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More on Steve Gerber, Howard the Duck, and Omega the Unknown

I was going to do this in the comments to Brad Curran’s post from yesterday, but I felt like reminding everyone that I have posting privileges here.

So. As I said in that thread, I strongly sympathize with Steve Gerber’s attempts to gain some measure of control over the characters he created while working for Marvel, including Howard the Duck and Omega the Unknown.

Of course, I’m a little biased. Gerber is my favorite writer to work in the comics factory system, ever, period, full stop. And, on the other hand, I don’t have any particular attachment to Marvel as a brand. I like plenty of Marvel product, from Joe Maneely’s stuff back in the fifties to Supervillain Team-Up: Modok’s 11, but I certainly dig plenty of Marvel’s characters. But I don’t have any particular loyalty to Marvel Comics.

So now that I got my cards on the table, lemme provide some context, starting with this summation of Steve Gerber’s Howard the Duck lawsuit. This is coming from estimable comics historian and writer Mark Evanier, so it carries a little more weight than anything I could say.

*Hey Mark;
*When I first started working at Bell Labs, I signed a document that stated
*anything I develop while under AT&T’s employ is owned by them. Is there a
*similar document for comic pros. I was under the impression that there
*was. If so, then Gerber really didn’t have a leg to stand on. Unfortuneately
*the same could be said for Kirby and many others. What’s the story here?
*Bob Rex

ME: You were an employee, Bob. They probably gave you vacation time, a health plan, other employee benefits. They bought your TIME so they owned whatever was created during it, especially working in their offices and with their equipment.

I’m a professional writer. I am self-employed. I work in my own office (paid for by me) on equipment I bought. I create work which I sell to various publishers…this script to DC, that one to Marvel, etc.. I get no vacations, no health plan…they don’t even deduct taxes from my check. When a company pays me, they are paying for a specific script with a specific contract with rights that we specifically negotiate. Obviously, since I work for several companies at a time, no one company can claim ownership of all my ideas.

Jack Kirby and Steve Gerber worked for Marvel on the same basis. On top of that, Jack was paid only for artwork…which raises some question as to how Marvel could claim ownership of story ideas he contributed.

They also did not sign the kind of contract you signed with A.T.&T. Some years ago, when there was the famous dispute between Marvel and Kirby over the return of his original art, Marvel was trying to require him to sign that kind of a deal; in fact, they wanted him to sign a paper that said verything he had created for Marvel in the last fifty years was their property and everything he would ever create in the future would be theirs. In other words, the “contract” was not presented to him, as yours was, BEFORE he did the work. (Jack ultimately signed a much scaled-down version of the contract.)

I understand your question and it’s a good one. The answer is that there is a difference between an employee and a free-lancer. (PLAYBOY just lost a huge lawsuit in which they were claiming ownership of a free-lancer’s work.) Even though Kirby and Gerber may have been doing all their free-lance work for Marvel at a given point, they were still free-lancers.

Does this clear it up for everyone?

Link here.

As to the results of the lawsuit: Well, there was a court decision, and Gerber does not own Howard the Duck. On the other hand, Marvel is supposed to put “created and written by Steve Gerber” in all books featuring Howard. And that’s pretty much all we know: The exact details of the arrangement between Marvel and Gerber have never been disclosed.

And just to muddy the waters a bit, artist Frank Brunner claims to have co-plotted Howard the Duck for a few issues, and I’ve never heard his claim disputed. So Gerber claiming to be sole writer seems to be untrue.

Moving on: Gerber’s Moral argument is a little more complicated. This was originally printed on the Howard the Duck Yahoo Group, and reprinted in Rich Johnson’s Lying in the Gutters.

As best I can tell, Jonathan is a very nice guy who was acting with the best of intentions. His interest in reviving OMEGA comes out of passion for the material, not purely monetary considerations.

“I misjudged him, and I offer my sincerest apologies.

“That doesn’t change my mind about the OMEGA revival itself, however. I still believe that writers and artists who claim to respect the work of creators past should demonstrate that respect by leaving the work alone — particularly if the original creator is still alive, still active in the industry, and, as is typically the case in comics, excluded from any financial participation in the use of the work.

“Over the last decade or so, it’s become the trend in the industry for creators just to let these things slide. By lodging even an informal protest, a creator always risks appearing pathetic and whiny to the fans or threatening to a current employer. No one wants to be thought of that way.

“Remaining silent, however, would implicitly condone the comic book industry’s business practices up through the early 1980s and the means by which publishers claim to have procured ownership of characters and story material in those days.

“Remaining silent would also perpetuate the fiction promulgated by publishers that ‘we all knew’ what rights we were supposedly giving up by signing our paychecks. (In those days, the publishers’ favored instrument for acquiring rights to material was a one-party ‘contract’ printed or stamped on the back of a writer or artist’s paycheck. This so-called ‘agreement’ set forth terms of employment that were rarely if ever agreed to by the writer or artist prior to the start of work.) The truth is, we didn’t all know. Most of us had no idea, until the Siegel & Shuster case came to light again in the late 1970s. (In fact, there are serious questions regarding the ownership of ‘Omega The Unknown’ that Marvel has probably never thought to ask.)

“When a writer of Jonathan’s stature agrees to participate in a project like this, he also, intentionally or not, tacitly endorses the inequities of the old system. I’ve tried for a couple of decades now to convince the rest of the industry that those inequities will end only when writers and artists — whether celebrities from other fields, like Jonathan, or longtime comics professionals, like myself — say ‘no’ to projects that make no provision for the original creators. I’ve failed. I find that endlessly frustrating.

This post is a follow-up to his original diatribe, which was impassioned but came off as rather silly, even to a huge Gerber-booster like me. (Gerber calls Lethem’s actions “unforgivable” and states that he has “made an enemy for life.”)

In a recent interview with Wizard Magazine, Gerber says:

So, look-coming at this in a very general way-it would just be really nice if, in the case of a character created by someone who is still living and still active in the industry, the publisher would think to approach the that person and say, “Hey, we’d like to do something new with this character. Would you like to try it again?” How much effort does that take? How much does it cost in editorial pomp and self-importance, especially weighed against the good will it would create?
*SNIP*

Now, the Omega matter happened slightly differently. As I understand it, when Marvel approached Jonathan Lethem about writing for them, it was Jonathan who inquired about Omega. Marvel said fine, but the idea didn’t originate with them. It still would’ve been nice of them to call, but the truth is, they were never going to say “no” to a New York Times bestselling novelist in order to get a new Omega book from me.

I want to add, by the way, in regards to Omega, that Marvel and I did manage to reach an accommodation about that character and a couple of others. In the end, they were very reasonable about it, and I consider the matter closed.

Now it would be petty of me to opine as to who did or did not get paid off, especially when I have no source to back up any such speculation. Still, it would be really interesting to here what steps were taken by Marvel to achieve equitability in Gerber’s eyes.

He also adds on the Howard the Duck Group.

As I recall, I only requested that the books not be discussed here. If I did suggest boycotting any or all of them, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have. I’m not crazy about the idea of boycotts in general because of what happened to Void Indigo.

Buy and read whatever you like.

Fair enough. But I’m still boycotting… Well, OK, I probably wouldn’t care much about Howard or Foolkiller. But I would’ve picked up Omega, because I am an absolute insane, drooling F-A-N-B-O-Y of artist Dalrymple’s Pop Gun War.

Some of this is simple loyalty. Gerber has made some very positive contributions to my headspace, and I OWE him.

But it’s ALSO true that I have a lot of sympathy for Gerber’s position. If a corporation owes it’s existence to the intellectual property created by it’s freelancers – Hell, property created by it’s employees – It, morally, should acknowledge these creators. Even beyond a one-time paycheck.

And, on the other side, it’s certainly fair for the creators to say “Hey. These characters would not exist without our contributions.”

But this can certainly seem like a betrayal to mainstream fans, who’s loyalty to the Marvel Brand often (usually?) far exceeds their loyalty to individual creators.

(Which, honestly, has always struck me as somewhat bizarre, and I wonder why this doesn’t translate to other media. I only watch movies from New Line! Paramount is teh Suxxors!*)

Still, Gerber’s “demands” seem very reasonable. A phone call or an e-mail sayin’ “Hey. We’re hauling your toy out of the toybox. Is that cool?” Even thinking from Marvel’s POV this seems to be a fair compromise in return for a marketable intellectual property. Doesn’t seem to be a bad deal for keeping a still-active and still somewhat popular creator happy, either.

And, more importantly, it would send the message that creators AND their creations are valued. Marvel has historically been slightly ahead of the curve in this area. And simple gestures of appreciation in this area could cement the House of Ideas current reputation as a company that gives a shit about it’s creators.

What am I missing?

How is this not a win-win deal for both sides?

Closing Thought One: Current creators seem far more savvy about the pitfalls of signing over their creations to corporate owners than those from the seventies and before. And I’m wondering if the Gerber lawsuit didn’t play some part in this. If so, it seems hard to argue that the lawsuit was not a Very Good Thing for the industry.

Closing Thought Two: On a more universal note, it seems like an easy gesture of respect to list the creators of the primary characters in any comic. (IE: Doctor Fate originally created by Gardner Fox and Howard Sherman. Current version created by Steve Gerber and Matthew Sturges.)

* OK, to be perfectly honest I’ve got a decent amount of loyalty to the Fantagraphics brand. (Except for the stuff by people I hate.) So I shouldn’t make TOO much fun of you Marvel Zombies.

94 Comments

How is this not a win-win deal for both sides?

It is, there’s just no motivation for Marvel to do it, because they’ve already got the “win” side in the argument.

Win-win or win-lose, Marvel wins.

Some good points in there, Mark, but what happens if Marvel asks Gerber to get his toys out of the sandbox, as you suggest, and Gerber says no? Do they push ahead anyway, secure in their belief that they own the character? If so, why bother asking?

Certainly, though, Gerber’s case seems stronger (morally, anyway) than many others. Superman and Batman, for example, became as succesful as they are because of the creative contributions of many more people than just Siegel, Shuster and Kane; whereas Howard and Omega are pretty clearly the result of Gerber’s singular vision.

[...] [Commentary] Mark Andrew looks into creator Steve Gerber’s complaints over new revamps of his original series for Marvel, Howard the Duck and Omega the Unknown. [...]

If Marvel were to call Gerber in such a way, it could be brought into evidence in a lawsuit as an instance of Marvel acknowledging Gerber’s rights as a creator in some way. I’m fairly certain Marvel’s legal department would never allow them to make such a call.

If they called Steve Gerber and asked him how he felt about an Omega revival, or offered him the book, that would not put them in any legal quandry. Gerber could say whatever he wants, and Marvel could go ahead and do whatever they want regardless.

Omega and Howard are characters Gerber put his heart and soul into. They would not exist without him, and don’t read right when not written by Gerber. Imagine 100 Bullets written by someone else, or Hitman (which has happened,in Resurrection Man and Sovereign freaking Seven, and it didn’t work).

If he created the characters in the ’90s, Marvel could come to an arrangement similar to those Vertigo creators have received (e.g. Gaiman & Sandman). I’m not clear if the relationship includes part-ownership or a “hands-off” clause. Still, no one has written a Preacher story or a Transmetropolitan story since those series ended.

Marvel’s at least respected specific creators and their creations before. For several years, no one wrote an Elektra story besides Frank Miller. Thanos & Adam Warlock were out of the Marvel universe for almost a decade, until Jim Starlin came back to Marvel. Marvel probably has the right to publish Howard & Omega comics, but they come off as being disrespectful to the man who created them. (see also: Elektra being revived in the mid-’90s)

Someone else writing 100 Bullets might bring me back to the book. It’s been all downhill after the first two years. (Don’t get me wrong, I agree with your point…)

Given Gerber’s statement:
“…it would just be really nice if, in the case of a character created by someone who is still living and still active in the industry, the publisher would think to approach the that person and say, “Hey, we’d like to do something new with this character. Would you like to try it again?””

It is also possible that marvel did not approach him re. the Omega revival not only because he might say ‘No,’ but also because he might say ‘Yes,’–in other words, insist on doing it himself.

I am not defending Marvel; I am just trying to interpret their process.

[...] Obviously, there are a lot of people who feel very strongly about all this. Gerber is one of the most beloved writers in comics, both for his work in the past, and the excellent work that he continues to put out. Mark Andrew over at the very wonderful Comics Should Be Good blog is talking about things in the most level headed way I’ve read so far, although I really must disagree with his decision to boycott the two books. I think, as important as it is to support creators like Gerber win the recognition they deserve – because, really, a little header that credits him at the start of the book is a pretty token gesture – the implications of not supporting the work of people like Lethem and penciller Farel Dalrymple on Omega is also something that shouldn’t be ignored. This book is so out of the ordinary in terms of art and writing for Marvel that people should be putting their hands up and supporting it so that we can foster new and interesting talent in the mainstream. [...]

Am I the only one who sees the irony in demanding creator’s rights to a parody?

“(Which, honestly, has always struck me as somewhat bizarre, and I wonder why this doesn’t translate to other media. I only watch movies from New Line! Paramount is teh Suxxors!*)”

Congratulations, you’re the 10,000th person to say that as if it was something clever. To state the UTTERLY OBVIOUS distinction: every Marvel (or DC) story is, implicitly or explicitly, part of a larger ongoing narrative. This also means that in a very real sense, they’re produced by “Marvel” as much as by the people who write and draw them.

And plus, it does translate to other media – look at video games!

“Nintendo is teh kiddy! Sony is teh mature!”

Admittedly, that’s more about the hardware than the companies as publishers, but when you’re talking about Nintendo, you’re pretty much talking about their first party games anyway. So the point stands.

My Essential Howard the Duck is one of my favorite comics in my library. Gerber’s work on it, and the MAX series, and Hard Time is phenomenal. I want to eventually read everything the man’s written. Maybe it’s close-minded of me, but I’m not planning on picking up the new Omega or Howard or Foolkiller.

With that said, I loved Hitman’s guest appearance in Resurrection Man. It wasn’t up to Ennis’s standard, but Abnett and Lanning did the character no injustice. Of course, I love Resurrection Man, so…

Will

It is, there’s just no motivation for Marvel to do it, because they’ve already got the “win” side in the argument.

Well, (and I’m not sure if I made this clear) Marvel probably did make some concessions somewhere along the line. At least Gerber says he considers the matter closed.

So obviously someone at Marvel sees some advantage to keeping dialog open with Gerber in this instance. And it would’ve been less em-bare-assing for both sides had these details been dealt with sooner.

Some good points in there, Mark, but what happens if Marvel asks Gerber to get his toys out of the sandbox, as you suggest, and Gerber says no?

Don’t know. It’s Marvel’s call, really. Again, it’s worth noting that Gerber seems basically OK with the project at this point.

If Marvel were to call Gerber in such a way, it could be brought into evidence in a lawsuit as an instance of Marvel acknowledging Gerber’s rights as a creator in some way.

If Gerber is to be believed (And I’d say there’s a 99.9% chance he is) Marvel is already required to acknowledge him as Howard’s creator in every HTD appearance. As I see it, that particular battle is over and done with, with neither party coming out too far ahead.

Congratulations, you’re the 10,000th person to say that as if it was something clever. To state the UTTERLY OBVIOUS distinction: every Marvel (or DC) story is, implicitly or explicitly, part of a larger ongoing narrative. This also means that in a very real sense, they’re produced by “Marvel” as much as by the people who write and draw them.

If an ongoing narrative fails, on a critical level, in every element that makes for an effective narrative… is it still a narrative? I’d answer “no” at worst and “The terms are so devalued as to be meaningless” at best.

Y’know, I just don’t buy the argument that creators in the 1970s were ignorant patsies of the comics industry.

I was a creator back then, I’m seven years younger than Gerber, and even I knew how the deal worked in, say, 1972: If you wrote a script, or penciled, inked or lettered a page, you were paid a flat per-page rate. End of discussion.

It was no different than if a creator was hired to do caricatures at a bar mitzva, storyboards for a animator, jingles for a greeting card company, or any other free-lance work.

And the fact is, very, very, very, very few creators even thought twice about the arrangement back then.

These days, however, it’s different. But that doesn’t mean creators have a right to re-write history because they feel that four decades ago they got screwed by today’s standards.

After all, if I bought a painting from Jackson Pollock for $500 back in 1949 and sold it for $5 million today, would I owe Pollock a piece of that if he were still alive? I don’t think so.

Another reason I think the “we didn’t know any better” argument is a hollow one is because even creators who had been publishers and DID “know better,” such as Simon, Kirby, and Kurtzman, accepted the work-for-hire terms when they did free-lance work. It was only many years later, when additional revenues started rolling in for original art or lucrative film deals that these creators started making noise about retroactive character rights — even though they themselves had utilized the exact same work-for-hire practices when they had hired creators for THEIR projects in the past.

What it boils down to is people who were once perfectly content with the old arrangement suddenly want to re-write history.

That, in my opinion, isn’t right. A deal is a deal.

End of discussion.

Maybe it would help if we could see the contracts from the era. Was it obvious to even the most unread-in-the-law person that they were doing work for hire and had no chance of retaining any creative or monetary control, or did they weasel around about it?

Howard started as a parody, then became much more. He turned into a believable character dealing with the trials of modern life and inner turmoil. The parody elements were a big part of the series, certainly (although the weakest part; what’s more memorable, the Star Wars and kung-fu issues, or Howard’s mental breakdown? I would say the latter).

True, Howard et al were created under work-for-hire (as far as I know). Gerber tried to have some control over them, and got shot down. It may be legally right, but it stinks.

See also: Kirby, who may have known the deal going in, but should have been compensated in some way for his creativity. I understand his contributions were Marvel’s, legally, but he should have gotten more than page rate after they took off.

How much is Stan Lee paid now? $1 million a year, or something?

Oh, and The Who shouldn’t have lost royalty payments because they had to pay their own record company for the rights to their own songs. And John Fogherty shouldn’t have been sued because a solo song sounded like his own “Green River.” And Neil Young should not have been sued by his record company for making bad albums in the ’80s (the listeners, however, had every right:)

Creativity + Business can = Unfair practices and broken hearts. Not always, obviously, but too often.

When I made my first pro sale to Marvel in late 1974, there was no contract. They sent me a check for my one-page script, and on the back of the check where I signed the check to cash it, there was a statement that said something to the effect that I was waiving any ownership claims — or somesuch — for the material I was being paid for.

So if any creator back then claims they were oblivious to ownership issues, then they either didn’t cash any of their paychecks, or they read the statements, shrugged them off, and then signed the checks.

By the way, I started putting a copyright symbol on all of my fan-published artwork in early 1974. In fact, I had a terse discussion with one fan publisher who removed the (c) symbols from two of my drawings. He acquiesced (after all, he wasn’t even paying me for the art), so I continued to send him artwork. The point is, when I sold that one-page script to Marvel, I was well aware I was kissing bye-bye all claims for that particular piece of work.

I read somewhere that the “contract” with freelancers was a statment on the back of their checks they had to endorse to cash them. Is that true?

On review, my question was answered simultaneous with the asking.

What if the new Omega ends up being better than the original?

Better character development, better overall story, better art, etc.

Actually, it’s already got better art. Basically, what I’m asking is, is Lethem’s Omega is better than Gerber’s Omega, would that make a difference to anyone who’s not buying it?

What, Apodaca, you don’t like Jim Mooney?

“Better” character development, “better” overall story…surely these are matters of craft first, and taste second. I don’t see Lethem making a big belly-flop in terms of craft, and I don’t think you have to be a big Gerber zombie like me to allow that his craftsmanship can stand on its own feet, too. So, taste: I liked the original Omega a lot, and can’t imagine how anyone might go about duplicating, let alone bettering, what I liked about it.

So the answer (for me anyway) is no. Lethem’s effort may well turn out to be excellent, but I’m not going to be rushing out to read it, because the idea that someone’s doing a remake of a story I really liked, that got cancelled before I (or them, or anyone!) got to find out its ending…it doesn’t excite me, it just annoys me. Let Lethem write something else, and I’ll give him a try.

Or, let me go over to someone’s house and see Lethem’s Omega lying there on the coffee table.

How is this not a win-win deal for both sides?

Tom Brevoort did call up Steve Gerber back in the mid 90′s when Marvel wanted to use Howard the Duck. He said the was the worst mistake he ever made as an editor.

He describes the situation here:

http://www.wizarduniverse.com/magazine/wizard/002945056.cfm?page=8

Wow. If that’s true, then it really casts a bad light on Gerber.

Here’s the thing that bothers me about Gerber’s claims that “we didn’t all know”-

I’ve never read Howard The Duck, or Omega, and have little familiarity with Foolkiller. However, I DO know that Omega and Foolkiller were both set firmly within the Marvel universe. Which would seem to imply that, at the time at least, Gerber was quite comfortable addding his “toys” to the shared corporate toybox.

It also raises an interesting question: did Gerber personally call up the creators of each of the Marvel caracters he used in his comics and ask their permission? Or even ask or expect his then editor/s to do so? In the case of Foolkiller (a character, as I understand it, expressly created to kill off characters Gerber didn’t like) this seems particularly pertinent.

“If an ongoing narrative fails, on a critical level, in every element that makes for an effective narrative… is it still a narrative? I’d answer “no” at worst and “The terms are so devalued as to be meaningless” at best.”
That’s not really the point, though. The point is that there is an obvious distinction between Marvel and DC fanboyism and favouring Paramount over New Line- Paramount and New Line aren’t trying to convince people that all their movies take place in a shared universe. Whether or not that shared universe features an effective narrative is kind of irrelevant, I think.

I’d be a lot more supportive of Gerber, seeing as how the whole ‘signing away your rights on the back of the cheque’ thing doesn’t sound very ethical, if someone could just explain why it’s not okay for someone else to write Omega or Howard the Duck but it is okay for Steve Gerber to write Doctor Fate, and other characters that other people created. Is there a distinction there that I should be seeing?

Sorry, David, I didn’t see that you’d asked the same question directly above! There might be a good answer for it- maybe the creator of Doctor Fate indicated that he’s alright with other people using the character or something- I’m just curious to know what it is.

that’s cool, Rohan, i was more pointing out that great minds think alike than anything else…

I like the willingness to think the best of people that you display in your latest comment- but how likely is it that not only the creators of Doctor Fate, but also Electro (who appeared in Omega) and all the characters Foolkiller killed, ahve publicly given permission for people to do whatever they like with them? Not very, if you ask me.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

October 9, 2007 at 6:26 pm

If he created the characters in the ’90s, Marvel could come to an arrangement similar to those Vertigo creators have received (e.g. Gaiman & Sandman). I’m not clear if the relationship includes part-ownership or a “hands-off” clause. Still, no one has written a Preacher story or a Transmetropolitan story since those series ended.

The Gaiman and Sandman deal, ie if anyone else writes Morpheus or Daniel without Gaiman’s okay, he’ll never touch the property again, is a one-off deal (pretty sure just a verbal agreement, which came about as a direct result of Sandmans success being soley due to Gaiman, and the fact that Alan Moore refused to work for DC again – and DC didn’t want that happening again.

In the case of Preacher and Transmetropolitan, read the small legal print at the start of each issue – no one else has written them because Garth Ennis and Steve Dillion OWN Preacher, and Warren Ellis and Darrick Robertson OWN Transmetropolitan – DC/Vertigo just published them.
If say Ennis or Dillion had died, or got bored mid-series, then Preacher would have just ended right there and then, it was their property.
This is similar to Ennis and Robertson on The Boys – they owned the property, DC/Wildstorm just published it. When DC said they didn’t want to publish it anymore, they were free to take the title to another publisher.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

October 9, 2007 at 6:35 pm

I’d be a lot more supportive of Gerber, seeing as how the whole ’signing away your rights on the back of the cheque’ thing doesn’t sound very ethical, if someone could just explain why it’s not okay for someone else to write Omega or Howard the Duck but it is okay for Steve Gerber to write Doctor Fate, and other characters that other people created. Is there a distinction there that I should be seeing?

Well in the case of Dr.Fate, the creators are dead, I believe, and Gerber has said it’s wrong ‘especially if they’re alive’ so maybe he gets out on that?

(not saying it’s not weak, but there it is)

“…how likely is it that not only the creators of Doctor Fate, but also Electro (who appeared in Omega) and all the characters Foolkiller killed, ahve publicly given permission for people to do whatever they like with them? Not very, if you ask me.”
Good point. I just figure Gerber must have some way of justifying it, because surely the question’s been put to him before? But maybe not.

“Well in the case of Dr.Fate, the creators are dead, I believe, and Gerber has said it’s wrong ‘especially if they’re alive’ so maybe he gets out on that?”
That’s true. It’s a safe bet, though, that the creators of other corporately owned characters that he’s written were still alive at the time.

Couldn’t this whole situation end up being a positive for Gerber? If the new Omega is a success, maybe he’d be given a chance to come back to the character and finish his story. I mean, that probably won’t happen now, but maybe if he’d been more positive from the beginning…

A few things are being missed, here.

First off, and I guess least importantly, Foolkiller wasn’t created to kill off other people’s characters that Gerber didn’t like.

But secondly, there are quite a few Marvel characters that Gerber created, and other people have subsequently used, that he’s never complained about. Obviously then, the issue that’s in play with Howard and Omega is not in play with, say, Starhawk. And, it’s not in play with Electro, either: just ask Steve Ditko.

So why should we assume it’s in play with Dr. Fate? These things are all different from each other, and it isn’t all simply about what the law’s decided re: ownership. Marv Wolfman wasn’t upset about losing control over his villain the Sphinx, it was the secondary Dracula characters that he missed, that he’d invested so much of himself in. I read somewhere once that among comics creators there used to be an unwritten code that said you don’t screw around with somebody else’s pet character, and I think that’s got the ring of truth to it. I mean why would they do each other over like that, if they didn’t have to?

As soon as pet characters become brands for the company, though, all that goes out the window, and the result is that creators feel blindsided and betrayed when their pet characters, that they’ve given a unique, indelible voice, that they’ve poured sweat and tears into, are summarily yanked out from under them. It doesn’t apply to Green Lantern! But Howard, even Foolkiller, especially Omega…yes, it’s an insult, as well as an injury. Or how else to interpret that story about Gaiman’s handshake deal over Sandman?

Which established characters did Foolkiller kill? I could just be forgetting, but I don’t remember any from Man-Thing or the Foolkiller mini. (Which is the best thing Gerber’s ever written, IMO.)

I can’t, of course, verify that Gerber or his editors were in contact with every creator of every character he’s used since the Howard the Duck suit.

But, to the best of my googling, nobody’s come forth and called him a hypocrite. If he DOES get accused of mistreating other people’s characters that certainly weakens his moral position, but until then I certainly don’t see this as hypocrisy. And, yeah, Fox is pretty well good ‘n dead.

Tom Brevoort did call up Steve Gerber back in the mid 90’s when Marvel wanted to use Howard the Duck. He said the was the worst mistake he ever made as an editor.

He describes the situation here:

http://www.wizarduniverse.com/magazine/wizard/002945056.cfm?page=8

Nice catch. I’d read that before, but didn’t think to look it up and stick it in the article. There’s a good chance of a follow-up and I’ll definitely link to it there.

Here’s the deal. Gerber basically intended the crossover as a joke. UNTIL he got wind that the Spider-man/HTD crossover he was writing was part of a big push to relaunch Howard.

Gerber gets all pissy, and (supposedly, I haven’t read it) insults the hell out of Marvel in the Image-published half of the crossover.

And then the Howard the Duck revival never happened. I think Howard, like, showed up in Generation X for one issue.

Gerber publicly and non-half-assedly apologized in his blog, and does seem to have learned from the experience.

I think Foolkiller is being confused with Mark Gruenwald’s Scourge, who killed a slew of minor villains in the ’80s.

Along with using Dr Fate and all the preexisting Defenders characters, etc, did Steve Gerber not write a few issues of Mister Miracle, after Kirby was stripped of the title?

Wonder how that felt for Jack? Wonder if Gerber gave it a moment’s thought?

Sorry, but when a grown man calls a business/creative move “unforgivable” and says the other guy has “made an enemy for life,” I feel a bit like I’m in grade nine.

Along with using Dr Fate and all the preexisting Defenders characters, etc, did Steve Gerber not write a few issues of Mister Miracle, after Kirby was stripped of the title?

Yeah. I don’t see the Defenders (Or Electro, or the Son of Satan or Captain America) to be so much the issue here. I get the sense that Gerber hadn’t thought much about character ownership in his first stint for Marvel.

The Mister Miracle thing always seemed a little weird to me, though. And Gerber did some more work with Marvel’s characters during the eighties: A couple issues of She-Hulk and some Hawkeye stories – None of which I’ve read. And there was an issue of the Metal Men in there somewhere, too.

(Although Stan Lee created She-Hulk pretty much solo, and I don’t think he had much of a proprietary interest in the character.)

Wonder how that felt for Jack? Wonder if Gerber gave it a moment’s thought?

No way to know at this point. Kirby was certainly sympathetic to GERBER’S ’cause. He did pencil Gerber’s Destroyer Duck with Eclipse in ’82.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

October 9, 2007 at 11:32 pm

Or how else to interpret that story about Gaiman’s handshake deal over Sandman?

As the one off deal it was, that will probably never occur again?

“It doesn’t apply to Green Lantern! But Howard, even Foolkiller, especially Omega…yes, it’s an insult, as well as an injury.”
Fair points, and I’m sure you’re right about the Foolkiller/Scourge mix-up earlier, but I’d be interested to know your selection criteria for which properties this system of de facto creator ownership should and shouldn’t apply to.

You used Green Lantern as one it doesn’t apply to, and Sandman as one that it does. Can you explain the difference? Both were totally new characters using pre-existing DC character names, and both involved a hell of a lot of world building. Broome unveiled quite a dense mythology over the course of his GL run, starting with Abin Sur and eventually introducing the Guardians, the Qardians, and all Hal’s other villains/supporting cast. It’s a run that demonstrates an astonishing amount of planning and foreshadowing for a Silver Age superhero comic, IMO, and it probably involved some sweat.

Without diminishing Sandman’s importance and quality for a second, what about the creative process of Sandman separates it from Broome’s GL? I’m pretty sure there are acually more pre-existing DC characters in Gaiman’s early issues than there are in Broome’s, so that can’t be it.

I don’t think so, FunkyGreen: instead, I read it as Gaiman saying “reach past me to grab at my labour of love with your greasy hands, and I’ll consider it unforgivable.”

But listen, seriously: do any of you folks even believe a company can screw over a creator? You, up there, fourthworlder — you make me feel quite a pang for Jack, and how it must have been for him to see Gerber defile his creation…but, do you in fact think Gerber oughtn’t to have done it without asking Jack’s blessing?

Or do you think, well if Jack felt bad about it…whatever, I just want Gerber to shut up now.

Know what I mean? I’m not trying to cause offense by singling you out here, but it seems like some people may be calling Gerber a hypocrite because they think he’s a hypocrite, while others are calling him a hypocrite because they’re simply trying to undermine his position full stop…and I’m starting to have trouble telling the difference.

If I did give offense let me apologize in advance, because as I said, that wasn’t my intention.

Oh, Rohan, sorry — I just missed you.

I’d be happy to explain what I think about that. First off, I guess I should say I don’t really think it’s a matter of de facto ownership, or anything of that sort — the law has spoken, after all, and anyway that’s just the injury, not the insult.

The reason I used Green Lantern as an example there doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not the creators of the modern Green Lantern were great craftsmen who broke an honest sweat over their creation — obviously they were, and they did, and you’re right to correct me — but it has to do with this thing about the “pet” character, and I expect professionals know that a character designed from the word go to pursue top billing in his own magazine, with trademarked cover logos and all, is never going to be a character they can ask other creators to respect the sanctity of. At least I assume that by the late Fifties they would realize this, on some level. But Howard (I’ll get to Omega in a moment) did start his life as a “pet” character, and only by fluke of fate (and brilliant writing and artwork) did he end up supporting a title of his own. Only by this fluke did he become a brand, instead of remaining as Silver St. Cloud or Harold K. Harold, a semi-private supporting character in a headliner’s book. But, what was the fluke, exactly? Only that Howard was Gerber’s mouthpiece, and it turned out people would buy a book where the main character was Steve Gerber’s mouthpiece. But there was nothing else to him: GL was given a cool costume and powers, a secret identity, a milieu professionally designed to be productive of future comic-book story possibilities…but Howard was just a duck in a blue suit who smoked a cigar, and talked beautifully about Gerber’s own alienation.

And that’s GL vs. Howard, but it’s not what you asked about. So let’s go to GL vs. Gaiman’s Sandman, which I think is a really good example for the whole Omega thing. You point out that the name “Sandman” already belonged to DC, and that’s true, and it’s not nothing…but at the same time, once you cracked the book it was pretty obvious that Gaiman’s Sandman was not that Sandman — I mean Morpheus had a lot fewer points of contact with the original Sandman, than Hal Jordan had with Alan Scott — and also he was over in Vertigo, which was just an fringe experiment at the time in any case. So, not a “pet” character, exactly, but happily located in a horror/fantasy backwater of DC that no one else had much interest in going into…and pretty clearly, I should think, an original product despite the name. But, am I saying it was a more original creation than GL? No, not exactly; but I think we could agree it was a more personal creation, couldn’t we? Because it had the space to become one, maybe, sure…but anyway I guess that’s my criterion. How personal a work is (or has the chance to) become, is what establishes whether or not it’s a bit unseemly to place it in someone else’s hands. And sometimes “personal” means “pet”, but sometimes (as with Sandman) it doesn’t have to.

And Omega’s a lot like Sandman in that respect: headliner, but in a very marginal title (in fact, a title no one had heard of before, and one that didn’t even really say too much to a prospective reader), intensely personal, and not really worth anyone else’s time to touch. But it didn’t do as well as Sandman, or even HTD, so it got cancelled and just faded away, and became dead capital because no one knew what to make of it or where to go with it. If it had been a smashing success, maybe Gerber could’ve protected it, as Neil protected Morpheus…but maybe he thought failure would protect it just as well. Who knows? Nowadays we’ll dredge up anything and recycle it, but Gerber couldn’t have anticipated Lethem back in ’75 or whatever it was. And times are changing: someone other than Steve Englehart is writing Mantis, for heaven’s sake, a pet character if there ever was one, but one much harder to protect than even Omega.

So…does that make any sense?

Pardon my long-windedness, please.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

October 10, 2007 at 1:26 am

I don’t think so, FunkyGreen: instead, I read it as Gaiman saying “reach past me to grab at my labour of love with your greasy hands, and I’ll consider it unforgivable.”

That still doesn’t change it from the one off verbal agreement it is, that’s just a re-phrasing of how it might have happened.
Yes, he didn’t want anyone playing with the characters he created without his permission, and he’d sold so much that Vertigo couldn’t risk him not writing for them anymore because everything he was writing was a best seller.
(And it’s a one-off deal because pretty much no one else sells as much as Gaiman was at that point).

The re-phrasing is all I was going for, FGJ. I haven’t said it wasn’t a one-off verbal agreement, I’ve only said that I thought you missed the point of why I referenced it.

Maybe you didn’t miss it, though, in which case my rephrasing was superfluous.

Also, I made a ridiculous typo somewhere up there.

Nicely put, Plok. I actually agree with you that other creators shouldn’t work on Sandman, Howard the Duck, Omega and so on, primarily for storytelling reasons. After the deeply personal work done by their original creators (often with actual endings), it seems unneccessary for others to revisit their stories, whereas, as far as I know and as you point out, characters like Green Lantern are obviously created with the intention of becoming part of the DC factory system. From a business point of view, though, there doesn’t seem to be any legal reason for Marvel or DC to respect that difference.

Short of becoming verbally/visually unintelligible, I’m not sure how much a narrative has to fail before it ceases to be a narrative. Any Marvel story now published can in theory connect to any other Marvel story ever published, so it’s holding together to that extent. Personally I don’t think this is a good thing.

Hands up, I admit it, I was wrong about FoolKiller. I guess I was mixing him up with that Scourge character.

Also, I should apologise for sidetracking the debate onto whether or not Gerber is a hypocrite for using other people’s characters himself… that’s a much bigger debate than just Gerber’s case, as it’s a question that applies to any creator who works with other people’s creations while being proprietorial about their own company owned work; and that’s a long list.

My point was that Gerber had knowingly used Marvel owned characters in his run on Omega, which just doesn’t seem like the kind of thing you’d do if you were expecting to keep control of the work. Unfortunately my tendancy to ramble obscured that.

And I should also make it clear that I’m very much in favour of creator’s rights. I do have sympathy for how Gerber must feel to see his work making money now, when he willingly signed away the rights all those years ago. But to expect Marvel (or DC) to behave any differently is just ridiculous.

“And I should also make it clear that I’m very much in favour of creator’s rights. I do have sympathy for how Gerber must feel to see his work making money now…”
Honestly, that’s the main thing I don’t get about the new Howard the Duck book. Is it really very likely that they’re going to make any money on it? Omega, sure, they can see those Lethem bookstore dollars, but Ty Templeton’s Howard the Duck? Ty’s a great talent and all, but is it worth getting Gerber so worked up and attracting bad publicity over a title that probably isn’t going to set the world on fire, sales-wise?

Incidentally, if you’d told people in the late ’80s (after the movie) that people would be fighting so fiercely over the rights to Howard the Duck- and not in a ‘no, it’s not my responsibility, it’s yours’ sort of way- I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have believed you.

Hey, Plok, I didn’t say that Gerber “defiled ” Jack’s creation. I remember reading those Mister Miracle issues and they weren’t bad – they were certainly better than the New Gods revival that Gerry Conway wrote at that time. And as for how Jack felt about it, well obviously it didn’t make Gerber his “enemy for life,” because four years later Jack was totally supportive with the Destroyer Duck cause.

So, when Steve approached Jack I don’t know if he said anything like “oh, and uh, sorry if I hurt your feelings or anything by using Mister Miracle like that.” Maybe he did, but I doubt that Kirby had even noted who the writer was. His beef was (almost) always against the COMPANY, be it DC or Marvel. And to me, that’s who Gerber should complain against,not other writers. If Kirby reacted that way he’d have one hell of a lot of “enemies for life.”

So, plok, do I think Gerber is a hypocrite? I guess so, but I don’t really blame him.

I do totally get the fact that Omega and Howard were very personal creations, and it sucks to see somebody else playing with them (maybe almost like losing your kids in a custody battle and then seeing them out with mom and their new dad?) I totally understand that it sucks, and is fundamentally wrong (if not illegal).

But…. that’s the way it always has been, up until the last few years, and as we’ve seen, Gerber has done it probably as much as any most other writers. If I sound like I “just want (Gerber)to shut up now,” well, sorry, Steve. I think I’m feeling a little reactive to the (last time I’ll quote this) “enemy for life” crap.

Gerber has been fighting his fight since the late 70′s, and as a casual observer I’ve only heard snippets of the back-and-forths. I think part of me misses that special vision and voice, that very unique time when for a few precious years Steve Gerber at Marvel created some very personal and wonderfully bizarre stories. It’s so easy to let that creativity and spark get crowded out or crushed by all this bitterness and vitriol. To me, that’s part of what happened to Kirby in his last years, he let himself be turned from creating to fighting, and bitterness took over, finally spilling out in ugliness in that regrettable Gary Groth interview.
If I think it was wrong, or at least unfortunate, for King Kirby to go out that way, why shouldn’t I feel some impatience with Steve Gerber, at least when he personalizes things so much? I somewhere heard that he’s been trying to stop Marvel from reusing Wundarr the Aquarian, is that true? And is that not just a little bit silly, considering what Wundarr was a so-obvious parody of?
Steve created some great characters and wrote some wonderful stories, but he’ll never change the system retroactively. If Marvel remakes Omega with a new writer, is that worse than Steve writing Mister Miracle? Is it worse than Chris Claremont being told one morning, “well, actually, we decided we’re going to give the X-Men to this hotshot new kid,” or Ditko being told, “well, actually, I don’t like your vision of the Green Goblin so I’m going to do it my way?” Is it worse than (enter your example here)?

Be glad I guess that the business has undergone the changes it has, that Jesse Custer belongs to his creators and that Neil Gaiman has the power to force his handshake deal with DC/vertigo.

Yeah, I agree a would-be writer probably should approach a creator before using his creation, but how can you mandate such a policy without a clear implication that the company does not own the characters?
This can go round and round as long as we all want, but I don’t think it ultimately goes anywhere.

I forget where I read this (Wizard, maybe?) but Gerber has said that since he was working with Stan Lee during his first tenure at Marvel, he had implicit permission to use charactes Stan had created.

To clarify the Gaiman situation slightly: Since Vertigo didn’t exist when Sandman was created, and the wall of separation that now exists between Vertigo and the regular DCU wasn’t there, Sandman originally existed in the same Deluxe Format netherworld as Hellblazer and Swamp Thing (and later Morrison’s Doom Patrol and Animal Man); understood to be part of the DCU, and drawing on elements from it, but on the edges rather than at the core. (To a greater or lesser extent depending on the writer and the title; Constantine tended to keep to his own title and Swamp Thing, but ST, Animal Man and Doom Patrol all connected to the Invasion! crossover in one way or another, for example.)

As I understand it, what set Gaiman off was Death’s appearance in Captain Atom, which both handled her badly (her dialogue was mostly regurgitated from her first Sandman appearance) and tried to redefine her as one aspect of death rather than its embodiment, which went completely against Sandman cosmology.
If the first appearance of a Sandman character elsewhere had been well-handled, things might have gone differently. (Dream did appear by arrangement in an issue of Veitch’s Swamp Thing, wherein Matthew Cable became Matthew the Raven.)

So, back of the check- yeah, that’s skeezy as Hell. “You’ve already put in your time- now give us your IP and we’ll let you make this month’s rent!”

Legal, maybe, but I’m not going to begrudge anyone their bitching rights.

Fourthworlder and others: thanks for your clarifications!

To continue the story Doug A was telling, re: Captain Atom and so forth, there’s no “power to enforce the deal”. DC will or will not have the Sandman characters show up where they will. It’s one of them urban legends that they can’t use them. Generally speaking, they won’t out of respect for Gaiman, and he has said he’d prefer they not use the ones he created (ie, Destiny was a pre-existing character), but ultimately they own them and can do as they want. DC has show respect for that (Morrison asking to use Daniel in JLA, them not having Death show up in the Death Of Superman), but like various Endless showed up throughout Lucifer, and I doubt they got permission each time (though who knows, maybe they did, or Gaiman declaring Carey his heir fit it in.) But if Didio wants Countdown to end in a Batwoman, Question, Death 3 way, there’s nothing stopping it.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

October 10, 2007 at 5:24 pm

To continue the story Doug A was telling, re: Captain Atom and so forth, there’s no “power to enforce the deal”. DC will or will not have the Sandman characters show up where they will. It’s one of them urban legends that they can’t use them. Generally speaking, they won’t out of respect for Gaiman, and he has said he’d prefer they not use the ones he created (ie, Destiny was a pre-existing character), but ultimately they own them and can do as they want.

DC learnt from Alan Moore leaving once they treated him badly, in his view, that some talent are worth keeping around.
Gaiman is such a big name that you can almost assume he’s making a loss these days to work with them, and he has such a large in-built fan base, that follow him, and not the characters.
He doesn’t want anyone else using the characters he created, without he’s say so or he’ll never write them again.
DC want him to write for them again, and so they’ll respect his wishes especially as to date, as I said before, other writers working on the characters don’t get half the sales he does.
As such, the power to enforce the deal is the in-built readers Gaiman brings to every project.

Gerber has been fighting his fight since the late 70’s, and as a casual observer I’ve only heard snippets of the back-and-forths. I think part of me misses that special vision and voice, that very unique time when for a few precious years Steve Gerber at Marvel created some very personal and wonderfully bizarre stories. It’s so easy to let that creativity and spark get crowded out or crushed by all this bitterness and vitriol. To me, that’s part of what happened to Kirby in his last years, he let himself be turned from creating to fighting, and bitterness took over, finally spilling out in ugliness in that regrettable Gary Groth interview.

Yeah, fuck them both in the eye!
How dare they be angry about someone else making money off of things they thought they owned!
What cheap hacks!
And honestly, daring to take it out on our precious Marvel and DC, oh lordy I pray for their souls!

Seriously, why shouldn’t they feel bitter?

Gosh, Funky, sounds like that “bitterness and vitriol” I mentioned might be contagious.
Why shouldn’t they feel bitter… um, ’cause it makes you miserable? ‘Cause it detracts from your work and ultimately rots your soul?

I’ve got a lot of sympathy for the predicaments of Gerber and especially my man Kirby, but ultimately my sympathies are based on their great work and not their (justified, yes) complaints.
Jack Kirby went to his grave as either a) a prodigious creator who saw his creations and mountains of profits stripped away by ruthless, less-talented piranhas, or b) stunning artist and prodigious creator of many of our biggest comic-book icons. Which memory best serves the Kirby legend? I don’t think I’ll ever bother to re-read the Gary Groth interview, but I’ll probably keep re-reading my trunks full of New Gods and FF and Thors etc until my eyesight gives out or I die.

As for Steve Gerber, one thing I was going to add this morning but ran out of time… How do I say this…

To the powers that be in Marvel 1970′s, Omega the Unknown was virtually the same as Skull the Slayer, Nova the Human Rocket, Human Fly, Claws of the Cat, Monster of Frankenstein, etc. It was a short-lived experiment that never caught on. No more, no less. The fact that it spoke on a deep level and even captured something of the whole human experience for lots of fans didn’t matter. It didn’t sell, so it was cut.

Now, thirty years later, when he’s offered a position at Marvel and asked what book he’d like, this new writer chooses Omega. It reminds of the story about Gaiman, how when he was first offered a DC gig he asked to do Black Orchid. So was that an opportunistic slap at the creators of Black Orchid, or a testament to their vision? I understand the causes of his bitterness, sure. But I think that ultimately people like Steve should take at least some satisfaction in knowing that their work has lived on and continues to reach new readers. I think he’ll find he sleeps better at night.
I know it’s pretty simplistic, but I guess so am I.

I definitely never think of either of these guys as “cheap hacks” and most certainly would not “fuck them both in the eye,” or any other orifice.

There’s just something ugly about the tendency to side with the company against the individual that I’m picking up from a lot of the attitudes here. It was the whole “you can never so much as express an opinion about anything anyone does for business reasons, therefore bitching about canceled TV shows/discontinued or altered products, etc., is a crime against the holy market, as surely as if you got the government to come in and regulate it” attitude (along with all the tough-guy talk) that brought about the end of my youthful libertarian phase.
After all, does anyone here have the power to wrest the rights away from Marvel and give them back to
Steve? No? Then why this reaction to perfectly healthy bitching about the Man?

Not to impugn the King in anyway (let alone copulate his cornea), but it suddenly occurred to me…
In 1961 and 62, did Jack Kirby call Carl Burgos or Bill Everett and ask permission to re-do or take over their characters? He did get quite a bit of mileage out of the Torch and Namor.

And to reiterate about Gerber and Omega:
In ten issues the title featured the Hulk, Electro, Nitro (from Starlin’s Captain Marvel), and I believe there was at least one scene with Peter Parker at the Daily Bugle. Did Kirby, Ditko, or Starlin get courtesy calls?

The wonderful thing is that none of this in any way takes away from the brilliance of the FF or Omega.
And for all we know there might possibly be a new brilliance waiting in the new Omega book.
Know what? This discussion just convinced me to try the damn thing. I don’t buy many new comics (the last book I enjoyed start to finish was last year’s Eternals book, and I sure hope Gaiman used a ouija board to run that idea past Jack!), but I think I’ll pick Omega up.
Call it curiosity, or better yet, call it interest and respect for a great character and its great creator!

And Jack Norris, I never complained about Gerber bitching about the man (Marvel). His complaining seemed to get personal about this new writer, and that triggered something in me. Marvel? DC? Assholes, bastards, call em whatever you want. They deserve it in all sorts of ways.
Don’t know if I’d go quite so far as to sexualize their sockets, though.

Two things:

One, I seem to recall that after Gerber’s initial slash at Lethem, he apologized for the furious personal remarks he’d made. I also seem to recall he said that they’d had a conversation in which Lethem came across to him as a genuine fan, who had genuine respect.

(Hearsay, of course, but I thought this’d be a good place to mention it since no one else has. Hope I haven’t put any wrong words in anybody’s mouth.)

Two, and this is a very minor point, but it’s always been my understanding that in a marginal book like Omega was (and Fourthworlder is so, so right about that), the guest-shots by Spider-Man, the Hulk, whatever (today it’s Wolverine), would usually be editorially-mandated, just to give the book a kickstart, and not necessarily what the book’s creative team would rather. Now, this wouldn’t always be the case, obviously. But (again, my understanding is) it was more common practice than not.

Now, beyond those two points, at a guess I’d say that Ditko wouldn’t even take a call asking if it was okay to use any of his Marvel creations (God I love Ditko!), nor would Starlin be pissed if somebody used Nitro…however, also at a guess, I’d say it’s probably unlikely Burgos or Everett ever got courtesy calls about the revamping of their characters, which (still guessing) I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that they did care about.

But what that all adds up to, in terms of this discussion, I confess I don’t know.

And did I just challenge the Kirby credentials of a guy who styles himself “Fourthworlder”, back there? Yeesh, what hubris I’ve got. Anyway, F., I think you state your case eloquently enough (particularly when you suppose that Kirby didn’t tend to be against the people, just the Man — that fits with my idea of him, too), and I’ll even agree with you, somewhat: Wundarr’s no Howard. Then again, in my view he doesn’t have to be: I’m all for Gerber (or anyone else) acquiring 100% of the rights to characters they created, full stop, yes even if it’s Wundarr. After all, if the principle’s solid, why not apply it? In fact why not apply the hell out of it? Marvel and DC sure apply whatever they’ve got in their pockets against it, so why should creators do less? That’s just business, too: I mostly care about Howard, but if Steve cares about Wundarr — or even if he doesn’t, that much — well, I’m with him in any case. If he has to swallow and smile when a judge finds Howard is Marvel’s, well then, Marvel would have to swallow and smile if that ruling went the other way too, right?

Okay, nobody has to smile. But it’s never bad form to fight for your rights, and if all creators owned their creations down to the ground, would anyone really have any reason not to smile, anyway? Creator-owned properties are making money for the companies that publish them even as we speak…

But anyway. It does surprise me that any Omega fan would want to reboot the series at all, let alone without Gerber and Skrenes’ blessing. I don’t really get that. It was such a mystery, you see: even today I’m waiting on pins and needles to find out its secret, at the same time I know I have to accept I never will.

Glad to hear you liked Gaiman/JRJR’s Eternals, too, Fourthworlder. I won’t be giving the new Omega a try, however: I’m still way too attached to the old Omega, and besides as a comics fan I’m still mighty pissed about all of DC/Marvel’s suppressive legal shenanigans over the last…well, forever. I’m pissed about Howard, I’m pissed about Miracleman, I’m pissed about Deathlok, I’m pissed about Superboy, I’m pissed about Captain America. I’m pissed that Kirby had to become vitriolic in a TCJ interview, because no one would give him his due. I’m really just kind of getting pissed in general, now, actually.

Nothing bad to say about any creator trying to make a living, or even about any devoted fan wanting to express his love of a character or a writer. However, if somebody decides to revamp Richard Rory, expect news of my arrest. You know?

Oh, God help me, i can’t resist…

Do you mean the same Richard Rory whose name was lifted from the Simon & Garfunkel song “Richard Cory,” which was had itself been adapted from the Edwin A. Robinson poem of the same name?
Gosh, I hope Paul Simon and Ed A. Robinson got their courtesy calls and gz8hdfyjgy$budkftyso4i57q8gaf7yvgl [banging head on keyboard, rolling it around to hit each key]

Annnnd one last thought. Forgive me for monopolizing this thread.
Thanks for your gracious comments, plok, and I appreciate hearing Gerber backed a bit away from his first comments.
But I have to doubt at least a little bit whether you’re really any more attached to the original Omega than I am, or at least than I WAS. What I remember was that I was in grade eight or so then, living in absolute chronic FEAR in junior high, and that that comic truly helped me get through it. Trust me, Gerber spoke most eloquently to fat kids being tormented in grade eight.
In the 1990s when I finally got to visit New York I went to 10th Avenue and 44th or so, and I wrote “James Micheal Starling, where are you?” on a fence. I went back three days later and somebody had written a reply “he left here a long time ago.”

Wow, that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever heard.

Fat kid in Grade Eight: right here. But in Canada, where we don’t have the cult of high-school football, and we have much smaller cities anyway. And anyway I wasn’t all that fat.

I felt it anyway, like “The Kid’s Night Out”…but yeah, I’ll admit, it was all pretty far off and far away. So for your actual real-life Grade Eight fear, and your FUCKING BRILLIANT GRAFFITI, I cede you my Omega crown.

Heh heh. “FEAR”.

Christ, I was gonna write a whole post on this before, but now there’s probably no point…

and I appreciate hearing Gerber backed a bit away from his first comments.

In the very beginning of the second quote I gave, actually.

But it’s been a couple days worth of discussion since then.

MarkAndrew, where’s my Son Of Satan post???

WOW.Plok & everyone agreeing w/ you….WOW. I like Gerber I remember Omega coming out when i was a kid.I remember not “getting it”.pet or not,this was was not a “Sandman” by aNNYYY stretch of the imagination. If a well known author hadnt CHOSEN to do this book,Marvel(&I’m not a Zombie)wouldnt have pushed this book on their most red haired of step children & GERBER knows it.I read Gerbers site.I agreee w/ most of what he has to say.But if he even ONCE used a character created by someone else regardless of whether he or you or anyone else deems fit as a “pet” character w/out asking permission 1st,(go ask Wolfman about his supporting character Blade)in a story,he is being hypocrytical,insenesitive,or judgemental of quality,to others by getting pissy about it being done to him.Since he obviously worked it out w/ Marvel I’m guessing he’s ok with the work he was hired for & its the rest of us that arent.

Back during LITG’s “real journalism” phase, Rich Johnston looked at the Steve Gerber situation, including these comments from Gerber about his MISTER MIRACLE run*:

“And by the way, I don’t deny I made mistakes. The two I most regret are the ‘Metal Men’ story I wrote for DC while Robert Kanigher was still very much alive and still very active in the industry, and the couple of issues I wrote of ‘Mister Miracle.’ I found out later that Kanigher was not at all pleased about that story, and I felt badly about it. At least I had the chance to apologize to Jack for the ‘Mister Miracle’ stuff. (He forgave me, and we later created ‘Destroyer Duck’ together, which should be some indication of whether he respected my position on creators’ rights.) Unfortunately, I never met Kanigher.”

*Full article at http://www.comicbookresources.com/columns/index.cgi?article=2177

Nuts. I cut out the first part of the quote. And I should point out that this was from a different LITG column than the one Mark linked to.

“At that time, Stan Lee was sitting in the publisher’s office at Marvel Comics approving every writing assignment. I worked with Bill Everett briefly on ‘Sub-Mariner.’ That said, I don’t want to imply that I specifically sought out any other creator’s approval for anything thirty years ago. At that time, I was as abysmally ignorant of creators’ rights issues as anybody else. Because I was working more or less directly with Stan, who co-created virtually all the early Marvel characters, the question just never came up. I doubt I would settle for one co-creator’s okay today.”

Just a quick aside…

Plok said: “and if all creators owned their creations down to the ground, would anyone really have any reason not to smile, anyway?”

Well, that depends how much you like shared-universe stories, by multiple creative teams. Give every creator back the copyright on every creation they ever came up with, and the Marvel and DC universes just evaporate. I can’t believe I’m typing this- but I honestly think that’s be a shame.

Is it weird that I’m agreeing with just about everything Spider1 just said?

And grateful that there’s someone like Apathy Boy actually quoting real quotes, to real effect.

And kind of enjoying all this, damn me.

But…y’know, MarkAndrew…

Sorry, David, missed you there…

Nah, I don’t think so. Any creator’s probably lucky if they make one or two characters they could reasonably call “pet” in a decade. I think they could all get along pretty well, usually making things that are theirs, but that’re also available for general use. After all, it’s just licensing money, isn’t it? And it’s not too hard to ask someone if they mind if you use their headliner for something, right? And besides, in real life this stuff is probably simple. Simpler than it is now: Joe Simon might say “hey look, I don’t wanna see any Cap stories where he’s an intravenous drug user or a member of the KKK, and also c’mon, just don’t make the guy a useless chump, you know what I mean”, but then that’s probably a lot looser of a restriction than what Marvel editorial puts on Cap writers, eh? And probably less ambiguous, too.

And the books still get published, I think. Realistically, the licensing fees (even if there were licensing fees) wouldn’t be much more than a smudge on Marvel’s (or DC’s) bottom line. And anyway, as far as Marvel goes…

They’d be all right, because they’d still have Spider-Man. Because Ditko wouldn’t sully his hands with their goddamn money now, would he?

Jesus Christ, I love Steve Ditko!

“I think they could all get along pretty well, usually making things that are theirs, but that’re also available for general use. After all, it’s just licensing money, isn’t it? And it’s not too hard to ask someone if they mind if you use their headliner for something, right? And besides, in real life this stuff is probably simple.”

Except that it’s been tried, and it really didn’t work, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes a creator doesn’t know which of their caharacters is going to be a “pet” untill they’ve been writing them a while, and no-one knows which -if any- of their works is going to be successful. Sometimes creators change their minds about how much control they want over characters other people have already used, which then lands the other creator/s in a difficult situation when it comes to reprints.

Sometimes it comes down to people simply not being as easy going and/or trustworthy as we’d all like them to be.

The best example of this would probably be Image comics.

The worst example being Fantagraphics, I suppose?

I kid.

But let me be serious for a moment: is the principle you espouse that, in order for comics companies to turn a profit, the rights of the creators must be accorded to the publisher?

Then let the comics companies fall!

Because they will fall, if that’s what’s holding them up.

“But let me be serious for a moment: is the principle you espouse that, in order for comics companies to turn a profit, the rights of the creators must be accorded to the publisher?”

No, not even close. Did you read my comment?

I’m talking quite specifically about shared universe stories. I made that very clear when I said:

“Well, that depends how much you like shared-universe stories, by multiple creative teams. Give every creator back the copyright on every creation they ever came up with, and the Marvel and DC universes just evaporate.”

So just to make that clear- I repeat: I am fully in favour of creator’s rights.

But I also rather like shared universe stories with multiple writers and/or artists, whether it’s the Marvel or DC universes, or the Wildstorm or ABC universes, or The Wild Cards books, or the crazy and rich timeline that a fair proportion of 2000ad’s characters are part of.

And for that kind of story to be practical, someone has to be giving up their rights to some extent.

So what I’m saying is, creators should be realistic about what they should epect in terms of rights to their work depending on the kind of work they are doing.

And also that if you created a comic book within a shared universe framework, at a time when the concept of creators rights was still not that widespread, and for which you were paid with paychecks that had the terms printed on the back then you shouldn’t be surprised when thirty years later the legal owners of the work act like the legal owners of the work. You can be upset about it, sure, that’s fair enough. But pick your battles.

My apologies, David. You’re right, I was blustering.

But I maintain: “Give every creator back the copyright on every creation they ever came up with, and…”

And, damn it, DC and Marvel would both be fine. They’d still be in the black, they’d just have to not treat creators like Dixie Cups to stay there. And a shared universe would still be possible — why not? Let’s not take one unusual (not to say aberrant) company, and claim it as overwhelming evidence of a rule. What about Malibu? Marvel bought it and crushed it, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have worked if it’d been left alone. In fact that Marvel did buy it and crush it says to me that they considered it a valid potential competitor.

Truth is, a creator-based shared-universe company hasn’t succeeded; but there’s where you get the true application of your, and I quote so as not to seem snotty, “variety of reasons”, in truth. Because one of those reasons must be the predatory behaviour of the Big Two. Even though some others must be “lack of deep pockets” or “failure to find a sufficient audience”, or even “failure of the principals to get along”.

My previous blustering notwithstanding, it’s by no means a slamdunk that widespread creator’s rights = collapse of shared-universe comics.

Not even for the shared-universe comics that we know at the present time. If Malibu imagined doing it, well then why couldn’t the fabulously more money-packed Marvel or DC companies get away with it?

In other words: I’m going to disagree with you here, David. Nothing’s been proved, because nothing’s been tried. And I don’t believe creator’s rights would bankrupt any golden goose. Copper goose? Anyway the goose doesn’t want to change, even if it turns into lead.

Hey, did you hear there’s going to be more Beanworld? Let me just add, I’m practically the original lover of the shared-universe concept, but forget business: editorial decisions at the Big Two have driven me away anyway, like probably permanently. So it can all come crashing down for all I care.

UNG

I didn’t say Marvel and DC’s business would collapse, (although, since most of both their revenues are based on the licencing of properties that would no longer belong to them, it probably would, but that’s besied the point I was making) I said that the shared universes that they maintain would collapse, at least as viable publishing proerties. Which they would.

And if the Kane family owned the copyright to Batman, Siegel and Shuster’s families shared the rights to Superman, etc, etc… where would that leave Frank Miller in regards to DKR and his Daredevil work? What if Siegel and Shuster’s estate don’t like All-Star Superman? What heppens to Giffen and DeMatteis’ Justice League? How many people’s permission would that require for a reprint?

What happens in a case like Stan Lee’s? Here is a creator who set out to create a shared company owned universe, who suddenly finds himself with half ownership of an enormous batch of characters he may or may not be able to use… there’s every chance that Steve Ditko might turn around and say that he can’t use his creations, or reprint his work.

You can’t just rely on everyone’s good will, and assume that everyone will be okay with anything anyone wants to do with their characters because “hey, it’s all licencing money”; that’s naive, and defies common sense.

I’m not talking about money, here. I’m talking, believe it or not, from an artistic standpoint. The whole point of a shared universe is the idea of the “toybox” that everyone contributes to, and everyone gets to play with. And if you want to play with the toys, then giving up the copyright on whatever you do with them, and anything you contribute to the box in the process, is just the price you pay for that.

Nextwave would never have been published without the current system. Do Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen deserve the rights to that series? Or do the rights belong with the people who originally created the characters?

Advancing this argument doesn’t mean that I don’t believe that creators deserve the rights to their creations. If you do work outside the shared universe framework, then obviously you should retain copyright on that work. I’m not suggesting Ellis should hand over the rights to Transmetropolitan. As I type this, I’m uploading pages to my own comic on webcomicsnation. If someone tried to take the rights to that comic away from me they’d find themselves with an almighty fight on their hands. But if I was offered the chance to work on Batman, I wouldn’t expect a cut from the next Batman film as a result, you know?

For Christ’s sake, David, you keep making me re-write!

Okay, here’s something I had:

And for that kind of story to be practical, someone has to be giving up their rights to some extent. Fair enough, and fully true. But:

So what I’m saying is, creators should be realistic about what they should expect in terms of rights to their work depending on the kind of work they are doing. Doesn’t necessarily follow. A creator owning their character doesn’t automatically mean they won’t let anybody else ever use it (I can supply examples if you like), and more importantly, letting somebody else use it, in a rights regime where creators own what they’ve made, doesn’t mean anybody has to be afraid of a “use it or lose it” rule being applied. And anyway, Jesus, what’s wrong with someone doing a co-op thing, and throwing their character into a company, but if the company pisses them off and they leave, then they take their character with them someplace else? There’s nothing in the world that says a company run like that couldn’t go on and have great sales successes, is there? Marvel’s actually survived just fine despite the ROM fiasco, and Wildstorm survived Aliens, so what’s really the diff? Like it’s so bad when creators yank their properties, but it’s totally no-problem cool when corporations yank theirs?

Fine, well, here comes the re-writing (and just in time, ’cause I was about to go all Atticus on these “deal’s a deal” hillbillies who think contracts ought to include clauses stating that the contracts including them can’t be challenged in court because it -grumble- just ain’t right for a body ta complain, and anyway I never asked fer no durned legal rights, I’ll sell ‘em up to ya fer a barrel o’ water or a new jug ta blow on)…

In three contrary words:

Which they wouldn’t.

You see I disagree with you, and don’t think the shared-universe publishing properties would collapse in a rights-rich world. And why? Because there’s no reason to think that they would. Obviously things couldn’t continue as they have, in a world where the Kane family owned Batman, the Siegels owned Superman, etc…but then hey, they’re actually not good examples, are they? Batman and Superman heirs, they’re gonna care about the money, not the purity of the turf. They’re gonna leave the properties in the hands of the editors, and content themselves with a fat cheque every two weeks. Right?

Silence gives assent…

I’m not talking timeline redaction, you see. I’m talking practical matters of how and when, and under what conditions. Give the Batman heirs their Batman money today — I think they’ll be happy. You might not be able to re-mount Nextwave as it is if various Kirby people say “back off this iteration of Machine Man”, but then again so what? Backdate it two years, and I guarantee you won’t miss old Aaron. Warren and Stuart would’ve just gone nutto with different characters. Other characters no one really cared too much about. Anyway it wouldn’t be too different from Joe Q. saying “we need purple Machine Man for Civil War, so find someone else”…which could’ve happened. Could still happen. Anyway what I’m saying is — Nextwave? Oh, for Christ’s sake don’t worry, you still get Nextwave.

And Ditko, Ditko…can I just say this? You think Ditko wants money? Can you not see he’s washed his hands clean? Send him a letter informing him he’s retroactively won half the rights to Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, and I’ll give you fifty bucks at six-to-one you’ll never get an answer. Take the bet?

But Ditko’s a one-off. Everybody else is a working cartoonist, and they’ll take money for everything but the most precious, precious, personal pet projects. Rocket Racer? Use ‘im, God bless ya. Tigra in the Avengers again? Sounds good. Valkyrie? Englehart says, just don’t make her a bimbo, deal? Oh, and the estate of Bill Everett requests Namor not suck, if you’re okay with that.

What’s wrong with that? Of course, forgive me, I’m not being as realistic as I promised I would. And in reality, I agree that any rightsholders would inevitably have to give up something, just for their property to be published at all. And in reality, they’d probably have to give up quite a bit. But the difference is, they be bloody well paid for it.

Paid money that was owed a long time ago!

But minus the interest!

Marvel and DC would survive. Though you wouldn’t get Mantis without Englehart, or Howard without Gerber, or Thanos without Starlin, or Death without Gaiman, or Hannibal King without Marv Wolfman. But…sorry to repeat myself, but what in the hell’s wrong with that, again? For a low, low fee, you could use Mankiller and Starfox all you want, I’m sure. Glorian, the Jackal (although that might be contingent on no more Spider-clonery), Thundra, Firebird, X Da Marvel…buy ‘em up, Joe! Pennies on the dollar! All it requires is a different business model, that accounts for a different marketplace. All it needs is the tiniest bit of change.

You’re too pessimistic, David. I think it’d be fine.

My two cents.

Oh, just look at that crappy scattershot italicization of mine. Sorry, folks; can’t handle a computer.

I don’t think I’m likely to turn you to my point of view, David. But at least I’m pretty sure you understand it! So unless I’ve once again radically misinterpreted what you’re trying to say, what say we call it a draw?

I’m eating up like half the total space on this thread, it’s becoming embarrassing…

well, yeah I think you are misinterpreting what I’m saying, to a degree. For example, I never said Ditko cared about money. It’s obvious he doesn’t. We all know he cares pretty strongly about his principles. With that in mind, I wonder how supportive he’d be of Denny O’Neill’s interpretation of his character The Question (one of my favourite runs on anuy comic ever) if he was given a say in when and if it was reprinted, given that the work amounts to a complete and total revision of the character, and practical reversal of what he stands for?

As for the rest of your post, well, a good chunk is based on unfounded assumptions about how people would behave in a hypothetical situation, another chunk is assumptions about which characters would have their rights reverted and which wouldn’t (your principle seems to be, let the companies keep the ones that aren’t making money… which begs the question of what happens when someone comes along and makes an unpopular character popular, or adopts them as a “pet character”? Who gets the rights then?), and much of the rest is displays a misunderstanding of how Mrvel and DC make money; here’s a hint: it’s not from comics. If creators own the rights to the characters, then they get the money from licencing for cartoons, movies, and most importantly for Marvel in particular, toys. And that’s why they’d go out of business.

Apathy Boy – BEAUTIFUL catch on the Rich Johnson LITG piece. I’d never seen that before. (And absolutely would’ve included it in the original article if I’d have dredged it up.)

First of all, sorry for taking so long to reply, I’m only able to do this once a day just now.

Fourthworlder said:
“I never complained about Gerber bitching about the man (Marvel). His complaining seemed to get personal about this new writer, and that triggered something in me.”

For one sentence, about the Omega situation (which he later backed down from, at least the more personal aspect of it), sure.
I was referring more to the general totality of what Gerber’s said about his problems with the big 2 over the years. I realize that the Omega thing has become the central issue in this thread, but I did get the impression that there was a great deal of knee-jerk reaction against the very fact that he was, as many online tough-guys chose to characterize it, “whining”.
And that triggered something in me.

but I did get the impression that there was a great deal of knee-jerk reaction against the very fact that he was, as many online tough-guys chose to characterize it, “whining”.
And that triggered something in me.

Clearly. Now consider for just a moment, that there wasn’t anybody trying to be a tough guy, and that you might have had an overreaction, due to something you read into the posts.

And then consider why some people might have criticized your reaction.

Apodaca said:
“Now consider for just a moment, that there wasn’t anybody trying to be a tough guy”

I’ve reconsidered, and looked over the threads again, and, no, I still stand by that one.

“I’ve reconsidered, and looked over the threads again, and, no, I still stand by that one.”

Care to actually name names? I ask, cos I’m guessing I’m who you’re talking about. In which case I feel the need once again to clarify my position, but I’ll keep it super short this time: Gerber needs to learn from Neal Addams, an artist with a considerable reputation for getting his (financial) due as a creator. Thing is, he does it by talking directly to the people who sign the checks, in a reasonable manner, with reasonable requests… not by publicly slagging off all and sundry.

And I really think you should give me a creator’s courtesy call, Mr. Norris, before so blithely reusing my personal pet creation/saying, “and that triggered something in me,” the way you did.

Okay. This thread is mostly dead, but I just got here. I have been offline for the last 3 weeks and am just trying to get caught up.
—–
The ‘back of the paycheck’ statement has been ruled illegal in court. Some artists at the time simply scratched it out before signing the check.
—–
Kirby’s argument with Marvel wasn’t about ownership of characters. It was about ownership of his artwork. He did thousands of pages and Marvel wouldn’t return them—even though they were returning artwork to other artists. That it became also about ownership of some characters was mostly driven by others talking about it and Marvel reacting in fear that Kirby would soon own the company, something that Kirby had no interest in. He merely wanted his artwork back so his family could sell it in the future for income after he was gone.
—–
Gerber created Howard the Duck for comics. When Marvel was going to make the movie, Gerber felt he was owed some of that money, as he create the character. This is why you see contracts today (see Platinum) that give all future rights of all kinds to the company, even in media not yet created.
—–
“…they (Marvel) were never going to say “no” to a New York Times bestselling novelist…”

That is the crux of the matter. Comics companies today are incapable of training new writers or artists. They have to find them elsewhere. They also have no memory of the writers from the past who can still tell good stories. So they go with the “name” and hope for the best.

Russ Maheras—do you have a link to your work at Marvel? I can’t remember seeing your stuff before and can’t look for it myself at this time.

[...] There has been a lot said in the comics press regarding the creator’s rights issues and financial and moral considerations surrounding the controversial revival at Marvel of Omega the Unknown. Our own Mark Andrew did a nice job of summing up here not too long ago, for those who came in late. But there’s one particular aspect of it that no one has really talked about that much — not even Omega’s original creators, Steve Gerber or Mary Skrenes. And to my mind, it’s the single most grating aspect of the whole thing. [...]

[...] Gerber eventually wrote a final Howard the Duck miniseries in 2002, this one drawn by Phil Winslade, but even after several decades, he found himself unable to tolerate Marvel’s actions — last year, when the company launched new versions of Omega the Unknown without his or Mary Skrenes’ consent, Gerber lashed out at Marvel. His final comics work included the series Hard Time for DC Comics’ failed Focus imprint, and was working on a Doctor Fate series when he died. [...]

[...] di dichiarazioni e interviste disponibili presso: goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2007/10/08/more-on-steve-gerber-howard-the-duck-and-omega-the-unkn…. È verosimile che queste parole si applichino anche ai due episodi apocrifi di Omega apparsi a suo [...]

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