Sunday, June 19, 2011

Jack Kirby's 1975 Marvel Contract

Over on Jack Kirby's Wikipedia page (I know, I know, Wikipedia is about as accurate as a front bar drunk), this comment can be found about Jack Kirby leaving Marvel in 1978; "Still dissatisfied with Marvel's treatment of him, and with the company's refusal to provide health and other employment benefits..."  I've heard this claim before, more than once, and I believed it until I came across the following document - Jack Kirby's 1975 employment contract with Marvel, which shows that he was paid $1,100 per week and was eligible for medical insurance, as was any employee at Marvel at the time.  Thus I can't help but wonder where the claim that Kirby didn't get any benefits from Marvel at that point in time originated.  However Kirby had to deliver an amazing 13 pages a week, fully finished, written and penciled, in order to fulfill his contract.  I know artists who can't produce 13 pages a year of pencils these days, so Kirby's output was nothing short of incredible.

Kirby returned to Marvel after supposedly being dis-satisfied with the treatment of his work at DC Comics - but we may never know the real reasons.  As it stands Stan Lee welcomed Kirby back to Marvel with open arms, which was surprising considering that Kirby had spent time at DC  slamming both Lee and Roy Thomas in print, creating characters named Funky Flashman and Houseroy, both of whom were intended to be Kirby's view on the pair.  As parodies go it was both humorous and mean spirited at the same time, but it did reflect how Kirby felt towards Lee and Lee's success, both publically and privately.  It might have been justified in Kirby's eyes, but to Lee's credit, and that of Thomas, there was no retaliation in any Marvel comic.  Despite this when Kirby's contract with DC was up, Lee insisted that Marvel make a definite effort to secure his services.

Once back at Marvel Kirby avoided working on his most famous creations, and his only input to the Fantastic Four was to provide covers and a brilliant issue of What If? that featured Lee and Kirby, along with Sol Brodsky and Flo Steinberg as the Fantastic Four, as written and drawn by Kirby.  A Silver Surfer project was done outside of Marvel and marked the last time that Lee and Kirby would ever collaborate.  Other than those, Kirby contented himself with writing and drawing Captain America, he Eternals, both of whom he had a hand in creating, along with a host of other, second tier, titles, such as 2001 A Space Odyssey and Machine ManThe Eternals did feature The Hulk in one issue, but that was revealed to be a red herring.  Kirby avoided creating new characters for Marvel, but did bring Devil Dinosaur into Marvel's fold, and it was here that things probably went pear shaped.  With Devil Dinosaur Kirby was assigned an editor who spent the bulk of his time openly denigrating the quality of Kirby's work, to the point of calling him 'Jack The Hack' to anyone who'd listen.  Other pros weren't overly happy with the treatment, but, at that point in time, editors had the power to hire and fire freelancers so not much was said.  Once Kirby's contract with Marvel was up he left the company and went into animation - people might say he quit, but it would appear that he merely didn't take up the option to sign a new contract.


When Kirby returned to Marvel Lee was quick to turn the current issue of the company's fanzine, F.O.O.M, over to the event, featuring an interview with Kirby about his return, along with editorials and features.  What was disturbing about the issue of F.O.O.M is the lack of Kirby art - most of the art featured was done by up and coming Marvel artists, Bob Budiansky, Marie Severin, Duffy Vohland and John Byrne, along with artists such as Don Maitz and Charley Parker.  What must have galled Kirby, if not at the time, but certainly later, was the cover, by John 'Jack' Byrne, in Kirby's own style.  Byrne would soon explode as an artist and would make his name on the Fantastic Four and would probably make more money on his run that Kirby ever did, all the time Kirby didn't receive a cent.  I've often wondered why Marvel didn't ask Kirby to produce a cover, as opposed to having Byrne draw Kirby, but that question will have to remain.

Have a look now at Kirby's 1975 contract, which should dispel a lot of myths surrounding this point in time, and then have a look at the contents of F.O.O.M! #11 and it's Kirby Kontent.  By the time you get to the Origin Of Jack Kirby you might well be understanding why Kirby left Marvel for the second time, and it had nothing to do with medical insurance, which, as you'll soon see, he was eligible for.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Being "eligible" for health insurance in the United States is hardly a benefit. All it means is that you can purchase insurance through your employer.

Anonymous said...

I worked for Marvel when they introduced that health plan and almost no one who was "eligible" for it purchased it. It was very expensive and it covered nothing. It was utterly useless to me and I lived in New York. It was even less useless for Kirby living in California as it only paid what little it paid for doctor care at a handful of doctors in New York.

I'm going to stop coming to this site as it is maddening to see you keep jumping to wrong conclusions and extracting erroneous information from documents. You need to do some actual research to understand what you're reading.

Daniel Best said...

You know, it'd help if people actually put their names to these comments.

The claim is that Kirby had no health insurance. Health insurance was put on the table, which is something that he had no access to as a freelancer. It's also been said that he quit in disgust - he possibly did. However he didn't sign another contract when this contract finished. hardly the signs of someone who downed tools and walked out in protest.

It's well known that he got a better deal in the animation field - I'm not disputing that. I guess the question is - did he have to buy health insurance there too?

As for the Marvel editor, well, they know who they are.

Anonymous said...

You said in the last sentence of your post that Kirby's health insurance was "fully covered." Mayne you should rewrite that because it sounds like you're saying Kirby paid nothing for it. In fact as mentioned above the "insurance" was pretty much a joke.

Rey Armenteros said...

I think it is very difficult to appreciate all the work (blood, sweat, and tears) that comes into making a work of art unless you had to do to it, and unless you had to do it for a company (comics or otherwise).

In my limited experience, I did a little bit of work for a small time publisher and in the end, they reneged on their contract and never paid me a dime. And this was after they had stated that they "take good care of their people," and after the publisher assured me that not only was my work "something else," but that he was going to compensate me greatly. (This was all in the contract, and this company is still around publishing their stuff.) And that was my brief taste of being screwed over by a miniature "Marvel."

It should really come to no surprise to what degree many of these companies go through great lengths to secure their product without giving a fair share to the artist, and most especially in those days, when there were little to no rights for comic book creators or other artists.

In the case of someone like Jack Kirby, who was the single most influential creative force in the Marvel renaissance of the 1960s, and in the light of the way that Martin Goodman, and by extension, Stan Lee, treated him, words can never overstate the damage they caused him. You're talking $1,100 a week for the man that was responsible for all of it, when long before his return to Marvel in 1975, Stan Lee was already a millionaire.

When you look at Stan Lee, at his best he was a fun-loving, personable scripter, who came up with some of the ideas (while robbing some of the others, such as the Silver Surfer), and at his worst, he was a megalomaniac that received first-billing on all things Marvel, regardless if he came up with it or not. He received full writing credits on most of the books he had a direct hand in, regardless of the fact that it was usually the artist that would come up with the plot, and Stan Lee would have to come back from his busy schedule of schmoozing the media and others to fill in the word balloons.

You say Stan Lee was such a great guy by not retaliating against Kirby's jabs at him and Thomas. But, before Jack Kirby went over to DC, Stan Lee wouldn't lift a finger for his old creative partner to get him his fair deal.

Don't take any this from me, since I was too young to have been there, and I'm giving this to you secondhand. But take it from the countless sources and accounts of the day. The evidence of what happened to Jack Kirby is everywhere, and anybody who has followed and loved comics long enough should already know the story by heart.

Daniel Best said...

Rey, this post wasn't intended to be a defence for Marvel anymore than it was intended to be an attack on Kirby. I totally agree that Kirby was screwed by Marvel which resulted in him leaving the company - twice. However what I am saying is that the reasons why Kirby left Marvel the second time around might not be for those reasons stated on the Wiki page.

As for Stan Lee - yes he didn't lift a finger to defend Kirby, or so we believe - we don't know as we weren't there. However Lee didn't attack Kirby in public, whereas Kirby did attack Lee, more than once. Lee could have refused to re-hire Kirby - and remember, Kirby didn't work at DC in the '60s due to a dispute between him and Jack Schiff - but Lee saw past it.

One thing I have learnt is that the issue of Kirby and Marvel (Lee) is a very emotive one indeed.

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

This article is really interesting, because there are documents that we can talk about. Anyway, about the Marvel contract, I think that the previous comments have said it all and I agree with them.
Anyway, I'm writing for another thing, the misconception of Wikipedia.
Wikipedia is based on an open-source philosophy, this means that any mistake made by the person who wrote it can be corrected by another (or even the same) person.
In this specific case you can modify the statement about the contractual issues that you think is false or un-accurate.
If you don't want to change it directly, as I've done for another argument, you can discuss about it in a specific section of Wikipedia, with the author and some moderator, avoiding any subsequent return to the original mistake.
In ultimate analisys we can say that in Wikipedia the persistance of any lack of accuracy or any mistake found by somebody is the fault of this same person that doesn't do a contribute to improve this free source of informations.
DT
(Sorry, I deleted the previous comment because I could not add a phrase, the one after the first period, where I talk about the other comments. All the other phrases were in my first comment and are untouched.)

Daniel Best said...

Daniel - feel free to change it. I've had my own dealings with the Wiki people over the Dave Simons entry and I really don't trust the veracity of it all, nor do I trust the intentions of some, note I said some and not all, of the 'editors' who frequent the place.

Plus, as I understand the Wiki rules, as I've posted the document then I can't make an edit based on it as it'd come under the rule of 'original research' and the Wiki doesn't like that. Does the Wiki still believe and insist on people getting their information third hand?

danieletomasi said...

Taking for true the anonymous statement (I live in Italy so I knows nothing about USA health insurance, but I've always read bad things about it), I would change this way: "Still dissatisfied with Marvel's treatment of him and with the company providing an unuseful health insurance and no other employment benefits..."

DT

Fabio P.Barbieri said...

This is base shilling for Marvel. To say that someone like Kirby, whose signature sold comics across five continents and who was already a legend (his appearance in Lucca certified that) should be satisfied with a moderately decent wage and "opportunity to purchase" health insurance is completely insane. Look at what his contemporary Charles M.Schulz made. The truth is that Marvel and the rest have sucked billions out of the creation of their "employees" while paying them clerks' wages. Think of Dave Cockrum having to beg in public for money to fight the illness that killed him, while the characters he had designed were becoming Marvel's biggest franchise ever. Anyone who wants to say that Kirby was somehow being uppity or dishonest for trying to get a tiny bit of what his work was worth should be kicked out of fandom with steel-toed boots.

Daniel Best said...

Fabio - if you ever bothered to read anything else on my site you'd see that I've never said, ever, that Kirby was being dishonest or uppity.

There are two sides to every story, and some people, in their blindness towards Kirby, refuse to see that there is another side. I can see both sides. Does that mean that Marvel were right? No at all. Did Kirby deserve money and credit. Absolutely. Do Kirby's children deserve money? If they can prove, in a court, that Kirby created those characters - alone - as they're stating then yes. But Kirby was the one who deserved the cash, not his kids.

Charles M Schultz had no medical insurance either. he was rich enough to afford medical treatment, unlike Kirby. Is that fair? Depends on how you look at it. Schultz created his characters and held onto the copyrights and those characters for half a decade - Kirby didn't do that. Very sad.

What would be a perfect outcome in the court case? Kirby gets credit on the books, officially, his kids get a payout and life goes on. Win-win for all.

So, before you accuse me, do some reading on this site an you'll see that I have a great admiration for Kirby and his work. And even if I didn't, having an alternative position is something to respect, not to attack.

Michael Hill said...

Dan, as to whether his kids deserve the cash, that was *always* Kirby's motivation, to provide for his family. Not sure what happens when one dies in Australia, but at least here in North America the heirs aren't required to give the estate to the corporation. Introducing medical insurance as a fact and then when it's disproved, defending it by saying Schulz (note spelling) didn't have it either but leaving the original post intact is a bit disingenuous. Stating Kirby's kids don't deserve the cash is not "great admiration" expressed in a manner that Kirby would appreciate.

Daniel Best said...

Michael - the only thing I altered was this line: "was eligible for medical insurance" from "medical insurance was provided" because, as people did point out, there is a difference. The parts about Charles M Schulz have always been there. If you care to actually read the post you'd see that it's more against Marvel than for it, but nope, all anyone seems to have read are the parts where I question another myth. Kirby wasn't an idiot - he knew what the story was and how the game was played.

As for if Kirby's kids deserve the cash, I've always stated my stance on this, and I'll do it, YET AGAIN, for the world to see - in a perfect world Marvel would PAY Jack Kirby's kids a large settlement and royalties and place Jack Kirby's name on the books/characters that he created/co-created. Life would go on. Simple as that.

I'm kind of getting tired of the fact that a lot of the people defending Kirby quote mine my posts and appear to not read everything, but instead just pick out the bits they feel serves their own arguments and leave the rest.