The PopCulteer
February 17, 2012

Your PopCulteer brings you more comics news, including yet another discussion of comic book creator’s rights, plus an interactive website launch based on one of our previous Cool Comics, and news of a surprise wrestling event and this month’s edition of Dr. Sketchy’s.

Starstruck Like You’ve Never Seen It

Today, a new website devoted to Elaine Lee and Michael Kaluta’s graphic novel “Starstruck“, goes live. “Starstruck,” based on a stage play written by Lee, Susan Norfleet and Dale Place in the early ’80’s, has a thirty year publishing history, but was most recently presented in a re-mastered format as a thirteen issue mini-series and deluxe hardcover by IDW Publishing. There’s also a really cool audio comic adaptation as well.I raved about the comic here (scroll down), and the audiocomic here.

For more on the website, we will quote directly from Elaine Lee, “The purpose of this site is to try and reach new audience outside “the comics ghetto.” By this I mean the huge number of people who are interested in science fiction, space opera and web comics, but who have never walked into a comic shop.

“We will be posting the story pages that appeared in the Starstruck Deluxe Edition, but will be making them interactive, so that they link to glossary entries. It should take well over a year to post the whole thing and Michael and I believe this will be a great way to advertise the books… which is, after all, the point! The site will include the glossary, history, intro to the book, and links to Starstruck reviews and articles. Later, we’ll be adding things like timelines, sound files from the play’s music and the Audio Play, pictures from performances, and heretofore unpublished material. And you can buy a mug or a T-shirt, too!

“Ultimately, we’re hoping to draw enough new audience to make creating more Starstruck a worthwhile endeavor (monetarily speaking).”

I hope you guys all visit the site and bask in the wonders of Starstruck. New stories featuring the Galactic Girl would be a real treat. If you’re already a fan you’ll still want to check out the interactive features. It’s like having an annotated version of the book.

Comic Creator’s Rights Part 3: When Creative Partnerships Collapse

A sample panel from Darwyn Cooke's "Minutemen." I'm sorry, but I really want to see this.

Over the last couple of weeks, spurred by the announcement of DC Comics “Before Watchmen” series, I’ve been looking at the issue of creator’s rights in the comic book world. This week, we’re going to take a brief look at a high profile lawsuit, a dispute over a high profile comic book/TV show, and a look at the ragged history of Alan Moore’s relationships with his collaborators.

For the non-comics fan, I should point out that most comic books are a collaborative effort. You have a writer and an artist, and often, partnerships do not survive the nature of this type of collaborative effort. The writer and the artist are equally important to the quality of the work, but due to the intensity of the labor involved, the monetary returns are rarely a 50/50 split.

Basically, it takes a lot longer to draw a comic book than it does to write one. Because of this, the artist gets paid more per page, while the writer is usually free to work on more than one comic book at a time. However, the artist also gets to keep and re-sell his original art, thus creating a second stream of revenue that is not available to the writer. At one point in the ’70’s, Marvel mandated that the artist share some of the pages of original art with the writer, but I believe that practice has been discontinued.

The problems arise when it comes to the matter of royalties, which are usually awarded on a 50/50 split between the artist and writer. Most of the time, this doesn’t cause a problem. But in certain instances, one collaborator can cost the other money and in some circumstances, the collaborative “marriage” of a particular writer and artist can end in a particularly messy divorce.

The big story blowing up this week in terms of creator’s rights is about Gary Friedrich and his lawsuit against Marvel over the rights to “Ghost Rider”, which is now a successful movie franchise. When the first “Ghost Rider” movie came out in 2007, Friedrich sued Marvel, claiming that he was the sole creator of “Ghost Rider” and had never signed away his rights to the character.

Marvel used their standard defense that Friedrich produced work made for hire and signed contracts to that effect, which were stamped on the back of his paychecks and had to be signed in order for those checks to be cashed. This was how Marvel won the lawsuit with Steve Gerber over “Howard The Duck” and with Marv Wolfman over “Blade.”

Sometimes I'll pick a graphic to make Lee Harrah happy.

It’s a particularly odious defense. Forcing someone to sign a contract in order to receive pay for services they have already rendered seems wrong. It’s a form of coercion and therefore, should not be legally binding. Though some courts have agreed that such contracts are not valid, those decisions have been overturned on appeal and the current precedent is that back-of-the-check contracts are binding.

Further weakening Friedrich’s case is the fact that he was claiming sole ownership, although Marvel previously had published a character named Ghost Rider and much of the success of Ghost Rider can be attributed to the design by Mike Ploog. It’s also fairly clear that Marvel’s publisher, Stan Lee, and then Editor-In-Chief, Roy Thomas, had a hand in the creation of the character.

The sad part of this is that Friedrich is not in particularly good health and is now neck deep in legal fees and on top of that, has been ordered by the court to pay Marvel $17,000 because he raised funds for his lawsuit by selling unauthorized posters, prints, and t-shirts using the Ghost Rider image. While this may seem particularly heartless of Marvel, it must be noted that trademark law requires Marvel to aggressively pursue any potential infringement of their trademarks. Otherwise, those trademarks could be invalidated.

Friedrich’s case is a sad one and anyone wishing to donate to his cause can find more information at this link.

Money talks...

Another, quite possibly more messy legal dispute came to a head last night when Tony Moore, the artist on the first six issues of “The Walking Dead” comic book, filed suit alleging deception and non-payment of royalties by his former creative partner, “The Walking Dead”‘s writer, Robert Kirkman, who is also the Executive Producer of the hit TV show on AMC and the current publisher of Image Comics.

You can find full details of Moore’s suit here and Kirkman’s rebuttal here. It’s still too early to guess what the outcome of this case will be, but the truth is, unlike the vast majority of comic book properties, with “The Walking Dead” there’s plenty of money to go around. However, this is a good example of what can happen when creative partners go their separate ways.

And this leads us back to Alan Moore, the man whose situation with his creation, the Watchmen, sparked this whole series of essays in PopCult. Moore gave an interview to last week where he elaborated on his distaste for DC Comics plans to exploit his creation with a prequel. It’s really hard to determine whether Moore is genuinely standing up for his artistic integrity or if he’s a bitter old crank who is lashing out spitefully at his former creative partners.

In the interview, he revealed that he is no longer on speaking terms with the artist on “Watchmen”, Dave Gibbons. Sadly, this is part of a pattern that extends all the way back to the beginning of Moore’s career.

Alan Moore's first creative snit.

In the late 1970’s, Moore broke into the business in England, writing short stories for Marvel UK to fill out their books, which were mostly reprints of American comics. Moore, along with artist Alan Davis, created “Captain Britain” and due to the different British copyright laws, Moore and Davis retained control and could veto any reprints of their work.

In the early ’80’s, Moore and Davis became hot commodities working on “Marvel Man” for Warrior Magazine. Marvel wanted to collect and reprint their work on “Captain Britain” and Moore, who had had a bitter falling out with Marvel, refused to allow his work to be reprinted. This did not set well with Alan Davis, who had a family to support and would have really enjoyed getting paid again for work that he had already done.

Davis left “Marvel Man” and never worked with Alan Moore again. Years later, Moore relented and that’s why “Captain Britain” is now in print. However, it’s not clear if the reason for Moore changing his mind was the sudden epiphany that he was screwing his collaborator out of found money or because a newly hired editor at Marvel UK met Moore in a pub and asked him nicely.

Moore's love letter to Marvel Comics, for whom he refuses to work.

Let me digress for a moment here. I don’t want it to seem like I’m bashing Moore. Alan Moore was the first superstar writer of comic books. He earned that distinction. His work married a genuine, deep, and overwhelming love of comic books with a completely original, innovative approach to storytelling and a modern sensibility that indeed changed the face of comic books. The saddest part of his recent conflicts is that his experiences in the comic book industry seem to have extinguished that love.

In the early ’90’s, Moore teamed up with two writer/artists, Rich Veitch and Steve Bissette, to create “1963”, a ine of comics that was a  loving homage/pastiche/valentine to the early days of the Lee/Kirby/Ditko Marvel comics. Published by Image, this was an absolutely lovely series. It perfectly captured the era and was just dripping with affection for the original

Steve Ditko called, he wants his creative outrage back.

work. This planned series of mini-series petered out after a year and was left unfinished with no explanation. Years later, it was revealed that Moore had had a massive falling out with Veitch and Bissette and lawyers were called in to sort out who owned which characters. Because of this, the work is out of print and will likely never be printed in its entirity and Veitch and Bissette, who produced the artwork, will never be able to earn a penny in royalties or trade paperback collections.

And once again, I have to point out the irony of Alan Moore griping about DC exploiting his creations from twenty-five years ago when throughout his career, he has largely told stories using the creations of other people, either with historical figures, literary creations, or the creations of an earlier generation of comic book artists and writers.

It seems like instead of just being angry at DC Comics, he’s angry at the world for not supporting a never-ending parade of all new creations.

So that’s three long essays devoted to arcane elements of copyright law and how they apply to comic books. So don’t be surprised if next week’s PopCulteer is largely a photo essay.

Last Minute Wrestling News

It was a real kick to see the following Facebook post by my old buddy, Mad Man Pondo, “February 19 Campbell s Creek West Virgina 6:00 bell time, Highspots presents $5.00 wrestling will grace Skate land. Some of your favorites will be appearing! Derek Flair, Dy-No-Mite, Jimmy the Snake Roberts, the Burke County Boys, Jessie the Jackhammer, Wolf man, Bubblelicious, , Lil Donnie, Mad Man Pondo with Crazy Mary Dobson, the return of The Hammer, and ofcorse the 5 dollar champ Freight Train!!!
Come on out and see some the most surprising talent ever put together in one building. Tickets are just 5 dollars! 4.99 for seniors.”
This sounds like a great line up. I won’t be able to make it to this show, but on March 3 I will be front and center to see Pondo take on ECW legend, Tommy Dreamer, for IWA East Coast in Nitro. We’ll have more info on that show next week.

Don’t Forget Dr. Sketchy’s

Sunday night your PopCulteer will be in attendance for the Giallo (Italian Horror) starring newcomers Dolly Dagger and KB! As the Dr. Sketchy’s PR says, “If you like to draw, Dr. Sketchy’s Anti Art School doesn’t care what your skill level is! Grab your art supplies, and join us for a night of Dames, Drinking and Drawing with fun, contests and prizes. Our burlesque figure drawing is open to everyone 18 and over. BYOB to anyone 21+.

From 7:00pm- 10:00pm February 19th

At Kanawha Player’s Theater on 309 Beauregard St, Charleston

$10 at the Door. $8 pre-registered before 3pm the day of the show.”

Check out Monday Morning Art in PopCult for my take on the evening, and keep reading PopCult as we approach the unveiling of RFC 150.