Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love Jack Kirby. I’m literally surrounded by his work in my office. Some people know about the crazy dreams I’ve had about Kirby’s Ghost where he comes and pushes me to be more disciplined, which I detailed in Yirmumah mini-comics…. i digress… Yes, I am one of those “over zealous” Kirby fans. Almost to what some of my friends say is a DUMB degree, mostly because years ago, I actually turned down work at Marvel over a conversation about Kirby’s legacy that left a really bad taste in my mouth. This idiot (who I won’t name) basically said that “ideas are a dime a dozen” in relation to Kirby’s creations– obviously jobs are too because said person no longer works there, or in comics at all for that matter. (I think.)
The following “facts” are compiled from over 15 years of research and study, personal conversations I’ve had with other old pros who were around at the time, and stories I’ve heard from other Kirby Historians like Mark Evanier and not to mention my awesome collection of Morrow’s “The Jack Kirby Collector” 🙂
In a nutshell, here’s the story boiled down to some truth…. Jack Kirby built Marvel Comics. Almost ALL of it’s characters in the 60’s were created, pitched and reworked by Jack Kirby. I say “created” and not “co-created” because the majority of things like the Fantastic Four, The Hulk, The Silver Surfer, Captain America, Thor (the list goes on and on) came directly from Jack Kirby’s head, sometimes in the form of “pitch pages” done on spec, and sometimes in the form of fully penciled stories with the plots and suggested dialogue right on the page.
THE HOUSE THAT JACK SAVED
Jack literally, and physically stopped Marvel Comics from closing it’s doors and removing the chairs. Stan Lee was CRYING because he was about to lose his job at his Uncle’s publishing house. Jack told them to hold off and see what he could come up with. He did ALL or most of all of that period of his life without a contract. He had just come off of working for a newspaper syndicate that kind of screwed him and his contracts on “SkY Masters” didn’t end up meaning much in court, so money talked to Jack. He worked on something called a “gentlemen’s handshake” with Martin Goodman and Stan Lee. The deal, according to Jack Kirby in his own words, was that he would pull their “asses” out of the frying pan and then they would reward him with being the art director. For all intents and purposes they treated him like the art director anyways… this was the period of time where ALL pitch sheets were coming from Jack Kirby’s head. Sometimes there would be differences or things “changed up” by the Goodman’s or Lee. Sure, the pitch sheet for SpiderMan wasn’t the Ditko “Spider-Man” you see today, but the story about how Peter Parker got his powers was on that board. “bitten by a radioactive spider” — there are MULTIPLE artists who worked at the time who would be handed Kirby character sheets or pages and told to “do it like Kirby” – when they couldn’t do it like Kirby could, Kirby would be brought in to actually do the layouts or roughs to get them in the right direction.
I once heard a story that in ONE WEEK, Jack Kirby had drawn TWO complete issues, and had roughed out THREE other titles and had handed in two new pitches that went on to be icons…. that was ONE WEEK.
Long story short, Jack pulled their asses from the frying pan. Stan Lee got promoted, and Jack Kirby got the shaft. According to Roz, Jack’s wife, Jack had heated conversations about the agreement and the handshake and nobody at Marvel could remember ever promising him anything. And so the saga went on from there… the legend of Jack vs. Marvel was born there, and Kirby wasn’t happy to see Stan Lee Presents in front of everything he had developed.
JUSTICE FOR JACK
Kirby’s heirs recently lost their court battle for retaining copyright on characters Jack created or pitched to Marvel. It probably wasn’t the smartest move…. but it doesn’t change the fact that Marvel owes Jack Kirby….SOMETHING. But what? What will ever be good enough to appease the outcry of this age old fight?
Legendary Artist Stephen Bissette has called for a Boycott of Marvel products created by Jack. That includes their comics, movies, licensing, merchandise. But for how long? There has to be some endgame to the pressure fans can apply.
Here’s are my suggested demands. Personally I would be happy with just ONE of the following happening:
- Now: A one time donation to the Kirby Estate of One Million Dollars, as simply a retroactive royalty for things in the past. 1 Million is a drop in the bucket, and a little insulting… but it would be a HUGE step forward.
- Forward: Give some sort of new royalty to the Kirby Estate that’s similar to the one given now to artists who draw so much as licensing art for a Toothbrush on Hulk. It’s only fair to toss a little back. If it’s not given to the Kirby Estate directly, make it go to charity of some kind on behalf of Kirby.
- At least CO-CREATED BY credit on anything Stan Lee has taken credit for creating.
And what about the creators who are working on Jack Kirby characters to this day? Imagine if they all stood up and said their pencils would stop moving until those simple demands were met. That’s how Marvel would really take notice… a creator Strike. And Jack would have loved that idea. I don’t expect this to ever happen. People want to keep paychecks coming in just like Jack did to feed his family…. but just imagine if one day Marvel creators put down their pencils in honor of the King? Marvel would shit it’s pants and do anything to get those “big” names back working again. Just like it shit it’s pants when the top guys left to form Image Comics. This day and age, nobody has that sort of moxy to pull together and stand up.
And hey, if they fired you, I’m sure there’s plenty of work at DC. Word on the street is they have 52 new titles coming out. 🙂 Or you could go create some NEW characters instead of working on Jack’s stuff. It couldn’t hurt.
AS FOR ME…
Unless one of those demands are met, I won’t personally be spending my money on any Marvel products. I have three boys, ages 14, 13, 10 at this time. It started with them wanting the Captain America Xbox game…. nope! This doesn’t mean they can’t play it if they borrow it from a friend. Or read it…or watch shared files of movies of dvds… it just means I won’t be giving them another dime of my money until ONE of those things happens. Not one dime.
Going forward, (because I did technically draw the Hulk once and got paid for it ;)) in the highly unlikely event that someone at Marvel discovers how awesome my work on Hero By Night is and wants to hire me to work on something at Marvel that’s Kirby related, I will turn it down in a heartbeat and explain why. It’s nothing personal. I don’t think Marvel or Stan Lee are the great Satans. Hah! I love the characters and would love to work with them at some point just for the honor….but, I just wouldn’t feel right collecting a royalty when Jack’s legacy gets no credit or never received the same.
I wish more people, especially creators, felt the same way.
Jack’s story doesn’t have to be “he’s the guy who got screwed” , or the poster child for the warning on creator rights- it could totally have a happy ending. How the “little guys” stood up one day and demanded fairness. And how a giant gave in and finally did the right thing.
With great power, comes great responsibility….right?