The Kirby Decision


Maybe it’s time.

In a way I can hardly believe I’m saying it.  I mean, where have I been?  But I think it’d be foolish to call this anything but a difficult, we might call it a hard-to-get-to, decision, so I guess if I want to be let off the hook for it, what I’m saying is that I still think I can be.

But, being let off the hook of the hook?

I’m not sure that one works anymore.

Let me explain what I mean.  Because I’m not a lawyer, I know I’m incredibly handicapped as far as…well, handicapping the Kirbys’ legal battle with Marvel.  You know?  I mean, I wouldn’t even know where to begin with assessing just how out-of-touch my attempted handicapping would be.  All I know is what everybody else knows, or ought to know:

It ain’t over ’til it’s over.

That’s pretty much why we don’t call it over before it’s over, right?  Because it still isn’t over.  So of course I continue to hold out hope that the Kirbys might make a successful appeal, I hope they can afford to go to the Supreme Court if necessary, why if I had any money I’d be very happy to donate to their war chest.  But maybe it’s because I don’t have that money, that I feel the cognitive dissonance starting to set in.  To hold out hope, you see, is in the same gesture to hold off conclusion:  at least in my experience it is.  And the more you feel like you’re doing on the one hand, the more easily you can balance what’s going on with the other hand.  Because sometimes feeling virtuous isn’t so great a feeling that you can’t afford to live without it, if you have other and more pressing needs.  Because sometime’s virtue’s greatest value is balance…

But don’t let me get ahead of myself.  Here’s the thing:  I’ve seen a lot of these movies.  I’ve bought a lot of these comic books.  And I think you’d have to be hard-hearted indeed to say that all of them must count as ethical black marks against me.  After all when I was a kid I didn’t know who Jack Kirby was, or Steve Ditko for that matter…and it took me years to find out that they may have been mistreated.  And the same is true for Siegel and Shuster — why I couldn’t even identify them as readily as Kirby and Ditko.  By the time I’d heard of Jerry Robinson, which was a few years after I’d heard of Bill Finger, which was a few years after I’d heard of Bob Kane, I still didn’t know about their mistreatment, or at any rate hadn’t taken the idea of that mistreatment inward to my own reckoning of things.  And you know, even after that, maybe sometimes it takes a while for the penny to drop.  And then after that too, you find yourself curious about whether it always lands butter-side-down, or if that’s just a perceptual illusion.

What I’m saying is…it can take a long time.  And I have felt deeply invested in these comic-book things for most of my life, honestly.  The story of Kirby’s unreturned artwork was something I first made out in terms of what it meant to me — the story of Ditko’s departure I knew, even as I bought re-issues of his Dr. Strange.  I know I am losing some people right away, here, and so to those people I would like to say:  HEY!  DON’T GET LOST!  Because I’m just like you.  I saw TDK.  I saw Spider-Man 2.  I knew all about Kirby’s story with Marvel when I rented that extended-version DVD of the Fantastic Four movie…which by the way was totally worth it for that Kirby mini-doc in the Special Features, because seeing Len Wein and Marv Wolfman reminisce about visiting Jack at his home in California probably changed the way I see comics forever, seeing Mike Royer talk about inking Jack probably changed it the same way again, seeing some of the sketches he did for fans actually changed my conception of the “rules” of illustration…seriously I am not different from you.  I loved the Iron Man movie too, you know?

And let’s not forget, even if I was thoroughly disposed to be virtuous for its own sake (which I’m not) I would still be conflicted about that Captain America movie, right?  After all, Joe Simon liked it.  JOE SIMON!  And what am I supposed to do, not take Joe’s satisfaction into account?  Hell, I saw the crappy Superman Returns movie I think within a couple months anyway of walking around for two days beaming about the Siegel decision — and I didn’t have any problem with it, and it wasn’t even much good!  Meanwhile the Cap movie is supposed to be awesome!

I’m just like you.  Really.  I have my own needs, about the things I care about.  Just like you.

And I’m predisposed to hold off on making a decision just like you, too.  The Siegels, it seems to me, are NOT GOING ANYWHERE — eventually their fair share of the money I spent on that crappy Superman movie will make its way to them.  Which is good:  because they’re entitled to it.  Warner Bros. is behaving badly, but the Siegels have the law on their side.  I don’t have to take a stand right now.  I don’t even have to think about what kind of stand I would take.  I don’t even have to think — right now! — about there ever even eventually being such a thing as a stand, that I might take one way or another.

And just one more pause, please, for a further butter-side-down complication.  Because what about my beloved Gerber Defenders?  Dr. Strange was in that, and the Hulk too.  And it wasn’t just Dr. Strange and the Hulk, nor even the Sub-Mariner and Silver Surfer neither…it was Nighthawk, Valkyrie, Luke Cage.  And who remembers who created them?  In a way, though we have no say in court proceedings, we are more unlucky than lawyers or judges or even the jurors that we potentially might be…in that we have no institutionalized roles we are responsible to, that must morally constrain our actions…

…But there I’m getting ahead of myself as well.  Because this is an open letter to anyone who’s ever been conflicted, even a little bit, even one way or the other, by being so invested in beloved stories or characters that it’s uncomfortable to contemplate your responsibilities to their creators…as in:  contemplating whether you even have such responsibilities, or can be said to have them.  You know it’s funny, originally this was going to be a blog-post touting a Marvel comic.  Such a strange thing, for me to be doing!  I don’t buy Marvel comics anymore, mostly.  But I really liked this one.  And I wanted to talk about it.

But the question now comes up:  how much am I inconvenienced, genuinely, by simply not talking about it?

The problem is, that it really is the tiniest thing in my life.  Whether or not to say “hey, this was good!”  So how much do I really need my in-between ethical state, that I might rebel against not refraining from commenting on it, and comment on it anyway?  Steve Bissette, an artist I greatly respect, has put it right before me about the Kirbys, and whether you agree with him or not (oh, those weasel words!) you must admit it is a legitimate question he brings up.

“What are you willing to do?”

It’s a question I think I’ve been avoiding answering for quite a long time now.  And if you’re like me, it’s a question you feel like you ought to be allowed to still avoid answering.  I don’t have to answer Mr. Bissette’s question.  He can’t make me answer it.  I can simply turn away from it, if I want to.  I don’t have to think about the Siegels, even if I have hopes for them.  I don’t have to think about the Kirbys, even if my same hopes for them are a bit more vexed.  The Kirbys haven’t even succeeded in court as the Siegels have;  moreover, the Kirbys have a hope the Siegels don’t have, that I can hope along with them:  the hope that they’ll succeed later.

So I don’t have to answer Mr. Bissette’s question.

However — and I think this is true — I think I cannot avoid answering the question of whether or not I will answer his question.  Which is a much smaller thing.  But also — perhaps — a much tougher one?

Because as I said:  as “unofficial” people, people not acting within the constraints of some vested authority…

…There is nothing out there to restrict the scope of our self-questioning.  Will I talk about the Marvel comic I so enjoyed?  What does it cost me, not to talk about it?

And more importantly…

…Is it possible for me, at this smallest of scales, to choose to “not choose” about it?

And I don’t want to lose anyone still:  but to choose that is to choose, isn’t it.

I mean it is just so small a decision, that it’s un-unmakeable…and yet in making it, a host of other decisions are implied, and must flow therefrom.  The court cases are just about the Siegels and the Kirbys…but we are not the jurors, we are the public.  And so nothing protects us from our own logic, one way or another.  Who created Venom?  Who created Wolverine?  Or Lana Lang?  Or Steve Lombard?  OR BULLSEYE.  OR THE JOKER.  I asked how I could go against Joe Simon, but I’ll never know him any better than I know Jack Kirby, even though Joe is alive and Jack is dead, and so…can I consult what Joe would want me to do, a purely theoretical matter, without consulting what Jack would want as well, which is only an equally theoretical one?  What if they made a movie of The Eternals, and what if Jack’s family were to get paid for it, but they wouldn’t get paid for any Hulks or X-Men…would he want that?  I mean I would go with what his children wanted, but that isn’t the point.  There’s no website out there saying “Kirbys say THIS ONE’S OKAY!”  And it’s no easier for me than it is for you.  We seek and we seek for logical cordons, conceptual divisions that will protect each of our enthusiasms from the other.  They are just not there, once that hull has been breached.  You can’t stand off any longer from cutting into the balloon, once the tiniest incision’s been made.  And what about all the other families, of all the other creators, who will never have a chance to attract such attention?  They are getting older, and they’ll need proper health care too.  Their families will need them to have proper health care.  And maybe the Kirbys would want that.  You know it’s funny how Grant Morrison is, once again, ahead of the curve in all this.  Wasn’t it just a little while ago that this guy, whose entire schtick is that the superheroes are modern mythological figures that therefore have (in echo of Kirby, and for want of a better word) a “real” aspect in the world, was handed a loaded question by a fan-friendly site’s interviewer, and asked to put it to his head?  “What about Siegel and Shuster?” he was pretty much asked.  “If Superman belongs to the world, he can’t very well belong to them, can he?”

Grant Morrison, in other words…

…Was asked the same question you and I are being asked.  Right now.  And not by me.  And not even by the estimable Steve Bissette.  But by pure necessity.

“What are you willing to do?”

It is hard to answer this question.  I think it’s probably damned hard.  But maybe it’s time.

This industry will never fix itself.  And it will just get sicker and sicker until it dies for good.  Jack Kirby created about 90% of all the Marvel characters, mostly in the pages of the Fantastic Four.  All of them are potential movie deals.  All of them represent big money.  There will never be this kind of leverage again.  Christ, I hate making this decision.

But it’s my decision that Steve Bissette doesn’t go far enough, for me.

And so I call for a GENERAL STRIKE.

Movies, comics, action figures, everything.  Even reviews.  For God’s sake, especially reviews!  After all that’s what the blogosphere brings to the table, isn’t it?!

And God but I’m sick of this in-between life.  Aren’t you?

So like the man said:  let’s change the way the future goes.

If we can help it.

Well, let’s just see if we can.

7 responses to “The Kirby Decision

  1. (Sigh.) This should work. Never never hand-edit your tags.

    You won’t find a more lackluster, tenuous nor dismal recruit than me, but I’m in.

    I’m mostly there in any case, though not on principle. What do I lose? Well I won’t get to see how Hickman’s FF comes out. That’s a pity, it’s like walking out on the final act, and I truly feel he has something to say about matters that have long concerned us, you and I. I won’t be seeing the Avengers movie next year either … but there’s a sense in which I’ve seen the best of it already.

    And I have my reward already. Busiek’s Kirby Genesis thing for Dynamite is authorised by the Kirby Estate and that’s proof that a bargain can still be stuck over royalties.

    Other than FF my only Marvel purchases of late have been Shanower and Young’s Wizard of Oz adaptations, which I recommend without hesitation.

    And my retailers in the city won’t mind it in the least that now I’ll compensate by picking up more independent work instead.

    It’s just …

    I don’t know what else I have to do to be consistent with this stand.

    Except, you know what you said when Gene Colan passed. How are we going to function without the old guys around?

    I think I should make a special point of whipping up some appreciation for the old guys we have with us still.


    The Masque of the Red Death by Wendy and Roger Pini.

    Peter B. Gillis . Still active. .

    Cat Yronwode

    Louise and Walt Simonson. And how many more.

    You see, the thing the www didn’t do automatically was, build connection points for all the communities which deserved it. The single members were left to fumble personal websites together on their own.

    There’s something less than worthy about that.

    I guess I still have 1000 words a week in me. I’ll see if I’m up to paying some tributes. I’ll let you know.

  2. You’re exactly right, Jonathan, about what the Internet didn’t do. That’s just what I was thinking! But you put it more succinctly, as usual. And in a related point, I don’t know what needs doing, exactly, to be consistent with this stand. Blogland is great, in many ways it’s got wonderful and unlooked-for coherence in it, but in some ways it’s still pretty atomized. Sometimes we’re the spiderwebs, but sometimes we’re the dewdrops: centralization, even transient centralization, has to be manufactured on the fly.

    I think I have more on this.

  3. I don’t know what’s going on in Grant Morrison’s head these days, but I feel very foolish now for ever having expected better of him.

    His father was such a great man, too. I can’t imagine what he’d make of what his son has turned into.

  4. Honestly, I do think that Morrison interview question was just a little bit of a trap…and if I were Morrison I would’ve refused to answer it. Not having read Supergods yet, that’s all I’ve got to go on, but…I’ll still extend him the benefit of the doubt at this point, I think.

    You, of course, may have better information than I do!

  5. But then, actually…if I read my own next post, it seems I may not have much more benefit-of-doubt available just now?

    I can’t promise to be consistent, that’s my problem. Only to be pissed-off and unpredictable and still pissed-off.

    Hopefully that’ll be enough!

  6. I haven’t read Supergods and I have no inside information on this subject. The line from Morrison I found so objectionable is “I try not to concern myself with that.”

    The greatest privilege is the privilege of not even knowing you have a privilege. You can be so well insulated from the less fortunate that you don’t realize how many advantages you take for granted. The guy who isn’t in a wheelchair doesn’t have to find out in advance whether every building he might visit that day is actually wheelchair accessible, or figure out what to do if someplace he needs to be isn’t accessible, or if he’s been told someplace has a wide enough ramp for his chair only to get there and find out that no, it doesn’t. That’s a given; that’s not the privilege. The privilege is not ever having to think about it. If he doesn’t actively choose to, the bipedal guy can go his whole life never even once thinking about how much he takes for granted. The wheelchair guy or gal can never not keep it in mind; he or she doesn’t have the privilege of forgetting about it for a while. You forget once and you might be stuck at the bottom of a staircase for hours.

    Grant Morrison has the privilege of saying “I don’t care about this because I don’t have to. It doesn’t affect my paycheck, so why should I care about two old guys being humiliated and maligned and exploited? If they weren’t clever enough to cut a better deal for themselves, oh well, shit happens. I’ve got mine and that what counts.” And he has the gall to write about heroes?

    You know, fuck that shit about Superman being more real than Siegel or Shuster. Superman can’t go hungry. Superman didn’t have a baby girl to feed, or have to sit up every night full of insecurity and self-recrimination, turning out hackwork just to pay the rent. It’s so easy for a guy feted by Hollywood to lecture poor Jerry Siegel posthumously about how he should have been more shrewd, while invoking his name and using his creations to show how much he venerates comics history. Too bad that history was made by such losers, but them’s the breaks. (Of course Grant Morrison has all the advantages he has because he’s innately more worthy, and good luck had nothing to do with it.)

    What would Morrison be willing to sacrifice to help or honor the people who created the comic books he praises? His father went into a brig charged with incitement to mutiny rather than obey orders he thought were wrong. To call Walter someone who spoke out at great personal cost rather than remaining silent in the face of injustice would be a gross understatement. Reread this tribute and you tell me what he’d think of his son “trying not to concern himself with that”:

    Don’t underestimate my feelings for Morrison as a writer. Seven Soldiers made me feel like I was ten years old. When I read Flex Mentallo or The Filth it was like a religious experience. I used to think he was a good person in real life, and maybe he was. But right now I think he’s being a colossal prick.

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