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Comic Riffs
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Posted at 01:49 PM ET, 05/21/2012

AN IMMODEST PROPOSAL: From ‘Avengers’ riches, Disney should smartly gift Kirby heirs with a cool million

THERE IS A RAFT of reasons why this will never happen — and perhaps the intended recipients would not even be receptive, wary of any binding strings — but O, what a gesture it would be.

Namely, now that “Marvel’s The Avengers” has just become one of the four biggest global-grossers of all time (*not adjusting for inflation) -- as it approaches $1.2-billion — parent company Disney could “afford” to engage in an act of promotional goodwill and grand corporate panache.

Comic Riffs’ immodest proposal, to wit: The Mouse House should make an “Avengers gift” of a cool $1-million to the heirs of the late legendary artist who co-created the Avengers for Marvel (and Captain America for predecessor Timely) all those decades ago. Call it a feel-good, seven-figure act of gratitude — a way to say: “Thanks a million, Jack.”

The man is due, even if he was never as financially savvy or relatively longer-sighted as co-creators Stan Lee or Joe Simon, or the Joker co-creator Jerry Robinson (who told Comic Riffs last year that much of the classic original art he saved from the trash heap now served as part of his family’s time-release nest egg).

Let the same old reactionary sniping and carping and harping begin ... in just a minute. First, let me just offer a little more logic as cannon fodder:

1. A gift to Kirby is not about right or wrong — it’s about what feels right.

After last year’s court decision, the “kids” of Jacob Kurtzberg may never win a dime from Marvel — which was judged to be in the legal if not ethical right. This isn’t to second-guess the court. Jack Kirby did his work-for-hire as he always worked for that next paycheck to feed his family (a characterization supported by both Kirby’s Captain America co-creator in “Joe Simon: My Life in Comics,” and Mark Evanier in his excellent book “Kirby: King of Comics.”)

A gift, however, is not about the outcome of bitter litigation. It’s not some legal stick-in-the-eye — rather it’s both olive branch and a bouquet of gratitude for a cornerstone creator.

(Note: Marvel told Comic Riffs it could not comment on this hypothetical gift due to ongoing litigation.)

We should also note that Disney/Marvel themselves chose to give Jack Kirby (like Stan Lee) a screen credit among the “Avengers” writers — a key distinction that acknowledges Kirby’s contribution above those of all subsequent great creatives who influenced the comic-book evolutions of the film’s foremost characters.

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Captain America co-creators Jack Kirby, left, and Joe Simon work together in this undated file photo. Kirby died in 1994; Simon, just last year. (TITAN BOOKS - via AP)

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2. An “Avengers gift” does not diminish what all the other great Marvel artists and writers of yore accomplished.

As Stan Lee underscored to Comic Riffs this month, so many talents were crucial to Marvel’s early success — including Steve Ditko and John Romita Sr. and Don Heck and Gene Colan, just to name that fantastic four, as well as Stan’s brother, Larry Leiber. And most any Marvel-vs.-’60s-or-’70s-creator case could become one sticky spiderweb of rights and royalties and revisionist history.

But would anyone argue Kirby’s crucial role in co-creating characters central to the cinematic “Avengers” — even under the sometimes-murky “Marvel method”?

Such an “Avengers gift” also presumes, based on reports, that Stan Lee himself, by 2012, has already been quite handsomely compensated by Hollywood to acknowledge his legendary contributions.

(Note: Stan Lee told Comic Riffs he makes it a practice not to comment on financial specifics.)

3. An “Avengers gift” would send a signal to creators and passionate comic-book fans.

Would a million-dollar gift from Disney really indicate anything?

“That would make an enormous difference ... ,” acclaimed writer-artist Roger Landridge (“Muppets Show” comics, “Thor the Mighty Avenger,” “Popeye”) tells Comic Riffs. “The whole issue is that Marvel and DC are valuing their intellectual properties more highly than they are treating these actual living, breathing human beings. All anybody wants is for the companies to at least be seen to make an effort to do something about that.

“There is an enormous amount of affection for those companies’ characters out there. It would take very little to get people to believe thath they’re trying to do the right thing.”

[ROGER LANGRIDGE: How the Jack Kirby case caused him to quit Marvel]

And if Disney could make a little coin off the resultant headlines, then all’s the better and more clever.

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Did Jack Kirby suffer financial missteps. By most accounts, sure. He lost out doing work-for-hire and hopscotched between publishers in the hope of a better paycheck and “was always terrified that he would stop getting assignments” (according to Joe Simon’s book). But he also left his thick-fingered imprint and massive influence on comics, helping to birth characters that — unlike John Carter — should net Disney billions over at least the next few years.

Assessing Kirby’s true due may be an impossible task and unwinnable fight. But gifting the Kurtzberg descendants with a very contextually modest million bucks tied specifically to this month’s massive “Avengers” windfall would seem to be a win-win for all parties involved.

But that’s just Comic Riffs’ immodest, pie-in-the-bifrost-sky proposal. You can tell us where we’re wrong.

Oh, and thanks a million, Jack.

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By  |  01:49 PM ET, 05/21/2012

Tags:  jack kirby, the avengers, disney/marvel

 
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