Posts Tagged ‘Superman’

Rocket Raccoon Not Rabid as Expected

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

The battle over fair compensation for comic book creators whose creations have generated enormous profits for the corporations that now own them is almost as old as the industry itself. In most cases the fight is futile since most comic creators simply do not have the economic clout to legally go after companies as mighty as Marvel or DC and their parent corporations, Disney and Time/Warner.

Shame is the greatest tool that creators have found to expedite justice and it seems to work. Neal Adams relied on it heavily when he publicly shamed DC into settling with Superman creators Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster who were living in poverty prior to the release of the first blockbuster SUPERMAN film.

Creators are gaining an upper hand these days thanks to shame. It is much easier to demonstrate to the public the gross disparity of a struggling, aging and infirm cartoonist as opposed to a monolithic corporation who is potentially making billions off of their creation.

Behind closed doors settlement deals are finally being made and creators are being reigned in before the shaming begins and apparently it is working hopefully for the benefit of all since deserved creators are suddenly falling silent on the issue.

Advocates for comic creators rights have been foaming at the mouth ever since it was revealed that the Rocket Raccoon would be a driving force in the impending bonanza that will be the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY film to be released this summer. Rocket Raccoon’s co-creator Bill Mantlo was the victim of a horrible accident in 1992 that has left him brain damaged and institutionalized in a nursing home ever since.  Surely Bill Mantlo would be the perfect poster boy for comic creators rights if he were not to get fair compensation and credit for his contribution.

Let the shaming begin!

What? Not so fast?!

Bill’s brother and legal guardian Mike Mantlo boldly called off the dogs by releasing this statement:

“FOLKS, FOLKS, FOLKS…..please, enough of the hating on Marvel. Marvel has compensated, is compensating, and will continue to compensate Bill well into the future for anything that he’s entitled to compensation for. Please don’t spread false or malicious rumors, gang. Bill’s relationship with Marvel is EXCELLENT, and I wish for it to continue to be so. And all the false or exaggerated “facts” being tossed around about his accident (he was NOT in a coma for “years”, and the family was NOT put into financial ruin or destitution, among other WRONG “facts”). Yes, Bill was the victim of a horrible and tragic accident. Blowing everything out of proportion does no one any good. You guys (ALL OF YOU) have been a Godsend to Bill for these past 22 years by keeping his name & reputation alive, and by continuing to champion my cause of helping him improve his quality of life in whatever way I can, and I thank you ALL sincerely for that. Please, let’s try some positive energy for the fu! ture, so that BILL MANTLO WILL RULE FOREVER!”

In another release he states:

“Folks, on behalf of Bill I urge everyone to SUPPORT the “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY” film, and help it have TREMENDOUS SUCCESS. That will benefit Bill Mantlo more than anyone could ever imagine”

Give Marvel and Disney some credit for recognizing that they were not going to be able to compete with the public hazing generated by support for a severely handicapped writer in a wheel chair that is responsible, along with artist Keith Giffen, for what looks like will be the fuzzy, break out star of the summer, Rocket Raccoon, who would have surely been a rabid thorn in their side if they had not struck preemptively.

Thank you!

It will be a pleasure to watch a Marvel film for a change without experiencing some kind of guilt for knowing that a creator or an heir (Most notably, Jack Kirby and his family) has been left unfairly compensated.  If only this could be the fundamental business practice of the comics industry from now on.

Let’s keep the ball rolling!

Maybe the big guys have finally realized that he positive PR generated from treating creators fairly is in everyone’s favor including their own.

Like Mike Mantlo, I sincerely hope that GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is a monolithic success. I know that because of Bill’s situation, he will never truly be able to enjoy any measure of profit that is generated by the film, though it will surely benefit his care.  The comfort is that ,in the shadow of the film’s great success , his personal story will become such a high profile subject that he will be immortalized in the pantheon of comic book and pop culture history where he belongs.

Bill Mantlo is a reminder to us all that though money is important it does not last forever and it is purely materialistic. Being recognized and acknowledged for our contributions and creations is what seals a place in history and in the hearts of all that enjoy our work.

Acknowledgement and acceptance is what creators, regardless what art they practice, truly live for.

So when the credits role by, and should you hopefully see Bill Mantlo’s name, jump out of our seat and cheer so loud that he feels the warm tremor as he sits in his nursing home beaming with pride because he knows in his soul that he is loved for something he created.

Gerry Giovinco

Fans of Bill’s work can follow updates from his brother on the Bill Mantlo facebook group .

Make donations here.

or mail Bill cards and well wishes to:

Bill Mantlo

c/o Queens Nassau Nursing Home

520 Beach 19th Street

Far Rockaway, NY 11691

The Alternate Reality of Dark Horse Comics

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

Mike Richardson, the publisher of Dark Horse Comics made it very clear that winners do attempt to rewrite the history books, creating an alternate reality that would make any comic universe proud when he made this statement:

“I don’t know if anyone understands today that we spearheaded the creator-owned movement. Image was years away, and any kind of company that offered those rights and those freedoms hadn’t happened yet. We spearheaded that, and I think that fact has been lost over the years.”

Mike Richardson

People that know anything about creator owned comics and especially those that actually care about creator owned comics definitely do NOT understand the point that Mr. Richardson is attempting to make because it is a complete fantasy with no basis in historic reality, whatsoever.

Dark Horse does not even have the longest history of publishing creator owned works of current comics publishing companies. Hell, even Marvel and DC were writing creator owned contracts and offering royalties to creators before Dark Horse even opened its doors! The Big Two had to in response to a gang of Independent publishers that were successfully producing creator owned comics that posed a significant threat to their market share while siphoning away top talent.

Creator ownership is a simple concept. You create it, you own it and that is how copyright law works. Since 1976 the creator owns the work from the instant it is created wether it is filed and registered or not. This excludes, however anything created work for hire in which case it belongs to the company that commissioned the work on their behalf. If you open a comic book or any other work and it says “© Joe/Jane Creator” it is creator owned.

What you do with your creation after you create it is a different story. In the comics industry it was common practice for a creator to sell the entire rights of their creation to a publishing house. This was usually done in the hopes of getting steady work and in the case of some of the more savvy creators a small stake in royalties. Siegel and Shuster sold the rights to Superman for $130 while Bob Kane, reportedly, always held some small stake in Batman.

This practice of buying properties outright was unlike typical book publishing where authors retained their copyright and were paid an advance by publishers for the rights to publish their work then paid royalties on each book sold. This publisher/creator  relationship would endure for a specified term outlined in an agreement which would also include termination clauses and opportunities for revision of rights to the creator.

So this concept of creator ownership has never been anything new, it was just outside of the business tradition that had been established by comic companies who argued that the low price of comic books made them such a low yield product royalties would be negligible.

A quick history lesson for Mr. Richardson since he obviously missed it:

It was the Underground Comix movement in the ’60s and ’70′s that proved that creators could self publish and develop markets to sell their material in. If anybody spearheaded creator owned comics it was this group.

Just a few Creator Owned comics published before Dark Horse existed

When the Direct Market was created by Phil Seuling in 1972 he created a distribution system that was user friendly for creator owned comics. Bud Plant’s Comics & Comix published some early creator owned comics like The First Kingdom by Jack Katz which began in 1974 the same year that Mike Friedrich began publishing Star*Reach. Mike was a huge advocate of creator ownership and represented a number of great comic talents as their agent. By 1977 Heavy Metal hit the racks with creator owned material while Aardvark Vanaheim and WaRP Graphics were self publishing Cerebus and Elfquest respectively. Dean Mullaney formed Eclipse in 1978 and we witnessed the first defectors from Marvel when Don McGregor and Paul Gulacy create Sabre which was also one of the first graphic novels.

Just a few publishers of Creator Owned Comics

The floodgates opened in the 1980′s and a strong wave of publishers all with creator owned contracts poured on the scene, Pacific, First, Comico, Capital, Aircel, Vortex, Fantagraphics, Continuity, Mirage and others all produced creator owned projects well before Dark Horse showed up.

These publishers refined the model that Dark Horse adopted. ADOPTED! Dark Horse may have spearheaded survival in the volatile comics market that sank most of those early publishers by the middle of the ’90s but they certainly did not spearhead the concept of creator ownership.

Each of the publishers had their own way of exploring the terms of the contract with creators. I can only speak for what we did at Comico and we were always proud of how creator friendly and generous our contracts were. Comico paid full page rates that were comparable to those paid by Marvel and DC. In those days that averaged about $200 a page for writing, pencils, inks, lettering and coloring. We paid royalties after each issue broke even which was roughly after 30,000 were sold at which point we split the net 50/50! In those days it was not uncommon for an issue to sell between 60,000-100,000 copies so creators did quite well and they completely owned their property.

I have always been impressed with Dark Horse. They became the company that Comico was always intended to be. Comico discovered new talent,  worked with established pros,  had success with licensed properties and was highly innovative and focused on quality, but  unfortunately made mistakes that led to the company’s failure. When I look at the success of Dark Horse I see confirmation that Comico had many of the right ideas as did most of those early independents that made for one of the most exciting eras of comics history.

It is an insult to see those accomplishments dismissed by a respected guy like Mike Richardson who obviously did his homework but rather than give credit where it is due, chooses to rewrite history to benefit his latest marketing plan.

He is not alone, Image shares the same glory complex, as if they were the first Independents, the first pros to walk away from Marvel and DC but they never would have had the chance if it were not for a host of others that did it over a decade earlier and built a viable market for them to succeed in.

Acknowledging history goes a long way towards gaining the respect you desire. Why waste energy and goodwill fabricating history when you should be focused on making and celebrating your own.

Out of respect I did leave a voicemail for Mike Richardson with his administrative assistant, hoping to get a better insight to why he believes his position but as of this writing the call has not been returned. I guess it got lost in the alternate reality of Dark Horse Comics where the accomplishments of true pioneers no longer exist.

Making Comics Because We Want to,

Gerry Giovinco



There’s a Brave New World on Bergen Street

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

Imagine walking into a comic shop and not seeing any comic books published by Marvel or DC. The shelves are void of Spider-Man, X-Men, Superman, Bat Man and Wonder Woman. With few exceptions, there are no superheroes, no men and women in tights and capes with bulging muscles and exploitive, break-back poses. The shelves are not overwhelmed with reboots of the same characters that we have been reading for the last seventy-five years. Seriously, how many times can you read a retelling Superman’s origin story before it gets old?

Imagine, instead, that what you find is shelf after shelf of unique and amazing comics that are created by an array of talented artists and writers that is always expanding. Comics are arranged by subject matter, social interest, artist and writer. There are comics for everybody; children, teens, adults, men and women, alike. Entire families can walk into the shop and discover comics that interest each member individually as they peruse the inviting corners of an elegantly and respectfully designed shrine of the comics medium, finding surprises at every turn.

Welcome to Bergen Street Comics in Brooklyn, New York where co-owner, Tom Adams recently announced that the store will stop shelving most titles from Marvel and DC. Adams explained on Twitter that the decision, “Will enable us to better serve our customers. Strength of self contained, creator controlled comics will let us move away from double shipping, editorially driven, artist-swapping, inconsistent, tied into events/gimmicks comics. Trying to keep this a going concern/think long term.”

Bergen Street Comics will celebrate their fifth anniversary this spring. In their relatively short history they have firmly established themselves as a supporter of independent comics publishers and have hosted many creator signings and art shows including CO2 Comic’s own Steve Lafler as he toured promoting his graphic album Ménage à Bughouse.

Steve Lafler at Bergen Street Comics

Bergen Street Comics demonstrated their commitment to Independent publishers that night when they, on extremely short notice, opened their doors to Steve when his scheduled engagement at MoCCA was suddenly canceled due to unforeseen circumstances. Their graciousness and hospitality exceeded our expectations and established an impressive standard of customer service that we will never forget.

The atmosphere at Bergen Street Comics will capture the attention of anyone the moment they walk through the door. This is a place that celebrates the comic medium as an art form. Framed, original comic art hangs on the rugged brick walls, displayed like fine art in a gallery. The fixtures, furniture and shelving all presented with a classic taste that invites their customers to respect and value the comics that they are about to buy.

It is not surprising that they would make this bold decision to no longer shelve Marvel and DC titles. Bergen Street Comics is a boutique that specializes in a gourmet product. They are the Starbucks of comic shops, refusing to sell a common blend of coffee that can be bought on any corner, watered down and stale from having sat in the pot too long.

People want to experience quality, variety and atmosphere. They want a special experience that they feel entitled to and they want to share that experience with others. Great comics deserve the opportunity to be presented this way, as a rich and robust medium that will tickle the taste-buds of the imagination leaving the reader wanting for more.

A store like Bergen Street Comics can offer some hope for comics in print, especially those that are produced with a particular aesthetic that extends to the entire package. Printed books can offer a viscerally tactile experience that cannot be equally matched digitally. Independent publishers that recognize this understand the power of producing a boutique worthy product and will be energized as more stores adopt the model that Bergen Street Comics has.

This is not the end of superhero comic books. There will always be a place where bland or bitter coffee is available for those with a less discerning tastes. But, Bergen Street Comics has demonstrated that finally it is time for a little Frappuccino with our comics in this brave, new world where superheroes no longer have to dominate the local comic shop.

Making Comics Because We Want to,

Gerry Giovinco



Worlds Apart – Stan Lee and Alan Moore

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

A recent review by Bob Duggan of Clifford Meth’s Comic Book Babylon led off with the title The Real Heroes and Villains in Comic Books. It featured spot illos of a typically exuberant Stan Lee and brooding Alan Moore beautifully rendered by Michael Netzer.

The arrangement of the portraits beneath the title insinuates, at first glance, that Smilin’ Stan, with Spidey dangling in the background, represents the heroes and Scowlin’ Alan embraces the villainous dark side.

According to Duggan’s review, however, both Lee and Moore are described by Meth as victims that belong to a long list of creators that have been taken advantage of by the corporate comic book giants, Marvel and DC.

It is a huge stretch from most perspectives to imagine Stan Lee as a victim of the comics industry while Alan Moore could easily be anointed the poster child for the royal reaming that begets comic creators. This contrast added greatly to the irony of the header of the post and was a wonderfully divisive way to catch the attention of readers, especially those sympathetic and knowledgeable about creators rights issues.

Yet, Stan Lee and Alan Moore are a perfect choice to if not solely for their contributions as the most influential writers of superheroes in the industry outside of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel. Where the creation of entire genre of Superhero comics rests on Siegel’s shoulders, Lee and Moore’s influence anchor pivotal changes in how superheroes were portrayed that redirected the entire industry at different points in its history.

Despite their similar accomplishments both men also took decidedly different roads regarding their creative achievements and celebrity. In many ways the two men are worlds apart from each other.

Jack Kirby & Steve Ditko

There is a strong argument as to how much creative responsibility Stan Lee had in regards to the creation of most of the Marvel Universe during its heyday in the early 1960′s. Lee himself readily admits the roles that Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko had in fostering the creation of Marvel’s most iconic characters that are now worth billions of dollars. But Stan is and always has been a company man and has held fast to the work-for-hire relationship that denies creators and their heirs, especially those of Kirby and Ditko from any royalties.

To his credit, however, Stan bucked the system by developing and marketing one character that no one could take away from him. He recreated himself. With the impending success of the new Marvel line of comics Stan quickly transformed from your typical clean cut, white collared middle aged editor with thinning hair to a flashy guy with a mustache, sideburns, toupee, shades and a polyester wardrobe indicating that his new image consultant was probably the young and attractive Flo Steinberg, Marvel’s own Gal Friday. He certainly wasn’t getting fashion tips from Sol Brodsky.

While he was busy scripting snappy dialog full of trendy colloquialisms that endeared Marvel characters to a hipper, slightly more mature audience and redefining the genre he was sure to build his own celebrity with his new look, lecturing at colleges, doing voice overs on cartoons, writing Marvel Origin books, and plastering his name on every Marvel comic that opened with “Stan Lee Presents.” Stan’s monthly Soapbox was exactly that, not just a tool to promote Marvel Comics but a forum to promote Stan the Man and was where his now famous slogan “Excelsior!” first buried deep into the souls of his fans.

Today at 91 years of age, Stan is as vibrant and famous as ever. He has managed guest appearances in nearly every Marvel blockbuster an tonight will appear on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D.. He is worth over two hundred million dollars and in large part due to his own success at making his name synonymous with Marvel rather than royalties received from  each character he co-created.

Stan has done what he does best. He took care of himself and worked hard at it and though he has always been incredibly diplomatic, he has never stepped away from company lines regarding creators challenging the work for hire agreement. He never used his celebrity or leverage of any significance to correct or influence the draconian practices of the industry.

Alan Moore opened the doors for superheroes to engage a more mature audience. His work filled with complex themes and refined writing that raised comics to a level  recognized as literature. A true artist, his preference was to have his work speak for itself. Respect the work and you respect Alan Moore. Simple as that.

In the 1980′s when Moore’s work rose to critical acclaim and redefined the medium there was no question that he was the new Golden Boy. His trademark long hair and looming bearded persona always projected an image of the quintessential artist. His work has always spoke for itself and he is regarded by most as the greatest graphic novel writer.

For this reason alone it was with great celebration that DC penned a “creator owned” deal with him and Brian Bolland for Watchmen. A deal that would be manipulated and bastardized for decades to follow, culminating in a Watchman film that disregarded his lack of approval and the insult of a prequel series of comics titled Before Watchmen that mocked his authorship of the  greatest selling graphic novel of all time.

Moore has had a tempestuous relationship with publishers throughout his career that has led many to point fingers at him as the common denominator and has driven him into a personal exile from most comics and fandom.

Alan Moore, is a man who is more concerned about respect for his work than he is about money and has, as in the case of Watchmen, declined receipt payment as a matter of principle to protest his dissatisfaction. Few can understand how anyone could be so idealistic to reject the kind of money he has turned away, thus fueling the impression that he is an irrational man which he is anything but.

Moore, lately, has a new take on superheroes calling them a cultural catastrophe.’ The man that elevated the horizon for an entire medium is now denouncing the genre that he is responsible for transitioning. He is now receding from public life to work uninteruppted. In his wake is an entire generation of creators that are watching their greatest influence turn his back and walk away from them.

Alan Moore has been a high profile victim but he has often been in a position to capitalize tremendously despite his abuse. He has chosen retreat and rejection of compensation as his defense where he could have redirected that “tainted” money toward a fund to champion creators rights that seem dear to him, personally, yet he chose not to.

Stan Lee and Alan Moore both had the amazing ability to change the course of an entire genre. Their lofty positions gave them both an opportunity to make a difference regarding the rights of creators and neither took up the mantle. In Clifford Meth’s book, apparently they are both portrayed as victims of sorts, clearly Moore has received the shorter stick, but neither are in a position to cry poverty like so many others.

These are two men that made a career out of defining heroes but never found the hero in themselves.

This issue of creators rights is an important one in the comic book industry and should never be taken lightly by any fan or professional. Any book like Comic Book Babylon is a must read and Meth should be applauded for its compilation as well as his personal efforts in defense of the late Dave Cockrum.

In the end, this is a story about David and Goliath both with an opportunity to make a difference. As usual it is the Davids of the world like Clifford Meth that stand up and fight while the Goliaths like Lee and Moore draw all the attention but, in the end, are ineffectual when it matters most. Worlds apart in more ways than one.

Making Comics Because We Want to,

Gerry Giovinco



Super Pope – Redefining the Hero

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

You have to hand it to Pope Francis! In just a few short months since he has been elected, he is redefining not just his role as Pontiff but also what it means to be a hero to millions of people around the world. His opposition to the vast inequalities between the rich and the poor,  his mandate to be merciful rather than judgmental and his inclusive attitude  has already gained him the title of “The People’s Pope.” Time Magazine and the leading gay magazine, The Advocate, both herald him as  “2013 Person of the Year.”

Amazingly, Pope Francis’ words and actions appeal not just to his Catholic constituency but to people of all denominations and level of faith.  His approval rating has soared as high as 69% among all people in the United States, 80% of which are not Catholic!  He is, without question, a Super Pope.

Is it fair to compare the Pope to a superhero? Probably as fair as comparing superheroes to Jesus Christ who the Pope is said to represent.

Zack Snyder’s film Man of Steel made no bones about comparing Superman to Jesus. Snyder was so heavy handed in his biblical analogies that he probably should have cast The Bible star, Diogo Morgado, instead of Henry Cavill to play Kal El.

In Man of Steel, Superman is sent to Earth by his father to be a god among us. He is raised by common folk, sports a beard, strikes crucifixion poses, walks on water, turns himself over to authorities and sacrifices himself to save the world. This all sounds too familiar to Christians until Superman snaps Zod’s neck and kills him for a reality check.

Comparing Superman to Jesus was previously left mostly to scholars analyzing literature, theology, and modern mythology, not hammered down our throats in comic books or movies.

Since his 1939 debut in comic books, it has been widely acknowledged that Superman’s young  creators,  Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, were heavily influenced by their Jewish heritage and that Superman was their fanciful interpretation of the expected Savior that has been promised by God. This would  indicate to Christians, who believe Christ to be the Savior, that Superman is a metaphor for Jesus.

Jesus, however, did did not fly around in blue long johns and a red cape. Though He performed miracles, He did not  exhibit the ability to run faster than a speeding bullet, be more powerful than a locomotive or leap tall buildings in a single bound. He definitely did not kill anyone.

Pope Francis, like Jesus does not exhibit bombastic superpowers and, so far, no miracles have been attributed to him, yet.  (The Church is a strong believer in miracles that numerous Popes have been credited with.)

As for the colorful uniform, Pope Francis has denounced many of the gaudy Papal accessories that might actually associate him more closely  with Superheroes. The new Pope wears simple white garb instead of the lavishly ornate robes, hats and shoes of his predecessors. Instead of a golden throne, he sits upon a plain, wooden one. He has even traded in the famed, bulletproof Popemobile for a used 1984 Renault 4L.

Pope Frances is less like Superman and more like Clark Kent. This is where he redefines the hero. Pope Francis does not elevate the spectacular, he praises humanity. He focuses away from the rich and powerful and embraces that which is common. He recognizes and promotes the power of numbers that is in the hands of the less fortunate. He delivers a message of fairness and sharing that inspires hope more than the symbol on Superman’s chest.

A former nightclub bouncer, Pope Francis speaks the language of the street. He recently responded  to Rush Limbaugh’s “Marxist” charges with clever comments that rang around the world:

“The Marxist ideology is wrong. But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended.”

When targeting the abuse of Trickle Down Economics he is quoted as saying:

“The promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefitting the poor. But what happens instead, is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger nothing ever comes out for the poor.”

Pope Francis speaks to all people in words they can understand and the people are listening. Does this make him a hero?

Heroes are born out of desparation. Superman was a wonderful remedy for the angst that was post depression, war era America. His popularity peaks in times of turmoil. Today, however, Superman has come to represent that which is all powerful. He is lead by the hand of corporate greed and is immune to the perils of the general population when cities are destroyed during one of his fictional epic battles and now he is willing to kill.  Superman has lost his humanity.

We are in desperate times. The global economy pits the rich against the poor in an ever widening gap that Superman cannot close.  A new hero is needed but this time he is not delivering a punch but a message. Pope Francis lets us know that the new hero is not among us. It is us! Our power is our humanity. That has always been the true power of all great heroes. Superman has lost this power but  it is definitely the power of this new, Super Pope.

Gerry Giovinco



SUPERHEROES™: The Never Ending Bullshit – Truth, Justice and Corporate Greed Part 3

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

Corporate Greed: There was a time when there was such a thing as the American Dream. It was predicated on the idea that if you worked hard, lived a good life  and saved your money you will achieve success. The American Dream manifested itself  differently in comic books where it was represented in the very beginning of the industry by downtrodden sons of immigrants during the Great Depression. Their vision was that of the meek attaining tremendous powers and using them to protect and serve their community. Their creations, which launched a genre known as superheroes, represented “Truth, Justice and the American Way.”

The recent PBS documentary Superheroes: The Never Ending Battle did a wonderful job bringing attention to these idealistic virtues of superheroes and comic books. What it neglected to do, however,  was show that superheroes of today also represent the continued victimization of their creators and their families and have become the iconic representation of Corporate Greed as the two monolithic media corporations Time/Warner and Disney, the parent companies of DC and Marvel respectively, seek to control, dominate, and protect their intellectual properties. They do this by the use of Draconian creator contracts, militant trademark enforcement of not just their characters but the word superhero itself, and by putting a stranglehold on the markets where other comics are sold and distributed.

This is what I see as the greatest failure of the documentary. That it supposedly represents superheroes as being a significant part of our culture. That superheroes are the modern American mythology. That superheroes represent Truth Justice and the American Way. That Superheroes are everywhere consumed by the imaginations of everyone. The documentary fails because it focuses solely on the superheroes represented by Marvel and DC and consequently  becomes a tool that empowers their domination and control of the entire genre.

Corporations are quickly corralling us all into a culture that is dictated by them. There was a time when culture would influence decisions made by a corporation but now media has such a firm embrace on our cultural psyche that they can manipulate our every whim. As corporations like Time/Warner and Disney seek to control trademark ownership of public domain characters from every fable, myth, legend, story and comic book they have a lock on each and every one of us that goes much deeper than our pocketbook. They control the extent our imaginations and the marketability of our creativity, personally and as a culture.

Superheroes were born from comic books for one reason. No other medium besides comics gives any person the opportunity to create so vividly a story that is so fantastic and so unimaginable about a person with incredible superpowers and their adventures. Comics let us deliver that idea to an audience in a precise and visually stimulating way with very little expense.

Imagine that the images that could be drawn on a page by a poor immigrant teenager with a pencil and ink were so fantastic that it required over forty years of technological development before they could be made believable on film! Today, it costs hundreds of millions of dollars to make a superhero action film but a superhero can come alive in a comic for next to nothing. The creator of the next great superhero could be a young kid publishing that story right now for very little cost on the internet, reaching millions of people around the globe in an instant.

That is the power of comics. That is the power of unfettered culture. That is the biggest fear to these big corporations, that the next great superhero will fly right under their nose and take the world by storm and they will not own a piece of it.

So Corporate Greed does what it does best and attempts to create tunnel vision for everyone it can with documentaries like Superheroes: The Never Ending Battle. They create a new mythology that everyone is expected to believe, that the Marvel and DC superheroes are the only game in town.

If they get enough of our attention and enough of our money and can control enough of the distribution system (we are to believe there is only one real comic book distributor) maybe we won’t notice that there is a world of other comics and superheroes out there. Maybe we won’t notice that many are much more entertaining and original than the seventy-five-year-old rehash of Superman or that fifty-year-old not-so-fresh take on Spider-man.

It is our job as true fans of the medium of comics and the genre of superheroes to remain vigilant and to ensure that the wealth of accurate information about what we love is not forgotten because the true archives of the past is the fertile ground from which a fruitful future will spring regardless how much manure is spread on the dried up wasteland of lies that the corporations want us to believe.

Yes the title of the documentary got it right. When it comes to superheroes there is a never ending battle to tell the truth about the comics industry, seek justice for creators, and to not fall victim to corporate greed because what we usually get told in documentaries like this is just a pile of very pretty bullshit that panders to the big guys.

Previous links to my perspective on this documentary can be found here:

SUPERHEROES™: The Never Ending Bullshit

SUPERHEROES™: The Never Ending Bullshit – Truth, Justice and Corporate Greed Part 1

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

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™: The Never Ending Bullshit – Truth, Justice and Corporate Greed Part 1

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

TRUTH: The PBS documentary, Superheroes: The Never Ending Battle flashed onto the screen revealing in it’s title the first and, in my opinion, major obscured truth of the series. How do you accurately tell the history of superheroes without disclosing that the word Superheroes is jointly trademarked by Marvel and DC? This information is not mentioned at all during the entire three hour series and is not even noted in the credits.

The concept of superheroes is then immediately defined as modern American mythology, American gods, American pioneers and an American art form. If It is so American why does the series focuses almost entirely on the properties of only Marvel and DC excluding a huge array of other publishers (mostly American) that have produced superhero comics over the last 75 years? This would be like doing a documentary of the history of the automobile in America and only focusing on product made by  Ford and General Motors.

The documentary  does mention that at one time, just two years after the publication of the first appearance of Superman, there were as many as two dozen publishers putting out 150 comics based on superheroes though only Timely (Marvel), Quality and Fox were named and all of the characters shown are currently owned by Marvel or DC. There is then a fifty year gap until the next publisher of superhero comics is mentioned and that is Image formed by a renegade group of Marvel artists.

One character highlighted as having dominated Superman in the market notably because his alter ego is the young boy, Billy Batson, was Captain Marvel.  There was no insight, however that “The Big Red Cheese” had been published by Fawcett and that DC had won a trademark infringement suit against Fawcett claiming that Captain Marvel was too much like Superman and shut him down. No insight that Marvel hijacked the trademark  before DC could license the rights to the property in 1972 before finally purchasing it entirely in 1991. No dirt to tarnish the super clean image of Superheroes. No dirt to tarnish Marvel and DC.

Superheroes are part of the fabric of our lives as Americans. The concept of superheroes is referred to every day by average people. The idea of being the best, having unique ability, and a desire to conquer obstacles is fundamental to the American Dream. Superman may have defined the concept but it is our culture that has embraced it. We deserve the whole truth.

It is a mistake to reduce a documentary about superheroes to a promotional piece for two major corporations whose only real interest in the characters is their bottom line. I would have expected more from PBS. I would liked to have seen more about all the different perspective of superheroes from different cultures and different media.

Where were the superheroes from books, cartoons and video games that are not from the big two?

Where were other Golden Age superheroes Blue Bolt, Captain Courageous, Captain Future, Doc Savage, Fantoman, Fighting American, Mandrake the Magician, The Spirit, Spy Smasher?

Where were Mighty Mouse, Underdog, Super Chicken, Blue Falcon, Space Ghost, the Mighty Heroes, the Incredibles?

Where were superheroes from other comic books? No T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, DNAgents, Elementals, Justice Machine, Zot!, Badger, the Tick, or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?

Where were the other female Superheroes besides Wonder Woman, such as Black Cat, Miss Espionage, Moon Girl, Sheena Queen of the Jungle?

There is a seemingly endless list of alternative characters that could at least have been referred to but were not. I assume because it would not have been in the best interest of the holders of the Superhero trademark, Marvel and DC.

“Truth Justice and the American Way” is the byline that has become synonymous with superheroes yet the truth in Superheroes: The Never Ending Battle has been distorted by omission. That which did not glorify Marvel and DC was swept under the rug and the few foibles that were presented, necessary to humanize the corporations, were quickly acknowledged, rectified and dismissed like the resolution of a 1960′s sitcom according to this documentary.

Just as the series distorts Truth it also turns a blind eye to Justice especially regarding creators rights. Next week I will shed my opinion on that in part two of SUPERHEROES™: The Never Ending Bullshit – Truth, Justice and Corporate Greed

Making Comics Because We Want to,

Gerry Giovinco



Superheroes™: The Never Ending Bullshit

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

“Superheroes: The Never Ending Battle” is a three part documentary that recently has been airing on PBS. If you hurry you can also watch it streaming on the PBS website right here.

On the surface this series seems to be a beautifully produced and thoughtful presentation about the history of superheroes and comic books in America and their influence throughout the world.

Most comic fans that grew up reading comics or enjoying superheroes in any era will wax nostalgic as they see the devotion that is poured into the process of documenting how the creators of superhero adventures were influenced by the world around them.

The highlight of the series for me were video interjections by legendary comic creators, many of whom have already passed away. Watching Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, Joe Kubert, Jerry Robinson, and Carmine Infantino speak about comics couldn’t help but choke me up.

The series also did a wonderful job of representing women in the industry with video commentary by Ramona Fradon, Jennette Kahn, Trina Robbins, Louise Simonson, and Christina Strain.

I would love to say that this was a benchmark documentary about the history of comics but I can’t because what I witnessed was more like propaganda mechanism for Marvel and DC. This series in all of its splendor effectively trivialized any accomplishments in the battle for creators rights. It completely ignored the influence of the Direct Market. It  erased the impact of decades of Independent comics with the notable exception of Image. No mentions off the tremendous impact that European or Japanese comics had.

I realize that it is unrealistic to expect every last detail of a 75 year history into a three hour documentary. I also recognize now, more clearly than ever, why the word superhero and the derivatives of it should not be allowed to be used as a trademark jointly by Marvel and DC exclusively.

What this series did effectively accomplish was to blur the distinction between the history of Supeheroes™ and the history of Comic Books as a whole by defining the impression for the general public that Superheroes™ = Comic Books and that Comic Books = Marvel and DC with the tip of a hat to Image, apparently the only independent to successfully publish another unique superhero.

NEWS FLASH! There are many independent publishers that have made comic books that featured superheroes! Superheroes also exist in other media and in other countries. All characters represented in the superhero genre are NOT owned by only Marvel and DC as much as they would like you to think that. This was not represented at all in this documentary and I believe it is unfair to dismiss the accomplishments and struggles of so many who also had great superhero stories to tell.

“Superheroes: The Never Ending Battle” is typical of the type of bullshit that big corporations do to gloss over the undesired truth.  “Smear lipstick on that pig and everyone will be happy and buy into what we have to sell.” ” Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”

Truth be told, there could have been a three part series just on the battles that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster fought over their rights to Superman or the battles that Jack Kirby had with Marvel for compensation and to have his art returned.

There could be a three part series on the rise of the Direct Market and how the barrage of  quality Independent publishing in the 1980′s had  Marvel and DC on the ropes.

There could be a three part series on how the internet and digital delivery has changed how comics are created published and viewed.

They would all represent true and vital information for anyone interested in an accurate history of the never ending battle of creating superheroes and comics in a market dominated by corporate interests intent on squelching any potential competition to their mythic intellectual property that they gained from the exploitation of the imaginations of mostly young, impoverished children of immigrants searching for and expressing their own American Dream.

If you have watched the series and got that great warm and fuzzy superhero nostalgic rush, I want you to know that I had it too.  I also have a tremendously deep appreciation for the medium of comics and a tremendous respect for the genre of superheroes and though it is wonderful to see the genre presented in such a positive light I think it would be great if audiences understood and valued the true history of superheroes and not the mythology of the mythology influenced only by two enormous corporations.

Next week I will begin a series of my own on this blog that will take a closer look at how “Superheroes: The Never Ending Battle” diluted the real history of superheroes.

Making Comics Because We Want to,

Gerry Giovinco



Saving Superheroes from their Gatekeeper

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

Just two years ago Advertising Age magazine listed DC Comics as one of America’s hottest brands. Though the referred to it as “a move fraught with risk,” they applauded DC for reworking every character in the New 52 as an effort to broaden their audience appeal.

That is what every owner of a brand wants, universal appeal. That has been the power of comics and superheroes in particular, for generations. They have had appeal to everyone as a general whole. Who wouldn’t want a character that represents “Truth, justice and the American way” as their trademark?

Few characters in the world are as iconic as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, followed by the supportive cast of the Justice League of America and the rest of the DC Universe. That is why you can you can find their images licensed on every product imaginable from baby toys to automobiles.

It is obvious that once Marvel was bought by the merchandising masterminded Disney Corporation, Time Warner and DC felt they needed to step up their game to prevent Supes, Bats, and WW from being overshadowed by the likes of Spider-man and those damn Avengers.

Rather than polishing up the classic style guides and reminding markets why their product was responsible for the entire genre of superheroes and has stood the test of time having been viable for seventy-five years, they decided to “shake things up” by making their product more edgy, gritty, trendy, socially relevant, sexy, modern, and violent.

Viola! The New 52.

There is evidence that this move has certainly perked up comic sales and generated some new found publicity, though much of this is related to the sinister speculator market.  There also seems to be an influx of new readers, woman in particular, who appeared to be absent from the comics scene just a few years ago.

But has all this change really been good?

Say what you like, the damage is done as evidenced by a stirring, must-read, fan letter to DC, eloquently and passionately written by Gabrielle Friesen, who could not have spelled out more clearly how DC has set the time bomb that is destined to annihilate their, once invaluable IP.

Her diatribe is lengthy and painful to anyone who has grown up loving comics. She details, situation after situation where DC has taken beloved characters that she enjoyed since childhood and subjected them to rape, torture, murder, exploitation, mindless prejudice and persecution all for the sake of “broader audience appeal.”

A brief synopsis can be found in this quote from her letter but seriously, please read the whole thing:

“You want to know something DC? You’re the super villain here. Your company is Doomsday. Lumbering, stupid, terrible, leaving a path of pain in its wake, killing beloved superheroes left and right. Fans like me? We’re Superman (and this is the only time I have ever identified with Superman). We’re brave and smart and powerful, and we want the world to be good and safe. We want our comics to be good and safe. And you are pummeling us down, but Superman rose up again. The Death of Superman was a stupid, and ultimately temporary move on your part. More and more fans like me are leaving, using our superpower of the dollar, withdrawing it, and warning everyone we know not to come near the radioactive toxic waste heap that is your company, that it won’t give them superpowers, only hurt them. We’re going to outlast you; whether its your company collapsing because dominant culture dudebros are not enough of a market to support your behemoth weight, or whether you pull through, get a new editorial team, or just wise up to the fact that more than just dudebros exist in the world, that people love your characters but not the way you treat them, that consumers are smart and have power. You are bleeding out and actively resisting a tourniquet, spitting in the face and insulting the medic offering it to you.

Comics were started by the downtrodden. Superman, the alien immigrant, was created by Jewish men. Wonder Woman was created by a man wishing for women’s equality. Superheroes protect the weak, not those who seek to dominate. You’ve forgotten your roots, and completely assimilated to dominant, oppressive culture.

You are in control of beautiful characters. Kind, compassionate, flawed human characters. Characters who want the world to be better, who help the downtrodden, who rescue kittens from trees and save lives. People who can fly.

But you’re stuck on the ground, actively digging yourself deeper into mud.”

What trademark owner wants to get this letter from a fan? What licensee who paid tons of money to secure the rights to plaster their product with DC superheroes wants to know that these characters are no longer the wholesome bundle of Americana they thought they bought into?

Does Fisher-Price, Mattel and every other maker of children’s toys and apparel want to know that DC editorial thinks it’s humorous that one of it’s major characters were the subject of an art contest where they were to be shown naked in a tub attempting to commit suicide a week before National Suicide Prevention Week?

(Yes, weeks after this contest created a n offensive stir in the industry, DC has yet to take this link down from their site.)

If a sport star or celebrity had this kind of attention focused on them, you know that companies would be pulling endorsements left and right. Ask Tiger Woods, Lance Armstong, Mel Gibson and Paula Deen, just to name a few.

There were high hopes when Diane Nelson was hired lead DC after her tremendous job with the Harry Potter franchise. Is she even paying attention? Would she allow the Harry Potter property to be defiled the way the DCU is? Doubtful! What would J.K. Rowlings say?

Gabrielle Friesen is right. Fans do have the power of their money and their voices. These characters may be copyrighted and trademarked to DC Comics but they belong to us as a culture. It is the people that have embraced them and spent their hard earned dollars to establish them as the icons they are today. Superheroes are vulnerable after all, endangered by their own gatekeeper.

It is time that true fans save their favorite superheroes before it’s too late, before there is a complete meltdown of the entire DCU.

“Up, up and away!”

Gerry Giovinco




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