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Jack Kirby[edit]

this is a fascinating user page. i hesitated to add this short introduction, but i think this is needed:

Jack Kirby (August 28, 1917 – February 6, 1994), American comic book artist, writer and editor. (1942, legal name change from Jacob Kurtzberg.)

-- diremarc (talk) 08:35, 2 July 2009 (UTC)

Kirby's early artwork[edit]

In 1985, screenwriter and comic-book historian Mark Evanier, a Kirby friend and former assistant, revealed to The Comics Journal that not only had thousands of pages of Kirby’s artwork had been lost by Marvel Comics, but that the remaining pages (just 88 "out of a total of more than 8,000") were effectively being held hostage by the company.[1]

The return of these pages, believed to be both legally and morally owned by the artist, subsequently became the subject of a high-profile dispute between Kirby and Marvel, in large part because Kirby was singled out for specialist treatment.

Artwork return[edit]

Prior to 1973 (when rival comics company DC acknowledged the "insensitive" handling - and often destruction - of original artwork, and began to work towards returning remaining pages and compensating artists whose work did not remain in storage), artwork was not routinely returned to the artists who had created it. Artwork from comics' earliest days was regularly destroyed, lost or arbitrarily given away by all companies who placed little or no value in it.[2]

Largely through the lobbying of individuals spear-headed by Neal Adams, working for creator's rights and fair treatment, this practice began to change. Artwork was more regularly stored than destroyed - although still rarely returned to the artists who had drawn it. Following Adams' (and others') campaign, (which, fought in the public eye, garnered widespread press reportage and strong support within and without the comics industry), by the early- to mid-1970s, many companies began to move towards returning pages. Since artwork produced in the early days of comics was only technically "work for hire" (contracts not being as airtight and inclusive as they would later become), there was thought to be the potential for artists to compete against the companies' reprint rights if they were in possession of their artwork, the process by which artwork was returned typically required the artists to sign a waiver releasing themselves from all rights related to the artwork, and acknowledging it as the sole property of the company for which it was created.[3]

This became even more necessary (from the companies' point of view when in 1978 copyright law changed, and "work for hire" arrangements were required to be specifically defined in writing.[4] This caused a dilemma for many comics companies, whose livelihoods relied on "work for hire" practices, but who then found their properties under potential fire, through the lack of pre-existing agreements for already-produced works. To get around this, retroactive agreements were drawn up for - particularly - artists to sign. It was one such agreement presented to Kirby in 1979 that precipitated his departure from Marvel. With the move towards returning artwork to artists, the comics companies hit upon the idea of tying these returns to a recipt/contractual release form, whereby the artists acknowledged upon receipt of their original pages that the artwork was created under "work for hire" guidelines, and that they thereafter waived all rights to its creation in favour of the companies. These releases were widely accepted, but also rankled with some industry professionals, such as Neal Adams and Mike Ploog in particular.[5])

Special treatment[edit]

Although all artists were required by Marvel to sign release forms in return for their pages, Kirby was singled out with a much more detailed form than any other artist - four pages to the 'normal' one. This form required not only the standard disclaimer of non-ownership of the ideas and characters created under "work for hire" (which Kirby regularly stated that he was reasonably happy to sign), but barred him from ever supporting his own or others' claims of any sort against Marvel, named him solely as custodian rather than owner of his pages (thereby refusing him the right to exhibit them or sell them - which to this day forms a common, and sometimes necessary, supplementary income for artists) among other strict - and outrageous - stipulations. Furthermore, while naming just 88 pages (The Comics Journal estimated this to be just over 1% of his total output - Frank Miller suggested less than 1%), the release form Marvel attempted to pressure Kirby into signing stated that:

"The Artist acknowledges that he or she has no claim or right to the ownership, possession or custody, or any other right [to] any other or different artwork or material presently in Marvel's possession, custody or control."[6]

It appeared that Marvel was singling out Kirby to stricter and more prohibitive sanctions (based solely on the key nature of his contributions, which did not merely form the backbone of the company, but almost the entire body of its artistic output both by creation and inspiration) over the return of any pages of his original artwork. Marvel's stated stance skirted the issue of Kirby being given a tailored form, merely reiterating its need to protect its properties from potential exploitation by the artist - even Kirby freely admitted that there was no question that the work had been produced under "work for hire" agreements, even if undocumented, and that Marvel did own the work. His issue was in the prohibitively strong sanctions being laid out in print. Particularly that which refused him the right to sell his artwork - even as leaked/gifted/stolen pages were sold at fledgling comics conventions that Kirby himself attended.

In addition, the Kirby-specific contract expected him to relinquish all claims to the thousands of "missing" pages (many more of which, it later transpired, were in Marvel's warehouses) without any form of compensation or apology. Other companies at this time were beginning to compensate artists for pages mislaid or stolen. In requesting that he forego all claim to missing artwork (around 99% of his Marvel output up to that time), it is unlikely that anyone at Marvel was deliberately withholding additional pages, rather than the places in which the artwork was stored were haphazardly arranged - if arranged at all - and therefore such a clause was likely a preventative rather than an absolute measure.

Kirby necessarily baulked at the agreement which was being pressured on him, and refused to sign. After details were leaked to The Comics Journal, editor Gary Groth spearheaded the championing of Kirby's moral and legal rights both to the full return of his artwork, and to the downgrading of the sanctions Marvel was trying to force upon him. Although Marvel cited the need for such language, intimating that Kirby had threatened to pursue full ownership of some of his characters, this claim was denied by Kirby, and mitigated by Evanier as reciprocal behaviour:

"They kept threatening him and he kept threatening them," said Evanier, "[i]t was the only way he could get their attention. And somebody at Marvel over-reacted."[7]

Although some creators declined to stand in support of Kirby's battle, (Groth suggests their reasons included the need not to antagonise the big companies who held the promise of their livelihoods, resentment, apathy and non-comprehension as being among the key reasons), many more signed The Comics Journals circulated petition (printed in The Comics Journal #110, and reprinted in The Comics Journal Library: Jack Kirby) in his support. Frank Miller wrote persuasively in The Comics Journal #5, Neal Adams continued to fight for creators' rights, and other notable individuals also leant their weight to the issue, with Will Eisner writing an open letter to TCJ, alongside one from DC's Jenette Kahn, Dick Giordano and Paul Levitz imploring Marvel to see legal and moral sense. Eventually, in 1987, Marvel downgraded their request for the mammoth release form, and even amended the 'normal' artist's short form to better address some of Kirby's specific concerns. Kirby ultimately received back from Marvel the 1,900-2,100 pages of his original art that remained in its possession (the other thousands having been forever misplaced, and routinely given away or stolen - many pages surfaced on the collector's market before Kirby had any returned to him), and Kirby acknowledged formally that the copyright to the characters he had created and co-created for Marvel were their property.

The disposition of Kirby’s early art for Fawcett, and numerous other companies has remained uncertain, although DC made a concerted effort in the mid-to-late 70s to return all artwork in their possession, and compensate artists for that which had been lost, stolen or destroyed.


Hi, and thanks for the head's up!

This is very long, perhaps out of proportion to the rest of Kirby's life and biography, so I'd like to contribute my comments in bits and pieces as I can, and I would urge you very strongly to post a notice about this at Wikipedia:WikiProject Comics/Notice board there a disinterested attorney or law professor saying this? Because a layman saying he believes something legally belongs to someone is amateur opinion, and while you or I may believe that to be true, it's not the opinion of someone versed in the law. Clearly, attorneys for Marvel Comics felt they could cite precedent, etc. — nobody wants to risk censure by the courts for being frivolous.

I'm not saying the Marvel attorneys were right. I personally believe they were wrong. But layman opinion about a specialized area of expertise — be it the law, or bridge engineering, or parasailing — is not, by definition, encyclopedic knowledge.

Also, you seem to rely to a very large extent on one article by a Michael Dean. Are you him?

Rome wasn't built in a day, and Kirby is too important not to be given our best and most patient efforts. By any biographical standard, the issue of his art and Marvel's treatment of it needs to be in this article. Let's roll up our sleeves and do this, and if you're the point man, then get as many knowledgeable editors in as you can. It'll go faster and easier. It won't seem it, but it will, and we'll get a better article out of it. With regards, -- Tenebrae (talk) 05:08, 14 May 2008 (UTC)

No problem. :o) I'll reply point-by-point for ease, if not brevity..! ;o) (And I should, and probably will, mention it on the notice board.)
  1. It is long, it is out of proportion, my excusesreasons are threefold:
    1. Natural waffle, anti-brevity and the common-sense approach of piling in EVERYTHING, then paring it down if need be(!),
    2. The importance of this part of Kirby's life, both in terms of it dominating his later years, and it bringing into sharp contrast his poor treatment. It's a sorry state of affairs, but it does seem to have been a major part of his history.
    3. It's out of proportion MORE because everything else is so briefly covered! That there was nothing a while back on his Romance comics beggers belief..
  2. Told/revealed/hostage... you're right on "told," but at the same time it really was an exposé in every sense..! Effective hostages was, I think, a description used elsewhere if not in TCJ itself, and might be said to be hyperbole, but after a weighing of the (perhaps partisan) evidence, can also be demonstrably seen to be accurate, if, perhaps, un-neutral.
  3. Legal and moral ownership. Also an un-neutral accuracy, and attributed to no-one solely because it was (by that point) appearing in the minds of most artists. Ironically, I may have excised some justification of some parts of this forthe sake of brevity! It was by this point - and earlier - (and after the travesties of destroyed artwork throught comics' early days) becoming acknowledged that artists produced their work for companies solely for the one (or subsequent reprints - but often a limited number, hence among other things, the oddities surroung Grant Morrison's Zenith...) printing in comics form, while the created artwork remained their moral (if not yet completely legal) posession, and should be returned to them. So it's a general "comics artists'" comment, not specifically directed at Kirby. I'm not sure whether there were by this point attorney's involved (or if that's documented), but the layman opinion - where the layman is the party involved, which tacit agreement from many on the opposite side (i.e. particularly DC management) - is surely noteworthy. If an artist creates an artwork under a dubiously legal contract, with the belief that it ought to be returned to them afterwards, and tacit agreement to that effect... (Not that that's specifically the case here, just to be confusing. By the point of the Kirby debacle, other artists were receiving back their artwork from Marvel, a tacit acknowledgement that they were required to do so morally, if not (yet) legally. Hence the perhaps inflammatory wording...!) If that all makes any kind of sense after so many words..!!
  4. Also, I don't think Marvel was hoping it could cite precedent - indeed, it's arguable that Kirby et al. could do that - rather that they were hoping they could bully submission by enforcing the non-agreement that wasn't in place, i.e. the retroactive written work-for-hire agreements.
  5. I'm not Mr Dean, no. That article may well have informed the large part of my writings because it was A) to hand, B) the best and "most accurate" (as near as I could tell) summary, C) apparently academic- and newsreporter-level journalism, etc., etc.
I'll head over and note it somewhere now, then. :o) Thanks for your comments, feel free to make more! ntnon (talk) 02:51, 17 May 2008 (UTC)
Added here. ntnon (talk) 03:01, 17 May 2008 (UTC)
("held hostage" is the description on the front cover of TCJ #105) ntnon (talk) 22:09, 18 May 2008 (UTC)
Thanks. I had a little trouble following some of this, which may be my own fault.
Where I'm having trouble is some of the rationales here for what you call "non-neutral accuracy." Neutrality is one of the major, major points of Wikipedia — in fact, one of the 5 Pillars of Wikipedia.
I don't know how this will come out on the printed page, without benefit of empathetic tone, but what I'm gathering is that maybe you haven't done a lot of journalism or research-paper writing? I could be wrong, and if so, I apologize. But a lot of the basic tenets of factual reporting are missing here. This material seems more suited to a magazine feature that can advocate or carry a point of view.
I have an idea: Many if not most Wikipedia articles start out as stubs that editors gradually add to. We might simply be working backwards. Why don't I start this section with a paragraph, and we can add to it gradually — I'd strongly suggest graf by graf — from there.
What do you say? --Tenebrae (talk) 23:33, 27 May 2008 (UTC)
I suspect that if there's any difficulty in following anything, it's likely my fault... I also suspect that the major sources for this are, shall we say, less than unbiased in their starting position. Which may not be helping much as far as neutrality goes.
I think, reading it over again (and again, and again) that it's probably a fair criticism that it's more magazine-y and (perhaps) slanted towards a certain position that it ought to be. But I still suggest (if slightly half-heartedly) that that is in large part due to the circumstances and happenings. Marvel do not appear to have formed (or at least communicated - maybe even more fairly been reported as communicating) any kind of defence or explanation of their actions. Which does tend to skew things somewhat. (And I presume that it's the perceived 'bias'/'skew'/'point of view' that you're talking about when you talk about "basic tenets of factual reporting"...? If not, I'm in need of slight clarification, please!)
Stubs & additions do seem to be the basic building blocks of Wikipedia. However, I've become so disenchanted with stubs that I see them more as stumbling than building blocks. The number of stubs that seem to go nowhere, or be (allegedly) seen as "good enough" makes me worry that the purpose of the whole project has been somewhat lost. I realise that on some levels it makes things easier to do things step-by-step, but I do so much prefer to sort something out fully and then present it as a fait accompli..!
I'll be somewhat ("Somewhat" being a relative term, of course) tied up now for a little while, so you're more than welcome to go down the paragraph-stub route, and I'll try and look in later, otherwise I'll muse on this, re-read my books, search out anything else I can get my hands on and try for a more journalistic/"fair and balanced" take - if such a thing is possible...
(Incidentally, if you have a few moments to flag up anything - else! - that you think particularly seems out of place/in need of revision or balance/needs sourcing or explaining/etc., etc., then that might help give me some pointers. But no worries if not.) :o) ntnon (talk) 02:30, 28 May 2008 (UTC)
Hey, amigo. Like you, I've been tied up (and now we're playing together in the Vertigo (DC Comics) playground!), but I'll make more of a concerted effort to write up a section about this important topic. And seriously, thank goodness for you having brought it up ... this is such an important part of Kirby's life, and yet it somehow slipped under the radar — which, I guess, is because Kirby accomplished so very damn much that it's taking time to get everything in! It's good working with you. --Tenebrae (talk) 22:54, 29 June 2008 (UTC)
Oh, I've not just been tied up but had to deal with multiple-computer failure... I keep meaning to get back to this but "life (Vertigo, other things) intervenes" as they say. I did find it a fairly bizarre omission (although comments to the effect of 'you have to be careful not to defame anyone/get into Marvel vs. DC mode', etc. part explain - but not excuse - it), particularly when the Comics Journal Library volume seems to be almost entirely on the single subject of artwork wranglings...! When I do get around to fixing this up, though, I shall be able to address some of your concerns and make it MUCH better(/fairer) and more thoroughly sourced. I've turned up a whole load of Comics Journals with mentions of this - including Shooter's description of Marvel's position.
We(kipedia) really need a dozen Kirby pages to do him justice, frankly. This may still become an immense and bloated beast - not least because the best defence against bias is to pile in as much as possible from both sides. Even if the majority of the primary sources are ultimately ONE source (TCJ), and I suspect the major secondary source I have access to draws its facts from that publication. I will get back to this sooner or later..! And if you wind up beating me to it, then I'll be happy to source things for you - provide quotes and references, etc. :o) ntnon (talk) 02:10, 30 June 2008 (UTC)
That sounds great. And I'm finally getting a lot of my comics reference books out of storage, so we'll have plenty of sources besides TCJ, which, as much as I've always respected and continue to respect, took a (certainly reasonable and eminently justified) advocacy position on the subject. You are dead-on when you see the best defense against bias is to provide lots of information from a variety of sources. Dude! --Tenebrae (talk) 02:32, 30 June 2008 (UTC)


Marvel art-return controversy[edit]

From the earliest days of comic book production, original artwork was typically not returned to its creator(s), instead it was widely stored and regularly destroyed by publishers who retained all rights to the work, and did not see a need to even retain the originals, let alone return it.[8] Over time, some pages were gifted by publishers both to some artists making specific requests, and as prizes to readers.[citation needed]

As protests grew about the treatment of original artwork, even as individual artists began to rise above the anonymity of the comics shops, publishers "ceased to butcher artists' pages, but hoarded them instead in warehouses."[9] In 1973, publisher DC Comics, taking its example from "all other magazines and periodical literature" acknowledged that "ownership of the page, the actual object, belongs unequivocally to the artist."[9] This shift was followed by other companies, including the newly formed Atlas/Seaboard Comics which, in 1974, also began routinely returning new original artwork. Marvel Comics began returning new original art in 1976, requiring artists to sign a four-line rights-release) affirming that they made no claim to own the work or profit from it.[10] DC became the first company to contractually affirm freelancers' right to the return and ownership of artwork, as well as offering compensation for any artwork lost while in the company's possession.[9]

When the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976 (which came into effect on January 1, 1978), codified "that freelancers could now claim copyrights on anything created before that year" unless they had previously signed a work-for-hire agreement,[11] comics contracts became much more explicit, as not all previous work had been explicitly stated to be work-for-hire. Marvel's brief waiver was replaced by a one-page form in 1979,[10] which writer-artist Frank Miller described as requiring the artist to "paradoxically... declare their physical artwork Marvel's property before Marvel will return it... surrender[ing] to Marvel every conceivable right to the artwork that could ever possibly exist."[12] Many other companies placed such rights-releases on payment checks, literally withholding payment from creators until they renounced all claims on the copyright of their artwork.

Kirby's newly-created Marvel artwork, beginning with his mid-1970s return to the company, was, like that of other artists, routinely returned upon receipt of the four-line waiver.[8][13] However, Marvel did not offer Kirby a freelancer contract until August 1984,[14] which placed his work before that time, in light of the 1976 copyright act, in a state of copyright-limbo. Under continued pressure from Kirby's lawyers to return any of his artwork still held by the company, Marvel ultimately agreed, sending Kirby received a four-page agreement exclusive to him.[15] This document offered "a gift" of only the "physical custody" of a short list of just 88 pages of original art[15] - out of the (estimated) more than 8,000 Kirby had produced between 1960 and 1970.[10]

While the one-page form offered to other freelancers confirmed their ownership of their physical artwork,[10] Kirby's form provided "nothing more than the right to store the art on behalf of Marvel. Though it would be in his possession, there was nothing that Kirby would be allowed to do with it",[10] as the form specified that the artwork could not be sold or otherwise commercially exploited; could not be publicly displayed without Marvel's written permission; and must be always accessible to Marvel to copy.[15] Further, it forbid Kirby to claim any other of his thousands of unreturned pages in Marvel's possession, or to "contest or dispute, or assist others in contesting or disputing, Marvel's complete, exclusive, complete and unrestricted ownership of the copyright in the Artwork."[15]

The Kirbys attempted to negotiate with Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, who responded on January 25, 1985 with a letter reiterating Marvel's demand that Kirby sign the complete agreement as written.[14] The issue became public that summer within fanzines and the pro-zine/magazine The Comics Journal #100 (July, 1985), which launched a nearly year-long editorial crusade advocating the full-ownership return of Kirby's art. Together with discussion at comic-book fan convention panels; a pro-Kirby petition signed by approximately 150 industry professionals and published in The Comics Journal #105 (Feb. 1986); and, in that same issue, a November 19, 1985, open letter to Marvel from DC publisher Jenette Kahn and editors Dick Giordano and Paul Levitz castigating Marvel, "Shooter and Marvel found themselves in the middle of the worst public relations disaster in the company's history".[14]

Marvel increased the number of pages it offered to return, first to 800, then 1700, and the four-page agreement became three agreements, with modifications.[16] On June 16, 1987, Kirby signed the agreed document and renounced any copyright claims in exchange for return of his artwork.[16] Marvel refused to pay the $800 insurance cost of shipping "what the company says remained of Kirby's drawings — about one-sixth of his work", which arrived the last week of June and consisted of "300 [pre-superhero] monster pages, 300 Westerns, two dozen covers, some Fantastic Four, no X-Men, and just a handful of Hulk and Sgt. Fury pages".[16]


  1. ^ "Kirby and Goliath: An Overview" by Michael Dean, reprinted in The Comics Journal Library, Volume One: Jack Kirby (2002) ISBN 1-56097-466-4, p. 89-94
  2. ^ "Kirby and Goliath: An Overview" by Michael Dean, reprinted in The Comics Journal Library, Volume One: Jack Kirby (2002) ISBN 1-56097-466-4, p. 89-94
  3. ^ "Kirby and Goliath: An Overview" by Michael Dean, reprinted in The Comics Journal Library, Volume One: Jack Kirby (2002) ISBN 1-56097-466-4, p. 89-94
  4. ^ "Kirby and Goliath: An Overview" by Michael Dean, reprinted in The Comics Journal Library, Volume One: Jack Kirby (2002) ISBN 1-56097-466-4, p. 90
  5. ^ "Kirby and Goliath: An Overview" by Michael Dean, reprinted in The Comics Journal Library, Volume One: Jack Kirby (2002) ISBN 1-56097-466-4, p. 90
  6. ^ "Kirby and Goliath: An Overview" by Michael Dean, reprinted in The Comics Journal Library, Volume One: Jack Kirby (2002) ISBN 1-56097-466-4, p. 89-94
  7. ^ "Kirby and Goliath: An Overview" by Michael Dean, reprinted in The Comics Journal Library, Volume One: Jack Kirby (2002) ISBN 1-56097-466-4, p. 93
  8. ^ a b Evanier, Kirby: King of Comics, p. 203
  9. ^ a b c Letter to The Comics Journal from DC Comics' then-publisher Jenette Kahn, managing editor Dick Giordano and vice-president Paul Levitz in The Comics Journal #105 (Feb, 1986), p. 52
  10. ^ a b c d e Dean in George, Comics Journal Library, p. 91
  11. ^ Ro, p. 201
  12. ^ Miller, Frank "God Save the King" in The Comics Journal #105 (Feb, 1986), pp. 63-68
  13. ^ Jack and Roz Kirby interviewed by Tom Heintjes, "The Negotiations" in The Comics Journal #105 (Feb, 1986), pp. 53-59
  14. ^ a b c Dean in George, Comics Journal Library, p. 92
  15. ^ a b c d Published in its entirety in George, Comics Journal Library, p. 94: "The Four-Page Agreement."
  16. ^ a b c Bode, Janet, "A Comic Book Artist KO'd: Jack Kirby's Six-Year Slugfest with Marvel", The Village Voice. December 8, 1987

Comments Dec 30[edit]

Hey, N. Finally have a chance to weigh in. Nice work finding/clarifying details.

I have to say, though, that going from four paragraphs to seven seems unwieldy and untenable — at this point it would be the largest section of the article, which seems giving it way unduly weight. I'm sure we could lose a graf by simple line-edit condensing of phrasing and such; we could lose another short graf by removing the earliest history of art-return policies. Otherwise, it might be prudent to trim or condense some of the details; do you think four paragraphs, given the size of the article, isn't sufficient? Would you like to give it whack? Would you like me to? I'm pretty good at condensing. Let me know, and if we don't communicate before, let me wish you a Happy New Year!! -- Tenebrae (talk) 03:41, 30 December 2008 (UTC)