Editorial: Responsibility and Entitlement

If you’ve listened to the podcast in recent weeks, then you’ve heard some news about Jack Kirby and the Siegel & Shuster Estates trying to get control and money over their creations. Here on the website and DEFINITELY in the podcast, we’ve talked about George Lucas’s responsibility to the fans and the EU. And for measure, because we may have mentioned it a time or two, there’s George R.R. Martin’s efforts to get his latest novel completed. What’s the point of this, you ask? The point is fairly simple, what is the responsibility that writers/creators really do have to their fans and what entitlement do fans have to their favored fandoms?

I want to start with the series I know the least about, okay? That series would be Martin’s Game of Thrones. From what I’m to understand, this is the modern equivalent to the Lord of the Rings. Huge in scope, a richly textured world, and engaging characters! Each book is huge and tells a carefully crafted tale that makes sure to keep to each rule set in place by the previous installments of the series. From a creator, that’s as best as anyone can ask for. It done for the sake of consistency vs. burning through a novel filled with continuity and other errors. Even from a standpoint of someone who’s never read his books, that’s an impressive quality to me. Yet, on the net, I read several interviews and several more comments on the man while his latest installment was still being worked on. They pretty much said that they wanted him chained to his desk so that he could finish the book. They clamored for it like a ravenous pack of wolves! The problem was, instead of trying to give a friendly nudge, the bullying was almost oppressive. What’s worse about it is, that he had a life he was trying to live as well. To me, it seems some people think that writers are forever tied to their work spaces and aren’t allowed to move around until they have a finished product. Martin was dealing with his upcoming TV series, I know he was putting out some other material for previous books he’s written. Regardless of any of that, the man had to step away from his creation to allow himself to breathe.

In Martin’s case, what people don’t seem to understand is that such a creative process is rather constricting. It’s not that the creator doesn’t enjoy the project, but when you have something so well established that you have to follow rules set in place, it gets tedious to go through every line of text to make sure you don’t contradict anything. These things tend to happen on ocassion, but Martin actually bothered to try and make sure it didn’t. If for whatever reason you don’t buy into that, then here’s another reason: breathing room. What is that? It means that you step away so that you can actually seperate yourself from your story for a little while. It’s a really good thing for both the writers and fans if you’re so deeply immersed in things that you become part of the world. If the writer is worth his title, he should be able to do that. However, there are times when you are so deep into it that you tend to overlook the obvious details. You focus on the nit-picky objects and lose something in the overall storyarc. When I write, I tend to love the little character moments and exposition at the expense of action. I write superhero/pulp type stories. If I forget the action, there’s a problem here. It’s a complex process in a way to become an impartial viewer while telling the story, but also becoming the character and using their voice to speak when needed. It’s such a mental state of mind and you want to get lost in it. Some do. It makes from strong characters and weaker plots. Then you have those stories that are just the opposite. From what I’ve heard, this is a healthy balance of both. Fans of the man, you need to be patient. It’s a lost art, really.

Back on to the subject of George Lucas. Yes, if you read the Petition post that VaderFan decided to do a rebuttal on, you know what this is about. In case you missed it, then the briefest I can make this is to say that a great number of fans want the Expanded Universe stories from books and comics included into the canon of Star Wars. As far these fans are concerned, the stories have been completely cohesive until Star Wars: the Clone Wars hit TV. After the fact, they’ve stomped what was considered canon in the ground and moved onward. The only person, outside of our normal commentators, to offer a response to this used a couple of books and some interviews with Lucas as hard proof that EU was always included and he backpedalled on this. With this, I went to Wookiepedia, StarWars.com, among other sites to gain what insight I needed to figure out what was said and read that could have been misinterpreted. What I expected to read, I found. Mentioning that he allowed people to play with his universe because he knew that the story was much larger than the section he was telling. Lucasfilm giving license to writers to expand upon the series from the time when the original was all that fans had, to the prequels. They made ‘A Long Time Ago…’ further than GL ever did, and ‘Far, Far Away’ from the time when Vader destroyed his master to save his son’s life. He knew that people wanted Star Wars, and the money from the royalties was too much to pass up! Every dollar earned goes into the next big project that gives way to furthering the universe. That’s exciting considering that the same man that started this oh, so many years ago now is still active in the project and hasn’t abandoned it to some studio that will truly run it into the ground. You can’t say that about a lot of creators.

Regardless of the small, yet relatable, tangent I went on; the Star Wars Saga is GL’s brainchild. The EU was not. He allowed a continuation for the sake of the fans and where applicable, with thanks to Dave Filoni and crew, the EU makes its appearances when it can. Does he have to disregard it? No, he doesn’t. However, as my friend VaderFan pointed out, there is so much material for him to go through it would be ludicrous to think that he could finish and retain it all. Making notes, even voice recorded ones, would slow the process down. The man has a story to tell, and he’d bound and determined to do it now. Star Wars is back in the biggest way possible! He’s telling fans that no matter what you think of any particular presentation, there’s always another for you to try if you don’t like it! In that respect, I think he’s done the fans a service. I said to thesithempire, the one that responded, that this petition they made was probably the politest way I’ve seen the fans speak of their wishes to George. Mostly I’ve read responses that always seem to come from scarred people that seem to believe all that was good in their childhood was robbed of them. I can’t see the particular argument for this, but I’m willing to try if you’re willing to actually give me a reasonable response. What I’m seeing here is that fans want to dictate to him how the universe works. That’s an inconcievable notion to me. That’s tantamount to him reading a story you’ve written and him telling you to add and subtract characters at his whim. Not the same, you say? These are established Star Wars stories, is that what I’ll hearing next? Well, that’s really a sort of subjective statement don’t you think? Just because they’ve been written doesn’t mean they exist in his vision of the universe. He’s proven that. It should be looked at as a high honor when such stories and characters make it into canon. That’s the mark of a job well done that he’s looked your way. If it’s taken out, it’s not personal. It’s not even done with. It’s merely not the film/TV version of events. Call it for what it is and move on. Your rights to his works are as follows: You have the choice of spending your money on the product he’s putting out. You don’t want it, don’t buy it. Just that simple. We’ll be getting more into that shortly, with credit to VaderFan for it.

In the case of the Siegel, Shuster, and Kirby Estates, well that gets a bit messy. Legally I don’t see that they really have a case, but apparently the court systems don’t agree with me. Either case to me is a simple of matter of transfer-of-ownership. Kirby did a great deal of work for Marvel, but it was all work-for-hire. They’d come up with something, he’d put his spin on it, BAM! A new Marvel character born! Go Kirby. With Siegel and Shuster, the initially created a villain by the name of Superman for their own science fiction magazine. Shortly after, they retooled the idea to make him a hero. They worked hard with the idea of making him into a newspaper strip, but no one wanted it. They shopped it around a bit, but it was Dectective (DC) Comics, Inc. that accepted the deal. I know that people will say I should be calling it National. In all fairness, I was going to! However, I had forgotten about some research I had done on DC from awhile back. Trust me, if ever a confused situation existed, it was trying to figure out how they intertwined to make DC. Regardless of all that, if it’s to be believed, I saw a scanned copy of the contract they signed with Detective Comics, Inc. selling the character for $130. Did they get ripped? Oh yeah, they sold a gold mine of a character. However, that’s what they agreed to. Later on in life, they decided to sue for their rights because they knew that the money they got for the character wasn’t nearly the amount that the could have gotten. It all came down to the intellectual copyright of the their creation. After a rather convoluted mess, DC and Warner (the owners on DC Comics) reinstated their pensions and gave them credits in the comics that bared Superman in them. Now it’s back to the heirs trying to push for their cut of profits.

Okay, so now I’m sure people are curious how this ties in with what we’ve been talking about. The creators no longer own it, so obviously their responsibility to the fans is completely gone, right? If I’ve read the comments from people looking on this case correctly, there are many fans or passing admirers that want the Estates to win this case. There have been more than a fair share of current comic creators of these days that seem to believe they should. That’s always a hot topic in comics, go figure. After reading a plea from Joanne Siegel to the CEO of Time-Warner, I felt a pang of sympathy for the lady and her family. Who wouldn’t? She’s the inspiration for Lois Lane and trying to make sure that her family gets what she believes she had coming to them. This goes from responsibility to entitlement. After I’d read some of the documentation on what’s going on, I saw the picture without anyone painting different colors over it. The Siegels and Shusters don’t care about the character like that. I doubt they feel much responsibility for him what so ever. In my opinion, if there is any responsibility from them, they should leave Superman alone to be enjoyed by the world. Once they pulled all they could from it, they’d just shop it around to other comic houses. Superman at Marvel, yeah…. What are they entitled to? As far as I can see it, they’ve got all they were entitled to years ago. Joanne Siegel wasn’t some poor woman begging for scraps. I doubt the kids are broke by any means. The courts are upholding that the families or Estates inhereted the copyright from their original creators. As I saw it, they had a contract that said otherwise.

I realize this sounds like another convoluted mess about this whole comic lawsuit thing. Sadly, it’s fairly messy to begin with. My point here is that the responsibility of Superman is now in the hands of DC Comics. These people are looking to cash cow off of it. DC and Warner made gestures towards the two creators and from what I’m to understand they lived fairly comfortably. From the letter I read from Joanne Siegel, she’s got upset that lines of communications from Warner’s was shut down by the CEO’s after a certain timeframe. Does Time-Warner or DC have a responsibility to the families? Court says yes. I say, they’ve done more than enough. Much like any other fan out there, are they entitled to anything more than a footnote? Well, let me put it to you this way. Say you invented the world’s greatest car. It’s faster than anything else, it runs off of a different fuel source, and the design is completely unique to anything else you’ll find on the market. You shop this around, trying to get someone to notice it, and eventually GM comes knocking on your door saying that they’re interested. They hand you a contract that may not be the greatest, but after you’ve examined it and it does boil down to this and all the design rights to it are ours for the payment of X amount then you’ve got a decision to make. If you sign the contract saying that you completely agree to it lock, stock and barrel then it’s all theirs and you get whatever amount you asked for. Which means business concluded. They don’t have to do jack for you at that point. They don’t even have to tell the world you were even involved. This is what happened to Siegel and Shuster. No one ever made any attempt to go back and say you’ll pay a certain percentage of what the character hauls in with stipulation that the family, Estate, or whoever else will get a cut after they passed on. That’s business for you. Going with Kirby’s side of things, they aren’t entitled to it either. Most, if not all, of what he did for Marvel was under contract with them. Nothing to argue about over that, at least I wouldn’t have thought so. Again, in a court of law, I’m apparently just not grasping it.

So what does the overall amount to? There’s a ton of franchises out there that have fans who try to push to make the universe fit their mold. It doesn’t work that way. The responsibility of the creator is that they should put out an entertaining and cohesive story. If they ask for opinions, you are entitled to give them. If they don’t take them, that’s perfectly within the rights of the creator. Your real entitlement comes simply from purchasing or not purchasing a product. “I vote with my dollar!” That’s VaderFan’s favorite phrase. It holds very true. If you so despise a work from someone, then don’t buy it or watch it. Why give your time and cash to someone that’s obviously not putting out materials that are up to your standards? Is it really because you hope it will get better? Or do you just want something to complain about? That’s what it all comes down to. I am a fan of Superman, but I stopped picking up his comic years ago. How can I still be a fan? Because the character and his core ideals still mean a great deal to me. The stories aren’t worth the price on the book. If you’re so inclined to believe that Martin’s too slow so you can’t enjoy this book, or that Lucas has destroyed all you’ve ever read because he didn’t include the EU stories surrounding it, then it’s dead to you. That’s unfortunate, and it’s your mistake. For those of us still holding on to these items and maybe impatiently, yet respectfully, waiting for the next installment; we hope you’ll come to terms with it.