Monday, March 28, 2011

A Letter Worth a Read

Doug: Hey, armadillos, I just saw this over at It's Clobbering Time!, and Josh recommended other bloggers make it known, so here it is: a letter from the widow of Jerry Siegel to the CEO of Time-Warner, owner of DC Comics.

Leave a thought below.


Fred W. Hill said...

She died fighting for truth, justice and what should be the American Way, to be treated fairly and justly compensated for one's work. Unfortunately, greed and exploitation have too often been the overbearing darkside of the American way.

Doug said...

And keep an eye on the Kirby lawsuit against Marvel. Even when the industry is in a downturn, you have to think of the potential value of these characters. We have no idea what the next big thing will be. When we were kids could we ever have imagined the spate of Marvel movies? Or Batman done right? No way. So you never know when the lid is going to blow off one of these characters.

Trouble is, then or now, what creator can afford to self-publish and make a dime without the big marketing machines that corporate America provides? It's certainly a catch-22 -- is Superman big without being owned by DC Comics?


ChrisPV said...

To me, this whole thing is a weird quagmire. On the one hand, it is SO HARD to care about a giant corporation that so obviously is out to screw over anyone in their way. On the other, I always get a little grumpy about this on a legal standpoint. Siegel and Shuster sold the rights to DC back in the day. It doesn't seem fair for their heirs to be able to retroactively regain those rights just because this character became a major cash cow.

Granted, back in the day the creators of comics were treated like so much garbage, so it isn't like they had any kind of legal counsel or anything. I get that, which is why I'm more sympathetic to the folks like Kirby and his family. They knew that, if a character got big, it could become a merchandising cash cow. But Siegel and Shuster had no way of knowing that, and I don't think you could say DC did either. You go back to the 30's, what was to say that this particular guy in a cape would turn out to be a much bigger draw than The Shadow?

My (poorly articulated) point is, I don't like the notion of the family of a creative person being able to renege on contracts because they regret making a legal decision to sell.

The Living Tribunal said...

Fans who agree with the heirs of the creators will boycott DC the same way fans boycotted Marvel when they withheld Kirby's original art, right?!

*crickets chirping*

Doug said...

Chris --

I understand your point completely, and I've waffled on this issue (in its many faces) forever. For example, we never heard a Beatles song used as marketing until their catalog was sold. Once Philips and other companies began to use their music for advertising, there was an immediate effort on the part of the surviving band members to reacquire their property rights. But they sold them in the first place...

Perhaps the main issue here is a sympathetic one, and what Neal Adams has crusaded for for years -- for how long did NPP, then Warner, then AOL-Time/Warner (whoever) refuse to throw Siegel and Shuster a bone acknowledging their contributions to the comics medium? Adams and other worked tirelessly for creator rights, and things are better now than they ever have been. Yeah, I know S&S were given creator credits, an increased pension, etc. But c'mon... the franchise is worth billions.

I think the other thing we need to understand through this is the time in which this originally went down. My recollection of the events is that Superman was created in 1936 -- at the height of the Depression. So two teenagers from Cleveland may have had a skewed view of what appropriate compensation was given their surroundings at the time.

And, I'm still stuck on the question I asked above: does Superman hit it big without an established publisher driving that bus? On their own, Siegel and Shuster never get their creation into the public realm. We'd never know...


dbutler16 said...

Needless to say, this is very sad. I also think it's unseemly for DC. It actually reminds me a bit of Charles Dickens' Bleak House, where various sides fought in the courts for years over an inheritance, and when the case was finally over, the entire inheritance was gone, consumed in legal fees. Thus then, as here, being too greedy and vindictive only benefits the lawyers (as Joanne points out). I'm not entirely on one side or the other, but since the courts have settled in the Siegels' favor, I think it would be nice of DC would simply be gracious losers and drop it. This extra struggle will only make a new settlement more difficult in 2013.
As an aside, I don't know if Joanne had help wiring this letter or not, but it's very well written. I'll bet 90% of the population today could write such a coherent and grammatically error free letter. Condemnation of today's educational system, or am I just a grumpy old man? I dunno.

Doug said...

Comments like that last one, dbutler, are an indictment of teachers everywhere. Hey, man -- I mark grammar and spelling on the history and economics papers I grade ALL OF THE TIME, but I can only control what I give back, not what comes in.

Any discussion of the breakdown in the educational system needs to start with the breakdown of other institutions, like the American family, the church, and the bloating of the American government. After those things are examined and fixed, then we can cross some t's and dot some i's. But let's get basic values in place first, so kids can come to school ready to learn, and have that learning reinforced in the rest of their lives.

Sorry -- sensitive topic to a guy that's always taking arrows.


dbutler16 said...

You're right, Doug, it really all starts at the home. I think parents let the TV and video games do their babysitting, and from what I've heard from my friends who are teachers, you can't tell a parent that their kid has done anything wrong (let alone the parent!). The blame must always lie somewhere else. I know that most teachers are very hard working and want to make a difference, so I'm surely not blaming them. No offense meant, it was really just a general comment that people nowadays don't seem as well read and articulate as they used to be, and I'm not really sure whom to blame, but I think parents are by far culprit #1.

Doug said...

Yeah, sorry to all for the shift in the direction of this thread. We could certainly debate for the better part of the day where blame lies. We'd never get anyone (gov't, parents, students, teachers, administrators) to fully accept their role in the deficiency of the system. I agree it's not working, but some of the talking heads treat it like it's a quick fix. It's not.

My apologies if I came on strong in my response above -- no harm, no foul.



dbutler16 said...

I'm sorry that this has drifted so far off topic. My comment was more that people don't seem to be able to read, write, and organize their thoughts very well anymore. My comment on the educational system was more of a bad joke than a condemnation. As an aside, I remember reading an article a couple of years ago that blamed Sesame Street for the short attention span of today's kids. I think that might be a bit much, but TV in general (and remote controls) is probably partly to blame for that.
Anyway, I hope the Superman mess gets cleared up before a bunch of comics or movie have to get put on hold because of legal wrangling.

Inkstained Wretch said...

Getting back to the question of creator's rights, I am torn here too.

On the one hand, Siegel & Shuster did sell their creation and while they worked for DC (Or whatever it was called at the time) they were well-compensated, according to what I've read. It was only after DC gave them the boot about a decade into Superman's success that they tried to get the copyright back. (And didn't Siegel write for DC well into the 60s despite all of this?)

It may have been a bad deal, but it was the deal they struck. And if every creator was able to scrap a deal after they had signed off on it, where would the entertainment industry be? Why publish or film anything if it can lead to endless re-litigation?

On the other hand, I look at what I just wrote and think, "Geez, you'd say that to an ill, 93 year-old woman. What kind of cold-hearted bastard are you?"

Then, on the third hand, I think: "Nobody involved in this litigation was directly involved in the original deal. We're talking about third and fourth parties on both sides. Only our legal traditions give them any claim to the character at all. Maybe the solution is to put Superman in the public do0main."

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