DAMMDAMM Lucky Issue #17 – Illusions are Gonzo Again

By DAMM Published November 18, 2011 at 04:23


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By DAMM

 For the first part of this piece please go to – The Schumer Weekend Part 1 – Beginnings 

For more Schumer coverage please also see The Conscience of Comics part 1 and The Conscience of Comics part 2

 

*WARNING SOME (not too much) ADULT LANGUAGE*

There are hundreds of ways to start part two of this article and so far only a couple come close to capturing the experience and only the tone of the quote below actually becomes a metaphor for Saturday at NYCC – panel day. By the time we pull up and park I am spinning from the dizzy pace Arlen is moving. His mouth has been audibly lining out the layers of information he is about to deliver in his two panels. Both are in a way brand new to him. One, the Auteur Theory of Comics is an entirely new panel and presentation on who is the true auteur (from the French for author) of a comic book. There is a heavy Kirby vs. Marvel verdict section within that as well as a video presentation of Silver Age art against the words and associations of each to another by Schumer. The other while given before at SDCC and other places is different. Mort Weisinger was the most legendary personality in the Superman editorial office. He was there 30 years. By all accounts he was…brilliant and difficult. Arlen Schumer knows a lot about the man who hired Curt Swan for Superman. This very day in New York City at the Javits Center, Arlen will give this presentation with Mort Weisinger’s son – Hank.

 

  

The ultimate irony of Mort Weisinger’s Superman, is that the things everyone talks so highly about – that Weisinger starting in 1958 had total control finally and he then created this extended family for Superman blah, blah, blah, blah, blah – well the irony is that DC years before sues Captain Marvel (Fawcett Comics) for infringement. If you are a student of comic book history, they (Captain Marvel and Superman) were as different as night and day and yet DC won. So what does Mort Weisinger do after they run Captain Marvel (Fawcett Comics) out of business? He, just like Hearst, hires everybody that’s at Captain Marvel to come to DC and recreate what was at Captain Marvel. Mary Marvel became Supergirl; everything became Superman but copied from Captain Marvel by the same creators! Is that not double irony with a capital I?”

“Then there is the triple irony is that in 1972 DC buys the rights to publish Captain Marvel. That’s some irony.  So Marvel owned Captain Marvel and put out Mar-Vell right away to secure the copyrights, so in ’72 when DC bought the rights they could use the name Captain Marvel in the comic but the title had to be SHAZAM! They couldn’t use Captain Marvel in the title – big fuckin’ deal SHAZAM is a better title. But then they ruined it anyway, the idiots by putting Denny O’Neil – Mr. Realism – on Captain Marvel. That’s it make Captain Marvel realistic. Needs the squinty eyes. Is there any reason to do Captain Marvel without C.C. Beck?”

Arlen Schumer – off the cuff conversation – between the coffee and the salad courses at a Kirby Museum Tribute to Jack Kirby in Hoboken, New Jersey. 10/15/11 8:35 p.m.

 

He is in full blown “go” mode from the time his feet hit the floor in the morning on Friday and when Schumer is going it seems whirlwinds go, “gosh he has a lot of moving energy.” He has not slept, he has worked all through the night, and it is now Saturday. He has been verifying each date, memorizing each progression and quote.

Now his biggest challenge is to contain himself long enough to get through it without the wrong kind of explosion. You see when Arlen Schumer is like this, little things like feelings and political correctness along with about everything else go right out the window. He can’t help it. He can no more disengage the supernova passion from his mouth or the tunnel vision of his dream from his eye any more than  Rimbaud or Nietzsche could keep the socially “graced and proper” of their time happy. Only there is no chemical excess, it is a pure creative fire. He may as well be pulling the sun from the sky with a match. He is oozing so much raw creativity that I want to write, hell I want to draw and I don’t know how to. He is in a hyper-focused but altogether manic state and his eyes are ablaze with eagerness. This is the day he is thinking, because it is written all over his face, this is the day some of them actually get to SEE it! This could change everything!

   

Two of Schumer’s acclaimed books The Silver Age of Comic Book Art and the Neal Adams Sketch Book

I’ve got the whole story except the happy ending, why do the comic press and the comic industry professional still refuse to recognize my work? I need a happy ending Steve. All I do is bleed for this industry, why won’t they accept me? I have spent my whole life serving the greater good of this industry.” He asked me the night before. I wondered if anyone wanted “greater good” any more or just right here and right now.

There is no doubt. Schumer along with the uncontrollable need to create feels unrecognized for his life’s work with, for and on the topic of Silver Age art as fine art, as books, as graphic design.

Make no mistake – it is his intention to get masters like Kirby, Ditko, Adams and Swan in the discussions of Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Monet and Van Gogh by fine art critics and names like Jim Steranko and Gil Kane in the conversations about legends of commercial illustration like Seymour Chwast. These are not small goals, but more than that he truly believes that it is right. That is a hard thing to encounter in a man let alone stand in contention. It also makes it hard to get him to listen sometimes.

This may not be some martyr complex – because the work of Schumer is impeccable and when asked to or put on the spot some very important people have validated his work. Some of it may be.

But to be sure there is this, there is no doubt there are people who would like to be around and use his skills but few people know what to do with this.

With him.

When he is on.

Right now he is REALLY on.

I understand a little better what is happening here. I believe there is a third side to this story now becoming clear. It is an old one you have heard before.

A gifted man with an intense creative passion may actually be a visionary but he knows it, embraces it and tells others so; As a result others are afraid to acknowledge it because of the intensity of the individual, so there is an overbearing strain on personalities and relationships. Labels develop real and imagined (those are the tricky ones), real events of self-destruction start happening to the artist because of these labels. Word spreads on both artist and outside world side of fence. Soon all there is – is bad history and wrong first impressions made into cemented assessments of character. So I wanted to find out. I want you to know I am looking for people to talk about these things. A lot of people admit to knowing him and none will say ill nor good. So far they do not respond or they switch topics. This man gets the most peculiar reactions. I am going nowhere until my own curiosity is satisfied. On to the panels…

COMIC STUDIES CONFERENCE PRESENTS:

THE AUTEUR THEORY OF COMICS: by Arlen Schumer and Rand Hoppe: Curator – Jack Kirby Online Museum

Also on the Panel:

John Morrow (The Jack Kirby Collector)

J. David Spurlock (Vanguard Productions)

Michael Bonesteel (The School of the Art Institute of Chicago)

Presented by The Institute for Comic Studies: Peter Coogan – Founder


The turnout was phenomenal considering the competition. A JLA panel, several key signings yet still there was a line outside the Auteur panel. It was the first of the two back to back Schumer extravaganzas. When all was said and done, and a 5 minute attempt to get the lights to co-operate (I said attempt) there was standing room only. But I think there was no one turned away I could tell. After all I was in the front row with my handy dandy recorder. There were some people with real comic book clout in that room. Not the kind that is in the press everyday but the kind those guys came from. A Superman collector, a TV producer/animator/writer a son of a legend and a few more you would recognize but I did not obtain permission to use their names so I will not. I will say this. When it was over, Dennis O’Neil came in through the door, I shook his hand he was very nice as he was on the following panel. Enough about me.

Schumer began like this…

The Auteur Theory of Comics. The recent court loss by Jack Kirby estate to” and the lights come on. And go off. Schumer focuses and his agitated state increases. The whole crowd can see he is bubbling over and ready to just gush information. We watch him turn frustration to useful energy right in front of us. His face is visibly showing the struggle to stay straight. He laughs…but it happens 2 more times. He laughs again and fires both barrels from the hip.

   

 

The Auteur Theory of Comics, the recent court loss by Jack Kirby’s estate to Marvel and Disney in the court battle over ownership of Marvel Comics characters ONCE AGAIN rested on the testimony of Stan Lee who basically has testified and won the case that it was his creation of the Marvel Comics characters by dint of his salaried role as editor and writer versus the role of Jack Kirby who legally was only the hired hand work-for-hire and basically had no rights to the characters he was creating BUT this is a total misconception of the fact that Jack Kirby should be considered the Auteur of the Marvel Comics Universe.

Basically in the 1950’s The Auteur Theory of Film was started by French film makers, the young Francois Truffaut writing in the cinematic journal of the time, Cahiers du Cinema. He and some other French movie makers were basically saying to America, ‘Your genre film makers like Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford Howard Hawks are really the auteurs of the films. The fact that they didn’t write the films doesn’t mean that it’s not their films.’ It was American critics like Andrew Sarris who picked up on this role and in 50 years established this idea that the director works with a screenplay like words on paper. Until the director casts and films and chooses a cinematographer – until he does everything that a comic artist does as we’ll see, you don’t have a film. So this idea of The Auteur Theory of Film can be applied to comics.”

   

There is shuffling and settling as people get ready for what everyone knows is where rubber and road should meet. Schumer continues, “Because it really started when Stan Lee had artists like Jack Kirby take some verbal ideas, sometimes a script sometimes a synopsis. Basically his testimony, which was NOT allowed in court from an interview in the 1960’s, went like this. Stan Lee goes” he starts reading from the interview.

“‘I would tell Jack the main idea I wanted and then we would talk about it and we would come up with something. I would give him the outline from the story. As we went on (we had been working together for years) the outlines I gave him were skimpier and skimpier. I might say something like ‘In this story let’s have Dr. Doom kidnap Sue Storm and the Fantastic Four has to go in and rescue her, and in the end Dr. Doom does this and that. And that might have been all I tell him for a twenty page story. If the book was twenty pages long than I would receive back twenty beautifully drawn pages in pencil which told a story. Jack would just put in all the details and everything, and there it was. I enjoyed that. It was like doing a crossword puzzle. I get the panels back and I’d have to put in the dialogue and make it all tie together. So we worked well together that way for years.’”

 

Schumer looks around the room. So do I, and the faces are not blank. Faces are mixed from the in agreement already to the furious. The how DARE you bring up that interview looks, from those in the first throes of losing their illusions and then there are the other ones. The ones waiting do dissect him right here on the floor of the panel, the ones fidgeting with their pencils writing questions and like so many of us passionate fans and purists pounce at any new idea no matter how logical or how much evidence to its proof. I have done it myself. The excitement was building and they were hanging on every word.

Schumer goes ahead, “Ergo it was the artists like Jack Kirby who were the actual storytellers – not JUST the artists – with Lee, of the Marvel Comics Universe. Just like the directors of films are considered the true authors of their films for over fifty years now and who are entitled to all the benefits and copyright protection of their films.”

“Now at the same time I want to make clear that this is NOT in any way to deny Stan Lee’s co-authorship and co-creatorship of the Marvel Comics Universe. In my opinion he deserves exactly fifty percent of the credit for his absolutely crucial role as editor/writer/art director/salesman and spokesperson but not one percent more or a percent less. The sad fact of the matter is that LEE has successfully campaigned throughout his post –working relationships with Kirby and Ditko to create the perception – and therefore the reality – that he and he alone was the one hundred percent, prime sole creator of the Marvel Comics Universe and relegating Kirby specifically to the historically demeaning role of the artist as merely a pair of hands – a “wrist” who robotically drew up Lee’s scripts. Which is the ONE theory that the judge heard in terms of comic book creation.”

“Now, comic book creators who write and draw their own stuff, like the Kirby influenced Jim Steranko, or you can go back to the D.W. Griffith of comics Will Eisner who wrote and drew their own work? We are not talking about artists or cartoonists like that. They DO control and create their own work. What we are talking about is just like The Auteur Theory of Film, directors like John Ford and Howard Hawks. They didn’t write their screenplays but it is their films due to what they brought to it. And that is why it concerns men and artists like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. Who only drew the comics and not write the script. That’s what we are concerned about. There’s a couple of asterisks in terms of comic book history, in terms of writers let’s say Harvey Kurtzman who not only wrote but he visually laid out the stories that he did in those classic EC Comics. This is from Two Fisted Tales (old EC comics layout image on screen) he functioned more like an art director would and there is the finished art by John Severin (shows finished page of laid out version I don’t have all of these images.)

   

Or take an Alan Moore, if you know anything about his scripts, this is from Marvelman they are extensive. You might say Alan Moore was acting as an art director. So there are the two writers that are sort of the asterisks that really don’t fit into this. They are the exceptions that PROVE the rule. But the overarching concept of The Auteur Theory of Comics is that it really doesn’t matter WHAT form of script an artist who is collaborating with another writer works with.”

 

 

He goes on to show four different examples of scripts from  1940’s Wonder Woman scripts, to a Planetary by Warren Ellis, and Nemesis by Mark Millar to demonstrate each type of common scripting in today’s big comics. Then he puts the pencils for the same page up next to them. The message is coming through loud and clear. He is demonstrating right in front of us his Auteur Theory of Comics letting the visual evidence fill in the gaps dialogue can’t convey. “Now a lot of people think – Well, y’know the writer is still creating the idea of the page shouldn’t he be considered really the creator?

 “Well, here is a sample script called Paddy, and if you look closely and follow what the writer wrote – this was an experiment in how different artists interpret the same script. So if you follow this script it takes place in a car; The writer talks about there is a pinhole of light then we see inside of a car and we see the characters. Well here’s how one artist interpreted that script, but yet here is a different artist interpreting the script completely differently. So really the act of an artist drawing a comic creates the comic book experience. Now one way to talk about the Marvel Method and tell people who aren’t aware of what the Marvel Method is about the clearest analogy is the Beatles!”

 

At this point he puts up this Kirby image laid out by Schumer next to a classic Beatles album cover.

Lennon/McCartney – they were like the Lee/Kirby of the 60’s or vice-versa.” There is a round of applause in the panel room at this. “Their collaboration was really a thematic 50/50 split. Here is the spread,” There is laughter and a few claps. “I put together in my book The Silver Age of Comic Book Art, to get across the fact that if it wasn’t for Martin Goodman changing the title of Fabulous Four to the Fantastic Four right before it went to publication they would have been the first Fab Four – three years before the Beatles. Now the early collaborations of Lennon/McCartney were more 50/50 if you know anything about how the Beatles wrote music, similar to Stan Lee’s early collaborations with Kirby that was the synopsis that he typed up that later became Fantastic Four #1. A couple of issues later here is an actual thumbnail layout by Lee and here is the full color.”

     

The two examples are showing how similar the paragraph, the thumbnail board and finished panel layouts look.  It is glaringly obvious there was a true collaboration in those early FF issues, the images driving home Schumer’s voice which is confident and ever steady, but working up in passion. It is starting, that next gear that Schumer goes into where there is an element to his demeanor that is so intense it is kind of uncomfortable. I know it is coming from ten miles away and I am in the front row. I am a little nervous to be honest. I know what is coming and I cannot do a THING but smile and watch as Schumer continues.

 

“And yet as we know about the Beatles as they went on they really became more like solo projects where each one would lend a little bit to the product; similar to Stan Lee like this – McCartney wrote Yesterday that was basically a solo record but it was still credited to Lennon/McCartney.

 

This is similar to Stan Lee calling up Jack Kirby and saying, ‘Hey Jack let’s have the FF fight a really big villain in the next issue’ and Jack Kirby basically “writes AND draws” the Galactus/Silver Surfer Trilogy that is considered one of the most groundbreaking and one of the greatest epics in the history of comics.

 

Now since Lennon/McCartney couldn’t divvy up who did what in every song, so in the very beginning of their career they came up with the Lennon/McCartney split and that went well both creatively, artistically and practically. It made sense in the real world of publishing, credit and earnings to share.

 

That’s how Lee SHOULD HAVE worked with artists like Kirby and Ditko who did the heavy lifting of actually telling the story so that Lee could write multiple comics. In fact it was John Romita Sr. who said that whole thing he and Jack started was for expediency because he didn’t have a script ready. That’s the reason. It was not done out of any stroke of genius. It was done out of expedience. Jack would call up and say ‘Stan I didn’t get the story yet or the script.’ And Stan would say ‘Ok what I am going to do is describe the first five or six pages of action, you do them without words and when you send them in I will put the words in then.’ That is how it grew into the Marvel method of art first and script second.”

 

 “It was like sunlight had come into the room because this was a visual medium that had become a verbal medium for fifty years and suddenly it was this visual medium again it was intended to be in the first place! I think the biggest thing Stan and Jack contributed to the industry was that. Visual first was a huge step forward, it was a quantum leap. And yet Stan always took full writers pay and the artists were not compensated for their ‘plotting’ or even what you would call their writing. Which is really the reason when you read between the lines why both Ditko then Kirby left Marvel. The most extreme example of this attitude is the sequence from S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 which starts out totally silent.And as I go through this you will see that Stan Lee didn’t want to pay Jim Steranko as a writer for this story because according to Stan or some say Sol Brodsky there were no words on the pages. This gets to the crux of the primacy of word over image of the lay public’s mind and the average comic book fans, as well as the misunderstanding the entire process of visual storytelling in comics. When the artist has control over sound as well, and if he feels like a sequence in a story can best be told silently as in films he has the choice and the creative control to make it. That is part of the auteurship of the artist in comics. That is what we are trying to establish. Even theoretically, if Stan had written S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 even traditionally as a DC full script, like he would have preferred, the auteurship of this sequence would have STILL been Steranko’s. In fact, in my opinion the artist has ALWAYS been the primary storyteller in comics, because of the primacy of the visuals in comics.”

“In my book The Silver Age of Comic Book Art it is not the Silver Age of Comics, it is the Silver Age of Comic Book Art. When you go to the title page of all the great artists and their signatures you go to what Gil Kane said, ‘The only thing that makes comics worth reading is the art.’ In fact here are three penciled pages that Gil Kane put together as demos to show Stan Lee that he could tell a story Marvel style.” Those famous pages go up on the projector and there isn’t an eye sideways. Everyone is dialed in but fidgety because we all know it is about to become even more uncomfortable in here as preconceived notions of Stan and of Marvel start to get challenged.

 

 

 ”He is the writer AND the artist. Even Gene Colan in his signature line said,’ Every story I ever drew was like being the director of a film.’ And if you know Gene Colan’s work, who sadly just passed away, you’d know that everything he did draw – the definitive Iron Man, the only Dr. Strange to measure up to Ditko’s – was like being a director of a film. The simple fact that no one seems to acknowledge – that is part and parcel of The Auteur Theory of Comics – in defense of Kirby, that had it been presented as evidence to the court that maybe the court and eventually the public would understand (maybe for the first time) the role of the artist as the de facto co-creator of a comic book work.”

What he says next is where I get conflicted as a continuity freak. This line of thinking he is about to introduce makes me crazy, but rebuttals are not my place – if I had a good one. I am everything of the camp that everything that ever happened to every character should remain a part of their story kind of guy. I am a characterization guy. But my proclivities and preconceptions are fair game here too. So I try not to take it personal as he goes on.

“Now some people say ‘Well, in a comic book the origin is the most important thing in the characters, and didn’t Stan create the character concepts first?’ Well let’s take Spider-Man for instance there was a little known character concept banded about for about 15 years originally started by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in the late 40’s  they created Captain America and they came up with a character they called SpiderMan. Later on in the 50’s it somehow wound up a penciled page called the Silver Spider by the great Golden Age artist C.C Beck. Then when Jack Kirby ended up back at Marvel, he was proposing new characters, he had a character Night Fighter which was some sort of version of the old SpiderMan concept by Kirby and Simon. Here is another image of Night Fighter.”

   

The images going up on the screen now are fairly rare and altogether awesome. Original Simon/Kirby sketches, C.C. Beck’s Silver Spider and Night Fighter which we can all see looks nothing like Spider-Man currently but if origins are what we are discussing, it is clear where he is going. The origin of a character comes from artists too and it evolves over time. There is also an implication here that Simon/Kirby/ and Ditko especially had more to do with Spider-Man than Stan. That does not sit well with the audience, in fact there are audible groans and whispers all around. But Schumer hasn’t even begun to shake their foundations. There is the fundamental truth he is working off of here in his belief system. Stan Lee is a revisionist. He has been altering the facts through changing the perceptions for too long.

   

Right around that time Kirby did stuff for Archiethe Fly, which used some of the Spider-Man concepts. But when Kirby tried drawing Spider-Man for Stan Lee it wasn’t right. It looked like these Night Fighter images. It wasn’t until Stan Lee had the creative genius to take Steve Ditko who had recently done a superhero Captain Atom. Lee said ‘You know, I’ll give Ditko a try on Spider-Man.’ Therefore it was DITKO’s Spider-Man that became the Spider-Man that became successful along with Stan Lee. It’s not that Stan Lee created Spider-Man’s look. In fact it was Ditko’s design that has become the de facto logo of Marvel Comics. It’s the Disney mouse ears of Marvel Comics.

     


What is interesting about Ditko is that there was a story he did in 1964 in an annual he showed how he draws Spider-Man and it had pinup pages. There is the first page, as you go through the story you see him drawing Spider-Man – that panel was about three inches high. I blew up that panel in my book to the size of a full page, because my point here is that this is the elephant in the room nobody wants to talk about. That in the verbal/visual mediums known as comic books, it’s the VISUAL creation of a character that makes him it the de facto – not necessarily a legal act of creation – but morally and ethically a de facto fifty percent co-creatorship. Because as Ditko himself said and wrote about 1990 in answer to the publicity Stan Lee was getting for total creatorship of Spider-Man. He wrote and drew this diagrammatic illustration that a comic creation isn’t fully created until an artist puts pencil to paper and visualizes that writer’s creation or whatever form that script takes.”

 

“So WAS the verbal origin of Spider-Man that Stan Lee claims he came up with more important in the overall success of this character – than the greatest costume design in the history of comics? Is that more important than Steve Ditko’s creation?  Are the scripts of Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein for EC, the overwritten Leroy lettering scripts more important than a hall of fame illustrators who drew in their prepared pages? Or in some cases like Bernie Krigstein who cut up the prepared pages? Are the great Bob Haney Brave and the Bold stories more important to the success of Neal Adams’ auteurship of the Brave and the Bold stories themselves – in which he changed scenes from light to dark just like a film director would in filming a screenplay if it felt it better told the story?

     

How about Bat Lash? Bat Lash was a western character created by Carmine Infantino and Sergio Aragones. I think Infantino plotted and Aragones would come up with the story in Spanish and it was translated. I think Steve Skeates wrote the dialogue. But why do we remember Bat Lash? Because of the auteurship of Nick Cardy, one of the mediums greatest illustrators that illustrated these great stories, didn’t really matter who wrote them. It was the fact that Nick Cardy auteured them. Tomb of Dracula what is more important, Marv Wolfman’s concepts on how he brought Dracula into modern comics or was it Gene Colan’s atmospheric auteurship of the art inked by the great Tom Palmer?

     

In fact I remember when I was reading like all of you read the great reprints of the Batman stories  you were kids in these annuals. Why is it that as kids we were able to distinguish between the boring stiff art that we later found out was Shelley Moldoff ghosting over Bob Kane, how come we instinctively knew who the good Batman artist was which we later found out and who has the most pornographic names in comics history Dick Sprang? That’s a whole other subject…”

     


 

There is laughter abundant at this, less because of the humor of the joke and more to relieve the intense mood in the room from all this information and all these notions once sacred falling to the wayside. There is audible sighing with relief and the moment of levity while brief is welcome. People are looking around to see who is laughing, to see if Stan Lee is in the room or to see if there is going to be trouble. There is no doubt the comic industry is writer centric right now.

Grant Morrison is nearly worshiped as a god and don’t get me started on Bendis or Johns, and artists share this double sword of widely recognized yet it is the writer that gets all the credit as genius or brilliant. The writing community is going to HATE this if it catches on. It goes a long way to explaining the strange way people handle Arlen. However it is starting to dawn on me at this point that those stories are flat dead things without the mind of an artist to visualize and translate it to the page. And each artist will do that differently yet I don’t see people buying scripts at the store but illustrated scripts. My feet dig in a little; I get stubborn. But there is a little voice inside that is giving up the final throes of my old understanding. While I have been interested in The Auteur Theory of Comics and felt many of its points valid I had not jumped off the cliff yet. But I was sitting on the edge looking down. I bet there were more in that room just like me. I bet there were those just like you out there in reader land furious, against it or unwilling to listen to any more too. In my opinion I was witnessing a moment in comics’ history too. It was the moment The Auteur Theory became alive. It was here at NYCC that it was unleashed on the comic book public.

 

“How were we able to tell this Batman story by one of the Kane ghosts and a Dick Sprang story? Well they featured the outsized props, it had a style. Dick Sprang was the artist equivalent of Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks and John Ford. You KNEW a Dick Sprang story. It didn’t matter that Edmond Hamilton or Al Schwartz wrote it. It was a Dick Sprang story. We knew it even though he wasn’t credited. So again it doesn’t matter whether it’s a long Alan Moore script for which a description for panel one goes on for ten pages, or whether it’s a phone call that produces the Galactus trilogy.

 

In fact, when you are talking about Watchmen everybody say’ Well, I mean c’mon, Watchmen is all about Alan Moore it’s not about Dave Gibbons art.’ Sorry. I’ll bet you Alan Moore will be the first one to tell you, and I think legally and financially he splits everything 50/50 with the artist, he would be the first one to say that ALL of his collaborations with a who’s who of greats were the auteurship of the artist and he was the writer in his proper place. This is a thumbnail by Eddie Campbell from From Hell. To further diminish the notion that Alan Moore is everything, Gibbons or the people that illustrate him are nothing. I would have loved to see what your typical 2008 artist would have done with Watchmen or Don Heck no offense to the art would have done with ‘fight a really big villain.’

 

The problem is, in a nutshell, that Alan Moore and other writers get more credit than artists in such a visual medium. Why? (It is) because literary criticism far outweighs visual and art criticism in this society in terms of column inches and overall impact and ubiquity. There is far more literature courses in college than art courses, and because the graphic novel and serious criticism of comics as a serious visual hybrid is still relatively recent. Even then comics criticism pretty much follows the standard verbal story/characters discussion with always an acknowledgement –a backhanded compliment – to what are called the ‘art chores’ and the penultimate paragraph of every review you have ever read about a comic book story. Most comic fans, I will tell you right now, are story/character concerned.

 

You are not really visually literate enough to actually discuss artistic merits and faults of comic book art to the same degree that you discuss story and character. Combined with the fact that lay comic book audiences know far more about traditional art – it used to be painting and sculpture now it is computer graphics – than they know about how comic book art is produced and how to differentiate BETWEEN good and bad comic art. Therefore you have the current situation in which Stan Lee is thought of as both the artist AND the writer of Marvel Comics. In fact, from the latest comic shop newsarama that followed the court case in which Kirby sustained loss, this is what it said in doing a news story about Stan Lee. ‘Comics icon Stan Lee creator of the mighty Marvel Universe and characters such as Spider-Man, Incredible Hulk, X-Men and Iron Man.’ So think of this Auteur Theory of Comics as being the testimony that SHOULD HAVE  and COULD HAVE and MAY STILL  follow Lee’s self-serving testimony, enlighten the judge and the media covering the trial to the truth of the Marvel Method, in actual practice asserting an artist of the magnitude of Jack ‘King’ Kirby his morally and ethically rightful place as the auteur of the Marvel Comics Universe. Thank You.”

  

The applause is deafening in the little room but there are hands shooting up already and the panel has not even been introduced yet. There is palpable passion all over that room. Everyone has an opinion on this. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

I just want to say one thing real quick, comes a southern drawl from the panel table in a higher register voice. “J. David Spurlock – Vanguard Publishing, great books about comics and comics history, we have known each other for years and it is real great to have him here to talk about this.” Arlen jumps in in time to introduce him to the room. “I just want to say something real quick. I think that Arlen is very outspoken and he is very passionate. We don’t agree on everything. Everything Arlen says I wouldn’t go along with but there is a very basic foundation that I am here and I think a lot of why Arlen invited us for was a little show of solidarity toward this concept.”

“It’s not that we are all going to agree on everything. Or that we are going to agree with Arlen on everything. BUT the basics, the foundations – first of all Jack Kirby is the greatest comic book artist that‘s ever been.” This got the biggest applause of the day half the room is standing and it seems everyone on the panel is in agreement again.

So I think in a way we’re here kind of as a vote of solidarity on The Auteur Theory of Comics. I would say I absolutely agree with the theory. I have thought this way a long time and want to applaud this mentality going forward, in Arlen’s effort to move it forward. I think the judges decision was wrong and there are all kinds of fine details we could convey regarding the law and the basic concepts of what Kirby generated for Marvel. But I agree that the regular comics job or whatever where the script is written, let’s say a full script, the illustrator comes in and does it that includes the Auteur Theory of Comics. The artist is an equal collaborator with the writer. In a visual medium it is a 50/50 split. That is in regular; let’s say DC full script style. In the Marvel Method I wouldn’t even say it is 50/50, it’s more on the artist. Jack, Gene Colan, John Buscema, and Steranko – they were all plotting these stories. Steve Ditko was actually doing more than plotting. Steranko was doing more than plotting. Kirby was doing more than plotting. So for regular comics which would fit Auteur Theory enough, Marvel Method the even more the artists direction.”

 

The next to speak is introduced by Arlen, “This is John Morrow of Two Morrows Publishing and the Jack Kirby Collector, so much of the art I got here, if it wasn’t for John Morrow and what he has been doing for the last seventeen years now…”

Morrow starts,” I agree…mostly with what Arlen said. But I would disagree that comic book fans aren’t skilled enough or trained enough to debate the merits of comic book art With a defiant half smile and a laugh the audience reciprocates. Schumer says to the crowd and to Morrow, “Bring it on.” And that is the Schumer end of his difficulties. He has done so much study, so much research, given so much of his life to the facts of who and when and why that he honestly does not believe there is anyone who knows more on this subject than him. It never even occurs to him that he is missing ANY parts of the picture. To be fair there are few who could rise to that challenge. So there is the crux of it. Schumer’s knowledge and unshakable dream will push out of the way anything he deems in the way, irrelevant or poorly drawn, researched or thought out. It makes him a burning supernova and people are afraid that he will lose control and burn them.

I want to clarify one thing. The whole Kirby/Marvel/Disney thing is still under appeal so it is not over. The case wasn’t really about who did what, whether Jack should get credit for everything, whether he should get no credit,  whether creatorship was 50/50; it wasn’t about that at all. It was about what Kirby did at Marvel before 1970 does that qualify as work for hire or not. And that’s a whole ‘nother debate we could get into but I want to make sure they understand that is what that case is about. It’s not a case about who gets credit for what. It’s a case of Kirby working at home, in his own studio on his own time supplying all of his own paper and pencils and all that stuff. Is that work for hire or not.

And if they fit into the legalities of the definitions of work for hire. Actually those definitions have moved around a little bit over the years. And in the years that work was being created the term work for hire DID NOT EXIST in the world as a legal term or any other terminology. That’s true. Work for hire changed in ’76 with the Copyright Law Act. And that is a whole ‘nother dispute. In talking about whether  Kirby deserves credit, I think everyone in here knows what I publish and where I stand on the matter.”


Schumer sees what is happening the whole time, they are about to get sidetracked into the legal argument. He jumps in and redirects the discourse in a smooth transition that only slightly seems like flustered rescue. “I want to say one thing about the whole legalities issue. I was talking to Peter Coogan and we could do a whole day on The Auteur Theory on all of its sub-conferences like legalities but one of the analogies I want to make is that thirty six years ago, Neal Adams, Jerry Robinson and a cast of hundreds in the comic industry got together over the fact that Siegel and Schuster weren’t given credit or stipends or a dime for Superman. Legally, no different than Kirby, they knew they had no legal case. Technically Siegel and Schuster signed their rights away in 1938 for a hundred thirty dollars. That’s how much Superman sold for. But Neal Adams and Jerry Robinson knew that this was beyond legalities. It’s a moral and ethical crusade at this point. Because we know in the legal arena technically they are work for hire. Even Steve Ditko supposedly has refused money because he believes he was work for hire and doesn’t believe he is entitled to a dime of products like this!” He holds up his Spider-Man Satchel that is all Spider-Man head logo. “Ditko doesn’t get a dime. But the point is its not whether he believes he is right or deserves it. It’s whether he deserves it morally and ethically. So my feeling about the legalities is I think we are past legalities at this point. That’s a losing battle, literally. Now I think we have got to elevate it – if you really care about Kirby and Ditko – and feel you are making a living, or your livelihood or your enjoyment you get out of the characters they created it would be nice if we could start a similar grass roots movement now to help Kirby and Ditko get the credit they deserve, the moral and ethical credit.”

 

 

 “I think Arlen’s example of the silent Steranko pages, is the most beautiful example of what we’re talking about here. Let’s take any writer/artist combination in comics take them apart and put them in separate rooms. Say, ‘OK each of you do the story, let’s see who can make the most successful or worthwhile comic out of it. Ok Mr. Artist you go over there.’ He’s going to draw the pages he could even draw silent pages. That was a beautiful sequence in that Colan story. He did it all by himself. You take the writer over here, Stan Lee or whoever and say’ OK you do it.’  Well, he can write the whole script but you are going to see at best, in most cases except for like Harvey Kurtzman, you are going to see these terrible little thumbnails that probably won’t convey the story very well to anybody except a creative minded artist who can look at those and visualize it and put it down on paper for them. So, y’know writers certainly deserve some credit but without the artist, they’re nothing. Whereas in most cases, the artist is capable of telling at least the most rudimentary stories, without the writer’s help.”

 

“Let’s hear from Rand Hoppe director of the Online Jack Kirby Museum, again a treasure trove and storehouse of Kirby’s legacy. Rand?”

 

“One of the aspects of comics’ culture that always has confused me was how somebody like Lee Falk could be considered making comic strips, because he was a writer. When you would look at the newspaper strips, you’d see The Phantom by Lee Falk but at the bottom would be an artist’s name. In a way, I feel like there is something going on as far as visual credit or visual literacy for works that visual people make; that they are not getting that credit. It continues, we have these visual lions out there working today, who seem to be subsumed by the writers. I enjoy the idea of using Jack Kirby to talk about ourvisual talent. That’s part of what we are all about here, too.”

 

“Here to my right is Michael Bonesteel from the school of the Art Institute of Chicago. Michael Welcome.”

 

I’m sort of here just to talk about auteur theory a little bit. I want to just mention that Francois Truffaut said, ‘there is no such thing as a good or a bad movie; there is only a good or a bad director.’ You could conversely or in a related way say there is no such thing as a good or bad comic only a good or bad penciler. He was constantly emphasizing the fact the director or producer was the person who was the main focus of the storyteller of a film and NOT the screenwriter necessarily. Arlen you sent me a post by Rod Stiebel and I found his ideas really interesting.”

Schumer: “It’s a website –Kirby Dynamics – it’s part of the Kirby Online Museum website. It’s one of the best blogs about Kirby’s work, so many of the images I had in my thing were from there so Kirby Dynamics.”

Stiebel breaks it down into three different parts of The Auteur theory. There is the Pure Auteur Artist which would be obviously someone like Robert Crumb, or Kurtzman when he is writing AND illustrating his own work. The second category is what he terms the Principal Auteur who is controlling pretty much everything except he needs an illustrator to bring forth his work but he is basically controlling it all, someone like Alan Moore who according to Stiebel could be a Principal Auteur.

Schumer: So Is Kirby!”

Yes, yes. This is not a dogmatic by the rule theory it’s something to strive for so it’s really something that we are still fleshing out a little bit. The third category is a Visual Auteur who is basically just brought in to illustrate a story but that visual artist is so overwhelmingly talented, puts his own individual stamp and idiosyncratic quality on the work that he or she does that it IS the look of the work. Even if Kirby had not – not saying he did – but even if he had not written at all and Kirby was only brought in to illustrate he would still be at least a visual auteur because he was so original and so riveting.

 

“It’s only been in recent times that the writer in comics has gotten the prominence where a majority of buyers are buying comics because of the writer. I kind of go back to Gil Kane’s comment that the only reason most of us got into comics was because it is a visual medium, because of the art. Think of Carmine Infantino’s Flash. He didn’t have anything to do with the scripts – that was DC, full script, panel one, page one. But how come Infantino is considered the definitive Flash artist that many people still draw the Flash – but you can pretty much say unequivocally that there is only one Flash and that is Carmine Infantino’s Flash because he was the auteur of those stories.”

   

 

I think the perfect correlation is the comic’s writer to the screenplay writer and the comic’s artist to the director. When you go to the Academy Awards there is a screenplay and writers award, but the film is seen primarily as the work of the director.”

 

 

Some of the early directors, Ford and Hitchcock none of them had no final cut approval and they all had to work inside the industrial system, the studio system. The same way that the mainstream comics’ system is a studio system but they had such a strong impact on the look of something that they are the auteurs despite the fact that they do not have final cut approval. Whereas now we have people like Spielberg and Woody Allen and you name it who do control everything much the same way the alternative comic artists write draw and control everything as well.”

“One of the things I tried to show by using Dick Sprang or any comic you ever  loved or bought because of the ‘art’ it really doesn’t matter how much control or whether they had final cut. When the French critics talked about the great directors some of them had final cut, most of them didn’t, they were working under the studio system but you still knew a John Ford film. You still knew a Howard Hawks film. It really doesn’t matter. So that’s why I say the Auteur Theory is an artist working with any form of ‘script.’ I use the word script in quotes whether it’s a phone call, a synopsis, an Alan Moore exegesis that goes on for twenty five pages on one panel. It really doesn’t matter because there is no comic book creation until an artist brings a verbal idea to life, whether it his own verbal idea or that of a writer/collaborator.’

 

How many people here, think of your favorite film directors Lucas, Ed Wood. Think of your two or three favorite directors. Now I want to see a show of hands who has bought a movie ticket to see a film you did not know that much about but it was by one of your favorite directors so you bought the ticket? Show of hands. Looks like 80 – 85 %. How many people bought a movie ticket did not know much about it but you bought the ticket because of the screenplay writer. Looks like 20%.”

“I want you all on lie detector tests!” The crowd laughs at Arlen’s joke. Unaware that he is at least partly serious. He thinks nobody goes to a movie based on a screenwriter, But I have done it. However it was the director who wrote it.

From 85% to 20 or 25%

“That’s a comicon audience you are expected to be more literate about screenplay writers or something, the general audience? The success of the Auteur Theory of Film is that in 50 years, not only did they change the paradigm where it used to be a screenplay writer was the author of the film. It successfully changed the paradigm to the point where all the legal rights that followed for ownership. And obviously that is what has not happened in the comic book medium. But in films it’s the director’s film and they get copyright and they get a cut of this or that financially. Let’s open it up to questions.”

OK here we go I thought. I glanced down and noticed there was only about eight minutes left. How much trouble could happen in 8 minutes? The first question comes from the person a couple chairs down from me.

 

So you are kind of preaching to the choir, and I suspect outside of a Comicon environment you would STILL be preaching to the choir. I think people understand y’know that Kirby is terrific and he deserves the attention.”

 

I disagree

 

“The on-line chatter in favor of Stan Lee is overwhelmingly enormous compared to the Kirby support.”

 

I want to evangelize you, I want you to take this message to the world, OK this is the good news of Auteur Theory. OK? I want you to take this message out to the world and we have to spread it for Kirby’s sake and for every comic artist’s sake. They deserve it.”

 

The audience member continues, although I am looking a long time for a question, he gets around to it.

You said the trial was about work for hire, there is probably little doubt that if it was a work for hire trial, and the determination was that Kirby was in fact work for hire, the appeal might not go through. It may still be an issue of how the work was performed and what understanding. But that doesn’t seem to have any influence on what an artist deserves. These are two separate things. Look, I work in animation; everything we do is work for hire. However our work is VERY well recognized and I see our stuff on T-shirts. So the judge isn’t just thinking about ‘we got this comic company I guess I will rule for them’ NO! this is a wide spread, this is motion pictures, this is advertising –

 

It’s precedent setting.”

 

Absolutely.”

 

They don’t want their decisions turned over on appeal, either. They have to be very careful to cover themselves.”

 

 

Arlen calls on a lady in the back of the room, “That beautiful woman in the black lace please.” He points.

I have always thought that on the film side we have gone too far. For those who watched Heroes there is a clear break in the script, rather than in the cinematography. The look stayed pretty and I stopped watching it because it really started to suck. Or Sandman.

 

“As Shakespeare would say, the play is the thing.”

 

Yeah

 

“None of this is to make the artist a 100% and the writer nothing. I am basically saying – the reason I brought the Lennon/McCartney thing up. It doesn’t matter what form the script is in that gets 50% but in a sense not a percent more. So really it’s Stan Lee is at 100% and Kirby is at 0. I am just trying to bring Kirby up, and bring Stan down to a more rational, logical ideal. Films are a collaborative medium and even though there’s a million people that work on a film and they all play their part it is still considered the director’s film because theoretically the director is making those creative choices. Part of Stan Lee’s 50% in Spider-Man’s creation was choosing Steve Ditko because that’s what a good editor does is choosing the right talent. So yes in his 50% he was acting as a creative, good editor.”

 

     

 

I finally get my chance and ask the one question I wanted to ask. “Do you think the DC relaunch, the Marvel Ultimate Universe and all the altered origins in the various films from both companies indicate a complicit and deliberate attempt to get away from the origins and definitions of these creators to avoid any more of this line of retro credit or compensation?”

“YES. It is corporately driven for just that.”

You Think?

They want to protect themselves.”

 NEXT TIME IN THE SCHUMER WEEKEND PART 3

Rebuttals, dissension and backlash from NYCC and more!

All in All

I am Lucky

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    Claude Parish

    November 18th, 2011 @ 14:39

    Holy crap!
    I didn’t know you would be writing War and Peace!
    If I had the time, I’d finish and let you know what I think of the piece (“Piece” seems like too small a word here!)
    I’ll get a cup of cocoa and a bread sandwich and complete this tome later.
    Arlen is the Watcher of comics journalists!

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