Writer. Creator. Large mammal.

More on the Kirby Controversy

JayJay here. Someone has stated that Kirby never actually filed a lawsuit against Marvel and has made a number of comments about Jim’s recollections. Here is his reply:

You may be correct, possibly the suit was never filed. I was Editor in Chief, not company counsel. Around the office, the matter was routinely referred to as the “Kirby lawsuit.” We certainly received a barrage of letters and demands from Kirby’s attorneys, many of which I saw.

If Jack and Roz had no interest in suing Marvel, you sure couldn’t tell that from Marvel’s POV. Their lawyers came at Marvel pretty aggressively.

I attended a panel at the San Diego Con, misleadingly titled, which turned out to be a Marvel-bash-fest MC’ed by Gary Groth. I don’t remember the year. ’79? ’80? Thereabouts. Groth opened with a diatribe against Marvel and its horrible unfairness to Jack. Then he turned the mic over to Jack. 

Jack was obviously blindsided by the panel being a Marvel bashing thing. Jack said, in the nicest way, that, yes, he had a dispute with Marvel, but that he didn’t think it should be discussed this way; that it was between him and Marvel, and that he was confident that it would be resolved. 

Groth wasn’t going to let it go at that. He asked his other panelists to chime in. Notable among the panelists were Alan Moore and Frank Miller.  Moore had no knowledge of the Kirby situation with Marvel, but told horror stories about the mistreatment of artists by IPC and other British publishing companies, and supposed that Marvel’s dealings with Kirby were similar. Other panelists also bashed Marvel.

When it was Frank Miller’s turn to talk, though no more fervent advocate for creators’ rights exists, he seemed reluctant to jump on the bandwagon. He even likened the proceeding to a “kangaroo court.” Ask Frank. He saw me in the audience and asked me to speak!

I stood up and echoed Jack’s words. I said that because there were legal issues involved, we really couldn’t discuss the details anyway, and that, like Jack, I thought that the matter should be dealt with between the parties involved, at least at that point.

Roz was also in the audience. She jumped up, turned to me and yelled something about paying Jack his back royalties for Captain America from the beginning.

That got a roar from the crowd. I sat down and listened to another half hour or so of anti-Marvel and anti-Shooter vitriol.

Then at the end, Jack was finally allowed to speak again. He said nothing of the dispute. He just started talking about the joy of creating comics, and the fun he’d had. About drawing and creating and what great times they were. Very sweet. Unforgettable.

Jack’s “reconciliation” with Stan may have lasted only those ten minutes or so during the Marvel 25th Anniversary party, I don’t know.  But they shook hands and were friendly for that time. Jack invited Stan and Joan to the Kirby home and Stan invited Jack and Roz to come to his home. I assume no visits actually occurred. 

John Romita told me that when he, Jack and Stan lived on Long Island — 60’s, I guess, ask John — he, John would sometimes drive them home. He said they would talk stories and ideas, plotting on the fly. The way he told it, they were pretty friendly.

Whatever Jack’s dispute with Jack Schiff was about, and however that played out, Jack wasn’t exactly coveted by DC during the early and mid-60’s anyway. DC editors, like Mort, thought of Jack’s work as crude and, frankly, third string at best. They couldn’t understand why Marvel, with its “ugly” art, especially Jack’s, was gaining in sales. Yes, they were clueless. No, I didn’t agree. I was secretly a huge fan of Marvel and Jack.

At the end of the sixties, the benighted ones at DC had to admit that Kirby was King, and, by then, were happy to have him.  P.S., I had been supposed to take over Jimmy Olsen about then, but I left DC (to go to Marvel, ironically), and they gave JO to Jack.

As far as Stan resenting Jack, yes, I suppose in later years he got tired of the “Jack created everything, Stan created nothing” rants by the Journal and others. Wouldn’t that annoy anyone?

I worked closely with Jack and I worked closely with Stan. Taking nothing away from Jack, his brilliant work and his amazing creativity, I can assure you with great confidence that Stan was no second fiddle.


Secrets of the Secret Wars


Questions and Answers


  1. Shane

    I know this post is very old but I was rereading it and then came across a Sequential Tart interview with Gary Groth. I included an excerpt below. Does it sound like Groth is finally mature enough to understand what Shooter was dealing with all those years ago? Sounds like he doesn’t think he could even get the creator’s rights improvements done that Shooter did. Oh, & I think it was from ’00, so regardless of how one feels about the quality of the books, I think it is safe to say,so much for that sinking Marvel ship…

    ST: You wake up one morning and discover you’re not the head of a small but highly respected company ‘ you’re the president of Marvel Comics. What do you do?

    GG: Commit suicide?

    That’s a funny question, but the interesting reductio absurdem, I think, is that neither I nor anyone else, irrespective of our good intentions, could do anything salutary in that position. You can’t turn the clock back; you have stockholders whose profits must be your highest priority; you have a dwindling, middle-aged fanboy customer base; you have a megalomaniacal celebrity professional base who must be continually pampered, which is increasingly hard to do in a penny ante business And so on. It’s hopeless, really. Anyone who thinks he can subvert this corporate behemoth from the inside and turn out good kids’ comics is deluding himself. All we can do is watch it sink.

  2. Dear Jim and co.,

    Re: the question of “The Kirby Lawsuit”

    Thanks for this very interesting material.
    It is clear that Kirby should have had some substantial recompense from Marvel during his lifetime for the huge input he had to the company’s success.
    (Though this was long before Marvel was the millions-of-dollars-earner that it later became.)
    It is great that the Kirby family has reached a settlement now with Marvel/Disney which they are happy with.

    But one particular point has bugged me over the decades.
    I remember reading many years ago – in the old days when everything you read was on paper, not a screen – an interview with Roz Kirby.
    (Or extracts from an interview.)
    This may have been after Jack Kirby’s death.
    What particularly bugs me is that I have never been able to find this interview in the years since.
    And yet it covered a key point in the whole Kirby artwork controversy, which this blog now returned to in 2011, but I have just now read.

    Roz Kirby was challenged – in this “lost interview” – over the issue of Kirby’s lawyers suing Marvel for character copyrights (after the new 1976 law on freelancing and copyright came in).
    She said words to the effect of:
    “I didn’t lie about this.
    I was asked, did we take Marvel to court on this issue?
    And I denied it.
    Because we didn’t take them to court.”
    The interviewer, IIRC, pushed this question, and Roz Kirby admitted (again I don’t have an exact quote)
    something like:
    “Letters were sent from our lawyers asking for copyrights in the characters Jack created/co-created.
    But that is different from going up against Marvel in court.”

    So if the question is,
    did Jack Kirby take legal action against Marvel under the new 1976 law, to claim copyrights in those major Marvel characters?
    the answer has to be yes.
    And it is clear that Marvel’s “singling out” of Kirby for individual treatment in the matter of artwork return could have stemmed entirely from that fact.
    (Leaving aside the question of whether Kirby’s own lawyers might have insisted that he signs. More detailed release, which is new to me.)

    If anyone has that Roz Kirby interview that I’m speaking of, it would be great to share it.

  3. There is always two sides to every story, and I agree with Jim's belief that making comics is a job. Like any other job, you work as hard as possible to get it done right and timely.

  4. Jim has most of it right, but time does get fuzzy. I think 85/1986 was prolly the Groth panel. The 25th Anniversary was 86, but I'm not sure if that panel was the same year.

    I remember we had to hold on to Jack's artwork (I supervised the art return people) for so long because of the legal stuff going on. We really really!! wanted to return it to him, and that's what we told everyone.

    (who ran the 25th anniversary parties, so much fun)

  5. Dear Jay,


  6. Jay

    Y'know… it's nice to see you taking to the blogosphere and being open about the good, the bad and the ugly of your extensive experience in the business as well as sharing your vast knowledge of storytelling concepts.

    I honestly was only peripherally aware of "Jim Shooter, Editor in Chief" as a comic reader in the 70's and then came to know you more in the 80's as the guy who was behind the screwing over of Jack Kirby, as told in every freaking comic related news-ish magazine. -Don't worry..I'll get to the point eventually.-

    Like most people back then, I knew only what was being fed to me and never really got to hear both sides of the story. Truthfully, Jim, at that time, going on what was being told, I was one of the legion of Shooter haters and when news hit that you had been fired by Marvel…well…I'm kind of ashamed to say it now but I did a little happy dance and sang Ding Dong Jim Shooter's Gone along with lots of other people.

    Along came the 90's and Valiant. With that, while I still was immensely bothered by the things I believed you did to keep Jack from getting his due, I also came to see that you actually could write some awesome stories and with the help of the dozens of other people at Valiant, created comics that were leaps and bounds above the gunk Marvel and to a lesser degree, DC, were putting out.

    It was also during that period when your side of the Marvel vs. Kirby story began to spread. Yeah, almost everyone said it smelled like a massive pile of BS, but like you've said – people need heroes and villains and seeing the hated villain saying essentially "It wasn't me!" was tantamount to the old world church being told the Earth was NOT flat and was met with similarly unpleasant reactions.

    Still, as time progressed, I began to be able to put pieces of the puzzle together and could accept your stance as maybe not being a pile of BS whose height rivaled that of the Sears tower. I even began to argue those points when the subject of Marvel vs. Kirby came up at the local comics shop and believe me, as a hardcore Kirbyfan, no one was more surprised than I was, to hear me supporting any of the evil Jim Shooter’s words. Didn’t matter though, ‘cuz sometimes you just have to be honest with yourself and admit that things you learned may not always be 100% based on fact.

    There is a lot more to the story but I won’t bore you with any more of it right now.

    Really, this letter had started out to be simple thank you for continuing to share your side, your personal view of how things went down in that period of time. Knowing that you were able to brush off or ignore the misplaced anger of so many people and continue moving forward says a lot about your strength of character.

    Jay Jadofsky

  7. Peter is correct, we did win the trivia contest the year he's talking about. Ralph blew it the first year, the year before. I, by the way, did not compete in the contests but cheered from the sidelines.

  8. Funny. When I first wrote the reply, I included a disclaimer about how I was not present behind closed doors when the Kirby matters were discussed. But then google swallowed the post and I rewrote it, and the second time I forgot to put that in. Ah well.

    I did not however, forget who won the trivia contest. Jim might be recalling a different year, but I remember quite clearly that we won because DeFalco was able to name all the superhero identities of the Archie characters.


  9. In his comment number two, Peter may be mixing up the artwork returns that took place between 1975 and 1978 (before Peter worked at Marvel) with the end game of the legal wrangling with Kirby eight years later.

    While Kirby was under contract, he signed the same form as everyone else. Later, after all the legal maneuvering, in response to Kirby's lawyers demands for proof that Marvel owned the characters and the artwork, Marvel finally provided them copies of the large pile of documents Kirby had signed affirming Marvel's rights. These included a document he signed, and was compensated for signing by Martin Goodman, when Goodman was selling Marvel to the company that became Cadence Industries. Goodman needed to prove that he owned what he was selling. Also, there was a document, again, signed in return for compensation, signed when Dick Ayers was suing Marvel regarding rights. The purpose was to counter Ayers' claims. That document included, as I recall, an itemized list of everything Kirby had ever done for Marvel, attesting that all of it was work for hire, that Marvel owned it, and supporting, therefore, the concept that all work done by anyone was work for hire, owned by Marvel. Then, there was the contract for the Silver Surfer graphic novel he did with Stan, which included affirmations that all work he had ever done for Marvel was work for hire. Then there was the 1975-1978 employment agreement, which had similar language.

    Jack's lawyers were given to believe that he was Charles Schultz and that Marvel had stolen Snoopy. The reason the legal wrangling ended was that the pile of documents made it clear that such wasn't the case.

    Then the issue was Jack getting old artwork back, and demanding sole credit for creating Spider-Man and everything else. As I explained earlier, we sorted that out. Yes, his lawyers wanted a special agreement for the artwork return. I resisted that, because I had promised Steve Ditko that everyone would be treated the same, and I know for a fact that Jack signed the same damn document Steve did.

    I think Peter is incorrect regarding the winner of the trivia contest. Marvel lost, because Ralph Macchio could not name the town Donald Duck lived in. Yes, Duckburg.

  10. Know this: I believe that Marvel is legally correct, that Jack signed away his rights and that the company owns everything. I also believe that Marvel is morally wrong, and reprehensible, in fact. The right thing to have done would be to share with Jack the bounty that his brilliance produced. It would have been smart business, too. The PR value alone would have covered the cost. And the money wasted on lawyers…? Unbelievable.

    My European friends are amazed that this country does not afford creators droit moral. Me too.
    My Grandma used to say,"Right is right, and wrong belongs to no man." I say right isn't always right. Jack was King, and deserved far better than he got.

    Peter wasn't privy to what went on with the lawyers and top execs at Marvel. He was an assistant in the sales department. He had no way of knowing what was going on upstairs, at the offices of KQ&R down in the Battery, or in the board room in West Caldwell—except maybe, hearsay, third hand. I was a VP, and I was the go-to guy for the lawyers and corporate brass when they needed to know anything about comics—for instance, what inking was or, say, who the hell Gene Colan was. I was in the meetings with the lawyers, I was at board meetings. He heard. I know.

    However, Peter has most of it right.

    And, by the way, he's a charming, wonderfully witty and talented fellow.

    Kirby, like everyone else, got back pages of art during the three years he was under contract to Marvel from mid-1975 through mid-1978. Roy instituted the artwork return program in effect at that time. Kirby signed the same one-page artwork return document as everyone else during that time, and he signed nearly 200 of them. Each one affirmed that the artwork being given him was a "gift," and that Marvel owned all rights to those books and everything else he had ever done for Marvel.

  11. I've read over Jim's comments. I've read over Groth's. Both of them touch on things about which I have personal knowledge. I've discussed these matters from time to time over the years whenever anyone asks about the Kirby art return imbroglio (yes, people interested in the historical aspects still do ask) so I'm not presenting anything new here. But I figure I'll share them with you, since I was working in direct sales at Marvel at the time and so hand some first hand knowledge.

    1) It is technically correct that Marvel produced a four page document for Kirby to sign for art returns, but that is only a fraction of the story. Initially Marvel not only had no trouble giving Kirby the same one-page release that they gave everyone else, but Kirby had no trouble signing it. I know because the person who was handling art returns told me so at the time. Kirby got back lots of pages of "Eternals" and "Devil Dinosaur" before the disputes over the earlier pages erupted.

    2) It was Kirby's own lawyers/handlers who told Marvel that Kirby would no longer be allowed to sign the short form. Instead they insisted that Kirby be given a detailed release that spelled out everything he was agreeing to. Why? Purely speculation, but maybe Kirby's lawyers were laying groundwork to make a move on the character rights. So yes, Kirby was given a separate form to sign, but only because his people asked for it. Marvel would have been perfectly happy to keep giving him the same release as everyone else, just as they had been, if he'd been willing to keep signing off on them, just as he had been.

    3) Jim was indeed at a Kirby panel where it was suggested that Marvel reps be hit with 2 x 4s. I know because I was seated directly two rows behind him. Initially I was annoyed that his head blocked my view; once the threats started, I was glad I wasn't visible behind him. I also remember a Marvel vs. DC trivia competition where I was on the Marvel team during the height of the Kirby hostilities. We won. The audience booed. Good times.

    4) Jim recalls a letter from Kirby's lawyers insisting that Kirby be given full and sole credit for creating a host of characters, including Spider-Man. Groth says that such a letter never existed. Groth is wrong; Jim is right. How do I know? I saw the letter. I was stunned. The list of characters was massive, and yes, it included Spider-Man.

    Take those recollections for what they're worth.


  12. Groth's latest hit piece is actually titled:

    Jim Shooter: Groundhog Day in the Land of the Apocryphiars

    After 2 of my 1st responses were rejected, one of them where I quoted Alex Toth's parting shot to Groth before he hung up on him: F*** you, Gary", they did end up posting my 3rd:

    "I'm surprised by this hit piece, Groth has always been so fair and honest about Shooter.

    Oh, and Islam means peace."

    Groth really comes off like a comic book fan who chose professional criticism over creation when he realized that he wasn't even talented enough to make bad comics.

  13. Hey, there's a GREAT article about all this over at The Comics Journal–I know, I've never heard of 'em either–entitled "Jim Shooter, Our Nixon". It's really worth a read, you guys!

  14. I know that Jim has received a lot of grief as the "face" of Marvel during the Kirby controversy. I believe that he did all he could to be fair to Jack.
    In the middle of that era, I remember attending Comic Con at the old convention center. While waiting for a panel to begin, I peeked through the curtain to take a quck look outside. I saw Jack and Jim leaning on a rail and talking out of sight of everyone. I could see that they were cordial and respectful of each other. (Out of respect for their privacy, I didn't tell anyone at the time.) However, that made me realize that Jim wasn't the evil guy that some were making him out to be.

  15. Yeah. It is not ignoble of a Kirby/Ditko etc who are pretty much a cornerstone if not the bloody foundation of the crappy Marvel comics you still buy to bitch about not getting a fairer share. If Stan were "The Man" he'd at least speak up in their favor, not mumble some canned response in order to protect his interests. This way he'd regain a bit of his credibility lost on such recent projects as Stripperella, the soon to be ignored Governator and…just about anything else he's done since the 1980s

  16. Steve and Jim are similar in that they're well aware of the contracts they're signing. AFAIK, Steve has never asked for more than his fair due for Spider-Man. There are apocryphal stories that purport that Steve refused payments previous to the recent films, not because he wanted more, but because he didn't feel he was due more than he'd been paid. He was interested in creator credit alone, which he has indeed recieved.

    Jim told a story at Baltimore (Which he may choose to tell himself soon, so feel free to edit this bit out of the comment) a couple years back in which he was advised that since he created all those Legion characters when he was a minor, his WFH agreement was null and void, and he could, if he wanted, move to reclaim copyright for them. He said he knew perfectly well what he was doing at the time, was not taken advantage of in any way, and never took up said opportuinity.

    (I'll lay odds that even though Bob Wayne whimsically asked Jim to sign a document attesting to that fact at the panel, DC's legal department has indeed asked him to do so, juuuust in case.)

  17. 1986 sounds right. Jim and I were just saying yesterday there was probably a way to find out what year it was. Niether of us could remember.

  18. Alan Moore has only attended the 1986 San Diego Comic-Con.

  19. If anyone doubts the importance of Stan to the mix, I recommend reading The Essential Thor. There's a very noticable jump in quality once Stan takes over the scripting. Creative teams with friction is all too common, and not just in comics (witness how many comedy duos or rock bands have ended badly). At the end of the day what probably really matters is that for an all-too brief period of times, two creators at the top of their game worked a kind of magic neve seen before or since despite numerous attempts to capture that style.

  20. I could be wrong, but it almost seems from your blogs that Jack Kirby's wife had a great deal of influence over the whole thing between Kirby and Marvel. How much influence do you think she had? Do you think things could have worked better without her involvement?

  21. Regardless of who was right and who was wrong (and who occupied the vast gray field in between), I will always be thankful to Mr. Shooter for manning the helm at Marvel during my Golden Age of Comics.

    — MrJM

  22. I read a piece Steve Ditko wrote about his role in co-creating Spider-Man. I set it down thinking Stan really did deserve the lions share of the credit. These guys knew the terms of what they were being paid to do. I'm 100% convinced of that. I'm also convinced that Jack was frustrated that he contributed so much and prospered so little compared to the corporate Marvel. We remember Jack for those creations because Marvel used Jack's ideas wisely and did something with them. Jack's name was marketed along with the product. I truly believe that Jack's name would have faded into oblivion without Stan Lee. He had many years before and after his collaboration with Stan to duplicate the success.

  23. Thanks for the quick yet detailed response to the critics.

    Given Alan Moore's participation on the panel, I guess the San Diego Con incident you describe might have occurred after 1983 since Moore didn't start writing for DC until that year.

  24. A well said response to a difficult situation. Kudos to you for not jumping in.

  25. Way to go Mr Shooter too many times people place there own agenda ahead of the facts glad your around to tell it like it is/was. Appreciate your work and glad you helmed Marvel during my hayday of reading comics.

  26. I always felt you got the short end in all of those arguments and disputes.

    Love the new work on Magnus and Solar.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén