Top 10 Real-Life Comic Book Capers: Part 1

In recent weeks, there have been a number of reports about malfeasance and shady goings-on within the circle that we like to call the comic book industry; among them the theft of Ethan Van Sciver’s original Flash artwork and its reappearance on eBay, and of course, the infamous Rob Granito saga, the tale of a man apparently brazen enough to fabricate a long and storied career in comics and animation, and pass off established creators’ work as his own.

But there have been stories throughout the industry’s history to top even these, so we decided to take a look back and pick a select 10 out of the countless tales of skullduggery, stories which represent the breadth and depth to which some people in our beloved hobby will sink.

WARNING: Some of these tales involve real human tragedy, so if you’re just looking for a laugh, this may not be your cup of tea. As always, we present to you only what the record supports; we make no claims to knowledge of these events beyond that. Read on, if you dare…


#10 – Nic Cage’s Comic Collection Is Robbed

In 2000, Nicolas Cage, movie star and hardcore comic fan (he took his last name from Luke Cage, played Johnny Blaze in Ghost Rider, and almost played Superman in an aborted film project), discovered that several ultra-rare and ultra-valuable comics had been stolen from his vast collection, despite extensive security measures taken to protect them in his home. Among these were Action Comics #1, the first appearance of Superman (a copy of which sold last year for $1.5 million), and Detective Comics #27, the first appearance of Batman (a copy of which has gone for $1.075 million). Last week, it was announced that the Action Comics #1 has been found in an abandoned storage locker– but no suspects have been named in the theft, and police are still investigating. Stay tuned.


#9 – Jack Kirby’s Artwork Disappears From Marvel Offices

Today, a comic book artist’s original artwork is seen as among the most valuable items a comic collector can own; after all, a comic itself has thousands of printed copies in circulation, but the original artwork is one of a kind. Unfortunately, in the early days of comics, the artists themselves didn’t believe that what they were doing would ever be remembered or valued, and so they didn’t see their artwork as something to hold on to and protect. This meant that in many cases, the original artwork was left behind at the offices of the publisher.

Jack Kirby, arguably the most celebrated comic artist of all time, was one such creator of that generation, and it wasn’t until the late ’70s that the public started to truly recognize the value of these pieces. By this point, Kirby had a falling out with his former employer, Marvel Comics, and requested they return his artwork to him. Some of it was returned, but as former Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter noted in a recent blog, some of it may have been pilfered right out of the Marvel offices.

Kirby wasn’t the only victim of this, as Erik Larsen notes, and a major art theft was reported at Marvel as recently as 2000 (although it was quickly recovered) but his case is perhaps the most well-known, due to the fact that the missing artwork has continued to be a source of contention between Marvel and the Kirby family to this day, and allegations that Marvel itself was less than proactive in securing the art, and less than cooperative in returning what they did have. Shooter chalks this up in part to over-aggressiveness on the part of Kirby’s attorneys, but sadly, Jack Kirby is no longer around to offer his side of the story.  Over the years, much of the missing Kirby artwork has shown up being offered for sale at conventions and the like, but so many decades have passed, with the artwork likely taken by many different parties, and having been sold and resold many times, that it’s unlikely it will ever all be recovered or that anyone will be held accountable.

#8 – Gene Simmons’ Son Plagiarizes Manga

From the department of “How The Heck Did They Think They Could Get Away With It?”, comes the story of the scion of a rock star, trading on his name to get into the comic industry… and then trading upon someone else’s work to stay in it. Unfortunately for Nick Simmons, he chose Tite Kubo’s popular manga Bleach (among others) to plagiarize for his debut comic Incarnate, published by Radical. Now, granted, there is a large divide between comics and manga fans, and fans of one often don’t have extensive knowledge of the other, but with a manga of the prominence of Bleach, you have to figure you’d get caught.

And so he did, with Radical quickly dropping him and distancing themselves from the entire affair. “Swiping”, the time-honored practice of comic artists “borrowing” a panel or two from someone else’s work for their own, is generally overlooked by publishers, but in this case, the plagiarism was so blatant and extensive that Radical had no choice. Simmons himself was unapologetic, describing the controversy as nothing more than “similarities” that reflect that “certain fundamental imagery is common to all Manga.” Most observers disagreed (vehemently). But what about the creator of said manga? Tite Kubo tweeted his amusement at the situation, saying he was “more interested in the fact that Gene Simmons’ son is a mangaka” (manga creator). Well, if he ever was, he isn’t anymore– at least publicly. To our knowledge, legal action wasn’t pursued over this, but it would be a surprise if any other publisher would take that risk with him again.



#7 – Comic Creators Don’t Like Being Screwed

Convention operator and small publisher Rick Olney first came to the public’s attention when numerous comic creators, including Gail Simone, Tony Isabella, Chuck Dixon, and others, began speaking out about work he’d commissioned from them and then refused to pay for. Now, there have similar stories throughout comics history; but what makes this one special is Olney’s response to the allegations; he declared all-out war, hurling abusive comments, repeatedly threatening legal action against the creators who dared to speak out (he was, apparently, a big fan of making people sign non-disclosure agreements up front, which in hindsight makes a twisted sort of sense), and generally showing not a shred of remorse. The creators did not back down however, and this led to a campaign to warn others about the dangers of doing business with Olney and others with bad reputations, most notably through Gail Simone’s own web forum and a site started collectively by the creators called Unscrewed. After several years, Olney started to make claims about wanting to settle the disputes and pay those who were owed back, but the consensus among the creators involved seems to be that little if anything has come of those promises, and thus their campaign continues.



#6 – Pat Lee’s Amazing Transforming Companies

If you were reading comics in the early part of the last decade, you’ve probably heard of Dreamwave. An independent publisher that sprang from Image, they published a number of titles including the creator-owned Warlands, a relaunched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and most notably, a successful Transformers series. At the head of Dreamwave was a man named Pat Lee. Thing seemed to be going well for Dreamwave for a few years, but like many small publishers, they ultimately couldn’t continue for the long haul and shut down. This is nothing uncommon in and of itself; usually the procedure is that the assets of the company are sold off and used to pay off the remaining debts, including to creators who are owed money.

However, as uncovered by columnist Rich Johnston, Pat instead chose to shift those assets to a new company, Dream Engine, and leave his creators unpaid. That wasn’t all; he went on to do work for the major publishers, where he used artist Alex Milne, among others, to do ghost work for him — and then Lee refused to pay him too. Most recently, he’s been hired by Dynamite, with the claim that he wants to compensate those who haven’t been paid — but when questioned as to the details, he remains evasive. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.


Tune in tomorrow for the second half of our rundown of the Top 10 Real-Life Comic Book Capers. It’s gonna get ugly…


E-mail Matt Adler with questions or comments.


  1. wow Simmons’ kid looks (and apparently acts) like a tool

  2. I’d heard of all of these, but knew essentially none of the details.  Very interesting.

  3. Could we rename this article to the “Charlie Sheens of Comics” or “These Guys Are ‘Winning’!” lol

  4. Brian Pulidos Chaos screw job has got to be in the top 5!

  5. You DO realize that Tite Kubo get’s all of his ideas from bands like KISS riiiight? His title is from the blasted My Chemical Romance CD! XD I’ve said this once and I’ll say it again, in manga, there really is “NO ORIGINAL IDEA.” Everyone and I mean EVERYONE in manga has been influenced by others. Some may be stronger than others like Simmons. At anyrate I’ve always found that controversy interesting since Kubo draws as little as possible.

  6. Also, I especially find Rick Olney a very clever businessman (even if pretty underhanded). What he did is not rare in business, at all. It’s actually pretty prevalent and is something to look out for when in the business of doing business. It’s a good reminder to never sign anything that you suspect might bite you in the ass.

  7. @Mangaman  No.  Olney is not clever, he is either (a)committing fraud, or (b)breaching a contract.  A non-disclosure agreement is automatically void if either of those two actions are committed.  As such, he had no grounds to claim the ND agreement was valid.

    I had no idea that that is what happened with Pat Lee and Dreamwave.  I almost feel dirty for continuing to seek out those trades.

  8. wow, i didnt know about any of those stories. Interesting stuff

  9. fascinating article. Lots of dirtbags out there in comics. 

  10. The best thing about the Simmons jr. scandal is that his daddy is huge copy warrior.

  11. oh my god. what crazy tails of woe.

    I almost — *almost* — feel sorry for Nick Simmons. He’s had some of the worst role models as parents. But having said that, he’s probably had a better life than most everyone else in this world, and he’s an adult, and so as an adult he’s responsible for his actions.