[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, 14.1 – Updates and Clarifications on Marvelman]
So, who owns Marvelman? This is a question I’ve been looking for the answer to for quite a few years now, and I’m still not sure if I actually know that answer. I have some fairly firm opinions on who doesn’t own it, though, so if there’s anyone left standing after they’re all ruled out, then perhaps it’ll be as Sherlock Holmes said,
When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.
I should also point out that any opinion I put forward is simply that: my opinion. An opinion based on several years’ worth of speculation and research, and perhaps some pieces of information that have not previously been seen publicly, but none the less only my own opinion of what I think those facts mean. I’m also well aware that there are a lot of things I don’t know, important pieces of information I know exist but that I haven’t been able to get a look at. If fact, my situation was described perfectly by one of the last great American philosophers, Donald Rumsfeld, when he said,
There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.
I know, for instance, that there is alleged to be a drawing of Marvelman, or a character similar to Marvelman, that apparently dates from before the generally accepted creation of Marvelman, signed by Mick Anglo, which is supposed to be part of the proof that Marvelman was copyrighted to Mick Anglo Ltd, but I haven’t seen this drawing, and my knowledge of it is purely anecdotal, so it’s difficult for me to make any decision based on it. (There are other cases of artwork being used to prove that a character had been created before its publication by a comic company, like the case of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby creating Captain America, which was subsequently published by Marvel Comics, but there are also cases where claims have been made about artwork that proved to be false, such as the case of Will Eisner and Wonder Man.)
There’s also the fact that, whilst I’ve spoken to some of the people involved in the long saga of Marvelman, there are a lot of others I haven’t spoken to, whose opinion I can only report from things they’ve said, or interviews they’ve done. It’s possible that the question of who owns Marvelman is similar to the search for the ‘Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything’ in Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books, where you can either know the question, or the answer, but not both. They knew the answer was 42, but were destined never to know what the question was. I know what the question is, but seem destined never to know the answer. I’ve done the very best I can to gather facts, but there comes a point where the facts run out, and I’m down to anecdote, or rumour, or things I’ve been told off the record, none of which count as verifiable evidence, of course. So, what follows in the next few posts is my own opinion of all of that, based on all the information I’ve gathered. It’s not intended as any sort of legal conclusion, and there are undoubtedly places where the future unveiling of some previously unknown important piece of information will completely belie one or all of my conclusions.
So, having hopefully covered my ass legally, here goes.
Different people claim to own different amounts of different things, but there is virtually no paperwork to definitively prove their claims, in most cases. And, despite lots of other court cases happening throughout the extended history of Marvelman, there have as yet been no court cases to test any of those claims. Very shortly I’m going to attempt to sift through those claims, to see if I can get to some sort of conclusion, but first there is one more player in the game, who I’ve avoided mentioning until now, but who could be one of the most important people attached to the Marvelman character. When Jon Campbell bought Mick Anglo’s rights to Marvelman and subsequently attempted to tie up the loose ends by talking to people like Dez Skinn and Alan Moore, who had been involved with the Warrior version of Marvelman, he did get in touch with at least one other person from the earlier Miller-era incarnation who had also played a very important part in the life of Marvelman, but much earlier on.
One of the things that always puzzled me from when I first became interested in the bizarre history of Marvelman was the fact that, for as long as I’d been reading about it, there only ever seemed to be one version of the origin of Marvelman, which was Mick Anglo’s story about how he had been rung up by Len Miller in a panic, now that he was going to lose the right to reprint the Captain Marvel titles, and desperately looking for Mick to bail him out somehow. Nobody can blame Anglo for making himself the hero of his own story, but there seemed to have been no attempt made to find someone from L Miller and Son or Fawcett Publishing to give their side of the story. And I always thought it was very odd that the Millers would just create their own version of another company’s character, even under the circumstances, particularly as this was a company that they had done business with for some years, and would continue to do business with for another ten years afterwards. Surely there was more to the story than this, but was there anybody left alive who knew what it was? As it turned out, there was. Unbeknownst to me, in March 2010, while I was writing the beginnings of this book, the British Film Institute was having a retrospective showing of two of Arnold Louis Miller’s old sexploitation films, which included a question and answer session with Arnold Miller himself (which is worth watching for its own sake), still very much alive, and very sprightly and sharp for a man of eighty-eight years old. At one point he says,
My father’s company was L Miller & Son, Ltd, and he had the rights from America to publish Captain Marvel, Young Marvel, and the Marvelman Family, and they were quite successful.
It may or may not have been simply a slip of the tongue that he mentioned the Marvelman Family instead of the Marvel Family, but it was certainly an interesting slip, if it was.
It turned out that the person interviewing Arnold Miller at the BFI was a friend of a friend, and before long I had managed to actually find an address for him, and we began a postal correspondence about Marvelman that lasted for about six months, on and off, during which I found out that he had been approached by Jon Campbell with regard to Marvelman, although it did seem that, despite this, he really didn’t know too much about the modern history of the character.
This is his version of how Marvelman came to be created, and of what part Mick Anglo played in that creation, condensed from a number of different letters:
I am in the process of two projects, one being a company in Scotland, which is interested in publishing copies of the comics previously published by L Miller and Son Ltd. The other is, I am involved in a book on my life in the publishing business, and then later in the film business.
The real story as I remember is this, Mick Anglo was employed by L Miller and Son Ltd to write and draw story lines for Marvelman and the Marvelman Family comics, the rights to use the titles were given to L Miller and Son Ltd by Fawcett Publications. Mick Anglo has no copyright on the title Marvelman or Marvelman Family.
Fawcett were aware of L Miller and Son Ltd publishing and using the name Marvelman, Marvelman Family etc. Mick Anglo was commissioned by L Miller to draw material for the content, he has no rights to the cover material, this was supplied by Fawcett.
It seems as though Mick Anglo has a vivid imagination that extends far and above drawing. His meetings with Len Miller my father did not occur. I would mention that Mick Anglo was not flavour of the month with Florrie Miller my mother, who did not trust him.
I wrote to Mick Anglo and advised him that he had no copyright on the material he supplied and was paid for by L Miller and Son, and as I expected there has been no reply.
It seems there was another version of the origin of Marvelman after all.
Meanwhile, to answer the central question of Who Owns Marvelman – and indeed the related question of Who Owns Miracleman – it’s necessary first to decide what that question actually means, and which version of Marvelman and his alter ego Michael Moran we’re talking about – and it’s actually easier to refer to the different versions by that name, as it changes least. It would appear there are at least five versions of Michael Moran that we need to clarify the ownership of:
2: A modern version of this original character, now called Mike Moran, who was revived in Quality Communications’ Warrior #1 in March 1982;
3: The version known as Miracleman who first appears in Marvel UK’s Marvel Super-Heroes #387 in July 1982, only to be killed soon thereafter;
4: A republication and continuation of #2 who had his name changed to Miracleman, first appearing as such in Eclipse Comics’ Miracleman #1 in August 1985;
5: The Mike Moran who has a brief cameo appearance on the last page of Image’s Hellspawn #6 in February 2001, who was due to fully debut as Miracleman in Hellspawn #13, but never did;
6: There’s a possible sixth version, depending on what it is that Marvel Comics are planning for the version of Marvelman they appear to own – for the moment, this appears to be version #1, as listed here, but it’s possible they may create their own separate version of the character, based on that. They have, after all, said that ‘Marvel has stepped up to the plate to deliver on the promise of Anglo’s incredible characters,’ which can certainly be seen as their wanting to develop Marvelman for their own ends.
7: And a possible seventh version, as Marvel Comics also own the rights to the name Miracleman.
All of the later versions ultimately have the same point of origin, that of L Miller’s original Marvelman, who first appeared in Marvelman #25. But even the original Marvelman character is not particularly pure in his origins. There has never been any secret about the fact that Marvelman is a straight copy of Captain Marvel and, although it was ultimately never finally proven in court, Captain Marvel was held to be a copy of Superman. And Superman, of course, was often said to be based on Philip Wylie’s Hugo Danner from Gladiator. I shall, eventually, be trying to decide who own which of these versions, but there’s a bit more stuff to get through first. Such as…
As far back as you care to look, there seems to be some previous incarnation that has influenced what came after. So I’m going to start by looking at their possible relationship to Marvelman, and any claim their creator or copyright holder might or might not have on the character. Then I’m going to run through a few of the other names that have become attached to the character, more or less in chronological order, before finally getting down to the handful of people and companies that are left, and attempting to come to some sort of final conclusion.
Philip Wylie’s Hugo Danner from Gladiator is often stated to be the source for Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman character, but there’s no real proof of this, it seems to me. It’s far more likely that it was simply one element amongst many others that influenced the young Jerry Siegel. In any case, the book is now in the public domain, having not had its copyright renewed in 1958. This is not to say it doesn’t play a part in the history of Marvelman, as it’s one of the books that Alan Moore read in preparation for writing Marvelman for Warrior in 1982, and Moore has a character refer to the Superman archetype as ‘Wylies’ in Supreme: The Return #6 (June 2000). There are even copies of the book in the artwork here and there throughout Moore’s work on Marvelman, as well as in Watchmen, so it’s apparent he placed a good deal of importance on its role in the history of the superhero in general, and of Marvelman in particular. But Hugo Danner is a forerunner of Marvelman in only the broadest sense. There were also two comics adaptations of Gladiator itself, firstly by Marvel, when they ran the first half of an adaptation of the novel, under the name Man-God, in Marvel Preview #9 in 1976, then another one in 2005, when Howard Chaykin wrote the four-part Legend (WildStorm Productions, April – July 2005), a close retelling of the story in comics form. The first two issues of the comic featured the words ‘Inspired by Philip Wylie’s novel Gladiator!!’ on the cover, but even that acknowledgement of its source was missing from the last two issues. Neither of these can be seen as having any bearing on the creation of Marvelman, though, or indeed on any other comic character.
Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman is the original superhero character, and is a direct forerunner of Marvelman, although through an intermediary, Captain Marvel. Of course, the case for Captain Marvel being a copy of Superman was never actually brought to a final conclusion in court, but it was settled in DC’s favour out of court, so we can pretty much take that as being a de facto admission of culpability on Fawcett’s part. When there was only one superhero character in comics, any other super-powered character was by default going to be seen as being derivative of it, and probably was derivative, at that. If Captain Marvel was created today, he would be only one of many super-powered comic characters, but in February 1940 there was no escaping the fact that he was created to try to cash in on the fame and popularity of Superman.
Both of those characters are now owned by DC Comics, so the conclusion that DC has some sort of a claim on the character of Marvelman is an easy assumption to make. However, there is also the fact that DC appear not to have objected to the character of Marvelman at any point, neither in its original incarnation in 1950s Britain, when the metaphorical distance between the two countries was far greater than it is now (and they could be forgiven for never having even heard of Marvelman), nor in its later version in the 1980s, which they definitely were aware of, as it was in great part because of his work on Marvelman that DC contacted Alan Moore in 1983 to offer him work writing Saga of the Swamp Thing. DC could presumably still claim that Marvelman was a copy of not just one, but two of their properties – Superman and Captain Marvel – but would they be allowed to proceed with a case, seeing that they had not previously raised any objection to the character’s existence? This is one of the questions I don’t have an answer to, but my own opinion would be that they wouldn’t get too far with a claim that one of their characters was copied over half a century ago, and they’d finally decided to do something about it. There has to be some sort of statute of limitations on this kind of claim, and it seem likely that it would have passed by now.
One of the cases involving Neil Gaiman and Todd McFarlane would seem to point at three years being the window for someone to take action after being made aware that copyright was being claimed on a work, and that three years has run out for DC, except on the most recent edition of Marvelman, that published in hardcover by Marvel from August 2010, although they must have been aware of Marvel’s claim on the copyright at least from when the announced it quite loudly and clearly at San Diego in September 2009, so perhaps that three-year window is now closed also. (And, if there’s a similar rule in the UK… but I’m getting ahead of myself!)
While there’s no direct proof that Captain Marvel was a copy of Superman – if we skip lightly past the online quote where Roscoe Kent Fawcett says, ‘I said, “Give me a Superman, only have his other identity be a ten or twelve-year-old boy rather than a man”,’ that is – there has never been any doubt that Marvelman is a direct copy of Captain Marvel. He was created to take over from his predecessor, even picking up the numbering of the comic Captain Marvel was vacating. Actually, Marvelman was less created than adapted, an older character made over into a newer one by the utterance of a magic word, somewhere halfway between Shazam! and Kimota! – Shimota!, perhaps, or Kazam! The name was changed, the costume was changed, the magic word was changed, but underneath all that Marvelman was still much more like than unlike Captain Marvel. However, Fawcett Publications had not objected to Marvelman in the 1950s, apparently because they were complicit in his creation, according to Arnold Miller, so again the chance to claim that Captain Marvel had been copied may now have expired. Fawcett Publications no longer exists, with various bits having been bought by CBS in 1977 and Ballantine in 1982. DC have owned the rights to Captain Marvel since 1991, at which point Eclipse was still publishing Neil Gaiman’s run on Miracleman, but DC didn’t pursue the fact that Miracleman was an acknowledged version of their newly-acquired character in 1991, perhaps because Gaiman was writing Sandman for them at that point, or perhaps because they simply weren’t interested in getting involved.
For all that people have speculated over the years that DC might have some sort of right to claim Marvelman as their own, DC have never actually made any such claim, nor have they ever had anything at all to say about the character one way or the other, to the very best of my knowledge. Maybe they’ve seen how much trouble it has caused others over the years, and are quite happy to have nothing to do with it, and if so, who could blame them?
A question I really would like to have an answer to is, what happened at the moment of Marvelman’s creation? And who was present to witness it? Like a lot of things in this book, there is more than one version of the story. For a long time the only version of the creation of Marvelman came from Mick Anglo, the story of how he got a phone call telling him that the Millers had a problem, and urgently needed him to help them to solve it. Fawcett were withdrawing the Captain Marvel material, which was the basis of several of the Millers’ best-selling titles. Anglo says he went back to his studio, gave it some thought, and created a ‘Brit clone’ of Captain Marvel, called it Marvelman, presented it to the Millers, and voila! the problem was solved. The thing is, I’ve never been entirely happy with that version of events, and it always puzzled me that this seemed to be the only public version of the creation of Marvelman that there was, and that no-one seemed to have bothered to get an opinion either from someone at Fawcett or from the Millers, certainly not that I had ever seen.
It’s true that L Miller and Son Ltd had been publishing various different titles featuring Captain Marvel, and that this was making them a lot of money, so it would not have been to their advantage to have to stop doing so. Even so, it seems odd that they would go ahead with publishing what was essentially a direct copy of a character belonging to another company, particularly a company they had a good working relationship with – and who they would continue to work with for another 10 years whilst they were publishing a copy of one of their properties – without actually talking to them about it first. I always wondered if it was possible that Fawcett were aware of Marvelman, and perhaps even had a hand in his creation. And, from my correspondence with Arnold Miller, this actually appears to have been the case. So, the two versions of Marvelman’s creation are: on one hand, Mick Anglo’s, and on the other, Arnold Miller’s.
Anglo says that he created the character for the Millers after being asked to help them out when they found out they were to have their supply of Captain Marvel material cut off. Arnold Miller says that, although Mick Anglo came up with the idea for Marvelman, it was under the instructions of the Millers, and sanctioned by Fawcett. Both of them agree that Anglo’s Gower Street Studios – rather than necessarily Anglo himself – produced the work, but if he was more or less instructed in what to create by the Millers, who can be said to be the creator? Further, if the character he created was a direct and calculated copy of a previous character, can the secondary character really even be said to be a wholly separate character and creation, and to be subject to the same legal protection as a completely original character? These are the sort of questions that have kept me awake at night for several years now!
So here, as far as I can make out, are the two different versions of the creation of Marvelman, with perhaps a little dramatic license of my own thrown in.
The Arnold Miller version: At some point between Judge Billings Learned Hand’s judgement in August 1951 that Captain Marvel was a copy of Superman and late 1953, Fawcett Comics informed L Miller and Son that they would no longer be supplying them with Captain Marvel material for the British market. However, as the Captain Marvel comics were some of L Miller’s most popular products, Miller and Fawcett decided between them that they would come up with a copy of him, and hope that the British comic reading public would buy it. After all, it would still be about the only superhero comic in Britain. To help them in this, they called on comics’ packager Mick Anglo and his Gower Street Studios to do the actual supplying of the material for publication, based on guidelines from the Millers and Fawcett, with further input from Anglo and others.
The Mick Anglo version: The Millers were informed by Fawcett in late 1953 – more than two years after Judge Billings Learned Hand’s judgement in August 1951 that Captain Marvel was a copy of Superman – that they would no longer be supplying them with Captain Marvel material for the British market. The Millers were in a panic, and begged Anglo to help them out, as they were about to lose their most lucrative comic character. Anglo went back to his studio, gave it some thought, and came up with Marvelman, which he then supplied the Millers with for the next six years.
In a way, neither of these versions of the story is entirely satisfactory, and the truth probably lies somewhere between the two. There may, in fact, be a third version of the story. The Don Lawrence website says,
Don Lawrence was one of the first artists working on Marvelman. Together with Norman Light and Denis Gifford he was involved with the creation of Britain’s first superhero. […] Don is the creator of the spin-off Marvelman Family, which he had made up all by himself.
The idea that Don Lawrence was in it right from the beginning seems to be corroborated by Anglo himself, who called him ‘The first of the Marvelman artists.’ It is entirely possible that, when Mick Anglo went back to his studios in Gower Street on that day in late 1953, after being briefed by Len Miller about what he and Fawcett had decided they wanted Anglo to do, that, rather than puzzle it out on his own, he called together a few of his best people, and that they all put their heads together to see what they could come up with, and there seems to be strong anecdotal evidence from both sides to suggest that Don Lawrence was one of those people.
According to Don Lawrence, the material that Mick Anglo supplied, which was produced in his Gower Street Studio, was often not just drawn but also written by artists like himself, with Anglo overseeing the operation. So, at that point, who owned the copyright to Marvelman, and to the individual work produced?
What everybody agrees on is that the Millers replaced Captain Marvel with Marvelman, starting with issue #25 in February 1954, using material supplied by Mick Anglo’s Gower Street Studio. All of the comics that Miller produced carried a standard copyright notice to the effect that all stories and illustrations were the copyright of the publisher. That publisher was L Miller, of course. Although there is not a specific notice to the effect that the actual characters are copyright to Miller, there is certainly no notice that they are copyright to anyone else, and I think it’s safe to assume that the copyright notice for the stories and illustration was meant to extend to the characters in those stories as well. If nothing else, in the Britain of the nineteen fifties, rightly or wrongly, the rights for any characters published in comics would be automatically the property of the publisher, and even the concept – let alone the reality – of creators’ rights in the comics they created would probably have been virtually unknown. And again, it seems unlikely to me that the rights to Marvelman were Mick Anglo’s at that time, that he had somehow managed to end up owning the rights to a set of characters that was created at the behest of a publisher he was already doing work for on a work-for-hire basis, none of which other work is claimed as his. Fawcett, meanwhile, may or may not have had a hand in the creation of Marvelman, but they couldn’t exactly turn around and claim the character as their own, as that would mean they were acknowledging that they were in direct breach of their agreement not to publish any Captain Marvel material. It seems to me that, at that time, the only copyright notice that has any legal bearing on the character, and indeed the only one that actually existed, is the one claiming those rights for the publisher, L Miller and Son. Later on, though, circumstances would change, perhaps allowing Mick Anglo to claim the copyright for himself.
In September 1974 L Miller and Co (Hackney) Ltd was wound up, and ceased to exist. They had stopped publishing comics by 1966, and sold off a lot of their comics-related property then, some of it to Alan Class and Co Ltd, leading people to speculate that he might somehow have gained the rights to Marvelman. There is no evidence of any kind to support this speculation, however, and there has certainly never been any claim to this effect that I have ever seen on the part of Alan Class himself, who is now retired. And even though one of the directors of the Millers’ company, Arnold Miller, is still alive, this doesn’t mean he somehow automatically inherited the rights to Marvelman when the company was wound up, as that’s just not the way it works. It appears more likely that the rights to Marvelman simply weren’t thought of as being of any consequence, either in 1966 or in 1974. After all, it had run its course, and there was no commercial interest in it, nor any reason to expect that there would be in the future, just like lots of other comic characters from that time, the rest of whom remain largely lost and unloved. So, as the rights appear not to have been assigned to anyone, or sold to anyone, and the company that owned them was now no longer in existence, what can have become of those rights?
The legal position seems to be that that the rights would have become Bona Vacantia, which means ‘unowned goods.’ According to Wikipedia,
Bona Vacantia is partly a common law doctrine and partly found in statute. It governs property of deceased persons with no known heirs, the property of defunct companies and some failed trust property. In England and Wales, the Bona Vacantia Division of the Treasury Solicitor’s Department of the UK Government is responsible for dealing with bona vacantia assets except in the Duchy of Lancaster or the Duchy of Cornwall.
It is possible that the rights to Marvelman might not have become Bona Vacantia, if nobody even knew there were rights to the property to deal with. What I mean is, how could the Bona Vacantia Division deal with the rights to Marvelman if it didn’t even know about those rights? There is another old legal concept, called Res Nullius, which might cover this instead. Wikipedia says this about it:
Res Nullius (literally: nobody’s property) is a Latin term derived from Roman law whereby ‘Res’ (an object in the legal sense, anything that can be owned, even a slave, but not a subject in law such as a citizen) is not yet the object of rights of any specific subject. Such items are considered ownerless property and are usually free to be owned.
And an online Legal Dictionary adds this (with emphasis by myself):
RES NULLIUS. A thing which has no owner.
A thing which has been abandoned by its owner is as much res nullius as if it had never belonged to any one.
So, did anyone actually own Marvelman?
Next week, I want to further examine Mick Anglo’s part in the creation of Marvelman, along with others.
To Be Continued…