Creators RightsFebruary 9th, 2012 |
As a comic fan I’m feeling very conflicted these days. On one hand we have all these “great” movies coming out soon that will help promote comics to a larger audience. On the other hand it feels morally corrupt to watch these movies, knowing how the creators have been treated.
I haven’t been buying Marvel or DC for about 3 years now (With one notable exception being Tom Scioli’s issue of Captain America: Hail Hydra). I was pretty overwhelmed by all the event books being put out. It made DC’s books impenetrable and I felt that Marvel was more concerned with getting to the next book rather than creating a satisfying, self-contained story. I also have personal motivations for shifting my allegiance to creator owned comics. I’ve been promoting “Straw Man” for 8 years and through that process I’ve made a lot of friends. Those friends have created great, “one-of-a-kind” books that offer more rewards than those offered by corporate comics. You see I’m supporting an artist, an idea, and a dream for some of these people. The creator loves his creation and he will do all he can to make it work (even if it means working for years for nothing to make his dream come alive).
Corporate comics have had a rich history of denying creators of their creations. From a distance “the comic book” looks like the combined cooperation of several creative individuals. But when you dig deeper you’ll see that often characters were created under duress. With comic genius Jack Kirby you’ll find that he was essentially forced to give up his creative rights to feed his family. Sometimes creations and ideas were outright snatched from artists.
It’s come to my attention that Gary Friedrich, the creator of Ghost Rider, has been sued by Marvel for $17,000. 17,000 from a man who is unemployed and absolutely broke. Shame on you Marvel. I don’t understand all the specifics of the case but I do know that something is absolutely wrong here. You could easily make an argument that Jack Kirby knew he was signing his creations away when he worked for Marvel, but as I understand it Gary Friedrich had tried to defend his creation. Same goes with Steve Gerber, creator of Howard the Duck, who fought tooth and nail against Marvel and was buried under piles of litigation. Jack Kirby felt so passionate about the way Steve was treated that he helped draw “Destroyer Duck” to raise funds to help Steve Gerber’s court case.
Now let’s turn our attention to DC. Forget the convenient fact that DC didn’t do right by Shuster, Siegel, or Kane. We have in recent days seen Alan Moore’s Watchmen characters rehashed for a new series of comics called “Before Watchmen”. From an artistic point of view you must ask “why?”. The work was complete as is. It was the single vision of one artist with one statement. I think it would be just as fool hardy to attempt something called “Before Mona Lisa” which would of course consist of a frowning, teenage Mona Lisa in front of a freshly planted sapling forest. From a legal point of view Alan Moore will be conveyed the rights back to Watchmen whenever the graphic novel goes out of print. The thing is, Watchmen has never gone out of print. Moore never expected the book to last, just like Kirby never expected the Fantastic Four to be more than a fad.
Point is, Marvel and DC don’t care a thing about protecting their creative talent, especially when it involves their bottom line. Why then should I as a consumer support these companies? Every dollar spent on a Marvel or DC comic says “I agree with the way you treat your employees and creators”. What makes this incredibly difficult for casual fans is that it’s hard to recognize that the Big Two are levying this irresponsibility against beloved and well know characters. Who doesn’t want to read the next Watchmen story? Seeing how the original was brilliant, who wouldn’t want to read more of that? Or how about that new Avengers movie coming out? If you had told me as a kid that not only would we get four different solo Avengers movies, but also a fifth movie that put them all together?! That’s more than any child should have the right to dream about.
So I’m coming to a very difficult decision to not see the Avengers in the theaters nor buy “Before Watchmen”. I am insatiably curious about both of these projects so I will probably borrow “Avengers” and “Before Watchmen” from the library when they eventually hit the shelf. The point is Marvel and DC will not get one red cent from me regarding these shameless projects. I’m not going to be a hypocrite and tell people I’ll never view these things, but I feel like I’ve reached a compromise that I can live with. Maybe by that time I’ll have lost interest.
I don’t think my “boycott” will really effect Marvel or DC in the long run. I do think there is a way fans can make a difference. One idea would be to print a short document describing Marvel’s actions on to a sticker and slapping that on to the movie poster. It might remain on the poster long enough for casual film goers to read.
Or we could help change copyright laws. I think if a corporation hires an artist to create a character that the copyright should be split between the publisher and the creator. The creator can self-publish his version of the character and the publisher can continue to publish their version. If the creator loses interest in his creation then he simply has to do nothing. If the creator has a good relationship with the publisher he could choose to work with the publisher indefinitely, for their mutual benefit. It stands to reason that if one version is inferior then sales would drop and the inferior product would be rendered impotent.
I believe that mutual risk is inherent with both the publisher and the artist. The artist invests his creativity, time, and physical effort to pursue a risky venture. A publisher invests it’s time, money, and resources to pursue a risky venture. That means the risk is shared and that the copyright should be shared. Anything else is just a strong-arm to stranglehold creators into giving up their creative rights.