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

August 1, 2011

Go, Read: Steve Bissette On Jack Kirby And Marvel

I've been reading these missives from the artist and educator Steve Bissette over on Facebook. At one point I even asked him if I could re-run one such post as a guest editorial here. What I forgot is that Bissette has a wider Internet presence of his own. He's posted all of his commentary on the matter here.

imagePlease take a few minutes and read it. Please. Bissette isn't just a keen observer of industry practices based in part on his own unfortunate experiences over the years, I think he has a special, admirable sensitivity for the mistreatment of artists. His decision not to participate in anything Marvel-related derived from artists that created material but have not been able to share in any modest, reasonable way in their massive success is a moral issue and something I think every comics fan should consider with great seriousness.

What remains most troubling about what Marvel has done and continues to do to many of its contributors and their families is how deeply unnecessary all of it seems. Marvel has resources out the wazoo. They have plenty of publishing money to provide royalties to a creator or an estate on work republished, even more movie money to make payments to creators for use of their characters in a movie, and tons of accrued cultural capital to properly give folks credit for a storyline or character without damaging the all-precious brand. To habitually punish their past runs needlessly counter to the way they treat a number of their current creators happy to be partnered up with them, and the generally positive attitude most people have in comics towards their current editors and publishing people. The thought that the only way this huge subset of artists can reasonably profit from their work within comics is to have stumbled into some beneficial series of accidents of history -- to have outlived most of their peers, to have worked at a time when these things were more important, to have signed certain contracts at certain times or avoided doing so, to get their case under the most sympathetic judge, to be of some current publicity use to the corporation profiting from their work -- is vomit-inducing. For these companies that traffic in heroism and trumpet going the extra mile to do good to cling to a strict legalism that keeps the money flowing in certain directions should trouble even the most accepting, enthusiastic fan. For one major company to adhere so much more tightly than another to money-stringent practices that one's eyes pop upon being forced to listen to those differences and for no one to think this is a significant thing boggles the mind.

To the best of my knowledge, none of these creators or creators' families that have resorted to legal means with any of the companies have done so spurning a reasonable offer. None of these people strike me as moguls-in-waiting, or stick-it-to-the-man types. They come across to me as people who feel they or their loved ones have been done a wrong, people that want to be able to afford the really good kind of health insurance while lawyers that had nothing to do with characters take home huge bonuses based in some considerable way on the initial genius and innate potential of that work. Maybe some of these people will find relief in the courts. I don't know. I do know that we live in a world where lottery winners will sometimes give money to the people that did nothing other than print their tickets, where fans will give money to someone if they express a need and do so based on the fact they benefited not to the tune of billions of dollars and enduring wealth for generations of their families but based on a satisfying artistic experience or series of them, where people routinely share their good fortune with others without a court telling them to do so -- and all without trafficking in some heroic ideal as their stock in trade. None of this makes sense. It needs to matter more than it does.
posted 3:35 am PST | Permalink

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