Publishing | Three million-dollar Kickstarter drives, including Rich Burlew’s $1.2 million campaign for The Order of the Stick, make the fund-raising site look like a pot of gold to some folks, but it’s not that easy: Suw Charman-Anderson, who;s contemplating a Kickstarter drive herself, looks at the factors that make the big money-makers so successful. [Forbes]
Editorial cartoons | The New York Times has responded to Daryl Cagle’s criticism of its hiring policy and fees for editorial cartoonists, saying the newspaper will delay bringing political cartoons back to its Sunday review section until editors have had time to revisit their policies. [The Cagle Post]
Editorial cartoons | For those who want a look at the bigger picture, Columbia Journalism Review surveys the landscape of editorial cartooning and in particular, the economics of syndication. [Columbia Journalism Review]
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 | A judge refused to dismiss DC Comics’ lawsuit against Gotham Garage, a manufacturer of custom-made Batmobiles, ruling that the design of Batman’s vehicle is indeed copyrightable. DC sued the California company in May for copyright and trademark infringement, claiming Gotham Garage is confusing the public into thinking the cars are authorized products. The manufacturer asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the U.S. Copyright Act affords no protection to “useful articles.” The judge disagreed, ruling that Gotham Garage “ignores the exception to the ‘useful article’ rule, which grants copyright protection to nonfunctional, artistic elements of an automobile design that can be physically or conceptually separated from the automobile.” [The Hollywood Reporter]
Legal | Nancy Hass provides a broad overview of the legal battle at Archie Comics that pits Co-CEOs Jon Goldwater and Nancy Silberkleit against each other for control of the 73-year-old company. Silberkleit, who spoke briefly to Hass before a New York judge issued a temporary restraining order last month, called claims that she’s threatened and harassed the publisher’s employees and vendors “completely untrue.” [The Daily Beast]
Jeff Kinney, the author behind the $500 million Diary of a Wimpy Kid franchise, has sued Antarctic Press, accusing the comic publisher of violating trademark laws with its Diary of a Zombie Kid series.
TheWrap reports the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Boston by Wimpy Kid Inc., accuses the San Antonio-based publisher of using a title and cover design “confusingly similar” to those of the Wimpy Kid books in an obvious attempt “to confuse the public into believing that defendant’s books are additions to such series.” Read the lawsuit here.
Created by Fred Perry and David Hutchison, the August-debuting Diary of a Zombie Kid follows Bill Dookes, a fifth-grader whose mother volunteers for medical research only to bring home a mysterious zombie virus that leaves her son with “skin problems and body chemistry changes that make puberty look like a walk in the park” — not to mention a growing appetite for brains. A sequel, Diary of a Zombie Kid: Rotten Rules — an apparent nod to Kinney’s second book Rodrick Rules — is set for release in January.
Kinney’s six-book Wimpy Kid series, presented as the journal of middle-school student Greg Heffley, has sold more than 52 million copies in North America alone since its 2007 debut and spawned two movies and numerous merchandising tie-ins, including clothes, toys and games.
The complaint accuses Antarctic of trademark infringement, copyright infringement, false designation of origin, trade dress infringement, trademark dilution and deceptive trade practices, and asks the court to permanently enjoin the publisher from further infringement. Wimpy Kid Inc. also seeks triple damages, in addition to attorney’s fees and Antarctic’s profits from Diary of a Zombie Kid.
Antarctic Press Publisher Joe Dunn declined comment to the Boston Herald, saying, “Obviously, I would love to talk about it and give my side of it. However I’ve been advised not to say anything.” His attorney said the publisher will be answering the complaint “promptly.”
While the big legal story is, of course, a federal judge’s ruling that the family of Jack Kirby has no claim to the copyrights for the characters he co-created for Marvel, the company also scored a courtroom victory this week in another, lower-profile case.
A judge declared on Tuesday that Ghost Rider co-creator Gary Friedrich will have to defend counterclaims by Marvel accusing him of violating its trademark by using the phrase “Ghost Rider” and the character’s image on posters, cards and T-shirts, Courthouse News Service reports.
The dispute stems from a 2007 lawsuit filed by Friedrich against Marvel, Columbia Pictures, Hasbro and other companies alleging the copyrights used in the Ghost Rider movie and related products reverted to him in 2001. He sought unspecified damages for copyright infringement, and violations of federal and Illinois state unfair competition laws, negligence, waste, false advertising and endorsement, and several other claims.
Friedrich claimed he created Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider in 1968 and, three years 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 and, pursuant to federal law, he regained the copyrights to Ghost Rider in 2001.
The case has taken a few turns, with a judge in May 2010 dismissing the claims made under state law after determining that the Copyright Act of 1976 is the relevant federal statute. That decision was followed in December by counterclaims by Marvel Characters, the subsidiary that actually holds the rights to the company’s characters, accusing Friedrich of the unauthorized sale of Ghost Rider posters, T-shirts and cards online and at comic conventions.
Friedrich, who amended his complaint in March 2011, attempted to have the counterclaims dismissed. However, on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones rejected his motion. Courthouse News Service notes that Friedrich’s lawsuit is in discovery, with Marvel and the other defendants so far turning over 34,000 pages of documents.
Ghost Rider, the 2007 film based on the character Friedrich co-created, grossed $228 million worldwide. Columbia Pictures will release the sequel on Feb. 17, 2012.
Fusible reports that a panelist for the National Arbitration Forum agreed with DC’s argument that the domain name is identical to the company’s trademarks “Man of Steel,” registered in 1999, and “The Man of Steel,” registered in 1987. He also found that ManofSteel.com was registered and used in bad faith, and was “neither a bona fide offering of goods or services nor a legitimate noncommercial or fair use.”
Coni c/o LBR Enterprises, which was believed to have registered the domain in October 2001, failed to respond to DC’s June 22 complaint.
The Zack Snyder-directed Man of Steel, starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane and Kevin Costner, is set to open in December 2012. Fusible notes that TheManofSteel.com, which isn’t owned by Warner Bros. or DC, is for sale by its current owner for $300.
DC Comics has sued a California manufacturer of replica vehicles, accusing him of infringing on the company’s copyrights and trademarks by selling custom-made Batmobiles.
Hollywood, Esq., reports that DC filed the lawsuit last week in federal court against Mark Towles, whose business Gotham Garage specializes in the creation and sale of television and movie replica vehicles, from the 1989 movie Batmobile to the 1966 TV Batmobile and Batboat to Speed Racer’s Mach 5. Presumably none of those replicas is licensed, as the indicia on Towles’ website states that “Neither Gotham Garage nor Mark Towle are directly affiliated with Warner Brothers Inc., DC Comics., 20th Century Fox Inc., Walt Disney Inc., nor The Munsters Official Organizations.”
The publisher accuses Towles of copyright and trademark infringement, trademark counterfeiting and unfair competition, and seeks a permanent injunction, the destruction of all infringing products and damages of no less than $750,000 for each infringement.
A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that the family of pioneering animator Max Fleischer doesn’t own the copyright or trademark to cartoon sex symbol turned comic strip and merchandising star Betty Boop, and can’t sue others for using the character’s image.
Courthouse News Service reports the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s decision that a half-dozen manufacturers of Betty Boop merchandise hadn’t infringed on Fleischer Studios’ copyright — because Fleischer Studios couldn’t demonstrate it has one.
Created in 1930 by Fleischer and animator Grim Natwick (probably among others), the cartoon flapper became the star of the studio’s Talkartoons series before being sold to Paramount Pictures in 1942. The Fleischer family contends that Paramount transferred its Betty Boop rights in 1955 to UM&M TV, which three years later sold them to the company that eventually became Republic Pictures. A decade later, Republic allegedly transferred the rights back to Fleischer Studios.
However, U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper ruled the Fleischer heirs failed to show proof of any of the transfers the plaintiffs alleged took place after Paramount purchased the rights in 1942. The appeals court agreed in a 2-1 decision, finding that Paramount retained the copyright in its 1955 agreement with UM&M TV, and actually sold Betty Boop to Harvey Films — the animation arm of Harvey Comics, now owned by Classic Media — some three years later. The panel also dismissed Fleischers’ trademark claims for lack of evidence.
In addition to her countless animated appearances, including cameos in commercials and the 1988 film Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Betty Boop has starred in two comic strips, one in the 1930s and another, with Felix the Cat, in the 1980s.
Awards | Jeff Lemire’s acclaimed Essex County was the first finalist eliminated Monday in the Canada Reads literary debates to select the essential Canadian novel of the decade. Despite a defense by musician Sara Quin, the graphic novel was voted down by the five-person celebrity panel after the first hour, not because of content but because of format: Four of the judges just couldn’t get past Essex County‘s “lack of words.” This year marked the first time that a graphic novel had been a finalist for the prestigious Canada Reads program.
“Well, I was the first book voted off of the Canada Reads competition today, and I’ll admit that it stings a bit more than I thought it would,” Lemire wrote on his blog. “But, in the end I am really proud of the accomplishment of making it to the final 5. It’s a great sign for the future of graphic novels in this country, and their continued acceptance mainstream literary circles on a whole.” [Afterword, CBC News]
Retailing | Citing unnamed sources, Bloomberg reports that Borders Group may file for bankruptcy protection as early as next week. Additionally the struggling book chain, the second-largest in the United States, will likely close at least 150 of its 500 remaining namesake stores. Company stock plunged in the wake of the news. A Borders spokeswoman declined comment, but referred to a Jan. 27 statement from President Mike Edwards in which he raised “the possibility of an in-court restructuring.” [Bloomberg]
Legal | Rich Johnston and retailer news and analysis site ICv2 look at potential trademark issues surrounding Marvel’s “Who Are the Mystery Men?” They note that cartoonist Bob Burden owns the trademark to the one-word “Mysterymen,” while Dark Horse and Universal Pictures control the two-word “Mystery Men” — both relating to the characters created by Burden and the 1999 movie adaptation. Dynamite Entertainment also has laid claim to “Super-Mysterymen” for its Project Superpowers series. “I have not heard from Universal yet, but I’m sure Universal will proceed in an orderly and propitious manner,” Burden said. [Bleeding Cool, ICv2.com]
Publishing | More details have begun to emerge about the abrupt closings of Wizard and ToyFare magazines, and the announcement of a new public company headed by Gareb Shamus. ICv2.com reports that Wizard World Inc. was taken public through a reverse merger with a shell company, a failed oil and gas venture known as GoEnergy Inc., which acquired the assets of Kick the Can, a corporate repository for the assets of Shamus’ Wizard World Comic Con Tour. Following the acquisition, GoEnergy’s chairman and chief financial officer resigned and was replaced by Shamus. In the process, the new company raised capital through the issuance of $1.5 million in preferred stock. Meanwhile, an anonymous Wizard staff member reveals to iFanboy he was informed that the magazine had folded during a phone call Sunday evening, and was not permitted to collect personal belongings. A freelance contributors writes at Bleeding Cool that he learned about the closing through a Facebook message on Monday morning.
The comics Internet is swarming with reaction pieces: Andy Khouri points out the huge number of comics editors, bloggers and journalists who got their starts at Wizard; Heidi MacDonald does the same, noting that it was “a total boys club”; Albert Ching surveys numerous creators and editors; and Robot 6 contributor, and former Wizard staffer, Sean T. Collins comments on the magazine’s demise and rounds up links.
Sales charts | Although Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. The World performed poorly at the box office, it continues to boost sales of the Bryan Lee O’Malley series on which it’s based. The six volumes claimed the top six spots on BookScan’s list of graphic novels sold in bookstores in August, followed at No. 7 by the latest volume of The Walking Dead, whose television adaptation debuts on Halloween on AMC. [ICv2.com]
Legal | The owners of BATS BBQ in Rock Hill, South Carolina, are digging in for a legal battle after receiving a cease-and-desist letter from DC Comics, which objects to their attempts to trademark the restaurant’s logo. [The Herald]
Bluewater Productions publishes comic book biographies of popular figures, from Hilary Clinton to Stephenie Meyer, and many of them (such as the Meyer comic) are unauthorized. Now Rich Johnston reports that attorney Kenneth Feinswog has sent the company cease-and-desist notices on behalf of clients who apparently don’t appreciate getting the Bluewater treatment: Lady Gaga, the subject of a recently published comic, and Justin Bieber, whose bio-comic is due in October. Both comics are unauthorized biographies.
Feinswog’s claim seems to be that the comics are trademark infringements and violate the performers’ intellectual property and likeness rights.
Bluewater Publisher Darren G. Davis wouldn’t talk to Johnston, but he did confirm that he had received the cease-and-desist orders and offered a response to MTV’s Splash Page. His defense is that the works are bona fide biographies and are therefore protected under the First Amendment:
“These are not-poster books and as it was explained to the licensing lawyer, Kenneth Feinswog, it tells the story of [Bieber's] life in 22 pages,” he continued. “We offered to send him a copy of the book before it went to print. We have been offered deals with poster books, sticker books and we had to turn them down because we know we do not have the rights to that. But doing an unauthorized biography we are in full within our rights.”
Davis also offered the theory that the reason for the action is that Bluewater’s comic is competition for Bieber’s memoir Justin Bieber: First Step 2 Forever, which is due out this fall, as are several other books about the 16-year-old singer.
There is some precedent for this, but not in Feinswog’s favor. In the late 1990s, Revolutionary Comics produced Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics, unauthorized biographies of rock musicians. Feinswog sued on behalf of New Kids on the Block and Motley Crue, claiming trademark infringement, but the court ruled in favor of the comics. Coincidentally (or perhaps not), Bluewater recently acquired the rights to the Revolutionary line.
As a part of their Creators Across America series, the Copyright Alliance has posted the above video interview with A Distant Soil creator Colleen Doran. The artist discusses her early career and the importance of knowing her rights as a creator, among other topics. Patrick Ross, who conducted the interview, says she is “successful and accomplished, and a hoot.”