Thursday, 4 July 2013

Steve Gerber: Ownership Of Howard The Duck

F.O.O.G. Portfolio: Tilting (1982)
Art by Dave Sim
(Click image to enlarge)

(from a 1986 talk radio show, reprinted in Jack Kirby Collector #19, April 1998)
...The disagreement was over the ownership of the Howard the Duck character. It took three years of my life and $140,000 to pursue. Some of that, thank heavens, was offset by the two dozen or so people in the industry I can still look straight in the eye, Jack [Kirby] among them. Jack did the artwork for the first issue of Destroyer Duck, which was done as a benefit comic book for the lawsuit, absolutely gratis. We did return his artwork, however. (laughter) Some of it was offset later by a project that was initiated by Deni Sim [Loubert], called the FOOG Portfolio: The Friends Of Old Gerber Portfolio, (laughter) done with my blessing, but totally without my knowledge. But the proceeds from both of those projects covered 20%, possibly a little more of the lawsuit. So when you talk about suing a company like Marvel, Jack is absolutely correct. You're sitting there with one, perhaps two lawyers, facing a battery of lawyers which include, in this case, an outside firm, retained locally in California to deal with the suit; Marvel's own in-house lawyers; Cadence Industries' in-house lawyers; and a firm back in New York which is under retainer to Cadence. That's what you're up against when you go into something like this. We fought it all the way to within two weeks of actually going to court. We were prepared to go into court, and at the last moment we were able to reach a settlement which I thought was fair and equitable, and in many ways less chancy than going to court with something like this. A decision against me, which was possible, would've done a great deal of harm not only to me, but to other people who might have to sue another comics publisher or the same publisher on the same basis. I didn't want to take that risk. The trial alone would've cost another $25,000, and I could've gotten stuck with some of Marvel's legal fees after that. So looking at the whole thing on balance, I had to decide that a truly equitable settlement, which I felt this was, was the way to end the dispute. Marvel owns Howard the Duck, and Marvel has creative control over him. I'm allowed to say that because it was part of a joint press release Marvel and my attorneys and I issued at the time of the settlement... 

...One of the things that the suit definitely made clear was simply that in the forty years between the creation of Superman in 1938, and my being escorted off Howard the Duck in 1978, essentially nothing had changed in the comic industry. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were in precisely the same position that I was in - and Jack Kirby finds himself in that same position today; worse, in fact. Jack can not even get the physical artwork back, which Marvel never even claimed to own.

(from a letter to Sonny Strait, 29 April 2004, reprinted in Dave Sim's Collected Letters 2004)
...I'm just warning you that an idea you think of as just an idea, if you sell it and start working on it you might find has more of you in it than you suspected. By then it's too late. Howard the Duck is a good example. Just a throwaway panel in Giant Size Man-Thing... and then slowly building into a franchise. Too late, Steve.

Steve Gerber (1947-2008) is best known as co-creator of Howard the Duck (© Marvel Comics) and Stewart the Rat, and for writing Man-Thing, Omega the UnknownSon of Satan and The Defenders. He was posthumously inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2010.

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