Tuesday, 23 March 2010

King's heirs sue to get the crown back

Passing a newsagent's window this week, my eye caught a display for Ben 10 bubble gum or ice cream or something. A couple of steps later, I backtracked for another look, because (by gum) there were the distinctive "black dots" which, for my generation, evoked the coruscating, pulse-pounding force of cosmic energy as depicted by the one, the only, Jack "King" Kirby.

I love the idea of modern artists using the King's visual signifiers in corporately created stuff that's designed to sell toys to kids. It seems like a blow for freedom, as though they're smuggling something sacred under the very noses of the marketing wonks who are jabbering about whether little Ben needs to be fifteen percent more relatable or whatever.

Even better news this week is that Kirby's heirs are making some headway in their attempts to recover rights in the characters and stories he created. It's ridiculous that they should have to go to the lengths of shelling out money to lawyers in order to get their demands even acknowledged, but that's the world we live in. I've been on that ferry ride myself, and after you pay the lawyers to unleash shock and awe, the corporation turns round and says well goodness, you didn't need to do that, golly we always meant for you to have a share in those rights all along, you never needed to get legal folks involved, blah blah. To which I can only add that the Kirby family have all my best wishes and I hope they do get control of those rights, for the simple reason that (I assume) their interest is personal as well as financial, and creative works are valueless if they're taken away from the people who have genuine passion for them.


  1. Like you Dave, I wish the Kirby family every success, it's the little guys up against the big corporates who have endless supplies of money that they would rather spend on expensive suits rather than the creatives who helped make their companies a success in the first place.

    Two books which make essential and really fascinating reading are Ronin Ro's "Tales To Astonish", which focuses a lot on Jack Kirby and if that isn't salutory enough there's Gerard Jone's excellent and captivating "Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the ComicBook".

    After reading those two you'll never enter a publisher's office without bringing along a team of enforcers and contract lawyers.

  2. Thanks, Peter - two more uses for my credit card :-)

    Leo and I have had a lot of experience with contracts and the various shenanigans that big companies will get up to. I wrote about some typical game industry tricks in Game Architecture & Design, but other businesses are just the same.

    My advice to any creative is: don't assume they care about your project just 'cause you do, get a good agent, and have a lawyer look at any contract before you sign it. Oh, and having paid for the lawyer, make sure you take his advice - don't let your eagerness to get on with a project blind you to the pitfalls in the contract. If a publisher or network won't negotiate terms, or indeed simply refuses to talk to your agent or lawyer, then they plan to shaft you and you shouldn't deal with them in a million years.

    Good movie to watch: The Spanish Prisoner. Mamet has been down the same road.