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April 19, 2013

Steve Bissette: Marvel And DC Have Made Choices

I don't always agree with the comics-maker, historian, advocate and educator Steve Bissette on creators' rights issues, but I respect his opinion and I think this post is a particularly good one on a few matters and is worth hearing on the day the characters of Superman and Lois Lane created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster turn 75 years and 1 day in terms of their published history.

The first notion Bissette floats that I think is compelling is that DC and Marvel largely choose the policies they follow. That includes massive chunks if not the entirety of their policies regarding Jack Kirby, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. There's a construction out there that corporations are bound by strategies that maximize profit in the most incredibly crass and short-sighted ways. In fact, people are so certain of this construction that they'll somehow apply it to reversals of policy and practice, there being a reversal involved seeming to indicate that strategy and choice play significant roles. I maintain that if both companies really wanted to, Marvel and DC could affect different policies in the main. Further, I'd suggest that they might even be potentially more profitable policies over the long-term, but I'm always hesitant in offering that up as a justification for fear that would become the litmus test for those kinds of choices.

The second Bissette notion worth considering is that Jack Kirby and the Siegel/Shuster pairings represent fundamentally different cases than the bulk of company/creator relationships because of their foundational nature. I think that's a pretty compelling argument and one that cuts past a kind of delaying/throw-hands-in-air tactic that frequently gets used to suggest that nothing can be done. I'd rather everyone see the best outcome, but I'm not locked into keeping the families of the core creators from being helped just because it's more difficult to reward some guy who worked on a Superman comic in 1974. Comics has a tendency to discount things that can't be executed to 100 percent effectiveness -- out of some ideological purity or general sense of fairness, I'm not one hundred percent certain. In general I think fixing one problem is a positive gain that doesn't have to justify itself against all the other potential, comparable examples.

The third idea in that piece is one I've used a bunch in that there are existing models for improving the situations: the Bob Kane deal could be applied to Siegel and Shuster; the Stan Lee deal could be applied to Jack Kirby. Are those perfect solutions? No. But they'd be improvements, and they kind of stand to show that there are better strategies available than the ones currently employed and that these can be implemented without those companies being destroyed. Does Batman seem significantly crippled in comparison to Superman because of the Kane deal? Did Stan Lee diminish the Marvel properties moving into the big-movie phase? Of course not.
posted 8:20 am PST | Permalink

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