Original Art Stories: Marvel Masterworks Non-Original Artists
Or so we've been led to believe. There's another truth to this - you're not buying what you've been told you're buying. Not even close. In some cases you're buying all new material recreated by artists who probably weren't even alive when the original comic books came out. You're being duped.
This cover looks damn good doesn't it? Imagine having this hanging on the wall. Now if I were to tell you that this cover wasn't even touched by Gene Colan, let alone drawn by him, yet it was being passed off as being signed and drawn by him then you'd be outraged and rightly so. There's been several discussions about the ethics and moralities of artists producing line-for-line copies of classic covers, the general consensus is that it's wrong. Adapt the covers, introduce new elements, do it in your own style, these are all things that good artists do. Anyone with a lightbox can produce a line-for-ling recreation of another artists work. You can bet that if someone put this up for sale on somewhere such as eBay then it's more than likely Marvel would step in to end the auction, and rightly so. However this recreation was not only sanctioned by Marvel, it was commissioned by them for inclusion in the Iron Man Vol 4 Marvel Masterworks. Yep, if you own a copy of that book then the bulk of the art contained within was not drawn by Gene Colan even though he gets the credit and the covers and splash pages bear his signature. It was drawn by an artist named Michael Kelleher.
Michael has not only been drawing covers for Marvel, he's been very busy pumping out interior pages. This information is taken from the site that represents Michael's artwork.
...features original art by artist Michael Kelleher that has been authorized, commissioned, approved by Marvel Comics, and published in their Silver Age Marvel Masterworks anthologies. These are exact recreations of the original works created by legendary artists Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Don Heck, John Buscema and many others.
Each drawing measures 14 x 17 inches and was painstakingly reproduced to mimic line-weights and styles of the original artists and inkers.
These are not simple recreations made for fans and collectors. Marvel Comics has gone to great lengths over the past few years to give fans EXACT reproductions of the Silver Age stories that made Marvel famous. Often times the film that was used in the original printing process was either lost, damaged, or altered, so a new version must be created. This is an incredible opportunity to own original artwork of some of the greatest comics ever published!
Feeling cheated yet? Now check that information against the blurb that Marvel provide for the above book, the Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus Vol 1.
Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus Vol. 1
Reprints: Amazing Fantasy #15, Amazing Spider-Man #1-38, Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1-2, Strange Tales Annual #2
SPECIAL BONUS FEATURES:
Stan Lee introductions to Amazing Spider-Man Masterworks Vol. 1-4
Essays by Arlen Schumer, Jon B. Cooke and Blake Bell
Amazing Spider-Man #10, unused cover
Amazing Spider-Man #11, original version
Amazing Spider-Man #35, original version from Italian reprint
Bullpen photo spread from Marvel Tales Annual #1
Reprint covers from Marvel Tales Annual #1-2 and Marvel Tales #3-28
House ad for Strange Tales Annual #2
House ad from Marvel Tales Annual #1
House ad from Fantastic Four Annual #1
That doesn't tell the full story now does it? To take this a step further, reprint editor, Jeff Youngquist, was recently asked about a particular title and if Marvel still possessed the original film to effect a suitable Masterworks reprint. Here's the reply; "Those Golden Age Masterworks are a challenge....first of all trying to find the film. Even if we don't have the film, we can still produce the book by reconstructing the pages from an actual copy of the comic. But as you can imagine with the Golden Age comics, even those are difficult to track down, so it's a real challenge gathering all those materials. Red Raven is something we haven't really explored yet, so I couldn't tell you offhand the status of the materials, but it's certainly something we could consider for the future."
He then further expands on his answer; "We'd probably be able to locate those films or digital files depending on how the book was produced, but not having that reprint in front of me, I can't speak to the quality of it. Sometimes these books have been reprinted in the past, but the quality isn't up to the standards we try to stick to now. They might not have recolored it to match the original. The line art may not have been reconstructed well."
Clearly in this case 'reconstructed' simply means getting in an otherwise unknown artist to trace the original stories off for inclusion into the books. Not an entirely ethical practice, especially when you consider that the company then promotes the highly expensive reprints as being taken from the original titles. In the case of the Spider-Man Omnibus you can be assured that the bulk of the material is recreated art. For that volume, according to the artist rep's site, the following pages and covers were commissions and recreated:
Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1: Page 1
Amazing Spider-Man #29: entire 20 page story
Fantastic Four Annual #1: pages 48 to 53 inclusive
Strange Tales Annual #2: pages 1, 2 13 & 14
And that's what we know of, because that's what's on sale. What else was recreated? For all we know the entire volume is one big recreation, yet it all bears the signature of one Steve Ditko.
The same applies for the aforementioned Marvel Masterworks Vol 4. From that volume the following pages were commissioned and recreated by Marvel:
Iron Man #1: pages 18, 19 & 20
Tales of Suspense #88: page 9
Tales of Suspense #94: page 1 and pages 4 to 9 inclusive
Tales of Suspense #96: pages 1 to 12 inclusive
Tales of Suspense #98: pages 1 to 11 inclusive
Now Marvel might well argue that the original art is missing, can't be located and as such needs to be recreated. Certainly Marvel aren't seeking out the original artists to recreate their own work. When Marvel undertook 'restoration' work on the Iron Man volume they chose to engage the services of a cheaper artist instead of the original artist, Gene Colan. Same with Fantastic Four volumes - Joe Sinnott and Dick Ayers are still around and doing high quality work. Instead Marvel elect for the more economical route and farm out work to artists that they'd not normally hire to draw books for them in any other capacity. Indeed reprint editor, Cory Sedlmeier has publicly stated, "I couldn't give a direct percentage across the Masterworks. It's something that varies widely. The Golden Age books are all fully reconstructed from copies of the original books because none of that material exists in Marvel's archives any longer. Back in the '40s no one could have guessed that almost 70 years later people would be pining for these stories!
"Meanwhile back at the ranch, the Atlas Era has proven to be either completely hit, or completely miss so far. These issues have either been intact in the film library and in great shape, or completely missing. For instance, Marvel Boy #1 and #2 were found and in sparkling condition (the earliest finds from our film warehouse yet, which is not to say there isn't earlier material, we just haven't gotten around to reprinting it yet); however, Astonishing #3 and #4 were completely missing.
"For the Marvel Age, it varies. Some volumes require no full reconstruction. Others require two or three pages, and others, say where a complete story is missing, 20 plus pages. Earlier material tends to be in poorer condition. Most likely because it was duplicated over and over again throughout the '60s, '70s, and '80s for various reprint comics. I've heard word that the first generation photostats were sent out West for use in the 1960s Marvel Super Heroes cartoons.
"Conversely, the version of Amazing Fantasy #15 the film warehouse located for the ASM Omnibus is bar-none the absolute best version ever. I put my word on that—you can see the pencil line from where the captions were sketched out on these proofs! Jean, Ryan, and their crew at Jerron deserve huge kudos for their hard work searching the tens of thousands of photostat reams. The reproduction quality of every Masterworks starts with these guys and girls.
"Before I close this out one thing I'd like to clarify here is that the folks that do this work are reconstructing the artwork from an original printed copy with utter faithfulness to the originals. There have been hullaboos about how reconstruction is a disservice to the original talents, and I hate to say it, but I take offense to that.
"Folks like Mike Kelleher, Wil Glass, Dale Crain, Matt Moring, All Thumbs Creative, Pacific Rim Graphics, and Secret Agent Pond Scum put an intense effort and an enormous amount of time into every page, and its all to honor the original artists. There are no bigger fans than these people. They've made this their life's work, and for the record, they rock. I'm spinning plates, and figuring out plans, and chasing schedules, but these are the people that really deserve your thanks and respect. They make it happen."
This is being very deceptive. A lot of this art does exist, and a lot of high quality stats also do exist. However it's cheaper for Marvel to hire an artist to trace the images for inclusion and then sign the art with a forgery of the original artists signature. What would be a far more honest practice would be for Marvel to include a disclaimer in each and every volume stating that the volumes you're buying contain material that was no produced by the original artists and then identify which stories, covers and pages that have been recreated at a later date. That'd be fair.
Closing this out I'd like to leave the last work to Bob McLeod, a man who knows more about this stuff than any of us probably will. In a public post to the ComicArt list recently Bob had this to say, amongst other comments, "I think this is troubling. It's my understanding that Marvel just purchases the printing rights to artwork (even that created under work-for-hire), but the copyright to the original art (the right for that art to not be copied and sold) remains with the artist. Otherwise, Marvel would have to pay taxes on all that original art they "own". That's supposedly why they return original art to the artists.
"So it's reasonable that Marvel could have art recreated for printing purposes, but it should then be destroyed. To sell the recreated art, regardless of who gets the profit, seems to me to violate the artist's copyright."
To be fair to Marvel all the profits from the sale of the art is channeled into the Hero Intitive, but again Bob has an answer for that, "The Hero Initiative is a worthy cause, but how about giving the profit from a recreation of Gene Colan's work to Gene himself?" Very good question. And it raises another - do Marvel pay royalities on these books to the original artists? The answer is, thankfully, yes, but it'd be a nicer touch to feature the original art. Also, what would Marvel do to me if I then approached an artist to recreate and entire story, line-for-line and attempted to sell it? I think we all know the answer to that.
Personally I'll be boycotting these books until such a time that Marvel include the disclaimer that you're buying books that feature art NOT drawn by the artists listed in the credit pages. Hopefully they insist that all the sold pages carry some form of stamp or hallmark stating that it is not the original art by the listed artist, or I can see some major problems arising down the track when someone pages a few thousand for a page, or a cover, and then is told, "Well, that's not done by Jack Kirby, although it bears his signature, that was drawn by Johnny Bananas for the Fantastic Four Ominbus Vol 1."
In the above interview Cory states, "There have been hullaboos about how reconstruction is a disservice to the original talents, and I hate to say it, but I take offense to that." Personally Cory I take offense at being mislead by paying good money for stories that have been drawn by some unknown artist somewhere and not by the original talents. I take offence at being mislead by seeing a signature on art and not knowing it was forged by some unknown artist. After all if I want the stories I'll just buy the original comic books. Come to think of it, I might just keep doing that instead of handing over hundreds to Marvel for some un-named artists rendition of a classic Steve Ditko story.
Marvel, come clean and include the disclaimer and give the rightful credits. For once at least. Because those names on the front and insides of the books do not accurately reflect what you're offering. Perhaps the words, "Based On Stories Drawn By..." would closer to the truth because these books are not reprints - they're recreations at best.