Poisoned Chalice Part 14.1: Updates and Clarifications on Marvelman

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[Previous chapters: 1 to 8 - 1953 – 1985 Roundup, 9 - The Dawn of Eclipse, 10 - Alan Moore at Eclipse, 11 - The Twilight of Eclipse, 12 - All About Angela, 13 - More Angela, More Courtrooms, and Much More Todd, 14 - Back to Marvelman]

Before I get around to doing a round-up of all the previous posts, and attempt to squeeze meaning out of it all, I just want to update a few things, and clarify a few others. 8756769761 6588bdf986 m Poisoned Chalice Part 14.1: Updates and Clarifications on MarvelmanThe Marvelman story is ongoing, and I am continually making contact with people who know bits of information, big or small, which continue to illuminate further aspects of the story. Really, it’s all fractal – no matter how much you drill down into it all, there always seems to be further levels of complexity waiting for you, just like this lovely Fractal Cauliflower. Much like life itself, I suppose…

Anyway, here’s a few things I wanted to clear up, first:

In Part 9, speaking of the Marvelman Family and the Invaders from the Future story, I said,

And, if Marvel Comics ever get around to reprinting this, it will be it the presumably unique position of having been published by four different comics companies, on two sides of the Atlantic.

A number of people, including comics writer Kurt Busiek, quite rightly pulled me up on this. There are any number of comics that are in that position, of course. What I should have said, more specifically, was that I thought that this story would have been unique, because it was first published by two comics companies in the UK, then by two comics companies in the US, a situation which I do think is unique. I strive for accuracy, though, so I’m genuinely happy to have these things pointed out to me.

Something that got mentioned a few times over the past weeks, particularly in the comments on the most recent post, Back to Marvelman, was, as one person put it, the idea that ‘Alan Moore gave his rights to Mick Anglo, who sold it to Marvel‘. This is wrong on a number of fronts.

First of all, there has never been any kind of transfer of rights between Alan Moore and Mick Anglo, in either direction, unless someone can point me to a specific piece of information saying there has been, which I’ve certainly never found, and not for want of looking. Moore has asked Marvel Comics to give his share of the money from any reprint of his work to Anglo – a situation that is obviously complicated by Anglo’s death in 2011 – but Moore retains any rights he has. And, before you all jump in and tell me that he transferred his rights to Neil Gaiman, let me clarify the difference between his rights in the character of Marvelman, and his rights to the Marvelman stories he created. To the very best of my knowledge – which in these matters is considerable! – what Moore gifted to Gaiman was the former, but not the latter. Gaiman owns what were Moore’s rights to the Marvelman character, but Moore retained – and still owns – his rights to the work he created.

There is also the issue of what Mick Anglo sold to Marvel Comics. Actually, Anglo didn’t sell them anything. He sold whatever rights he had, which were invested in his company, Mick Anglo Limited, to Jon Campbell, who then sold these on to Marvel. Obviously, it looks a lot better for Marvel to announce they’ve been dealing with Anglo, though, rather than saying they’ve bought the rights for the character from someone who got them from Anglo for a few thousand pounds. What those rights actually were, if indeed there were any at all, is something that I shall be dealing with later.

A few interesting points about the Emotiv story: A very early indication that someone was claiming that Mick Anglo was actually the creator and original owner of Marvelman, which had really not been suggested before, can be seen on this thread on the Creator’s Rights forum dating from April 2006, where a frankly very rude and borderline illiterate poster calling him/herself The Truth started posting comments suggesting that both Neil Gaiman and Todd McFarlane were thieves – or, as s/he put it, thief’s – and that something was happening. Here’s a selection of hir comments, to save you the trouble of having to go through the whole thing if you don’t wish to (I’ll spare you all the bold, block capitals, and huge letters sizes used):

Gaiman and McFarlane are both thiefs, they dont own Miracleman, Mick Anglo does, you people are hypocrites.

What about Anglo’s creators rights? They are both guilty.

Well lets just wait and see what happens when the shit hits the fan.
3 months and we’ll see who’s slandering who.

Lets put it this way Stephen, British copyright laws were very differant and now the U.S. have to tow the line with every country who is a member of the the Berne convention, you CANT cut the creator out of the process.
McFarlane knows it
Moore knows it
Gaimen knows it
Skinn always knew it.
and soon (If Neil Gaiman doesent do the hounerable thing) everyone will know it.

Its not slander when it the truth.
Another thing, the trademarks that Eclipse/McFarlane had registered were aplied in “bad faith” as there was a predated copyright on the trademarked image of Marvelman.

IP is what I do and I cant believe that all you people in comics are so naive to copyright laws, its not rocket science.

Tell Gaimen if he wants to speak to me on here he can, but if he contacts Ken Levin and decides to hide behind his coat tails, we will go public and expose all of the above named infringers in a heartbeat. (he knows exactly what I’m talking about)

No you are wrong, It isnt Anglo who is making the claim, Its the one man from whom it was stolen, an ex movie producer no less.
Who also just happens to be my employer

It is a myth that Marvelman is a take off of Captain Marvel, it was Captain Universe that was supposed to be the replacement for Captain Marvel but Anglo shopped it to another company at the last minute.
He had a whole Captain Universe Family ready to go, but It never got as far as 2 Issues because of a threat of legal action from DC.
If you manage to get a copy of the original Captain then you will see what I mean.
However our friend is right, in that the Marvelman design is nothing like Captain Marvel. The big red cheese however is just Superman in a red suit.
There is no copyright that I know of on the whole superhero genre.
Miracleman is just one of thousands who are superheroes who look nothing like Superman.

One last thing..
Its not a law suit that is coming, its something that is going to take the whole comics world by surprise.

There was also this to-and-fro between The Truth and another poster, calling himself Joseph:

Joseph: You should learn to spell before you try to lecture someone on copyright law. It’s “thieves,” not “thief’s”.

The Truth: Hey I type fast and wasnt paying attention, dont confuse bad typing for a lack of intellect and judging by what you have written its you who doesent get it, I have a secretary who usually does my typing so i do admit its not my strong point.

Joseph: The latter implies that Todd and Neil belong to someone called Thief. Studying copyright law first might be helpful, too.

The Truth: I did for 5 years and there is NOTHING that I dont know about it.

So, from all of that, and other comments on that thread, it seems the person involved was a claiming to be a – probably male – Intellectual Property expert (there is NOTHING that I dont know about it) with a secretary, who was employed by an ex-movie producer, and that this ex-movie producer was claiming that Marvelman had been stolen from him. There is also the line, almost hidden in amongst it all, where s/he says ‘there was a predated copyright on the trademarked image of Marvelman‘. I have, over the past few years, heard mentions of an image of Marvelman that supposedly predates the L Miller & Son comic, and I think this is what is being referred to here. I’m also interested in the line that says ‘He had a whole Captain Universe Family ready to go, but It never got as far as 2 Issues because of a threat of legal action from DC,’ which I’ll also be coming back to in the near future, as I think I can tie it to a few other similar statements over the years.

Normally, mind you, an anonymous commenter who was making the kind of wild claims that were being made here would be rightly ignored – except that it seems there was something in it all, after all. But, although I can’t find any confirmation that the person who is referred to here – presumably Jon Campbell – was a movie producer, I do find that The Time Frequency’s Real Love was featured in the 2001 film Lawless Heart, but that’s hardly the same thing, really. Perhaps the movie being referred to is that most elusive of titles, the documentary Who Stole Marvelman?, which was being touted as ‘coming soon’ on a website now gone, and proclaimed as the ‘real’ story of what happened, which was apparently both written and produced by the self-same Jon Campbell, as mentioned here, amongst other places. And this is very likely to be what Alan Moore was referring to when he told me the following:

So someone came down to Northampton, eventually, and filmed an interview with me where I just answered all the questions that they asked me as honestly as I could.

Amazingly, despite all their apparent rudeness in putting their claim forward, the people from Emotiv did make contact with Neil Gaiman, and he’s quoted on Bleeding Cool in 2009 as saying,

Ken Levin (Marvels & Miracles attorney) put Emotiv directly in touch with Marvel at the point where it became apparent that they owned the rights, and that Dez Skinn really hadn’t had anything to sell in the first place. But the negotiating was between Emotiv and them and went on for a long time. I’m sure they talked to other companies: I know they were in touch with Todd to try and point out that he didn’t own anything.

So, after Emotiv got talking to Marvel Comics, what happened next? They had some sample comics pages prepared, it seems. A friend pointed me at this page from last year, where occasional comics artist and letterer Gordon ‘Kid’ Robson, a native of Glasgow, says:

I happen to know an extremely talented artist who is easily as accomplished as some of those working in comics today. He drew the MARVELMAN sample pages (which I lettered) which were submitted for MARVEL’s consideration when they were deliberating over acquiring the character. One of the head honchos at the company told me in a ‘phone call that he was well-impressed with the artwork, and that the pages were “model” comics art.

Guess what though? The artist concerned does not work in the industry and his name is unknown to the legions of comics fandom. He happens to suffer from dry eyes syndrome and it’s absolute agony for him to draw for more than brief and infrequent periods at a time. He would probably be incapable of meeting the deadlines of comics’ monthly production schedules and would therefore be unable to make a living in the business of sequential art.

Which is interesting, as elsewhere, a few years after he lettered those pages, he says of Mick Anglo’s creation of Marvelman, To be honest, as Marvelman was merely an imitation of FAWCETT’s CAPTAIN MARVEL, I’m not sure if ‘creator’ strictly applies in ol’ MM’s case, but I don’t have an axe to grind over it.

Who could the artist with Dry Eyes Syndrome be? Is it possible that it was an artist called Tom Campbell, also of Glasgow, referred to here, on a page about Scottish artists, who ‘did illustrations for Fantasy Tales and for record covers, had begun to illustrate articles by Duncan Lunan before being disabled by Dry Eye Syndrome‘? 8777588399 9f741245c8 m Poisoned Chalice Part 14.1: Updates and Clarifications on MarvelmanThe same Tom Campbell who did artwork for the covers of records by The Time Frequency, his brother Jon Campbell’s band, including the one here? (Yes, I know that there are huge amounts of people in Scotland called Campbell, but I think I’m on safe ground on this one.)

(It is just possible, I suppose, that the ex-movie producer mentioned is meant to be Arnold Miller, who certainly did have a long career making films, but I really don’t feel that is the case, despite the interesting case that could be made in his favour. The Truth is unlikely to have been representing for both Anglo, as supposed creator, and for Miller, the publisher. One or other, yes, but not both.)

So, as I said, small pieces of information lead to even smaller pieces of information, and I find myself staying up ‘way past my bedtime, trying to force Google to find me facts that don’t wish to be found…

[The Fractal Cauliflower (actually a Romanesco Calibrese cauliflower) photograph is used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, and the original is here.]

Comments

  1. Silly but True says:

    So, the lingering question for the copyrighters. If you created a derivative work which you actually had no right to create (assuming the Skinn had nothing” position [which may or may not be correct]), what right do you have? This would seem to apply to the Moore/Gaiman//Warrior/Eclipse resurgence.

    What I’ve found fascinating is the dynamic that it’s these derivative works (Moore/Gaiman) that are the most popular, but there was no one enforcing against them for 30+ issues years. But copyrights aren’t trademarks; lack of enforcement doesn’t matter.

    If Skinn had nothing, is the Moore/Gaiman run essentially a glorified bootleg?

  2. Stephen Schumacher says:

    Thanks for clarifying so many points, Padraig! And very illuminating speculations springing from that Truth dude’s rantings.

    Regarding “creator’s rights” to Marvelman prior to Dez Skinn, consider the history:

    1) Superman created by Siegel & Shuster in 1938, then arguably ripped off by National/DC;

    2) Captain Marvel created by Beck & Parker for Fawcett in 1941, then officially adjudged to be a rip-off of Superman in 1952 so abandoned in 1953 [with which judgment I disagree, since CM is thematically very different from SM, with the only common elements that both are strong, tough, fly, and wear gaudy costumes]

    3) Marvelman “created” by Mick Anglo for L. Miller in 1954, transparently ripping off the thematically-identical Captain Marvel before being abandoned in 1963.

    4) “Captain Marvel” abandoned name ripped-off by Marvel Comics for an unrelated character in 1967.

    Given this background, Skinn may have “had nothing”, but I can see his perspective that he had as much right as anyone to dip in the commons and reclaim the theme of the abandoned and multiply ripped-off Captain Marvel character for adult treatment.

  3. Stephen Schumacher says:

    Oops: Beck/Parker created Captain Marvel in 1939, not 1941.

  4. Also, 3.5) “Captain Marvel” abandoned name ripped-off by M.F. Enterprises for an unrelated character in 1966.

    Which is surely how Marvel figured out the name “Captain Marvel” was up for grabs.

  5. Molnek says:

    I must say that after going through all of this I don’t see any reason why Marvel can’t release the end of Gaiman’s run. It seems most of the problems come from copyrights on individual stories not the character itself now. I can see them wanting to be able to reprint Moore’s run and the first part of Gaiman’s but would any of us really complain if we statted getting new issues while they sort that out? The old ones are quite easy to find on the internet.

  6. Steve D says:

    “So, the lingering question for the copyrighters. If you created a derivative work which you actually had no right to create (assuming the ‘Skinn had nothing’ position [which may or may not be correct]), what right do you have?”

    You might be in violation of the previous copyright, but you would still retain the rights to any unique creative concepts you had added to the original property. (This principle is the basis of Neil Gaiman’s lawsuit against Todd McFarlane regarding Medieval Spawn and Angela — he didn’t dispute that Todd owned the underlying concepts that he’d extended to create Med. Spawn and Angela; but Gaiman was able to legally prove that he had a right to the unique creations that he had built upon McFarlane’s original property, and also had a claim to subsequent derivations of those concepts.)

    For example, you might have written a piece of unauthorized fan-fiction about your favorite superhero, Gargle-Man. You decide that he’s in dire need of a sidekick, so you write the origin of Gargle-Lad. Gargle-Man’s copyright holder might come after you with cease-and-desist notices — hell, they might even file suit. BUT they don’t have legal right to use your original story elements or characters. So they end up adding Gargle-Lad to the mythos with an origin story eerily similar to your fan-fic. Theoretically, you could sue them — though, in this case, you’d probably face an uphill battle. (You’d have to overcome the stigma of violating the owner’s copyright and prove that Gargle-Lad wasn’t an obvious extension of the existing premise and common comicbook tropes; and you’d also have to demonstrate that their version ripped off specific copyrightable elements (plot points, dialogue, designs) from your version. In a best case scenario, you might get a settlement where the company admits no fault and you drop all claims, or you might get a buyout deal where they purchase all rights to your story for a pittance.)

    The potential for these kinds of hassles are why many media companies have stern warnings against sending them unauthorized scripts or pitches, and it’s also why they sternly crack down on fan-fiction and other bootlegs. They’re not just trying to protect their own copyright — they’re trying to shield themselves from liability if by “parallel development” their official writers come up with essentially the same story concept/character that an amateur writer put into his fan-fic or script.

  7. Steve D says:

    Also, IIRC, the Marvel Comics “Captain Marvel” was created specifically because publisher Martin Goodman wanted to lock down the trademark on all comicbook things “Marvel” related. Wasn’t there some kind of incident where Goodman tried to buy the Capt. Marvel name from Myron Fass of M.F. Enterprises during the 1966 character’s short lived run?

  8. Sam Thielman says:

    Fantastic reporting, as always, Padraig. It would be great if any/all of this got solved, eventually, but I had no idea the snarl around it all was so complicated and involved so many intractable peripheral figures.

  9. On the question as to who drew the Marvelman sample pages for Marvel’s consideration, the person concerned had previously asked me not to be named, so I can make no comment as to his identity.

    On the question of copyright, it seems obvious to me that DC have good grounds for suing Marvel for plagiarism – if they were of a mind to. Apologies if someone has already covered this in one of the above comments, but it has always been admitted from day one that Marvelman was merely an imitation of Captain Marvel, brought about by a situation we are all familiar with. As this is an admitted fact in the ‘creation’ of the character, DC would seem to have an open-and-shut case. No?
    Interesting blog.

  10. >> As this is an admitted fact in the ‘creation’ of the character, DC would seem to have an open-and-shut case. No?>>

    No, or at least not necessarily.

    DC would have a reasonably strong case against the Mick Anglo-era Marvelman stuff, except that, if I remember correctly, there is a period of time after which it is too late to file such a lawsuit. So Fawcett could have sued, but didn’t, and by the time DC owned the copyrights, the time permissible to sue was long past.

    Since the classic stuff was unchallenged, there’s no case against Marvel for reprinting it, because they’re the same stories.

    The Warrior- and post-Warrior stuff is transformative — it’s not close enough to the Fawcett Captain Marvel for a lawsuit. It’s about a middle-aged man who transforms into a god-like being, not about a child, to pick one major difference. It’s similar enough that the inspiration is obvious, but enough has been added or altered or introduced to make it clearly not the same.

    An IP attorney might disagree, or see ways to frame an argument that gets around this stuff, but I don’t think there’s an open-and-shut case by any means.

  11. Interesting. Well, the law is the law, and if the law says there are ttime limits on suing then so be it. However, Marvel have bought the rights to the Mick Anglo version of Captain Marvel, which was the same character that Warrior published – with developments and a change in tone, admittedly. (An older, adult version of the character is still surely the same character? Clark Kent/Superboy is the same person as Clark Kent/Superman, is he not? So why would it be different for Mike Moran/Marvelman?)

    So, leaving time limits out of the equation for the moment, I still think DC potentially have a pretty good case, considering that Marvelman (in whichever version) is conceded to be, in essence, an imitation of Fawcett’s Captain Marvel which DC now own.

  12. >> An older, adult version of the character is still surely the same character? >>

    Not necessarily, no. The important things that make that character what he or she is may have been dramatically changed or eliminated.

    An older, adult version of a person is simply that person altered by time. But a literary creation? Those changes aren’t naturally wrought by time, but by an author making transformative choices. If someone writes a novel about a 50-year-old Charlie Brown, his dog Snoopy long dead, his friends mostly drifted away, dealing with a drug habit after injuries received while serving as a Marine in Vietnam, is that the same character?

    Probably not, because both the ideas that make up the character — the themes and stories and issues — have changed, and so have most of the surface identifiers as well. What’s left may not be a strong enough connection to matter.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transformation_(law)

    >> Clark Kent/Superboy is the same person as Clark Kent/Superman, is he not? >>

    No, he’s not. And some of the lawsuits between Siegel & Shuster and DC have centered on the fact that he isn’t.

    Ultimately, neither one of them is a person. They’re ideas — ideas in concrete form protected by copyright. And they’re not the same idea. Superman is a reporter for a big newspaper who lives in a big city and has a troubled romance with another reporter. Superboy is a kid growing up in a small town with loving parents who goes to school and has different friends. When Superboy was created, a lot of new stuff had to be built to create this new series. A lot of those elements were then cross-pollinated into the Superman strip, but the two strips are quite different. “…when he was a boy” turns him into a different idea.

    There are similarities, of course — the S-shield, the cape, the powers, the fighting crime and all — but Supergirl has most of those, too, and she’s not the same character.

    License Superboy and then try to tell Superman stories on the grounds that they’re the same guy; you won’t get far.

    >> So why would it be different for Mike Moran/Marvelman?>>

    Similar deal, really. Mike Moran is as different from Micky Moran as young Clark is from adult Clark, maybe more so, so they could well be considered different literary properties, just as Superman and Superboy are.

    Names aside, the adult Mike isn’t much like the cartoony Micky, and the darker, more godlike Marvel/Miracleman isn’t much like the cartoony original. There are things that are the same about them — but those are largely trademarkable elements. They could have caused a problem if the trademarks hadn’t lapsed, but on a copyright level the two are quite different.

    You could get IP lawyers to argue both sides of this as long as you were willing to pay them and a judge was willing to listen, but that’s the crux of it. What Alan did to the previous version of Marvelman was transformative enough to render it something new and different. Fictional characters aren’t real people, so simply pretending, for the purposes of a story, that one is the other one all grown up doesn’t make them the same piece of intellectual property. The changes that come along with “all grown up” may be enough to result in a different story, a different character, a different idea.

    DC can’t sue over the Anglo version, as I understand it, because they had no standing to sue until after the window had closed, and those with standing to sue didn’t, so that version’s in the clear, legally. And they can’t sue over the adult version because there’s not enough resemblance between adult Mike Moran and youthful Billy Batson to call it an infringement — they’d have to try to argue back through the Anglo version, and they can’t because that went unopposed.

    And actually, by now, the statute of limitations on the Moore version has long passed, too — DC can’t argue that they weren’t aware of it, so even if they thought they could win such a case (which is doubtful), the clock has run out on it.

  13. All very theoretically interesting, but debatable in many repects. If a company not connected to Eon wanted to do a series of movies based on James Bond 007 – but as a boy, the fact that so many apects would be different would surely not prevent Eon having a case for suing. Same character, same name, a different scenario shouldn’t matter. And Clark Kent/Superboy and Clark Kent Superman are/is the same character. DC’s having rights to Superboy was due to having paid S&S in the region of $90,000 9at least) to surrender any claim on the property many, many years back.

  14. Oops! That ‘9’ should be a ‘(‘.

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