Robot 6

Ken Penders releases new Julie-Su design

Last year, former Sonic the Hedgehog artist Ken Penders announced that he had retained the rights to all the characters and story lines he created while working on the comic (from issue #11 to #135), which is published by Archie Comics. Penders has sued the game companies Sega and Electronic Arts, claiming copyright infringement, and Archie Comics has sued Penders, asking the court to make a declaratory judgment on the rights question; that case is scheduled to go to court next month. It looks like a long shot, but if the court finds in Penders’s favor, Archie will be in a pickle, as they have not only reprinted those issues in digest form but also continued the storylines Penders originated, using the characters he now claims to own. (I reached out to the Archie Comics folks but they had no comment.)

In the meantime, Penders is keeping busy: He just revealed a redesign of Julie-Su, Lara-Su’s mother, for the graphic novel series he is working on, The Lara-Su Chronicles. It’s going to be an odd series, because even if the court decides that Penders should have the rights to the characters he created while working for Archie, they won’t give him the rights to Knuckles or Sonic, so the cast will be all supporting characters. On the other hand, it would be an interesting alternate universe for Sonic fans. Stay tuned!

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His claims that Archie never made him sign a contract seem pretty unlikely to me, but I wish him the best of luck. I’m interested in seeing how this turns out — both in court and in the book.

This keeps happening. You’d think that by the 90s they’d have been able to sort out ownership issues in advance.

Silly Penders those characters belong to Sega not you.

This is the height of shadiness. You work in a preestablished universe for a page rate, whatever happens belongs to that universe. Claiming otherwise is not only contrary to common practice, but it messes with the livelihood of whoever is involved in that franchise, as well as does a disservice to fans of it by preventing whatever groundwork one lays from coming to fruition. Even if Penders had a leg to stand on, the characters, based on the sonic aesthetic, are derivative enough that hopefully Sega would have just claims for suit should Penders somehow succeed in claiming them as his own.

This is either a display of financial freebootery, or an admission of artistic deficiency (were Penders more concerned with storytelling than riding the coattails of a successful franchise that he, to be fair, certainly helped to develop, he would attempt to create original characters that touched audiences the same way his Sonic characters did). If he has done so with the latter, and failed in the attempt, this this seems an admission that it was the franchise the fans liked, and not Penders specifically, and thus the merits of his arguments are lessened.

@Chris: If Ken’s claims that he worked on spec and never signed a contract are accurate, then that’s a pretty big foul-up on Archie’s part but also pretty far outside “common practice”. If Ken developed them outside of an existing financial agreement with Archie, and then collected his page rate without agreeing to give up any rights, then he DOES own them. And I’m sure he’d be happy to let Archie continue using them — just not for free.

As for whether his designs are too derivative, that’s a trademark issue rather than a copyright one. They certainly bear a pretty close resemblance to Knuckles, but I assume he’s added those mops of hair to differentiate their designs. Brand confusion is, I believe, the key test for trademark infringement, but if these designs don’t cut it then he’ll alter them until they do.

As I say, I’m skeptical of his claims that he never signed a contract. Archie is, after all, the company that still won’t credit Bob Montana for creating its eponymous hero, and claims it’s just a coincidence that Josie shares a first name with Dan DeCarlo’s wife. They’ve been pretty damn close with their contracts and their rights over the years; it’s hard to believe they’d get sloppy in the 1990′s, even if it WERE for a licensed property that they wouldn’t ultimately own anyway.

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