Why I will NOT be going to see IRON MAN 3

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IRON MAN 3 opened last Friday (May 3, 2013) and, by all reports, make a butt-wad of money.  Something like $175 million.

But my $12 wasn’t part of it.  Nor will it be part of the box office for THOR 2, AVENGERS 2, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, CAPTAIN AMERICA 2 or (just to show that I can cross company lines) the new SUPERMAN movie.  It’s very likely that I will never go to a comic-book based movie ever again.  Or, at least, not one based on Marvel or DC characters.

The reason is very simple: I do not wish to give either company any more of my money.

Let me explain.

I’m a comic book fan from way back.  I was born in 1962 and began reading comics just a few years after that.  (I’d say that my brothers put comics into my crib but I have no proof of that nor have they ever claimed to have done anything like that.)  So I grew up reading comics through the 70’s and 80’s and even kept reading during the 90’s although my taste for the genre was running thin.

Like many others, I watched the old Marvel cartoons in the 60’s and suffered through the painful Marvel movies of the 70s and 80s.  All that time we prayed for good movies to be made about our beloved characters.

Now, it seems, the movie companies are finally getting it right.  Big budgets.  Big stars.  Lots of special effects and characters we’ve been waiting decades to see.

And I can’t enjoy a bit of it.

Because in this orgy of big-time Hollywood excess of slick movies, there’s a group of people who have been forgotten.  You’d be hard pressed to find any articles or press releases about them and they’re certainly not benefiting financially from any of this.

That group is the creators.

The people whose imagination and creativity gave us characters like Spider-Man, Thor, Iron-Man, Captain America, Red Skull, Loki, S.H.I.E.L.D., Green Goblin and all the rest have been mistreated and defrauded by the very companies who reap MILLIONS every year from those creations.

If you are unfamiliar with how the comic book industry worked during the time most, if not all, of these characters were created, I will summarize it.  Comic books were created under a concept called “Work for Hire”.  This essentially means that the company is paying a creator (writer/artist/colorist/etc) a certain agreed-upon rate for their work.  After creation, the company now owns that work and can do with it as they see fit.

That’s pretty much it.  Work for Hire was the industry standard until the 80s when creator (and fan) outcry forced Marvel and DC to begin to offer different incentives to creators like royalties and percentages.  This was partly brought on because, in the 80s, other comic companies were enticing top talent by offering more lucrative contracts to creators.  Contracts that included (in some cases) profit sharing in copyrights.  Although modified, “Work for Hire” is still being used at the major comic companies.

So, what has that to do with IRON MAN 3?  Well, Marvel & DC not only have not financially compensated the creators for the many works that these movies are based on but, in many cases, do not even give them credit for their work.

Much has been written (and deservedly so) about the horrible treatment that Jack Kirby received from Marvel (a company that, by and large, he helped create) and which Superman’s creators, Siegel & Shuster, received from DC Comics.  Kirby went through a long, painfully protracted lawsuit with Marvel regarding the return of his original art (after other artists had received their art back) because, before they would return it, Marvel wanted Kirby to sign away all rights to his work.  Fans stood up and refused to accept this.

Siegel & Shuster were rewarded lifetime pensions in the late 70s by DC Comics.  Not because the folks at DC were such sweethearts (because they weren’t) but because a fan based campaign, begun by artist Neal Adams, shamed them into doing it.  This occurred right before the opening of the first Christopher Reeves SUPERMAN movie at a time when DC  wanted to avoid bad publicity.

These are the two most widely known cases and even these have not been resolved.  Kirby’s heirs continue to fight for credit and financial compensation while Siegel’s heirs have fought a long (and vicious) fight to regain parts of the Superman copyrights.  And there are still others happening right now.

Comic creator Bob Layton took to Facebook this weekend to state:

“I have no plans to see it [IRON MAN 3] anytime soon. Maybe when it comes to cable? I can’t, in all good conscience, shell out money for a movie ticket to the very company that keeps exploiting my work without compensation. It just seems wrong to me.”

There are many apologists for Marvel and DC out there right now.  They regurgitate the oft-heard responses of “they knew what they were signing” and “the companies took the risk, why shouldn’t they profit?”  Both arguments create a sadness within me.

In the first place, in many cases, they had no choice but to sign.  The comic industry in the 60s and 70s was much different than today in that creators did not have a wide choice of who to work for.  If you wanted to make a liveable wage in comics, you worked for Marvel or DC.  If you disagreed about their policies, there was a very good chance you’d never work for them again.  They were ‘closed shops’ where, if you dared to even mention the word ‘union’, you’d be blackballed.  Sure you could work for Charlton (widely known as the worst paying comic company around) but not everybody could work for different markets.  Can you imagine Jack Kirby writing/drawing HOT STUFF for Harvey comics?  You took the work not because you choose to but because you didn’t have any other choice.

Obviously, no one in the 60s ever dreamed that these characters would one day star in multi-million dollar movies.  If they had, they wouldn’t have agreed to those terms and would’ve protected their rights.  Hindsight is, after all, 20/20.  But, in order to protect future profits, Marvel & DC are still, for the most part, “Work for Hire” shops.

The point being that these companies exploited their workers then and exploit them now.  Do they legally owe these creators anything?  Probably not.  Legally, these companies are probably well within their rights not to pay anybody anything beyond the originally contracted amounts.

But ethically is a different story.

Marvel & DC have made fortunes for companies and many executives on the backs of stories about superheroes who did the “right thing”.  They were heroic and protected the little guy and stood up for ‘fair play’ and honesty and integrity.  How sad to find that the companies who published those stories don’t really know what any of those things mean and it makes me wonder if they’ve ever read their own comics.

Did these companies take a financial risk?  Sure, but early on.  They certainly aren’t taking any risks now but continue to reap benefits that they refuse to share in terms of compensation or even recognition.  Would it really hurt these mega-corporations in the long run if they turned around and said, “Thanks, we appreciate what you’ve done for us.  Let us show you how much.”  Think of all the good will that would generate and, more importantly to these companies, the level of talent that they would attract to work for them.

Many comic creators of the 70s and 80s cannot find work today.  They’re still good writers and artists but they’re not getting hired.  The companies will say that their work is “out of style” and not in demand today.  They took the work of these creators and, when no longer needed, shut the door in their face.  Ask Jerry Ordway.  Ask Herb Trimpe.  Men with decades of dependable work who can no longer find assignments.

Obviously, Marvel’s not going to care that they didn’t get my $12 this weekend or that I’m not buying their latest crossover crap or the advertising flyers that pass for Marvel Comics these days.  I don’t even expect anyone reading this to care all that much that Sam Gafford is not going to IRON MAN 3.  But it’s something that I can choose to do and the reason I choose to do it is because of all those lessons I learned while reading Superman comics and Spider-Man comics and Fantastic Four comics and all the others.  Comics that were created by PEOPLE and not a corporation.

I want to go and enjoy IRON MAN 3.  I want to go to the next CAPTAIN AMERICA movie.  But I can’t because Kirby will be sitting next to me along with all the other forgotten creators and so I will respect them and their works by staying home and reading my old comics.

I hope you will do the same.

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About Sam Gafford
My name is Sam Gafford and I've been doing critical work on William Hope Hodgson for many years. I wrote the article "Writing Backwards: The Novels of William Hope Hodgson" in which I presented evidence that WHH wrote his novels in the reverse order in which they were published. I've recently written an article on Hodgson's confrontation with Houdini and am currently working on a book length study of WHH.

2 Responses to Why I will NOT be going to see IRON MAN 3

  1. Ronnie says:

    Thanks for all the great, well thought out points. I agree with your frustration. I think it’s something that impacts the entire mass market entertainment industry. The amount of money made on big budget movies is obscene without any of the other legitimate credit and compensation concerns.

    The only way to fight back is to support independent works and the smaller outfits that show a consistent understanding of the artistic process and value all those who help make it possible.

    The profit-maximization motif of these high end studios also leads to bland storytelling. Gone are the stories that challenged, the dangerous stories. Gone are the nuanced stories that explored all the great questions of humanity, from the mundane to the heavens.

    These stories can’t be told by a corporate dollar mentality that never wants to offend, and so has nothing to say. And then they don’t pay creators, or writers or set construction workers a solid representation of the profit that results from their work.

    So the art these pioneers made is nowhere to be found in the movies of today. Perhaps that is the only solace to take. Their genius is not really being exploited, because all their genius has been lost in so many of these big action, lets fight macho bang punch fall fly crash, oh my god look at the building crumble .. and another building crumble …

    And a couple of explosions. Just one or two.

  2. Pingback: Where Art and Ethics Meet | Diodati L.O.D.G.E.

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