I’m blogging elsewhere yet again and I had not one but two articles go up today.
The first article is at Galactic Journey. It’s a follow-up piece to last month’s article about East and West German comics in the 1950s and 1960s and focusses on the wide and wonderful world of French, Belgian and Dutch comics. There are a lot of samples of the various comics discussed as well as some historical photos of Brussels and Antwerp in the 1960s.
Why Brussels and Antwerp? Because that’s where I originally discovered and read many of the comics in question as a kid in the 1980s. In retrospect, I should have included some photos of Rotterdam as well, because that’s where my Dad worked in the 1980s and where I discovered and read a lot of those comics as well, almost always in the store, because Franco-Belgian-Dutch comic albums were pricier than US comic books and my reading appetite was more voracious than my pocket money plentiful. I’m also still grateful to the nice booksellers who just let me read in peace, even though they probably knew that I only bought something, when I had saved up enough money.
But even though I’m familiar with all of the comics featured in the article and consider many of the characters childhood friends, the article nonetheless required more research than I initially assumed. For starters, I only read the comics in album form, mostly in the store, so I had no idea where which strip had originally been published. In many cases, I didn’t know the names of the creators either, not to mentioned that many French and Belgian artists work under one word pseudonyms. And if that wasn’t confusing enough, many comics have a French and a Flemish title. Furthermore, most of these titles have never been out of print since they first appeared in the 1950s or 1960s. However, publishers, logos and covers change and therefore a 2020 copy of e.g. Astérix et Cleopatra does not look like a 1965 copy of the some album. Luckily, there are some excellent French and Belgian comic databases and websites. Even better, I can read French and Flemish well enough to navigate them
Finally, I had little idea for how long many comics had been going. In retrospect, it should have been obvious that the sword and sorcery comics I enjoyed as a teen clearly dated from the 1970s and 1980s, but sword and sorcery comics just weren’t a thing in the 1960s. But several strips I thought originated in the 1960s – particularly those with female protagonists like Yoko Tsuno, Comanche, Franka and Natacha – turned out to date from the 1970s and beyond. The Franco-Belgian comics world of the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s was very much a boys’ club with few female characters other than Wiske and Aunt Sidonie of Suske en Wiske fame and Bianca Castafiore of Tintin fame. Though the original Barbarella just slipped in, since her adventures first appeared in 1962. So did Lieutenant Blueberry, the western series Jean Giraud drew before he became Moebius for good, which debuted in 1963. Meanwhile, Valérian et Laureline just missed the boat, since they won’t appear until 1967.
Nonetheless, I had a lot of fun writing that article and revisiting a lot of old friends. It also makes me wonder why the Franco-Belgian-Dutch comics are not more appreciated in the English speaking world beyond some staples like Tintin (and note that Tintin lost the 1944 Retro Hugo to a not very good and racist Wonder Woman comic) and The Smurfs, because the sheer variety and quality of Franco-Belgian-Dutch comics is just amazing.
The other article of mine that went up today is on a subject that immensely important, though not nearly as enjoyable as Franco-Belgian-Dutch comics. For it turns out that Disney has not been paying royalties to Alan Dean Foster for his novelisation of the first Star Wars movie (which would subsequently become known as A New Hope), Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, the first ever Star Wars tie-in novel, as well as the novelisations of Alien, Aliens and Alien 3 since they bought up Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox. Today, Alan Dean Foster and Mary Robinette Kowal, president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, went public with the issue and held a joint press conference. I covered the press conference for File 770 and wrote an article about it. My fellow Best Fan Writer Hugo finalist Adam Whitehead also reports about the issue at The Wertzone.
Basically, Disney claims that they purchased the rights to sell the novels in question, when they purchased Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox, but that they did not purchase the obligations to pay Alan Dean Foster royalties, as required by the original contracts. This flies in the face of every contract law in the world. As I said in the File 770 article, I translate a lot of contracts for my day job and every single one contains a clause that in case of a merger or buyout, any rights and obligations are transferred to the legal successor of the company that signed the contract. So what Disney is doing to Alan Dean Foster is flat out illegal.
I own a copy of the original Star Wars novelisation, which has the distinction of being the first English language science fiction novel I ever read, as well as Splinter of the Mind’s Eye. My battered paperback copy of Star Wars, purchased in 1988 at an import bookstore at three times the cover price, proudly states on the cover “5 Million in Print”. I can only imagine how many more copies must have been sold in the thirty-two years since.
As Mary Robinette Kowal said in the press conference, the potential implications of Disney’s behaviour are huge. Hundreds of Star Wars tie-in novels have been published since Alan Dean Foster wrote Splinter in the Mind’s Eye, not to mention comics and other media. Disney also purchased the rights to 81 years worth of Marvel Comics, a whole lot of X-Files tie-in novels which came out in the 1990s and early 2000s, lots of Muppets and Simpsons related books and other media, novelisations for all sorts of other movies and TV shows, etc… And Disney isn’t the only huge media conglomerate out there. There are others who may be just as bad. Alan Dean Foster’s case may very well be just the tip of the iceberg.
Two years ago, I wrote that Disney gobbling up media companies like potato chips was cause for concern, even if they had largely been benevolent so far, though there were signs of that changing. Disney’s behaviour in the Alan Dean Foster case is far from benevolent and I hope that they will come around and pay the outstanding royalties soon.