Sunday, June 5, 2011

Autobiography Pt. 39

Stolen Marvel art
Marvel refused to let me anywhere near it. They wouldn't even let Al Milgrom, who was an editor at the time and offered to do the same thing. Right around that time hundreds of pages were stolen by an office employee. Jim Shooter had called back a waist-high stack of classics pages from the vaults to “look at”: The first ten X-Men, most of the Steve Ditko Spider-Mans, and so on. Milgrom told me he and some of the other editors were looking at them in Shooter's office when it was on Madison Avenue. When Marvel moved to their Park Avenue offices, rather than storing the original artwork in Shooter's office, I've been told Jim asked for it to be stored in the concession room – the commissary, with the vending machines. As I understand it, a very high-ranking editor was fired around that time, and the editor decided to come in that weekend and get his "retirement fund". Using the keys he still had, this editor whisked away all of the originals sitting so vulnerably in the commissary. Soon after an art agent called and offered me X-Men #9, Sgt. Fury #5 – the entire books of original artwork. So I called up Marvel and left a message that said, "Hey, Shooter, I don't know if they knocked the doors off the warehouse and there's nothing left, but I've been offered a large amount of original Marvel artwork that belongs to the artists. Somebody stole it." I got no answer.
       I called again on Thursday. This was just before a big summer convention. I said, "I can guarantee most of this art was going to be at the show this weekend; I'll help you pin the guys, and we can get this artwork back." Shooter said, "Alright, I'll be there with the police." So I got to the convention, the doors open at 10:00, and sure enough, people start buying and leaving with original art pages. It's all stolen art. So about 12:30 or 1:00, I'm real irritated. Shooter shows up, and says, "In the move, we've lost the list of the original artwork we're supposed to have in the vaults, so we couldn't be sure we weren't seizing something that didn't legitimately get out through some avenue." So he completely washed his hands of the whole thing. It wasn't until later that I learned Shooter had called all that stuff back, then left it unguarded. Cadence, the parent company decided not to do anything about it. Ultimately, it was Shooter's responsibility all that stuff was stolen. It was heartbreaking, because Ditko lost all but two Spider-Man issues. Kirby lost hundreds of the most valuable pages he ever drew. All of that was gone. Early Fantastic Four material was gone. Prime issues like FF #50 were gone. It was sad and infuriating. Marvel wouldn’t return it, or properly guard it. I sometimes wonder if it wasn’t just a ploy to avoid giving Kirby his art back, thereby setting a precedent for ownership. If they decided to dispose of it, rather than giving it back to Kirby..... well, it would be a truly rotten thing to do.
But I think it wore them down; it wore them out. Morally, everyone was outraged, but you simply can't address a faceless corporation. It's like there was no villain other than the legal department, who insisted that if Kirby was returned his artwork that might set a precedent for him owning the characters. That was the key thing they were trying to avoid. In fact, I'm surprised no one has ever pointed out that all of the changes that took place that year in the Marvel Universe were in an attempt to not lose their trademarks and copyrighted characters. They made the Hulk grey. They changed Dr. Strange's outfit. They rearranged the Fantastic Four. Spider-Man was in his black costume. It was not the same universe there. Why do you think all those changes happened that summer? Because Marvel was afraid they were going to lose their characters. They couldn't lose something Kirby had not designed, so as best they could, they redesigned all the characters. When Kirby's threat passed, most of them were switched back. Exactly 28 years was coming up (the time when copyrights come up for renewal), and if Kirby was going to sue at all, his grounds would be lessened, because none of the characters looked anything like what he had designed.

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