Neal Adams is an award-winning comic book artist who’s penciled everyone from Batman to the X-Men. He’s also a tireless advocate for the rights of comics creators who helped Superman co-creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster win eternal credit for their character back in the ’70s. These days he’s trying to get Marvel Comics to turn over the same kind of credit to another comics icon: Jack Kirby.
Kirby was an artistic force at Marvel throughout the 1960s, where he teamed with Stan Lee to create the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Avengers, the Incredible Hulk and numerous other iconic characters. Frustration over, among other things, his rights as a creator drove him from Marvel in 1970 to take a gig at DC. He later returned, but he never got the full artistic credit he had always hoped for.
By the 1970s Adams was already an important figure in the comics business, both as an artist and as an advocate for creators like Kirby. He helped Kirby retrieve original art pieces from Marvel and even helped Siegel and Shuster win both financial compensation and credit from DC for Superman. Today, on everything from comics to videogames, Superman is always listed as “created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster,” and Neal Adams is part of the reason why.
But the battle goes on to get that same kind of credit and compensation for Kirby. Kirby himself died in 1994 at the age of 76, but his estate—along with the help of people like Adams—continues the fight for financial compensation from Marvel. Marvel has always maintained that Kirby drew all those iconic superheroes on a work-for-hire basis, and that therefore he and his estate are not entitled to any of the massive amount of money that has been generated since then through comic reprints, movies, TV shows, videogames and toys.
Just last summer Marvel won a case against Kirby’s estate in New York District Court. The court found that Kirby was indeed working on a “work-for-hire” basis back in the ’60s. But Adams doesn’t think the fight is over just yet.
“I worry about Marvel Comics because of this judgment. I’m sure, based on his past record, that this lawyer is not the kind of guy who will toss in his cap and call it a day,” Adams recently wrote to Bleeding Cool. “And Marvel, hooked up with Disney…? (Remember when Disney meant Walt?)
“You’re probably like me and you thought/assumed Jack Kirby and family would end up doing at least as well as Stan Lee and family. That would’ve been so good for our business. Nothing crazy. Just, well, fairness. It certainly wouldn’t break the company. Good vibes all around. It would have made Jack and Roz very happy. I just don’t get it. But now? Has this just awakened a sleeping tiger?”
And of course, as Bleeding Cool’s Rich Johnston notes, we have just entered a huge year for Marvel. It’s the year of The Avengers, a superhero team that Kirby helped create. It’ll be hard to keep his name from coming up in 2012, and it’ll be hard to keep the issue of his contributions to the company from being raised, court case or no court case.
So where does Adams think this dispute goes from here?
“If folks asked me… (they’re not, are they?) I would council fairness and a quiet settlement… on human terms.
“We don’t look good to the world with all this rancor. Comic books are still a mom and pop business. I HATE to have to explain all this to fans. We’re all friends here, aren’t we?”