Friday, June 12, 2015

Where the Heck? (Credit Where Credit Is Due)

So, I'm really pleased...more pleased than punch, tickled beyond pink...that at last Marvel has begun properly crediting (some of) its character's creators. And long past time too. I do understand the tricky legal precedent of Marvel's putting this in published writing on work-for-hire characters, which is probably why we're not seeing it on characters created after the sixties. (This lucrative movie mania may have something to do with it as well.) I'm not privy to whether Marvel is compensating creators who did work prior to the royalty programs (I'm going to guess, sadly, no). I don't know whether creators are getting proper royalties on trade paperback or digital comics sales — publishing platforms that were pretty much inconceivable at the time of paychecks stamped with a "legally binding" work for hire shorthand (endorse the check to get your money and you've signed the contract). (Again, gonna guess maybe no.) I'm hoping these credits are just the beginning of more proper recognition for and compensation to Marvel's creators. (Anyway, it sure beats the days when all you got was "Stan Lee Presents…") Here's some recently published credits from Marvel mags:

Take note of that last one, which is (properly) credited on every book entitled "X-Men," from Uncanny to Amazing to Adjectiveless, even though the books don't, in most cases, star any of the characters from that very first issue of X-Men back in 1963. (Except for the increasingly inaccurately titled All-New X-Men.) So, too, you get proper credits for the first creation of the characters even if they're not exactly the ones created back in the Silver Age. F'r 'bother example, I'm pretty sure Joe 'n' Jack, and Stan 'n' Larry 'n' Jack , never foresaw a cool flying black Captain America, a kick-ass female Thor, or a soon-to-star in his own major motion picture ex-con Ant-Man. And it sets a particular precedent: Joe Simon and Jack Kirby are the creators of Captain America, even tho' Stan Lee and Gene Colan created Sam Wilson, the new Captain America.

Pay special attention to those last couple: they set up a precedent I'll be talking about later.

Now, I happen to think that this following created by credit oughta be in reverse, seeing as Kirby drew the Silver Surfer into Fantastic Four with Stan Lee having no idea at the time who or what he was. But it fits the template: scripted goes first. Eh, close enough.

There's a small handful of more recent characters who get creator credit, but it seems to be mostly those creators who have (justly) raised their voices about it.

Still, no in-magazine creator credit for characters headlining modern-day series like Black Widow (created by Stan Lee, Don Rico, and Don Heck), The Punisher (created by Gerry Conway and Ross Andru), or Rocket Raccoon (created by Bill Mantlo and Keith Giffen), for instance. I hope they are soon. Like I said, it's a darn sight better than "Stan Lee Presents..." and a good improvement on Marvel's hesitant and halting attempts only about five years ago to be cloyingly clever about it without spelling out anything that might sound legal, as in these credits-page "salutes" to Stan and Jack in Fantastic Four circa #571-575:

The "cutesy" (and yeah, I put that in quotes, Marvel!) credits are generally joking or punning nods to the story titles, a process which, on a story called "Solve Everything," gives us FF #570's most tone-deaf clueless credit of them all:

OH FOR PETE'S SAKE MARVEL WHO THE HECK THOUGHT THAT WAS A GOOD IDEA probably the same guy at DC who okayed "Triumph of the Will" as an appropriate Green Lantern story title

Anyway, my point...and I do have that we get these credits on this week's Secret Wars: Armor Wars book:


I bow to very few in my sheer love of and admiration for Jack Kirby, but...while he did pencil the iconic cover of the first appearance of ol' Shellhead (hey! how come nobody calls him that anymore? Get on that, Marvel)...

Cover of Tales of Suspense #39 (March 1963), pencils by Jack Kirby, inks by Don Heck

But take a big Silver Age Gander (worst duck-based superhero ever) at the credits page for Mister I. Man's origin:


Much in the way Larry, brother of Stan but with added "ber," got credit (see above!) for co-creating Thor and Ant-Man (writing scripts for Stan's plots), so too should he get credit here. And definitely it's a big mistake to leave Don Heck off the list. So, Marvel, I humbly suggest you have these credits wrong and I hope to see them corrected by Armor Wars #2 to "Iron Man created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, and Jack Kirby."

Mind you, I'm a little sensitive on the subject of Don Heck. As far as I'm concerned, Don's Silver Age Marvel stuff is pretty powerful. For example: despite the iconic portrayals of the Prince of Power by Jack Kirby and Bob Layton, for my money Don Heck portrayed the definitive Hercules:

Pin-up from Avengers King-Size Special [Annual] (1967 series) #1 (September 1967), script by Roy Thomas, pencils by Don Heck, inks by George Roussos, colors by Stan Goldberg, letters by Artie Simek

Part of the reason I get my back up when Heck's work is passed over or disparaged is the infamous interview with Harlan Ellison (a man whose writing I can respect but never his personality) by Gary Groth (a man I've worked with personally and like and respect, but whose tolerance for superhero comics is thin) in the pages of The Comics Journal, in which they run Heck through the wringer, calling him "the worst artist in the field." And then Ellison goes on to slam Dick Ayers, who he has mistakenly credited with the Nova work of Sal Buscema. Geez.

Portion of Harlan Ellison interview by Gary Groth from The Comics Journal #52 (January 1980)

"Five thousand Don Hecks are not worth one Neal Adams." Cold. Bitchy. And for my money, the beginning of my respect for Don Heck and my complete loss of interest in the opinions of Harlan Ellison. (Gary, you didn't help matters here.)

Ahem. Anyway. Don Heck. Know him, love him, credit him.

Iron Man created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber,
Don Heck, and Jack Kirby


SallyP said...

I keep hearing that Gary Groth is a voice worthy of respect, and seems everytime that I read about him, he's being a major jerk to someone.

Every Single Time.

Yatz said...

Back in the '60s, Marvel had giants (like Kirby and John Buscema), it had artists with a unique style (like Ditko and Colan) and it had people who could tell an effective story with beautiful pictures (like Romita Sr.). Don Heck? Well... Growing up in Israel around those years, I used to spend a lot of time looking for American comics, and was filled with joy whenever I found one - a joy that turned to bitter disappointment once I opened it and discovered it was drawn by Don Heck (or Sal Buscema). Sorry, Bully, not with you on this one.

Green Luthor said...

I know Fantagraphics had produced a lot of quality work, worthy of all the praise it gets (they probably deserve praise just for publishing The Complete Peanuts), and Groth (from what I understand, at least) was a major factor in getting those works published, so in that regard, I suppose he does deserve some respect. But... yeah, he really does come across as an insufferable ass at almost every opportunity. Respect the work, not the person, I guess. (Much like Ellison, really... who later had a falling out with Groth as well, actually. Kinda hard to pick a side in that feud...)

Really have to laugh at Ellison's comments on Neal Adams, though. Yes, Adams is a phenomenal artist, and definitely revolutionized comics art. And maybe his art suffers if he's rushed into deadlines, although offhand I don't know that I could cite any examples. But have you ever read anything Adams has *written*? Good lord; "awful" doesn't even begin to describe it, and with the time it took him to produce some of those comics (for his own company, no less)... maybe stick to getting rushed by the big companies there, Neal...

BillyWitchDoctor said...

Ah, that's our Harlan. Always mistaking gross tactlessness for character and intelligence, and never tiring of the smell of his own farts.

Who there said turning work in on time deserved respect? Nobody but Ellison himself, because that sets him up to boldly declare that it does not, establishing him as the Smartest Guy in the Room, fart fart fart sniffffff. I suspect that if you gave him a deadline, however, he would become considerably more dispeptic.

Even when he's right--about Adams, not Heck--he cannot help but play the insufferable prick about it. It is the single note he seems to be able to play. That wasn't half as impressive as he thought waaay back then, but today--in a world populated by Rush Limbaugh, Charles C. Johnson and Jonah Goldberg--the smug lippy specialest-snowflake sociopath act is even less so.

Rip Jagger said...

Thank you for standing tall for Don Heck, a fine artist who produced some of the most exciting pages Marvel generated. He was a hard luck talent for certain, getting displaced time and again by a new guy on a high-profile project, but he was the kind of artist comics required at the time, reliable. There's no reason art can't be good and on time too. Don Heck is the evidence.

Rip Off

-- MrJM said...

Don Heck needed a champion -- and Bully was there!

-- MrJM