Jim Shooter: Groundhog Day in the Land of the Apocryphiars

It’s hard to grasp how Shooter could “remember” so much, and so many details, of a widely reported public dispute that he was intimately involved in, none of which are true. A generous reading may suggest that he has misremembered certain facts, but there are few underlying facts that are remotely analogous to what he remembers.

For example, in the mid-’80s, Cannon Films promoted a Captain America film they hoped to produce, and in print advertising cited San Lee as the sole creator. Of course, Lee had nothing to do with creating Captain America (it was created by Kirby and Joe Simon in 1941). When they saw the ad, Jack and Roz Kirby had their lawyer send a letter to Cannon, then Marvel, asking that the credit be corrected. If this is what Shooter’s referring to, he got it exactly backward: It was Lee who was taking sole credit for a character he had nothing to do with creating and Kirby asking that he be given credit for what he created!

But, how could Shooter remember a lawsuit when he was dealing directly with the Kirbys in 1984? According to Roz Kirby:

We saw Shooter in Chicago in ’84, and he was very friendly, and he said, “Jack, when are you going to come back and work for Marvel?” Then he said they were working on arranging a policy so they could start returning Jack’s artwork. He said, “Don’t worry, everything’s going to work out fine.” After we came home, we didn’t hear from him for months and I started calling him up constantly, and he’d say, “Well, they have to get someone down here, and it takes time.”

The Kirbys employed a lawyer to negotiate the release of Jack’s original art for obvious reasons, but not only was there no lawsuit, but Marvel practically refused to even acknowledge their lawyer! According to Roz, “Our lawyer told us that he’s never come across an outfit like that, that wouldn’t even correspond with a lawyer,” telling the Journal that it took “10 or 15 letters to Marvel to get a response.” “And when I talk to Shooter,” she added, “all I’m doing is running up my phone bill. It never does any good.”

In fact, the Kirbys hadn’t considered suing Marvel over the copyright: “We never intended to fight,” said Kirby, referring to the possibility of a lawsuit, “We’ve never sued anybody.” To which Roz added sensibly: “We’re in our 60s. Something like that would take 10 years to get to court.”

(Shooter, by the way, made the same assertion about Kirby suing Marvel in an interview in Heroes Illustrated in 1994 as well as other places; I pointed out the falsity of this assertion in the September 1994 issue of The Comics Journal — which Shooter must’ve missed, otherwise he couldn’t possibly keep repeating it. Truly, it’s like being trapped in Groundhog Day. Older readers may be experiencing déjà vu, to whom my apologies, but keeping track of Shooter’s prevarications is evidently and unfortunately a life’s work; my earlier essay, published when I first discovered Shooter was re-writing history, appears here: “Jim Shooter, Our Nixon,” from The Comics Journal #171 (September 1994).)

The comments following Shooter’s post were as nauseating as the post itself, praising his candor, courage, and integrity. But on April 3, Robert Stanley Martin posted a comment pointing out that Kirby never sued Marvel; apprised of this, Shooter posted a follow-up on April 4, writing, rather blithely and utterly flabbergastingly, “You may be correct, possibly the suit was never filed. I was Editor in Chief, not company counsel.” He then proceeds to elaborate on his recollections, specifically of a public panel protesting Marvel’s treatment of Kirby, and digging his duplicitous hole even deeper:

I attended a panel at the San Diego Con, misleadingly titled, which turned out to be a Marvel-bash-fest MC'ed by Gary Groth. I don't remember the year. '79? '80? Thereabouts. Groth opened with a diatribe against Marvel and its horrible unfairness to Jack. Then he turned the mic over to Jack.

Jack was obviously blindsided by the panel being a Marvel bashing thing. Jack said, in the nicest way, that, yes, he had a dispute with Marvel, but that he didn't think it should be discussed this way; that it was between him and Marvel, and that he was confident that it would be resolved.

Groth wasn't going to let it go at that. He asked his other panelists to chime in. Notable among the panelists were Alan Moore and Frank Miller. Moore had no knowledge of the Kirby situation with Marvel, but told horror stories about the mistreatment of artists by IPC and other British publishing companies, and supposed that Marvel's dealings with Kirby were similar. Other panelists also bashed Marvel.

When it was Frank Miller's turn to talk, though no more fervent advocate for creators' rights exists, he seemed reluctant to jump on the bandwagon. He even likened the proceeding to a “kangaroo court.” Ask Frank. He saw me in the audience and asked me to speak!

’79? ’80? Try 1985 and 1986. Yes, and. Shooter is here conflating two different panels a year apart and misstating what happened during the two of them collectively. Let me disentangle Shooter’s recollections, one by one.

The first panel was held at the ’85 San Diego Comic-Con San Diego on August 2; panelists were Jim Starlin, Greg Theakston, Kirby himself, me, and one or two others whom I don’t remember. Another panel was held the following year on August 3; panelists were Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Marv Wolfman, with myself serving as moderator (or egger-on).

Kirby was not blindsided at either panel, of course, and understood, indeed, endorsed the purpose of both panels, which was to protest Marvel’s continual refusal to return his art.

The proposition that “Moore had no knowledge of the Kirby situation with Marvel” is absurd. Moore was fully informed on the subject; here is how he summed up his position, which I reproduce here because it is a rousing and eloquent exhortation to his fellow professionals and accurately reflects his passion on the subject:

We have grown up with a very simplistic, black-and-white, yet very workable, good-and-bad morality. If anything, we should be prepared to stand up for somebody in our field who is being trampled. It does not bode well for our field if, in 10, 20, or 50 years, this could happen to me, or Marv, or Frank, or any other creator. Why should we stay around if that’s how we’re eventually going to be treated? If they can do it to Jack Kirby, of all people, they can certainly do it to us. If we want the field to grow, we have to make sure the people in it are treated fairly. That’s basically my point on the subject — it is shocking. I don’t want to stand by and watch this happen to Jack, and I don’t think any of us can afford to, and still have a medium we are proud of.

Was Miller reluctant to jump on the “bandwagon” defending Kirby? Here’s what he said: “My position is very simple — I believe the man’s artwork should be returned.” And why would Miller call a panel he agreed to be on protesting Marvel’s treatment of Kirby a “kangaroo court”? Answer: He didn’t.

Shooter was in the audience of this panel, and was at one point graciously given the floor; among other things, he said: “I would be embarrassed to be up there on that kangaroo court, speculating on my — Marvel’s — reasons for doing what we do, speaking about things you obviously don’t know about.”

Oooops. Shooter actually attributed what he said to Frank Miller!

Oh, and among those other things Shooter said from the audience was this gem: “I speak for Marvel Comics. Although I do not set all the policies, I have a great voice in setting the policies, and they’re not currently doing anything that I do not agree with.” Which tends to belie Shooter’s assertion in his April 1 post that “From my point of view, no one on this planet fought harder for Jack and his interests than me, ever.”

Which is, come to think of it, understandable. If he can confuse what he says with what Frank Miller says, he could easily get Jack Kirby’s interests confused with Marvel’s.

It’s hard to know just what to make of his penchant to repeat the same lies over and over again. Has anyone falsified a moment in comics history more persistently than Jim Shooter? To his credits as writer, editor, and publisher, he can add another to his professional resume, courtesy of the journalist Martha Gellhorn: apocryphiar, which she defined as someone who “re-wrote history, particularly to [his] own advantage.”

The Comics Journal 100 (1984): "Marvel Withholds Kirby's Art"
The Comics Journal 104 (1985): "Shooter Speaks out on Kirby Art"
The Comics Journal 105 (1985): "The Negotiations"