Posts Tagged ‘Captain America’

Comic Book Entropy: Marvel and DC

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

When it comes to order and disorder regarding comic books one needs to look no further than the Big Two, Marvel and DC, for examples of each in regards to their corporate direction.

This past week Marvel celebrated their 75th anniversary with a televised special/infomercial titled Marvel: 75 Years, From Pulp to Pop! The show managed to  cram their long history into just 44 succinct minutes in a way that only Marvel can because they have admittedly and willfully refined their direction to the fundamental creative basics established by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko.

Marvel recognizes that their success is built on the creative geniuses of these three men and the culture of the Marvel Bullpen that has managed to maintain a continuity that has reverently adhered to the principle foundations of the characters they created.

The new found harmony that exists since the settlement between Marvel and the Kirby Estate, as exhibited by the inclusion of a proud Neal Kirby speaking on his late father’s behalf in the special, reinforced Marvel’s dedication to the tradition of the source material.

Marvel does not stray far from the source material. They embrace it because they know it is based on good storytelling that has stood the test of time. The result is the global phenomenon known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is a bountiful collection of heroic adventures dictated by simple order managed by a decree to not fix what is not broke.

Flip the coin and disorder rears its head as DC Comics once again applies a bandaid to the hemorrhage that is the complicated multiverse known as the DCU. The cure of the moment is called Convergence and it is a two-month-long event focused around the concept that Brainiac will gather the bottled up realities of the infinite earths in the DCU and bring all the variants of all the characters together in one place and let them mix it up like some tormented game of “shake n’ bake.”

While these fifty comics are being published the rest of the already established line will go on a two-month hiatus while the corporate offices move west. Fans get to wait it all out and hope they are satisfied with what promises to be yet another thread of convoluted reality attempting to make sense of what has been convoluted for decades.

DC has long lost any attachment to the foundations of any of their characters let alone any respect for the values or intentions of the creators of their iconic properties. Any opportunity that DC has to exploit their characters in another medium is just a chance to twist in another reality option. TV Flash is already rumored to be from a different reality than film Flash and so the spiral continues.

Through it all fans, are expected to sit back and wait for the shoes to fall then jump back on the bandwagon like nothing ever happened. But fans don’t like to be thrown from the bus. Major League Baseball learned this the hard way when they canceled a season due to strike and it took years to regain the trust of the fans. Why should comics be different?

Nostalgia is a large part of what we all love about our comics and our heroes. Marvel has found a way to introduce new generations to characters that are tried and true while DC continually attempts to recreate their characters to appeal to what they believe are the tastes of a new generation. The end result is that today’s Superman is not your parents’ Superman but today’s Captain America still resonates with the patriotism of your grandparents.

Entropy is, of course, all about the balance of order and disorder in relationship to chaos which is the driving force behind true creativity. Chaos is a beautifully amazing thing which can be easily witnessed in comic books just by looking at a rack of independent comics that source their creativity from every direction and, in fact, continue influence the entropy of the Big Two.

In the Marvel special,  a quick pan of a 1980′s era comic book rack began with a flash of X-Men comics before culminating into a display of independent comics featuring titles like GRENDEL, ELEMENTALS, JUSTICE MACHINE, FISH POLICE and TROLL LORDS, all titles that, at one point, were published under the COMICO imprint, a company co-founded by CO2 COMICS’ own founders, Bill Cucinotta and myself.

It is nice to know that, somehow, our work has impacted the bigger picture of comic books that the world too often recognizes only as Marvel and DC. It is great to be part of the chaos. In the end, it’s all simply about making comics because we want to.

Gerry Giovinco



Before Cosplay There Was Halloween

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

Now that comic conventions have become huge cultural events, cosplay, the act of dressing as your favorite character and parading around at conventions, has been getting a lot of attention in large part due to its incredible growing popularity.

When I participated in what were then just called Costume Competitions wearing my signature THING costume back in 1979 there were only a handful of brave folks that would take the stage. Nothing compared to the legions of cosplayers that attend cons today.

What an outlet for creative costumers cons have become. As I think back on it, before science fiction and comic conventions, the only opportunity to get dressed up and run around like your favorite character was Halloween.

Just for this reason, Halloween was my favorite holiday. (Or at least a very tight second to Christmas!) Nothing was more fun than donning costumes with my brothers and pillaging the neighborhood for candy with my grandmother who, small in stature at 4’8″,  would also disguise herself as one of the kids just to help keep our group identity obscured.

It didn’t take long for us to graduate from the conventional costumes made by Collegeville or Ben Cooper but I will never forget those vacuum formed masks and cheesy,  one-piece coveralls. They came in all kinds of characters. The first I remember having was Porky Pig printed in a fluorescent orange color to aid visibility at night.

As far as superheroes were concerned, I remember a Captain America knock-off that had a triangular shield printed on the mask bearing the words “American Hero.”  We also had a Batman outfit that just wasn’t quite the same Batman we were watching on that famed 1966 series. Other kids had Wonder Woman, Superman, Spider-man, Hulk and not many others of cape-and-spandex fare.

In an attempt to dignify one of my favorite heroes my first homemade costume was of Batman. I pieced together a black cowl and a cape draped over a gray sweatshirt and pants with black rain boots and swim trunks. I was pretty young at the time and my efforts were rudimentary but I had the bug. Each year after that, it became a badge of honor to craft my own costume and to outdo the one from the year before.

Eventually, it seemed like a shame to put so much effort into a costume for a few hours of enjoyment only on Halloween. Then I discovered comic conventions. What an outlet for the costumer in me! Not only did conventions happen throughout the year, the competitions created an atmosphere that ensured the costumes would be creative and well made by like-minded people that appreciated each other and their skills.

Cosplay has since grown into a phenomenon developing a culture of its own.

Halloween has evolved too. Costumes are no longer vacuum formed and packed in pie boxes. They come in all shapes and sizes with accessories to match. Superheroes abound in costumes with built-in muscles or sexy variants of most of the world’s favorite characters that have been popularized in almost every medium. It is as if the two worlds of Cosplay and Halloween have collided to make one big, year-long, costume extravaganza.

For costumers, this is almost too good to be true and that is a concern.

Halloween has become so popular, communities have become defensive to prevent it from getting out of control. Small towns now limit the hours of Trick-or-Treating to as few as two.  Some cancel the evening altogether and offer a festival or a parade in an effort to control some random acts of violence, mischief, or safety hazards.

Cosplay is experiencing growth pains of its own with issues of privacy and sexual harassment becoming a prevalent discussion causing conventions to establish rules and regulations that will eventually reign in the casual antmosphere that conventioneers have come to enjoy.

A few rotten apples, once again, will ruin it for the whole bunch.

It doesn’t have to be that way. We could all agree to be civilized and respect each other’s dignity by simply attempting to act like the heroes we admire. Is that expecting too much cosplay fantasy in a real world or do we have to ask the hard question we ask every Halloween, “Trick or Treat?” and be satisfied with what we get?

Hopefully, no rocks.

Happy Halloween!

Gerry Giovinco



Comic Fans, Rejoice!

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

What a time to be a fan of comics!

Face it, we all like to wax nostalgic and can be certain that the era in which we grew up was without doubt the best.

Comic fans, however do have an appreciation for the history of their favorite medium and have managed to classify it in specific ages: Golden Age, Silver Age, Bronze Age, Modern Age and Digital Age. Each worthy of distinguished respect for their accomplishments and significance to the medium.

I, personally, was most heavily influenced by Bronze Age comics and the Independent Movement of the 1980′s and can easily justify the greatness of the material of those periods, but as a comic book fan and a fan of the superhero genre I have to admit  there was a feeling of isolation that all comic fans can relate to. One that is now quickly and amazingly eroding away.

Most fans of comics at any time in the last millennium with the exception of the initial fans in the 1940′s know that being a fan of comics was akin to being the black sheep in the crowd. We were alone in our endeavor to enjoy and collect comics, lucky to have any friends or allies that might have shared our passion.

Lone fans had to hunt for their randomly accessible comics and comic related merchandise.  Small groups of hardcore fans looked forward to gathered at small regional annual comic book or science fiction conventions. Successful cons drew just a few hundred attendees. They were intimate gatherings that solidified a mutual respect for the medium and willingness to ignore of the exclusion of fandom by society.

Comic fans wore a badge of honor that most described as geek or nerd but certainly never cool. Occasionally the things that comic fans were interested in burst into popular culture in the form of fads, most of which were quickly dismissed  by the masses.

My, how times have changed!

What was once considered Geek Culture is now firmly embraced as Pop Culture and it appears that there may be no looking back!

The rise of the Digital Age has given us the technology to finally bring comics to life on film in ways that were never possible. Now anybody can witness what used to require the unbridled imagination of a comic fan to fully experience. Fantasy is now teetering on the brink of reality as superheroes, now culturally accepted, have invaded and flourished in virtually every form of media.

Where there used to be a day when one waited years for a good adaptation of a comic book character to hit the screen, now fans must decide which film to spend their hard earned cash on first.  This spring alone it will be possible to have Captain America, Spider-Man, The X-Men and Godzilla all in theaters at the same time!

Television, too, is rife with comic book characters both animated and live action. Gone are the days of campy caped crusaders and  bodybuilders painted green. Only Wonder Woman cannot seem to make the transition from buxom Linda Carter to a modern Amazon Princess.

Out in public generations of comic book admirers of both genders now flaunt their superhero swag in astounding numbers that would have not been thought possible a few decades ago.

Comic book conventions are now a cultural phenomenon that put Woodstock to shame as fans flock by the tens-of-thousands, fully adorned in costumes and well prepared to celebrate their affinity for all that is fantastic. Cons that used to be the stomping grounds a subclass of young men have tipped the gender scales and now attract a well balanced number of enthusiastic female fans.

Emerald City Comicon recently bragged a 52/46 ratio of women to men!

Comic book stores are surviving where traditional book stores cannot in large part due to the element of social gathering they provide to the like-minded comic book fans!

Video games let gamers interact seamlessly with comic book reality giving fans the opportunity to play out their fantasies in realtime allowing them to relate to characters like never before.

Finally there is the internet, the nexus of a booming nation of nerd loving loyalists that can gather and communicate about their favorite comics in every nook and cranny of the world wide web. More importantly it is a place for the comic creatives to post and share there work. Because of the internet, comics are accessible more than ever  and they are being embraced by everyone.

How we got here is as amazing as the fact that we are. Superheroes are now accepted as a global modern mythology rivaling that of the Greeks and Romans. This unparalleled popularity is a vindication for all of us that enjoyed reading comics with black light posters riddled full of Kirby Krackle hanging on the wall.

We were ahead of the curve, rejoicing in a future that was bound to happen. A future that could only be inspired by the magical combination of words and pictures called comics.

Making Comics Because We Want to,

Gerry Giovinco



Is Stan Lee the Key to a Kirby Family Victory?

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

On May 15, nine Justices will decide wether the Supreme Court will preside over the Kirby family’s battle to regain copyrights from Marvel and Disney of works co-created by their father, Jack Kirby between the years of 1958 and 1963.

According to the Copyright Act of 1976 the Kirby Estate has the right to request termination of these works provided that the works were not executed as “works for hire,” a term normally associated with work created by an employee of a company.

To date, lower courts have ruled that the works, which include seminal characters that represent the foundation of Marvel’s entire universe, were created at the expense of the corporation and thus are considered work for hire.

Convincing the highest court in the land to both hear the case and to rule in favor of the Kirby Estate may require a miracle of epic proportions equivalent to the great feats of the  many superheroes derived from Jack Kirby’s fertile imagination.

The most unlikely and unwitting hero of this legal drama, however, might actually be Stan Lee who stood as Kirby’s collaborator on all of these creations with the exception of Captain America who Jack created with Joe Simon in 1941.

The idea that Stan the Man, Marvel’s biggest cheerleader, could possibly help the Kirby case may seem ludicrous at first but it was by his hand that a cosmic ball could possibly have been set in motion. His formulation of the so-called “Marvel Method” of producing comics where he would suggest an idea to the artist who would then visually plot an entire story that Stan would later script  the dialogue for could undo the work for hire strategy at its root.

This method of creating comics was new and unique to Marvel and was far from consistent with industry practice at the time where a full script would be handed in by the writer for the penciler to follow. Writers were paid to write. Pencilers were paid to draw.

Jack Kirby & Steve Ditko

It is well documented that Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, the earliest participants with Lee of this industry bucking practice, were unhappy that Lee was paid full writing fees and they only received standard penciling fees for their work. They both felt that they should be paid and credited for their share of the writing since they were essentially plotting the entire story, a standard duty of the writer.  Their dissatisfaction with the inequities of the practice ultimately led them both to leave Marvel in protest.

Jack’s duties as a penciler were above and beyond what was considered industry standard at the time. As one of the most prolific pencilers of the era he easily deserved at least the standard page rate he was paid for traditional penciling that did not require the visual plotting unaided by a script. He should have been paid more for the extra work required by the “Marvel Method” but he was not.

If Jack Kirby was not paid for his contribution to the writing of the stories, even though it was rendered visually, how can his contribution be considered work for hire?

Stan Lee has very publicly and proudly described the Marvel Method for decades as part of their formula for success. Lee certainly was not paid less for the work load of the writing chores that he passed to the penciler.

Stan Lee is also a poster child for negotiating a Marvel settlement for his role in creating the Marvel Universe. If Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are equally responsible for creating most of the successful characters at Marvel, how can it be justified that Lee can file a suit that results in a reported $10 million settlement back in 2005 long before the company was sold to Disney for $4.6 billion in 2009? Will the Supreme Court recognize the injustice of one co creator being compensated while the other is not?

Marvel, itself, has obvious doubts about the work for hire relationship it pretends to command over its creators. Lee’s  is not the only settlement they have negotiated going back as far as Joe Simon for Captain America, Steve Gerber for Howard the Duck and a growing list of creators that are settling quietly as the Marvel cinematic universe now grows into a global phenomenon.

No other creator has been signaled out and treated as significant a threat to Marvel as Jack Kirby. He alone was subjected to restrictive contracts regarding his existing work for the company. He alone was forced to sign restrictive agreements just for  the return of his own original art. If Marvel was so sure of its work for hire relationship with him why were they so contentious with him late in his career before his death? Why did they fear Jack Kirby?

The Supreme Court now has an opportunity to finally and fairly define the work for hire relationship as it pertains to the comic book industry regarding properties that were created in the Silver Age and are now becoming eligible for . Hopefully they will realize that properties that were created for meager wages at a time when comic book sales were weakened by a federal witch hunt are now worth an obscene amount of money that could have never been anticipated by the original creators.

Many of the creators who are still  alive and struggling in the twilight of their lives could benefit immensely from any fair compensation that relates to the current value of their creations. For those that have passed away, like Jack Kirby, it would be comforting to their families if their lives in today’s economy could be eased by that which they should rightly inherit.

If you enjoyed comics because you believed that the heroes fought for what was right, now is the time to hope and pray that the Supreme Court will insure that justice is served for those that created the heroes we enjoyed. Collectively support Jack Kirby’s family with well wishes and maybe a miracle will happen.

This can be a great comic book story where justice triumphs once again. If the Supreme Court decides to hear this case it is a sure bet that Marvel will beg the Kirby Estate to reach a settlement, hopefully with an agreement similar the one that Prince just received from Warner Brothers Records, where the work remains in current hands but compensation and control are renegotiated. It would be a win-win situation for all sides especially for the fans who all want this story to have a happy ending befitting of the greatest superheroes of all time. A story of epic proportions that would make both Jack Kirby and Stan Lee proud.

Making Comics Because We Want to,

Gerry Giovinco



‘Captain America’ Cries the Red, White and Blues

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

Anyone out there who has remotely cared about how comic creators have been screwed out of even the tiniest morsel of the tremendous profits  generated by Hollywood’s superhero bonanza had to let out a huge guffaw after reading a recent Variety  interview with Chris Evans, who will star as Captain America throughout a contracted six film run for Marvel Entertainment. His commitment is now half completed with this past weekend’s blockbuster release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

The star spangled actor seems fairly constrained when talking about the trials and tribulations of portraying the famed First Avenger, careful not to raise the ire of Marvel studio execs but can’t help himself from peaking the nerves of their stingy bean counters with a little help from Avenger cast ring leader, Robert Downey, Jr.

Evans says Marvel will often send him pictures of “Captain America” action figures that are molded after his likeness, but that he doesn’t profit from the merchandising. “I see my nephew wearing underwear with my face on it,” says Evans. “I’m like ‘what’s going on?’ But for some reason, (no money comes) my way.” Adds Downey: “Nobody gets anything from the toys, and nobody ever will.” Then he promises: “I’m working on it.”

What if?

It’s a hoot seeing these mega-stars crying over the money they are not making especially after they all made such a big scene about renegotiating their contacts going into Avengers 2 after the original Avengers film grossed over $1.5 billion world-wide, ranking it number three in all-time box office sales. Adding fuel to the fire was the huge discrepancy of pay between stars. Downey made $50 million for his role as Iron Man while other Avengers  made as little as $200,000 for their silver-screen super-heroics generating comments like, “On what planet is that fair!”

True to form, Marvel continues to “strong-arm and bully” the talent, wether it is an aging comic book creator or a celebrated Hollywood actor, with threats of law suits and dismissal of service held against detractors. Marvel considers talent to be expendable so long as they control the Intellectual Property of their vast library which they protect with the might of Odin to the point that even Disney power suits stand clear.

As each new Marvel film exceeds expectations and rings up record revenue it becomes more apparent that Marvel is as mythic as its heroes and villains when it comes to sheer greed. Soon their brand will be synonymous with companies like Walmart and McDonalds whose employees require government assistance to survive because they are paid and treated so poorly.

Maybe the high profile whining of celebrities like Chris Evans, Robert Downey, Jr, Scarlet Johansson, Chris Hemsworth and others will bring attention to Marvel’s unscrupulously tight fisted business ethics. Maybe the stars and the public will finally gain sympathy for the Kirby family who do not see one red cent from all of the characters that Jack Kirby co-created, without which none of these actors would have a role to play or complain about in the first place.

Unions in Hollywood are powerful, they have the ability to freeze the industry. Should the writers and actors become sympathetic to the plight of comic creators and their heirs, some justice could still come to those that have been denied fair compensation for their contribution to both the Marvel and DC Universes for decades. Maybe the courts will finally recognize the injustices that they’ve been catering to as they suckled the teats of big business.

Let’s root for the Marvel films to be so successful that  the stars can’t stand watching the vast amounts of money that is sure to elude them. Put them in the shoes of Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, Steve Ditko, Jerry Siegle, Joe Shuster and a long parade of other comic creators that worked for a lousy page rate under the shackles of a work-for-hire agreement and never saw royalties when their creations became films, toys or underwear.

The stars representing beloved heroes will put an unmistakable face on the unfair practices of Marvel and DC that a comic creator hunched over a drawing board or typewriter never could. Maybe then the world will appreciate the injustices that many of us have known about for decades and some things will change in the comics industry.

A perturbed Chris Evans is a great start. His character, Captain America, represents the American Dream and has stood for all that is fair and good in this country since his creation by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon in 1941.

It is only right that Captain America should now lead this charge against the corporate greed and bullying that grips our nation, exemplified by Marvel, the self proclaimed builders of our modern mythology. There is more than a man behind that shield he carries, there is the heart of a nation that cannot be taken away. It is time we all stand behind that red, white and blue shield together to defend what we know  is morally right. It is time for a battle cry! America, Assemble!

Gerry Giovinco



‘Marvel Studios: Assembling A Universe’ – A Kit With Instructions

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

Tonight ABC television airs a special, ‘Marvel Studios: Assembling A Universe’ that is being promoted as an exclusive look inside the world of Marvel Studios.

Marvel’s website succinctly describes the world premiere primetime event:

“Marvel Studios has pioneered and broken box-office records around the world, creating a cinematic universe unlike any other in pop culture history through its blockbuster films. Beginning with “Iron Man” in 2008 and continuing today through “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” on ABC and the theatrical release of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” this April, the Marvel Cinematic Universe presents audiences with some of the most groundbreaking and dynamic storytelling that brings an unprecedented vision to the world of entertainment.

In this exclusive primetime documentary special, audiences will be taken further into the Marvel Cinematic Universe than ever before, offering viewers a front row seat to the inception of Marvel Studios, the record-breaking films, the cultural phenomenon, and further expansion of the universe by Marvel Television.

Marvel’s first television special documents the exciting story behind Marvel Studios and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, featuring exclusive interviews and behind-the-scenes footage from all of the Marvel films, the Marvel One-Shots and “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Viewers will walk a clear path through this amazing and nuanced universe, featuring sneak peeks at the future of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” on ABC, new footage from Marvel Studios’ upcoming theatrical releases, “Captain America: The Winter Solider” and “Guardians of The Galaxy,” and a sneak peek at the upcoming Marvel’s “The Avengers: Age of Ultron.’”

Curiously, they never mention the words “comics” or “comic books” once in their own promotion of this marketing extravaganza.

Seriously?

Fortunately early clips from the documentary shown on other sites quote Marvel Comics’ Editor-In-Chief, Axel Alonso saying,

“What Marvel Studios has done is very similar to what Marvel Comics did back in the day. They’ve built individual stories to stand on their own two feet, then they found a way to take those stories and weave them into a larger narrative.”

Thank you… I think.

Marvel Studios needs to pinch themselves, wake up and come to the stark (pun intended) realization that they are not creating anything. They are ADAPTING!

They are assembling this cinematic universe of theirs from a kit whose instructions were clearly established over a 73 year history by a ton of creative individuals whose professional careers were dedicated to making comic books!

Forget IRON MAN in 2008, let’s start with CAPTAIN AMERICA in 1941 and see where the Marvel Universe would be without their First Avenger that was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.

That’s right, the same Jack Kirby whose name pops up when you also mention the creation of, Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Avengers and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. all of which  he collaborated on with some guy named Stan Lee throughout the 1960′s.

Stan Lee? Yeah, he was Editor-in-Cheif back in the day” and was probably the guy most responsible for finding a way to weave those stories into a “larger narrative” since he was sitting behind the big desk at the time, directing traffic and providing the final scripting on all of those comics.

Let’s not even get started on the Guardians of the Galaxy whose long list of creator contributors include the names of folks like Arnold Drake, Gene Colan, Steve Englehart, Steve Gan,  Bill Mantlo and Keith Giffen just to name a few.

By the way, there is one Guardian that has been lurking around the Marvel Universe since 1960. Yup! Groot made his first appearance in TALES TO ASTONISH #13 and is credited to – guess who? Stan Lee, and Jack Kirby along with a fella named Dick Ayers who also contributed to the creation of Iron Man.

Don’t be surprised if that alien shown in the T.A.H.I.T.I. episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. turns out to be Groot regenerating in that giant test tube. He is, after all, an alien plant species that was once held captive by S.H.I.E.L.D., became member of Nick Fury’s Howling Commandos and was later selected by the Kree to join the Guardians of the Galaxy to battle Ultron and the Phalanx where he sacrificed his life only to be brought back from the dead by Rocket Raccoon who managed to regrow him  by planting  one of his branches.

Nah!  That shit only happens in comic books.

Marvel Studios is working with a gold mine of material even after licensing out huge properties like Spider-man, X-Men and The Fantastic Four. Thanks to work-for-hire conditions in the comics industry the bulk of that material was produced for a  mere page rate and most of those creators that originally built that universe will never see a thin dime in royalties delivered to them or their heirs, especially not those of the late Jack Kirby whose creative genius is associated with most of this current crop of film and television that the Marvel Universe is built on.

Maybe, like Groot, there is hope that a seed, a branch or a twig could be planted and justice could grow from a bad deal that has been declared dead.

Remember, that without those comic books, none of these films and television shows will have ever existed and neither will have all the industry that is built around licensing and merchandising them, creating tons jobs that help support our economy.

What entertainment would we be enjoying this summer without Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and the rest of those comic book creators?

Without them there is no Marvel Universe to assemble.

Making Comics Because We Want to,

Gerry Giovinco



Joe Simon Deserves More Than a Concession

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

Marvel superheroes are anticipating a big summer on the silver screen with four blockbusters waiting in the wings. Captain America, Spider-Man, X-Men and The Guardians of the Galaxy are all ready to prove that their real superpowers are their ability to generate billions of dollars worldwide from ticket sales and merchandising.

With all that cash soon to be whirling around, It was a wonderful feeling to discover from  Bill Mantlo’s brother Mike, that Marvel had come to an agreement that would compensate Bill fairly for his part in co-creating Rocket Raccoon, the expected breakout star of the Guardians of the Galaxy film due in August. It is a bitter sweet victory since Bill now resides in a nursing home a victim of permanent brain damage sustained by a terrible accident in 1992.

Marvel’s settlement with Bill Mantlo, though undisclosed, appears to be one that is quite satisfactory to his family and is indicative of other agreements that seem to be quietly negotiated with other creators whose characters were created as work-for hire and are now being featured in this wave of popular films. Creators appear to be receiving some type of small ongoing royalties from profits generated by their work.

For those of us that grew up worshiping Marvel and the creators that brought so much excitement into our lives,  it is a dream come true to see Marvel attempting to treat the creators fairly and compensate them for their contribution.

Unfortunately the realization of this dream is just a mirage.

In less than a month Captain America: The Winter Soldier will burst into theaters and the granddaughter of Cap’s co-creator, Joe Simon, celebrated it’s impending release with a lovely tribute intended to remember her grandfather’s most significant contribution to the world of comics.

Megan Margulies http://meganmargulies.com/ writes about how her grandfather, who passed away in 2011 shortly after Captain America the First Avenger was released, was always so proud of his creation. She subtly points out that he had reached a settlement with Marvel in 2003 that relinquished all of his rights to the character for a an amount of money so small it left the most meaningful part of the agreement being that his name and the name of co-creator Jack Kirby was required to be displayed during the opening credits of any Captain America movie.

She describes seeing his credit on the film as a great source of pride for her and Joe’s extended family as they all represented him at the LA premier of the film.

As much as anyone can appreciate being recognized for our accomplishments we all know that pride is wonderful but, at the end of the day, that and a cup of coffee ain’t getting anyone anywhere.

Dig a little deeper and read Megan’s 2013 Fourth of July tribute to her grandfather and you realize that, in her own poetic way, she wants the world to know that this man that co-created one of the greatest superheroes of all time lived a very modest life until his death at 98.

He lived in a small messy apartment that he shared with mice and a squeaky armchair. His most prominent piece of furniture was his ink splattered drawing board. The family found it necessary to sell off most of his art, a piece of which her fiancé bought for her from auction in remembrance of her grandfather.

This humble and loved man was proud of his creation but he and his family never had and never will benefit from the incredible wealth that Captain America is able to generate.

So, in my opinion, Megan’s tribute reads like an eloquent concession speech given by someone who has lost a great battle.  She took the high road and showed tremendous sportsmanship, choosing to focus on Joe Simon’s legacy rather than the ugly details.

Megan has taken the same road as the Kirby family who have finally lost a bitter war with Marvel over their father’s stake in not just Captain America but many of the characters in the Marvel Universe.

The Kirby’s, in defeat, have similarly focused on preserving Jack’s legacy by actively promoting a positive image of his contribution to comics, and managing a wonderful Kirby4Heroes campaign to aid the Hero Initiative.

It fascinates me that Marvel can pick and choose those that they are willing to compensate in an effort to manipulate public opinion while those that have been most responsible for their vast wealth are perpetually denied.

To me, it is a crime to march a creator’s family on to a stage to promote a film whose movie premier alone probably cost more than the settlement that Joe Simon received.  It is a travesty that the actors portraying the characters make more for one film than Joe Simon and Jack Kirby made in their lifetimes. It’s a shame that the profits generated from these films could support a small country yet the heirs of these creators find themselves selling prints on etsy, surely not for the fun of it.

CigarJoeDesigns

it is a huge mistake to read Megan Margulies tribute to her grandfather and get so overwhelmed by the tremendous respect and pride that she has for what Joe Simon accomplished that we fail to remember that he and his family are victims of an unscrupulous corporation that will deny fair and reasonable compensation to the families of their greatest creators.

Marvel, you had us going there for a second, but compensating creators needs to be more than a PR stunt. Make it a retroactive and significant part of your corporate strategy and then we will all be impressed. Until then, enjoy watching creators die in poverty while your execs and shareholders get fat at their expense.

Making Comics Because We Want to,

Gerry Giovinco



SUPERHEROES™: The Never Ending Bullshit – Truth, Justice and Corporate Greed Part 2

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

JUSTICE: in Part 1 of this series I took at look at how the  PBS documentary, Superheroes: The Never Ending Battle obscured Truth by omission, enforcing  the public perception that the only superheroes that exist in our global culture are the ones attributed to Marvel and DC. There is no Justice to the pantheon of creators, publishers and characters that have made significant contributions to the impact that the genre superheroes has made as a whole on our society

If only this was the sole lack of justice attributed to this documentary. The comic book industry has a long history of injustice when it comes to the treatment of creators. To its credit, Superheroes: The Never Ending Battle, does make an attempt to identify the major sin of exploitation of impoverished, immigrant, young men during the Great Depression. But rather than identify it as a significant moral failure  it was portrayed almost as a badge of honor.

Legendary late creators like Joe Simon, Jerry Robinson, Carmine Infantino, and Joe Kubert emphatically embraced the practice of sweat shop ethics and corporate ownership of all works defining it as as business as usual.

95-year-old Irwin Hasen barked into the camera that “The companies owned everything!” , “You got nothing but a page rate!”, and “we worked our asses off!” “That’s the way it was!”

This all aired almost as an eyewitness testimony to to the challenges of the Kirby Family who were seeking copyright revision of works co-created by their late father Jack Kirby for Marvel during the 1960′s. It seems no coincidence that just a week after the series was first broadcast the courts denied their final attempt to appeal holding to the premise that his creations were work for hire and were owned exclusively by Marvel.

Joe Shuster, Neal Adams, Jerry Siegel and Jerry Robinson celebrate their victory over DC Comics in 1975

The series focused only on the the battle of Superman creators Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster stimulated by the impending success of the first Superman movie in 1978.  They failed to mention that Seigel and Shuster had challenged DC continually since they returned from their service in  WWII and it was not until Neal Adams and Jerry Robinson led a campaign to publicly shame DC and Warner Bros. that the men saw any long term agreement that would prevent them from dying impoverished and guaranteed that they would receive credits as the creators of the character.

Jenette Kahn, former President of DC Comics,  proclaimed the Seigel and Shuster victory as a triumphant day in the history of comics as if a great blight  had been lifted from the industry when in fact it was just the tip of a huge iceberg that the audience is expected to be kept unaware of.

It is ironic that the parade of commentators  waxing nostalgic on the screen represented a number of creators and historians who have been very vocal in the area of creators rights. I can only assume that their words were taken out of context or left on the cutting room floor to create the impression  that all is hunky-dory  in Superheroland and potentially discredit their objecting positions.

Gerard Jones who wrote the scathing book Men of Tomorrow about the career spanning injustices toward Seigel and Shuster and the historic ties of comics and organized crime.

Arlen Schumer who just did a symposium at the Kirby Museum and who has been a long time vocal supporter if the Kirby contention.

Mark Evanier, a Kirby collaborator who was instrumental in supporting Jack Kirby’s  independent work and Jack’s battles with Marvel since the 1970′s

Joe Simon who settled with Marvel over rights to Captain America in 1968,

Neal Adams one of the first creators to stand up for creators rights who famously demanded the return of original art and attempted to for one of the first creator unions in comics. His Continuity comics line also stands as one of the early great independent comic book publishers if the 1980′s.

Jerry Robinson an outspoken creators rights activist who led the charge with Neal Adams to aid Seigel and Shuster,

Stan Lee who won a 10 million dollar settlement in 1992 over characters he co-created with Kirby but who has always been a self proclaimed “company man” and Marvels biggest mascot and cheerleader.

Gerry Conway who recently reached out to fans to help him receive royalties owed by DC Comics.

Marv Wolfman who has struggled with Marvel over compensation for the creation of Blade which has become one of Marvel’s early successful film franchises.

A shout out to Jerry Ordway for his suggestion to kill Superman which led to the Death of Superman event that rocked the industry in the 1990′s mocked his recent plea to get any kind of work in the current market.

The use of video of Jack Kirby, as heartwarming as it was, also belied the battles that Jack had with the industry, especially Marvel.

But the most  galling segment was video of Alan Moore quoting from The Watchmen intended to create the impression that Moore who has been adamantly unhappy with the treatment of his work and how DC has exploited his contract  and who is now watching Marvel do the same with his work on Marvel Man is somehow happy about the current conditions of the industry.

Any one who has paid any attention to the comics industry knows that Alan Moore is so disgusted with DC and now Marvel that he refuses to allow them to use his name on their products. Though it is impossible to ignore the influence his works have had on the industry it is also a mockery to show him almost gleefully quoting from his script without detailing his conflicts with the industry which are as legendary as his comics.

Intentionally ignored was an entire movement to establish creators rights in comics and decades of work by independent publishers to produce superheroes and alternative comics that are owned by their creators. According to Superheroes: The Never Ending Battle only one small band of insurgent creators ever found industry practices so unpleasant that they splintered off to form Image.

Many, Many, creators ventured away from Marvel and DC to pioneer independent works long before the boys at Image even began working in comics. To even begin a list would be a monumental task.

Justice was ignored in this documentary that focused only on a band aide applied to an open sore while a cancer looms beneath the surface. Creators continue to get a raw deal in the comics industry just as they did 75 years ago. They create heroes that represent Truth Justice and the American Way but they are victims of obscured Truth, denied Justice and Corporate Greed. Actions all masked  to conceal their true identity in this series, like the colorful superheroes they intend to glorify.

Next up is Corporate Greed. Is it really the American Way?

Gerry Giovinco



Superheroes Held Hostage as Trademark

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

There is no doubt that superheroes represent modern mythology. Face it,  we are fascinated by folks with super powers and cool costumes. Why not? Super human characters have captured our imagination since the days of the ancient Egyptians. Who wouldn’t want to have a super power? Most of us at least have dreamt about flying or possessing super strength. Superheroes are permanently ingrained into our culture. They are a fantasy  representation of ultimate traits that we admire. They are who we all would like to be.

The concept of superheroes is so pervasive in our society that many are surprised to learn the word, superheroes  and all variations of it are actually trademarked jointly by  Marvel and DC. These two parent corporations are undoubtedly responsible for most recognizable superheroes in the world today but should that be enough to grant them ownership of the use of the one word that distinctly represents an entire genre of creative works depicted in all forms of media including comic books, novels, video games, film and television not to mention a plethora of merchandised products?

Marvel and DC entered into the rare joint ownership back in 1979, though some suggest that this may have occurred as far back as the 1950′s. It was necessary for them to share the ownership to protect their rights to the word or risk losing it. They renewed the trademark registration as recently as 2006 generating much discussion at the time. A clear explanation of the ramifications of the registration was posted on Comic Book Resources by staff writer Brian Cronin who is also a lawyer in New York City. The post titled, The Superhero Trademark FAQ did a a wonderful job of succinctly answering all of the obvious questions, especially the big one, “How can they trademark the word superhero?”

Apparently, all they had to do was prove, through surveys, that people identified the the word superhero specifically with their product.  Asked, “name a superhero” and any random selection of the general population undoubtedly would have ran off a steady stream of, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Spider-man, Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America; a list of the most iconic superheroes, all owned by Marvel and DC.

Case closed.

Of course there are tons of other superheroes. There is a rich three-quarter of a century history of superheroes that were published by a myriad of other companies but by the late seventies they were all gone and forgotten except by a few diehard fans of the medium and pop culture enthusiasts. The mass market was being funneled into the Direct Market and when a sudden wave of new superheroes emerged in the 1980′s they were corralled into a restrictive market that catered only to enthusiasts that could spot a superhero a mile away if they were labeled one or not. New publishers were frustrated by their inability to use the word on covers and in advertising but were happy to distance their product from the big two in an effort to establish their brand if only in the confines of the local comic shop. The rest of the world was exposed exclusively to Marvel and DC characters.

Nobody could have imagined the scope of the internet then or the future of computer generated special effects.  The impact they both have had on  the new explosion of interest  in superheroes has changed the game. The concept of the superhero has become bigger than the individual characters. Show a generic picture of any man, woman or child in a costume with a mask and a cape and they will easily be identified as a superhero and distinguished as NOT one of the major players in the field. Generic superheroes abound throughout advertising, media and entertainment. Everybody calls them what they are, superheroes.  The people that are in the business of creating new superheroes, other comic publishers, cannot call a spade a spade, however,  without receiving the dreaded cease and desist letter from both Marvel and DC.

This is just another example of how Marvel and DC gang up and continue to put a stranglehold on the growth of the genre and the medium of comics. As an industry we let it happen by not contesting their dictatorship at every turn. One little guy has stood up to fight the good fight. Ray Felix , the publisher of A World Without Superheroes, is taking a stand and challenging them with amazingly little support from others. He needs help from those that care about superheroes. He needs help from us.

What Marvel and DC have done with the trademark of the word, superhero, is a travesty. If anyone has diluted the trademark it is them. When they originally registered the word, a superhero had distinct wholesome qualities that were governed by the Comics Code Authority which was still in effect, though in  weakened sense, in 2006 upon their renewal. They have continually changed their characters rebooting everything from their costume, to sexual orientation. Characters have been killed, re-killed and killed again. Any moral code that was attributed to superheroes has long gone astray. There is little that another publisher could do that would harm the term superhero more than what Marvel and DC have already done. They are not good custodians of the word!

Under their stewardship an entire industry of superhero pornography has been allowed to flourish under the guise of parody. Their trademarked term, superhero, is all over the covers of those videos.  One company has an entire line of them titled “Vivid XXX Superheroes” that features all the major superheroes doing the “nasty.” OK, a parody is a parody and it is protected. Superhero Movie was a parody. There was one of them!  The porn industry uses the trademark “superhero” over and over again with no contention.  There’s even a performance spray for men called Superhero!  What’s the deal?

Imagine Coke-a-Cola standing by idly while a porn film features everyone running around with a Coke bottle hanging out of every orifice. It wouldn’t happen!

Now there is Superhero Play. No, it is not some type of pornography. (See the dilution) It is a term coined by educators describing little kids running around pretending they are superheroes and it is raising concern because it inspires aggressive behavior because superheroes “fight” evil.  Will Marvel and DC want to distance themselves from the word superhero when it becomes a witch-hunt-buzz-word like Horror and Crime comics did in the fifties?

The word superhero is being held hostage as a trademark by Marvel and DC. They protect it when it is convenient and when it offers an opportunity to bully small publishers, toy companies and business owners. They enforce the illusion that all superheroes are their product only  and for any other reason this is why guys like Ray Felix need to be supported, because the world needs to know that all superhero comics do not come from just Marvel and DC.

Making Comics Because We Want to,

Gerry Giovinco


Mark Millar is Right!

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

Mark Millar’s assertion that a Justice League film is “an excellent way of losing $200 million” is dead-on but not for the reasons he stipulates.

The idea that the characters that comprise the membership of Justice League of America are outdated is insane. The core group of founding members of the JLA; Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter, are not only iconic characters, they have literally established and defined the entire superhero genre over their 75 year history.

Where the powers-that-be at DC and Warner continually fail and why a JLA film would tank is that, for some reason, these classic characters are considered by them as never good enough, never mature enough, never edgy enough. The properties are constantly the subject of reboots to make them more relevant, more gritty, more believable. In the process these characters have become unrecognizable to generations of fans that have an idealized passion for the originals.

Marketing geniuses that license the DC properties understand this passion and that is why classic images of these characters adorn every product imaginable from Converse sneakers to slip covers for car seats. You don’t see licensees rushing to conform to likenesses of these characters from DC’s New 52. Why? Because the reboots of these characters are a bastardization of the classics whose only purpose is to distance copyright and trademark enforcement from the original creators.

There is a reason that these characters have been around for as long as they have. Something about them has struck a deep cultural nerve that has allowed them to be ingrained into our society. They are beloved.

Leave them alone already!

I was watching a designer on the Rachel Ray show the other day who was expounding on the enduring virtues of classic design. Classics never go out of style. Update with accessories! This has been lost on DC.

Stan Lee has always said that a great character should be easily defined by a simple statement. The JLA lineup has that in spades to the point where just the name of each character defines most of them. These are the characters audiences want to see in a film not a convoluted mess like they saw in the film Green Lantern.

That movie should have been about a guy with a ring that gave him superpowers. Boom! Instead we had to suffer through the history of the Green Lantern Corps and be introduced to more characters than we were ready to digest. Seriously. I just wanted to see Green Lantern fight some bad guys and save the day with his bad-ass ring!

Marvel Entertainment gets this. They do a great job of embracing the original source material and simply defining their characters. Look at The Avengers. Iron Man – guy in a metal suit. Thor – god of thunder. Captain America – super soldier. Hulk…now there’s a study.

The Hulk was in two films that audiences could not embrace. Those films were too much about what made Bruce Banner tick. Inner conflicts. Fancy cinematography. CGI. They strayed away from what was simple yet great about the character: Make Hulk mad and Hulk will smash. Oh, and he’s green.

Director Josh Whedon understood this and gave us the Hulk that we saw in The Avengers. Suddenly the Hulk was a breakout character again. Hulk was there. Hulk got pissed. Hulk smashed. Ta-da! The audience ate it up.

The Avengers was brilliant in its simplicity regarding character development. Every character was easily defined, relying heavily on what people knew and expected from them, not from their previous individual movies as much as what we knew about them from their decades of existence in popular culture.

With The Avengers film, Marvel Entertainment had a plan to market each character through their own feature film then combine them as a super group in The Avengers capitalizing on the exact marketing strategy that Stan Lee exploited with the comic books featuring the same characters. Stan, ironically, borrowed this strategy from DC who’s success combining their own banner characters to form the JLA, in part, instigated the creation of The Fantastic Four, miraculously giving Marvel a new life.

DC would do well to reverse engineer this marketing plan by giving us a Justice League film that gives us highlights of the classic characters as we know and love them in a dynamite team adventure then spinning each character off into their own film after audiences have re-embraced the characters. This would work best if they were sure not to convolute the characters and dramatically depart from the institutions that they already are.

Good luck with that.

Maybe DC would be less likely to over think their characters if the film was titled Super Friends.

It may be that the only producers capable of making a profitable Justice League film are those in the porn industry. Those superheroes are always recognizable, even with their clothes off.

More on this rant next week.

Gerry Giovinco



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