Okay, so I haven’t written musings on my feelings on fandom in quite a bit, so here goes nothing!
Marvel’s Secret Empire event has received a lot of flack for continuing the storyline of Captain America as a secret Hydra agent. Much of that flack has revolved around the notion that Cap being associated with Hydra is an affront to co-creator Jack Kirby, a Jewish man and a World War II veteran. By having Cap be associated with Hydra, it goes against the creator’s intent.
But – how much so we actually care about a creator’s intent?
From my experiences, it seems we don’t really care that much about a creator’s original intent if the story is considered good. A prominent example is how Gene Roddenberry was opposed to the idea of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (or at least some reported it as such) and was made anyway after his passing. The show for many Trek fans is one of. if not the best Trek despite its perceived deviation from some of Roddenberry’s core principles as previously expressed in the show.
A prime opposite example would be George Lucas and how his vision, particularly in the prequels, of Star Wars is viewed less favorably than Star Wars: The Force Awakens despite the fact that George was not a big fan of the film. He felt the movie was what the fans may have wanted, but not the direction he would have gone. There are many accounts, books, and documentaries covering the franchise and Lucas’ involvement in Star Wars where some try to take credit away from him by saying the original film was saved by editing and it was Irvin Kershner who made The Empire Strikes Back the success that it was. Is that because that’s ultimately how it really played out, or is there some stretching of the truth to fit a narrative that the fans want because George Lucas fell out of their favor from the prequels?
Returning to comics, there is quite a lot we can discuss Jack Kirby and his Captain America co-creator, Joe Simon. They also created Cap’s sidekick, Bucky, who went on to become a Russian assassin during the Cold War known as The Winter Soldier. I think we can all agree that was not their original intention with the character. Some of Kirby’s other works like X-Men are largely impacted more now by Chris Claremont, John Byrne, and others than by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; many of which have gone against what X-Men was originally about at its core to much wilder success. Instead of people that were considered freaks trying to get by in a world that hates them, the focus of the X books moved to mostly attractive characters dealing with soap opera type angst. That being said, Jack did do his fair share of romance comics as well.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t put some historical context when we consider these things. It’s absolutely understandable and justifiable for people to react based on those factors with something like Hydra Cap. Perhaps a slightly changed story that struck a different chord with the audience would have had a different result with a similar origin. We can’t know for sure.
One of my favorite Legion of Super-Hero stories is Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, and Olivier Coipel’s Legion Lost. I think it’s perfectly paced and incredibly compelling. It’s hard for me to not want to read all 12 issues in one sitting. That being said, the story absolutely goes against the original intent of the Legion. These characters were made to be optimistic children following in the ways of Superman. In Legion Lost they are a terrified group in a dark future where everything seems grim and dark. Part of why it works is that there aren’t many stories like this. That’s part of what made things like The Dark Knight Returns stand out before a lot of people wanted to copy that success, despite it not being much like the Batman we knew at the time.
While yes, some people do care about what a creator’s original intent is, it often seems to be much more about the quality of the story telling. If you like the story it just doesn’t matter as much. If you don’t like the story, it’s a reason you can draw from in your argument supporting your feelings. It just might not be a very good or persuasive reason.
Thanks for reading my rant! Maybe next week I’ll talk about shipping characters. I have a lot of opinions on shipping characters.
I did a little bit of research for today’s column just to make sure I had my facts right, Googling “Jewish influence on comic books” in honor of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. There were 509,000 hits, from Den of Geek’s Mensch of Steel: Superman’s Jewish Roots to the Daily Beast’s Superman is Jewish?: The Hebrew Roots of America’s Greatest Superhero to Stormfront’s How and Why the Jews Stole the Comic Book Industry.
Stormfront is a white supremacist site whose “welcome” page reads:
“We are a community of racial realists and idealists. We are White Nationalists who supporttrue diversity and a homeland forall peoples. Thousands of organizations promote the interests, values and heritage of non-White (sic) minorities. We promote ours.
“We are the voice of the new, embattled white minority!
“Tell the truth and fear no one!”
The article is a mixture of facts, lies, and innuendos. It starts off introducing one-time pulp magazine writer Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson (1890 – 1968), who, according to the site, lived an “extraordinary” life, rising to become the youngest major in Army history – or was that in the U.S. Cavalry, or was that “one of the youngest majors” in the U.S. Cavalry? He also “chased bandits on the Mexican border, fought fevers and played polo in the Philippines, led a battalion of infantry against the Bolsheviks in Siberia, helped straighten out the affairs of the army in France [and] commanded the headquarters cavalry of the American force in the Rhine”. His Cavalry unit was among those under John J. Pershing’s command that in 1916 hunted the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa. The following year, he served under Pershing fighting the Muslim Moros in the Philippines, and with a Cossack troop in Siberia. Subsequent outposts included Japan; London, England; and Germany.”
But all these daring-do activities were according to Wheeler-Nicholson’s own accounts. So I looked him up on Wikipedia. The article included the above paragraph. But it also had this:
“Following his public criticism of Army command in a New York Timesopen letter to President Warren G. Harding, as well as accusations by the major against senior officers, plus countercharges, hearings, a lawsuit against West Point Superintendent General Fred W. Sladen, and what the family calls an Army-sanctioned assassination attempt that left Wheeler-Nicholson hospitalized with a bullet wound. Wheeler-Nicholson In June 1922 was convicted in a court-martial trial of violating the 96th Article of Warin publishing the open letter. Although he was not demoted, his career was dead-ended. He resigned his commission in 1923. His $100,000 lawsuit against Sladen was dismissed by the New York State Supreme Court the following year.”
Just the facts, ma’am.
In 1934 he formed National Allied Publications, which later evolved into National Periodicals and then DC Comics and now DC Entertainment. His comics were the first to print original stories, which included “Yellow Peril” (sic) adventure “Barry O’Neill”, featuring a Fu Manchu-styled villain, Fang Gow.”
Here’s where the innuendos start.
When Wheeler-Nicholson brought on Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (pre-Superman) in 1935, the innuendo is that it was the hiring of these two men, i.e., Jews, which caused profits to start sliding because, according to Stormfront, “newsstands refused to stock his magazine.”
By 1937, the company was in debt to printing plant owner and magazine distributor Romanian Jew [sic] Harry Donenfeld, and in order to keep publishing Wheeler-Nicholson was compelled [sic] to take on Donenfeld as a partner. Evidently Donenfeld was no saint – he was a fast-talking and slick businessman with ties to the gangster Frank Costello and other members of the underworld. He allegedly helped Costello smuggle alcohol into the States from Canada during Prohibition, and acquired the rights for his company, Martin Press, to “print six million subscription leaflets forHearstmagazines such as Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping…due to Donenfeld’s…underworld contacts having close connections with Hearst newspaper salesman Moe Annenberg.”
Also according to Stormfront, Wheeler-Nicholson was forced to form a partnership with Donenfeld and Jack (Jacob) S. Liebowitz, Donenfeld’s accountant, in order to keep Detective Comics, Inc. (pre-Batman) in business. And then, quoting the white supremacist website, “things went from bad to worse with Wheeler-Nicholson having to sell his publishing business to Donenfield and Liebowtiz in 1937,” thought the website neglects to mention that the Great Depression of the 1930s forced many publishing houses out of the business.
Those conniving Jews did a further disservice to Wheeler-Nicholson when – and here Stormfront decides to quote comic books historian Gerard Jones:
“In early 1938, Harry Donenfeld sends him and his wife on a cruise to Cuba to ‘work up new ideas.’ When they came home, the Major found the lock to his office door changed. In his absence, Harry had sued him for non-payment and pushed Detective Comics, Inc. into bankruptcy…where a judge named Abe Mennen, one of Harry’s old Tammany buddies, had been appointed interim president of the firm and arranged a quick sale of its assets to Independent News.”
Stormfront adds that Wheeler-Nicholson was given a percentage of More Fun Comics as a “shut-up” token, and essentially told him not to let the back door hit him on the ass on the way out.
And then Stormfront says: This is how the Jews stole the comics books.”
Yeah. Those stinkin’ Jews.
In 1938, as you and me and the world knows, Siegel and Shuster created Superman, whose first appearance was in Action Comics #1, and heralded in what is known as the Golden Age of comics, with the introduction of many of our most-beloved comics heroes. And although there was nothing “inherently Jewish” about the heroes, Stormfront makes special note that Captain America was created by two more Jewish creators, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, nee Jacob Kurtzberg; Cap dared – my word, not theirs, although the innuendo is certainly apparent – to go after the Red Skull, the special agent of the Nazis. The site also makes sure that it’s readers know that Steve Rogers, Caps’ alter-ego, “could be seen as a symbol for the way Jews were frail and passive. That is, until he took a serum that transformed him into the robust Captain America,” and that “The serum was created by ‘Professor Reinstein,’ an obvious nod to famed Jewish physicist Albert Einstein.
Oh, and the white supremacists and yearning – again, my word, not theirs – Nazis also make note of the story, possibly apocryphal, that “Superman gave such a pounding to Nazi agents from 1941 – 1945 that Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels jumped up in the midst of a Reichstag meeting and denounced the Man of Steel as a Jew.”
Huh? But Jews were, according to the Nazi line, were “frail and passive.” So naming Superman as an indefatigable and unbeatable warrior against the Aryan super race would be an oxymoron, isn’t that true, Herr Goebbels? Go snort some more cocaine and finish fucking editing Leni Riefenstahl.
Stormfront goes on tally up all the Jewish creators of the comic books industry, being sure to make snarky – and incredibly offensive – remarks. The creators include everybody from Bill Gaines, Harvey Kurtzman, Stan Lee – of whom they make sure to make mention of his birth name, Stanley Martin Lieber – and the aforementioned Jack Kirby, again making sure that their readers are aware that the King’s “real” name is Jacob Kurtzberg to Art Spiegelman, Harvey Pekar, Will Eisner, Joe Kubert, and current graphic novel authors James Sturm (The Golem’s Mighty Swing), Miriam Katin (We Are On Our Own) and Ben Katchor (The Jew of New York).
And it makes special mention of Chris Claremont, who created the “openly Jewish”X-Man Kitty Pryde, who “wore a Star of David necklace,” and Lee and Kirby’s Fantastic Four member Ben Grimm, i.e., the Thing, who has a bar mitzvah in an early story.
Some of the article reads as very “respectful” and “appreciative,” until you get to the end, which…well, I’m just going to quote it in its entirety, though I have to warn you that the author also takes an extreme and out of nowhere jump in what I can only call an attempt to compare apples and oranges, a false equivalency, by suddenly inserting what is called “modern music” – and I left the misspelling and grammatical errors in to show what a, uh, brilliant writer this person is:
“The real aim modern music is to destroy the Male “SUPEREGO.” (American Nazi party founder) George Lincoln Rockwell explains this in an old article of the 1960s he wrote. Though not mentioning the SUPEREGO it is this I now believe he means.
“To destroy the SUPEREGO the JEWS first needed to create a gap between young and old. Once they achieved this the SUPEREGO (which is passed down from father to his kids) was attacked by feminised rock bands. Infact, the music from that day on fuelled the id (pleasure principle) and not the EGO (reality principle) and SUPEREGO (conscience). Children were no longer listening to their parents, but instead to defective “artists” and “lyrics” that were destructive to behavioural development. Freudian Psychoanalysis is being used to destroy OUR people via modern music.
Now the same could be said about the Superheroes. Like Rockwell said, “Kids’ need “heroes”. They must have them to grow emotionally and spiritually.” But Superheroes are abstract fantasy, and not real heroes. The Superheroes then replaced REAL fighting heroes of the likes Rockwell mentions. Kids now wanted to be like Superman and fly through the air. But kids can’t fly through the air, can they? Not being an expert in this field, and I’m only guessing, but would this must have some effect on the ego?”
Jesus H. Fucking Joosevelt Christ.
L’shana tovah, everybody! That’s Hebrew for Happy New Year. Have some honey on an apple or challah to bring in a sweet, healthy, and happy New Year.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Major Wheeler-Nicholson’s granddaughter Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson Brown has been working with the aforementioned Gerard Jones on a meticulously researched biography of the Major titled Lost Hero: The Adventurous and Tragic Life of the Man Who Invented Comic Books. A swell interview with Nicky can be found here.)
Over the last few weeks we’ve seen a vigorous discussion among people who create and/or love comics about the relationships and responsibilities of creators and fans. This is nothing new — fans have been demanding certain kinds of stories that authors don’t want to create at least since Conan Doyle was forced to bring Sherlock Holmes back from the dead — but the internet brings so many more people into the conversation.
And too many of these people on the internet don’t understand the difference between a discussion among people with different points of view and a unilateral demand for submission.
The specific irritant this time is the big reveal that Steve Rogers, our beloved Captain America, is and always has been an agent of Hydra.
Now, I don’t read Cap. Nothing against him, just not my jam. Still, when I read a commentary from the Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz declaring that Cap’s creators, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, wouldn’t have approved because of implied anti-Semitism, I found it interesting.
Interesting. Not canon. Not a papal edict. Interesting.
Apparently that story, while critical of Marvel’s editorial decisions, was an outlier. Many more fans took up keyboards to proclaim their displeasure and demand that things go back the way they used to be. Here and here you can read intelligent analyses of what happened.
I think it’s important here to draw a distinction between someone who says “I don’t like this,” and someone who says, “I don’t like this and you suck and I’m going to find out where you live and kill you.” There is also a difference between someone who says, “I don’t like the start of this story, and I’m not going to read it” and someone who says, “I don’t like the start of this story, but I’m going to read a few more issues and see if it gets better.”
Some stories, written by people I like, drawn by people I like, just don’t do it for me. Some stories, written and drawn by people I haven’t liked in the past, break through my previous assumptions and I enjoy them. Sometimes, because of specific things that have happened to me, a story will provoke an association in my mind that is different from what the authors intended.
I can make connections that are interesting to me even if these ideas are different from what anyone else sees. Years ago, when I read Kingdom Come, I remember telling Mark Waid that the story seemed to be an allegory for the Democratic Party at the time, with the ideals of New Deal Democrats coming face-to-face with the new reality of Clinton’s New Democrats, which diluted and militarized FDR’s dreams.
Mark, of course, looked at me as if I was crazy. Maybe. Still, it was an entertaining conversation to have. At least for me.
Do I think Nick Spencer, the writer, and Marvel, the corporate entity, are deliberately trying to offend fans and insult Joe Simon and Jack Kirby? No, of course not. I think they are trying to tell stories that will entertain enough people to make a profit. At the same time, I think fans who buy comics and don’t like the story have every right to say what they don’t like.
Politely, and within the accepted parameters of comic book criticism (which I would define rather broadly). In other words, you can say the story sucks. You can say the writing/art/editing suck. You can say that corporate ownership of intellectual property inevitably decreases the value of that property. You can make an analogy to what has happened to Captain America since the Kirby/Simon days and what’s happened to Harlem since gentrification.
But you can’t make physical threats against people.
At the other end of this conversation, we have people who object when someone who created a beloved body of work continues that body of work. I’m talking about J. K. Rowling and her new Harry Potter stories. Apparently, there are fans who are upset that Rowling authorized and contributed ideas for a play about grown-up Harry and Ginny, their children and friends. To these fans, anything beyond the original books is heresy, and Rowling should do something else.
If Rowling somehow went back and erased all previous editions of her books and the movies based on them, maybe these fans would have a point. That isn’t happening. Those stories are still there. Fans can continue to read and re-read stories about Harry as a student at Hogwarts.
Just as they can continue to read and re-read the Simon/Kirby Cap, and any other issues they liked. In a few years, there will be a new creative team on the series, and I would bet money that this Hydra story will disappear.
At least, I hope so. I’m really hoping that this run of Wonder Woman will be forgotten as soon as possible.
Sometimes I think I’m living in a comic book world.
Comics have often reflected the events going on in the real world. During World War II, American comics vilified the Axis Triumvirate, i.e., Germany, Italy, and Japan – Superman was fighting a German paratrooper on the cover of Action Comics #43, and Marvel (then known as Timely Comics) presented the All-American hero, Captain America, who, in a story written by and drawn by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, punched out Adolf Hitler on the cover of his eponymous first issue, cover-dated March 1941. In Gleason’s Daredevil #1 (July 1941), the red-and-blue hero also took on the Führer, as did the Human Torch and The Sub-Mariner in the autumn of that same year.
The Boy Commandos, again from the team of Kirby and Simon working for DC, were four orphaned kids from the United States, England, France, and the Netherlands. They form an elite fighting unit under the command of Captain Rip Carter to fight the Nazis and appeared on the newsstands in the winter of1942. In Green Lantern #5 (May, 1945), the Emerald Crusader brings a bigoted Army private to Nazi Germany to show the private the rotten fruit of racism. Quality Comics’ Blackhawk first appeared in Military Comics #1, August 1941.
The Japanese didn’t get off easy. In The Nightmares Of Lieutenant Ichi or Juan Posong Gives Ichi The Midnight Jitters was published by U.S. Office of War Information for the Pacific Theater, and secretly circulated in the Philippines to boost morale during the Japanese occupation of country.
During the Korean War, the United States Department of State authorized the Johnstone and Cushing Company to create and publish the comic book Korea My Home, which was a true propaganda masterpiece worthy of Joseph Goebbels. In direct contrast, EC Comics debuted Frontline Combat and Two-Fisted Tales; these comics did not propagandize war as a “field of honor,” but showed the killing fields for what they were – im-not-so-ho, the real reason why EC Comics was attacked and shut down by Congress… although William Gaines, Al Feldstein, and Harvey Kurtzman, most notably, kept up the good fight by continuing to publish Mad Magazine, the “original” subversive comic magazine for us baby boomers.
But it’s all propaganda, whether you’re on the right or the left of the political 50-yard line.
During the Reagan administration (I have a picture in my mind of Ronnie in the Oval Office ignoring the beginning of the AIDS epidemic and dreaming up “trickle-down economics” and pulling the Marines out of Lebanon while giggling over the gang’s antics in Riverdale and munching on some jelly beans), the CIA got into the business of publishing comics – though it was credited to the fictional “Victims of International Communist Emissaries,” whoever the fuck they were supposed to be – in 1984 with Grenada: Rescued from Rape and Slavery.
Get this – the storyboards were delivered in a Washington, D.C. taxi, where the head of the company received a suitcase full of cash for them. Ooooh, James Bondian skullduggery! The comics were airdropped over Grenada prior to the American invasion of the island, and, according to Wikipedia, “were intended to justify the American intervention in the country by describing the rise of communist forces there and how their presence demands military intervention” and “outlines President Ronald Reagan’s justifications for the invasion: alleged oppression and torture of the local inhabitants, threats to American medical students on the island, and a potential domino effect leading to more Communist governments in the Caribbean.”
Also under Ronald Reagan – he who got away with the Iran-Contra scandal – and the CIA was the 1985 The Freedom Fighter’s Manual, distributed to the Nicaraguan Contras during the fight against the Sandinista government in that country.
This one if fucking unbelievable!
It states that its purpose is that of a “practical guide to liberating Nicaragua from oppression and misery by paralyzing the military-industrial complex of the traitorous Marxist state without having to use special tools and with minimal risk for the combatant,” and instructs the readers on all the “various techniques” the “guerilla fighter” can use to fight the oppressor, up to and including terrorism. Okay, it talked about non-violent protest (work slowdowns, wasting resources), but it also instructed the reader on “minor sabotage, how to set fires with makeshift time fuses, demonstrated the making of Molotov cocktails and using them to firebomb government buildings.”
It also is a political manifesto on the necessity and ultimate goal of guerilla warfare:
“…guerrilla warfare is essentially a political war. Therefore, its area of operations exceeds the territorial limits of conventional warfare, to penetrate the political entity itself: the political animal that Aristotle defined.”
This comic was repackaged and retitled “Afghanistan: The Mujahedeen’s Handbook for Overthrowing the Evil Empire” and redistributed to Osama Bin Laden’s team of freedom fighters in Kabul.
Seduction of the Innocent by Max Allan Collins • Interior illustrations by Terry Beatty • Hard Case Crime • Paperback: $9.95 • Digital: $6.39 • Audio: $9.18
So… Who is the worst, most evil comic book villain ever? Well, if you’re a hard-core comics fan and/or comics professional, the worst comic book villain ever might very well be Dr. Fredric Wertham. He’s the guy who spearheaded the comic books breed juvenile delinquency movement of the late 1940s and early 1950s that led to Senate hearings, state-by-state censorship (Can’t have the word “crime” in the title of your comic book? Really?), massively plummeting sales, and the dissolution of more than half of the comics publishing companies and the jobs that went along with them.
An entire generation of fans grew up loathing the man. His so-called study, which was lacking in any real scientific evidence, was called Seduction of the Innocent. Suffice it to say that a lot of us have had a “thing” about the guy… perhaps none more than massively talented and successful novelist/comics writer/filmmaker/musician Max Allan Collins.
Collins was in a rock band called Seduction of the Innocent that played, among other venues, the San Diego Comic Con pre-show party – his bandmates included Bill Mumy, Miguel Ferrer and Steve Leialoha. It was… loud.
Now he’s repurposed the Evil Doctor’s seminal title in a mystery novel, the third (and hopefully not last) of his Jack Starr private eye stories that revolve around the comic strip and comic book business. Collins writes novels almost as often as I consume barbecue beef sandwiches – for one thing, he’s been co-writing, finishing off, and/or editing the plethora of unpublished material written by his friend, the late crimemaster Mickey Spillane. I wish I could come anywhere near keeping up with his output, but I’ve cut back on the barbecue beef.
But if you’re a comics or a popular culture fan and you only read one Max Allan Collins book this week, make it Seduction of the Innocent. I’d like to say it is one of the best books ever written, but that’s a stupid concept. However, I can say it is one of the most fun books I’ve ever read.
Collins incorporates his massive knowledge of – and enthusiasm for – 1950s popular culture. In addition to pastiches of Wertham and the folks at EC Comics and Lev Gleason Publications, he nods (often with the energy of a bobble-head on meth) towards Dragnet, Mickey Spillane, Al Capp, Dick Tracy, paperback culture, and mid-century culture. Mostly, though, he infuses his mystery novel with a smokepot of comics effluvia – aided by his long-time researcher George Hagenauer. However, if you’re not up on this sort of thing and/or couldn’t care less, it doesn’t get in the way of this clever yarn.
Indeed, I must compliment the author on a great diversionary move. For those of us who are up on comics history, he directs us towards one likely suspect – and then makes a crosstown turn worthy of a Manhattan cabdriver. I won’t spoil this for you, but if you’re curious read Joe Simon’s My Life in Comics.
I must point out that Collins’ long-time comics collaborator Terry Beatty (artist on the current Phantom Sunday pages) supplied the illustrations for each chapter. They are brilliant. Beatty even found an old Leroy Letterer to exacerbate the effect of reading an old (and relevant) EC Comics story.
If you’re looking for a good time and yet want to keep your clothes on, you’ll do well with Seduction of the Innocent. Max Allan Collins’ version, not Fredric Wertham’s.
DC released Young Romance this week, using the title of one of the overlooked and (imho) underappreciated gems of comics history, the seminal romance comic that was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby and was published from 1947 to 1975. I’m old enough to remember many of the stories contained within those pages; they were attuned to the morals of the times, and regularly told tales of unrequited love, of compromised love, and of love triumphant.
The characters were easily identifiable: there was the bad girl, the bad boy, the good girl, and the good boy.
The bad girl (think Betty Rizzo in Grease) smoke and/or drank, wore too much makeup and perfume, wore incredibly slinky dress that didn’t leave much to the imagination, preyed on other women’s men, and was quite free with her, uh, favors. Not that anything was ever shown except for kisses, but somehow Simon and Kirby – especially Kirby with his magnificent art – definitely got the message across of what followed that forbidden kiss off-panel, even to a young and innocent girl like me.
I always rooted for the bad girl.
The bad boy (think Johnny Strabler in The Wild One) smoke and/or drank, rode a Harley or drove a wicked muscle car with fins, wore a leather jacket with a one-size-too-small undershirts and jeans, had a ducktail and a comb, dropped out of high school and worked at the gas station, and was always hot for the good girl.
I always wanted the bad boy.
The good girl was a secretary or a librarian or a nurse or a high school senior or a college freshman. She wore modest clothes and flats, pink lipstick, no jewelry except for her grandmother’s pearls, and never smoked or drank.
She was so boring.
The good boy was a doctor or a lawyer or an engineer or the BMOC (big man on campus) or the high school football team’s star quarterback. He wore a suit and tie or chinos and a windbreaker, never showed body hair, and always obeyed the speed limit in a Chevrolet or Oldsmobile – definitely your father’s car – and above all respected the good girl and would safely see her to the door after a date and say good night with a chaste kiss, saving “the act” for the marriage bed.
My preference for the “little bit of naughty” also made me veer towards those characters in the superhero world, caped and non-, that I imagined had some, uh, good times, whennot saving the world.
I think Adam Strange’s relationship with Alanna moved quite quickly into intimacy, even before they were married. After all, Adam could not control when the Zeta-beam would either take him to the planet Rann or return him to Earth, so there was no time like the present, right? Though I do hope that that damn Zeta-beam didn’t snatch Adam away right at wrong time, if you know what I mean, for Alanna’s sake.
Certainly Sun Boy, a.k.a. Dirk Morgana, was an out-and-out roué: check out a little story called Triangle in Legion Of Super-Heroes #320, February 1985, a tale I dialogued over Paul Levitz’s plot, with artwork by penciler Dan Jurgens, inker Karl Kessel, letterer Adam Kubert, and colorist Shelly Eiber. But I always had a thing for Rokk Krin, a.k.a. Cosmic Boy. Maybe it was the black hair and the blue eyes, but there was just something about Rokk – I knew he was not above stopping by the 30th century’s version of the Bada Bing or hitting on the boss’s wife. And succeeding.
I know the newest couple in comicdom is Kal-El of Krypton and Diana of Themiscrya, but the pairing of these two, the classic “good boy” and “good girl” of DC, just doesn’t float my boat, y’know. Now Diana’s mother, Hippolyta… that’s a woman whom I suspect walked a bit on the wicked side in her youth. She just too worldly just knows life, with all its ups and downs, triumphs and tragedies, too well. It’s in the way she holds herself, the way she talks, the way she rules.
Lana Lang may have started as a “good girl” in Smallville, but I think once she left home she had some fun. Getting over Superman throwing her over for Lois, she let the “bad girl” come out in college, cutting classes, never missing a beer bash, smoking the ganja, and saying yes to whoever asked. As an adult she may be the “sadder-but-wiser-girl,” but damn, the woman knew how to party.
And of course there’s Selena Kyle, who brings home the bacon and fries it up in a pan. Hey, the lady knows what she wants. I’d like to see her paired up with Wolverine, the “bad boy” of comics. Hard-drinkin’, hard smokin’ Logan hooking up with Catwoman.
My original First Comics partner Rick Obadiah, who is not prone to outrage (I took care of that part), sent me an email a couple days ago expressing his pissed-offness at a piece in last Sunday’s New York Times.
For those who don’t have time to click-through, the Times essentially gives credit for the whole creators’ rights movement to Image Comics, now enjoying their 20th anniversary. I have no axe to grind with Image and I don’t think Rick does either; this is another case of typically sloppy reporting from the fantastically over-important New York Times.
In his email, Rick correctly points out that the stuff attributed to Image Comics started with First and with the other so-called independent publishers of the time: Eclipse, Comico, Now, Malibu, and others too numerous to name. I won’t quibble with the definition of “independent” – back in those days the term really meant “not Marvel/DC.” The Comics Buyers Guide even listed Disney Comics as “independent,” and that was the day I stopped using the term.
As I pointed out nearly 30 years ago in the pages of sundry First Comics, the creators’ rights movement on a publishing level started with Denis Kitchen and his fellow “underground comix” providers. The actual creators’ rights movement pretty much started on Day Two of the comic book industry when folks like Will Eisner, Bob Kane, William Moulton Marston and Joe Simon and Jack Kirby negotiated their own deals with the existing publishers and retained certain rights and/or received cover billing and/or creator credit and/or royalties.
But we – First, Eclipse, Comico, Now, Malibu, and the rest – took all that several steps further. Creators received certain ownership rights, cover billing, creator credit and royalties. Perhaps that was tame by today’s standards, but in 1983 this was akin to torching the Great Teat. We paid a price for this: all of those companies are now extinct, although some lasted nearly two decades – a good run in publishing. But we had nothing to take to the bank in terms of actual ownership when times got rough, when distributors went out of business and when investment-mania boiled over.
Once we started offering fair deals, DC and Marvel pretty rapidly started offering some of these rights under certain circumstances. That didn’t make them competitive on the creators’ rights front, but they provided acceptable safe haven to creators when times got rough on the independents front. And that includes me, and I am not ungrateful.
Did Image take this one step further when they went into business a decade later? They goddamn well should have and, yes, of course they did: the company was started by a half-dozen of the top writers and artists in the field. But Image isn’t a publisher in the traditional sense – to its credit, it’s more of a vanity press without the negative connotations of that term.
Image – and Dark Horse and more recently IDW and Dynamite – were built on the shoulders of the founders of First, Eclipse, Comico, Now, Malibu and the rest, and on our investors and our creative talent who took big risks breaking from the clutches of DC and Marvel without any guarantee those doors would reopen for them should the desire arise.
Again, I do not blame Image in the least. I blame the lazy, self-important “journalists” at the New York Times for having a historical point of view that fails to go beyond recently emailed press releases.
Here’s a secret. It is well known that the New York Times has never run comic strips. But this was not because comics were too lowbrow and well beneath their dignity. That was just their typical arrogant posturing. The New York Times didn’t run comic strips back when Pulitzer and Hearst started the medium because they couldn’t afford the fancy color presses. The paper of record, indeed.
The subject of Creators’ Rights in Comics has been catapulted into the limelight in recent years with the sudden surge of blockbuster, comic related films taking in billions of dollars for the corporations that own the copyrights and trademarks while the creators or the estates of creators that conceived and created these gold mines, struggle to get screen credit, let alone, some type of monetary compensation.
The current success of Marvel’s characters in all popular media has made Jack Kirby the posthumous poster child for numerous creators who are now victims of the comic industry’s tradition of work-for-hire agreements.
Stan Lee, Marvel’s long-time, imperial ambassador and co-creator on many of these characters, stands accused of benefitting enormous financial gain while failing to defend the rights of his various creative partners, most notably, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko who many contend deserve more than just art credit for their contribution to the actual creation of the characters that they are associated with.
Stan has and always will be, first and foremost, a company man having been brought into the business as a gopher at the ripe old age of 17 by his cousin-in-law, Martin Goodman, the publisher and former owner of Timely Comics. Timely evolved into Marvel under the stewardship of Stan who took over as editor, replacing Joe Simon who left Timely with Jack Kirby in 1941. Nepotism goes a long way in comics and Stan Lee, since, has always been “taken care of” for his role as a stalwart, corporate soldier.
To be fair Stan Lee is much more than the average, Marvel Monkey Boy. He is, unequivocally the Voice of Marvel Comics. The head cheerleader. The band leader of the Mighty Marvel Marching Society. Stan Lee, in many ways, has made himself into a Marvel character as epochal as any Spider-man, Avenger or X-Men. He has done so with a silver tongue, a witty pen, relentless salesmanship, unbridled enthusiasm, and a revisionist memory that defies the continuity strangled editorial policy of Marvel itself.
Stan Lee and his relationship to Marvel is his own greatest creation and he gets paid handsomely for it. Stan’s net worth is reportedly $200 million! This staggering figure infuriates co-creators and their heirs as well as comic fans focused on creators’ rights who all argue the unfairness that Stan Lee continues to acquire great wealth while his former collaborators are rewarded zilch. Most of them can’t even get a free ticket to see a movie featuring the character they created.
Is there, however, any evidence that Stan Lee is gaining that wealth from any type of royalty paid to him for his act of co-creating those characters either? If Stan got even a fraction of a cut from all the Marvel films and associated merchandise featuring a character that he is credited as a co-creator of , that $200 million would be a drop in the bucket.
Stan gets paid for being Stan the Man. Stan gets paid for being Executive Producer. Stan gets paid for his gratuitous cameos. Stan Lee has made himself famous. He is the Kardashians of the comics world and he is making himself rich, still, at 89 years old with the same vigor he had in 1961 when the Fantastic Four first hit the stands.
So why does Stan Lee catch so much heat when the subject of creator’s rights comes up if he is probably a victim of the same corporate greed, himself?
Well, it’s his own damn fault.
While Stan was creating a marketing atmosphere that sold Marvel to it’s readers as one big happy, zany Bullpen, he took it upon himself to make stars out of his creators by giving them credits with merry monikers that were intended to stick in the minds of the legion of fans that was growing faster than even he could have imagined.
As Marvel Mania grew, Stan boasted and told all. He was very open about who he collaborated with and happily shared the details of the now famous Marvel Method of creating comics. Not only did he talk; he wrote it down in his own words so that even if his memory would one day be awry, there would be a very clear paper trail.
In 1974 Stan Lee authored Origins of Marvel Comics followed the next year by Son of Origins of Marvel Comics. The success of these two books led to The Superhero Women and Bring on the Bad Guys. These books all detailed his perspective of his creative relationships with the artists in the Bullpen especially his dependancy on his numero uno illustrator, “Jolly” Jack Kirby.
Stan seemed to do all this with an intention of elevating the appreciation of comic creators with both the public and the industry. He assesses that the writing in comics prior to the inception of the Marvel style “…left just a little bit to be desired.”
To make his point he writes:
“Who were these people who actually created and produced America’s comic books? To answer that burning question we must be aware that comics have always been a high-volume low-profit-per-unit business. Which is a polite way of saying that they never paid very much to the writers or artists. If memory serves me (and why shouldn’t it?), I think I received about fifty cents per page for the first script I wrote in those early days. Comics have always been primarily a piecework business. You got paid by the page for what you wrote. the more pages you could grind out, the more money you made. The comic book writer had to be a comic-book freak, he had to be dedicated to comics; he certainly couldn’t be in it for the money. And unlike most other forms of writing, there were no royalty payments at the end of the road… no residuals…no copyright ownership. You wrote your pages, got your check, and that was that.”
We all know that Stan Lee values credits highly and was sure to plaster his own name on every Marvel comic. Stan Lee Presents and Stan’s Soap Box were as much of the part of the Marvel experience as anything else. His famed sign-off,“Excelsior!”, still brings a giddy rush to a generation of comic book fans. In an effort to instill some added pride to the work of the comic creators in the Bullpen, Stan began putting credits of all the creators in the comics Marvel produced.
“…I’ve frequently mentioned Jolly Jack Kirby as our most ubiquitous artist-in-residence. He wasn’t christened Jolly Jack –– sometimes he wasn’t even that jolly –– but I got a kick out of giving alternative nicknames to our genial little galaxy of superstars, mostly for the purpose of enabling our readers to remember who they were. You see, prior to the emergence of Marvel Comics, the artist and writers who produced the strips, as well as the editors, art directors, and letterers, were mostly unknown to the reader, who rarely if ever saw their names in print. In order to change that image and attempt to give a bit more glamour to our hitherto unpublicized creative caliphs, I resorted to every deviceI could think of –– and the nutty nicknames seemed to work.”
And it did work! Joe Rosen, a letterer in those days said in COMICS INTERVIEW #7, “That’s why I admire Marvel. By instituting credits, they made you feel prouder of your work. And by being so successful they revamped the industry and launched so many titles that they made it possible to have a professional career.”
Stan knew that to be successful you have to make those around you successful. He did this by giving credit and creating work. Most of which went to Jack Kirby.
Throughout the Origins series and, actually, most of his career, Stan always spoke very highly of Jack Kirby and his creative contributions. Some of those very telling remarks have been posted on the Kirby Museum website in Robert Steibel’s Kirby Dynamics but I have to refer to a quote in Son of Origins where Stan Lee completely asserts Jack Kirby’s role:
“Jack was (and still is)* to superheroes what Kellog’s is to corn flakes. When such fabulous features as The Fantastic four, the Mighty Thor, and The Incredible Hulk were just a-borning, it was good ol’ Jackson with whom I huddled, harangued, and hassled until the characters were designed, the plots were delineated, and the layouts were delivered so that I could add the little dialogue balloons and captions with which I’ve spent a lifetime cluttering up the illustrations of countless long-suffering artists.”
(*This was written during a period when Jack Kirby had left Marvel and gone to DC, unhappy because he was not being paid for what he considered “writing” at Marvel according to Carmine Infantino in his autobiography The Amazing World of Carmine Infantino. Kirby no longer wanted to be “second fiddle” and even declined an opportunity to collaborate with Joe Simon for the same reason though the pair did do a single issue of Sandman together.)
Stan recognized that his greatest resource was his talent pool and, short of finding ways to give them ownership in their creations, he looked for other ways to keep them happy. Stan was even the first president of The Academy of Comic Book Arts that he started with Neal Adams. The ACBA was to be the start of a comic creator’s union of sorts but did not last long.
Stan Lee has been in the comic book business for seventy-three years, probably longer than anyone else alive. He has done more for crediting comic creators than any editor who had gone before him, revealing his greatest sin. With his eye focused on glamour and recognition he failed to affect righteous residual compensation for the efforts of Marvel’s comic creators. His compliance with the business tradition that he himself recognized as insufficient destined generations of creators to teeter on poverty while their creations reaped gold for Marvel.
The victims of this industry-wide practice blanket the entire comics landscape, some tragically. Most recently Robert L. Washington III co-author of Static which is currently owned by DC Comics died of a heart attack in abject poverty at the age of 47. His contribution to the Heroes Initiative is a heart wrenching window into the reality of too many comic creators.
Stan, we love you man, but we need you now, more than ever, to stand up for comic creators or you will be always be cursed with the blame for Marvel cheating the same creators that you personally paraded as stars. You can still make a difference. It’s time to put an end to an archaic, unjust work-for-hire practice that keeps talented people impoverished while a soulless corporation bloats over the spoils of their creative efforts.
You have stood at the helm of a company that has created heroes your entire life. Be a hero to those that depended on you the most, the ones that helped you build that fabled “House of Ideas.”
Celebrating Thirty Years of Comics History!
As an added Bonus here’s a link to Neal Kirby’s FATHER’S DAY tribute to his dad that ran on this site last year.
Once, longer than a while ago, at this time of year, I would make a list of what were, in my opinion, the year’s ten best and ten worst movies. I was writing a column, on movies, for Marvel’s Epic Magazine, and I saw that as part of the job. Not that anybody told me that it was something I had to do, or even should do. But isn’t that a movie critic’s duty? Make these year-end lists? Then, after a year or two, I realized that I was blowing about ten percent of the annual column inches available to me on the year’s worst list and…accomplishing what?
Not much. Nothing, in fact. Unless you count taking easy shots – one liner-type – at other people’s work. Might have made me appear…oh hell, what? Clever? Sophisticated? Maybe witty? Or was it snottiness masquerading as wit?
You may be familiar with Dorothy Parker’s line about Katharine Hepburn: “She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B.” Clever, sophisticated, witty – traits Ms. Parker had solid claim to. But what does it really tell you about Ms. Hepburn, her acting, her rendering of any one role? Are we shedding any light here, friends?
Anyone who’s ever presumed to write or act or sing or dance or tell jokes or do tricks with a yo-yo for others’ entertainment knows that sometimes you miss the mark. Usually it’s not for want to effort. Such failures might merit regret, but not ridicule.
I eighty-sixed the ten worst list, and I doubt that anyone ever missed it. Including me. Including Epic’s editor, Archie Goodwin.
Archie, editor, colleague, friend and the nicest man I ever met, is gone now these…is it really 13 years? I still remember him and sometimes mention him when lecturing. At times of festivity – the holidays; right now – the absence of someone like Archie dims the lights a bit, maybe makes the laughter occasionally forced.
We’ve lost other good and valuable men in 2011, we denizens of the funny book world. Eduardo Barreto. Joe Simon. And Jerry Robinson.
I’ve seen a bit of Jerry these past five years and, always, it was a pleasant experience. But I didn’t realize that he was ill. The other night, Danny Fingeroth, who’d also seen a lot of Jerry recently, told me that Jerry was battling illness for much of that time. Jerry expressed concern when I had a brush with mortality, but said very little about his own problems.
He was gallant, and brave, and in the best sense of the word, a gentleman.
Here, we end our dark-day rumination. It’s Christmas Eve as I write this, fully night, and I’ve had enough of gloom. Pretty soon, Marifran and I will get into her noble Honda Civic and go hither in search of a few groceries – and to see what kind of Christmas decorations our fellow Rocklanders are displaying for our edification.
2012 is waiting in the wings and we welcome it. (Well, okay, we don’t have a lot of choice, but we smile a welcoming smile anyway.)
So ends my catechism.
(Editor’s Note: For those who are not in possession of visual reference, the photo above is of our friend Archie Goodwin.)
One of the last of the founding fathers of comic books, writer/editor/artist/publisher Joe Simon, died yesterday at the age of 98.
Joe was the first editor at Marvel Comics, then called Timely Comics. After creating Captain America with artist Jack Kirby, the team moved over to DC Comics to create the Guardian and the Newsboy Legion, the Boy Commandos, and Manhunter and take over the Sandman feature. The “Simon and Kirby” team were the first to receive regular cover credit. In the past several years, both Marvel and DC has reprinted all of this material in hardcover.
After World War II, the team reunited to form their own comics imprints, Prize Comics and Mainline Publications. In those endeavors they created the romance comic (Young Romance) and published titles including Boys’ Ranch, Black Magic, Bullseye, Foxhole, In Love, Police Trap and Young Love. They also created what at first was a knock-off of their own Captain America titled Fighting American. By the end of the first issue, Fighting American became a straight-forward yet satirical series lampooning the excesses of the anti-Communist hysteria at the time.
Their final creative collaborations occurred after the team formally split up following the dissolving of their imprints: they created The Adventures of the Fly and The Double Life of Private Strong (a.k.a. The Shield) for Archie Comics at the end of the 1950s, which was another knock-off of their Captain America, complete with military theme.
On his own, Joe Simon did an enormous amount of work for his friend Al Harvey and Harvey Comics, including covers to many of their newspaper reprint titles such as Dick Tracy and co-creating their short-lived mid-60s superhero line. More significant, in 1960 Joe created one of the few successful Mad Magazine imitations, Sick. It differed from most of the many, many competitors of the era in that Sick was both well-drawn and actually funny.
Returning to DC Comics at the end of the 1960s, he created and edited Prez, Brother Power the Geek, Outsiders, and The Green Team, and reunited with Jack Kirby for a one-shot featuring their take on Sandman.
His autobiography, [[[Joe Simon: My Life in Comics]]], was published earlier this year by Titan Books. Preceding that was a personal history of comics, [[[The Comic Book Makers]]], was co-written with his son Jim.
In the past several years, Titan Books has been publishing The Simon and Kirby Library, starting with [[[The Best of Simon and Kirby]]] and continuing with [[[The Simon and Kirby Superheroes]]], [[[Young Romance: The Best of Simon & Kirby’s Romance Comics]]], and [[[The Simon and Kirby Library: Crime]]]. This series was compiled and edited by Joe’s long-time friend and agent, Steve Saffel.
Joe was the recipient of the Inkpot Award in 1998 and the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame award the following year.
Joe Simon was one of a handful of creators without whom the American comic book field would not be as we know it today. To say he will be greatly missed would be to overstate the obvious.