The legacy & tragedy of Jack Kirby and a boycott you should not take part in

Jack Kirby, one of the creators of the Marvel universeRecently the heirs of Jack Kirby went after Marvel in the courts for the right to terminate Marvel’s copyright of Jack’s co-creations and to collect royalties they believe Jack was owed. After all Jack Kirby was one of the architects of Marvel’s success and most likely responsible for the look of 80% of the current pantheon, (yes he was responsible for all the above pictured characters and much more) so it would be worth a good penny, and it would bring Jack the recognition the man does richly deserve.

They failed, because legally they really didn’t have a leg to stand on and that is the tragedy of this story. Jack Kirby despite all his creativity was only considered a freelance and work-for-hire artist. Which means once he was compensated for his work anything he created was considered owned by the company that hired him. I know, I’ve worked under a work-for-hire contract and its horrible to see things you’ve created being exploited for further profit without having share in it; and you have zero claim on your creations.

Work-for-hire is what lost the Kirby heirs their case, legally they didn’t stand a chance, morally the Kirby heirs had the high ground, but court cases are not decided on morals alone, they are decided on laws. I have to agree that Marvel have acted shamefully in this matter and could of easily tipped their hat towards Kirby’s legacy, maybe one day they will… Maybe… 

Now we have Steve Bissette calling for a boycott of Marvel comics, to force their hand into recognizing Kirby’s hard work and dedication. You can check out his manifesto for action at Bleedingcool at the link above. While it is noble, and I agree with many of his points including DC’s retroactive changing of work-for-hire to pay out royalties. I cannot agree to the boycott for the very simple reason the only people it is going to hurt is the Local Comic Store, these guys at the end of the comic food chain often order 90 days ahead of current releases, which means it would be almost 120 days before Diamond feels the pinch, and 150+ days before Marvel notices anything. By that time the LCS would be out of business, and that is something I think Kirby would not like to see.

I actually got into an internet argument over this early today; I pointed out that Jack most likely for family reasons made a decision to sign a work-for-hire contract over 30 years ago based on need, and verbal agreements that soured; remember verbal agreements are not worth the paper they are written on. As sad as the situation is the LCS should not pay for Jack’s adult decision 30+ years later. I was told the LCS’s would survive selling indie titles in place of the Marvel book, and I pointed out that indies do not have the same mainstream appeal and would not fill the 60% income gap that Marvel represents every week for these stores. Now I could be wrong, but cutting off a income stream is hard on any business. At this point I was told I didn’t know anything, and my LCS was worthless compared to this persons LCS which sells nothing but indie titles (something smells like a bull in that statement). I even got the amazing argument winning point of you don’t live in this country so you don’t know what it is like for the LCS here . At that point I was reminded of this article I posted a few weeks ago about the total pointlessness of arguing on the Internet. Yep, eleven years in the USA and twenty years in the publishing industry, yet I know nothing… Ugh…

Seriously though I urge you not to boycott your Marvel titles over this, send letters or packets shelled peanuts to Marvel HQ and make your voice heard at convention panels, but don’t hurt your LCS. One fan can make a difference, shouting loud and you could be that fan. After all we all know what one Batgirl did at SDCC this year you can do the same.

On a personal note I do find the entire situation with Jack Kirby distasteful, nothing more than a tragic legacy and a fair warning to all up and coming artists to not get trapped within a work-for-hire contract. Sure build your name with one of the big two, but keep your characters for you’re creator owned titles, or wait until you’re in a position where you can negotiate good terms for yourself.

Anyone who wants to help the heirs of Kirby, pick up the excellently illustrated Kirby Genesis by Dynamite Entertainment, which features Kirby’s portfolio of unseen creations and is a pretty good read too. Remember it wont be too long until all Kirby’s creations become public domain for us all to enjoy, thank you for the memories Jack 🙂

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About Nick

Just an Englishman lost in the USA who happens to write now and again... Anyone got a cup of tea?
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