Category: Film

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 And Credit Where Credit Is Due

In 2014, Sony will release The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the fifth feature film centered on everyone’s favorite wall-crawler. While Spider-Man and Peter Parker have become household names, such is not really the case with the men who originally created the character for Marvel Comics in 1962. Creator credit in comic books has always been a gray area, most especially from the Golden Age up through the 1970s. The situation gets even murkier once you extrapolate the classic stories to big screen blockbusters. The Spider-Man franchise is certainly not the only one to miss creditor its creators, it has recently come into the spotlight through a blog post we reference below.

When it comes to comic book characters and stories, there are all kinds of arguments to be made as far as work-for-hire contracts, being a salaried employee and what rights are held by the creator versus the company. On the one hand, most of these characters were created with at least some knowledge that the copyright and licensing exploitation rights would be held by the company they were created for, unless some sort of contractual stipulation was signed granting the writer or artist specific rights. Basically, the argument is that the creators knew what they were getting into and were happy to do it at the time.

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On the other hand, super-hero films are making hundreds of millions of dollars in profits with scripts that are based in whole or in part on stories that were originally written by one writer or, more and more frequently, by a specific writer and artist. Further adventures of Spidey and his friends have also been used for scripts over the last few years, adding even more writers and artists to the mix. Certainly the visual styles of all super-heroes were created by one or more artists. Why would you not at least acknowledge the person or persons who built the foundation of your success? Isn’t there some sort of moral obligation to provide a stipend for those who created what you are re-purposing?

Indeed, it would appear that Stan Lee seems to certainly be the exception to the rule as his name is associated very prominently along with Spider-Man, The X-Men, Iron Man and the Avengers, all of which he keeps being billed in news reports as being the creator of. However, while it seems that usually the writer gets widely credited as the one who came up with all the clever stories and characters, it is certainly disingenuous to tout Stan The Man as the sole creator of all of Marvel’s cinematic heroes and villains. As pointed out by guest blogger Richard Gagnon over on Steve Bissette’s site:

As Marvel became more successful, Stan‘s time decreased and his top artists might only get a one-sentence plot idea that they would have to create an entire story from. There were times that Stan had no input to the comic till the artist delivered pages for a story that they created completely on their own. Creative disagreements between Stan and Steve left them not communicating for two years such that Steve Ditko plotted the entire course of that period’s comics, creating villains and supporting characters–all without any input from Stan Lee. Stan was then left with looking at the art and Steve‘s notes and having to create a script on the fly. Steve Ditko quit Marvel when promised royalties were never paid as Spider-Man‘s popularity was starting to show up as merchandised toys in stores and a forthcoming Saturday morning cartoon announced.

The day Steve quit was the last day that he ever earned a penny from his four years of creating and defining the world of Spider-Man. His entire monetary income for all his work on Spider-Man probably earned him less money than the costume designer for the Spider-Man movies made when they slightly tweaked the costume for the character onscreen. Stan Lee‘s long association with Marvel has left him quite well-to-do as the company’s best known spokesman even though he likewise never directly got royalties from his co-creation of Spider-Man.

Steve Ditko, on the other hand, has favored creative freedom over money and consequently has done considerably less well. He is now 85 years old and still works on his own small-press comics. I would imagine that his social security income is unimpressive since he hasn’t worked on any top comics since Spider-Man. When he worked on Spider-Man, Marvel had some of the lowest page rates in the industry, so he didn’t do well there. Meanwhile, Marvel was bought by Disney for $4 billion for its intellectual property and none of the writers and artists that created those properties saw a penny from that massive sale.

Of course there is all manner of legal mumbo jumbo and maneuvering by lawyers and decisions by the courts to resolve things in favor of the comic book companies and their current regimes. We all know that any given company is out to make a profit and continue as an ongoing concern by making money. But the point here isn’t a legal one nor a business one. It’s about doing what’s right and standing by a set of principles. There was a time when a handshake and spoken word were binding and a conscience and desire to do right by others were what kept one beholden to that. Obviously those were much simpler times, but it seems like there could be a way to still be the biggest comic book company on the planet while simultaneously taking care of those who have made you great. Steve Ditko, Carl Burgos, Jack Kirby, Jim Steranko, Roy Thomas, Gene Colan, Barry Smith, Neal Adams, John Buscema, Gil Kane, Tom Palmer, Dan Adkins, Wally Wood, John Romita, Don Heck and many, many others should be celebrated right alongside Stan Lee in big, bold letters at the beginning of each and every Marvel film that bears their blood, sweat and tears. I, for one, would cheer loudly if The Amazing Spider-Man 2 proudly owned that it was “Based On Characters Originally Created By Steve Ditko and Stan Lee!” just before Spidey swung across the screen at the beginning of the film. That should be embraced by Marvel, Sony and the filmmakers, not something that needs to be tirelessly, and probably fruitlessly, fought for. After all, doing the right thing is what Peter Parker has always taught us to do, as told to us by Stan and Steve.

J. J. Abrams Officially Announced As Star Wars VII Director, Plus Star Wars Alumni Reactions

Below is the official press release from Lucasfilm, along with the reactions from some Star Wars veterans!

After a bevy of emails and phone calls, the formalities have been wrapped up, and at long last everyone can exhale and properly share the word with an excited Internet. Yes, J.J. Abrams will direct Star Wars: Episode VII, the first of a new series of Star Wars films to come from Lucasfilm under the leadership of Kathleen Kennedy. Abrams will be directing and Academy Award-winning writer Michael Arndt will write the screenplay.

“It’s very exciting to have J.J. aboard leading the charge as we set off to make a new Star Wars movie,” said Kennedy. “J.J. is the perfect director to helm this. Beyond having such great instincts as a filmmaker, he has an intuitive understanding of this franchise. He understands the essence of the Star Wars experience, and will bring that talent to create an unforgettable motion picture.”

George Lucas went on to say “I’ve consistently been impressed with J.J. as a filmmaker and storyteller. He’s an ideal choice to direct the new Star Wars film and the legacy couldn’t be in better hands.”

“To be a part of the next chapter of the Star Wars saga, to collaborate with Kathy Kennedy and this remarkable group of people, is an absolute honor,” J.J. Abrams said. “I may be even more grateful to George Lucas now than I was as a kid.”

J.J., his longtime producing partner Bryan Burk, and Bad Robot are on board to produce along with Kathleen Kennedy under the Disney | Lucasfilm banner.

Also consulting on the project are Lawrence Kasdan and Simon Kinberg. Kasdan has a long history with Lucasfilm, as screenwriter on The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Return of the Jedi. Kinberg was writer on Sherlock Holmes and Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

Abrams and his production company Bad Robot have a proven track record of blockbuster movies that feature complex action, heartfelt drama, iconic heroes and fantastic production values with such credits as Star Trek, Super 8, Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol, and this year’s Star Trek Into Darkness. Abrams has worked with Lucasfilm’s preeminent postproduction facilities, Industrial Light & Magic and Skywalker Sound, on all of the feature films he has directed, beginning with Mission: Impossible III. He also created or co-created such acclaimed television series as Felicity, Alias, Lost and Fringe.

Past Star Wars veterans, dating back to the classic trilogy, offered words of praise from their direct experience with Abrams:

Visual Effects Supervisor Dennis Muren, ASC, whose credits include the original Star Wars trilogy as well as landmark films such as E.T. and Jurassic Park, also worked with Abrams on Super 8. “He puts everything he has into his work,” said Muren. “He totally immerses himself. He’s got such a visual eye, which is so important to the Star Wars films. It seems that a lot of the same things that were in George when he made the first Star Wars films are also in J.J. I think he’s going to fit into the other movies perfectly, with the energy that J.J. has. We’re kick-starting Star Wars again with dynamite. It will knock people out, including the people who get to work on it. I think it’s a great choice.”

Ben Burtt, responsible for such iconic Star Wars sounds as Darth Vader’s breathing, R2-D2’s beeps and the classic lightsaber, has worked with Abrams as sound designer and sound editor on Star Trek and Super 8. “J.J represents the next generation of filmmakers from those that were making Star Wars when I started,” said Ben Burtt. “When he was a teen, he was a fan of Star Wars, and a great deal of his love for movies came out of his reaction of that first Star Wars film. You feel that he’s already invested so many years in it, and he’s going to propel it forward in a new way. In other words, you’re having a fan who has grown up and developed tremendous directorial skills finding himself at the steering wheel to take the franchise into the next stage. I feel like I’m there watching history turn over from one era to another.”

Matthew Wood, who served as supervising sound editor on Super 8, similarly grew up as a Star Wars fan before working on the films through the prequels. “Working with him, it was so obvious to me that J.J. and I have the same nostalgic love of that era. Now we have someone from that generation who is going to be at the helm of the Star Wars franchise that I’ve known and worked on, so it’s a great circle. Just seeing what he did with Super 8 and capturing those moments, and knowing what was so special about that era, it’s going to speak to a new generation of audience as well.”