Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Marvel Boycott Diary #16: Notes on Morrison

Vancouver blogger A Trout in the Milk makes some interesting points and has some advice for people who were baffled or angered about Grant Morrison's recent comments about Siegel and Shuster. It's a longer article but worth reading in full. I think more an more people are coming to realize that our childhood favourites (and current boxoffice champions) are characters who have been unfairly appropriated from their creators. We still love the characters and all those great stories, but don't know what to do about the conflicted feelings we have. Can we still enjoy these comics, films, and videogames when we know the company that produces them is still actively engaged in screwing over the families of the people like Jack Kirby and Jerry Siegel who gave birth to Captain America and Superman? And what about the people who write and draw new stories today. Should their attitude towards Kirby, Siegel and Shuster have any bearing on how we read their current comics?

But here’s the problem: it isn’t right. Not unless we’re prepared to do something about it. I mean: any of it. You know what I mean?
And that doesn’t necessarily mean “boycott”. It doesn’t even necessarily mean “protest”. But it does mean “reaction”. Take me, for example: I’m not engaged in a boycott, and I’m not protesting anything. But I am having a reaction, in that I’ve just stopped buying shit — even good shit — that leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. And I’m not saying I’m any better or worse than anyone else because of it, but that’s the reaction that I’m having because I’m having one. Of course there are any number of reactions a person could have to the injustice on display in Marvel’s actions toward the Kirbys, DC’s actions toward the Siegels, if one is not actually predisposed to take the side of the companies. “Not caring” is one of these possible reactions. “Making excuses to oneself for still needing the job/wanting the comics” is another. And personally I’ve got no problem with people in the “making excuses” mode; I make excuses for things I do that don’t sit 100% right with me, just about every day. So I know that it is a reaction, a perfectly valid reaction. And you know it’s a little bit like work, too? It’s a little bit like work…
So you pay for the privilege, of making excuses. And that’s fine. But in my case, I don’t feel I have to pay that way anymore. And, in some way do I have Grant Morrison to thank for it? It was Steve Bissette calling for a boycott on Marvel that made me think of it, but maybe it was Morrison’s comments, and the reaction to Morrison’s comments, that finally made me feel like acting, made me feel like I wasn’t stuck with the situation as it was.

Read more


Boycott Marvel!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Marvel Boycott Diary #15: Kirby Link Round-Up

The Marvel Boycott continues. Some more-or-less random links, some only tangentially related to the boycott:  

What Kirby Did: Critic and cartoonist Matt Seneca writes about a Jack Kirby action page, noting that "how much sharper Kirby’s sequencing got after his 1979-80 stint as an animation artist for Ruby-Spears. A few years roughing out stories for a medium in which the audience plays the role of passive receptor rather than active participant had subtly changed Kirby’s comics art once he returned. "
Do Boycotts Work? Lots of talk on the internets in reaction to Steve Bissette's call for a boycott of Marvel. Many people say boycotts don't work, or only harm the little guys, like retailers and the current creators of Marvel comics who are working on those Kirby characters. I feel that boycotts and petitions that threaten boycotts can be effective in shaming or scaring companies into action. The latest evidence is the campaign led by to get advertisers to pull out of Glenn Beck's show on Fox News, which ultimately resulted in Beck's termination. At its peak, the Glenn Beck boycott involved almost 300, 000 people and was costing Fox half a million dollars per week.  

Gandhi on boycotts and imperialism 1: "Economics that hurt the moral well-being of an individual or a nation are immoral and therefore sinful. Thus the economics that permit one country to prey upon another are immoral. It is sinful to buy and use articles made by sweated labour. It is sinful to eat American wheat and let my neighbour the grain-dealer starve for want of custom." (Young India, 13-10-1921)  

Gandhi on boycotts and imperialism 2: "It is my claim that as soon as we have completed the boycott of foreign cloth we shall have evolved so far that we shall necessarily give up the present absurdities and remodel national life in keeping with the ideal of simplicity and domesticity implanted in the bosom of the masses. We will not then be dragged into an imperialism which is built upon exploitation of the weaker races of the earth, and the acceptance of a giddy materialistic civilization protected by naval and air forces that have made peaceful living almost impossible. On the contrary we shall then refine that imperialism into a commonwealth of nations which will combine, if they do, for the purpose of giving their best to the world and of protecting, not by brute force but by self -suffering, the weaker nations or races of he earth. Non-cooperation aims at nothing less than this revolution in the thought world. " (Young India, 29-6-1921)  

Joining the Boycott? The writer James Vance (Kings in Disguise) thinks that calls for a boycott are "naive" and that "reasonable appeals" to the company are probably "forlorn," but still has the gumption to state that, "From a moral standpoint, I agree that Marvel should make some kind of a good-faith financial gesture to Kirby’s heirs."
Credit for Kirby 1: Comic shop retailer Mike Sterling has pointed out that the new DC 52 title OMAC #1, based on a character created by Jack Kirby, does not credit Kirby anywhere in the book, This is an important lapse, since DC has generally been very good with these sorts of credits over the last few years and their willingness to give credit (except when a lawsuit is involved) has been an influence on the boycott. My thinking is, if DC can include a simple "created by..." blurb on the first page of every comic book, why can't Marvel? The OMAC example is also important since the book is being illustrated by Keith Giffen in a Kirby style. (Tony Isabella has some thoughts on this too.)
Credit for Kirby 2: At the Kirby museum, blogger Robert Steibel presents a trio of posts about the auteur theory of comics ( 1 2 3) and Jack Kirby's place in that theory. So, is Kirby an auteur?
"I think the answer is yes. I think that if you look only at the visuals — the style of the art, the dynamics, the compositions, and ignore the text and the quality of the inks and the colors — you are seeing Jack Kirby as the Pure Auteur of his 1960s stories. In your mind, you can travel back to the moment where Kirby stuffed his story into an envelope and mailed it to NYC, and you can glimpse his personal vision — Jack Kirby: Pure Auteur. But, there is no denying the published book is much more of a collaboration. You can’t dismiss Lee and the other personnel’s contributions to the finished product, so in that sense, I suggest you have to think of Jack as what I’ll call the “Principal Auteur” of the published book: Jack wasn’t working from a full script like most comics artists in a traditional writer/artist relationship, in reality, Jack Kirby conceived of and wrote the original story with visuals and liner notes. Jack is the principal storyteller."
Boycott Marvel!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Working-Class Heroes Project Redux

Blogger Will Shetterly has added a bit to the master-list of working-class superheroes I started a little while back (in 2005! holy smoke!) and the list now includes some more contemporary heroes I was not aware of way back when. Still, the paucity of actual poor or proletarian types who worked overtime in the long-underwear biz kind of proves my original point, that despite their origins in the sweat-shops of New York, superhero comics still had quite a bit of middle- and upper-class ideology embedded in their marrow.

I slightly updated my original list in 2006 and can't really think of any more Golden Age heroes to add besides Simon and Kirby's Vagabond Prince, aka Ned Oaks, a down-at-heels poet and writer of greeting card verses, perhaps modeled after the Gary Cooper character in Frank Capra's 1936 Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.

Of course, the real reason that we seem to have a hard time finding working-class heroes is because superhero comic books are all about rich people beating up poor people,* making the true heroes of the comics, from a class perspective, the villains. I wrote about this too, in a post about Solomon Grundy and "The Animated Corpse of the Working Class."

Maybe we could start a list of Working-Class Villains? The Wrecking Crew, Parasite, Sandman, and many of their cohorts were more prole than all the Reed Richards, Bruce Waynes and Tony Starks of the superhero-industrial complex combined.

*The other major themes of superhero comics, besides class anxiety are identity, violence, and sexuality, in case you were interested.

Unknown Canadian Cartoonists: Jay Work

Just bought a small pile of old Maclean's magazines from the 1930s and 40s, only to discover a new cartoonist I've never heard of and can find no reference to. The single gag panel appears in the February 15, 1949 issue of Maclean's and is entitled "Wilfie" by Jay Work. The name sounds like a pseudonym, but who knows? The strip appears to be a continuing feature, along the lines of James Simpkins' Jasper, an early example of which appears a few pages earlier in the same issue. Simpkins' strip ran every week in the magazine for decades, beginning in the late 1940s, and I can only assume that Wilfie followed the same formula, with the same character appearing in different situations. Wilfie looks like a Caspar Milquetoast or Crockett Johnson's "The Little Man With the Eyes-type character. Work's style is definitely sketchier than Simpkins', whose washes and versatility of line helped propel the fish-out-of-water anthropomorphics of Jasper through several incarnations. The hockey subject-matter of the panel makes me think Canadian, as well. Other highlights of this issue, besides noting that Pierre Berton is listed as copy editor on the masthead, are cartoons by anti-fascist artist Len Norris.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Marvel Boycott Diary #14: Boycott the Thor DVD

Today Marvel is releasing the Thor movie on dvd and Blu-ray and so I thought I'd post a few notes about Jack Kirby and Thor.

As this post reminds us, although "in 2011 so far (as of September 2011), creations of Jack Kirby have accounted for $766 million dollars at the box-office, and that’s just domestic grosses, not including dvd/blu-ray sales, international sales or merchandising," Jack Kirby remains unknown to the general public. Jack Kirby, were he alive, would see no income from the sales of the Thor discs today, nor will his family. Marvel has systematically fought to have Kirby shut-out of the credit and proceeds of his creations and that is why we are urging the boycott, to right this historic wrong. Please do not buy any Marvel product until this issue is resolved.

Because Kirby's leading role in the creation of Marvel is such a secret, I am cheered whenever I see a review that even mentions Jack Kirby as the creator or co-creator of Thor, since there is so much misinformation out there, most of it the handiwork of Stan Lee, Marvel spokesman and Kirby's editor and co-writer during the 1960s. Kudos to the critic Gabriel Powers for pointing out Stan's credit hogging on the dvd special feature interview in this review and its comments section.

In fact, the historical record is pretty clear on Thor. As with many Marvel projects from the 60s, there seems to have been some sort of discussion between Kirby and Lee about the character, who first appeared in a six-page origin story in the Journey Into Mystery anthology (issue #83, August 1962). Stan's brother Larry Lieber is credited as scriptwriter on the first issue and for the initial run of the stories, with Kirby continuing on the art chores, as well as plotting, etc.

It's interesting to read Lieber's deposition from the most recent lawsuit in regards to the creation of Thor, as a counterpoint to Stan Lee's "I created Thor and his universe" line:

Q: Did you ever work on the comic Thor?
Q: What was your involvement?
LARRY LIEBER: I got the synopsis, the plot from Stan, and I wrote the first script of Thor. That was it.
Q: And when you say “the script,” that’s what we were talking about before that told panel by panel?
LARRY LIEBER: Panel by panel and description of it, yes.
Q: Did you see any artwork on Thor before you wrote the script?
LARRY LIEBER: I don’t recall seeing any. I don’t know.
Q: Do you know who, after you turned in the script, do you know who the artist was that drew Thor?
LARRY LIEBER: I believe it was Jack Kirby.
Q: Did you have any conversations or any interactions with Jack Kirby about the Thor book?
LARRY LIEBER: No, not that I recall.
Q: Did you come up with any of the names in Thor?
Q: What did you come up with?
LARRY LIEBER: The civilian name of Don Blake I made up. And I also came up with his hammer. I made that, which people know about. My Uru hammer, I created that.
Q: And where did you get the name Uru hammer?
LARRY LIEBER: I just made it up, as far as I know. I might have read it. I used to — Stan liked the way I made up names, civilian names, and I used to, from my years of doing these, what do you call it, these fantasy books, monster books, and I used to look at the back of dictionary, Miriam Webster had biographical names and geographical, so I would look in towns and if I liked the town, I might put it. And it was kind of fun and he liked what I did.

Now, I don’t know if I found “Uru” someplace or I just made it up or whatever. I know I made it short because I felt that Thor might be around a while and I was always worrying about the letterer or somebody. I was worrying about somebody else’s feeling, and I figured, well, if I make it U-R-U, there’s not that much to letter. And since nobody knows the name of it, I’ll make it a short name. So that’s why I did that.

And Don Blake I just thought sounded like a doctor and, you know, to fit the personality.

And then of course, there are Kirby's own words, from this famous interview in the Comics Journal:

KIRBY: I came in [to the Marvel offices] and they were moving out the furniture, they were taking desks out — and I needed the work! I had a family and a house and all of a sudden Marvel is coming apart. Stan Lee is sitting on a chair crying. He didn’t know what to do, he’s sitting in a chair crying —he was just still out of his adolescence. I told him to stop crying. I says. “Go in to Martin and tell him to stop moving the furniture out, and I’ll see that the books make money.” And I came up with a raft of new books and all these books began to make money. Somehow they had faith in me. I knew 1 could do it, but I had to come up with fresh characters that nobody had seen before. I came up with The Fantastic Four. I came up with Thor. Whatever it took to sell a book I came up with. Stan Lee has never been editorial minded. It wasn’t possible for a man like Stan Lee to come up with new things — or old things for that matter. Stan Lee wasn’t a guy that read or that told stories. Stan Lee was a guy that knew where the papers were or who was coming to visit that day. Stan Lee is essentially an office worker, OK? I’m essentially something else: I’m a storyteller.
GROTH: Who came up with the name “Fantastic Four”?

KIRBY: I did. All right? I came up with all those names. I came up with Thor because I’ve always been a history buff. I know all about Thor and Balder and Mjolnir, the hammer. Nobody ever bothered with that stuff except me. I loved it in high school and I loved it in my pre-high school days. It was the thing that kept my mind off the general poverty in the area. When I went to school that’s what kept me in school — it wasn’t mathematics and it wasn’t geography; it was history.

GROTH: Stan says he conceptualized virtually everything in The Fantastic Four — that he came up with all the characters. And then he said that he wrote a detailed synopsis for Jack to follow.

ROZ KIRBY: I’ve never seen anything.

KIRBY: I’ve never seen it, and of course I would say that’s an outright lie.

Regardless of the initial conception, it seems clear that Kirby deserves the credit for the visual design of the Thor universe and much of the stories of Thor's adventures in the comics. The Destroyer character in the movie is totally a Kirby creation, for instance, as are the Warriors Three sidekicks.


In other news, Rand Hoppe of the Kirby Museum has also joined the boycott and has some thoughts on Kirby's 94th birthday.

Until next time,

Boycott Marvel!

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Marvel Boycott Diary #13: Jack Kirby, Labourer

This being Labour Day, a few notes from around the web on Jack Kirby, worker, architect, genius, and work for hire.

It seems like there may be a Boycott Marvel Facebook page. Here is its blurb:

The late Jack Kirby's heirs were denied any share of the copyright to his Marvel Comics creations in federal court -- including Thor, the Fantastic Four, and the Hulk, the Avengers and the X-Men. Stephen R. Bissette has called for comics readers and filmgoers to boycott all Marvel Entertainment products based on the 1960s creations of Kirby, the man behind many of that company's most enduring icons.

I came across this 2010 Vice article from Dan Nadel on Kirby. Nadel put together a Kirby exhibit recently and his thoughts on Kirby's art, career arc and creative process are still timely.

A man with this attitude, combined with a strong sense of loyalty and a need to provide for his wife and three kids, was going to have a hard time. A tortured time. Kirby, who grew up poor and Jewish on the Lower East Side, was godlike in his abilities. He was a one-man mythos machine, and he knew it. But he was powerless in all other practical matters. So when the movie deals were announced and the animated cartoons aired and other artists began steering his characters, Kirby was angry. All he could do was leave.

In other news, the Kirby Museum's Simon and Kirby columnist Harry Mendryk writes a great article about the evolution of one of Jolly Jack's great visual devices, "Kirby Krackle."

The Kirby Krackle prototype from “The Negative Man” is very similar to that found previously in “The Man Who Collected Planets”. However while Kirby inked his own pencils in the earlier story some other artist inked “The Negative Man”. I am not positive as to who that inker was but the blunt but fluid brushwork looks very much like the work of Marvin Stein so I questionably attribute it to him. The two stories are similar enough that perhaps Stein used the earlier Kirby inked story as a reference when inking this one. Or perhaps Kirby had already begun to include how a story should be spotted in his pencils. In either case the use of the Kirby Krackle in this story should be credited to Jack Kirby.

And finally, blogger Michael Buntag has joined the boycott. Welcome aboard, Michael!

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Canadian Comics Fan Project: Smallsack Mailville

I haven't done one of these installments in the Canadian Comics Fan Project for awhile but couldn't resist posting these two letters since it's rare to find more than one Canadian letter in an old comic book. Today's examples come from Superboy #137 (April 1967), part of a small non-Mystery Hoard I picked up at the recent Fan Expo in Toronto.

The letters pages in the old DC Comics had corny titles and Superboy was no exception. For some reason, the Superman lettercol was titled "Metropolis Mailbag" whereas the Boy of Steel only merited a "Smallville Mailsack" --perhaps a reflection of the more rural, less modern system of mail delivery endemic to Clark Kent's home town.

Regardless, the first letter featured in this classic issue comes from David Ball of Downsview, Ontario.

Dear Editor:

I have a dog who looks a lot like Krypto. Whenever I read an issue of Superboy, he peeks over my shoulder. When my friends and I play Superboy, I put a red cpe and collar on him and he plays, too. Once I was sitting under a tree and he ran up to me and licked a picture of Krypto on a nearby comic. Do you think you can put him up for honorary membership in the Space Canine Patrol Agency?
----David Ball, Downsview, Ont., Canada
(Sorry --but we don't consider the ability to lick covers as having a super-power.--Ed.)

Well, that counts me out!

Letter #2.

Dear Editor:
These comics like Superboy, with teen-age heroes, really crack me up! They're so ridiculous! After all, how many real teen-agers ever became heroes? None that I can think of!
--Alex Crane, Vancouver, B.C., Can.
(We can think of a good many, but to name two --David Glasgow Farragut was born in 1801, yet served with distinction as a Naval officer in the War of 1812. And Joan of Arc led an army to victory at the age of 17! --Ed.)

And what about Justin Bieber!?!