So, yesterday afternoon, I posted this on Twitter:
400+ retweets – and responses that ranged from “Does Kirby’s estate see any of that money?” to “Jack Kirby must be a rich man!” – later, I thought it might be a good idea to put a little more meat on those bones.
As I said in the tweet, the figure comes from the first issue of TwoMorrows’ new magazine, Comic Book Creator. Specifically, it comes from an article called “If Kirby is King, Why Haven’t Jack’s Heirs Made One Measely Thin Dime Out of The Billions of Dollars Generated by His Creations in Hollywood Motion Pictures?”
The $7,310,655,909 figure mentioned is the combined worldwide box office and subsequent U.S. DVD sales for X-Men, X2: X-Men United, X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins Wolverine, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Fantastic Four, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Hulk, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger and Marvel’s The Avengers up to Feb 27 this year.
It’s actually low-balling the actual amount made by those movies; the DVD figures – $753,342,333 – are (a) missing any movie released on DVD before 2005 (i.e, the first two X-Men, the first Hulk), (b) not including Blu-Ray sales, and (c) are only domestic sales, meaning there’s a lot more out there… especially when you consider just how well Iron Man 3 is doing in theaters right now.
The Comic Book Creator piece by Jon B. Cooke notes that “The Marvel/Disney empire is raking in billions of dollars from the fruit of his imagination and they aren’t leaving scraps for his children and grandchildren; what they are sharing with progeny Susan, Neal, Barbara and Lisa, and their children is nothing. Zip. Zero. Zilch.” That may not be exactly true; Ed Brubaker certainly said otherwise in an interview with Tom Spurgeon last year:
At the same time, I’ve always felt good about the fact that the credits for Captain America say, “created by Simon and Kirby” and that Marvel had settled with Simon and Kirby — not Kirby himself, but Kirby’s heirs — over Cap. So they are getting something from the Avengers movie, because of that.
Certainly, the lawsuit between Joe Simon and Marvel over ownership of Cap was “amicably settled” in 2003, although details of that settlement remained confidential. It’s possible that Kirby’s estate was involved in that settlement, but by no means definite; Brubaker would be more in the know about the subject than the majority of us, and Captain America wasn’t one of the characters mentioned in the 2010 lawsuit the estate brought against Marvel (A lawsuit that Marvel won, of course). So perhaps Kirby’s heirs aren’t getting zilch, but “a little bit more than zilch.” It’s still not really enough, though, is it?
In the last two decades – Really, little more than a decade – Marvel and its partners have generated more than seven billion dollars from Kirby’s co-creations from movies alone, never mind merchandise or publishing sales. Elsewhere in the Comic Book Creator issue (I know, I know, I keep mentioning it; You should buy it. It’s well-worth reading), Alex Ross puts it best, I think:
Well, I kind of feel like we know the great sin of how the Superman deal went is one of the biggest, most well-known stories in comics, given that that built the entire industry. But given that Jack Kirby himself almost built that entire other half of the industry by his own blood and sweat through countless books over a 50-year career, it’s got to go down as really the greatest sin of comics that in a way he didn’t both receive the amount of remuneration in his lifetime that he deserved, and that there isn’t a permanent structure set up for his family today.