Archive for August, 2013

Here’s a piece I wrote earlier today for Geeky Universe marking the occasion of Jack Kirby’s 96th birthday that I thought I’d share here —

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It strikes me as being both strange and sad how disconnected today’s comics “culture” is from its roots. Case in point : today would have been Jack Kirby’s 96th birthday, and here at Geeky Universe there hasn’t been one mention of it yet (it’s nearly the end of the day). Now, maybe I’m just the old guy (42 at last count) in the room, but for a site ostensibly devoted, in large part, to comic books, you’d think Jack’s birthday would be big news. After all, there would be no “Marvel Universe” without him. I’m not criticizing anybody else for not marking this momentous occasion sooner, mind you, just remarking on the irony inherent in the fact that if the lead role in a new movie based on one of Jack’s characters had been announced today, you can bet it would have been the top story, while the birthday of the man who created the character Hugh Jackman/Ben Affleck/whoever it might be would ostensibly be playing in this hypothetical scenario doesn’t get a mention until the tail end of the evening.

Roll call of Kirby creations : the Fantastic Four. The Inhumans. Thor. Iron Man. The Incredible Hulk. The X-Men. The Avengers. The Silver Surfer. Captain America. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, and for only one publisher : over at DC, Jack created the Challengers Of The Unknown; Kamandi; OMAC; The Demon; Darkseid, Orion, and the rest of the Fourth World characters — you get the picture.

No other creator in any medium — film, television, novels, video games, you name it — has left a creative footprint in his or her chosen field as large as Kirby’s. It’s no exaggeration to say that comics as we know them today would simply not exist without this man’s boundless creativity and singular imagination. The word “visionary” gets thrown around much too freely these days, and the reason I say “too freely” is entirely because of Jack Kirby. He  was the very definition of a visionary, and left behind a body of work that will never be equaled because it can never be equaled.  His legacy well and truly is the comic book as we know it. We wouldn’t have ’em without him.

I know the ever-evolving Marvel line has gone something like this over the years : first Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (along with Steve Ditko, Bill Everett, Wally Wood, Carl Burgos, and Don Heck) all created the “Marvel Universe” together, working in tandem as one big, happy bullpen. Now, however, we’re told — both in Lee’s public statements and in court transcripts obtained from the lawsuit Jack Kirby’s heirs recently brought against Marvel and its parent company, Disney — that the entire Marvel Universe sprung whole-cloth from the incredible imagination of Stan Lee, and that Jack, Steve, Bill, Wally, Carl, and Don were just the guys the company hired to illustrate all these wonderful concept that literally poured out of the fertile and creative mind of “Stan The Man.”

Don’t buy it for a second. Stan Lee got in at Marvel (them Timely) because his uncle owned the company, and he had a dismal, two-decade-long track record of failure after failure until the services of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko fell into his lap after they found themselves on the outs with their former publishers. Of all the folks there at the beginning stages of the “Marvel Revolution,” it should be noted that it was Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and Wally Wood, in particular, who had an established track record as creators of successful characters and series well before they ever met Stan Lee, and they went on to create memorable and lasting work without him. Lee, for his part, never had one idea that worked in 20 years in comics before teaming up with them, and when they both left Marvel, he soon got out of Dodge, as well. Quick — name me one memorable, or even good, single issue written by Stan after those two gentlemen left.

You can’t because there isn’t one.

But the point of this piece isn’t to “bash” Stan Lee so much as to show just how integral the contributions of Jack Kirby and the other artists there at the time were to making what we think of today as some of the greatest super-hero comics ever made. I humbly submit that somebody else could have written these books and the only difference would have been a more toned-down, less-self-congratulatory and sensationalist tone. No “Face Front, True Believers!” or any of that. But if somebody else had drawn  them, then Marvel wouldn’t be around today, dominating both the comic shop racks and the box office.

Those who follow these things will know that Marvel’s way of “thanking” the man to whom they owe their entire existence as a company was to freeze him out at the end of his career, refuse to give him back his own original art pages (like they started doing for everybody else in 1978),  and to deny, with the assistance of a veritable army of high-priced lawyers at their beck and call,  any and all claims of intellectual propriety and ownership brought forth both by Jack himself, while he was living, and his children, since he passed away.

So far, sadly, it’s worked. Jack barely got a mention as a “co”-creator at the end of the credits for Marvel’s The Avengers, a movie that raked in over a billion dollars worldwide based on concepts and stories that came right from the limitless Kirby imagination. Classy move there, guys. And they continue, in the press and in courts of law (aided and abetted by their most famous stooge, Stan Lee) to promulgate the idea that all Jack amounted to was a talented draftsman who was able to put down on paper ideas that were in Stan ‘s head — even though the very concept of having writers knock out a one-page synopsis and then turn it over to the artist to plot, pace, and illustrate  the entire story (you know, the so-called “Marvel Method”), a practice that continues at the “House of (stolen) Ideas” to this day — came about as a direct result of the Kirby-Lee partnership. How does it even logically follow that a creative process that leaves that much of the storytelling responsibility to the artist was the brainchild of a writer  who thought up everything we see on the page himself?

Of course, literally billions of dollars are at stake now — Jack’s four-color creations are all one color now, green, and Disney/Marvel are going to keep fighting tooth and claw to make sure that for every billion-dollar movie they base on a Kirby concept, his kids don’t get so much as one thin dime. And as the years go by, they will belittle Jack’s contribution more and more until they whittle it down to almost nothing — but only if we let them get away with it.

I humbly suggest, in honor of the birthday of the man who is rightly called “The King,” that we redouble our efforts within the fan community to make sure that his legacy is never minimized and that his posthumous legal battle can continue. Go to heroinitiative.org and donate to the “Kirby 4 Heroes” campaign to help  destitute former artists and writers  who were also screwed over by the so-called “work for hire” system. “Like” the Jack Kirby Museum facebook page and help spread the word about their efforts to get an actual, brick-and-mortar building to house and showcase Kirby’s work for future generations. And if you really want to go the extra mile, even consider skipping any future Marvel movies and stop buying their comics until they finally treat Jack’s memory with dignity and respect rather than issuing nothing but sunny — and ultimately hollow — platitudes when it’s convenient for them to do so. I know that’s a tough thing to ask of many fans, but if we hit ’em in the pocketbook in large enough numbers maybe they’ll finally listen. No sound is louder to a corporation’s ears than empty cash registers.

And while we’re going on about this serious business, please — let’s remember to have some fun. Dig out your old Kirby books or your collected reprint editions (it’s worth noting here that at least DC pays sliding-scale royalties based on sales of their Kirby books ; it ain’t much, but Marvel doesn’t cough up a penny) and soak that stuff in. This is work that still has just as much  power to “wow” you  the 1,000th time you’ve seen it as it did the first. Know that as long as we keep our our own awe and wonder of Jack’s awesome and wonderful work alive, it can never really die no matter how badly Marvel wishes it would. Celebrate the life, legacy, and work of Jack Kirby every chance you get, by all means. Blog about about how much you love Jack’s work and why. Show your Kirby books to your friends. Tell new comic fans all about him. Read Kirby comics on the bus or train and strike up conversation with the guy who (and it will happen, trust me) tells you “hey, ya know, I think I used to have that one.” Jack created this stuff to be enjoyed forever, so make sure you do just that — and promote that enjoyment to others, as well, while you’re at it.

But please, always remember — that’s only half the story. The fun part. The easy part. The part we all want to do. But if you care about Jack’s legacy in any kind of “real-world” sense, beyond the printed page, then never give up the fight, either. He wouldn’t have, and those of us who owe so many of our fondest childhood memories to his work owe him at least that much.

Jack Kirby’s body of work is the comic book industry’s greatest triumph, and the treatment he received — and continues to receive — its greatest shame. Let’s all work together to see what we can do to correct that, shall we?

 

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The panel presented above comes from Steve Ditko’s 2011 comic Sixteen, published by Robin Snyder, and while the book’s title may be disarmingly straightforward, its themes are indeed complex and build off ideas that its artist/writer has been exploring for years. All you need to know to grasp the (perhaps tenuous) connection this piece has with this particular installment of our “Just Pay Ditko!” series, though, is that its main character,  a guy named Leder, is fed up with being double-crossed and ripped off and decides that the time has come to do something about it. And what we’re here to talk about today is quite possibly the biggest rip-of and double-cross in comics history (not that it doesn’t have plenty of competition, since the comics industry has been an ethical sewer almost from the outset).

Recently, we’ve been exploring various matters of copyright in relation to the Ditko work that has recently been reprinted by Fantagraphics Books, Yoe Books, and others, and examining the question of just how “public” some of the supposed “public domain” material that’s been included in these  Handsome (and expensive) hardback volumes really is. Today, I’d like to take that line of questioning one step further and ask whether or not any of it should really be considered PD at all.

Consider : the underlying reasoning  behind exactly why Ditko’s 1950s and ’60s work for Charlton Comics, in particular, is considered to be PD rests in the belief that it was “work for hire” material that has seen its rights, previously held by the publisher, lapse. But what if it was never really “work for hire” to begin with?

If you’re like me, you’ve long held the notion that all comics work for the major and minor publishers, until the advent of creator ownership, was strictly WFH stuff. Why, outfits like Marvel, DC, Charlton, and others were so fucking brazen about this that they even stamped WFH contracts on the back of artists’ and writers’ paychecks up until the late 1970s, effectively forcing creators to give up all rights to their work if they chose to endorse, and thereby cash, their checks. Sign your life on the X if you wanna eat, buddy.

Pretty sleazy, right? Sure it is. But what if those “work for hire” contracts actually stipulated something else entirely?

Patrick Ford, a noted comics fan and historian who’s been studying these issues a lot longer than I have, recently shared some rather interesting information that I had not previously been aware of — namely that these infamous “paycheck contracts” didn’t explicitly spell out the terms of a true “work for hire” arrangement at all!

The simple fact is,  until the 1976 revisions to US copyright laws came into full effect in late 1977/early 1978, comics publishers didn’t even use the term “work for hire” at all. True WFH, you see, stipulates that the publisher not only owns the rights to print a creator’s work, but owns the original, physical pages of work themselves. Those “paycheck contracts” — none of which, by the way, have ever even been able to be produced for, and therefore entered into evidence in, a court of law — actually said nothing about Marvel, DC, Charlton, etc. assuming ownership of the original artwork they were publishing, only that they were paying for the specific rights to print that artwork. So who owns it? Well, considering that Marvel got damn serious about finally returning all that original art they’d had laying around in their offices for years early in 1978 (unless your name was Jack Kirby, in which case they tried to hang onto all your work until their knuckles were bloody), I’d say it’s pretty obvious — the publishers knew the artists were the actual owners of their work, and that all they owned owned the right to run it in their comics publications.

All of which begs the question — if the publishers themselves came (okay, were forced to come) to the realization that they didn’t own the physical artwork itself, why does the retroactive determination that pretty much all old comics work fits the “work for hire” designation hold any water at all? Quite clearly, artists like Steve Ditko who were busy cranking out pages for Marvel, DC, Charlton, and other publishers prior to 1976 had never heard of the term “work for hire” because the publishers themselves never had and didn’t even refer to the artwork (and scripts) they were purchasing as such! So if the artists, writers, etc. of the comics in question were not, in fact, signing “work for hire” agreements in the years prior to 1976, why should that work be subject to WFH status now? And why would the rights to it that have supposedly “lapsed” into the public domain truly be viewed in such terms since the creators of this “lapsed” work weren’t signing away rights that even could “lapse” at any point since the publishers themselves never really owned those rights (beyond the rights to print it, distribute it, and sell it)?

Obviously, this situation is a mess. The whole idea of retroactively declaring any material to be “work for hire” is problematic in both practical and ethical terms, and for decades now comics creators have seen a standard applied to their contracts after the fact that was not reflected in the language of the contracts they originally signed. Retroactive WFH is a gigantic hustle that works entirely in the publishers’ favor, and the kicker is — everyone in comics knows this.

Fortunately, at least one good idea (and no, I don’t count “let’s reprint as much of this stuff as we can get away with until somebody says something!” as being a “good” idea) for how to deal with this fairly has been offered — I don’t know who came up with it first, but I’m giving credit to veteran comics editor/artist/iconoclast Mort Todd, since I at least heard it proposed from him first. We’ll call it “The Mort Todd Solution” — unless he objects, of course — and its rather elegant in its simplicity. Simply put, it’s this : if the original “work for hire” contracts for any given comics work can’t be produced, then the rights to that work should default to its creators.

Yeah, there are various equities that would have to be worked out — what percentage is owned by the writer, what percentage by the penciller, what percentage by the inker, what percentage by the colorist, what percentage by the letterer, etc. — but wouldn’t a messy situation that at least resulted in the creators of comics material being paid be preferable to a messy situation in which only the publishers are being paid? When it comes to the subject of this series series specifically, Steve Ditko, we’ve seen how various publishers of his reprinted work approach the whole idea of just paying the man for what he’s done entirely differently. Mort’s idea would put to rest all these various and sundry “we paid him,” “we didn’t pay him,” and “I offered to pay him — really, trust me, I did!” scenarios because Ditko and his collaborators would have owned the material from the outset and been free to negotiate a publishing deal that would have guaranteed them payment. Can anyone honestly say this wouldn’t have been a preferable starting point when it comes to putting together reprint packages of old comics work?

Well — anyone who isn’t a publisher, at any rate?

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Those who haven’t followed Steve Ditko’s work published by Robin Snyder over the course of the past quarter-century may find some of the titles of the books curious — Public Service Package? Seriously? What’s that all about?

All I can say is, if you read the stuff, the titles do make a kind of sense. And I’d like to thank those who have been chiming in over on Rob Imes’ “Ditkomania” facebook page for the “public service” they have provided me in terms of giving me  some answers to the numerous (okay, unending) questions I’ve been asking in this series. For instance —-

Greg Theakston, who has published a fair amount of public domain reprints under his Pure Imagination label over the years, was generous enough to inform me that the reason behind the apparent 1960 “demarcation year” when it comes to reprinting Charlton comics is because, amazingly enough,  the “brains” at Charlton were either too cheap, too lazy, or too much of both, to actually file registrations with the copyright office up until the very tail end of 1959! This only sounds crazy if you don’t know that publisher’s history, I guess. After that, though, things get murkier. Apparently,  in the ’60s Charlton actually did their proper copyright filing, but the wording they used varied from publication to publication, sometimes even from issue to issue with regards to a particular publication, and the legal weight said wording holds today is the determining factor (or at least one of the determining factors) when it comes to whether or not material from that period can be reprinted. Theakston has done what all publishers should do and actually hired somebody to research the state of various copyrights before going ahead and determining what he is and isn’t able to reprint, and while I haven’t heard from anyone connected with Fantagraphics Books or Yoe Books, the two main purveyors of Ditko reprint material at the moment in addition to Marvel and DC, in regards to whether or not they also do the sort of legwork Theakston does, my best guess is that they probably must, otherwise they wouldn’t be going to press with this stuff.

So, there’s one question answered.

But it gets even more muddled just a few years down the line — according to J. David Spurlock, who’s busy co-ordinating the publication of a comprehensive collection of Wally Wood’s legendary witzend publication along with the aforementioned Fantagraphics (a project we’ll be discussing more in the very near future in this series because it’s the kind of ethically sound venture that all of us, no matter where we stand on the various individual matters we’ve been discussing here up to this point, will be able to enthusiastically support — so stay tuned for more details!), the actual cut-off point for Charlton stuff to be reprinted without any sort of fear of legal reprisal is more like 1963-64, not 1960, although why that would be I honestly I have no idea, apart from the fact that it has to do with an extension granted on behalf of reprint material about — I shit you not — Sonny Bono. Still,  regardless of what the guy who gave us “I Got You, Babe” has to do with anything, it’s something that, again, I’m pretty confident most —hopefully all —  publishers are taking into consideration before “green-lighting” various Charlton reprint projects from this period.

Also worth noting here is the fact that of the rights to former Charlton properties that DC didn’t secure, the lion’s share were scooped up by Canadian publisher ACG, particularly in regards to much of the horror and western material, and the rights to some of it did, in fact, end up with Steve Ditko and Robin Snyder, which probably explains why the Charlton material they’ve presented in various reprint packages over the years has always run with copyright notices attached (although why much of that stuff has appeared elsewhere without proper copyright info included remains, at least to this point, a mystery to me). It may also be worth pointing out  that it was none other than Snyder himself who arranged at least most (if not all) of the sales of Charlton’s copyrighted properties, so his meticulous attention to detail in terms of including notices in the reprints he put out under his own name is certainly understandable.

The next bit of info that Mr. Spurlock shared is indeed fascinating — he explained that while it may or may not be the case that various Charlton copyrights have lapsed DOMESTICALLY, the fact remains that they’re still in force INTERNATIONALLY, which is why some publishers have shied away from this work altogether. Think about it — if a single copy of a Charlton reprint book that features characters or stories that ACG holds the international rights to sells outside of the US, the publisher of said material would be opening themselves up to a potential lawsuit from ACG. Such a lawsuit may not be worth their time or effort, though, which leads to the final point Spurlock made, namely —

Some publishers simply put this stuff out THINKING that they will PROBABLY get away with it, even though the copyrights on much of the material they’re publishing are still very much a going concern. I didn’t ask which particular publishers are engaged in this kind of chicanery, since singling out any particular entity as being involved in something illegal has never been my intention here, but if this is correct, all I can say to any publishers who might be doing it is — shame on you. In fact, double-shame on you, because you’re not only screwing over the legitimate rights-holders of the work you’re putting out, you’re screwing over Steve Ditko and other Charlton writers and artists whose work you are claiming to be in the public domain when it isn’t. That kind of reckless behavior, if it is indeed occurring (and I sincerely hope it’s not) only strengthens the hand of Disney,  Time Warner, and other monolithic, soulless corporate entities who are working night and day to get PD shut down across the board. If we don’t want to lose the entire concept of public domain altogether — and it would be an absolute tragedy if that happened — then we need to proceed cautiously. We need to dot all our “i’s and cross all our “t”s like Greg Theakston is doing. PD is hanging by a very slender legal thread these days, and if we abuse it, we’re could wind up losing it. This ain’t the wild west, folks. Or at least it shouldn’t be.

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Warning! If questions about who owns what and how and why they claim to own it put you in the frame of mind Steve Ditko is shown to be — uhhhhmmm — “enjoying” in the legendary self-portrait shown above, you might want to bug out on this whole “Just Pay Ditko!” series right now, because things are going to be taking a turn for the either detailed or pedantic (depending on your point of view) over the course of the next few entries in this series.

Yeah, that’s right — just when you thought it was safe to pay attention to things here at Geeky Universe again, I’m back after about a week away and talking about my “next few entries in this series” when at first I had promised this was “only” going to be a ten-part affair. What can I say? The mystery has deepened and taken a few unexpected turns in the time I’ve taken a break from writing about this stuff to concentrate more completely on researching it. As things now stand, we’re looking at probably going 15 or 16 installments before this is all over — and I use the term “over” very loosely, trust me, because it’s becoming more and more clear to me that, well — there just ain’t no clarity to be found on some of these matters. It sometimes feels like I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole and, rather than clawing my way back up towards the surface as any reasonable, right-thinking person would do, I’ve decided to dig down even deeper to see if maybe I can, I dunno, tunnel my way to China or something. If I never see daylight again, I suppose I’ll probably regret that, but for now —

First question : why, exactly, is much of what we assume to be “public domain” material — stuff which is therefore freely available to reprint for anybody who wants to do it — actually considered as such? If you’ve been kicking around the comic scene for a long time, you’ve probably thought, much like I did until quite recently, that when it comes to most of the older Charlton Comics material — you know, the kind of thing being put out by Fantagraphics Books, Yoe Books, and others in their recent Steve Ditko hardcover collections — that it’s a pretty open-and-shut matter. In much the same way that George Romero’s omission of a proper copyright blurb on the very first print of Night Of The Living Dead has resulted in anybody who feels like it putting that legendary film out on DVD, the story goes that Charlton’s copyright indicias on their various publications were so sloppily-assembled that they just doesn’t hold any legal water any more and, in fact, probably never did.

That could be true, But what if it isn’t?

Let’s be honest here for a minute — DC paid a tidy sum for the rights to former Charlton characters like Blue Beetle, The Question, Peacemaker, Captain Atom, etc. Why would they do that if there was no need to?

Similarly, why would they have such a confusing stance at present vis a vis Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt — another Charlton property they once claimed ownership of? They never did much with the character, to be sure — Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons changing his name to Ozymandias and having him hatch a plot to save the world by destroying most of it notwithstanding — and in 1995 either sold or allowed it to lapse back into the hands of (depending on which version of events you read online and subsequently believe) its creator, Pete Morisi, but even though we’ve already established that there are multiple takes on this single transaction, it’s still not so simple : DC not only retains the rights to the short-lived Peter Cannon series they took out for a test run on the early ’90s, they also still claim exclusive reprint rights to the character’s 1960s Charlton-published stories. It’s only new Cannon material, apparently, that Morisi is allowed to pursue with the deal he has in place.

Again, if the Charlton rights are such a mess, why would DC even be in a position to strike such a convoluted agreement with the character’s creator? Why couldn’t they both publish all the Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt shit they wanted — and why couldn’t anyone and everyone else, for that matter?

One way or another, 1960 seems to be a turning point for what is and isn’t PD as far as Charlton publications go, and again, I can’t really begin to fathom why that is. If you look at some of the sites that allow uploading of old public domain comics, like http://digitalcomicsmuseum.com , or have a gander at Bob Heer’s excellent Ditko blog http://www.ditko.blogspot,com , you’ll notice that there are plenty of 1950s Charlton stories presented in their entirety, but nothing after 1960. Yet it’s widely considered by fans that the ’60s Charlton stuff is, legally speaking, the most “freely available” of the bunch because that’s when the “fine print” in their comics became really half-assed and indecipherable.

And yet — many of the post-1960 stories that have been reprinted in the oversized hardcover collections The Art Of Ditko and The Creativity Of Ditko were also presented in various black-and-white publications put out by Steve Ditko and Robin Snyder many years back, where they ran with copyright notices attached even though no such notices appear in the newer, more expensive (and yeah, much nicer) volumes.

So what’s going on? I honestly don’t know. As I mentioned in my previous piece here about the Konga material specifically, I don’t think anyone at Yoe Books or IDW Publishing is a legal idiot. They must feel that they have some fairly solid ground to base their belief that they are only reprinting PD stuff on. But I’d be very curious to know what that ground is, and why others have chosen to either shy away from this material or reprint it with proper copyright notices attached. And it’s also worth pointing out that, at least so far, all of the material presented in Fantagraphics’ Steve Ditko Archives series has been, you guessed it — pre-1960 stuff. I’m wondering, naturally enough at this point,  if Gary Groth and Blake Bell plan to continue these books once they reach that (apparent, at any rate) “watershed” year.

I know what you’re probably thinking right now — “come on, Ryan, nobody would be stupid enough to reprint comics work that’s actually owned by somebody else,” but hey — it’s happened before, and given that Charlton isn’t around to provide the best paper trail of who that “somebody else” might be, would it really be all that shocking to find out material was being published with the attitude of “hey, we’re pretty certain this is PD stuff, and even if it’s not, I doubt anyone will say anything about it?” I don’t think this is very likely to be the case, but I can’t rule it out as at least a  small possibility in my mind until I’m able to get some more definitive answers.

Which is where you, dear reader (whoever you might be) come in. I’m hoping somebody who’s better versed in these matters than I am can either comment here or over on Rob Imes’ “Ditkomania” facebook page and really break down how and why some folks feel safe in categorizing all post-1960 Charlton work as public domain while others don’t. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Is there any way to even know for certain?

There are other, perhaps even bigger, questions at play here, as well — questions like why this stuff would ever be considered to be PD in the first place if it’s never even been conclusively proven to have been “work for hire” material, why retroactively adjudicating  and/or assuming that it is “work for hire” ensures that the writers and artists who produced it are just going to screwed over yet again, etc. — and don’t even get me started on the trail of “ownership” of the Warren material that Dark Horse/New Comic Company is currently reprinting (you know, in books like the Creepy Presents Steve Ditko volume that got me started on this whole thing in the first place). Sometimes it all feels like it’s just too damn much to come to grips with. But I’m trying — and if you’re still along for the ride, then your patience, as well as any expertise you might be able to bring to the table, are very much appreciated.

All of which is my way of saying that even though I dug this hole of my own volition, I’m not sure that I can get back out of it without some help.

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I can hear it already — “hey asshole, where’s the copyright stuff you promised for this post?”

It’s a perfectly fair question,  and all I can say is — I’m working on it. I have been given some intriguing leads to follow up on vis a vis the Charlton copyright situation that have resulted in still more questions, and some information on tangentially related issues that may or may not have any bearing  on my original questions, so how does this sound — I have some things are likely to keep me quite busy for the next few days, but when all that is cleared up, I’ll submit the next installment for this series, which absolutely will focus on these copyright issues, and that brief delay should afford the parties I’ve been in contact with a bit more time to address the questions I’ve put to them. If I still don;’ have some answers at that point, then I will, as discussed, just put the queries themselves out there as is in the hopes that legally-minded individuals might take notice and comment on ’em.

Sound like a plan? Okay, good.

And now I’ll quit talking to myself. Besides, the first copyright question I have will actually be in this post, which makes our focus today a rather nice segue (even, again, if I only say so myself) into those larger issues. So without further ado —

I’ve commented at length, particularly in part five of this series, on the forthcoming Yoe Books/IDW  hardcover reprint collection Ditko Monsters : Konga!, a companion book to the previously-released Ditko Monsters : Gorgo! book, which we reviewed on these virtual “pages” back in early June. There’s no doubt that it’s going to be a handsome piece of work, clocking in at  just over 300 pages, which I’m sure will be on extremely high-quality paper stock. I’ve expressed my concerns over publisher Craig Yoe’s previous apparent reticence to include any promotional material for Steve Ditko’s current creative efforts being published by Robin Snyder in his previous Ditko collections, but also noted that he’s rectified that situation with the forthcoming Konga book by way of a promotional plug for said work on the indicia page of this volume, a move which I endorse heartily and for which I’d like to take this opportunity, once again, to thank him.

But it should also be pointed out that, at least indirectly, Yoe’s Konga book exists in competition with similar material already in print from Ditko/Snyder, albeit in much less pretty, much less awe-inspiring form.

Ya see, ever since 1989, there’s been a modest collection of some Konga reprint work (issues 8, 11, 12, and 13, respectively) available from Ditko/Snyder called The Lonely One. It’s much less comprehensive, to be sure, than Yoe’s collection promises to be, has nowhere near the production values that book is certain to have, and yeah — it’s even in black and white. The one major advantage it has going in its favor, though, is that Steve Ditko directly benefits financially from its sale. If that interests you as much as I’m hoping it does, then please take a moment to visit this webpage for ordering information : http://ditko.blogspot.com/p/ditko-book-in-print.html .

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That being said, my main goal here today isn’t to dissuade you from picking up Ditko Monsters : Konga! in favor of The Lonely One. The idea has been muted on Rob Imes’ “Ditkomania” facebook group by certain interested parties that I’m perhaps being a bit too strident, too demanding, in my various posts on here, and while I don’t really agree with that very much for reasons I laid out last time around — most notably because Dark Horse, Yoe Books, and Fantagraphics, respectively, seem to have,  at the very least,  happily embraced my various suggestions for “paying” Steve Ditko and/or arrived at many of the same conclusions I have entirely of their own volition — I am sensitive to the negative connotations that would come by  creating a “bossy” or “demanding” online persona and if even one reader thinks I’m a bit of an asshole, it’s one more than I’d like — even if it might be unavoidable given the infinite multitude of human personalities out there.

I’ve remarked previously, as well, that I’m still undecided about whether or not I, personally, will be picking up Yoe’s Konga book, and that still remains the case. I’m definitely more inclined to do so given the positive steps Craig has taken in regards to using his platform to publicize the Ditko/Snyder work, his online promotion of their current Kickstarter campaign, etc. I think Craig’s been receptive to the concerns of some of us folks who have been encouraging him to do this sort of thing and that’s terrific. I hope he continues, and as I said, while my mind still isn’t made up about purchasing  his new collection, I appreciate the efforts he’s making very much and I’m far more likely to pick this new volume up than I was just a few short weeks ago.

So — where does that leave The Lonely One ? Well, while I’m not necessarily ready to enthusiastically endorse Ditko Monsters : Konga!, I really don’t feel much of an urge at this point to actively dissuade anyone from picking it up, either. You’re certain, at the very least, to get more than your money’s worth in terms of great Ditko material presented in a truly magnificent package, and since playing “armchair dictator” here has never been my intention, how about this — if your own individual conscience precludes you from picking up Yoe’s new collection, then by all means don’t. But if your own individual conscience doesn’t, in fact, preclude you from buying it, then by all means do. And if you’ve still got enough money left over to pick up The Lonely One, as well, then please consider doing so, since that’s cash right in Steve Ditko and Robin Snyder’s pockets — cash which will help them continue to publish their new projects.

Does that seem  fair? I hope so.

Now, as to that promised copyright question — maybe someone can correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the copyright to the Konga movie,  upon which the character in Joe Gill and Steve Ditko’s comics is based,  still in force? It’s my understanding that, unlike  the Gorgo film, which is clearly in the public domain, the rights to Konga as, at the very least, a cinematic property, are still in place. I noticed, upon urging from a couple of parties, while leafing through The Lonely One again, in between silently “ooh”ing and “aah”ing at the gorgeous art,  that the character of Konga is never explicitly mentioned or referred to by that name in the book, and I know that Robin Snyder and Steve Ditko are pretty meticulous about following copyright law to its absolute letter. Is it merely the case that the Konga copyright has been allowed to lapse in the years since The Lonely One‘s publication, and I’m just flat-out wrong about it still being the property of its (at least one-time) holder,  or are the comic rights a completely separate entity from the film rights? I don’t think Yoe Books and IDW would be reckless enough to put this out of they weren’t absolutely certain of its public domain status — I might have occasional qualms with how they’re doing things in general, but they’re clearly smart people — so is it, in fact, possible for a film’s —and by extension its title character’s — copyright to be an active and going concern while the rights to the comic adaptation of said film and the comic depiction of said title character have been allowed to lapse into PD status? That seems incongruous to me, but I’m assuming it must be the case since the new Konga book was solicited months ago now and there have been, at least to my knowledge, no legal hurdles of any sort  placed in its way.

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Static. Not only is it the name of an a typically interesting and idiosyncratic latter- (well, more like mid-, I guess) period Steve Ditko creation, it’s something these posts seem to have generated a lot of in recent days, particularly on Rob Imes’ terrific “Ditkomania” facebook group, where the discussion is almost always free-flowing.

Seldom has it been this intense, though. A poster there even related that he’d had a long-standing friendship bust up over differing views he and his acquaintance shared over the issue of how best, if at all, to compensate Ditko for his reprint work. I’m truly sorry to hear that, and hope it’s only temporary. My best to the both of you in figuring a way to remain friends despite a key philosophical difference.

Still, it would be unfair of me to state that any and all debate that’s been generated around these issues has been “static.” Many posters on all sides have made some exceedingly valid points worthy of serious consideration. I feel like things took a completely unnecessary turn for the worse — and the personal — today,  when another Ditko fan compared my promulgation of the views expressed here in  the “Just Pay Ditko!” series to the Nazis, but I’m hopeful that in time all that will simmer down. As far as I see it, in regards to the issue of finding some way to compensate Ditko — be it financially or otherwise — for work he did that various publishers are now profiting from, fans can  generally be said, with numerous individual “shades of gray” along the spectrum, of course — to fall into three separate groups :

1. Folks who frankly could care less about what’s going on behind the scenes and just want to enjoy the material;

2. Folks who would like to see Ditko compensated for his work if specific rights to that work are being held in private hands, as is the case with the Warren material reprinted in Creepy Presents Steve Ditko, the various Steve Ditko Omnibus collections from DC, Marvel’s numerous reprints of Ditko Spider-Man work, etc. , but who feel that his work which is in the public domain, such as that being presented in the deluxe hardcover volumes currently being published by Fantagraphics and Yoe Books, among others, requires no compensation because, hey, PD is PD and that’s the way it goes;

and 3. Folks who would like to see some sort of compensation — again, financial or otherwise, as we’ve discussed in this series at length — extended to the artist even in cases where the material is in the public domain not because the publishers legally have to, but simply because it’s the right thing, in our view (no surprise I include myself in this group), to do.

Like I said, there are any number of “sub-categories” within each major “category” — such as people who buy Marvel reprints of Ditko’s work very well knowing they have no specific mechanism in place for paying royalties on much of their older work but figure “hey, yeah, it’s a shit deal, but it is what it is — I’d like to see Ditko, and all the other creators, paid,  sure — but that’s just never been how things are done there.”  Fans of this sort are probably edging more toward being in “category two” as a matter of conscience but still fall into “category one” in terms of their buying habits. And so it goes.

I guess my main objective as far as stating my “category three” points is not so much to judge or denigrate those in the other two categories as it is to hopefully persuade them to change their minds. If they do so, then great — glad to have them on board. If they don’t, well, I guess I’ll just keep trying. I can be persistent like that. But here’s the thing —

I find it kind of strange, maybe even kind of sad, that the most visceral reactions against the broadly-defined (just now, by me) “category three” people seem to be coming from those folks who probably do care about the behind-the-scenes workings of how, why, and even how much creators are compensated, but evidently prefer to store their consciences away in a locked box when it come time to get a pretty, high-quality new book of reprints. If it were coming from those who just don’t care about any of this shit, that I’d understand — but evidently some parties who probably do, on some level, want what they consider a “fair” deal for Ditko and other artists, but are very strident in their view of what that “fair” deal would or should consist of, are quite vocally upset with those of us who feel it should consist of something more, or at the very least other than, what’s been offered, historically at least, to date.

What’s doubly confounding to me is that publishers seem far more receptive to and/or sympathetic with the suggestions of “category three” fans. Folks like Craig Yoe of Yoe Books, Blake Bell, who’s editing the Steve Ditko Archives  series for Fantagraphics, and a person who’s directly involved with the Warren reprints at Dark Horse that I’ve been in contact with have all been quite amenable to answering most of my questions, and have even taken many of the same suggestion I’ve offered on board — perhaps even well before I offered them (although certainly not before Rob Imes, Steve Bissette, and Dave Sim, to name just a few, did). I’ve given Yoe credit in particular for continuing to engage in dialogue with fans even though the waters have gotten testy on several occasions. He has a thick skin, and that’s quite admirable.

So what to make of the fans who feel upset because Bell, Yoe, and others may have been, in their view at any rate,  “pressured” into including promotional material for Steve Ditko’s current work with Robin Snyder in their forthcoming reprint books? Well, since neither of those gentlemen has complained about that themselves, and both have stated on numerous occasions that they’re quite happy to do all they can to promote these woks, all I can say is — if they’re glad to do it, then what’s the problem? And in what way, shape, or form is including some promotional material for books Ditko financially benefits from in books that he doesn’t benefit from, despite his name being on the cover and his work appearing on every page, a bad thing? We all want as many people as possible to know about the current Ditko material, don’t we?

There have been other robust debates that have popped up in recent days, as well, some of them appearing to advance an argument along the lines of “everybody’s doing Ditko reprint books, so what’s the problem with some of them as opposed to others?” I fail to find much logical coherence to that view, though,  since all examples of any given thing are in no way equal, but the primary one I wanted to address in this aside today — I’m still waiting on some answers from parties I’ve been in contact with about the various copyright issues that may or may not pertain to some of the Charlton work that’s been reprinted recently, so I’m giving that another day or two before proceeding, as promised, with a post specifically related to those concerns —is this whole idea that a few people have brought up that somehow there is undue “pressure” being applied on certain publishers to do things that some fans want. Again, if the publishers themselves don’t object, and in fact want  to utilize the platform their books provide them to spread the word about this new material, then how or why  is this even considered an issue?

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“Gosh, that sure is a good-looking Steve Ditko hardcover reprint book you’ve got there.”

“Thanks. It’s over 200 pages long and has all kinds of his old Charlton Comics work on heavy, sturdy paper. Plus it’s got this nice embossed cover and all kinds of cool info in the introduction, including rare photos and larger art reproductions of certain panels and covers.”

“Wow, cool — do you mind if I take a look inside?”

“Be my guest, man — just be careful, that thing was expensive!”

“So I see!  Wow! Fifty bucks!”

“Yeah, but it was worth it, though. Look how big and bright and bold everything looks on this quality paper stock, and how the art just jumps off the page.”

“Well, yeah, but Ditko’s art always jumps off the page, even when it’s on cheap newsprint, doesn’t it?”

“That’s true, but I mean — come on, this is some deluxe shit!”

“Oh, no question — and I’d love to borrow your copy just for the new info I’d glean from reading the introduction, but — ”

“But?”

“Well, considering nothing in here’s been color ‘corrected’ or ‘remastered’ in any way, how do you know that whoever put this thing out didn’t just run their old comics through their scanner at home, stick it between some sturdy covers on nice paper, and charge you an arm and a leg for it?”

“I hadn’t thought of that, but ya know, I prefer these original colors anyway, sorta preserves the ‘grimy’ feel of the old, original comics.”

“Oh, I agree with you on that completely — I hate all these digitally-fucked-with reprints that are coming out, but still — I mean, don’t you feel like you got played for a sucker, at least on principle?”

“Not really. I mean, just because anybody with a scanner can do this shit doesn’t mean everyone has the resources or time on their hands to do so.”

“I’ll give ya that on the resources front, although if you’ve got a semi-major comics publisher bankrolling your advance to the printer and providing you with a distribution network via Diamond to all the major comic shops — I hope you did buy this at your LCS and not through Amazon! — well, it’s a pretty risk-free proposition for you then, isn’t it? Heck, if somebody else loans you the comics to scan from their collection — somebody I hope you’re giving at least some cut of the action to — how much do you really even need at all to do something like this?”

“Ummmm — just a scanner and some knowledge of basic page-formatting software, I suppose. But that’s the great democratizing power of all this new technology, I guess.”

“Yeah, it does have its plus side, no question — a lot of  once-rare books that you used to have to beg some creepy old collector to look at in his basement you can now find readily, and in a much nicer format than anyone could have hoped for even five or ten years ago.”

“Right! See! So we’re living in a new golden age for fans and collectors, no matter what you killjoys think!”

“So you don’t mind slapping down a big chunk of your hard-earned cash on basically a collection of scanned pages? A gorgeous collection of scanned pages, I’ll give ya that, but a collection of scanned pages nonetheless.”

“Not at all! This stuff would be lost to history otherwise! The publishers are doing us a huge favor!”

“Well, that’s undoubtedly true — life’s better with a book like this on your shelf. But who do you think should be raking in the lion’s share of the money you spend on this kind of thing?”

“Well, Ditko, I suppose — his name’s on the cover and all, and he drew it.  No Ditko, no book.”

“What if I told you that Ditko didn’t want to be paid for this work?”

“Well, assuming I believed you, then I’d have to say — whoever owns the rights to the work?”

“That’s a thorny question. Do you read Rob Imes’ ‘Ditkomania’ magazine?”

“No, why?”
“Well, you should. Rob’s mentioned this is in reviews of books like the very one you’re holding — that some of this stuff has been reprinted before, with relevant copyright information included, yet if you look at the indicia page of your hefty tome here, or the first page of each of the stories, you’ll see —”

“No copyright info? So is this stuff all public domain?”

“I think so. I hope so. I really want to believe so. And for most of it, yeah, that’s probably the case. But possibly not for all of it.”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, we’ll save all that for the next post in this series, shall we?”

“Okay, you sound like you’re kinda ducking the question, though.”

“That’s because I am! Truth be told, I’m doing a little legwork to find out why certain of these pages may or may not be PD while others apparently are without question.”

“Sounds pretty boring.”

“I dunno, I’m enjoying it, but then I’m kinda warped like that.”

“Well, let me know what you find out — I guess. For now I just wanna go enjoy my book here.”

“You do that, don’t let me stop stop you — I appreciate you letting me leaf through it.”

“Oh, one question, though — if Ditko doesn’t make, or even want, any money from it, and if the stuff’s at least supposedly in the public domain, then who’s making the money off this thing?”

“Would you believe — the guy with the scanner?”

“No shit? Well, what can I possibly say that would top that? God bless America, huh?”

“Sure — I guess.”

“Wow — hmmm,  just thinkin’ —”

“About?”

“What if he didn’t even own the scanner and just borrowed somebody else’s?”

Note : This is a purely speculative conversation, variations of which may nor may not have occurred among comic fans over the course of the current Steve Ditko reprint bonanza. I have no reason to believe that any of the volumes of Ditko’s work issued in recent years were so quickly, thoughtlessly, and haphazardly assembled. But it could happen, what with today’s technology and the plethora of freely-available material with expired, or supposedly expired, copyrights on it. Please remember that the only Ditko material from which we are absolutely certain he personally profits in the new work he’s publishing with Robin Snyder, and in the spirit of the image presented from that work reproduced above, perhaps “Innocent? Convince Me!!!!!!!!!!” is something we should be requesting and/or demanding from all publishers, at all times, in regards to reprint volumes of the type under discussion in this series.

As far as the copyright questions I’ve raised in this entry go, let me just say for the time being that I have put some “feelers” out to certain parties who I hope can provide answers to at least some of them. We’ll see. I think that a natural assumption, understandably, has been made that all the Charlton stuff reproduced so far is, in fact, PD material for anyone to do with as they see fit. My gut feeling, and my earnest hope, is that this assumption is accurate. But there are some inconsistencies in regards to the legal handling of this material that have popped up from time to time over the years, and if I don’t get answers from anybody in the next couple of days, I may just post the questions themselves that I have on here and hope that somebody with a much keener legal mind than I (not a difficult thing to possess, I assure you)  will see them and respond  in the comments section.