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Welcome to “Report Card,” our week-in-review feature. If “Cheat Sheet” is your guide to the week ahead, “Report Card” is typically a look back at the top news stories of the previous week, as well as a look at the Robot 6 team’s favorite comics that we read.
So read on to find out what we thought about Brain Boy, King’s Watch and more
U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest made the order a little more than two weeks after the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals overturned her 2011 decision rejecting Friedrich’s claims that the copyright to the Spirit of Vengeance reverted to him a decade earlier. According to Deadline, Marvel’s lawyers indicated Thursday in a conference meeting that they won’t challenge the appeals court ruling, and will file a motion for a jury trial.
Friedrich, long credited as co-creator of the character with Roy Thomas and Mike Ploog, filed the lawsuit in April 2007, shortly after the release of Columbia Pictures’ Ghost Rider movie, accusing the studio, Marvel, Hasbro and other companies of copyright infringement, false advertising and unfair competition, among other counts. The film grossed $228 million worldwide; the 2012 sequel, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, earned $132.5 million.
“We conclude that the contract language is ambiguous and that genuine disputes of material fact, as to the parties’ intent and other issues, preclude thee granting of judgment as a matter of law.”
— from the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals order vacating a 2011 ruling that writer Gary Friedrich had handed over the rights to Ghost Rider to Marvel in the 1970s, and remanding the case to trial. It represents a rare, if possibly only temporary, victory for creators (or their heirs) in a legal battle to reclaim the copyright to a comic-book property. It also thrusts into the spotlight the oft-discussed standard contacts of the era, which frequently involved relinquishing copyright simply by endorsing checks.
Marvel on Monday urged the Second Circuit to deny Gary Friedrich’s attempt to revive his copyright claims to Ghost Rider, reiterating that the writer no only signed away his rights to the character three decades earlier but waited too long to file his lawsuit.
Friedrich sued Marvel, Columbia Pictures and Hasbro, among others, shortly after the 2007 release of the first Ghost Rider movie, insisting he had regained the copyright to the fiery Spirit of Vengeance some six years earlier. He argued he created Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider in 1968 and later agreed to publish the character through Magazine Management, which eventually became Marvel Entertainment. Under the agreement, the publisher held the copyright to the character’s origin story in 1972′s Marvel Spotlight #5, and to subsequent Ghost Rider works. However, Friedrich alleged the company never registered the work with the U.S. Copyright Office, permitting the rights to revert to him in 2001.
In December 2011, a federal judge rejected Friedrich’s lawsuit, finding the writer gave up ownership to the property when he endorsed checks that contained language relinquishing rights to Marvel’s predecessors. The judge said Friedrich signed over all claims to the character in 1971 and again in 1978 in exchange for the possibility of more freelance work for the publisher. (Two months later, Marvel agreed to abandon its 2010 countersuit accusing Friedrich of trademark infringement if the writer would pay $17,000 in damages and stop selling unauthorized Ghost Rider merchandise.)
The writer appealed in July, arguing the court erred in ruling that the language on the back of Marvel paychecks in the early 1970s and in the 1978 contract were sufficient to constitute transfer of copyright. However, his attorney also reasserts the claim that the agreement was entered into under duress, with Friedrich told “if I wanted to continue to work for Marvel that I would have to sign it.”
It’s time once again for our monthly trip through Previews looking for cool, new comics. Michael, Graeme, and Chris Arrant have each picked the five new comics we’re most anticipating in order to create a Top 15 of the best new comics coming out two months from now.
As usual, please feel free to play along in the comments. Tell us what we missed that you’re looking forward to or – if you’re a comics creator – mention your own stuff.
The Golden Age of DC Comics: 1935-1956 HC (Taschen, $59.95): If you were as jealous of everyone who could afford the mammoth 75 Years of DC Comics: The Art of Modern Myth-Making from a couple of years ago as I was, here’s some great news; Taschen is reissuing the material in a series of different (cheaper) volumes, reworked and expanded with new art and commentary by Paul Levitz. The next in the series, covering the Silver Age, is the one I’ll really covet, but you know that this will be awesome.
Julio’s Day HC (Fantagraphics Books, $19.99): Continuing my education in all things Love and Rockets, this never-collected Gilbert Hernandez strip from the second series of L&R is one of those things that goes on my “Want” list almost as soon as I discovered it existed.
Multiple Warheads: Alphabet to Infinity #1 (of 4) (Image Comics, $3.99): I’ve been waiting for more Multiple Warheads since Oni Press put out the first issue a few years back. Now that I know it’s 48 pages for just $3.99 and in color, it seems worth the wait. Brandon Graham is an amazing talent.
Sailor Twain HC (First Second, $24.99): I dropped off Mark Siegel’s amazing webcomic online fairly early, promising myself that I’d get the inevitable collected edition when it was all done and read it in one sitting. I’m glad it’s finally here.
The Zaucer of Zilk #1 (of 2) (IDW Publishing, $3.99): Without doubt, my favorite superhero comic in years – I read it in its 2000AD incarnation – I am overjoyed to see this get a US release like this. Hopefully, everyone will read it and realize just how great Brendan McCarthy and Al Ewing are, leading to all manner of zequels (sorry, I couldn’t resist).
Ghost Rider co-creator Gary Friedrich has appealed a December 2011 court ruling that he gave up all claims to the fiery spirit of vengeance when he endorsed checks from Marvel’s predecessor 40 years ago.
The writer filed a lawsuit in April 2007, shortly after the release of Columbia Pictures’ Ghost Rider movie, accusing the studio, Marvel, Hasbro and other companies of copyright infringement, false advertising and unfair competition, among other counts, contending he had regained the copyright to the character some six years earlier. Friedrich argued he created Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider in 1968 and later agreed to publish the character through Magazine Management, which eventually became Marvel Entertainment. Under the agreement, the publisher held the copyright to the character’s origin story in 1972′s Marvel Spotlight #5, and to subsequent Ghost Rider works. However, Friedrich alleged the company never registered the work with the U.S. Copyright Office, permitting the rights to revert to him in 2001.
Marvel fired back in 2010, accusing Friedrich of violating its trademark by using the phrase “Ghost Rider” and selling unauthorized posters, cards and T-shirts online and at comic conventions. In December 2011, a federal judge rejected Friedrich’s lawsuit, finding the writer gave up ownership to the property when he endorsed checks that contained language relinquishing rights to Marvel’s predecessors. The judge said Friedrich signed over all claims to the character in 1971 and again in 1978 in exchange for the possibility of more freelance work for the publisher. Two months later, Marvel agreed to abandon its countersuit if Friedrich would pay $17,000 in damages and stop selling unauthorized Ghost Rider merchandise, a move that drew sharp criticism from creators and fans alike.
If you are a fan of all-ages comics, odds are pretty good you enjoyed a fair share of comics involving Ty Templeton. So it did not surprise me when Marvel launched a new Ultimate Spider-Man comic (based on the new Disney XD series that premiered recently) and tapped Templeton and Dan Slott to co-write and draw a story for the first issue (which came out last week). Templeton will also be teaming with Slott on Avenging Spider-Man 8 (set for release on June 20). That just scratches the surface of what Templeton is working on–or as he put it in this email interview: “There’s always something else going on.” I’m hard-pressed to pick which of his new upcoming projects I am most enthused about, but the prospect of seeing him work as a live talkshow/webcast host nears the top of the list. Also, I am overjoyed to know that Templeton (a great creator with a wealth of knowledge and experience) is passing along that love of storytelling by teaching folks. Over the years, I have always relished interviewing Templeton and cannot believe this marks the first time we have done an interview for Robot 6.
Tim O’Shea: Did you contact Marvel, or did they contact you for this new Ultimate Spider-Man series?
Ty Templeton: They contacted me, but I’ve done a few things for the Spider-Man office here and there, so they were already in touch with me. I did a small chapter for an issue of Amazing about eight months ago, and a couple of one-page Spider-Man stories for Age of Heroes, and things like that.
Following efforts by Steve Niles, James Stokoe, Brandon Graham and Neal Adams, the T-shirt site World of Strange is offering a T-shirt that supports Gary Friedrich, following his loss in court to Marvel.
According to the site, “Profits from this shirt will go directly to Gary in order to support him with rising medical costs, legal fees and penalties paid to Marvel Comics.” The artwork features skulls drawn by Billy Tackett, Stephen Bissette, Rick Veitch, Bob Burden, Nathan Thomas Milliner, Sam Flegal and Denis St. John. The shirt costs $11.99 and can be purchased on their site.
Last week, in the wake of the Gary Friedrich case, Joe the Barbarian artist Sean Murphy said he would no longer sell sketches or do commissions of characters he doesn’t own.
Over the weekend, Murphy explained how he learned from personal experience that even a small, innocently conceived project can put a creator into legal jeopardy. Murphy did a set of Wolverine ABCs and printed it up into about 200 sketchbooks to give to friends—including Marvel creators and editors—as gifts.
Because I was a pro and because I wasn’t selling them, I figured I’d be fine. After three conventions of EVERYONE telling me I should sell them, I broke down and sold some. At the last show that season, I sold the remaining 40 copies or so.
Then Marvel called. I explained that I didn’t have a warehouse of sketchbooks, I only made around 200 (or close to that) and mostly I gave them away. I explained how none of the Marvel editors complained when I handed them one, and my lack of hiding the ABCs should show the innocent nature of my endeavor. I even offered to sign a Cease and Desist, and pay them the money I made selling the last 40. But Marvel wanted the rights to the ABCs–they wanted to own them and pay me nothing. I wasn’t willing to do that, so I got a lawyer. And we eventually came together and agreed to drop the subject if I simply removed them from my site and promised not to make any more sketchbooks.
Murphy readily admits that he was in the wrong, not only in using characters he doesn’t own the rights to but also in thinking that Marvel would overlook something so small. While their reaction seems excessive, they were within their rights. And he is in no way reassured by the statements made by Marvel execs Dan Buckley and Joe Quesada about not making any new policies and not wanting to interfere with creators who are “providing a positive Marvel experience for our fans.” They seem to him to be purposefully vague, leaving the door open for them to take action if they choose—as, in his case, they already have.
“Though Marvel has commented, the internet has decided it will not be satisfied until it sees the longform birth certificate.”
– Men of War writer Ivan Brandon, responding to online reaction to statements made by Marvel Publisher Dan Buckley and CCO Joe Quesada concerning the Gary Friedrich case and the sale of sketches at conventions
Reacting to analysis of Marvel’s much-publicized dispute with Ghost Rider creator Gary Friedrich, Joe the Barbarian artist Sean Gordon Murphy has announced he’ll no longer sell convention sketches or commissions of characters he doesn’t own, and encourages other creators to do the same.
“Am I rolling over in fear of Marvel? Maybe, but […] they’re in their legal right to come after me if there’s ever a dispute,” Murphy wrote this morning on deviantART. “I love to complain about the Big Two, but I can’t (in good conscience) get upset at them if I’m breaking the rules myself. Being DC exclusive, maybe I can get a waiver that allows me to sketch DC characters, so I’ll keep you updated.”
Friedrich sued Marvel, Sony Pictures and other companies in 2007, claiming the rights to Ghost Rider had reverted to him six years earlier because the publisher never registered the character’s first appearance in 1972′s Marvel Spotlight #5 with the U.S. Copyright Office. Marvel counter-sued in 2010, seeking damages from Friedrich who, through Gary Friedrich Enterprises LLC, had produced and sold unauthorized Ghost Rider posters, cards and T-shirts at conventions and online. The company also asserted that Friedrich had “aided and abetted third parties” in reproducing and selling “graphic and narrative elements” of Ghost Rider comics.
Neal Adams, the legendary comic artist and advocate for creator rights, has joined Steve Niles and others in issuing a call to help Gary Friedrich, the Ghost Rider creator who owes Marvel $17,000 in damages for selling unauthorized merchandise.
Writing this morning on his Facebook page, Adams asked fellow artists to donate artwork for sale or auction to benefit the ailing Friedrich, who’s in danger of losing his home.
“Fellow creators, we can help Gary Friedrich without taking any kind of position in his case with Marvel,” he wrote. “Gary is sick, and he’s about to lose his house, and though he will tell you he is not destitute, he needs help. If I have to do it alone, I will see to it that he gets his mortgage paid, and gets some money in the bank. But I would like to ask you all to help.”
Gary is a victim of the deficiencies of two very bad copyright laws, and the history in the comic book industry of poor practices on everybody’s part. There will be battles in the future, and good will come of them. But this is simply just a bad situation. Gary is one of us. And while we can’t save him from Marvel, and his small place in history, we can help him have a place to live, ongoing. And I can only promise you this. If you find yourself in a bad situation, whether for heath or other reasons, I and others, will join to help you. Just as you have helped to support William Messner-Loebs, Dave Cockrum and others.
While I hope that Marvel would step up and help out too, I can understand that they find themselves in such an unfortunate position that they cannot do so. I would like to believe that they would if they could.
Artists wishing to donate work my send in to: Continuity Studios, 15 W. 39th St., ninth floor, New York, NY 10018.
Legal | The attorney for Marc Toberoff, the lawyer representing the Siegel and Shuster families in the bitter battle over the rights to Superman, argued last week before a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that Warner Bros. shouldn’t be granted access to sensitive documents stolen from Toberoff’s office and delivered anonymously to the studio in 2008. A federal magistrate judge ruled in May 2011 that Toberoff waived privilege to the documents when he turned over the files in response to a grand jury subpoena issued in the investigation of the theft. An attached cover letter, dubbed the “Superman-Marc Toberoff Timeline,” was determined in 2009 not to be covered by privilege, and become the basis for the studio’s lawsuit against the attorney, in which it claims he acted improperly to convince the heirs of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster to seek to reclaim the original copyright to the Man of Steel. Warner Bros. also alleges that Toberoff schemed to secure for himself “a majority and controlling financial stake” in the Superman rights. [Courthouse News Service]
Legal | Former Judge Dredd artist Brett Ewins was arraigned Thursday on charges of grievous bodily harm with intent following an incident last month in which he allegedly attacked police officers with a knife when they responded to a public-disturbance call. The 56-year-old Ewins, who reportedly has a history of mental-health issues, was remanded into custody pending a Feb. 17 preliminary hearing. [Ealing Gazette]
Orc Stain creator James Stokoe and King City creator Brandon Graham have joined Steve Niles and other creators in supporting Ghost Rider creator Gary Friedrich, who owes Marvel $17,000 after he lost a suit against them.
Stokoe and Graham are donating 100 percent of the sales of a set number of pieces of their original art to the creator.
“In a bid to erase the world’s collective memory that people, not the ethereal blob that is Marvel, are the ones that create characters, Gary has been ordered to forget that he created Ghost Rider. Along with the $17,000 he’s being forced to pay out, Gary is in a bit of a pickle,” Stokoe said on his blog. “All things aside, whether you agree with the legal outcome or not, Mr. Friedrich is one of comic’s valued creators and is in need of some financial help. Brandon Graham and I have decided to have 100% of the proceeds for the next ten pages of our original art (ten Orc Stain and ten King City) go to Steve Niles excellent fundraiser for Gary Friedrich.”
Both Stokoe and Graham sell their art through Robin McConnell, who is tracking the number of pieces sold. Right now one Graham piece and two Stokoe pieces have been sold, leaving you plenty of opportunity to add some awesome artwork to your collection AND help out Friedrich. Head over to McConnell Art to see what’s available.
The internet has been abuzz ever since the news broke that Marvel is demanding $17,000 from Ghost Rider creator Gary Friedrich in return for not countersuing him, after he lost his suit against them. And now someone is doing something about it: Comics writer Steve Niles has set up a donation fund to help Gary, and donations are pouring in. Niles told CBR that most were in the $20 range, so it will take a lot to make a difference, but Marvel’s action seems to have rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Jamie Gambell has pledged the proceeds from his February book sales to the fund, and other donors include Steve Lieber, David Gallaher, and Neil Gaiman, who gave the fund drive a huge boost by retweeting it to his large following.
The whole thing came together quickly over Twitter; after getting an e-mail from Friedrich, Niles appealed to friends to help him set up a PayPal page, then reached out to a number of prominent creators (not all of whom have answered the call). The goal is rather modest: “Looks like 6k will keep a roof over his head, so let’s shoot for 7,” Niles tweeted about an hour ago. The donations have been pouring in, but he will need a lot more to reach that goal, he told CBR.
Meanwhile, it’s a bit like the last scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” with creators hollering good wishes as they toss money into the till. “I just helped Gary. We might all need help some time. Good Karma, people!” tweeted Jill Thompson. “I am totally in,” said Gail Simone.