Comic Book Comics #5
It’s been almost a year and a half since the previous issue (Nov 2009), but when you see how much is packed into this “All-Lawsuit Issue”, you’ll understand the wait. I imagine that the research for this installment was particularly important to get right, given the litigious topic.
(While we’re on the subject, I know that publishers that run notices of this sort are only trying to protect themselves from bigger, sometimes mean companies — “Goofy & Mickey Mouse are TM and © 2011 The Walt Disney Company” — but in my one law class, I remember learning that something is copyright when it’s created. Since there’s no particular Mickey Mouse story being referred to, especially one created this year, this kind of notice suggests a character copyright, which isn’t an established legal principle. (Although boy, the brand-holding companies want one.) I wish they’d stop doing that.)
The comic begins with one of the biggest legal stories comics has ever seen — how DC took Superman from Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. (The company is referred to throughout as “DC” even though they operated under another name back then.) Other key disputes covered include
- Jack Kirby’s struggle to get his original art back from Marvel
- Dan O’Neill and the “Air Pirates”‘ use of Disney characters
- the British campaign against American horror comics in the 1950s
- DC’s lawsuit against Captain Marvel
- Alan Moore’s creation of Watchmen
Those last three are background for the final and most complicated story, the legal history of Miracleman, although this section is disappointing. There are a lot more panels of quoting some of Moore’s juicier put-downs of comics and talking about what a genius he is than actual facts. The last-page summation is funny, and makes its point, but the reader may be left unsatisfied, especially with how recent events are summed up in one panel caption about Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Those who are particularly interested in these topics will find that they may know more, or have more up-to-date information, than this comic presents.
For the most part, history is covered quickly and coherently. I want to single out especially how effective the art is. I don’t know which part of the artistic team of Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey comes up with the concepts for the images, but they’re well-chosen. Without strong visuals, this comic could have easily been a book, since so much of the text is telling us key past events, but the pictures are clever and funny, whether it’s an ambulatory DC bullet logo handing Uncle Sam a comic to show copyright registration by the company or Alfred E. Neuman, Mark Twain, Shakespeare, and a drunk-looking Mickey Mouse marching together in a panel touting the “Western tradition of parody and satire”.
It’s not all symbology and metaphor, though. Sometimes simply illustrating the description is the most powerful image, as when Marvel’s crumbling original art warehouse is described as being located in a “neighborhood so bad the attendant refused to answer the door without a butcher knife in her hand!” The terrified-looking young lady shown gets the point across nicely.