Friday, July 4, 2014

An IP post for the Fourth of July

As mentioned earlier, I've been planning to write some posts about the legal battle Jack Kirby's heirs have been trying to wage against Marvel/Disney in an effort to get a share of the billions of dollars their father's creations and co-creations have brought into the company.

I'd meant to get back to this sooner, but the ed reform beat has been  taking most of my time and I kept putting off the Kirby thread until recently when I found myself looking for a topic for the Fourth, and I realized that I couldn't do much better than the character Kirby created in 1940 with partner Joe Simon, Captain America.

The legal wrangling over Captain America was a bit of a departure from the conflict over the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, etc. The villain here appears to be Kirby's partner Joe Simon but, Kirby's standpoint, it's still a very familiar story/ From a well researched post by comics historian Daniel Best:
Joe Simon often wondered why Kirby sided with Marvel in 1966 and later.  At the time Kirby was working for Marvel and earning a decent living, Simon was freelancing and not offering Kirby any work.  Simon later stated that Goodman had approached Kirby and told him that he, Simon, was claiming Captain America as his own, which, in effect he was indeed doing.  Simon later said that nobody told Kirby that, as the co-author of the first books, Kirby would be entitled to half of the copyright and profits.  Tellingly Simon never explains if he attempted to contact Kirby directly to inform him of this fact or was relying on either Marvel or a third party to get the news over.  Marvel wasn’t about to hand Captain America over to anyone, let alone Joe Simon, so they wouldn’t be too keen to tell Kirby that it would benefit him if Simon won.  It’s hard to understand why Simon would make such a statement and be puzzling over it decades later.  A good guess would be that Goodman approached Kirby and showed him the court statements in which Joe Simon was claiming that he alone created Captain America.  From there it’d have not been that much trouble to ask Kirby to file his affidavit as to his involvement in the creation of the character.  It also helps explain why Kirby was reluctant to work with Simon when the pair were both at DC in the early 1970s, refusing to work with him after the one Sandman issue.  The Jack Kirby that Joe Simon knew in the 1940s and 1950s wasn’t the same Jack Kirby in the 1970s.  Still, now that Martin Goodman and Jack Kirby are gone, Joe Simon’s account of the creation of Captain America goes relatively unchallenged.

After everything was said and done it comes as no great surprise that Kirby was angry as he was towards the end.  Stan Lee, Martin Goodman, Joe Simon…they all took credit for his work.  Still, one character that Stan never took credit for, although the Marvel propaganda machine would try and attribute it to him, more than once (to the frustration and anger of Kirby) was Captain America.  In his 2010 deposition, as part of the Marvel vs Kirby court case Stan was asked about Captain America.  His response; “Captain America, for God's sake. He (Jack Kirby) and Joe Simon had created Captain America.”  Say what you want about Stan Lee, but Captain America was one character he was more than happy to state, for the official record, that Jack Kirby co-created and that he, Stan Lee, had no involvement with.

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