Marvel versus Jack Kirby, the battle heats up

Jan. 08, 2010 | 11:57 p.m.

Steve Zeitchik has an article at our sister blog, Company Town, on the latest courtroom twist to the ramping dispute between Marvel’s corporate captains and the estate of Jack Kirby, arguably the most important comic book creator in the history of the medium.

Marvel universe

The battle between Marvel Entertainment and the Jack Kirby estate is bringing out each side’s inner Hulk.

The comic book publisher and movie producer, which was recently acquired by the Walt Disney Co. in a $4-billion deal, has unleashed a lawsuit that seeks to invalidate the copyright termination claims made by the heirs to the iconic artist. It’s the latest tactic in the fight over profits from some of the most lucrative superhero characters.

Jack Kirby

The suit against the Kirby heirs, filed in federal court in Manhattan today, is essentially a preemptive strike to halt the Kirby family’s bid to reclaim the characters. It follows a series of letters from Kirby estate attorney Marc Toberoff in September in which his clients notified various copyright holders and licensors of their intent to terminate copyright to a slew of properties at various points in the coming decade (when they will, in the heirs’ view, become available).

Those properties include The Hulk, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Thor, The Avengers and many others from which the movie blockbusters are adapted.

Jack Kirby was a renowned artist instrumental in the creation and shaping of these characters, his family argues, and is thus entitled to profits like any other copyright-holder. Disney has maintained that Kirby’s work was considered for-hire and that his heirs are thus not owed any further profits. 

Like other heirs to 20th century comic book artists, Kirby’s progeny have become more aggressive in seeking to recoup their share of the profits …


— Steven Zeitchik


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Image credit: Marvel

Upper photo: Jack Kirby at work in 1965. Credit: The Jack Kirby Museum

Lower photo: Stan Lee signs artwork at his Beverly Hills office in 2009. Credit: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times.)


2 Responses to Marvel versus Jack Kirby, the battle heats up

  1. Bob in Berkeley says:

    There's no way I would have bought Thor, Captain Amaerica, the Fantastic Four, etc. when I was a kid if Jack Kirby hadn't been the artist. As an example, re-read "Tales from Asgard", or the early "Journey into Mystery (with Thor)" – there were no plots, dialog was minimal, just incredible artwork.

  2. Pasadena'ed says:

    As a professional illustrator and designer for various entertainment studios and consumer products companies for almost two decades now, one thing's guaranteed in this business: whoever pays you to create for them, be it a Disney, Sony, Marvel or otherwise, owns what your create. It's that simple.
    If I hired and paid a professional landscape designer to create a beautiful backyard and later decided to charge an entry fee to folks to view my beautiful backyard, I don't then owe said designer part of every ticket I sell.

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