Tagged: Irv Novick

Ed Catto: Play Nice in the Toybox

He never made a comic. He never created a TV show. He never even went to a comic convention. But his impact on Geek Media was profound.

Without him, toy store aisles would be very different. Without him, comic shops would be very different. Without him, licensing deals would not be where they are today. And if he didn’t do what he did, millions of children would have had very different childhoods.

Last week, the news broke that the creator of Captain Action and GI Joe, Stan Weston, had died.

Creating GI Joe – and creating a category

Stan’s biggest idea was to create what would become the action figure category. He had this idea to transform the 12” Barbie Fashion Dolls into a something for boys. Just as the 1960s Barbie could transform, via a simple costume change, from a fashion model to a teacher to a nurse, he envisioned a soldier who could shift from an infantry man to a Navy diver to a fighter pilot.

At that time, the idea to create a Barbie Doll for boys was a radical one. Boys might play with soldiers, but never dolls. In the sixties, I remember my grandfather, who’s approval meant the world to me, get confused about his grandsons playing with dolls. We tried to explain how off-base he was, but someone from his generation just couldn’t wrap his head around it.

It was a big deal. And with a series of comic book ads drawn by Irv Novick, GI Joe became the next big thing for a generation of young boys

Captain Action

Captain Action was Stan’s “next idea” after GI Joe. While GI Joe could change from a soldier into a frogman, or an astronaut, Captain Action could change into different superheroes. And the amazing thing was, Captain Action could change into different heroes who were owned by different corporations. He could change into Marvel Comics heroes like Captain America or Sgt. Fury. He could change into King Features heroes like The Phantom or Flash Gordon. He could even change into the NPP characters, owned today by Warner Bros’ DC Comics.

Paul Gulacy is the only artist to draw covers for both GI Joe and Capt. Action.

He explained to me that it was “easy.” They’d just hop into NYC cabs, have a meeting, ask the secretary to type up the contract and a carbon copy and they’d be all set to go.

It was simple idea that wasn’t capitalized upon before this. Kids would mix-and-match the toys in their toy box for creative play. Why couldn’t they mix-and-match the toys in one particular toy line too?

Contrasting those Mad Men days with the complexity of finalizing deals now makes today’s licensing executives want to cry. No lawyers. No emails. No conference calls. No style guides. Just a firm handshake, a focus and a little personal integrity.

Stan Weston wasn’t a one-trick pony. He did a lot of other things that become the favorite things of a lot of people. He was involved in ventures that included everything from Nintendo to Thundercats to Farrah Fawcett.

Passing the Torch

When my business partner, Joe Ahearn, and I acquired the Captain Action property, I had the opportunity to speak with Stan. He was everything you’d want him to be. He was gracious, and confident and so very encouraging. His whole attitude towards our acquisition of Captain Action was, “Wonderful! You boys have fun with that! Make some money and have some fun!”

I had an idea that Stan should be a guest of honor at New York Comic Con. I think it would have been fantastic for fans and especially for Stan. Sadly, at that point, he was living in France and was reluctant to add more travel to his schedule. In retrospect, perhaps I should have pushed harder.

But like so many of the iconic comic creators, or a guy like Chuck Berry, Stan would not reap the financial rewards of his category-creating ideas. He’d take a run at re-negotiating/re-litigating with Hasbro, the company that grew out of the little toy company started by the Hassenfeld Brothers. Hasbro had grown into the behemoth it is today based upon, in no small part, the success of Stan’s ideas. But those agreements aren’t public knowledge and it’s unclear where it all ended up.

Weston, and his heirs will have to just take pride in the worldwide industry established, innumerable jobs created and countless hours of fun resulting from a few great Stan Weston ideas.

Martha Thomases: Copycat Crimes



Passionate and principled capitalists believe in the rights of workers, investors and creative people to reap the rewards of their efforts. If you start a business, invent a new product, or plant in your own field, you should get to keep the profits… after paying your workers fairly, of course. We’re talking about capitalists with principles.

In an ideal world, this can be a good system. I’m motivated to work hard because I get paid in a manner that is equal to my effort and my risk. Because I live in a world in which I, personally, cannot do everything myself, I rely on other people to work hard and get paid so that there are goods and services for me to purchase.

In an ideal world, everyone benefits.

We do not live in an ideal world.

In the entertainment industry, it is more than a little common for major entertainment conglomerates to own the work of the artists who create it. While I acknowledge that these studios and record labels are entitled to a return on their investment in distributing and marketing, I don’t think they are entitled to own the work outright.

They are not entitled to all the profits.

I bring this up because Harry Shearer has brought a lawsuit against Vivendi because of their accounting of the profits from the 1984 movie, This Is Spinal Tap.

You can read about the lawsuit here and hear Harry talk about it here. In a nutshell, the corporation claims that between 1989 and 2006 (more or less), the movie only made enough money to pay the creators a little under $200.

That’s right. The movie has been on television, on videotape, on LaserDisc, on DVD, on Blu-Ray, on cable, streaming and On-Demand for more than 20 years, and it’s only made enough money to let the talent buy themselves dinner at a mid-price restaurant in Los Angeles.

It’s clear that Vivendi didn’t come up with the idea of making a Spinal Tap movie, but sometimes issues of ownership are murkier. Comic book fans such as myself might be familiar with the issues surrounding the work of Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein. In the 1960s Lichtenstein created a sensation with his paintings that reproduced small comic book panels on large canvas. To quote from the Wikipedia page:

“His most celebrated image is arguably Whaam! (1963, Tate Modern, London), one of the earliest known examples of pop art, adapted from a comic-book panel drawn by Irv Novick in a 1962 issue of DC Comics’ All-American Men of War. The painting depicts a fighter aircraft firing a rocket into an enemy plane, with a red-and-yellow explosion. The cartoon style is heightened by the use of the onomatopoeic lettering “Whaam!” and the boxed caption “I pressed the fire control… and ahead of me rockets blazed through the sky… This diptych is large in scale, measuring 1.7 x 4.0 m (5 ft 7 in x 13 ft 4 in). Whaam follows the comic strip-based themes of some of his previous paintings and is part of a body of war-themed work created between 1962 and 1964. It is one of his two notable large war-themed paintings. It was purchased by the Tate Gallery in 1966, after being exhibited at the Leo Castelli Gallery in 1963, and (now at the Tate Modern) has remained in their collection ever since.”

Lichtenstein did not pay Irv Novick when he used Novick’s work. Neither did he pay DC Comics, the corporation that owns the work. I’m pretty sure the painting sold for lots of money. Smarter people than I can debate whether or not Novick should have shared in the success of his image. There is also a school of thought that says Lichtenstein changed the image by putting it into a different medium and context, so that his painting was not a duplicate of the original but a comment on it and the society that produced it.

I’m going to leave those arguments to people who know more about copyright law and art criticism than me. I’m pleased to see that Irv Novick gets credit now, which is more than he got in the 1960s.

A lot of people who claim to believe in capitalism seem to lose their convictions when it comes to the work of creative people. There are publishers (digital and otherwise) who ask for free material, saying the artist will benefit from the “exposure” – but not the profits. There are clothing companies that use artwork without paying for it, figuring the artist won’t find out until it’s too late, the garment is on sale, and the artist doesn’t have enough money to sue.

In my opinion, the most heinous examples of the disrespect shown by capitalists to creative people might be legal. I’m referring to political candidates who use popular songs at their rallies without the permission of the musicians who wrote the music or recorded the hit version. This is not technically illegal if the venue has a general music license from ASCAP or BMI, and the artists might make a few cents in profit. But it is gross.

It implies an endorsement by the musician without actually asking for one. It implies an endorsement where there might not be one. It forces musicians to be in a financial arrangement with a candidate with who they might have profound disagreements. It can also confuse the public as to what the musician was trying to say. The earliest example I remember is the time Ronald Reagan used Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA.” Clearly, no one in the Republican campaign listened to any part of the song beyond the title, because the lyrics are quite damning of the military/industrial mindset of the party at the time.

Today, we see many musicians objecting to the Trump campaign using their songs. Trump claims to have a licensing agreement that allows him to play whatever he wants at his events. Perhaps he does, but I don’t see why he keeps playing the music when the artists object. I’ve read so much about how Keith Richards hates him, how opposed to his candidacy Neil Young is, and many others. Real fans of the music will see the candidate denounced by artists they admire.

Why not stick to “God Bless the USA” by Lee Greenwood? It’s on message, it’s catchy (I find myself singing it all the time) and I’m willing to bet Greenwood is fine with it.

So what have we learned?

  • People who make things deserve to get paid by people who want those things.
  • People who take a risk and invest in people who make things deserve to get paid, too.
  • Artists are a category of people who make things.
  • Artists deserve to get paid when someone buys their work.
  • Artists deserve to get paid when someone uses their work to sell something else.
  • Martha Thomases is not an art critic.

Ed Catto: Batman’s Empty Nest


Batman 1It’s back to school time and even though it comes around every year, it always surprises me at how quickly it sneaks up after a fun summer. This year, we’re sending our last child off to college, and that’s made me think of a classic Batman story. Face with an empty nest, I’m seeing a familiar story in a totally new light.

Batman coverToday we’d call the October 1969 issue of Batman, #217, a reboot. It’s hard to conceive of it now, but in this story, they stripped the character down to his very basic elements. No more Wayne Manor, no more Robin, no more Batcave and no more outlandish villains. Of course, they all came back eventually.

The time was right for a change. The Batmania of the sixties, fueled by the TV show’s camp craze, was over and done with. By 1969, the TV show was like an embarrassing memory from a party where you had too much to drink. Oh sure, it was fun at the time, but then you need to sober up and leave that tomfoolery behind you. And back then, no one ever dreamed that one day in the future Batman would be bigger than ever and there’d be a whole new wave of Batman ’66 merchandise. And to even say that you could actually own every episode, and watch them whenever you wanted, seemed crazy.

bm30to70Back in 1969, comics in general, and Batman in particular, were taking big steps to position themselves as more than juvenile kiddie fare. Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams led the brigade of creatives who took a more serious, more grown-up approach to Batman. He’d no longer be a silly buffoon in tongue-and-cheek adventures.

“One Bullet too Many” by Frank Robbins, Irv Novick and Dick Giordano, was first published in ’69, and later reprinted in the classic collection: Batman from the 30s to the 70s. This tale was a part of a long re-energizing of the Batman mythology.

In this story, Dick Grayson (a.k.a. Robin the Boy Wonder) is preparing to leave for his freshman year at Hudson University. Dick gently teases the saddened Bruce (Batman) Wayne and their butler, Alfred about his imminent departure for college. He then brings his two (!) suitcases to the front door. I guess Alfred didn’t need Bed, Bath and Beyond’s College Registry/Pack and Hold in those days.

Astoundingly, Bruce and Alfred don’t arrange to drop young Dick Grayson off at school. Instead, Dick casually hops in a taxi as the adults glumly watch from the front doorway. Can you imagine a parent hailing a cab to take their child to the first day of college today?

Batman 4Long before I started my freshman year of college, I read this Batman story and thought of how I’d be like Dick Grayson one day: bra
vely leaving for college with equal parts of excitement/hope and homesickness/apprehension.

(Of course, Animal House and my father’s fraternity stories painted an entirely different picture of college, but that’s another story.)

So while I identified with college freshman Dick Grayson so long ago, now I find myself looking at this story in an entirely different way. As we venture to drop our daughter off at a college majestically overlooking the Hudson River, it sure seems like the fictional “Hudson U” to me. So I now find myself identifying with the crestfallen sadness of Batman and Alfred. And I now see this tale as the quintessential empty nest story.

As soon as young Dick’s taxi drives off, Bruce tells Alfred to pack it up, and that they’re getting outta town. “Take a long, possibly last look, Alfred,” says the Caped Crusader. “We’re moving out of this suburban sanctuary.” I guess there wasn’t a need to stay in the Gotham school system with Dick in college. He’s decided they’re moving to the city and he’s going to start a new business. The venture was called V.I.P. (Victims Incorporated Program), but it was essentially a “second act” start-up, by today’s standards.

Kudos to Bruce Wayne for his courage. Good for him, and Alfred, for closing down dusty old Wayne Manor and the Batcave to bravely start the next chapter of their lives. I’m overly sentimental, and, I’ll admit I am having trouble making the transition that decisively. Packing up our Wayne Manor and starting a new business isn’t quite as easy for me, but I get the idea. It’s good advice. Leave it to Batman to show me the way. Again.

“I can’t bear to look back, Master Bruce! “ whined Alfred.

Bruce Wayne resolutely respondsed, “Don’t, Alfred, the future is ahead!Batman 7