Sunday, April 17, 2011

Marvel Worldwide, Inc. et al v. Kirby et al - Jim Shooter Talks About Jack Kirby's Missing Art

One great thing about the Marvel vs Jack Kirby's estate court case is the amount of conversation that it's managed to generate, both within and without the industry.  Former Marvel Editor-In-Chief, Jim Shooter, has been commenting on how time at Marvel and his interactions with Jack and Ros Kirby, as he saw it.  When discussing the infamous Marvel-Jack Kirby art theft recently, Shooter claimed that one box of art went missing from the Marvel offices.  In Shooter's own words, "Then when Marvel moved, around the end of 1979, we got a brand new state-of-the-art safe warehouse, so the stuff was moved from my office to the new warehouse; except for one box, which for some reason was moved to the Marvel lunchroom. When I was made aware of that, I went to get Bernie, the office manager, and said, “That box goes to the warehouse right now!” I went back to my office, then Bernie came in a few minutes later and said he went to get the box and it wasn’t there. Somebody had obviously grabbed the box, went straight out to the freight elevator--which was near there--and was gone. I have no idea what it contained. There was probably Jack Kirby’s stuff in it among other things. To this day I have no idea who took it."

All I can say is that it must have been a very large box indeed. The fact is that the original Irene Vartanoff inventory list, as published in The Comic Journal in February 1986, listed all of Kirby's X-Men art, and several hundred pages of Fantastic Four as being present when the art was moved to Marvel.  A lot of that art, including all of the X-Men art, was missing when Marvel finally returned all of the art that it had on file to Jack Kirby in 1987 - as you can see from the scans that accompany this post, which, if you notice, bear by Jack Kirby's initials.  I estimated that at least 1915 pages of Jack Kirby's art, alone, went missing between 1980 and 1986 - if that is indeed a box, it's a very large box and would have taken more than one person to lift.

It's generally known that a few Marvel staffers, including other artists, writers and editors, along with interns and visitors, lifted art from both the warehouse and the Marvel offices. People I've spoken to who worked at Marvel at the time say that it was an open secret and that almost everybody knew who stole the art.  Some of the art was stored to be later donated to Universities, but the bulk of the art was promptly sold on to art dealers who then sold it openly on the market via advertisements and conventions.  If Marvel really wanted to track that art down at the time it needn't have looked further than ads in The Comic Journal, the Comic Buyer's Guide and other trade publications of the time, and it could have easily have sent legal representatives to various conventions and laid it's claim there.  It's a shame that nothing was done about it at the time,but then I expect that Jim Shooter either didn't know about the theft, or turned a blind eye to it.  As it stands, he admits now that he knew of one box of art being stolen, but has said nothing about the police being contacted about this.  Why?  Only Jim Shooter can answer those questions.

Here's the art that was returned to Jack Kirby back in 1987, along with letters to Kirby from Marvel, including the amended art release form that Kirby signed.


jimshooter said...

In the 60's, no one gave a damn about original artwork. Artwork from several Legion of Super-Heroes issues were given to me at various times. I felt that it was wrong that I should have that artwork. I called Curt Swan and offered to send it to him, its rightful owner, in my mind. He said if I wanted it I should keep it because he had no room for it, and he would only throw it away. I no longer have it. It was stolen.

It was common practice in the '60's at both Marvel and DC to give original art away to fans coming through on tours, fans who wrote good letters or any damn fool who wanted the stuff. Nobody cared. Nobody objected.

It is legend, but true, that at King Features, on rainy days, they would throw Hal Foster Prince Valiant (and other) original pages on the floor to soak up water.

When I started working at Marvel, I received two pages of art from every story I wrote, in accordance with an artwork return policy that Roy Thomas had instituted. I gave one page to the penciler and one page to the inker, because I didn't feel entitled to any original art.

I later changed that policy, so that only artists got art.

Early on, when I was Editor in Chief at Marvel, one day, I was told that our warehouse had been broken into. I guess I knew we had a warehouse, but I had other things on my mind. I went with Irene Vartanoff -- spell her name correctly, please -- and Sol Brodsky to inspect the damage. The perps broke into another storage space, then broke through the walls into spaces all down the row, including ours. They tossed the room, but having no clue that the art stored there might be valuable, apparently didn't take any.

I had the art gathered up and put into transfiles. I had the transfiles moved to my office, the most secure room at Marvel. You had to go through three locked doors to get into my office -- the door from the elevator lobby, the door to the editorial suite and my office door. The transfiles took up most of the room, but I didn't care.

Shortly thereafter, Marvel moved from 575 Madison to 387 Park Avenue South. We also got a secure, fireproof storage facility in Astoria. Office moves generally take place over weekends. You leave your old address Friday and report to your new address Monday. The transfiles were supposed to be moved to the storage space.

As previously described, at least one transfile -- at this point, 30+ years later, I'm not sure, could have been two or three -- was moved, mistakenly, to the lunch room, near the freight elevators. I idiotically went looking for Bernie Schacktman, our office manager, to get him to have the transfile(s?) moved to storage. By the time Bernie and I got back to the lunch room, the transfiles were gone. Why I didn't carry them from the lunchroom to a safe place, say, my office right away, I do not know. Stupid. It never occurred to me that someone would steal them. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Other than that transfile (or two or three, I honestly don't remember), no art was "lifted" from Marvel during my tenure. Whatever you refer to as "generally known" is a lie. "Open secret," my ass. And you can kiss my ass, you snarky son of a bitch. With all due respect.

Daniel Best said...

Well I'm sorry this has upset you Jim, but the fact still remains that in 1980 you were given an inventory list that contain 1915 pages that Jack Kirby DIDN'T get back in 1987. And you can't explain what happened to that art, other than 'a box' was lifted. The art was stolen, no police reports were filed, and the art was openly sold on collectors markets - at the time - and Marvel still did not act.

But, by all means, continue to deny any responsibility. And as for the Marvel staffers who stole the art, I generally tend to believe people I've spoken to - they were there, and events have born those claims out, such as the recent donation of Ditko's art for Amazing Fantasy #15.

What'd be good is, instead of playing the victim, you actually talk about the real reasons why people left Marvel during your time there, other than 'better money at DC', and why the Kirby art return was settled after you left. But you won't.

Again, sorry you're upset, but trust me, I can find better arses to kiss than yours. Such a shame, as I did enjoy your work, back in the day.

Daniel Best said...

And Jim, we're talking the 1980s, not the 1960s. Get the era right and I get the spelling right.

Daniel Best said...

If you took the time to read what I've written about art theft over the years you'll see that you're not even on the radar. I have nothing but disgust for those who stole the art in the first place, those who sold it and those who allowed it to happen, via conventions and via advertisements.

Jim, you say you didn't contact the police because they'd not take it seriously? Theft is theft, and Marvel considered that art as a financial asset for many years. I'm sure if you'd contacted the police they'd would have taken it seriously then, especially as you could have easily pointed them in the right direction, that being dealers.

Kid said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kid said...

Jim, I'm enjoying your blog and you probably have been hard done to at times (such is the lot of management), but I don't think Daniel was "having a go" at you in his piece. He was merely reporting what seem to be the "facts" as they are currently understood amongst large sections of fandom. If things have been misrepresented by the fan press, etc., by all means inform us of the truth from your point of view, but please - it doesn't do anyone any good to get personal.

I enjoy both your blogs - any chance you can kiss and make up? (Okay, you can leave the kissing part out.)

Best wishes to everyone.

Jimshooter said...

I was not given an inventory list of the artwork in the warehouse until late 1986.

I was, in fact, Editor in Chief when the Kirby artwork return issue was settled, and I was a key figure in accomplishing that.

I did explain how artwork was freely given away in the '60's and early '70's, easily accounting for the missing pages. A transfile or possibly two or three were stolen while I was EIC. It, or they, certainly contained pages done by artists other than Kirby. It is possible that no Kirby pages were in that box (or boxes), but I doubt it, considering the vast number of pages Jack did. As I previously stated, when informed of the theft, the facilities manager, Bernie Schacktman, did whatever he did. I was the EDITOR IN CHIEF, not the Master and Commander of Everything at Marvel. As previously stated in my response to Kris Brownlow's question, whether or not Bernie called the police, I doubt that the theft of comic book art would have been taken seriously.

On your blog, you mention that Kirby art was offered for sale in the Comics Journal. Where's the outrage against their hypocrisy?

Again, other than the transfile (or two, or three) that was stolen because of the movers' error and my failure to act quickly enough -- that would be a span of two or three minutes -- no Marvel staffers ever stole any artwork during my tenure. Did not happen. Whoever you have "spoken to" was lying. "...they were there..." Who the hell were they?

You are misinformed and wrong.

mr ed said...

The claim that King Features used to throw Hal Foster originals on the floor to soak up water is unmitigated nonsense. The "throwing art on the floor to soak up water story" is widely circulated, but I've never seen it attached to Foster before.
The fact is quality comics art has been sought out since the early 1900's.
If the Marvel art was so worthless why was Stan Lee giving it to Japanese business men?

mr ed said...

Foster himself retained over 400 original Prince Valiant pages (including the very first) which are at Syracuse University.
There are many, many more Foster pages in private hands. The very idea that someone (anyone) would take a Foster original and use it to soak up water is ridiculous.

Kid said...

Actually, Jim's mainly right about artwork not being regarded as having any great worth back in the '60s (and before).

Most artists saw no value in their original art until others created a market for it. Then, understandably, they thought to themselves, "Why should others profit from my artwork while I get nothing?"

Until others put a value on it, the artists themselves just didn't want it. (In the main, I'm talking about - there are always exceptions.)

As for Stan giving art to Japanese businessmen - no difference there to him giving it to visiting fans. The fans (and the businessmen) may have appreciated it, but at that time, Marvel saw no inherent value in it as long as they had copies.

On the question of Hal Foster art, I can't comment because I know nothing about it either way.

mr ed said...

Closely related to this topic is Justia Document #49
Judge Colleen McMahon dismissed the Kirby estates counterclaim concerning original art, but takes a dim view of Marvel's actions. On page 15 she says:
"We now know Marvel did not return all of Kirby's original artwork to the artist. On August 26, 2010, Marvel admitted to the Kirby's that it still had some 60 pages of original Kirby artwork (and offered to return 37 of them), (Letter from David Fleischer to Marc Toberoff, Au.26,2010.) The Court was told of this while this motion was in sub judice. Marvel's admission is deeply troubling in light of Marvel's earlier (repeated) insistence that the Kirby's accusations about retained artwork were "baseless."
Mr. Eddie

Anonymous said...

"It was common practice in the '60's at both Marvel and DC to give original art away to fans coming through on tours, fans who wrote good letters or any damn fool who wanted the stuff. Nobody cared. Nobody objected."
I went to a show of original art Jerry Robinson had saved not that long ago. It appeared that he cared.
Kirby saved a bunch of his favorite Simon and Kirby period work.
Frazetta seemed to think his originals were worth something.
DC destroyed their artwork. Marvel didn't return artwork. Comic book companies often didn't allow artists to sign their artwork. They paid low wages. One might want to look at this a little differently, Let's say you asked an editor or publisher for your artwork back, do you think you'd get any more work? This is why nobody objected. You had to act like the doormat that the companies consider artists to be. Be an Editor, make Mort Meskin crawl on the floor. It's fun, but you still can't draw, okay?
Ditko asked for plotting credit and Lee stopped speaking to him. And Lee threatened to remove Ditko from Spider-man in a newspaper interview.
Getting paychecks at Marvel was based on not demanding your artwork back, and not asking for credit when you plotted, and not demanding credit when one created characters.
Mr. A

Anonymous said...

Even allowing for any of that being true, seems just like a normal workplace then - no different to what most people had to put up with.

Ron Fontes said...

I worked in Special Projects at Marvel from 1982-1985, under Sol
Brodsky and Johnny Romita (the Nicest Man in Comics). Here's what
REALLY kept Marvel from returning artwork: Old pages were stored in a
Brooklyn warehouse which was FLOODED around 1983. Decades of artwork was actually destroyed and could not be returned to anyone at all as it was just so much soggy paper residue. That is why the Marvel Masterworks series was repro'd from faded plate negatives and had to be touched up by the likes of Phil Lord et al. I'm really surprised in all this time no one has revealed this fact. I strongly remember the day of the flood because Sol and others were pale with shock.

The Seditionist said...

Gary Groth ripped into Shooter's posts on the Kirby art issue at Discusses it from a perspective that focussing on Shooter's blog entries (and prior statements) miss.