Turning the Lights On

R.C. Harvey outdoes himself with a new article about Archie, John Goldwater, and the end of the Comics Code:

It is serenely fitting that Archie should be the last publisher to leave the dismal Code room, turning on the light as it left. John Goldwater, one of the trio of founders of MLJ Comics out of which Archie emerged, was, as he himself claimed, “the prime founder” of the CMAA, which invented the Code and enforced it with the Comics Code Authority. Hence, this seems an appropriate moment to consider the dubious record of John Goldwater, the man who claimed to have invented Archie Andrews as well as the CMAA. About the latter there is less dispute than about the former. Let’s see whether his claims can withstand close scrutiny and the conflicting testimony of contradictory witnesses.


Maurice Sendak has a new book coming out in September (the first he's both drawn and written in 30 years), and talks with Dave Eggers about it in Vanity Fair.

Matt Seneca reads a tribute to the late Gene Colan in an issue of Daredevil, and is moved to recite a timeline of his professional life.

In a not unrelated story, Clifford Meth draws attention to a small fundraiser for comics creators via the Hero Initiative.

Nick Gazin at Vice interviews the mysterious Jonny Negron, everyone's favorite new porn cartoonist.

Alan Moore talks to Wired.

The Center for Cartoon Studies has been awarded a $255,000 grant, which it plans to use building the Inky Solomon Center, a "state-of-the-art industry center designed to help CCS alumni launch projects, incubate start-up companies and create jobs."

Kevin Czap looks at comic-book sound effects in the work of Jordan Crane, Brandon Graham, and various manga artists.

Finally, that Grant Morrison documentary from a while back is apparently available for free online viewing now.

22 Responses to Turning the Lights On

  1. patrick ford says:

    This quote from Matt’s article on Gene Colan sums up my opinion of industry awards.

    “2009: Colan draws his final full-length comic, Captain America #601. The following year he wins an Eisner Award, the industry’s highest honor, for his work on it. Beside this small metal statuette, Colan receives page rates and no creator ownership for the comic.”

  2. Dan says:

    Ya know, while I agree that the editors and upper management of Marvel and DC have historically abused their powers to damning degrees, Colan (and every other fleeced artist who worked for them) isn’t entirely without blame. You’d think after the first time they felt they had been treated unfairly they’d get another job, take up another vocation, but they chose to keep going back to the snake pit. No one HAS to draw comics.

  3. Eric Paul says:

    While I agree with you to some extent, Dan, STILL, Marvel and DC, instead of being blood sucking leeches, could have done the right thing by their “guns for hire”. The tales of their abuses of many in the industry is beyond shameful. There’s a special place in hell…

  4. patrick ford says:

    They should have all quit the industry and gone to work in a rock quarry.

  5. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Casually backseat driving someone’s career is arrogant and ridiculous, and placing any blame on any victim is morally reprehensible. For all we know, any other choice Colan could have made might have been a worse choice for Colan. No one has to sound off on a message board, either. Does this mean some young relative of Gene Colan punching you in the face if they met you at a con would be partly your fault? No, of course it wouldn’t.

    At best, if we could somehow determine that other choices would have been better for him, and we can’t, Colan’s decision to continue to work for companies that didn’t value him or treat him well is a separate set of things that are sad.

  6. It’s true that Colan shouldn’t be blamed too much, but I think the situation with him, Kirby, or any other artist, is more comparable to a spousal abuse situation. It’s not the victim’s fault if they’re hit, but if they keep going back to someone who will hit them, then they’re both to blame in different ways. All of those artists could have banded together and outnumbered the companies, demanding more rights. Instead they chose to keep working in conditions that were legally to their disadvantage,. This doesn’t excuse inhuman behavior on the companies’ part, but why aid in your own abuse if you know what the situation is?

    Society as a mode of living is largely to blame, but an industrial/commercial society will simply keep the cycle repeating, too. Odds are that the creators who do band together will be few (Image Comics), while most people will either copy them in an effort to rake in cash, or fill their shoes at a big company to make cash, thinking about how cool it is to work on their favorite Marvel or DC characters. Cash creates meaning, not morality, and that’s what they’ll flock to.

  7. Peter Kaprelian says:

    At least he got his name out there before “leaving the building”. Oh! He’s the guy that started Superhero noir! Hardly anyone but Playboy magazine readers knew who Harvey Kurtzman was before he died, except as the guy who wrote Little Annie Fanny. That’s just insane when you’re talking about someone who for most accounts created a cultural clusterfuck in Mad magazine. More twisted still, that the olive-branch that the majors gave in giving artists name credit on their work seemed to turn said creators into the properties too. Carl Barks seemed to get the best deal in this work-for-hire business, in that Disney gave him permission to sell his Donald Duck/ Uncle Scrooge paintings, which maybe in deference to the fact that fandom got his name publicized, right?

  8. Dan says:

    “Casually backseat driving someone’s career is arrogant and ridiculous, and placing any blame on any victim is morally reprehensible.”

    Then you can’t backseat drive Marvel or DC’s decisions either. And if I choose to walk down a deserted alleyway on my route from work every night, and am brutally beaten and mugged every time I do so, and not only refuse to change my route but also refuse to even attempt to defend myself, it would be “morally reprehensible” for someone to suggest that, maybe, ya know, I should just pick another walkway?

    “For all we know, any other choice Colan could have made might have been a worse choice for Colan.”

    Then why all the tears for the choices he and everyone else involved *did* make? If anything’s possible, then Colan getting full ownership of every character he ever touched could have been worse for him. You’re acting like the sole alternative here was for the giant faceless companies to treat him better than they did; that just isn’t true.

    “No one has to sound off on a message board, either. Does this mean some young relative of Gene Colan punching you in the face if they met you at a con would be partly your fault? No, of course it wouldn’t.”

    Really? You’re going to go this far with it? OK. There’s an ocean of difference between someone expressing a fairly benign opinion (I didn’t even say Colan was entirely to blame!) on a messageboard and getting physically attacked for it and someone willingly working for companies that abused them for YEARS. If you can’t see that, I really can’t help you.

  9. Tom Spurgeon says:

    I can see the difference. The difference is you never had to offer your opinion which blames the victim (although not entirely — wow, how generous). As that opinion leads to people letting corporations off the hook and more abuse is hardly benign and 2) it’s deeply insulting to the person in question, I’d say a punch in the face is a far more appropriate reward for the action of your statement than the ritual abuse heaped on guys like Jack Kirby and Gene Colan was to their actions, which was making awesome comics and tons of profitable IP and believing when people lied to them.

    The fact that you would make an equivalency of this and decide that what happened to you in the punching scenario would be the bigger crime pretty much says it all. You seem way too smart and articulate to really believe this.

    You are in no position to suggest that a Jack Kirby or Gene Colan could have changed the course of their lives and provided for their families in the same manner, or found the same amount of happiness, just because Dan From The Message Board has waved his hand and decreed this was possible. There’s a huge difference between someone doing the best they can to support their family and find professional satisfaction in a difficult industry well past its peak making these decisions based in part on being lied to and someone acting frivolously to please themselves knowing fell well they’re going to be screwed. Sheesh.

    I’m not backseat driving a dead man into an impossible to discern made-up alternative career. I’m suggesting a moral alternative for these companies. Kirby, Colan, all of them did nothing wrong that can be tied into the abuse heaped upon them and the rewards denied them. At best they are separate tragedies. To equate or connect them in even the most casual way helps perpetuate an abusive, deplorable system.

  10. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Right. See statments re: “separate tragedies.”

  11. Tom Spurgeon says:

    I’m sorry for the messy writing; I have a limited time at the computer these days and I’m not 100 percent able to think clearly. You can delete “is hardly benign” and “2)” and make out most of that, I think.

  12. Dan says:

    I think most of that was great, but I have to take issue with you claiming that the “action of my statement” would perpetuate an abusive system, and only that. I think our difference is where we want the change to happen. You want the companies to become miraculously nicer in their treatment of creators, and offer things they have no legal obligation to; I think that’s an impossible request, and will never happen. I would hope that my thinking would lead artists to treat corporations like wild animals, something to be respected and feared, but never fully trusted, and, as when you deal with wild animals, not hold yourself unaccountable when the tiger you hugged mauls you. I would also hope that artists take ownership of not only their own creations, but of their own lives, and get rid of the notion that simply “doing nothing wrong” means anything outside of the abstract.

    It’s sad what happened to Gene Colan, but you paint him as someone completely powerless, a man forced to be an artist, forced to have a family, forced to work for these companies. I just don’t see it that way.

  13. They’re not separate. This is how capitalism works. That’s what the system is. The corporations are not going to change unless it would benefit them financially, and it won’t. It’s horrible that they feel the need to treat creators they way they do, but the creator is still choosing to work within that system. This is what happens when you turn a personal experience, like storytelling, into a commodity and then trade it for something with no inherent value (money). You’re just living out a fantasy and making life more contrived than it has to be. If creators don’t understand how companies work, it’s their fault for not knowing the history. It may be sad to put that burden on them, but that’s the way it has to be. People who abuse you aren’t going to suddenly turn around and undo all the hurt. That’s why social aid, welfare systems, and therapy exist. If you separate working for the company from the idea of finding an alternative, then people will wonder why comics creators are mistreated for as long as comics exist.

  14. Kim Thompson says:

    Why would Gene Colan get “creator ownership” for drawing an issue of DAREDEVIL, a character/comic he had no hand in creating? This seems like a strained analogy to the situation of Jack Kirby, who DID create any number of characters and comics. Gene Colan may have been treated shabbily by his employers, but this shabby treatment has nothing to do with whether he was given “creator ownership” to things he did not, in fact, create.

    That said…

    Tom Spurgeon’s rebuttal to the obnoxious “cartoonists chose this path for themselves so they should quit whining” meme is exactly right. The fact that drawing comics for Marvel and DC for however many decades was (he felt) the most fulfilling/financially advantageous choice for Colan (or for Kirby, or for anyone) does not magically render all abuses and injustices he may have suffered null and void, or erase his right to complain about them. Good grief! Did it never occur to any of these callous libertarian blame-the-victim messageboarders that maybe Colan simply LIKED doing comics better than he liked doing anything else and he accepted that if he wanted to do comics this abuse was part of the territory? That doesn’t mean he had to like it, or that he was treated fairly, or well.

  15. patrick ford says:

    Let’s all cheer-lead for huge multi-national corporations, man those guys are why this country is in the shape it’s in. And if somebody doesn’t like it here, they should move to China.

  16. Kim Thompson says:

    I think this thinking is fine applied to contemporary cartoonists making those choices now — if you create and sign away the next Spider-Man to someone you’re a dumbass (I believe this is the central tenet of the Image Comics charter) — but I think it’s myopic and callous to apply it retroactively to cartoonists working 30 or 50 years ago under vastly different conditions. The suggestion that this is all a binary “accept it and shut up about it already, or avoid it entirely” choice is also… odd.

  17. Tom Spurgeon says:

    I don’t think it’s a miracle for companies to treat the people with whom they work with in a non-abusive fashion. In fact, many such abuses at these particular companies have been eliminated over the years. I’m all for being careful with your dealing with large corporations, but I’m also for holding those companies responsible for what they do and continuing to advocate for change on their end as a completely different exercise than changes in the attitudes and outlooks of the potentially exploited.

    I don’t think Gene Colan was completely powerless; that’s absurd. I just resent the implication that it was a failure of his power that contributed in any way to him being victimized by shitheads.

  18. Tom Spurgeon says:

    I don’t really get what you’re talking about. I don’t believe in blaming the victim, particularly when applying a standard that has a more compelling reason to exist now — when the history is known — retroactively to some guys working under vastly different circumstances. I do believe in being forewarned and forearmed. I’ve negotiated my own contract with my own characters with a massive media conglomerate before.

    I don’t really believe in absolutes, that this is how X functions, this is how Y works. I think even comics history shows that there’s been massive reform in a lot of areas within specific companies and even wider reform on an industry scale where alternatives are widespread. Blaming the victim seems to me to have always been a strategy to perpetuate abuse rather than stop it.

    Also, if money has no value, please send me all of yours.

  19. Kim Thompson says:

    The problem was that the ONLY power Colan had was to walk away from comics entirely. There weren’t other ways of doing comics in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s that could have accommodated his particular skill set. (He did not seem like a good fit for syndicated strips.) He could’ve quit comics and gone into commercial illustration, as many of his fellow cartoonists eventually did. If he didn’t, it’s either because he figured that he could earn more doing comics regardless of the abuses, or because he really liked doing comics and didn’t like drawing toasters. When Kirby finally got tired of getting kicked around in comics and went to do crappy animation for the end of his career, he got treated, so far as I understand, infinitely better than he had ever been as a comics artist. With someone as idiosyncratic as Kirby it’s hard to tell, but was cranking out designs for some of the worst cartoons ever made, which were then ignored, as satisfying as writing and drawing the stories that had come bubbling out of him for decades and he knew by then were regarded as masterpieces?

    The idea that accepting the coercive, Faustian deal that was the only deal available at the time immediately eradicates any cartoonist of the time to complain about the deal seems like the extreme viewpoint of someone from the 21st century looking back with smug hindsight. Ignoring the idea that possibly these people GENUINELY ENJOYED THE WORK enough to swallow the iniquities should make us remember them more fondly, I think.

  20. Dan says:

    Oh for the love of…yes, that’s what I’m saying. Exactly. His abuses are “null and void” and he should have moved to China. I have no idea why the very concept of suggesting that someone who had been systematically taken advantage of for decades should’ve perhaps picked another career path is so outrageous to some of you. I never said he couldn’t whine about it, I never said he had to accept it and shut up.

  21. Sammy says:

    Ha ha!

  22. ScottGrammel says:

    I realize, as often happens with me, that I’m responding to an argument that everyone else has seemingly already put to bed, but I wanted to be on record as finding some of the more intemperate (hi, Tom) comments about Dan’s rather shrug-worthy observation far more outrageous than his supposed outrage.

    Yes, Dan’s comments definitely had a strong whiff of the now-widespread, post-Reagan, American glorification of individual autonomy (as opposed to the kind of group solidarity that owners and businesses have historically found so much more bothersome) that has an easy appeal to the purity, the idealism, and, yes, the naivete of youth. But that doesn’t mean it’s entirely wrong, either.

    And it certainly doesn’t let the corporate powers off the hook in any way, either. Why people think that responsibility can be attributed using a hypothetical and finite pie chart is beyond me, but it’s an idiocy that’s embraced by too many to kill.

    A few quick thoughts before I go. I’ve been reading that “Tales to Astonish” book by Ronin Ro lately, and while it didn’t settle too many old questions in my mind, it certainly raised a hell of a lot of new ones. First, how much money did these guys finally make? We desperately need hard figures in all of these old arguments about corporate greed and abused creators. John Buscema left advertising to go work in comics? Really? Neal Adams left strip work and advertising to concentrate on comics (I think)? Really? And what was Kirby’s page rate (and Colan’s, and Romita’s, and Ditko’s, etc.) in his Marvel prime, and thus average yearly incomes, and, yeah, how much and how often were those bonuses? And if they were all so powerless all the time, how did Steranko get his artwork back? And if unpaid scripting Marvel-style was such an outrage, why did Adams (hardly anyone’s idea of a company man) eagerly seek out the opportunity to do just that? And, for God’s sake, did anyone at DC even know that Kirby didn’t want to draw his comics anymore in the early 70’s? And what exactly was in his DC contract? And, finally, can anyone help me get my head around Kirby backing Marvel against Joe Simon when he sued for ownership?

    (I think the truth is that most of the time Gene Colan was probably fairly happy with his life and his choice of career, and that the slights, big and small, over the course of that career, probably did not usually rise to the level of overwhelming the real pleasure and satisfaction it otherwise provided him.)

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