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Superheroes in Court: continued

Page: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Murder Ballads
Secret London

“Lee called Kirby in and asked if he had any comic characters lying around that hadn't been used,” Simon writes. “As I learned years later, Jack brought in the Spiderman logo that I had loaned to him before we changed the name to The Silver Spider. Kirby laid out the story to Lee about a kid who finds a ring in a spider-web, gets his powers from the ring and goes forth to fight crime. [...] Kirby went home and, using parts of an old rejected superhero named Night Fighter - one on which he had partly based the costume of The Fly - revamped the old Silver Spider script, including revisions made by Lee.” (8)
Kirby gave a similar version of events himself when interviewed in 1982. “Spider-Man was not a product of Marvel,” he told Will Eisner's Spirit Magazine. “Spider-Man was discussed between Joe and myself. We had a script called The Silver Spider. [...] I believe I said 'This could become a thing called Spider-Man, see, a superhero character. I had a lot of faith in the superhero character, that they could be brought back very, very vigorously. They weren't being done at the time. I felt they could regenerate, and I said Spider-Man would be a fine character to start with [...] So the idea was already there when I talked to Stan.” (15)
None of that proves that Kirby co-created Spider-Man - particularly as Ditko maintains he threw away most of Kirby's version before redrawing the book from scratch - but it does suggest a far more complicated genesis for the character than the solo credit which Lee sometimes claims. “I told Martin I wanted to feature a hero who had just a touch of super-strength, but his main power was that he could stick to walls and ceilings,” Lee writes in his autobiography. “I confessed that I had gotten the idea from watching a fly on the wall while I had been typing.” (16)

Lee would often give artists a single-page outline and leave them to decide the rest

As Marvel ballooned in size and success, Lee's editorial duties grew just as fast, and he devised the famous “Marvel Method” to save himself time. Instead of a full script, he'd give artists a single-page outline, and leave them to decide on the rest of the story for themselves. Lee would then dialogue the finished art, but could do little to change the storytelling decisions his artist had already made. The most dramatic example of this came in March 1966, when Lee discovered Kirby had drawn an unfamiliar character into the pages of Fantastic Four #48.
This was the Silver Surfer, described as “Kirby's most brilliant brainchild of this period” in Daniel's official Marvel history and now one of the company's most famous characters. “He started out as an assistant to an awesome alien named Galactus, and Stan Lee had not originally expected him at all,” Daniels says. “The plot had been discussed, says Lee, but 'when Jack brought back the drawings, I saw a guy on a flying surfboard and I said 'Who's this?' Jack said that Galactus ought to have a herald who flies ahead of him, and I thought it was a wonderful idea'.” (13)
Here's Lee again, this time describing his working methods in a 1968 interview: “Some artists, like Jack Kirby need no plot at all. I mean, I'll just say to Jack 'Let's let the next villain be Dr Doom...'. Or I may not even say that. He may tell me. And then he goes home and does it. He's so good at plots. I'm sure he's 1,000 times better than I. He just about makes up the plots for these stories. All I do is a little editing ... I may tell him he's gone too far in one direction or another. Of course, occasionally I'll give him a plot, but we're practically both the writer on these things.” (17)
Throughout this time, Lee continued as the public face of Marvel and seemed happy to accept media portrayals of him as its only important architect. With Lee in place as a loyal company man, firmly entrenched in Marvel's corporate structure, it suited the company to portray him as the sole creator of all its most popular characters. Any other version of events would just have encouraged freelance artists to kick up trouble in the courts.
The two most important of those artists were left to fume, with Ditko quitting the company in 1966 and Kirby nursing a sense of growing resentment. Partly, that was his own fault because, given the choice of taking on more administrative responsibilities at Marvel, or spending all day at his beloved drawing board, he always chose the latter. That allowed him to avoid the tedious management work and corporate meetings which Lee had to endure, but also led to a big gap in the two men's earnings. Kirby was perfectly entitled to make that choice, of course, but - as Lee points out in his autobiography - it came with certain consequences attached.
“Many times in the past, I had asked Jack to take an executive staff job at Marvel,” he writes. “I felt, if he were willing, I'd give him my art director duties; he could supervise the artwork and I'd concentrate on the editing and handling the scripts. We would be full partners, with his salary equalling mine. However, he never accepted the offer. He told me he'd prefer to freelance.” (16)
This attitude was characteristic of Kirby's whole career, and he paid a heavy price for it. “As an artist, he was never that astute in securing a property,” says comics historian Paul Gravett. “He relied on business partners, good or bad, to help him through all that.” Lee's biographers Jordan Raphael and Tom Spurgeon add that Kirby “lacked a strong business sense”. (18, 19)
Kirby admitted as much when talking to The Comics Journal in 1989. “I didn't know how to do business,” he said of his younger self. “I was a kid from the Lower East Side who'd never seen a lawyer, who'd never done business. I was from a family that, like millions of others, where doing business was concerned, I was completely na´ve. [...] I couldn't conceive of what they were doing in those offices. I couldn't conceive of working with accountants. I couldn't conceive of working with salespeople. I couldn't conceive of distribution.” (20)

Cat fight: continued

“I started hearing rumours about a Josie movie,” he told The Comics Journal. So I started asking round Archie about it. I was assured that I would be included in it and not left out. This was important to me because of the way the cartoon show had been hidden from me.
      “So I got concerned, and I got a lawyer. [...] I wanted to make sure that I got a creator credit, and also some income, if they made a movie. After all, I'm not getting any younger.” (44)
      Archie offered DeCarlo a reported $35,000 for Josie's film rights, but his lawyer advised him to reject it. “He said he didn't think it was enough, and I went along with him. He made a counter-proposal: he wanted $100,000 and 4% of the Josie merchandising, and they turned that down. That's when the lawsuit really went into high gear” (43)
      Universal Pictures' Josie & the Pussycats live-action movie was released in April 2001. A month later, Archie fired DeCarlo.
      “Dan's attorney has taken such aggressive and unreasoned positions in the litigation that, under the circumstances, we have sadly been left with no alternative but to terminate our relationship with Dan,” said publisher Michael Silberkleit. (45)
      DeCarlo hit back. “When I found a lawyer who started asking questions about the Universal picture deal - that I had heard nothing about from them, only what I heard on the internet - that's when they fired me after 40 years,” he said. (43)
      DeCarlo quickly got work freelancing for other publishers, including DC and Matt Groening's Bongo Comics. Late in 2001, a Federal District Court ruled that Archie Comics owned all the rights to the Josie characters. DeCarlo appealed the decision, but lost. On December 11 that year, the Supreme Court refused his bid to have the case re-heard under state property law rather than Federal copyright.
      He died just eight days later, aged 82.