With the release of the blockbuster movie “The Avengers” there has been a renewed focus on Jack Kirby and Marvel. It is not surprising that fans of Jack Kirby would continue to complain about how little he received for his part in the creation of the Marvel universe compared to how much the company benefited. The discussion has even made it into the more popular media. This is a good thing because you do not have to be a Kirby Cultists to believe an injustice has been done. And it is not just about the money. Yes the various movies have included mentioning Kirby but always towards the end of the closing credits. Open any Marvel comic today and you will only see credit for Kirby as a creator in Captain America (and that thanks to Joe’s Simon’s last legal battle with Marvel).
While I am pleased that there is renewed attention to how Kirby was treated (and how his estate continues to be treated) I am always a little perplexed about some of the response. Perplexed but not surprised. Logically one might think that the opposite of the Kirby Cultists would be Lee Cultists but such is not the case. I do not think I have ever come across a fan of Stan Lee who was not a fan of Kirby as well. No the other extreme is occupied by comic book fans with rather puzzling motivations. I never truly understood their position because none of them seem to be able to provide an explanation that is remotely logical. For example take the recent posting by Scott Kurtz (Where Credit is Due). I will not provide a rebuttal of Kurtz’s arguments. One valiant attempt to refute Kurtz has appeared (Scott Kurtz is still Scott Kurtz) but I think even that writer would agree that he did not cover all of Kurtz’s points. Not because of the soundness of Kurtz’s arguments but rather of the over abundance of inaccurate, inconsistent and illogical claims. I have no idea were the vitriol from Kurtz and the ilk comes from but it certainly is not supported by their writings. Which leaves me to believe that their anger comes from some other source that they either do not recognize or want to publicly acknowledge.
I recently posted on a review of Jack Kirby as Auteur by Barry Pearl. In the comments section of that post Arlen Schumer placed text “adapted from the visual presentation at the New York Comic Con panel, Saturday, October 15th, 2011″. I felt that Schumer’s text was much too important to leave in the relative obscurity of a comment section, so with his permission I have posted it below. I believe this is the first time I have ever had a guest posting in my blog.
I would like to add my two cents. Frankly when I first heard of the idea I already hated the term used. I rather dislike it when foreign words are wrapped around a simple concept. After all auteur is just the French word for author. However the term is relatively unimportant, at least compared to the underlying concept. I attended Schumer’s panel and found the presentation quite convincing. I do, however, have a couple of quibbles.
One has to do with the panel’s and text’s discussion of the legal issues between the Jack Kirby estate and Disney, Marvel’s recent owner. While the court battles concerning these issues might have been the instigation for the developing of the Auteur Theory of Comics, the legalities have no bearing on the theory and the theory has no bearing on the legal issues. As long as the work by Kirby is legally considered work for hire it does not matter if he is considered the author of the work, his estate cannot claim the copyrights.
The other quibble is not so much a disagreement with Schumer but rather an uncertainty on my part about how far the term author can be applied. While is seems eminently suitable for artists that work under the Marvel Method, should it be applied to artists who worked from a script? Such artists could be described as illustrators but I feel they have much more impact to the finished work than a typical book illustrator. However to me there still seems a great difference between artists who worked the Marvel Method and those who worked from scripts.
I believe ideas such as the Auteur Theory of Comics have great importance. We may not be able to correct past financial injustices, but we can correct failures to provide proper credits. While working with Stan Lee, the most credit Kirby (or Ditko) ever received beyond providing pencils was for supplying the plot. However artists who worked the Marvel Method did much more than plotting. While we normally think of authors as writers the definition includes creators. Therefore I think it is quite appropriate to describe Lee/Kirby (or Lee/Ditko, etc.) as the authors of the comics that they collaborated on.
Barry Pearl has recently posted an article Jack Kirby Takes an Auteur Detour. Pearl is a fine comic book scholar which makes this particular post so surprising. Surprising because he gets so many things wrong. In the comments section to his post Barry says that
The first time I had heard the term “Auteur” applied to Jack Kirby was at the NY Comic Con in 2011 when there was a seminar on that subject.
Actually that was my first time as well. It was a great presentation by Arlen Schumer along with panelists Rand Hoppe, John Morrow, J. David Spurlock and Michael Bonestell. There is a summary of what would be presented here. It is too bad that Barry Pearl did not review this summary.
Perhaps he would not have stated that they were advocating Kirby as the actual and sole creator. No, Schumer and all the panelists that I can remember gave credit to Stan Lee as well. By no means was there a claim that Kirby did it all by himself.
Or perhaps then he would not have stated that the Jack Kirby as Auteur concept takes credit away from other creators. No it was explicitly stated that the term auteur could also be applied to Steve Ditko and any of the other artists who worked under the Marvel Method.
I could go on and on about the various inaccuracies in Pearl’s post. He has presented a straw man version of the theory of Jack Kirby as Auteur. He then uses this straw man to try to make the case that a movie director was not the proper analogy for what artist like Jack Kirby were doing. But with all the distortions about the auteur theory and what happens in movies it is small wonder that Pearl gets it all wrong and ends with:
In collaborative media, auteurs need not apply
But the idea of a film director as auteur is based on movies that are very much a collaborative effort.
I have a lot of respect for Barry so I wonder at what prompted such an inaccurate post. Perhaps Pearl’s post was not a response to Schumer’s theory but a distorted version of it by someone else. I no longer follow any Kirby list as they all seem to attract Kirby Cultists. It is not the extremes of their positions that bothers me so much as their lack of manners in their avocation (name calling and disrespect for alternate views). I can easily envision the use Kirby Cultists would make with a distorted version of Kirby as Auteur. But it would be unfortunate if Barry’s post was a response to a distorted version of the Auteur Theory because the true version is worthy of much thoughtful discussion.
I am afraid I have been very busy helping the Simon family. I hope to resume normal posting soon. In the mean time there are some things I would like to share. Superheroes have not been high on my reading lists although at one time I closely followed Captain America. However I became disenchanted with the writing for that series after Captain America’s death. This is not a rant and I understand that changes will be made to a title from time to time. But I feel that if one is not happy with what he is reading then why read it anymore. There was one limited series that I had been following that seemingly gone into limbo some time ago. Recently The Twelve have been revived so I picked up a copy. While reading it I came across a rather unexpected surprise.
The Twelve #9
I believe this was a rather nice gesture by Marvel. The choice of image is appropriate because this drawing from the first Captain America issue was actually rendered by Joe Simon (although the Bucky figure was done by Jack Kirby). I became curious whether this gesture was present in any other comic book by Marvel. I checked out a Captain America comic book and found the following:
Captain America #8
I have always had a very favorable opinion of Tom Brevoort but now even more so. I get the impression that many fans believe that Joe Simon had an antagonistic relationship with Marvel. Yes Joe went into a legal battle with Marvel over Captain America copyrights not once but twice. But Joe was satisfied with the agreement he finally reached with Marvel. In fact Joe provided some nice statements to the media during Marvel’s death of Captain America event. He once again provided publicity for the recent blockbuster Captain America movie. That included an interview that can be found on the blue ray of the movie.
Captain America White by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale
Many comic book professionals had good things to say about Joe but some went a little further to show their appreciation. Among Joe’s possession was this copy of Captain America White signed by Tim Sale. I do not know how Mr. Sale got this copy to Joe but it is nice to see that he was willing to go through a little extra effort. This has special meaning for me because I am a big fan of Loeb and Sale’s work. While a number of writers and artists like to rewrite comic book history, I feel Loeb and Sale explore it.
So thank you Marvel, Tom Brevoort and Tim Sale for these class acts.
I have followed Daniel Best’s blog, 20th Century Danny Boy for some time. While I do not always agree with him I almost always found him interesting. My biggest objection to him is that his quest for controversy often leads him to ignore easily obtainable facts. But in the past I have overlooked this failing as one all to common on the Internet. But this time Best has gone too far. In a recent post (Original Art Stories: The Mystery of Jack Kirby’s Art Ghost) he writes about a claim by Greg Theakston that Jack Kirby used a ghost artist to do the work on some cover recreations that where auctioned by Sotheby’s. Now I admit I find this issue to be a bit upsetting but at least Daniel has Theakston as a reference and I will leave it to the reader to decide for themselves as to the credibility of this claim. But what really gets me upset is that Daniel then proceeds to state the following:
But if Kirby didn’t draw the art, then who did? I’ve been led to believe that none other than Mike Royer was the Kirby ghost, but that has yet to be confirmed
So without presenting any evidence and admitting he cannot confirm it, Daniel Best has decided to charge Mike Royer with fraud! I hasten to add that in a comment to post on Bleeding Cool, Mike Royer has denied ghosting the recreated covers (Greg Theakston, Sothebys And The Great Jack Kirby Scam). It is a disgrace that Daniel Best has decided, without any evidence, to smear the reputation of Mike Royer.
I have been reading a number of reviews of “The Simon and Kirby Superheroes”. One recent and rather nice one is from Ain’t It Cool News. There are other reviews that are complimentary but a surprising number of them comment on the cost of the book ($49.95 list, but of course much cheaper at online book distributors like Amazon). I can understand, especially in these economically trying times, that the price of a book is an important issue. What surprises me is that in all the reviews of DC Archives or Marvel Masterworks I have read not one commented on the price those volumes. Yet they list at about the same as “The Simon and Kirby Superheroes” (the Boy Commandos archive is $49.99 and the Daring Mystery Marvel Masterworks is $59.99).
I would have bought a copy DC’s Boy Commandoes archive had I not been given a copy. However I still regret deviating from my policy of avoiding Marvel Masterworks to buy Daring Mystery volume 2. Price is not the issue, or at least not the most important issue. When I buy a reprint I want to read and see the work of the original artists. Reprints based on scans provide that. Now some restorations of scans are better than others and I admit that I prefer my own. But even poorly restored scans are better than recreated art. People keep commenting to me that many of the recent reprints based on scans are disrespectful to the original artists. I find it hard to understand what could be more disrespectful than recreating the work by those artists.
Young Romance #91(December 1957) “That Certain Something”, art by Vince Colletta
I do not understand apologists for Vince Colletta. This is not a rant against Colletta and his inking. I recently reread Kirby’s Fourth World series and I actually liked Colletta’a inking on those comics. There Vince showed a mastery of the use of a brush that was very admirable; not overly tight but still controlled. But the facts remain that Colletta did erase some of the pencils by Kirby and other artists. It should not be at all surprising that many fans of those artists object to Vince’s deletions.
The recent issue of the Jack Kirby Collector (#54) has an article by Colletta apologist Bruce Hannum (“Vince Colletta Not Always the Culprit”. It is an interesting article that shows the original version of two covers drawn by Kirby and the changes directed by Stan Lee for the published comics. For one cover this amounted to the removal of a minor item while the other cover was altered significantly by the elimination of a lot of back ground features. The topic of the changes made to an artist’s creation in preparation for publication is a fascinating one and the article would have been very pleasing had it been left at that. However Hannum proceeded to try to attempt to associate the Lee directed changes to Kirby’s art with the erasures by Colletta, even suggesting that Colletta was taking Lee’s actions as a guide to his inking of Kirby. In short Hannum is trying to justify Colletta’s use of an erasure by Lee’s editorial changes.
I have two big problems with the Colletta to Lee comparison. The first is the motivation. There is little doubt as to Lee’s motivation; he felt it the alterations would help with sales. You do not have to agree with Lee’s decisions to recognize that was why he made them. Frankly I often wished Stan would leave Kirby’s art alone (Genesis of a Cover, Captain America #105). But I am a fan with an interest in the art while Lee was an editor interested in sales. Joe Simon made similarly motivated decisions about Jack’s covers although he usually redid rather than reworked the cover (Alternate Versions of the Alarming Tales #3 Cover). And while the two examples in this article show the elimination of art not all of Lee’s directed modifications of Kirby covers were just elimination. One thing that Stan’s actions certainly were not and that was they were not attempts to save time.
However Colletta’s erasures do look like a time saving measure. None of the examples I have see look remotely like aesthetical decisions. Since the erasures were in unobtrusive parts of the story art they were not likely to affect sales either. Further unlike Stan, I have seen nothing to indicate Vince ever significantly added to or altered Kirby art. No, the Colletta apologists have made an unconvincing case that Colletta was trying to improve Kirby’s art.
But for argument’s sake let us accept the proposition that Colletta’s goal was improved art. This brings me to the second big problem with the Colletta to Lee comparison; they don’t compare. Simply put, Stan Lee was the editor. His responsibility went beyond just assigning work to artists; it went to the entire finished comic. If a comic was a disaster, in eyes of Goodman (his boss) it would be Stan’s fault not the artists. Kirby and the other comic book artists might not agree with Lee’s decisions but I doubt any questioned that those decisions were Stan’s to make. But the same would not be true for Colletta as an inker. It is only from Colletta apologists that I have heard the suggestion that the final art was the more responsibility of the inker than the artist who drew it. I suspect that most pencilers and their fans would not agree.
But why is such effort expended in defending Colletta? Do the apologists really feel that inkers are more important than pencilers? Or do they actually believe that Colletta is a better artist than Kirby? And if they do think Colletta is such a great artist what is that opinion based on? I have heard that Colletta drew really nice romance comic art. However none of the Colletta apologists seem that interested in romance comics and romance fans seem to prefer other artists over Colletta. And can the apologists really feel Kirby was wrong to stop using Colletta’s inking services? After all Jack was the editor for his Fourth World comics, why shouldn’t that have been his prerogative?
Like I said, I just do not understand Vince Colletta’s apologists.
The Jack Kirby Collector always has something interesting in it but with all the great art included it can hardly fail to excite a Kirby fan. I thought I would write a brief comment about a couple of articles from the latest issue (JKC #52).
The first concerns a short piece by John Morrow about the screen play “Fish in a Barrow”. I had previously posted on this play (A Simon and Kirby Screen Play) based on a copy belonging to Joe Simon. It seems however that Morrow has a somewhat different copy. John notes that his copy was 66 pages in length while the one I reported on was 77. Morrow’s description of the overall plot indicates it is the same play but obviously something has been changed. The JKC article includes an image of the first page of Morrow’s copy that provides a hint about what has happened. Morrow’s version of the story begins with two men exiting an elevator and proceeding down the corridor to an office. In Simon’s copy they are already in an office and instead it centers on the reactions initiated by the publisher’s unlighted cigar. Simon’s version seems more dramatic. Further since Simon’s version takes place in an office while Morrow’s goes from the elevator to an office, Simon’s version would seem better for a performance in the TV live plays that the piece seems intended. All that and the longer length of Simon’s version suggest that Joe’s copy is the more recent rewrite of John’s copy.
Single panel from Demon #14 used in “Casting a Shadow” (Jack Kirby Collector #52)
The second comment I have to make concerns the article “Casting a Shadow” written by Adrian Day. In it Day suggests that Kirby’s use of shadows in some of his later works was the results of the influence of a science fiction television show “The Outer Limits”. As presented it all seems very plausible and I have no problem with considering Kirby’s art reflecting outside influences. Unfortunately Adrian failed to consider earlier work from Kirby’s extensive career. Simon and Kirby had a long history of the use of abstract shadows to enliven their comic art and it can be found not only in some of Jack’s earlier work but it was even applied to work by other artists working for Simon and Kirby productions. While the strange shadows on the couch in the image used by Day in his article (shown above) seem to be a late addition to Kirby’s repertoire, those on the walls are not. Note the way some are slightly curved; this was a common Simon and Kirby technique. For comparison I provide the line art for the cover for Young Romance #34 (June 1951) below. I should add that this is by no means the earliest example. Can there be any doubt about Kirby’s long use of seemingly inappropriate shadows? I suggest the absence of such shadows during the silver age was more a result of the way the inking of Kirby’s pencils was handled at that time.
Young Romance #34 (June 1951), art by Jack Kirby