Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A bit more background on the Jack Kirby IP case

And on the way comic book IP works in general.

For the non-nerds in the audience, Thanos has been a major character in Marvel Comics for over forty years. Perhaps more important from a commercial standpoint, The character figures prominently in the Avengers movie franchise (he's the villain behind the villains). We could go back and forth over the exact numbers but it's safe to say that this particular piece of intellectual property plays a significant role in an enterprise that has pulled in billions of dollars of revenue.

All of which means you don't have to be a comic-book fan to have an interest in where these ideas come from.
Famed comic book writer and artist Jim Starlin tried several times to get his artwork and creations into the pages of Marvel before hitting a homerun with Thanos (the god-like alien being with a bloodlust for power and control over the universe). In 2002, Starlin told Jon B. Cooke where he got his inspiration for Thanos as part of an interview in his popular series Comic Book Artist (#2):

Kirby had done the ‘New Gods’…over at DC at the time. I came up with some things that were inspired by that. You’d think that Thanos was [initially] inspired by Darkseid, but that was not the case. In my first Thanos drawings, if he looked like anybody, it was Metron. I had all these different gods and things I wanted to do, which became Thanos and the Titans. Roy took one look at the guy in the Metron-like chair and said : “Beef him up! If you’re going to steal one of the New Gods, at least rip off Darkseid, the really good one!”
There are a few interesting takeaways from this.

The first is a reminder of just how much intellectual borrowing has always gone on in the comic book industry. As mentioned before, even the iconic Captain America had to be tweaked because the original version bore an uncomfortable resemblance to a character called the Shield.

This is also a reminder of just how long a shadow Jack Kirby cast over the comic book industry. Though the current lawsuit only affects those characters Kirby created or cocreated at Marvel, it is important to remember just how far his influence ran . For all the money that Kirby's work has brought into the industry over the years, it is quite possible that between operatic superheroes, bickering teams, romance comics and the rest, even more came from people imitating his innovations.

Finally, this doesn't reflect all that well on Roy Thomas who was one of the witnesses Marvel/Disney called in to argue that Kirby's heirs don't deserve a share of the rights their father helped create.

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