Aug 242011

By J.T. Dockery

I just finished reading, from my Kentucky exile in Vermont, the two reviews of the blockbuster Marvel/Disney production of Captain America: The First Avenger by Bill Widener and Kevin Martinez. I respect Bill and Kevin, both of whom have big brains that process junk culture in ways I admire and have learned from over the years. It was no surprise that I found both of their reviews insightful, yet I am not going to see the film.

Both Martinez and Widener mention that Captain America was co-created by the artist Jack Kirby (with Joe Simon). Bill mentions that the creation of the character and its popularity in WWII essentially built the house we now call Marvel. Kevin mentions that Stan Lee makes a cameo in the film, breaking his own rule that he only makes appearances in films of characters he had a hand in creating. I just kind of wished they’d extended these statements a bit to shine more light on what it means that Jack Kirby had a major part in creating this iconic figure.

In all the marketing and advertising and big money deals that have put this film based on comic books on the screen for distraction of the masses and money in the pockets of Marvel/Disney, what has been much less publicized is the recent legal decision that sided with Marvel against the family of Jack Kirby (Kirby is no longer with us on this mortal coil), essentially screwing him again, even in death, out of any revenue generated by characters he had a hand in creating. Legally speaking, he may have been doing his job under a work-for-hire basis but, frankly, I’m not a lawyer and I’m not interested in legalities; I’m interested in fairness.

Stephen Bissette, the comics artist responsible for the “reboot” of the Swamp Thing character for DC in the 1980s (which established not only his own reputation, but also the reputation of comics writer Alan Moore) has spearheaded a Marvel boycott due to the continued unfair treatment of Kirby by the corporation that owns and profits from work he created. I have joined this boycott. To quote Mr. Bissette on the subject:

“Jack Kirby always, in his life and in his work, trumpeted the power of the INDIVIDUAL to act against power. It was JACK’S message, in all his work: the power of the INDIVIDUAL to CHANGE THE WORLD. So, CHANGE THE WORLD, those who grew up reading, loving, enjoying, creating, earning livings from Kirby’s work and all that followed. Rationalizing NOT taking action is playing the corporate game.”

When I personally speak to groups of young students about comics, or people not deeply involved in comics, a point I often stress is that these mythic figures in our culture born out of comics that we now perceive as ubiquitous were not born out of our collective consciousness, but rather originated in the heart and soul of individual artists and writers reflecting their own unique perspective on the world. The characters, in essence, are metaphors for some perception of reality by the respective creator….creations so strong that they catch on in the mind of the public, even by people who have never picked up a comic book. A corporation doesn’t do that. A publisher doesn’t do that. A brand doesn’t do that. Artists do that.

To quote “alternative” cartoonist Seth on the subject: “I love Marvel Comics….I should qualify that statement though. When I say ‘Marvel Comics’ I don’t mean the heartless corporation. I mean Steve Ditko, Don Heck, Dick Ayers, Larry Lieber, Paul Reinman, Carl Burgos, Stan Lee (among others), and the most important name of all, Jack Kirby. The man who created most of it.”

Captain America IS Jack Kirby (along with Joe Simon), or at least represents him, as are characters like the X-Men, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, and the Avengers (coming soon to a theater near you). There would be no Marvel as we know it without Jack Kirby and his creative vision (nor would there be a Marvel as we know it without artist Steve Ditko, but his unfair treatment is, alas, another story). Consuming these Kirby-derived products while the company that profits off of these properties shames and degrades Kirby’s contribution is, to put it country simple, taking a gleeful piss on the grave of Jack Kirby, shaming the legacy of an important American artist.

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