Thursday, September 22, 2011

The World According To Shooter

Art copyright Michael Netzer
Anyone who has even a passing interest in life at Marvel Comics in the late ‘70s through to the mid to late ‘80s – the Shooter Years – should be reading Jim Shooters blog or, at the very least, checking it out.  It offer his own unique view on events that occurred at the company and, more importantly, Jim is sharing documents from his files, offering up internal memos, letters, contracts, photos, original art and much more.  The blog is often worth a look for those documents alone, but, for those who are both interested, and want an alternate view to some well known events, Jim’s memories are on display for all and sundry.  And therein lies the issue.

Some of what Jim remembers just doesn’t add up and he has a tendency to go on the attack when challenged.  Tony Isabella is just one person who has publicly taken Shooter to task for lying about events that he (Isabella) was directly involved in.  The general consensus from people who know Jim is that he has a version of events that he firmly believes and that nothing anyone says or does can sway him from that viewpoint.  Memory is a fickle thing at best, but it does become problematic when a person offers up opinion as fact or continues to refer to events that never happened.  Here are two such examples, both relating to Jack Kirby.

The first, and most serious, allegation that Jim has made revolves around Kirby’s mental health.  In Shooters own words: 

Please remember that Jack suffered from some degree of dementia.  I hate to use that word regarding Jack, but I'm going through the same thing with my mother right now, and I believe the term applies.  Apparently, it went back as far as the late seventies. I know, for instance that Jack had a minor car accident in 1976 or 1977 because, I was told, he became inattentive at the wheel. No more driving after that, so I was told.  In my own, many conversations with him, I noticed that he would lose his train of thought sometimes. There were San Diego Con panels at which his memory issues were apparent. Many people witnessed those.

Jim Shooter is not a doctor, so any medical diagnoses he wishes to make are mere speculation, not fact.  There is no evidence, anywhere, of Kirby suffering from dementia and unless anyone can offer up solid, medical, evidence then nobody can simply take Shooter’s word as gospel.  In his opinion Jack Kirby might have been suffering from a form of dementia, based upon his own observations, but that is merely that – an opinion, and as Shooter has no formal medical training to back his claims up, that opinion is an uninformed opinion.  This hasn’t stopped Shooter from stating his view as a fact.

Dementia is a cruel disease, and in its latter stages it totally disorientates the sufferer to the point where they forget who they are, where they are, what time of the day it is etc etc.  However there is absolutely no evidence recorded elsewhere to suggest that Kirby suffered from dementia before, during or after the time Shooter was dealing with him.  People who knew him throughout his life and even towards the end always paint a picture of a lucid man who had some memory loss, the same as anyone over the age of 60 who displays some memory loss.  Medically, in order for dementia to be diagnosed you need a specialist and an exhaustive battery of tests, not just a layman’s opinion, based on a few encounters.

Jack Kirby’s apparent poor memory and vagueness is the stuff of legends.  There are stories of him drifting off into his own world that back as far as the 1940s.  Anyone who has read about Kirby, or has studied him and especially those who knew him, would recognise the behaviour that Shooter describes as being typical of Kirby and keeping in character.  His memory strayed, as does the memory of many people – Stan Lee and Joe Simon are just as vague on some events as Jack Kirby was, but nobody is suggesting that they suffer from dementia. 

Shooter also continues to sprout a line regarding a Jack Kirby initiated lawsuit in 1978 against Marvel Comics in regards to copyrights.  He has steadfastly maintained a public line, since the late 1980s, that Jack Kirby sued Marvel Comics in 1978.  As recently as April of this year Shooter was still sticking to his version of events.

As soon as he (Kirby) left, he sued Marvel for ownership of the characters he'd created. The return of the artwork was one aspect of that case.

The legal sparring went on a long time. Starting, as most lawsuits do, with a period of threats and legal maneuvering, in 1978 the Kirby side began an aggressive legal and PR attack on Marvel that ended (or lessened somewhat) in mid-1986 when the matter was settled. Though it was a complex case about who owned the characters the way it was pitched to the public by their side was that Marvel -- and in particular, I wouldn't give Kirby his art back.

The Kirby case ended when Marvel, in discovery, produced a number of documents, including several signed with Cadence Industries’ predecessor proving that Kirby had specifically agreed more than once in exchange for compensation (beyond the original payment for the work) that Marvel owned the work (art, characters, everything). One specifically listed every story Kirby ever did -- part of the proof Martin Goodman was required to provide that he owned what he was selling when he sold Marvel to Cadence, I believe. Kirby's lawyers were apparently unaware of the existence of these documents, apologized, and dropped the suit.

Marvel's lawyers would have shown them earlier, but never dreamed that the other side wasn't aware of them.

So Jack, with his lawyer’s help, sent us a letter refusing to accept the artwork back unless he were given credit as sole creator on all the old stuff he and Stan worked on together. He specifically insisted that Stan would get no credit, and that Jack must get credit, or Jack would not accept his artwork back.

'An All-New F.F. Blockbuster By Stan (The Man) Lee and Jack (King) Kirby'
There are several issues in Shooters statement of events: Jack Kirby never sued Marvel Comics for ownership of the characters that he’d created.  He didn’t sue them in 1978.  He didn’t engage in, “…an aggressive legal and PR attack on Marvel” starting in 1978.  Once his contract ended in 1978 he moved into animation, where he spent the next few years, occasionally returning to the comic book field to work for DC and smaller publishers, such as Pacific, where he was treated with a degree of respect.  During this time the same level of respect didn’t extend to Marvel Comics who appeared to treat Kirby with disdain.  The main public showing of this disdain revolved around the 20th Anniversary issue of The Fantastic Four, possibly the most famous of all of the Jack Kirby-Stan Lee collaborations.  This issue, #236, saw Kirby publicly insulted twice.  The first insult was the use of Kirby animation storyboards for a storyline that originally appeared in Fantastic Four #5 and had been adapted for the late 1970s Fantastic Four cartoon series.  The storyboards were appropriated from the Ruby-Spears animation studios and then inked by long time Kirby inkers; Chic Stone, Dick Ayers, Joe Sinnott, George Roussos, Sol Brodsky, Vince Colletta and Frank Giacoia, along with Al Milgrom, John Byrne and Pablo Marcos, all without Kirby’s consent, approval or involvement.  The resulting story was dialogued by Stan Lee and promoted as an ‘All New F.F. Blockbuster by Stan ‘The Man’ Lee and Jack ‘King’ Kirby’.  The cover blurb was misleading as it was designed to give the appearance that Lee and Kirby had reunited to create an all new story; instead what was offered was art that was never intended to be published in comic book format and as such was not up to Kirby’s usual standards.  To add insult to injury Shooter apparently ordered the removal of Jack Kirby’s image from the John Byrne cover art, something he has never bothered to properly explain.  Stan Lee is there on the cover, Jack Kirby isn’t, and there's a nice white space where Kirby should be.  As for the claims of wanting the sole credit, I'd like to see that letter and I'm sure Jim has a copy, if indeed it does exist.

Why does Jim Shooter firmly believe that Jack Kirby took Marvel to court?  There is one explanation.  Shortly after the art return situation came to a head Jack and Ros Kirby hired a lawyer to speak to Marvel as the relationship had well and truly broken down by that stage.  However hiring a lawyer to negotiate the return of the original art is hardly the filing of a lawsuit.  In public, at least, the Kirby’s maintained a stance of not wanting to ‘go after copyrights’, insisting that their dispute with Marvel was about the art.  For instance, when interviewed for The Comics Journal in 1986 (issue #105) the Kirby’s repeatedly denied having filed for ownership or copyrights.  “The copyrights were never even brought up,” stated Ros Kirby.  “We never intended to fight.  We've never sued anybody,” Jack Kirby followed up.  Later in the same interview Kirby stated that, “I'm not a guy who likes to sue people. I've never sued Marvel. I've never sued anybody, and they claim I'm a guy who's giving them trouble. I'm a guy who never gave anybody trouble.”  As an aside, The Comics Journal, along with other creators, took up a very public fight on behalf of Jack Kirby, for the rightful return of his artwork.  While it is true that the Kirby’s knew of the campaign and approved it, by all accounts they didn’t launch a ‘public PR smear campaign’.

While it’s true that Jack Kirby ‘never sued anybody’, let alone Marvel Comics, by the time of The Comics Journal interview, in one letter at least, the Kirby’s had threatened Marvel with possible legal action in regards to copyrights when the first renewal term came up.  This threat, issued in a letter to Marvel dated the 15th of April, 1985, clearly caused a lot of angst for Marvel, and their response was to forward, via the Kirby lawyer, copies of the agreements that Kirby had signed in both 1972 and 1975 to remind him that he long ago relinquished any rights he might have otherwise had.  This legal back and forth, and the resulting public backlash towards Marvel, resulted in a deal being struck whereby a formerly onerous art release form was retracted and a standard form substituted.  In return for his original art Kirby signed yet another agreement, this time stating that he would not be following through on any threats to Marvel’s copyrights.  However a threat of legal action isn’t legal action, and as such Jim Shooter’s repeated claims that Jack Kirby sued Marvel, only withdrawing his suit in the discovery phase, is patently wrong: Jack Kirby never sued Marvel at any stage.  On the other hand both Jack and Ros Kirby weren’t entirely telling the truth either.  At the same time they were claiming that they never intended to file for the copyrights to the characters that Jack Kirby created and co-created, they had already issued a letter, via their lawyer, threatening to do just that.  It can be argued that desperate situations call for desperate measures, so I can’t fault the Kirby’s for throwing everything in their arsenal at Marvel, and if the end result was that Jack Kirby at least got some of his original art back – we now know that nearly two thousand pages ‘went missing’ (read: stolen) from Marvel in the five or so years that it took to reach a suitable resolution – then it was a good threat indeed.  The stolen art does lead to another story though, and it’s a story that does raise the ire of Shooter when mentioned.  There are some serious questions about the art theft that deserve answers, such as who stole the art, where it was stolen from and why the police were never involved at the time that the art theft was discovered (and we’re talking the early to mid 1980s here) but it’s doubtful that those questions will be answered in any great hurry.

Until then, visit Jim Shooter's blog, read what he has to say, check out the many historical documents that he's posting.  The man has talent, he can spin a good story, however, at times, the line between story and facts are often blurred on his blog.

 The above document contains the contentious statement showing that Jack Kirby did, at one stage, have his lawyers write to Marvel with a threat to bring suit against them for the copyrights to the characters that he either created or co-created.  However, as I've stated, a threat of legal action is hardly legal action...


Kid said...

Always a good read, but hasn't Jim Shooter previously admitted on his blog that he was merely using the phrase 'sued Marvel' (or whatever variation) in a sort of layman's umbrella term to cover all the legal back and forths between the Kirby's and the company, and that he should have been more specific? At least, that's the impression I had, and I think he's been careful to avoid inadvertently overstating the case since.

Also, although Jim admits that he would have been the one to pass on the instruction to remove Kirby's image from the cover (although he does not specifically remember doing so), the order would have come from upstairs, for reasons he wasn't privy to.

Some sources claim that Kirby instructed his lawyers to demand that Marvel remove his likeness from the cover, although I'm not entirely convinced that Jack would do such a thing, or even that he would have known in advance of Byrne's inclusion of him.

Anonymous said...

Shooter got nailed on the same lies about Kirby several years ago. Now he's back with the same nonsense.
Perhaps lies is to harsh a word, after all Shooter's poor memory may simply be an indication that he's afflicted by dementia.

Dan Webster

Anonymous said...

Oh, and as to Kirby being inattentive at the wheel, that dates back to at least 1941 when Roz says Kirby very nearly drove his car off the Brooklyn Bridge shortly before they were married.

Daniel Best said...

@Kid - Shooter has repeatedly made reference both to a threat of legal action and then actual legal action brought against Marvel by Jack Kirby. There might have indeed been a threat - there's evidence that a threat did happen - but there was no legal action. Shooter keeps repeating this claim, despite being told, more than once, that it's a lie. He tells the story to justify the treatment of Kirby by Marvel while he was EIC. It's crap.

As for the dementia - Shooter can say it, but he can't state it as fact.

Daniel Best said...

@Dan Webster. Fully agree mate! I've heard of many stories of Kirby's short attention span. Nothing new under that sun.

Kid said...

Yes, but what I'm saying is that I was under the strong impression that, on his own site, he addressed the whys and wherefores of why he expressed himself in the way he did. In other words, Kirby's lawyers had threatened legal action and that was what he was referring to when he mentioned it - admitting that, in doing so, he had inadvertently implied that the threat had been put into action. I believe he has since clarified what he actually meant.

In short, when he referred to the Kirby's 'legal action', he meant the threat of such from Kirby's lawyers. That was my understanding anyway - I wouldn't want to put words in his mouth.

Blog's looking great by the way. A lot easier on the eyes.

Anonymous said...

Kid, I would ask that you read this blog post which shows that Shooter has been pushing his lie since 1998, been called on it, backed off, and then reverted to telling the same lie all over again in greater detail.
He's either a liar, or suffering from a very bad memory, which by his own definition means he's a victim of dementia.

Kid said...

I've read the link and all I can say is that it mostly appears to confirm what I said. It really is quite common for someone to investigate taking legal action and then speak as if their preliminary enquiries (and intent if necessary) are actually underway. Therefore it's no surprise if the opposing side regards it that way too. You say Jim backtracked - but I have no way of reading his mind and knowing what his motives were. Jim has remarked that he may have inadvertently overstated the case and has since clarified what he actually meant. That is, he refers to the initial rumblings of threatened legal action as if it were actually the case, which as I previously remarked, is quite a common thing to do.

It seems to me that if you substitute phrase like "Kirby's lawsuit" or whatever, with "Kirby's threatened lawsuit", then Shooter's accounts seem eminently fair and reasonable. It seems that his motivations or memory lapses are always put down to sinister machinations on his part by his detractors, when they really can have no more insight into what lies behind them than you or I.

He explained his references to lawsuits and the like in the very post you referred me to, which is all I originally remarked upon. It's really down to personal opinion or bias whether you choose to believe him or not.

Incidentally, some of the things the article claims that Shooter either ignored or failed to address, he actually did do so on his blog. I know, 'cos I remember reading them. The reasons why Kirby got a different release form from other artists being one of them.

Anyway, I'm not interested in changing anyone's mind about what they believe - I was only pointing out that Jim Shooter has addressed the issues. As I already said, whether anyone chooses to believe him or not is up to them.

(He shouldn't have called you a "s.o.b." 'though, but I can understand him being on the defensive a lot of the time. He really does seem to be a target for some people.)