Jack Kirby’s family wants a piece of the pie in Marvel’s Hollywood success

Sept. 21, 2009 | 3:19 p.m.

Ben Fritz has a story in today’s Los Angeles Times business section on the heirs of the late, great Jack Kirby looking for a legal avenue to profit from the many characters that he created, which have become lucrative Hollywood properties.

Jack Kirby self-portrait

Walt Disney Co. may not get full ownership of many of Marvel Entertainment’s most famous superheroes if new copyright claims by the family of the late artist Jack Kirby have merit.

Four children of Kirby, who co-created a number of Marvel’s best-known superheroes in the 1960s including the X-Men, Fantastic Four, Thor and the Hulk, have served 45 “notices of termination” to Marvel, Disney, Sony Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures and Universal Pictures. The notices seek to regain copyright control of certain characters.

Disney this month agreed to buy Marvel for $4 billion. Sony owns the movie rights to Spider-Man, Fox to the Fantastic Four and X-Men; Paramount and Universal have distribution rights for certain Marvel-produced films.

The notices were sent Wednesday.

The children of Kirby, who died in 1994, are being represented by Los Angeles law firm Toberoff & Associates, which has represented the heirs of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel in a similar claim against Warner Bros.

Kirby served as artist and co-plotter with writer Stan Lee on most of the characters in question.

Whereas Lee has been a public face of the company for decades, Kirby is less known. That’s in part because Kirby left to work for competitor DC Comics in 1970…


— Ben Fritz


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CREDIT: Jack Kirby self-portrait, Marvel.


11 Responses to Jack Kirby’s family wants a piece of the pie in Marvel’s Hollywood success

  1. Dave Mowers says:

    The creator/inventor process should be automatic and sealed like a patent. Rights should only be granted by the creator regardless of whom he works for, first rights of assignment should only be granted to the employer or purchaser for manufacture of the product. So, Kirby then Marvel, then FOX. Distribution of profits should be mandated as a set royalty determined by the federal government or agreed to by the parties. So that in any event the artist or his estate continue to benefit from his creations. No different than any patent companies profit continuously from now. This needs to be defined now, instead of forcing parties to use various rules to enforce rights in multiple court systems.

  2. Reece Robertson says:

    They do not, in the slightest, deserve these rights. Kirby signed a contract with Marvel and his family has to honour that, whether he was scammed or not nothing illegal happened. Plus Kirby has only help design these character's costumes, how is that creating them? Especially Spider-Man, considering he has never drew a Spider-Man comic ever??! That is ridiculous, his family are just greedy, trying to get money from the Disney/Marvel merger. Think about the impact this would have, the family doesn't know what to do with these characters!! They'd never see the light of day again, I mean I didn't see Kirby's family claiming ownership when Marvel was bankrupt.

    • Michael Hardesty says:

      You are wrong. It's well-documented that Jack Kirby invented the characters he drew. Reference "The Jack Kirby Collector" Also, there are Youtubes online that leave no doubt Kirby invented most of Marvel's characters (including Spiderman, which is a little known fact). He did not just "draw" the comics, he invented the characters, wrote their backstory, designed their costumes, and "plotted the story" of every single comic he was artist on. It is a misnomer that Stan Lee "wrote" Marvel comics. He did not. Kirby wrote the stories. Often, it wasn't until AFTER the book was fully inked that Stan Lee saw it and edited the dialogue. Stan Lee was the editor business manager of Marvel, and is well known for taking writing credit from Kirby.

      • vincent says:

        Actually, Timely/Atlas/Marvel (whatever) was still doing scripts for years into the Lee/Kirby era. The "Marvel Method" came later. Having said that, the difference in tone & quality after JK was liberated from the shackles of crummy scripts from Stan lee & his kid brother Larry speaks for itself. Most of the best stuff comes from Kirby working solo, free from lame scripts. As for who first came up with the ideas for these characters, we'll never know. Lee never again invented a character anyone cared about. Kirby created the whole modern DC Universe single-handedly. If DC isn't using the Golden Age, Silver Age or Alan Moore they go straight to the Kirbyverse — increasingly so. But the fact remains that we will *never* know for sure. The Kirby family certainly deserves $$ when Marvel uses Jack Kirby designs all over a movie, as in THOR. It's only fair.

  3. David Van Noord says:

    Go get Kirby's! You deserve as much as Lee received!

  4. margaret giacoia says:

    If Jack Kirby's family feels they are entitled than so should my family. My dad Frank Giacoia worked with Jack Kirby since the beginning of Marvel. My father was the best inker for Marvel. Neither Jack Kirby or Stan Lee ever acknowlege that after he died. I would love for Jack Kirby or Stan Lee to explain to me how a great man can be forgotten so easily. Frank Giacoia (my dad) lives on at Marvel whether you like it or not.

  5. margaret giacoia says:

    I have tryed to contact Jack Kirby Jr. I live in Mission Viejo, California. A few years ago there was a article in the Orange County Register praising Jack, No mention of my dad Frank Giacoia. My father inked most of Jack's work. I tryed to contact (through the Register), his son who also lives in Mission Viejo. No response. There is alot of my dad's work missing out there. It must have been valuable because my family cant find it. May my dad rest in peace.

  6. Ghoul Man says:

    Actually, Kirby drew the cover of the comic book that featured the VERY FIRST appearance of Spidey, AMAZING FANTASY #15, way back in 1962!

  7. jose m, reyes says:

    Mr. Robertson seems to be an ignorant or a marvel zombie. First Jack Kirby created the characters, Stan lee merely wrote captions for the comics. Don't believe all the trash Lee says in the Marvel Origins books sasying that he created all Marvel. At best Stan lee is an average writer. When Kirby left Marvel there were no new creations beacuse Stan Lee had no creative mind. Kirby was always a creator. In DC he created so many good books. His family deserve royalties. Stan Lee robbed Kirby for many years. Kirby was a gentleman.

  8. Paul says:

    In some ways asking "who was the creator of the Fantastic Four" is like asking "who was the creator of Casablanca." Many people contributed in a variety of ways to produce something far greater than the sum of its parts. We can debate forever made the key contribution that made the final product the success it was.
    One thing is clear, though: it was Jack Kirby, not Jack Kirby's heirs, who contributed to the product. Jack Kirby, certainly, would be entitled to a piece of the action for movies based on his work — if he were alive. But whether the heirs should have a piece of the action for movies based on something they had nothing to do with seems much less clear to me.
    In a day when people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have made a big deal about dismantling hereditary family fortunes and having their heirs achieve on their own merits, I find it odd no one has commented on that aspect of the story. Maybe everyone's so excited about the idea of sticking it to big corporations like Marvel and Disney, they don't want to consider this other question…

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