Nearly one month after what would’ve been Jack Kirby’s 97th birthday, the announcement was made: Concluding a five-year copyright battle, and decades of contention about credit and compensation, Marvel and the Kirby family revealed Friday that they had reached a settlement, just ahead of a conference to decide whether the U.S. Supreme Court would take up the case.
“Marvel and the family of Jack Kirby have amicably resolved their legal disputes,” they said in a joint statement, “and are looking forward to advancing their shared goal of honoring Mr. Kirby’s significant role in Marvel’s history.”
This is, without question, excellent news, and cause for celebration.
As is typical with settlements, the terms of their agreement aren’t made public, and the one-sentence statement gives no indication of how Kirby’s significant role in Marvel’s history will be honored.
Those close to Kirby’s family have been reserved with details. In some instances, they don’t appear to know any more than we do.
Kirby’s son Neal, a party to the lawsuit, has not issued a public comment beyond the short joint statement; nor has his daughter Jillian, who runs Kirby4Heroes, a global campaign celebrating her grandfather on his birthday.
Mark Evanier, Kirby’s assistant and biographer, declined to offer much analysis but was clearly happy for the outcome. “I will be saying nothing about it other that I am real, real happy,” he wrote Friday on his blog. “And I’m sure Jack and his wife Roz, if they’re watching this from wherever they are, are real, real, real happy.”
The Kirby Museum issued a statement saying it was “delighted”: “Although Jack cannot be here to witness this historic moment, we know that, somewhere out there in the cosmos, he is smiling a humble smile of satisfaction at this long-awaited outcome.”
Bryan Munn’s Change.org petition to Marvel Entertainment asking for credits and royalties for Kirby has been mostly quiet for over two years. It was updated Tuesday with the status “Victory.”
Jack Kirby scholar Charles Hatfield, who has been closely tracking the progress of the case, wrote an extensive commentary on his blog: “I hope this will lead to more honest conversations about how Marvel Comics got made, that Kirby’s story will become an official part of Marvel’s story, and that his name will be forever attached to the company’s marquee properties, going forward.”
Hope for how Kirby will be recognized going forward is a common thread among many commenters; perhaps long-sought credit will be given.
DC Comics added a “Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster” credit and, more recently “By Special Arrangement With the Jerry Siegel Family” to the title page of any comic featuring the Man of Steel through agreements with the creators and then their heirs. Will the line “created by Jack Kirby” begin to appear in every comic starring one of his characters? Probably not, considering how much debate surrounds exactly who created what. We might see more prominent placement of Kirby’s name on the credits of movies and TV show based on his characters. Hopefully, we’ll also see more promotion by Marvel of Jack Kirby as a creative force. Seeing his work and his involvement in the creation of the Marvel Universe get featured would be amazing, and appropriate now that his stories and characters are being enjoyed by millions.
Beyond credit and promotion, we can likely presume there’s some kind of financial compensation included in the agreement. That might be the most gratifying part, fulfilling what Kirby always wanted for his family.
Kirby grew up poor. His immigrant parents tried to provide for him but his father’s garment factory job in the Lower East Side of New York City was barely enough. When it was Kirby’s turn to support a family, his ambitions were similar. “My purpose was what my father’s purpose was,” he told The Comics Journal in 1990, “to make a living and to have a family.” He even gave money back to his parents long after he’d moved out and married, at least until he was working for National in the late ’50s, creating Challengers of the Unknown. Later, when talking of his most prolific period at Marvel, in the ’60s, he said, “I was a married man. I had a wife. I had a home. I had children. I had to make a living.”
That sense of responsibility, and wanting to provide, runs through so much of how Kirby responded to the way he was treated by Marvel. Later, when discussing the tension between himself and Stan Lee, and the conflicting stories of who created what, again it came down to how it affected his wife and children. “The only reason I would have any bad feelings against Stan is because my own wife had to suffer through that with me,” Kirby said. “If he hurts a guy, he also hurts his family. His wife is going to ask questions. His children are going to ask questions.” He swallowed all his frustrations because he was trying to make as much money as possible for his family on page rates, with no retirement fund or other benefits. “In short, I did what I had to do to supplement my family.”
For the majority of his career, Kirby had to rely on page rates. When his books were selling, he could at least live comfortably. But there was still no 401K. He didn’t even have his original art to either pass on or sell to create a nest egg. All he could do was produce more pages to bring in more money. And he did, cranking out more pages per day than anyone else is known to have produced.
Now, finally, it seems that work has paid off. Fifty years after Jack Kirby helped create the Marvel Universe, he’s achieved his goal. And to me, that’s the best part.
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