Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Golden Age Of Comics

When I was in New York on vacation a few years ago, I was disappointed that I wasn't able to see 94-year-old Joe Simon, co-creator (with Jack Kirby) of Captain America, speak at a panel at the New York Comic Con. (My flight arrived later in the day.) He was living comic book history. He and Kirby started "Captain America Comics" at Timely Comics (the predecessor to Atlas and Marvel Comics, published by Martin Goodman) in December of 1940. The comic was selling a million issues a month; but Kirby and Simon became involved in a dispute with Goodman over royalties, so they left for Detective Comics (DC) after 10 issues.

It's a very different world in comics publishing today, of course, with creators taking a few more precautions to protect their rights with their characters and concepts. But there remains the slight tug-of-war between editorial and creative personnel. And it's hard to bite the hand that feeds you. But I suppose it would be like a record company telling an artist what direction to take their music in. I frankly don't understand that kind of business control--I'm not sure I see the sense in buying something you think will add to your company, and then second-guessing the people who created it in the first place. I think your job as a publisher should be to point out where the fax machine and office supplies are kept, and leave the creative process to the creators. If you have creative concerns, make sure they're expressed before you sign the talent--make sure they understand how your company does business, and what you expect of them. Then, if they decide to come on board, they have a firm understanding of what direction you want things to proceed in.

By the same token, I also think creators should have all their business ducks in a row before they sign on the dotted line. Goodman may very well have had legitimate royalty concerns with Simon and Kirby, or he may have been a son-of-a-bitch--I don't know. But it was up to the creators to iron out all of their business concerns before signing with Timely. However, as I said, it was a different world in the 1940s. A lot of deals and understandings were made with a handshake; and frankly, comic books, at the time, weren't seen as potentially lucrative by their creators. You basically churned out product for magazine stands. Yes, you had fun doing it--but no one really envisioned the value and reach of comic books, or comic book collection. Comic books were bought for a dime and devoured by kids, who then tossed them aside (or traded them) and waited eagerly for the next issue to hit the stands. And in a building in New York, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby were working for a weekly paycheck. That pretty much sums up the "creative process" of the time. You just didn't look down the road that far.

I would have loved to hear Joe Simon's perspective on all of this. He was part of the so-called Golden Age of Comics ushered in by Captain America, the Sub-Mariner, and the Human Torch. He was still drawing at the time, too--his latest work being a "last supper" Captain America parody coinciding with the character's recent death. If you're interested in his other works, be sure to check out his official web site. You'll see he'd learned a few things about licensing and royalties since his days at Timely. ;)

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