Tuesday, May 1, 2012

My Response to Gary Groth

This post is a response to a comment by Gary Groth on The Comics Journal’s website. For context, click here and read down. All the comments under the byline “JS” are by me. The comment being responded to is the April 30, 9:30 PM comment by “Groth.” A link to this post should appear in reply there.

When I asked Gary to get an opinion from Kenneth Norwick [comment here] about the legal situation regarding the ownership of Jack Kirby's original art, I hope it was clear that I would have accepted Norwick’s opinion on this matter. Norwick is a highly respected New York attorney specializing in media law. He knows what he is talking about. If he offers an assessment for journalistic purposes, it can be trusted.

I expected Gary to respond in one of two ways.

One, he would provide the text of Norwick’s (or another lawyer’s) assessment. If Norwick contradicted me on any point, I fully expected that contradiction to be rammed down my throat.

Or two, Gary would provide a long-winded rationalization for not getting a legal opinion, from Norwick or any other lawyer. This would be followed by an extremely ugly personal attack on me.

He did the latter. As to why, people can draw their own conclusions.

[Note 5/10/2012: Gary Groth has since denied asking Norwick's opinion of the legal situation regarding the art during the mid-1980s. Note 12/13/2012: Tom Heintjes, TCJ's news reporter at the time, has told me they did not consult with Norwick or any other attorney about the matter. Please read what follows with this in mind.]

My hunch is that Gary asked Norwick about the matter when the stand-off between Kirby and Marvel was going on in the mid-'80s. As a rule, The Comics Journal has always included an attorney’s view in news stories that concern themselves with legal issues to any significant degree. Norwick was representing The Comics Journal in a lawsuit at the time. He would have been a natural choice for Gary or a TCJ staffer to ask. All we know for sure is that TCJ never published a lawyer’s opinion about the legal merits of Kirby’s claim.

If Gary received a legal opinion back then that reflected my layperson’s view of the situation, I can appreciate a decision to bury it. He was an ally of Kirby, and a leader of an intense public relations campaign on Kirby's behalf against Marvel. It is my view that Marvel, regardless of the legal ownership, had an ethical obligation to return Kirby’s art. Informing supporters of Kirby’s cause that he didn’t have a legal right to the art could have diminished the intensity of their support. Without that support, Marvel likely wouldn’t have budged.

However, this is now a historical matter. Kirby settled with Marvel in 1986 and received around 1,900 pages of his original art. There’s no reason for the truth of the situation, if it was not to Kirby’s advantage, not to come out. It most likely will eventually, in any case.

The only casualty might be Gary’s reputation. Or his ego. Publicly acknowledging that the hated Marvel was legally in the right would probably be embarrassing.
In addition, he would likely detest admitting that I am right and he was wrong. Our relationship is a hostile one. This is largely due to a series of payment disputes in 2010 and 2011 that ended only after I formally threatened a lawsuit. I also resent his plans to include my copyrighted articles in The Comics Journal online archive. The writers’ guidelines in place when I began writing for the magazine stated that no article would be permanently archived without permission. Gary refuses to honor that promise.

I believe Gary’s comment is a transparent effort to avoid admitting the truth of the Kirby situation. But as I said, people can draw their own conclusions.

I’m not going to dignify his personal attacks on me with a response.

UPDATE--May 3

My response to Gary's latest comment, posted to the thread:
Gary--

Temper, temper.

For those reading, please look at this as a chess game. Gary has only one move: Get a lawyer on the record about this. Now, maybe he'll win with that move, or maybe he'll lose. He won't play it.

Instead, we get a lot of sound and fury to justify not playing the game anymore. His April 30 comment starts with him arguing like a third-rate Stanley Fish imitator and ends with him comparing me to a serial killer. Make of it what you will.
An aside, for the benefit of your own personal bullshit detector: When someone starts arguing that there's no way of knowing the truth because everything is relative, chances are pretty good that person knows (or at least strongly suspects) that the truth isn't on his or her side.

My "hunch" was a rhetorical stratagem designed to give Gary a face-saving out. He was so committed to the justice of Jack Kirby's cause that he sacrificed his journalistic integrity to help achieve it. I thought it would be a natural for Gary. Ah, well.

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