Scott Kurtz has a little mini-rant/thought piece up today on Avengers called "Where Credit is Due"
about the success of, and authorship/creative forces related to, the Avengers movie. Kurtz is the force behind the "PvP" webcomic
. As a web-comic author, Kurz often opines on Web versus print comics and related issues such as syndication.
PvP also deeply embedded within popular modern mass fan culture. One of the main characters in the comic is a total Apple junkie, always buying the latest gadgets on the day they issue. The strip often centers on the gaming magazine business (PVP is a fictional game zine/Web presence) as well as the gaming industry directly. And Kurtz displays a "Joss Whedon is my master now" banner on the site's front page. So he's more than a little bit invested in comic culture and the movie that was written and directed by Whedon.
In this column he's responding to the idea that the Avengers were, originally, thought up in large part by Jack Kirby creation, and as. Kurtz says:
[I]n many comic book industry circles, there’s a lot of hand-wringing going on about how all that money is being generated by Jack Kirby’s creations and none of it is going to his estate.
The problem, as Kurtz lays it out, is that a great many hands have steered the Avengers ship, as well as the stories of its constituent member characters, since Kirby's days. It has been over three decades since Kirby last worked on these characters and Kurtz points out that the images and styles used in the movies are much more based off the most recent incarnations of the characters. Notably, the comic-book version of Nick Fury that is in new stories today was specifically modeled off of the visual appearance of Samuel L Jackson, the actor who then went on to play Fury in the movies.
This raises a difficult question. There is no doubt that a character called "Nick Fury" was co-invented by Kirby and Stan Lee. But the Kirby/Lee character was significantly different from the modern Fury. And it's not like the modern Fury was all that recent, either - the look was launched a decade ago. So who "created" this Nick Fury, and who should take part in the character's lucrative movie success?
Kurtz also thinks that those complaining about how Marvel is distributing the Avengers' windfall are living in the past. He argues that, like the Fury character, the comics industry has revamped itself. The abuses that were perpetrated against people like Kirby and other original creators in the 20th century are, he says, "a battle we’ve already won." Things are better now, and ire against Marvel is misdirected.
Like Kurtz I'm not a lawyer and I haven't yet read beyond the press accounts of the case. I point out this column because I think the case of the Avengers shows just how complicated creative processes are. Sometimes it's easy to say "yep, that person created that thing" and sometimes it's a whole heck of a lot more complicated.