The Jim Shooter Files: Plagiarism

Last month's MCM London Comic Con had Jim Shooter as a guest, and at his table were a number of folders, binders, full of memos, sketches, artwork from his long career at DC, Marvel, Valiant and more. He graciously allowed Bleeding Cool to take shots of a few of them, but these are just the tip of the iceberg of the folders he often brings to shows. But for Thanksgiving, Bleeding Cool will be sharing a few of them, and you can check the rest with this handy dandy tag.

And on May 5th, 1983, he had one thing on his mind. Plagiarism.

Jim Shooter

We're against it. Vehemently. I can't believe that I actually have to tell people this, but several instances in the past two years have demonstrated that it's necessary.

I think that these instances were largely unintentional in that the people involved apparently didn't realize what they were doing or the possible ramifications of their actions. But, that's got to change. If anyone doesn't know what plagiarism is, find out. And don't do it. Ever.

It is, of course, possible to come close to someone else's work by sheer coincidence — but from this point on, if anyone rips something off, we are going to take it very seriously. We cannot and will not tolerate it.

Jim Shooter has previously talked about his battles regarding this topic and one of these may have informed this memo, when Editor-In-Chief of Marvel Comics. Barry Windsor-Smith's planned Hulk graphic novel, currently going through a decades-long process of being created as a non-Hulk graphic novel called Monsters.

Barry came to me with a completely penciled and written graphic novel. It was the about the development of the "mighty, raging fury" inside Bruce Banner, who, he revealed, was the product of an abusive home. I looked it over. I thought it was brilliant, one of the best comics stories I'd ever seen. I offered Barry a contract and an advance. He turned me down — temporarily. He proposed to finish the thing — then, if I would agree to publish it as created, no alterations whatsoever, he would sign a contract and take the money. I was willing to agree to that in writing on the spot, but he said, no, when it's finished. Okay. Fine by me. I already knew, from what he'd shown me, that there'd be no problem.

Barry showed the work around a bit to people in the office. I guess he allowed Al Milgrom or someone to make photocopies of it. Ask Al.

I was later given to understand that Al kept the copies in the Hulk drawer of his flat file.

Bill Mantlo, looking through the drawer to see what current Hulk artwork had come in, saw the copies. He then blatantly ripped the story off for a regular issue of the Hulk.

In those days, I was on the road a lot, spending time in Europe with the licensees, at our London office, in L.A., or on licensing trips elsewhere. The book went to press without my seeing it. How Al didn't notice, or someone else didn't notice, I don't know.

Barry was furious. I don't blame him. He, however, blames me, as of the last time I heard. Okay, the buck stops here, I suppose.

ASIDE: This wasn't Bill's first shot at plagiarism. He routinely recycled other peoples' Marvel stories — Goodwin's Iron Man stories, old Stan and Steve Spider-man stories…others. Many of those recyclings happened before my time as EIC.

But while I was EIC, he ripped off a Harlan Ellison story for an issue of the Hulk. That issue I signed out — but I had never seen the episode of Outer Limits (I think) that Bill had ripped it from, so I didn't know. I remember thinking what a good story it was, and that Bill must be improving. The day the book hit the stands, Roger Stern called me and said, "Are you nuts?! This is a Harlan Ellison story!" I said, "It is?" Then my secretary told me Harlan Ellison was on the other line.

Harlan said, words to the effect, you ripped me off. I said, yes, I know, I just found out about it. That admission calmed him down. I asked him what he wanted. Should we turn this over to the lawyers and let them work something out? I assured him that there was no contention, that Marvel did it and would fess up to it.

Harlan's damages, by statute, would have been in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and he had us dead to rights. But, he said he'd settle for the same money as Bill was paid to "write" the script, an acknowledgement, plus a lifetime subscription to everything we ever published. Done. Thank you, Harlan.

That subscription expired during Marvel Comics' bankruptcy. Other figures have also stated that with the Hulk comic, Mantlo was intending to refer back in continuity to the graphic novel he presumed would have been published by then. But the… vehemence of feeling in that memo from Shooter is clear.

About Rich Johnston

Head writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world. Living in London, father of two. Political cartoonist.

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