Posts Tagged ‘Timely’

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



Making Comics is Risky Business: Part 2

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

People don’t usually attribute the term risky to the art of making comics, at  least not in the way that it might be risky to sky dive or climb Mount Everest. Making comics is a rather sedentary and danger free process so it is hard to consider it risky until, as was detailed in Making Comics is Risky Business:Part 1, it becomes a business.

Any business is defined by risk that, in the most simple terms, weighs the possibility  of the venture experiencing profit or loss. This business risk is influenced by many factors including potential sales volume, unit price, production costs, competition, economy climate,  government regulations and changes in trends and technology.

1st publications from National, Timely and MLJ

How successfully these factors are managed can limit the risk. Since the first comic books were created in 1933 only a few publishers of comics have stood the test of time. National/DC since 1934, Timely/Marvel and MLJ/Archie Comics since 1939 are the only American comics publishers that can boast having survived over seventy years.

1st publications_from Denis Kitchen, Rip Off Press & Last Gasp

Underground comics publishers Denis Kitchen and Rip Off Press have been around in one form or another since 1969 followed by  Last Gasp Comics in 1970 leaving a roughly forty year gap where all other comics publishers were ultimately doomed for extinction.

Since the advent of these underground publishers a number of alternative comics publishing houses have managed to show some long term resilience.  Their achievement is due to  a notable change in how risk has been managed. More accurately, there has been a shift in who assumes the most risk in the process of how comics are created and sold.

In the beginning financial risk was always the burden of the publisher. The responsibility of all of the expenses fell squarely on their shoulders. They paid for the production of the content, including the color separations and the printing while maintaining any other operating expenses.

Comics were distributed on consignment which meant that any unsold comics were “returned” to the publisher. Publishers waited  for months to find out if their comics actually sold and only then did they receive payment. By the time a publisher saw revenue from sales they had already paid the writers, artists, printers etc.

To avoid the additional expense of shipping returns, publishers generally accepted affidavits from distributors, relying on blind faith to confirm their actual sales volume. Unsold comics were to be destroyed and often the top of the cover was torn and returned as proof of their destruction. Still many of these comic books would be sold at reduced prices by a third party and the publisher took the hit. Distributers and retailers assumed little risk regarding comics sales and in many cases took advantage of the vulnerable situation publishers were in.

To minimize the risk on their low priced product which was primarily targeted at children,  comics publishers, notoriously paid little to writers and artists and offered no royalties from sales. They printed on the cheapest paper and had minimal production values. They considered it a disposable product that was an impulse purchase and cut every corner they could to curb expenses.

Since comics were a low priced high volume product, publishers relied heavily on advertising sales to bolster their revenue. Comics created an opportunity for advertisers to sell to kids that could only be reached through radio and movie theaters before.

Publishers based advertising rates on the number of comics circulated, not sold which was an obviously inflated figure but comics had a shelf life that was invaluable to advertisers.  They realized that in a print product like a comic book their ad could be seen over and over for long periods of time. They knew that comics were shared with friends, guaranteeing that one comic would reach many potential customers before it ended in the trash. Publishers knew this too and found that advertising revenue was the keystone to their success more than actual sales.

Phil Seuling

This system of production and distribution supported the comics industry for over forty years before Phil Seuling approached the publishers with a different and unique distribution plan that lifted the burden of risk from the publishers and shifted it to the retailers with a promise of guaranteed sales and no returns.

Next week, in Part 3, we  will look at how the creation of the Direct Market changed the risk factor in comics forever.

Making Comics Because We Want to,

Gerry Giovinco

Collusion Over Creator’s Rights?

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe looks like an incredible read for any fan of comics. An excerpt from it that appears on Grantland certainly leaves your mouth watering for more.

I was hooked on every word especially since it dug into the skeleton filled closets of Marvel at a time when I was an avid fan of the House of Ideas. Though there is clearly tons of riveting kiss-and-tell moments, I was most taken by an account where Stan Lee and Carmine Infantino draft an agreement to share information regarding freelance rates to maintain some type of parity between Marvel and DC. Roy Thomas, Editor-In Chief of Marvel at the time considered the agreement collusion and was unwilling to enforce it. This drove him to resign referring to the agreement as “unethical, immoral, and quite possibly illegal.”

Bravo, Roy!

Collusion?

I began to wonder if this word could be the key to the emancipation of character rights back to their original creators.

The comics industry, according to Gerard Jones’ equally compelling book, Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book has a sordid history steeped in mob ties and unethical decisions. Many publishers including Marvel/Timely were subsidiaries of other publishing groups and were often one of many comics publishers  commingling under the same umbrella.

It was not uncommon for competing publishers to have distribution agreements with each other. National Periodicals, the parent of DC Comics, for instance, distributed Marvel in the early sixties restricting them to just six regular publications.

All of the comics publishers, historically, convened to create the Comic Code Authority in an effort to save the industry from abolishment during the Kefauver, Senate subcommittee hearings motivated by Dr. Frederick Wertham’s book Seduction of the Innocent.

The point being that comics publishers did talk and were known to conspire when it came to making money and self preservation.

Julius Schwartz, Martin Goodman

Stan Lee himself admits that the creation of the Fantastic Four was motivated by a discussion that Marvel publisher Martin Goodman had while golfing with DC editor-in-chief Julius Schwartz.

After reading that Stan Lee and Carmine Infantino were willing to conspire against creators to prevent a page rate war I had to wonder.

What is the possibility that work-for-hire and the practice of creators having no ownership in the rights of their creations was a mutually agreed upon and enforced system amongst conspiring publishers that was simply considered how things were done in comics?

If someone could prove that there was collusion regarding creators rights in those early days, would that deem the practice illegal, forcing the courts to readdress the copyright ownership of characters created under those pretenses?

I’m no lawyer and may be grasping at  straws, but it sure would be nice to see a practice that has proven to be, to use  Roy Thomas’ words,  “unethical and immoral” in the minds of fans and creators alike who feel that those who created the characters  that are now generating billions of dollars for the corporations that own them should receive at least some kind of residual compensation.

If you have a perspective on this, I’d love to hear it. If you are a lawyer, or investigative journalist, I hope you would sink your teeth in this. If you are one of those creators that feel screwed, cross your fingers!

Making Comics Because We Want to,

Gerry Giovinco

Blame it on Stan Lee

Monday, June 11th, 2012

The subject of Creators’ Rights in Comics has been catapulted into the limelight in recent years with the sudden surge of blockbuster, comic related films taking in billions of dollars for the corporations that own the copyrights and trademarks while the creators or the estates of creators that conceived and created these gold mines,  struggle to get screen credit, let alone, some type of monetary compensation.

The current success of Marvel’s characters in all popular media has made Jack Kirby the posthumous poster child for numerous creators who are now victims of the comic industry’s tradition of work-for-hire agreements.

Stan Lee, Marvel’s long-time, imperial ambassador and co-creator on many of these characters, stands accused of benefitting enormous financial gain while failing to defend the rights of his various creative partners, most notably, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko who many contend deserve more than just art credit for their contribution to the actual creation of the characters that they are associated with.

Stan has and always will be, first and foremost, a company man having been brought into the business as a gopher at the ripe old age of 17 by his cousin-in-law, Martin Goodman, the publisher and former owner of Timely Comics. Timely evolved into Marvel under the stewardship of Stan who took over as editor, replacing Joe Simon who left Timely with Jack Kirby  in 1941. Nepotism goes a long way in comics and Stan Lee, since, has always been “taken care of” for his role as a stalwart, corporate soldier.

To be fair Stan Lee is  much more than the average, Marvel Monkey Boy. He is, unequivocally the Voice of Marvel Comics. The head cheerleader. The band leader of the Mighty Marvel Marching Society. Stan Lee, in many ways, has made himself into a Marvel character as epochal as any Spider-man, Avenger or X-Men. He has done so with a silver tongue, a witty pen, relentless salesmanship, unbridled enthusiasm, and a revisionist memory that defies the continuity strangled editorial policy of Marvel itself.

Stan Lee and his relationship to Marvel is his own greatest creation and he gets paid handsomely for it. Stan’s net worth is reportedly $200 million! This staggering figure infuriates co-creators and their heirs as well as comic fans focused on creators’ rights who all argue the unfairness that Stan Lee continues to acquire great wealth while his former collaborators are rewarded zilch. Most of them can’t even get a free ticket to see a movie featuring the character they created.

Is there, however, any evidence that Stan Lee is gaining that wealth from any type of royalty paid to him for his act of co-creating those characters either? If Stan got even a fraction of a cut from all the Marvel films and associated merchandise featuring a character that he is credited as a co-creator of , that $200 million would be a drop in the bucket.

Stan gets paid for being Stan the Man. Stan gets paid for being Executive Producer. Stan gets paid for his gratuitous cameos. Stan Lee has made himself famous. He is the Kardashians of the comics world and he is making himself rich, still, at 89 years old with the same vigor he had in 1961 when the Fantastic Four first hit the stands.

So why does Stan Lee catch so much heat when the subject of creator’s rights comes up if he is probably a victim of the same corporate greed, himself?

Well, it’s his own damn fault.

While Stan was creating a marketing atmosphere that sold Marvel to it’s readers as one big happy, zany Bullpen, he took it upon himself to make stars out of his creators by giving them credits with merry monikers that were intended to stick in the minds of the legion of fans that was growing faster than even he could have imagined.

As Marvel Mania grew, Stan boasted and told all. He was very open about who he collaborated with and happily shared the details of the now famous Marvel Method of creating comics. Not only did he talk; he wrote it down in his own words so that even if his memory would one day be awry, there would be a very clear paper trail.


In 1974 Stan Lee authored Origins of Marvel Comics followed the next year by Son of Origins of Marvel Comics. The success of these two books led to The Superhero Women and Bring on the Bad Guys. These books all detailed his perspective of his creative relationships with the artists in the Bullpen especially his dependancy on his numero uno illustrator, “Jolly” Jack Kirby.


Stan seemed to do all this with an intention of elevating the appreciation of comic creators with both the public and the industry. He assesses that the writing in comics prior to the inception of the Marvel style “…left just a little bit to be desired.”

To make his point he writes:

“Who were these people who actually created and produced America’s comic books? To answer that burning question we must be aware that comics have always been a high-volume low-profit-per-unit business. Which is a polite way of saying that they never paid very much to the writers or artists. If memory serves me (and why shouldn’t it?), I think I received about fifty cents per page for the first script I wrote in those early days. Comics have always been primarily a piecework business. You got paid by the page for what you wrote. the more pages you could grind out, the more money you made. The comic book writer had to be a comic-book freak, he had to be dedicated to comics; he certainly couldn’t be in it for the money. And unlike most other forms of writing, there were no royalty payments at the end of the road… no residuals…no copyright ownership. You wrote your pages, got your check, and that was that.”

We all know that Stan Lee values credits highly and was sure to plaster his own name on every Marvel comic. Stan Lee Presents and Stan’s Soap Box were as much of the part of the Marvel experience as anything else. His famed sign-off,“Excelsior!”, still brings a giddy rush to a generation of comic book fans. In an effort to instill some added pride to the work of the comic creators in the Bullpen, Stan began putting credits of all the creators in the comics Marvel produced.

“…I’ve frequently mentioned Jolly Jack Kirby as our most ubiquitous artist-in-residence. He wasn’t christened Jolly Jack –– sometimes he wasn’t even that jolly –– but I got a kick out of giving alternative nicknames to our genial little galaxy of superstars, mostly for the purpose of enabling our readers to remember who they were. You see, prior to the emergence of Marvel Comics, the artist and writers who produced the strips, as well as the editors, art directors, and letterers, were mostly unknown to the reader, who rarely if ever saw their names in print. In order to change that image and attempt to give a bit more glamour to our hitherto unpublicized creative caliphs, I resorted to every deviceI could think of –– and the nutty nicknames seemed to work.”

Joe Rosen

And it did work! Joe Rosen, a letterer in those days said in COMICS INTERVIEW #7, “That’s why I admire Marvel. By instituting credits, they made you feel prouder of your work. And by being so successful they revamped the industry and launched so many titles that they made it possible to have a professional career.”

Stan knew that to be successful you have to make those around you successful. He did this by giving credit and creating work. Most of which went to Jack Kirby.

Throughout the Origins series and, actually, most of his career, Stan always spoke very highly of Jack Kirby and his creative contributions. Some of those very telling remarks have been posted on the Kirby Museum website in Robert Steibel’s Kirby Dynamics but I have to refer to a quote in Son of Origins where Stan Lee completely asserts Jack Kirby’s role:

“Jack was (and still is)* to superheroes what Kellog’s is to corn flakes. When such fabulous features as The Fantastic four, the Mighty Thor, and The Incredible Hulk were just a-borning, it was good ol’ Jackson with whom I huddled, harangued, and hassled until the characters were designed, the plots were delineated, and the layouts were delivered so that I could add the little dialogue balloons and captions with which I’ve spent a lifetime cluttering up the illustrations of countless long-suffering artists.”

(*This was written during a period when Jack Kirby had left Marvel and gone to DC, unhappy because he was not being paid for what he considered “writing” at Marvel according to Carmine Infantino in his autobiography The Amazing World of Carmine Infantino. Kirby no longer wanted to be “second fiddle” and even declined an opportunity to collaborate with Joe Simon for the same reason though the pair did do a single issue of Sandman together.)

Stan recognized that his greatest resource was his talent pool and, short of finding ways to give them ownership in their creations, he looked for other ways to keep them happy. Stan was even the first president of The Academy of Comic Book Arts that he started with Neal Adams. The ACBA was to be the start of a comic creator’s union of sorts but did not last long.

Stan Lee has been in the comic book business for seventy-three years, probably longer than anyone else alive. He has done more for crediting comic creators than any editor who had gone before him, revealing his greatest sin. With his eye focused on glamour and recognition he failed to affect righteous residual compensation for the efforts of Marvel’s comic creators. His compliance with the business tradition that he himself recognized as insufficient destined generations of creators to teeter on poverty while their creations reaped gold for Marvel.

The victims of this industry-wide practice blanket the entire comics landscape, some tragically. Most recently Robert L. Washington III co-author of Static which is currently owned by DC Comics died of a heart attack in abject poverty at the age of 47. His contribution to the Heroes Initiative is a heart wrenching window into the reality of too many comic creators.

Stan, we love you man, but we need you now, more than ever, to stand up for comic creators or you will be always be cursed with the blame for Marvel cheating the same creators that you personally paraded as stars. You can still make a difference. It’s time to put an end to an archaic, unjust work-for-hire practice that keeps talented people impoverished while a soulless corporation bloats over the spoils of their creative efforts.

You have stood at the helm of a company that has created heroes your entire life. Be a hero to those that depended on you the most, the ones that helped you build that fabled “House of Ideas.”

Celebrating Thirty Years of Comics History!

Gerry Giovinco

As an added Bonus here’s a link to Neal Kirby’s FATHER’S DAY tribute to his dad that ran on this site last year.



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