Wednesday, February 15, 2012

MARVEL PREVIEWS 102


YOU DON'T STAND A GHOST OF A CHANCE RIDING AGAINST THE SUPERHERO MACHINE

I love the monthly issue of Previews and Marvel Previews, the catalog of comic books to be released. I keep it by the throne. Read them over and over. The covers are usually the best part of most of these books anyway. Like they say in Lost Boys, "if you read the T.V. Guide, you don't need a T.V." Part 2 of this post will review some of what lies ahead in the April Previews, but first a long winded tangent, a divisive path.

PART 1. THE MOST IMPORTANT COMIC ISSUE THIS AND EVERY WEDNESDAY

Does the world really need another rant on the pitfalls of the corporate comic system? Especially from an artist who can barely get his facts straight? Do I really need to throw my 52 cents in the ring? What do I know about corporate comic companies and royalty contracts? My band once sold a recording of a song to Sony Music in Japan and we had to sign a very lengthy contract and mail them the cassette of the original(still need to get around to mailing that).


Sony's contract had them owning the rights to the physical recording on earth and throughout the universe. They were really thinking ahead. Perhaps Marvel Comics thinks throughout the universe as well. On many occasions it seems like they can't think past their nose, or at least their wallet. Creation and the rewards for creation. Seems a simple thing.

Evidently it is not. Just listen to the viciousness that surrounds Jack Kirby's treatment at the hands of Marvel concerning royalty rights over the characters he created. And now comes the recent case of Gary Friedrich, co-creator of Johnny Blaze, the Ghost Rider, getting sued by Marvel for $17000 because of Friedrich's continued use and sale of Ghost Rider merchandise. Does Friedrich have the right to market this character? He and his lawyer allege the character was created by him and that Marvel held the copyright starting in 1971 but that copyright reverted to Friedrich in 2001 and everything, including royalties from the 2007 and 2011 Ghost Rider movies should be making a pit stop in Friedrich's pockets. Gary sued Marvel in 2007 asserting he owned the rights to the character. Marvel and it's parent company Disney disagree. When you picture a massive Disney lawyer team hard at work on this with their literal Mickey Mouse suits on it's hard to assume Gary has a snowball's chance in hell and that Marvel does, did, or just will, own the rights to this character that Friedrich had a huge part in creating. Let's put it in food terms because more people like food than comic books. Does the starving man have the right to steal a pie from the rich man's window? Well, legally no. But wait, what if he concocted the original recipe for said pie in a dark old age when contracts were fuzzy and a poor baker's options were limited? And when said baker(to pursue analogy till absurdity) went to collect his paycheck it had some line about forfeiting his recipe rights stamped on the back and if he wanted the money he had to except the conditions. or starve.

"if the rich man turns you into an animal, the rich man gets bitten on the leg"

That's a lesson so many Americans can't seem to understand. If you shit upon your neighbor, that act will eventually impede your own comfort. For example Arab Spring. It's easy "Haves", you can support the welfare of the "Have-nots" for reasons of your own personal survival and even profit!

You can be a humanitarian and a selfish prick. It's ok.

Here artist Ty Templeton pokes fun at Friedrich in cartoon form. I did not ask for permission to use this but I don't expect Mr. Templeton will mind cause he might be inviting Forbush Man(the little Marvel character with the pot hat) to sue him if he starts a loud fuss. It's a clever strip, click on it to make it a readable size.

I think Templeton lays out the arguments against Friedrich quite clearly. Except I take issue with one point. Every freelancer could try to sue Marvel, but there are really a limited amount of characters in the Marvel stable that are getting Blockbuster Movie level attention. So really, the lawsuits in this category would be few and far between. Ghost Rider isn't, let's say, Lester Biggs from Templeton's 2002 graphic novel Bigg Time. Ghost Rider Is Big Time.

Templeton also draws attention to the fact that Friedrich is selling his autograph on Mike Ploog prints depicting Ghost Rider. Now, I'm not sure what a comic book Writer is supposed to sign, perhaps he could sell photocopies of his scripts or bits of Ghost Rider poetry or something of that nature. I myself wouldn't mind a personal drawing by Gary as I like drawings by non artists. But it seems writers are kind of up shit's creek when it comes to doing the age old "I'll draw a sketch of your favorite character" routine artists at comic conventions rely on, a small business the Marvel copyright department turns a blind eye towards.

And I won't pass judgement on Gary Friedrich's involvement in the creation of the character as it weighs against editor Roy Thomas's or artist Mike Ploog's input. I'd rather just post a picture. Let's look at the splash page where the world was introduced to The Ghost Rider in Marvel Spotlight #5, published in 1972.


I'll blow that up for you.


I don't think Marvel would have listed it that way if it were not the case. Though their characters do, they themselves don't seem to joke. Ghost Rider wasn't the first moto-hero Friedrich was involved with either. Exactly one year earlier in August 1971 the world had seen the debut of Hell Rider!


"Right on with the Now Superhero!" Hell Rider was conceived by Sol Brodsky, Herschel Waldman and Gary Friedrich in the summer of '70. A character, in Friedrich's words, designed to be "dealing with the human trials of our time". Hell Rider! We need you now! Check out the main character Brick Reese buying a new bike.


It looks like Johnny Blaze after a haircut buying his Ghost Rider motorcycle! Artwork by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. I don't hold these panels up as some sort of evidence that Gary really did or didn't create Johnny Blaze, I just think they look cool. It proves Friedrich was into motorcycles that's for sure. Whether you think he was just a sideline player and Thomas and Ploog were the real Ghost Rider's creators is a matter for the birthers. Here's another panel and Ouch! Check out the language in this book! Gary!


One other issue people seem to take with Friedrich is the "If you wanted to own your creations then why didn't you just self publish!?" line of reasoning. Even today, in the social media saturated world where in theory you can get the word out far and wide quick if you have the connections it's still hard to make a buck off the bulk of it. I can only assume that back in the day if you could even fathom the concept of self publishing you still would have a hard time paying any bills with it's rewards. And for many people not involved in a supportive subculture the only option may have been corporate.


Thanks to Ghost Rider co-creator Mike Ploog and Gary's own writing for that frame from Marvel Spotlight 5.

I've read the comments on various blogs about this case. "Gary Friedrich was a fool, he signed away the rights, let him reap what he sewed. He got his check, fuck him". But come on, the man watches as Ghost Rider 1 grosses $228,738,393 million dollars using a character that was once an idea rattling around in his brain and now he's in need of the 50 bucks I paypal'd him? And especially when he conceived of the character to be a drawing on paper not a living breathing silver screen icon. Give the publisher an inch! What would you do? Friedrich doesn't have much money, or even if he did. You have to try to get a piece of that pie. Ghost Rider should have been his golden ticket. He's already sick, does he have to go blind like Joe Shuster, co-creator of Superman, before the company grants him a pension? Or will it be like Jack Kirby, co-creator of virtually the whole original Marvel Universe, that even after he dies Marvel still won't compensate his family for the massive amount of work he did.


Not to mention Marvel never even returned 1000's of pages of Kirby's original drawings!!! I'm almost surprised they didn't cut off Kirby's hands after he left Marvel for fear they would be used for copyright infringement. I don't know these artists. I don't know the egos of them. I don't know what it was like to try and sit in a room and negotiate with them. But it doesn't matter. If Marvel had given these guys a good quality of life they wouldn't have been an ongoing thorn in the company's side. An ongoing drain on their legal team's time and resources. Pretty simple. It's a story now like David versus Goliath and Marvel better than anyone should understand a story. In this story Marvel is Goliath and a human with half a heart will empathize with David. Even the mighty Avengers deteriorate in the face of public hatred.

Here we have another related panel, this from Hell Rider(which I must admit I messed with a bit in Photoshop. A small nudge, a tiny push, just to A) show off my massive Photoshop skills, and B) Make that Bad Guy sound Extra Bad.) Watch as I Manipulate History. I assume this is the guy that handed Friedrich his check back in '72.


Marvel Comics. I for one can't understand a company strategy of repeatedly punishing those who create characters for you. What kind of incentive is that to grow a pantheon of unparalleled protagonists? As the goliath struggles to carry its own bloat, independent success is on the rise. People are growing tired of Iron Man. Metal Man. Aluminum Man. Tin Can Man. Spider Kid. Scarlet Spider. Spider Soldier. Spider Bite Boy. Iron Spider. Iron Skill-it. WolverSpider. Apple Spider. Spideverine, Benverine, Wolverine's cousin Dick Ravine.

Here's an example of a creator that got away from the big 2. Robert Kirkman! writer/creater of The Walking Dead comic/TV show sensation.(who is being sued by his Walking Dead co-creator and childhood companion Tony Moore over royalty interests. I guess it's better to get sued by a friend than a faceless corporation right? ouch! But wait! Corporations are people too!)



Well, his lawsuit is a whole nother story i guess, though it may too fall under the "power corrupts" banner, but Kirkman wrote Marvel Zombies, a super hero zombie book for Marvel. And it was good. It was fun. Sean Phillips delivered great art for it. So where's the mass appeal TV series? The Marvel Zombie pint glasses?


Ah there probably are Marvel Zombie pint glasses. Take a minute to listen to Kirkman's "Mission Statement" on creator controlled comics right here. It was Kirkman's Image published, self owned work that caught the most fire and captured a greater audience. I don't mean to conflate popular with good. I don't mean to confuse TV sensation with comic book masterpiece. You can't judge a graphic novel by the size of it's beer glass. But getting your work out to a larger audience is a good thing, especially if you can maintain quality control which Kirkman has apparently done. And it's in this self owned situation that Kirkman is financially rewarded and now in place to be even more creative. The artist and thus creativity itself is empowered.

could this be a photo of Gary Friedrich crawling away from the stomping boots of the current Marvel Bullpen?

Now within the confines of it's insular realm Marvel is actually at the top of it's game. It's got a batch of really talented creators telling really great stories. It's producing some insanely profitable and entertaining movies. But it's just not growing outward. Why isn't movie money going back into research and development, pioneering new ideas, taking chances? In April alone it's cranking out 10 Spider titles(including those that are just Spidey's old costumes now their own character like Venom). 16 Avengers titles, and 18 X-men related titles(including Wolverine). Yes it's more than ever, but it's more of the same! The new Avengers movie features characters that are all pushing 50 at least, Iron Man was created in 1963, Thor('62), Hawkeye('64), The Hulk('62), Captain America('41), The Black Widow('64) and Nick Fury('63). I'm not saying that youth is king, but come on. It's a bit embarrassing, a bit geriatric. The Marvel U needs some stimulus. Hell, Viagra is covered by health insurance. Marvel needs to motivate. Put in a gym and a sauna for the employees, Tony Stark will pay the tab with Iron Man 3 in 3D. Imagine a company that actually defends the moral compass it's characters stand for. Imagine a utopian organization that creators beg to get involved with. A company that can be a family for them till their end and their children's end. Imagine the creative juices that would flow towards a company that was truly loved. It would be the super-spring of eternal hero-youth. But alas, evil wins the day, and the real world is no comic book fantasy.


There's the real Gary Friedrich! This scene looks a bit like the cover to Marvel Previews 102. Hero? vs Hero?! You can't squeeze any money out of that man!

This was the page horror writer Steve Niles had made where you could donate straight to Gary to help him raise that $17000. But the site is down. It's a thank you message now. I have heard rumors that many donations came in. I'm not sure why Mr. Niles took it down but it is fantastic he put it up in the first place. You might try Gary's Facebook page to work out a way to give if you play the FB game or send him a check, 5 jeanette Drive, Arnold, Mo. 63010. There is also the Support Gary Facebook page if you just want to swing in and "like" something, check on the news.

So how can the good ship Marvel change course to save both it's future and reward its past? I don't really know. But here are a few rough ideas for both the company and the fanbase to use to affect current policy. Ideas I assume will cause the ripple of a grain of sand tossed into the sea. So jump in, it's time to Occupy The Marvel Universe.

alright that Occupy sign doesn't really relate to anything in my story but it's a really funny sign!

Idea 1, and it's not Icon.

I like the books that have been coming out under the creator owned Icon imprint at Marvel. But it's just the most successful people doing their dream projects, it's not a wild untamed playground. Something that Marvel desperately needs is it's own Vertigo, DC's adult/experimental wing(though Vertigo seems to just shifted to a creator owned situation). Not that I even know what the rules that govern Vertigo are or think it's as awesome as it could be, but I appreciate what it appears to stand for. Here are some guidelines for the Marvel Bullpen's Minor Leagues. Way lower page rates for a higher percentage of royalties and stake in the characters created. Perhaps a right of first refusal where the creator always get's first dibs on working the book that features characters he or she created. It doesn't have to be creator owned, just very well rewarded. It needs to be a raw fucked up environment governed by no laws of the Marvel U or any other U. So it can find it's own path to success. The most astounding concepts can be brought into the Marvel Universe at a later date if necessary.

Idea 2. The obvious and much called for consumer level maneuver.

A huge huge huge amount of energy is put into a national "Boycott Marvel" week. Basically, one Wednesday. Now, will that just punish comic book stores? Maybe. Perhaps if we just pick a book. How about the incredibly original sounding Avengers versus X-men book. Issue 4. Convince your local store to buy only one copy. We'll all read it like in a library and buy some back issues that day. Who actually does sell the bulk of these floppies? Giant supermarkets, fretting over a few pennies on a gallon of milk? Would a blog/twitter/facebook organized boycott do anything? Here's Stephen R. Bissette's views on a boycott and some really interesting Marvel history from an insider. And here's James Sturm over at Slate on his personal boycott of the Avengers movie. And here's a petition from a 2004 Marvel boycott, did it have an impact?

Idea 3. The creators Strike back.

Jason Aaron, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction and Jonathan Hickman take a 2 month hiatus. I know I know, they will probably jump up and say, "We're just the working man! It's not our responsibility! We have kids to feed! They'll replace us!" Look I don't mean to take this lightly and it's beyond a huge thing to ask. These guys are super important to the readers and the story quality but in the eyes of the corporate heads are they as replaceable as batteries?

Idea 4. Creating the way out.

Aaron, Brubaker, Adam Kubert, John Romita Jr, Greg Land, Olivier Coipel and the gang each create a new character for Marvel for a special limited series. "The Dawn of Great Power and Responsibility" or something like that. They create solid property for Marvel to exploit and in return Marvel completely restructures its royalty scheme around the book as a test, which when proved successful is then implemented on it's old properties.

If they use one of Reed Richard's Fantastic Four time gizmos they can have the new scheme in place a few weeks ago ready for the opening of "Ghost Rider, Spirit of Vengeance" and Gary Friedrich will have his $17000 instantly(just before people realize how bad the film is and stop going)

Idea 5, March on Marvel Headquarters,

Maybe it would be a good idea to schedule a parade. Get all the socially awkward comic nerds to don their capes and hawaiian shorts and Surround The House of Ideas! Somebody signal that Seattle real life superhero, Pheonix Jones(though he might want to steer clear of Marvel or he may get sued for something too).

and finally. Probably the easiest solution of all,

Idea 6. This Guy


coughs up the money to support the creator of one of his favorite heroes and also tells Stan Lee to get his story straight on Jack Kirby. Hmmm. Maybe Robert Downey Jr would be a better bet for that second task.


PS. I always preferred the original smooth 70's racing outfit over the 90's heavy metal look. Never been much of a spikes and leather type. Not very practical. As opposed to the practicality of the flaming head.


flame off.


PART 2. SOME OTHER COMIC ISSUES ON THE SHELVES THESE DAYS

So let's delve into part 2(it's shorter than part 1 I promise) of this post by paging through Previews and Marvel Previews. Previews is a monthly catalog of what is available through Diamond Distribution. Diamond is the largest distributor of comics in the States but by no means carries everything. Books with small print runs often do not make the cut. But anyway, here are a few of the upcoming comics we might not be purchasing from Marvel in April cause the more you read about their treatment of past creators the more you want to forget they exist!

AVX: VS #1


What an abstract comic book title. "AVX:VS.#1" I like it. Jason Aaron, hot off the gritty, somber, expansive Native American Vertigo series "Scalped" brings us "Thing vs Hulk!" and "Iron Man vs Magneto!" COVER TO COVER BATTLES!!! Swivel arm battle grip style wrestling matches for sure. Didn't they have this fight a few years back? Civil War!? Wait no, it was actually called The X-Men versus The Avengers! in the late 80's!


The new AVX:VS. 6 issue miniseries is a companion to the new Avengers vs X-Men 12 issue maxiseries, in which I assume Giant Man will die around issue 7. Though I can't totally make fun of it all because Aaron will deliver some interesting drama I'm sure.

ULTIMATES 9


Reed Richards has evolved a new futuristic city in a matter of moments! Whole nations fall to his viral stretch! Esad Ribic brings some of his Heavy Metal/X-Force style art-magic to more mainstream comics! But who cares! The boycott is on!?! Fuck! This comic is a really good one!! How can Marvel be so good, yet so evil??!! The worst part of this issue will be the cover design. Those stupid stripes down the sides of the Ultimates book covers have got to go. Don't squeeze the cover art. I must concentrate on how bad the cover is designed to block the fact that true inspirations may lay waiting within. Focus on Gary.

WINTER SOLDIER 4


One of biggest things I would mourn by turning my back on Marvel would be Winter Soldier. Ed Brubaker and Butch Guice follow up their awesomely dark Bucky in the gulag story from the old main Captain America book (issues 616-619) with this solo book(not quite solo, The Black Widow plays a large role). Guice is at the top of his game and Bettie Breitweiser is delivering a gorgeous color palette. Painterly but not heavy handed. Topped off with Lee Bermejo covers. This book is unique among the Marvel stock. It's stylish.

DAREDEVIL 10.1


10.1! Man are they getting wild with the numbering! Daredevil has been consistent, clever and fun since it's reboot with Mark Waid on scripts. It's a 1960/2012 Daredevil hybrid. Marcos Martin is no longer doing interiors but he provides the striking cover for this issue. Khoi Pham is doing the inside drawings, he's a solid artist in the Marc Silvestri vein. Very readable. Another book it would be shame to bring down. Would these guys team up for a different company for less money? How much money do people make at Marvel?

Lets blow up that little Art Appreciation cover that Marvel has in the the lower left corner there. Additional covers that make you maybe want to repurchase the same book. It's a sneaky scheme. It's nice to know that Marvel Comics appreciates Art.


So whats the main thing that Marvel should be paying attention to as evidence it needs to change its royalty scheme and thinking on attracting new talent and ideas? Why Previews itself.



Let's look at what Image Comics, the current model of creator owned books, is publishing in April.


"America's got Powers"?
This is serious. I mean, Previews calls it a "Gem of the Month"!! ??? ???! ???

but really Bryan Hitch, artist behind the super acclaimed and super good Ultimates 1 and 2 doing a book at Image?

who else is over there?

The intensively creative yet not always coherent Jonathan Hickman, writer of Fantastic Four and the (current,above)Ultimates has a new series "Secret" ongoing as well as "The Manhattan Projects"


David Hine, who has been all over both the Marvel and DC universes(usually in the darker yet more interesting corners. His Inhumans work at Marvel was great, along with his District X series), has "The Bulletproof Coffin:Disinterred" with the mighty Shaky Kane as well as scripting "The Darkness".


Ed Brubaker(Captain America, Winter Soldier) and Sean Phillips(Marvel Zombies) have "Fatale". Usually teaming up under the Marvel owned Icon label for books such as "Criminal" and "Incognito" they are currently housed with Image to pump out their pulp fiction. Also on that Preview page is "Glory", one of the old Rob Liefeld books revamped with a Moebius(R.I.P. love forever) euro sci-fi slant. I think. "Prophet" is another in that category.


Joe Casey, another guy who tends to have a miniseries going at Marvel is writing "Haunt" with the amazing Nathan Fox on art.


Celebrated writer of Runaways and Ex Machina (as well as Lost) Brian K Vaughn has his new ongoing "Saga" housed at Image with Fiona Staples as his art partner in crime.


and of course Robert Kirkman is all over Image.


These guys are major players, and they are doing their major playing elsewhere.

Oh and there is this from Dark Horse. Master artist Richard Corben teaming up with his old creative partner Jan Strnad. Paging through Corben's comics are like eating candy minus the eventual Diabetes.


And meanwhile at Marvel? Let's hold up the list of titles available for subscription from the April 1992 issue of The Uncanny X-Men against this April's Marvel checklist. This is where we are, 20 years later.


Marvel, the USA. Empires in Decline. It's well past time to start investing in infrastructure and looking for alternative energy sources.

8 comments:

Horak said...

YES! What a great read. I sympathize with all of it. Hate Marvel's treatment of Kirby and everybody else but think Ribic and Aaron and all are doing awesome stuff. I hope things are flipping to Marvel/DC being the 'minor leagues' and Image becoming the place where the big boys play. I guess I should just buy Marvel stuff from the quarter boxxx

BK said...

Thanks for writing about these issues in a way that is not deadly serious.

I like your suggestions re: political actions. Might I add, "Dressing up like Uatu the Watcher and standing outside of theaters showing the Avengers movie"?

Beats "Dressing up like Captain America and chaining yourself to the door of the theater showing the Avengers movie."

Also, please note there is an active petition going on the Jack Kirby issue. 1,200 signatures and counting!

http://www.change.org/petitions/marvel-entertainment-give-credit-and-royalties-to-jack-kirby-and-his-family

adamb said...

Great article (or whatever, this seems more substantial than just a "post").

Brynocki C said...

Thanks for reading guys and thanks for the Kirby petition link BK!

shirsch said...

agree with adamb, these are more than just posts. very good but very rare.

i looked at esad ribic on ultimates and realized how much i like dean white's coloring. I think that had a lot to do with how good jerome opena's lauded uncanny x-force art looked. give the colorist some props! i wonder what frank santoro would think about dean white.

Brynocki C said...

yeah colorists need more serious attention. They can make or break the art for sure. Santoro needs to sent into some of these color studios to be a fly on the wall

strfkr said...

B,
I just read the first trade of Bulletproof Coffin. It was very good. A cool story that could easily have been all fucked up.
If you haven't read it check it out one of these days.

Victor Silva said...

Woww!!! I totally got it in a well manner. Thanks keep on.