Of Marvel Comics and Mickey Mouse Legislation: Ditko, Lee and Spider-Man; Orphans, Czars and Copyright…By srbissette on October 2nd, 2008
Posted In: News
Following up on yesterday’s post, about publishers like IDW and Dark Horse trafficking packaged reprint volumes of 1980s work sans contact, negotiations, payment or even comps to those with work in those collections, suffice to say I’d much rather deal with the publishers and/or packagers up front than be posting about it after the fact.
Right: Munden’s Bar IDW reprint edition; cover image © 2007 Skip Williamson, I hope…
If you’re one of those publishers/packagers, or work for same, and my posting upsets you — well, do something about it.
Yesterday’s post only went up after plenty of opportunity had passed for someone on the publishing end of things to do the right thing. With my work seeing print sans contact, contract, payment, comps and my having absolutely nothing to lose (having already ‘lost’ the money buying the books themselves) after my 1999 retirement from the industry, there’s no incentive for me to be quiet about it. If you’re reading this, you can contact me via this blog; comments below. If you’d rather write me directly, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Make it right and I’ll post that update here. Leave it as it is, and you’ll be a constant reference point down the road of current industry standards. It’s up to you, as it’s always been.
At present, the only four publishers reprinting my past comics (and comics-related) work legally — having negotiated terms and/or working directly with me, and paying royalties for those reprint editions — remain King Hell Press (Rick Veitch), About Comics (Nat Gertler, 24 Hour Comics), Black Coat Press (Jean-Marc and Randy Lofficier) and DC/Vertigo (Swamp Thing). The various licensed foreign reprints of Swamp Thing, including my efforts, are legally licensed through DC/Vertigo, and hence fully authorized, too. Mirage Studios negotiated and completed a buyout transaction of all my Mirage Studios work a couple of years ago, and Peter Laird did the same for Commandosaurs and Terrorsaurs in the 1990s; they can do whatever they choose with that material. Alan Moore, Rick Veitch and I divided up the 1963 properties in 1999, and Rick and I have since negotiated how we’d proceed if a reprint edition were ever viable; Rick and I also have worked out our own arrangements on all our shared ‘Creative Burnout’ stories and art, which is why King Hell is prominent on the list of legit publishers reprinting some of my collaborative work.
If I’ve missed or forgotten anyone or any publisher, I’ll happily update this info.
Left: Steve Ditko’s 32-Page Package: Tsk! Tsk! package and cover art © 2000, 2008 Steve Ditko, published by Robin Snyder and Steve Ditko, May 2000. All book cover images below are likewise © their respective years and 2008, Steve Ditko; co-published by Ditko and Robin Snyder.
Speaking of ‘Nuff said, I received my fat package of Steve Ditko goodies from
Robin and I have been playing a bit of phone tag, so there will likely be more to share once we do get a chance to talk.
Suffice to say among the material in my $200 or so purchased, I discovered and am enjoying the definitive companion reading to Blake Bell’s Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko. Why definitive? Because Ditko has written (and Robin published) his own series of autobiographical essays addressing his collaborations with Stan Lee and work at Marvel Comics. These are essential texts for anyone seriously interested in Ditko’s own views of his own career.
It’s all here, folks, and it’s more maddening than ever that this body of work remains so persistently (one wonders if ‘willfully’ is more accurate) ignored. For those who don’t have $200 to drop in these troubled economic times, allow me to steer you to the primary texts, depending upon your particular orientation to Ditko’s work:
* The August 18, 1999 letter from Stan Lee (on Stan Lee Media letterhead) stating, “I would like to go on record with the following statement… I have always considered Steve Ditko to be Spider-Man’s co-creator,” (ellipses are Stan’s), was originally published in The Comics, November 1999, and is reprinted in Steve Ditko’s 32-Page Package, Volume 5 of the Ditko Package Series (May 2000; 2nd printing, December 2002), pg. 31. This saddle-stitched volume reprints Ditko’s comics-format discussion of creator’s rights that were originally published in various issues of The Comics, July 1999-March 2000.
* The Avenging Mind is another 32-page (plus covers) saddle-stitched collection of Ditko’s essays and comics-format discussions of creator rights, these very specifically addressing Ditko’s body of creative work for Marvel Comics. These originally appeared in The Comics, various issues (2007), including Ditko’s written essay “Toyland” (from The Comics, September-October, 2007), prompted in part by Marvel’s Joe Quesada saying, “These toys are meant to be broken… they’re meant to be thrown against a wall, smashed together, and built back up again…” (Joe Quesada, interview at Newsarama.com, September 10, 2006).
Even more essential to those with an interest in sorting out the various claims over the years proffered about who did what at Marvel in the early 1960s, Ditko’s “Roislecxe,” “Creator or Co-Creator?,” “He Giveth and He Taketh Away,” “Lifting and the Lifter,” “Revealing Styles,” “Martin Goodman/Stan Lee,” “They Are The…,” and “The Mark and the Stain” (pp. 8-28) spells it all out in rigorous detail. As Ditko says from the first sentence of this series of essays, these were written “in response to claims in Stan Lee and George Mair’s book, Excelsior! The Amazing Life of Stan Lee…”, and represents Ditko’s most public airing of his experiences at Marvel Comics and most intensive analysis of the various claims Stan Lee and others have made over the decades (as codified in Lee’s semi-autobiography).
Need I say more?
* Equally — more — essential are the back issues of The Comics featuring Ditko’s essays specifically addressing the Spider-Man years, which incorporate more insights on his work on The Hulk and Dr. Strange. If you enjoyed and value Blake Bell’s book, you need these issues — all of them, as this is Ditko’s own 15-chapter autobiographical account of his relationships at Marvel, with Stan Lee, Martin Goodman, Spider-Man and its supporting cast, and Ditko’s incredibly detailed introspective analysis of all that went down, under greater ethical scrutiny than anyone involved has ever offered. I can only compare this, really, to reading Dave Sim’s accounts of self-publishing. Why hasn’t anyone properly ballyhooed this incredible work? Let’s make up for that right now!
Until Steve Ditko and Robin Snyder collect these in an upcoming volume of the Package series, these back issues of The Comics are what you need: The Comics Vol. 12, No. 5 (May 2001) launches the series with “A Mini-History: Some Background”, which functions as an introduction; “A Mini-History” was composed of “1. The Green Goblin” (Vol. 12, No. 7, July 2001); “2. Amazing Fantasy #15″ (Vol. 12, No. 10, October 2001); “3. The Amazing Spider-Man #1″ (Vol. 12, No. 11, November 2001); “2. The Amazing Spider-Man #2″ (Vol. 13, No. 1, January 2002); “5. The Amazing Spider-Man #3″ (Vol. 13, No. 4, April 2002); “6. Spider-Man/Spider-girl” (Vol. 13, No. 5, May 2002); “7. The Amazing Spider-Man #4″ (Vol. 13, No. 8, August 2002); “8. Others, Outsiders (OOs): Complainers and Complaints Against Betty Brant” (Vol. 14, No. 2, February 2003); “9. The OOs and Aunt May” (Vol. 14, No. 4, April 2003); “10. The OOs and JJJ” (Vol. 14, No. 5, May 2003); “11. Further Complaints and Influences of the OOs” (Vol. 14, No. 6, June 2003); “12. Guest Stars: Heroes and Villains” (Vol. 14, No. 7, July 2003); “13. Speculation” (Vol. 14, No. 8, August 2003); and “14. The Mistrial” (Vol. 14, No. 9, September 2003); “Wind-up” (Vol. 14, No. 11, November 2003).
In this masterwork, Ditko lucidly spells out his every memory of these years, comics and core issues, based on “a rough record of my early involvement with” the characters the Ditko wrote for himself back in 1966 (“Some Background,”, The Comics, V. 12, N. 5, May 2001, pg. 35). Ditko winds up with a pretty (justifiably) caustic assessment of fandom’s role in all this — what should have been done, what was left undone, and the myths that spun as a result of both action and inaction. It’s the most direct imaginable communication from Ditko himself, and a final accounting for anyone who cares — which, judging by the ongoing online discussions of Blake Bell’s book, is much of the comics community still standing.
I’m still absorbing all this material, as you might imagine (the packages arrived Tuesday and Wednesday), but can also add:
* The Comics Vol. 13, No. 11 (November 2002) features Ditko’s essay “The Tsk! Tsk! Forum: …On An Unresolved Issue”, which is of interest to Comics Code scholars, historians and researchers (who should also read the entirety of “A Mini-History” closely, too, for analysis of how the CCA was impacting comics via self-censorship, in fear of the Code refusing certain aspects of writing/art/conception — these are key to the ‘OOs’ Ditko defines and discusses in excruciating detail).
* “The Avenging Mind” essay in The Comics Vol. 14, No. 3 (March 2003) addresses Blake Bell’s ongoing work on the Ditko biography via Ditko’s reaction to Bell’s San Diego Comic Con 2002 panel and explains Ditko’s antipathy to Bell’s efforts and Fantagraphics and Gary Groth in particular. Given the reality of Blake Bell’s book just having seen print, consider this, perhaps, a “pre-emptive” strike, in post 9/11 terms.
I’ll discuss this at length another time; it’s fascinating, addressing head-on the issues implicit in any book on a living artist written, packaged and published without the creator’s participation (“…The Groth/Bell book on me, without my involvement, sanction, is a confession of their dependence, of needing, wanting, what another independent mind/hand can create, produce, achieve on its own…”; pg. 24).
This is heady stuff, and likewise essential reading.
* Finally, if you buy only one of the Ditko comics works Robin has kept in print, make it Avenging World (240 pages, squarebound paperback, August 2002), collecting the current definitive versions (many of which Ditko has corrected/revised from their original publication) of his “Avenging World” stories, comics-format essays and, well, screeds. These were launched in Wally Wood’s venerable self-published artists’ anthology fanzine Witzend (#6, 1969 and #7, 1970) and originally reprinted in the 1973 Avenging World one-shot semi-underground comic, and this collection embraces everything Ditko has done since in the series and this mode of communication, right up to The Safest Place (originally published in color by Dark Horse Comics, 1993). This generous volume also incorporates many of Ditko’s historic Creator Rights essays, and the brilliant “Violence: The Phoney [sic] Issue” essay (“…The issue of violence is a diversion. The issue is helping to hide and yet to assist in mass acceptance of the real evil that threatens everyone…”), and is invaluable for that alone.
Kudos to Robin Snyder –
– for being ‘the last man standing’ as a publisher in regard to Ditko’s core creative and archival work, providing lots of meaty reading and years of discussion ahead.
We’ve got bigger fish to fry in the creator community these days.
I’m utterly sad to say my own state Senator Patrick Leahy supports and co-sponsored this bill, and yes, I have put in calls to his office and spent well over an hour per conversation with his ‘people’ — they just don’t get it. This bill, as best I can tell, will require some further registration of creative works via a process and intermediary position that remains undefined, and invites corporate pirating and theft while limiting “the amount of damages a copyright holder could collect from an infringer of an orphan work if the infringer performed a diligent search for the copyright holder before using their work.”
The existing Copyright Act of 1978 and extant laws cover that just fine, thank you very much, without requiring registration — only if one registers copyrights with the Library of Congress can one litigate for high damages, without being required to register to protect one’s work in the public arena — and this new bill requires further intensive analysis and discussion, which it’s simply not receiving in the current clusterfuck of two wars, a major election, and imploding economies.
Deeper analysis is absolutely necessary.
– that is, since Disney will never, ever, allow Mickey Mouse to fall into public domain, their lobbyists and corporate muscle have so extended the parameters of copyright ownership
that a dilemma now exists regarding works that previously would have fallen into public domain, with all the attendant benefits that legal concept always held in the 20th Century culture.
Alongside this mess, as Rick Veitch pointed out to me this morning, there has emerged a less publicly visible but very 21st Century aberration,
In the name of fighting against counterfeit drugs, pirated songs and bootleg movie DVDs, a new government position is being entertained –
but I tell ya, this all adds up to major corporate media powers shuffling up the deck of US Copyright laws, and amid the hubbub, bub, it’s looking like the food chain is being shuffled as well.
Which brings me back to the difficulties already inherent in protecting one’s rights when publishers like IDW and Dark Horse apparently don’t give a shit, really, and fair use is muscled off the table by major media conglomerates inhibiting free speech about their properties. The last time I had to really tango with this stuff, it was over Kevin Eastman promoting Heavy Metal CD-Rom ‘set’ that wasn’t only proposed, it had been manufactured and was about to be distributed.
I lost a once-good friend in that minor scuffle (ironically saving him from major legal headaches in the bargain), but when it’s the rights to your own work on the line — even if said work is one image, one cover or one story — it’s a fight one has little choice but to engage with.