Is Grant Morrison’s Zenith going to return?

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by The Beat and Pádraig Ó Méalóid
At last weekend’s C2E2, the Rebellion/2000 AD crowd was out and represented by marketing man about town Michael Molcher. Snapping a pic of him and his fellow boothworkers you could not help but notice that they were wearing T-shirts bearing the logo of Zenith, which is, after Marvelman, perhaps the greatest “lost” superhero of UK comics. Created by Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell, with original character designs by Brendan McCarthy , it first appeared in in 2000 AD #535 in August 1987, and ran for four story arcs, or ‘phases,’ which finished up in 2000 AD #805 in October 1992. It ran in about 80 issues of the comic; the first three phases were collected in five volumes by Titan Books between 1988 and 1990. Phase Four has never been reprinted.

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Lost Grant Morrison, you say? So what’s the hold up? Well I wrote to our expert on all thing esoteric in UK comics contracts expert Pádraig Ó Méalóid for the details. It seems this is yet another contract dispute from the olden days of “we’ll draw it up later.”

There are lots of interesting parallels between the careers of Alan Moore and Grant Morrison, and although a lot of people know Moore has a long out-of-print British superhero series, it’s possible that not as many people know that Morrison also does. However, unlike Marvelman, the story of Zenith is comparatively uncomplicated. It was co-created by Grant Morrison and artist Steve Yeowell for UK comic 2000 AD in late 1987, and ran there on and off for five years, over four story arcs, or ‘phases.’ Titan Books, who regularly published collection of various strips from 2000 AD, published five collections of Zenith between 1988 and 1990, although this only covered the story to the end of Phase Three. These have never been reprinted.

The problem is this: According to Grant Morrison, he and Yeowell own the rights to the strip, not 2000 AD. The powers that be at the comic feel otherwise. 2000 AD, although it broke all sorts of new ground for comics creators in the UK in the late seventies and onwards, is still old-fashioned enough that they own all the rights to everything that they publish. However, Morrison says that they have no contract with him that proves that they own the strip. It’s possible that this is actually true: in a conversation with a friend of mine who worked as a writer for 2000 AD in the 1990s, he told me that he had created work for them without ever having seen a contract, and that this was not unusual in the business. Everyone understood where things stood, and nobody cared enough to make waves. 

However, according to unofficial Zenith website Seizing the Fire, Rebellion – the current owners of 2000 AD and their properties – have got copies of Zenith Phase One printed and ‘held unreleased in warehouse due to on-going legal issues.’ So, who knows?


Hm. Who knows indeed. One would guess that Rebellion employees wearing Zenith t-shirts for all the internet to see would be an indication that something is up. Asked about it, Molcher smiled.

So yeah, developing.

Comments

  1. jonboy says:

    I will only buy a copy of Zenith if I know that the creators (Morrison/Yeowell) are adequately compensated for the publication of said volume.

    I have read the complete Zenith story and I consider it superior to Miracleman.

  2. jacob lyon goddard says:

    I, also, would only buy this if I knew Morrison and Yoewell held the rights to their work.

  3. Kate Halprin says:

    The key figure here might be Hilary Robinson, who successfully established her ownership of the various series she created for 2000AD in the late 1980s and established a precedent. I believe Alan McKenzie is also disputing that Summer Magic was work-for-hire. Of course neither Robinson nor McKenzie have Morrison’s sales clout…

  4. I’ve heard previously, though I can’t remember where from, that one problem holding Zenith up was the unauthorised use of lyrics; Zenith sings lines from The Smiths’ The Queen Is Dead at the beginning of Phase Two and from Suede’s My Insatiable One in Phase Three, IIRC. Using lyrics in published works incurs a fee, sometimes prohibitive. Then there are all the IPC characters in Phase Three… but I’m sure Paidraig knows more about that, expert on British comic characters that he is. I wrote about Zenith at suggestedformaturereaders.wordpress.com/tags/zenith/

  5. Paul Mellerick says:

    The copies of Zenith that are printed and in a warehouse somewhere have been there for quite some time. Titan had them printed way back in the early 2000′s but then this issue with Morrison came up, and they’ve been gathering dust ever since. The t-shirts though are quite revealing, I can’t imagine they’d both have been wearing them unless a deal between Morrison and Rebellion was imminent.

  6. Kate Halprin says:

    Or maybe Rebellion are lining up ‘Before Zenith’?

  7. Padraig O Mealoid says:

    Wash your mouth out with soap, Kate!

  8. Tim B. says:

    I’d heard that the Titan trades had already been pulped when it looked like the dispute wasn’t going to be resolved:

    http://www.bleedingcool.com/2010/03/17/the-man-who-sold-zenith-trade-paperbacks/

    Of course a ‘Before Zenith’ story would have to be a ‘nadir’

    I’ll get my coat.

  9. Quite a few of those Titan Zenith TPB’s escaped before they were pulped. The guy from that Bleeding Cool article is still selling them on eBay now (must have been a hell of a box he bought from the boot sale – he’s rinsed through at least 50 by now).

    The rights issue with Rebellion is most often quoted as the reason for Zenith’s non-appearance, and like Kate mentions above, previous 2000AD authors have already set a somewhat similar, if significantly lower profile, precedent – including a threat of legal action from Mark Millar over the continuation of Cannon Fodder without him.

    I believe Fleetway as was were proponents of similar ‘back of a cheque’ contracts as Silver Age Marvel and DC – sign the check to authorise your payment, sign away the rights. I’d be very surprised if Rebellion have any of those cheques though, given the long and winding road of 2000AD IP ownership from then until now. And without any cheques or contracts, could/would Rebellion fight it in court? And if they did, what would losing mean for their other historic properties? Dredd back to Grant/Mills/Ezquerra?

    Of course there’s also the song lyrics, the numerous IPC characters in Phase III (who are now largely owned by DC I believe), a dispute over “plaigarised” art from a Peter Carroll’s Chaos Magic book and an increasingly bitter Brendan McCarthy (who thinks the whole thing was ripped off of his and Peter Milligan’s Paradax) to contend with.

    Still, fingers crossed eh? :)

Trackbacks

  1. [...] if you’re not sure why this is such a big deal, go read this piece that the lovely Ms McDonald and I put together at the beginning of this month, after [...]

  2. [...] team have been teasing fans with the possibility of a collection for weeks, starting, it appears, by wearing Zenith t-shirts at CE2 and running Zenith covers and other art on the comic’s official tumblr. The official [...]

  3. […] having gotten away with putting a toe in the water by publishing a deluxe limited edition Zenith—the long lost, highly contested superhero comic by […]

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