Wednesday, July 10, 2013

TwoMorrows, TwoMorrows, I love ya TwoMorrows...

Last weekend I started thinking about that old TwoMorrows magazine Comic Book Artist again.  Why?  Heck, you're reading this blog, aren't you?  Anyway, I did a quick Internet search and discovered TwoMorrows sells PDF versions of all their titles-- things like CBABack Issue, my beloved The Jack Kirby CollectorDrawRough Stuff and Alter-Ego.  

That's right-- PDF versions, super cheap.  When a flimsy nothing of a new comic costs as much as $3.99 and takes you all of five minutes to read a fun-packed issue of any TwoMorrows mag for $2.95 or 3.95 isn't just a relative bargain.  For a hardcore comic fan, it's a bargain by any measure.  Plus, unlike digital comics, you buy a magazine, download it to your computer and enjoy it for as long as you and your hard drive do live.  None of this "you're buying just a license to read our comics when you're online and on our site" jazz some of the other outlets offer.  

I understand why those sites feel obligated to do this and I absolutely agree to abide by their rules when they offer something I want (like Fantastic Four #1 for $1.99), but obviously the TwoMorrows model is the one I love most.  It's risky and they attach a page practically begging you not to pirate their publications, but apparently TwoMorrows trusts me.  It's this level of trust they offer along with their fun mags that makes me want to earn it.  It gives me that ol' "we're in this together, fellow fans" same-wavelength feeling I used to get from comic book letters pages.  If it's a naive business model, I'll take honest naivete and a sense of wonder over sneering cynicism any day and I'll support TwoMorrows because their brand of thinking is what we need more of in this world of ours.

Because this rediscovery tickled me so much, I went on one of my ridiculous spending sprees and bought a nice virtual stack of virtual magazines.  I'm most pleased with the Alex Toth theme issue of CBA.  I have a paper copy in my suitcase here.  The cover looks like I blew my nose on it and it's fallen off because this is a magazine that's made the trip back and forth between the US and Japan almost as many times as I have.  I'll eventually buy all the other back issues I had to leave in boxes at my mom's house-- and the Back Issues I missed the first go-around.

How did TwoMorrows hook me?  Many years ago when I lived in Athens, Georgia, and worked at the local newspaper as a graphic artist (kinda), I had my first taste of disposable income.  And what I chose to buy with said income (besides lots and lots of booze) one blisteringly hot summer day was The Jack Kirby Collector.  I probably bought it because of the cover.  I was going through a very Kirby-inspired period in my comic book-related artwork and I was always on the lookout for cool Kirby images to copy.  The magazine interior turned out to be just as cool, with lots of reproductions of Kirby pencils and appreciations of the man and his work by dedicated Kirby enthusiasts.  Fanatics, really.

As much as I enjoyed TJKC, I felt compelled to subscribe to their next major offering, Comic Book Artist.  And subscribing to magazines wasn't something I did very often.  In fact, the last time I subscribed to a comic or comic-related publication was The Uncanny X-Men back when I was a teen.  But I had a hunger for old school comic book art and CBA provided a feast.  Another reason I subscribed was to get a copy of the Comic Book Artist Special Edition.  That was the only way to get it at the time.

As you can see from the picture I chose for this entry (I bought it digitally, of course), CBASE has a snazzy Bruce Timm cover of Big Barda opening up a can of whup-ass on some Apokalips soldiers, my favorite non-Jack Kirby rendering of one of my favorite Jack Kirby characters.  The cover alone is worth both the subscription and the digital re-purchasing price, but look at the artist lineup along the bottom-- Russ Heath, Alex Toth, Neal Adams, Bernie Wrightson and Timm.  Inside, you'll find interviews with and info on all those guys, as well as a lot of Kirby love, a consistent aspect of all of TwoMorrows' products except maybe their Lego-centered magazine and possibly even that as well.

And after I got into CBA along came Draw.  While artist bios and the histories of various companies and titles are all very interesting to read, I've always been even more into process.  Who said what is fine, but what I really want to know is who drew how.  As an artist, I want to know how the pros lay out their pages, how they create depth and contrast, what the significance of various storytelling choices are, how to construct figures, to produce finished pencils and inks.  Yeah, I bought Draw.

When I moved to Japan, I couldn't get DrawCBA or TJKC anymore, but their influence lingered as I used my now even-larger disposable income to buy archive reprints of Kirby' work, Creepy, Eerie, Blazing Combat and Nexus.  Kinokuniya in Shinjuku stocked TwoMorrows' Modern Masters book series, so I was able to at least pick up some of those.  Now, however, I'm reunited with the magazines and it feels right.

This week I also bought the inaugural issue of Comic Book Creator, which features Kirby most prominently, but also a great interview with Derf Backderf, writer/artist of the graphic novel My Friend Dahmer.  There's an article on Frank Springer, a chat with Alex Ross.  The usual TwoMorrows stuff.  Marking the return of former CBA editor Jon B. Cooke to the TwoMorrows family, Comic Book Creator has another thing going for it-- advocacy.

On that note, we're going to turn to something a little more serious.

In this time of comic book movies opening massively worldwide the people and the families of people who actually invented these lucrative properties aren't receiving a fair share.  And when they resort to legal measures to try and reclaim things they should have owned all along (in world where publishers back in the day didn't practice the fine art of ripping off artists and writers-- the bosses at Timely Comics regularly shorted Joe Simon and Jack Kirby on royalties contractually due to them from their creation of the wildly successful Captain America), fans of the very works they created accuse them of greed.

Greed.  One side is praised for maximizing profits, the other is derided for asking for a share.  I've read plenty of comments online knocking the Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster families as greedy for suing Time-Warner for the Superman rights (or Warner Bros., as the case may be) while defending massive communications companies that reap record-making profits with little or no regard for the hard-working individuals whose talents and efforts made this possible in the first place.

Under the first article I linked in the above paragraph, you'll find one of those comments:  Siegel and Shuster sold their rights, so their heirs deserve nothing, and note their interest in the money came only after "DC's hard work."

Somehow it's the company itself that worked hard, not the various human beings who did its labor over the decades.  And apparently, Siegel and Shuster produced Superman while lounging around in pajamas being hand-fed peeled grapes.  No toil there.  Coming up with Superman was nothing compared to the trials and difficulties of being a major corporation.  And certainly Siegel and Shuster "took the profits happily" in that deal-- read some history and learn how much profit they made compared to the corporate income they generated, how happily they were treated while producing Superman stories for National and how happily ever after they lived when the company was finished with them.  And this isn't something that just recently popped up.  Siegel and Shuster tried to reclaim the Superman rights as early as 1947.  Various people around both creators have fought this battle or similar ones for years.

In this Bizarro World logic, gigantic media conglomerates provide everything of value, and the creative minds who worked for them-- who created all their media properties-- and their surviving families are parasites.  To their accusers, if someone signed one of the shitty contracts comic book publishers offered in those days-- the only avenue to this kind of labor available to you at the time-- then screw you, jack.

And Jack.  In Jack Kirby's case, certain parties deliberately jerked him around with various attempts to deny him any kind of legal claim to rights ownership.  It's not that Kirby didn't make mistakes or poor decisions.  Cooke in his pro-Kirby article is very forthcoming about these as well.  But the man wasn't a lawyer or an agent.  He was a writer and artist.  He was a husband and father, a provider who had to make the best living he could for his family, using his talents to their utmost.  He did this without a pension, without a retirement plan and with the knowledge that no matter how many Silver Surfers he came up with, he was never going to share the wealth generated.  Or even receive just credit for creating them, which was another huge concern of his.  And that the moment he could no longer come up with those ideas or push that pencil, then he was through with no means of support.  I'm sure Kirby was very aware of what happened to Siegel and Shuster, Bob Finger, Reed Crandall and Wally Wood, just to name a very few.

But given the importance of Kirby to the industry, his treatment was proportionally worse.  The companies he worked for knew too well just how much Kirby's ideas were propping up their entire comic lines and how much of a hold he could have had over them.  So the man they labeled "the King" on the credits pages weathered insults and interference from staffers, attempts to get him to sign onerous contracts, the refusal to return his artwork until he signed a four-page agreement waiving any future rights and ownership claims (Marvel lawyers expected Kirby and only Kirby to sign the four-page version; everyone else got a one-page form)-- and even when they did after a protracted struggle, thousands of pages went missing and unaccounted for.

No wonder he split the comics scene for TV animation.  And even there, he couldn't shake loose from the shabby treatment.  Kirby did storyboards for the 1978 Fantastic Four cartoon, and a few years later someone had the bright idea to have them inked and published as a new Jack Kirby story in Fantastic Four #236-- minus any kind of permission from or payment to Kirby.  Yes, he was paid to do the artwork for its first use, but double-dipping on the man and fobbing it off as some kind of tribute like this is unforgivable.  Adding to the weirdness, there's also the matter of Kirby or his lawyers asking his image be removed from John Byrne's cover because he and Marvel were at legal odds yet again at the time.

It's hard to view any of this as unfortunate but accidental by-products of best business practices.

Without Kirby, there would have been no Marvel Age of comics, no Spider-Man or X-Men film franchises, no Disney deal, no Joss Whedonverse Avengers movie.  Factor in all the cartoons, reprints, other comic book series, toys and the like that have all used elements of Kirby's concepts, which have generated billions of dollars in revenue.  That Kirby did this work during a time of unfair labor practices-- no matter how legal they may have been at the time-- is no reason to deny his family their deserved percentage of what Kirby made possible.

That's all there is to it.

Oh, and I also have a fond spot for TwoMorrows because they printed one of my love letters in CBA.


Jon B. Cooke said...

Garsh, thanks for the kind words, sir! I much appreciate the accolades and you're exactly the type of reader I want for COMIC BOOK CREATOR, which I hope you continue to enjoy. Of interest perhaps, I'm planning pieces on the plights of Siegel & Shuster and Harvey Kurtzman in the near future. Hope it's fun and informative. Thanks, too, for your support, my good man...

Joel Bryan said...

You're very welcome and thanks for the comment! Count me in-- I'm looking forward to the Siegel/Shuster and Kurtzman (I'm an EC/Mad fan, naturally, but know little about him) pieces and also the Joe Kubert tribute-- love that Kubert.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention how much I enjoy the look of CBC. All of TwoMorrows' mags look clean, classy and easy-to-read, but you've really outdone yourself with this one.

Thanks again!

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