screwed over is just the natural way of things, as if it wasn’t something the companies have fought to encodify into law and via heavy-handed tactics over the decades. And do you know why they’re able to do it? Because comics fans let them. In every other medium, there’s support from the fans for the creatives, but comics fans are a uniquely fucked-up breed who seem to think that the comics they love are generated spontaneously by the universe somehow flowing through whatever assembly-line writers and artists Marvel has seen fit to hire, and that the corporation is the key element, not the creative talent. Because of this attitude, stuff like a real, functional union for comics creators has had difficulty taking hold.

THIS is why Marvel and DC are able to take their talent to the cleaners every time. Because they’re able to divide and conquer, and because when someone does challenge them they’re left alone, a voice crying in the wilderness, abandoned by the fans. Because Spider-man, no matter what particular replaceable hack is writing or drawing his adventures, is more important to these people than the actual human beings who create the comics that make them happy. It’s really tragic.

At least Marvel and DC are reaping what they’ve sewed. There’s a reason their quality level has continued to plummet and their fanbase is dwindling endlessly. Any smart or moral creator simply isn’t going to get into bed with them at this point.

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Also, Tristan: Alan Moore is not trying to “maximize his profitability” with Watchmen. He’s turned down what has to be millions of dollars at this point because he refuses to be bought off. For him the issue is purely creative and ideological: he doesn’t want DC producing a bunch of crappy Watchmen prequels. And he’s correct to feel that way.

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stavner said on May 23rd, 2012 at 4:01 pm

I think at this point Congress will have to step in, and that’s going to be difficult without a huge mass movement. The bad guys have lots of campaign cash and lobbyists.

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That Kirby and Goliath points out a key part of why I’m on the company’s side. Every “vaguely” knew the stuff they wrote belonged to the companies they wrote for. If you feel that way, and seeing a contract that explicitly states it makes you upset, then you need to go the way of Image. And the 80’s when these contracts were just a couple years old would have been a fine time for that considering some of the indy comics at the time.

I get that Superman was developed then sold. But if I’m working for someone and on their time they come up and tell me to do something for them, I find the idea that I would own the results very strange.

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Matt Goodman said on May 23rd, 2012 at 10:16 pm

“or argued that Lee had anything to do with Kirby getting screwed over.”

Here you go, from the man himself. The whole interview is pretty interesting, but there’s lots of interesting Stan Lee stuff from Kirby’s (and his wife’s) POV:

http://www.tcj.com/jack-kirby-interview/

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Red Comet said on May 23rd, 2012 at 11:44 pm

Scott Kurtz has had a successful web comic for over a decade. You’re a one hit wonder who made some funny Civil War scans five years ago which, predictably, did not secure you a career in mainstream comics.

To top it all off you appear to not understand what Kurtz wrote at all. I don’t think he’s the bad writer here.

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William George said on May 24th, 2012 at 12:03 am

Red Comet masturbates to PvP.

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alltoocommon said on May 24th, 2012 at 2:56 am

Well, compare as we dare, Red Comet: Subject a: a successful budding lawyer with a good turn of phrase, a knack for storytelling, and some grand ideas for both original or established IPs… vs subject b: a somewhat talented artist whose comic endures but never seems to expand out of its niche. Who’s the one hit wonder here again?

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highlyverbal said on May 24th, 2012 at 1:37 pm

“Scott Kurtz has had a successful web comic for over a decade.”

Citation needed.

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Wow…this is like a microcosm of internet forum bs!

We have the personal attacks comparing the original poster to the subject matter. (thanks Red Comet…that was missing for a while)

We have conflating two completely different topics. (Other than they concern IP law, there’s nothing really comparable between the Kirby case and Moore’s Watchmen beef, no matter how much you’d like it to be).

Holier than thou attitudes from all sides.

Information that is wrong presented as fact, and it being questionable if it’s someone just being wrong or someone lying.

Me weighing in with some snark.

All we’re missing is…

You people make ponies cry, and that’s sooo Hitler!

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dangermouse said on May 24th, 2012 at 2:23 pm

It isn’t that the corporations can’t afford it, or even that they’re too greedy to let go of the pittance that would go to Kirby’s estate. The problem is the precedent that it would set.

No, that’s stupid.

There is literally no precedent that would be set by a company doing a good thing, that term doesn’t remotely apply to anything about this situation.

The only thing that might possibly happen is that at some point in the future if Marvel want to do something shitty, one of the people telling them that it’s shitty will also remind them that they previously did this good thing.

Even if your fantasy of precedents were real, it still wouldn’t exclude greed, because their entire fear would be that the precedent of being not shitty would bind them to being not-shitty in the future.

But it’s not even that, literally nothing Marvel does about this is going to bind them in the future except as they choose to be bound by it, so yes, Virginia, the problem is in fact that they are greedy people who like taking money and don’t like sharing it, it is actually that simple, however much that may offend anyone’s personal sense of ethical aesthetics.

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dangermouse said on May 24th, 2012 at 2:24 pm

Me weighing in with some snark.

It really wouldn’t have been a complete internet thread without someone chiming in to denounce everybody and complain what a total internet thread of a thread it is.

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Andrew Farago said on May 24th, 2012 at 2:26 pm

If the Kirby estate had a nickel for every fan who said “screw you for assuming that your father/grandfather would have wanted you to reap the benefits of his work,” they wouldn’t need to deal with Marvel at all. And that depresses the hell out of me.

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The comic book industry and the record industry are hand in hand in their unabashed ability to screw over creators that they work with. The main reason isn’t the fans, nor is it the companies themselves. It’s the state that some artist arrive at the doorstep of these companies. Starving, aching to work, wanting to cut their teeth on the gold card of writing for a major company.

Many artists end up signing horrible contracts just for the chance to make some money doing what they love.

This in no way is condoning when these big corporations fail to live up to their end of the bargain and use high powered lawyers to beat creators to death though.

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To throw one more point into the mix, from what I’ve read over the years comics creators work was never really presented as “work for hire” at the time (I don’t believe the term existed). It was “you’re an employee, what you make is ours” except when the topic of pensions or benefits came out it became “You’re a freelancer, you’re on your own.” (feel free to correct me on any of this if someone has better info).
And of course, it’s not like there were a lot of options: Back in the day, you played by those rules or you got kicked out on your ear. The publishers had the upper hand by far (see Quixon’s comment above).

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dangermouse said on May 25th, 2012 at 1:25 pm

If the Kirby estate had a nickel for every fan who said “screw you for assuming that your father/grandfather would have wanted you to reap the benefits of his work,” they wouldn’t need to deal with Marvel at all. And that depresses the hell out of me.

It would probably help if we all stopped referring to families in cases like this as the “Kirby Estate” and started referring to them as “Kirby’s probably poor as fuck kids/grandkids who in all likelihood don’t have any goddamn estate to speak of and spent their childhoods watching their dad/grandad get fucked out of what was his”

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Marionette said on May 25th, 2012 at 4:49 pm

I know it’s picky, but it irritates me when I see urban myths perpetuated. The Disney mural thing you reference wasn’t quite as simple as you suggest. In fact it would probably never have received any publicity if rivals Universal hadn’t made a big deal out of it. More info here: http://www.snopes.com/disney/wdco/daycare.asp

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Words have actual meanings. Cheating people means promising to do something for them in exchange for whatever they’re doing for you, and then not doing it. Doing exactly what you promised is not cheating.

@Oddstar5, I would like to introduce you to the concept of the Faustian bargain.

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[…] provide a rebuttal of Kurtz’s arguments. One valiant attempt to refute Kurtz has appeared (Scott Kurtz is still Scott Kurtz) but I think even that writer would agree that he did not cover all of Kurtz’s points. Not […]

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@Burke- a Faustian bargain suggests some sort of active manipulation to screw over someone. At the time Kirby et al are creating many of these characters they had no idea how successful they’d be and in fact as the Kirby vs Goliath article notes, most of these guys had the idea their work did belong to Marvel, they just hated putting it into writing.

And as for the original artwork thing, I admit that’s strange to me. If I commission a portrait from an artist, does the artist end up owning all the stages before the one I put on my wall?

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Candlejack said on May 26th, 2012 at 1:02 pm

A portrait is a poor analogy, because most of the work that goes into that is right there on the canvas you’ve purchased. Of course the artist can’t keep any stage of the work. However, if he does sketches off to the side of what the finished portrait might look like, makes false starts, or even completes a whole painting either you or he isn’t happy with, you don’t get any of those. You get the finished portrait you commissioned.

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@Jason: You make a fair point, in regard to the situation Kirby et al faced and understood at the time. I was speaking more to the “doing exactly what you promised is not cheating” claim, trying to point out that it’s very easy to do exactly what one has promised in a dishonest and ultimately harmful way, which does not make keeping that promise in that manner right or acceptable.

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The thing you have to understand about the context of the times: Kirby and the others were artists struggling to make a living in a field that wasn’t taken seriously, one that was often overseen by ACTUAL GANGSTERS. They had no leverage. None. Zip. Zilch. They went in with nothing but their talent; they couldn’t afford lawyers or agents, and there was certainly no union for comic creators. The ball was 100% in the publishers’ court if they even wanted to keep drawing a paycheck. To make any kind of “deal” for themselves they would have had to be REMARKABLY canny–Bob Kane did OK, though he sold pretty much everyone else out to get there (and was the first to sabotage a possible cartoonists/comics artists’ union). They would have had to fight their asses off over characters that, at the time, seemed like a cheap, disposable fad. In other words, they would have had to have been AMAZINGLY foresighted.

The people saying “Well, they signed a contract, case closed” are acting like this was a good faith agreement between equals, when it wasn’t. It was like a drowning man being told to sign a 100-page contract full of fine print before anyone would toss them a life preserver. It was extortion by any measure. Kirby could have indeed decided not to sign on with Marvel’s unfair policies, and proceeded to starve to death. Or maybe he would have gone on to become successful in another field (as he did much later in life), which would have meant we would never have gotten all these awesome comics.

Any remotely wide view of the subject makes it PRETTY FUCKING CLEAR that Kirby got screwed over, fine print or legal technicalities aside. (Need I remind you that the author of this article is a fucking LAWYER?)

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maybe this was the case the when Kirby helped create characters in the 40’s. In the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s at least(when he signed some of these contracts) DC was bought by a major corporation, he did animation work totally separate from comic companies, and then self-publishing became big, and there are still Kirby characters out there that do not belong to the big two. He didn’t get every dime he theoretically could have, but that is not the same as being screwed over in my eyes.

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I’m not even clear on what you’re talking about. My point is that major corporations have way more clout than artists who are trying to break in (or even just “continue working”) and so the fact that they signed a contract early in their careers means less than nothing. If every comics company makes their new employees sign a contract that says “We now own everything you make forever”, and if you say “no” you’re simply not going to work in the comics industry, how on Earth is that fair? It means there’s literally no way to profit fairly from your creations in the comics industry.

I love your spin there. “Maybe Kirby didn’t make every dime he theoretically could have…” Marvel has made BILLIONS off of Kirby’s creations. BILLIONS. No Kirby (or Stan Lee), no Marvel. There is literally no way they could have made these kinds of profits otherwise (Atlas/Timely was mostly a loss leader for Goodman publishing before FF #1). For that, Kirby was paid less than a middle manager working in a decent-sized bank. It’s an obvious travesty of justice to anyone who isn’t willing to bend over backwards to make excuses for Marvel.

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Most indie superhero books (and there are so very many of them) read like DC/Marvel fanfic with the labels buffed off. (This isn’t to say that many of those books aren’t excellent. There are some true gems in there.

Slightly off topic, but I take that as you can recommend some?

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Prankster- writers don’t sign a contract that say we own everything you create forever. They sign a contract that says “we own what you create while we’re giving you a paycheck.”

But I think we’re assuming two different things here. You’re talking like most comic characters are Superman. Writer creates them, goes to a company he doesn’t already work for and pitches the idea. I assume far more comic creations come from someone in management saying something like “Hey, that other company is doing something big with a superhero team, make me a superhero team,” to someone who already works for them

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@Jason: “writers don’t sign a contract that say we own everything you create forever. They sign a contract that says “we own what you create while we’re giving you a paycheck.””

I’m not sure who you’re referring to with that claim.

That’s not what Moore’s contract said; his contract said “We own what you create as long as it stays in print.”

And it’s not what Jack Kirby’s contract said, because Jack Kirby did not actually sign a contract prior to 1972.

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@Thad- I’m refering in general. To me the phrase “we own everything you you make forever,” suggests a claim on everything you’ll do. But that’s plainly not the case as writer move on to other companies or publish it themselves. Before Todd McFarlane created Spawn he worked for Marvel. Marvel has no claims on Spawn, because obviously their working relationship ended before Spawn was created.

And in this case, Moore theoretically getting the rights to Watchmen eventually, even if it is only theory, makes it better than the contract I’ve suggested

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highlyverbal said on May 30th, 2012 at 12:42 pm

What is the over/under on Jason convincingly defeating the strawperson he is currently struggling with?

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[…] Comics Journal recounts what Kirby went through just to get his original art back. MGK weighs in here. Unfortunately, as the judge in the case says, this isn’t about what’s fair, it’s […]

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[…] kerfuffle. A familiar one, when you spend some time around comic book folk. I got the hit off Mighty God King (by the by, this is a good time to mention you probably shouldn’t look here for any breaking […]

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Another Halocene Human said on June 17th, 2012 at 3:38 pm

Wrong, Prankster. It has nothing to do with comics fans. Screenwriters are unionized. That is why they get paid. All of the creatives in Hollywood, including actors, used to get screwed regularly until they formed unions. Ditto for ball players. The “talent” despite being a non-commodity item, gets screwed when it’s them against a politically powerful plutocrat in an oligarchic industry.

The deal with authors is that there were traditionally a lot of different publishers. However, authors can and do get screwed on contracts with publishers. Authors selling their books are like non-RE professionals trying to sell in house in that they have to go through brokers who get a big cut and vary wildly in their honesty and competence but have no fiduciary duty towards the seller. (Or buyer.)

Nevertheless, the continued existence of competition in the publishing space means that some authors do get paid decent money (although the people I’m thinking of have primary jobs and the books are just mad money… hacks who live off their writing seem to gravitate towards cheap housing in tourist or rural communities where there are no jobs).

People who write articles for magazines can or could make a living (I guess now you sell to the online edition? wonder how much longer that will last) but even in the halcyon days they got screwed by magazine publishers regularly. Tough field.

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[…] as we all know, Scott Kurtz believes that thinking that Jack Kirby was screwed by Marvel and doing something about it is “…. (As Leonard Pierce pointed out, suggesting that people donate to charity the price of an Avengers […]

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Kurtz is right and mgk is wrong

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