Boycott The Avengers?
Unless an Occupy Comics Movement has been stealthily plotting and rears its head at the opening of The Avengers tomorrow, we can write off the effort to bring some justice and remuneration to Jack Kirby just now. Artist Kirby, any major fan’ll tell you, is of artistic import at least on par with Stan Lee, the name plastered all over Marvel products and productions.
James Sturm, a cartoonist, co-founder of the alt-weekly The Stranger in Seattle and co-founder of something called the Center for Cartoon Studies, laid out the case for a boycott of the film back in February in Slate, which reposted his piece the other day.
My quick Google of the keywords finds no evidence that the idea garnered much traction, although there have been discussions of the idea elsewhere, some preceding Sturm’s piece, and an online petition seeking royalties for the family of Kirby who died in 1994. With fewer than 1,500 signatures, it’s not been a success by Internet standards.
In fact, Sturm was rather downbeat about the chances of a boycott even as he was writing:
A boycott of The Avengers and other Marvel movies could conceivably strike a blow in the only place that truly hurts a corporation: its bottom line. But I don’t have high hopes of this happening. I think most people feel that if you look at how any company makes its sausages, you are going to find some pretty nasty stuff. And few people will feel strongly enough about Kirby’s treatment to keep them from seeing one of the summer’s biggest blockbusters. Even a lot of die-hard comics fans will probably feel that boycotters are doing little more than raining on their parade.
Sturm lays out the sausage-making details of the Kirby case, and the failed efforts to challenge his work-for-hire treatment and the contracts he signed. And he underscores that Kirby wasn’t just an illustrator following Lee’s scripts. In fact, there were no scripts:
At Marvel, Lee would give his collaborator a brief story synopsis (or come up with one in conjunction with the artist) who would then draw the comic before a script was written. Comics is a visual medium, and telling the story first in pictures gave the work a fluidity that was lacking in other comics. After the comic was drawn, Lee would then add lively dialogue that would further shape the story and define the characters.
It’s worth a read. And a weep. And if you’re touched by The Avengers, or any of the cavalcade of Marvel movies, you owe it to yourself to learn who this Kirby guy was.
The Marvel industrial-promotional complex certainly won’t tell you.