This is an open letter from Laura Siegel Larson. Her father co-created Superman.
Ever since the Avengers movie came out there have been several comic creators protesting the exclusion of Jack Kirby and his heirs from even token consideration and thanks for his creations. Jim Starlin, the creator of Thanos – the mysterious bad guy at the very end of the movie – received a free ticket to see the film. A movie that made half a billion dollars domestically and he received a free ticket.
The second most memorable scene of the Avengers movie was seeing Jack Kirby’s original work used as Agent Coulson’s Collectible Cards. They used his characters; they used his art. His original art.
At first I was torn by this issue and could see both sides. I have since come to the sides of the creators.
The corporate owners argue that these men and women were hired to draw and write comic books. They did so and they were paid for doing so.
On a vastly smaller scale I was a radio announcer for ten years during the 1980s and 1990s. My job (among other things) was to create commercials for local businesses. Sometimes those commercials were awful and sometimes they were very very good. A few were so good they played on other stations throughout the listening area. I won a contest with a restaurant chain and had my commercial played in every city that had that chain – my sister heard me at Purdue University. The commercial played in Chicago, Champaign IL, Springfield IL among other markets. I was quite proud of that commercial.
Twenty years later I was driving through one of the cities in which I was a DJ. A commercial came on the radio that was a word-for-word remake of one of my old commercials. It was a auto repair place instead of a video store but it was mine! It was a Star Trek spoof I fell back on a few times when someone wanted something quick. There are lots of Star Trek spoofs out there, but I repeat this was a word-for-word remake. Someone must have gotten a hold of an old tape and thought they could use it.
Was it my commercial? No. I was hired to create that commercial and was paid (somewhat) for doing it. Most such commercials, especially in the smaller markets, are owned by the station. Only rarely does the commercial belong to the company for which it was made. Remember the WKRP TV show in which a jingle was made for the funeral home? The deal fell through and they used the commercial for a tire business. That’s why about once a year I would drag out an old Star Trek spoof for in-house promos and businesses. “You used that commercial for ME last year!” “So we did, would you like us to use it for you next year?”
I did a Peter Falk/Columbo spoof for a liquor store that was hugely successful – patrons mentioned it when they bought their booze. Was I entitled to any profit from the liquor store? No. Could I have used that same spoof later for another store? Yes, although it would not be a good marketing idea – you annoy your old client and patrons would call out the new client for being a copy-cat. Would the owners of the Columbo character be successful in suing us for stealing their character? Probably – they would win a “cease and desist” action, even though it caused them no loss of income.
Look at the employees of an automobile manufacturing plant. They are also hired to do a job; say, putting on a widget on the bottom of the car. They put thousands of widgets on cars every year. Are they entitled to a percentage of every car sold that has their widgets? No.
But why not? Why shouldn’t they be if the car is successful and sells well?
You can argue that they ARE paid a percentage of every car sold – that’s profit sharing by its very definition. They are provided insurance if they get sick or hurt as a result of their work. Although I suspect if I kept digging I would discover those benefits were given to the employees only through intense collective bargaining (dare I say … unions?).
And if the car is successful the employee continues to work there until he decides to quit or retire. So he does participate in the success of his widget-placement.
I don’t want to get too deep into this argument – but there is a difference between widget placement and creating a unique piece of art. There are millions of cars with widgets, there is only one Captain America. Not to belittle the work done by the factory worker who places the widget; but that argument is valid as well.
Back to my “borrowed” commercial; suppose this auto repair shop becomes phenomenally successful – with chains all over the nation. And they still use my commercial. Suppose their profits are in the millions. Would I be entitled to a share of that because of my commercial? Would the person who found my commercial and “borrowed” it be entitled?
I’m talking on a national scale here – millions and millions of dollars.
Just like the laws of quantum mechanics and cosmology – some laws (or at least things that seem to run on common sense) break down on a vast scale.
The Avengers movie has made one-and-a-third billion dollars. Billion. Carl Sagan billion. Was Jack Kirby – who helped create not only the Avengers but all – ALL – of the main characters portrayed in the movie – entitled to any share of the movie’s income. The courts have said no.
Why not a token amount? Why not at least set up a college fund for his grand-children or great-grandchildren? Would it cut into their profits that much?
Why didn’t DC Comics “simply” give the 35-million spent on fighting their flagship character’s creator’s family to them directly?
And this is how they treat the dead – they treat the living even worse! If Thanos is the main villain in one of the future Avengers movie – will Jim Starlin still get a free ticket? Maybe ten tickets so he can take his family? Will he be mentioned in the movie credits? Kirby wasn’t.
Gary Friedrich created Ghost Rider. He’s been barred from saying so at comic convention appearances, but he is. The Ghost Rider comic books say he is. He is sick and unable to pay his medical bills. How much have the Ghost Rider movie franchise made? Joke all you will about the quality of the movies – but they did make millions. Not billions, true, but millions. Can’t they pay Gary’s bills?
Why not at least recognition? “Ghost Rider created by Gary Friedrich” – how much money will Marvel lose by putting that in their movies or allowing Gary to put that on a poster at a convention? Gary would get recognition and hopefully parley that into more writing gigs so he can earn an income (and hopefully at a company that allows creator-owned properties). Jim Starlin, too.
Hollywood celebrities love their causes. But they have been mysteriously silent on this issue. Nicholas Cage is a comic book fan – he even owned a copy of Action Comics #1. He took his name from the comic book character Luke Cage, created by Archie Goodwin and John Romita Sr. Why hasn’t he offered Gary Friedrich any recompense for his Ghost Rider movies? Where is Bryan Singer? Where is Kevin Smith? Smith has written comic books – Green Arrow among them. What if the recent TV series “Arrow” took one of his plots and presented it as a story arc for the TV show? Would he stand up then?
The companies that own DC and Marvel are determined to cut the creators from the huge profits made. They will spend (35) millions of dollars fighting when they could settle for half of the amount. At least give the creators recognition. It will cause no loss of income to the companies and help the people who helped make their profits.
Copyright 2012 Michael G. Curry