02.Aug.2011 Should We Boycott Marvel?
Last week, comic book artist and writer Stephen R. Bissette called for a boycott of all products based on the work of Jack Kirby until Marvel Comics and their owners at Disney come to terms with the Kirby heirs and acknowledge Kirby’s role in creating and co-creating such characters as Iron Man, The X-Men, Thor, The Fantastic Four, The Hulk, and Captain America. According to Bissette, “Jack Kirby always, in his life and in his work, trumpeted the power of the INDIVIDUAL to act against power. It was JACK’S message, in all his work: the power of the INDIVIDUAL to CHANGE THE WORLD. So, CHANGE THE WORLD, those who grew up reading, loving, enjoying, creating, earning livings from Kirby’s work and all that followed.”
At immediate issue is the recent decision of a U.S. District Court to deny the Kirby heirs their right to the copyrights of the characters and stories Kirby created. The judge denied the family’s claims on the grounds that Kirby produced the work as an employee of Marvel Comics. (Colleen Doran has an excellent summary as well as the actual legal document of the decision here.)
Bissette argues that Kirby signed away his rights retroactively and under duress, being essentially extorted by Marvel for his livelihood and later for the return of his original art. Bissette makes a great case, using examples from his own career working for Marvel and DC, and proposes several tactics for embarrassing Marvel and denying the company money in exchange for exploiting characters Marvel/Disney should have no right to.
Regardless of the legal ruling, and the legal status of “corporate authorship,” Bissette argues that the question is a moral one.
Should Marvel Comics continue to benefit financially for exploiting, denigrating, and generally abusing the genius of Jack Kirby?
My own opinion is that they should not.
I agree that what the corporation did to Kirby and continues to do to his legacy and heirs was and is morally wrong and therefore in good conscience we should not reward Marvel for their morally wrong behaviour. That means working for Marvel on Kirby creations or buying Kirby-derived comics or books from Marvel, or buying video games, movies, toys, or any other products based on Kirby characters that Marvel has produced or licensed, is out.
I think Bissette’s boycott plan and suggested tactics are a good idea and could have some concrete effect in shaping public opinion and maybe even effecting change within Marvel.
Collective action has had an impact on the big American comics publishers in the past. Most famously, a campaign spearheaded by Neal Adams and Jerry Robinson succeeded in pressuring DC into giving credit and compensation to Siegel & Shuster in the 1970s for their creation of Superman. In the 1980s, The Comics Journal led the fight for the return of Kirby’s original artwork. In the 1990s, a loose fan boycott of Marvel product had an effect on the way the company produced and marketed its comics.
I think a boycott of Kirby-derived product from Marvel (Kirby created approx. 80% of the well-known Marvel characters) will have been judged a success of at least one of these 3 goals are reached:
1. Marvel acknowledges Kirby as the creator or co-creator of the relevant characters and titles, giving him credit with each publication, film or other product.
2. Marvel begins paying the Kirby heirs royalties.
3. The Kirby heirs win the copyrights to the characters Jack Kirby created while at Marvel.
Nothing less will do and I believe Marvel should not be supported until these issues are resolved and Jack Kirby’s contributions are rightfully acknowledged.