How do you avoid interview aikido?

September 26th, 2012 by | Tags:

When “Avengers” came out there was a vocal fanbase of “Avengers” co-creator Jack Kirby that thought his role in this big pop culture event was being underplayed. With “Guardians of the Galaxy” coming up, there’s already hype around those characters — especially Rocket Raccoon, who was created by Bill Mantlo. What kinds of safeguards and policies do you want to be in place for Marvel to protect the comic creators who are in their older years now, but whose work is entertaining millions of people around the world?

Well it’s a complex question, but I will say that Joe Quesada and Dan Buckley will take the lead on a lot of that and they are actually quite, quite good in acknowledging and letting us know as we share the scripts and character lists with them [by saying]: Here are the creators of this. Here is where they are. Here is who they are, and figuring out what we can do in terms of recognition. If you look at the special credits sections of all the Marvel Studios movies, you’ll see lots and lots of names, probably half a dozen or so, that apply to even the small characters, much smaller than Rocket, that are included in the movie. In terms of Kirby, I always thought of the “Thor” movie as one of the biggest testaments to what Kirby did because at every turn with the production design, we wanted to embrace it. The helmet design, those horns on Loki. “Do you really want those to be that big?” “It’s gotta be that big.” I love that stuff, it’s tremendous.

Kevin Feige, Marvel Studios Head, On Marvel’s Next Risks, Tom Hiddleston’s Bad Boy Appeal And Jack Kirby, 9/24/2012

Question: What are you doing to safeguard or enrich the lives of the creators of the properties that are making you a billion dollars a year?

Answer: We really like to pay homage in the form of Special Thanks and emulating the things those people did in the comics.

Frustrating, isn’t it? It’s a complete dodge, which is whatever. But it prompted some thoughts in addition to the frowns and rolled eyes:

-These questions matter and absolutely should be asked of Marvel, DC, Robert Kirkman, Dreamwave, and whoever else is involved in labor disputes/benefitting off past sins. It’s not negative, or muck-raking, or anything like that — it’s important. These people should be held accountable.

-But the subjects do not, and will not, answer the questions directly, either thanks to ongoing lawsuits or just complete disinterest in publicly addressing the story. Feige here dodges the controversy and uses it to position Marvel as someone who greatly values their creators. It’s spin. Which is useless as anything but marketing.

-So, what’s the answer? How do you address this in the face of silence or spin? How do you keep yourself from being co-opted?

Hostile interviews aren’t the answer. The subjects clam up and the interview ends. Fawny love-me-please interviews don’t work, either, because you’re too busy trying to make a new BFF to honestly address or apply criticism.

Agitation is necessary. That’s how you get people to change. You make the point of contention public, you explain it so that people can understand it, and then you get up in their face. They bend or they don’t — that’s out of your hands. But you can convince people and try to show the upsides of a change. There are ways to go about it that work better than others, I’m sure, but I’m not sure what they are.

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6 comments to “How do you avoid interview aikido?”

  1. “Nah, the Kirby estate ain’t getting shit for this. Didn’t Loki have a great hat though? I had to fight for that. That’s a REAL tribute to the master.”

    Whenever one of the execs gets called on this kind of thing in an interview my eyes always start to glaze over by about the second line because I know I’m about to read a weaselly, bullshit non-answer.

  2. One of the nice things about the new Dredd movie is that the very first credit at the end is HUGE RED TEXT reading “Judge Dredd Created By: John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra.”

  3. Great question.

    It’s legitimately tough, b/c even if the interviewer directly asked Feige to share his thoughts on financially compensating the creators of the characters in the Marvel movies, he would’ve been able to dodge the question w/o any real difficulty.

    If I ran one of these news sites, I’d run some material about creators rights/compensation to accompany these kinds of big interviews w/ media execs, such as an explanation of why this is an issue, quotes from people on all sides of the issue, etc. so that readers can fairly evaluate the issue on their own and it won’t look like a guy like Feige got away with something. Talk to some creators, fans, historians, academics, i.p. lawyers/academics. In a situation like this, I’d think it might make sense to follow up with Quesada and Buckley about ‘recognition’.

    I don’t even think that any of this needs to be confrontational – especially because Marvel/DC/whoever would get an opp’y to comment/state its case.

    Sometimes it feels like our cultural media lose sight of the fact that these p/r interviews with a powerful figure can be the beginning of the story instead of its end.

  4. It really is some beautiful Neo-type bullet-dodging here: Feige says that Marvel honors Kirby by continuing to crib from his work while paying his heirs nothing. Hey, David & Gavok, hope you don’t mind if I “honor” some of your pieces here for my paysite. I’ll give you the market rate on Special Thanks, I promise.

  5. Buckley ?Buckley?! how did Tim Buckley have any thing to do with marvel/DC screwing over Alan moore and Jack kirby? I’m sorry in advance If I’m mistaken.

  6. I actually don’t really hold any of these guys too responsible for what they say publicly about these controversial internal decisions; until you’re “behind the wall” of a big corporate media machine, it’s hard to fully grasp just how much of a press lockdown it is. You get it abstractly, of course, but you don’t really get it — not until you see a high alert all-VPs-on-deck strategy summit called when a low-level employee tells a journalist, “Let me check and get back to you” or when you have to fill out a 9-page form to clear the Twitter handle you choose for the company account with corporate legal people you’ve never even heard of. It’s just absurd, but a logical, sensible absurdity when you think about — there’s no other way to keep a huge company on-message.

    The best any employee can do is answer from his personal perspective, and the safest way to go is to talk about how the issue touches your day-to-day work however remote that may be. That’s why any question with the word “Kirby” in it would trigger Feige to talk about how important Kirby is to him creatively and how awesome his character designs were and why they were central to the production design of his movies. It doesn’t answer the questions but it’s the best of his three options (the other two being, “You’ll have to talk to our press relations team about that” and “No comment”).

    I’m not saying you’re not responsible for a company’s actions when you choose to work there, only that it’s not possible for these guys to talk publicly about a part of the company they’re not involved with. Journalists looking to get to the bottom of the matter would do better to cultivate anonymous sources, cross-check them with public statements, legal filings, etc., and then grill the official spokespeople as much as they can.