Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

October 15, 2012

Go, Read: An Open Letter From Laura Siegel Larson

If you get a chance and you haven't yet, you should read this open letter from Laura Siegel Larson about her family's continuing effort to press for copyright reversion and the profits thus owed them on the Superman character. This followed on the heel of charges brought against the Siegel and Shuster family's lawyer, Marc Toberoff, that he willfully blocked access to correspondence regarding deals offered related to deals offered the families. That alleged act of blocking gets at the heart of a legal attempt by Superman's longtime corporate ownership to show that the lawyer has been acting in something other than the best interests of the family through the long, drawn-out process, and that he has done things that should be censured more generally. There's something touching about the letter's crack and barely-constrained fury when it comes to defending the attorney, and the general resolve on display is formidable to encounter. Writing runs in that family.

imageI'm not sure how anyone can look at this and not feel sympathy for the families' position, or at least it's difficult for me to wrap my mind around a set of beliefs that facilitates a callous attitude towards what they're going though. I know it exists; it's been articulated throughout. In contrast, I'm not sure how widespread the knowledge is that a construction of "It's Toberoff's fault" has wound its way through a lot of professional camps in comics -- or at least that's how it seems to me. My sample is super-limited, but it seems like I've encountered that line of thinking a lot. With that in mind, I'm actually glad that DC and Warner Bros has decided to pursue such charges directly and in court. If it's true and there has been misconduct it's important to know that, and legal filings may lead us to a better understanding of these things. Also, having these things out in the open beats the kind of churning nastiness that is a mostly off the record, talk-about-someone campaign, even if it's one of limited potency.

The whole matter also underlines, I think, how far we have to go in terms of our sub-culture's approach and general take on some of these basic issues. One of the reasons why blaming the lawyer involved is effective rhetoric in the courtroom of backstage industry opinion is that it changes the ballgame from seeing the families as getting nothing, and maybe even suffering, and the families turning down a substantial amount of money (although Larson expresses doubts about this) for either more money or money and a different array of concerns being satisfied by a switch in ownership. While it's abominable that some companies have been so predatory and ungenerous that people have actually suffered in the ways they've suffered, I wish there were greater room for sympathy based on something other than our own summary, economic appraisals of what someone else should do with a matter they are in a unique position to care about. I'm not sure we should feel at all comfortable making that call. As a sub-culture we're really quick to advise someone else on how best to negotiate decades of perceived, life-altering malfeasance as if any sort of anger or righteousness were somehow unseemly. It's not a standard we're rigorous in applying to ourselves; it's not a standard we should have at all.

I'm also as always reminded that these legal outcomes do not necessarily match what's right. Granted, the two overlays of concern may coincide at times, depending, I guess, on your point of view. But it's a different set of concerns being adjudicated. That disconnect is one more reason to see this whole thing as tragic, and avoidable, and unnecessary. By opening up the idea that a lawyer has stepped into the natural progression of things, DC and its ownership also calls into question their own role in this not seeing its way to a fair, equitable, and very much achievable outcome. That's not something that can be adjudicated, but I hope it's something we all keep in mind. Comics need not be trapped into a diminished expectations game where terrible behavior is excused or even encouraged as some sort of divine right and then mitigated against, but only to an extent and for a duration we feel comfortable assigning to one another. I still maintain that positive choices can be made throughout. I still believe that best outcomes can be attempted from the start. A successful creative journey doesn't need to end with a wounded family, hundreds of people made to negotiate the dishonorable heart of so many honorable creative and business actions, and everyone scrambling to find a way to interpret reality that doesn't make them look as awful as they might otherwise feel. We should aspire to something better.
posted 8:32 am PST | Permalink

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