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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
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...
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