Alright, so now I’m gonna be That Guy for a little bit…
New Captain America movie came out last weekend. I hear it’s good. A very faithful, well-executed adaptation of Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s Winter Soldier. Which, hey, good. I like that funnybook. Glad they didn’t fuck it up. I hope everyone enjoyed it. But I won’t be seeing it.
Why? Because every time I think about seeing it, I remember how badly Marvel Comics screwed over Captain America’s co-creator, Jack Kirby. And how far out of their way they went to do it. And for how long (close to 20 years, if I’m counting correctly). I’ve gone into the history of how Marvel hosed their greatest creative talent before, so I won’t repeat the full list of offenses tonight (though you can read it here, if you’re interested – just scroll down past all the Alan Moore stuff). This week in particular, though, the Captain America deal does bear repeating.
Cap was created in 1941 by Kirby and his Golden Age creative partner Joe Simon, and published by Timely/Atlas Comics, the company that would go on to become Marvel. In the late 1960s, Simon cut a deal to sell Cap to Marvel (because they didn’t actually own the character, it seems, in spite of an assumption that they did). Kirby, as co-creator, was to be paid the same amount as Simon. Pretty simple.
Except that Marvel didn’t want to pay Kirby. So they worked a contract loophole to pay him not the same amount they paid Simon, but the amount Simon received after legal fees. Which is bad enough all by itself. But then they didn’t even pay him that. Kirby waited for two years, occasionally calling up his deadbeat publisher to ask them where his money was, and always getting the runaround. Then, finally, they contacted him and said that they would pay up… if he agreed to sign over all rights to every other character he had ever co-created while working for the company.
Why did they want that? Well, it seems that the work-for-hire contracts he’d been working under since his late-50s return to Marvel might not have been administered as well as they should have been, and it was possible that Kirby could loophole some rights out of their clerical oversights. They understandably wanted to close those holes up, so they essentially held Kirby’s Cap money hostage.
Now, at this point, he should have sued their asses. They had refused payment on a legally binding contract for two years, then came to him demanding the rights to dozens more characters, all for the same amount of money they’d already agreed to pay for one (an amount they had, let’s not forget, already reduced through slimy legal tactics). He should have refused to sign, taken them to court, and pursued those other rights they were so afraid of him getting.
But he didn’t do that. Instead, he signed and took the money. Why? God only knows. Kirby was a notoriously bad businessman, but this seems beyond the pale. Some think that it may have come down to his lifelong fear of not being able to provide for his family. He grew up poor in the Great Depression, and saw hard times again when the comics market collapsed in the mid-Fifties. He never wanted to be in that position again, so it may have seemed better to swallow his pride and take the deal, no matter how much of a slap in the face it might have been.
And that’s my real problem here: Marvel slapped Jack Kirby in the face, and kept right on doing it pretty much up until the man’s death. They could have conducted business in good faith, but they chose not to. And so now, forty years later, I’m choosing not to give them the price of a movie ticket.
Don’t get me wrong, now. I’ll still buy some funnybooks from them now and again. I don’t feel as bad when we’re just talking about the publishing side of things. That’s what the initial contracts Kirby signed were for, and even if I might think they were exploitative… Well… Let’s face it: there’s just not that much money in comics publishing. I mean, there’s enough. It can be pretty lucrative for the major houses. But it’s little enough money that I can look at it as just some guys trying to make a living. Ultimately, super hero comics appeal to a small market, mostly made up of people who at least know who Jack Kirby is, and maybe even respect his contributions to the medium they love.
But movies, now… Movies are another thing entirely. Movies make boatloads of money. Their audience is a mass audience, mostly made up of people who’ve never heard of Jack Kirby, and don’t give a shit if they ever do. Mistreated but respected in a niche market, I can handle. But mistreated and forgotten? When his characters are more famous than they’ve ever been? And the bastards getting fat off it are NOT Jack Kirby? No. No, fuck that action.
The last Marvel movie I saw was the first Iron Man, and not only will I never pay to see another one, I won’t even watch the fucking things for free. I understand that many of these films are well-done. I understand that, as a funnybook dork, I might very well be greatly entertained by them. But I don’t care. There’s a lot of entertaining movies out there. So many that I already don’t have time to watch everything I want to. So why should I waste time on something whose very existence makes me angry?
Now, please understand. This is a personal thing. I’m not begrudging anyone their enjoyment of Winter Soldier. I know the source material is excellent, so if the movie does even a decent job of adaptation, it should be good stuff. So by all means, enjoy it if you like, and don’t feel bad about it. But I won’t be joining you.
Alright. End of rant. Y’know, it’s funny. I wasn’t even planning on mentioning Winter Soldier tonight. I was just going to quietly do a gallery of Kirby original art, focused on technique. But then… One too many people just assumed that I’d seen the movie, or that I was going to see the movie, or that I was going to really really like the movie, and… Gah! I needed to blow off a little steam. And maybe educate somebody in the process. So thanks for reading that. Catharsis is good.