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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Marvelman: What's the Worst That Could Happen? Wait, It Just Did -- Anyone interested in creator's rights, or even just good superhero comics, must have thrown up in their mouths a little bit, like I did, with the news that Marvel Comics has acquired the rights to Marvelman.

Marvelman, which was published in the States in the 1980s by Eclipse as Miracleman is one of, if not the, most compelling superhero stories ever created, by some of the most gifted creators in superhero history, including Alan Moore, Alan Davis, and John Totleben. Due to a monumental kerfuffle of rights issues and confusions, the series has been (ironically, if you've ever read it) in limbo seemingly forever, and I'm sure most "fans" will see this as the happy ending they've long waited for.

Uh, no.

Marvel Comics has a long history of not doing right by creators, and of screwing up the creative properties they control. That's not a recipe for the happy ending we should all be rooting for, which would mean that the series comes back into print with the blessing and cooperation of Alan Moore and everyone else that worked on it. (I'm not discussing the pre-Moore era or the rights of creator Mick Anglo because I don't care about the former, and while I am glad Anglo is getting compensated, he's not the man who created the stories anyone involved cares about, most especially Marvel Comics.)

I'll be happy to be wrong if Marvel announces that Moore, Totleben and the rest are being fairly compensated for their landmark work, so much so that they are behind the revival effort 100% and the clouds part and the angels sing.

But that's very likely not going to happen. Chances are, based on observing Marvel and Moore for the past, oh, most of my life, that Marvel is doing this in part because it's a backdoor method of publishing some of Moore's best and most-loved work without actually having the ethics and decency required for Moore to be willing to partner with you in a mutually-beneficial publishing arrangement that serves well the needs of the publisher, the creators, the characters and the readers.

See also Marvel's previous reprints of Captain Britain; see also, over at DC, well, anything of Moore's, these days, from Watchmen to Swamp Thing to Absolute Promethea.

Alan Moore's publisher of choice for his comics work these days is Top Shelf. I point this out not because they advertise on this site (but hey, thanks, Chris and Brett!), but because it's a stone-cold motherfucking fact: Marvel and DC have both screwed, and screwed with, Alan Moore, many times in the past. DC much more so than Marvel, admittedly, but this may be the event that allows Marvel to catch up.

No, unless Alan Moore and the other creators involved in Marvelman's most vital and important stories are all on-board with this revival attempt, unless everyone involved is fairly compensated and given a proper say in how things go forward, then whatever Marvelman "product" issues forth from Marvel is no more valid or significant than Todd McFarlane's misbegotten Man of Miracles action figure, or Checker Publishing's hideously-reproduced Supreme collections. If you wonder why Alan Moore hates the comic book industry so much, man, you're just not paying attention. From the largest to the smallest, almost every publisher has tried to hook on to his coattails without earning the right, and this strikes me as just the latest attempt, even if it is the splashiest one in quite some time.

This is all a bunch of bullshit, people, and nothing short of a joint Alan Moore/Joe Quesada press conference in which they shake hands and Moore smiles a lot will change my mind.



Blogger MrCynical said...

Quick question:

While DC has certainly been worse to Moore than Marvel (for no other reason than sheer volume of material), isn't it fair to say that both companies are equally bad when it comes to creators' rights? Or am I misinformed on this issue?

26 July, 2009 09:43  
Blogger Alan David Doane said...

That probably is true. but DC certainly has heaped the larger amount of deliberate, insulting and punitive abuse on Moore...so far.

26 July, 2009 10:31  
Blogger Rick said...

Aren't there contracts signed that would indicate who owns what property? Generally speaking, doesn't Marvel/DC have the primary rights to anything published under their banner? It's an unfair system but it isn't a secret either. I don't know the details of Moore's relationship with the Big Two, but maybe he should have had the insight not to have worked with them in the first place... right? Or are contracts being blatantly disregarded?

27 July, 2009 00:24  
Blogger Alan David Doane said...


The history of the "Big Two," is a history of lies, betrayals and broken promises. It's very easy in 2009 to say "maybe he should have had the insight not to have worked with them in the first place," about Alan Moore and a thousand other creators who have been screwed, blued and tattooed (as Mom used to say), but the fact of the matter is that it's far more complex than that, and if you truly have an interest in the subject, then you owe it to yourself to do some research.

Just one example, relevant to this post: Are you aware that, prior to Watchmen, no superhero graphic novel (and there were few enough of those anyway) was ever kept permanently in print? And that DC's contract with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons said that the rights to the work would revert to Moore and Gibbons once the book had (as all superhero graphic novels had in the past) gone out of print?

Then the work proved to transcend all previous precedent, and instead of keeping with the spirit of the written contract (there was absolutely NO historical reason at the time not to think Moore and Gibbons would not be given ownership of the work under this contract: it's what Moore and Gibbons AND DC all expected to happen), the company kept the book in print, so far, quite permanently. To the extent that that goes, that's understandable enough; it's a hugely popular work. Where DC falls down in this example is in not somehow compensating Moore and Gibbons for the unexpected success of the work that changed the conditions under which the contract was written. Legally, of course, DC had the right to do what they wanted. But from a business and ethical standpoint, what they did was monumentally stupid: They permanently soured Moore on working for them (through this and many other actions -- look up the "promotional" Watchmen watches, or the pulping of an issue of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, or the Tomorrow Stories story that Top Shelf had to publish because DC didn't have the courage -- which I believe is how Moore ended up there; anyway, LOOK STUFF UP AND FIND OUT FOR YOURSELF).

Dig out some old Comics Journals, Google creators rights, read some interviews with the injured parties, find out for yourself what those of us who have been watching the industry for decades are talking about.

Find out what happened to Marv Wolfman when he made a claim to ownership of Blade. Find out how vague and meaningless the idea of "Copyright," in comics was, especially prior to 1974. Do you know about the back-of-paycheck agreements the companies made creators sign in order to get paid? Did you know some of them regularly crossed it out, because they didn't agree with it? I could go on all day.

A lot of injustice and malfeasance has been committed by corporate comics companies against the very people who make it possible for them to exist, but if the readers who enjoy their product would make an effort to understand the long and thorny history of corporate comics and creators rights, maybe those readers would think twice about blindly supporting the large corporations that have done so much harm to the people who created the very product in question.

27 July, 2009 05:39  
Blogger Patrick Joseph said...

Alan David Doane:

The next time someone on a message board trots out some piece of ill-informed homespun pro-corporate libertarian, "corporations are people too" justification for why X creator needs to shut up so they can read their Rom/MiracleMan/Zenith/Superman comics without a guilty conscience, can I cut and paste this response?


Patrick Joseph

27 July, 2009 08:42  
Blogger Alan David Doane said...

Feel free, Patrick, although I'd appreciate a link back to this post.

27 July, 2009 08:46  
Blogger nicholas said...

Well, I don't have all the facts, obviously, but I do know that the last few interviews I've read with Moore, he makes a big point to mention that his goal with the Miracleman stuff is to make sure that Mick Anglo is taken care of; Maybe he had something to do with this? Or at least helped? Also, from reading his blog, it sounds like Neil Gaiman is also involved in this, so there's at least involvement from one of the other parties involved in the creation of the Eclipse/Warrior/etc stories.

27 July, 2009 12:08  
Blogger William Gatevackes said...

From what I've been told about British copyright law, everybody that is happy about finally getting the Eclipse Miracleman's re-collected is going to be out of luck. As I understand it, since Moore was the creator of those issues of Miracleman, the rights to those issues, at the very least, belong to him. So they will not be reprinted unless he says so.

So, all that Marvel could really have is the rights to Mick Anglo's Marvelman, in other words, a pricey distaff version of Fawcett's Captain Marvel. I could be wrong and I apologize if I am, but that's the way I understand it.

I also hope that Neil Gaiman didn't get screwed in this as well. Wasn't his work on 1602 and Eternals to raise money for his fight for the Miracleman rights?

27 July, 2009 13:54  
Blogger bob said...

"distaff version"? Quite the opposite, since Mary Marvel was turned into Kid Marvelman...

Anyway, the only public statement I've heard from Moore is pretty deferential to the position of following Mick Anglo's wishes regarding the character (down to pledging a significant amount of his financial interest to Anglo). Whether anyone got him to put that down on paper, and whether it holds even with Marvel now involved is an open question, but I'm guessing if there are legal complications they probably won't come from Moore's corner.

27 July, 2009 17:29  
Blogger Hugh said...

I think you are way off base on this. From what I understand Marvel are looking to get approval from all creators involved in Marvel/Miracleman and compensate them all before reprinting their work. I think that this is the main reason they were unwilling to discuss or even speculate about how they are hoping to exploit the property this weekend.

Marvel has a good relationship with Neil Gaiman, and it appears that this deal arose out of the company's involvement with Marvels and Miracles Llc,the legal entity Gaiman set up to sort out the Marvelman mess. In that context it would be very surprising to me if Gaiman didnt at least know that this deal was happening.

Quesada went out of his way to praise Gaiman, Moore, Buckingham and Leach in his announcement of the deal. Whatever about Marvel history as a corporation, Quesada himself seems to be sincere about his respect for these folks and I don't think he would involve himself in dome sort of grab of this character and reprinting the Warrior material without approval from the creators.

This property is potentially hugely lucrative for Marvel and I am sure they realise it. Just republishing the old material would be hugely profitable, given both the pent-up demand and example of similar titles like Watchmen, V for Vendetta or Sandman which have had record long-term consistent sales.
Then there's the potential for new interpretations be it new comics or other media such as film, which is astronomical in terms of potential profit.

Marvel is run by smart people these days who seem to be quite aware of the importance of good talent relations. I think its very hard to see a scenario where they would jeopardise the potential future profitability of this property by alienating the original creators.

I think the only real jeopardy is that Moore may just refuse outright to make any agreement with Marvel, which of course would lead to a tricky situation. But given that Marvel continues to publish Captain Britain trades with his permission that possibility seems remote to me.

27 July, 2009 23:32  
Blogger Alan David Doane said...

I'd love it if you're right, Hugh, but you undermine your own argument with references to profit and "exploiting the property." History teaches us that these will be the ultimate deciders of how Marvel acts in regard to Marvelman (or anything else), not ethics, decency or even common sense.

That said, I am as eager as anyone alive to own a nice set of hardcover collections of Alan Moore's Marvelman (honestly the only thing I like about Gaiman's run is the two BWS covers), and I will be more than happy -- over the moon, in fact -- to write a followup post admitting I was wrong, if indeed Moore and his collaborators are all fairly compensated for their work and treated with respect and dignity by a company that stands to make millions by, as you say, "exploiting" their work.

Only time will tell, True Believer.

28 July, 2009 04:20  
Blogger Hugh said...

I'm sorry but I dont see why there is a contradiction between "exploiting the property" and "ethics, decency or even common sense".

Indeed, I think for Marvel to fully realise the potential of this acquisition they must be very careful to respect the original creators. If they didnt any future Marvelman material would be tainted with a sense of illegitimacty in the eyes of many fans and that would damage the future potential of the property severely over the long run. Everything Ive seen thus far seems to suggest that Marvel is aware of this and they are sensitive to the pitfalls here.

Also another big aspect of this that you are ignoring is that the potential return on this deal cuts both ways. I imagine that most of the creators are anxious to have this material reprinted too - as long as they are treated with respect and adequately compensated.

Marvel is the largest and most successful comics publisher, so while it may not have been the publisher of choice for all the creators, there is no doubt that there are advantages to being published and promoted by them.

I think that for the first time in about twenty years there seems to be a real chance for a good resolution to this situation. Remember that up until now the character has been tied up in legal uncertainties and the creators have seen no return on their original acclaimed work.

Ultimately maybe Marvel may act unethically, but I just think that we should save our indignation until that happens.

28 July, 2009 07:48  
Blogger Alan David Doane said...

"Ultimately maybe Marvel may act unethically, but I just think that we should save our indignation until that happens."

If it hadn't happened again and again for the past half-century, I'd be inclined to agree with you. If you were born yesterday, though, I understand and envy your optimism and naivete.

28 July, 2009 08:31  
Blogger Grant, the Hipster Dad said...

All the goodwill in the world towards Moore, Gaiman and the artists won't change the other problems. The costume, and the MM logo in the 1980s series, is demonstrably not the same as the one that Mick Anglo created. If you go to Marvel's site, you'll see Marvel has used the different 1950s MM logo for a reason: Mick Anglo doesn't own the trademarked image of Marvelman as he appeared in the 1980s series, with that logo. Todd McFarlane owns the trademark on the logo and costume, which is why he can market figures with that depiction and nobody can call him on it. McFarlane's rights to the copyright on Marvel/Miracleman - the character - are in question, but the trademark is different. He got that when he bought Eclipse's intellectual property.

The other thing is that Dez Skinn most certainly owns the rights to the character of Big Ben, who appears in three of the Warrior episodes. Marvel cannot reprint those episodes without Skinn's agreement.

28 July, 2009 08:49  
Blogger hughsheridan said...

Alan David Doane said...
"I understand and envy your optimism and naivete."

Its not naivete - in just cold calculation terms it would be crazy of Marvel to jeopardise this potential goldmine by alienating these creators.

Also I think they actually cant legally reprint the Warrior material at least without permission from the creators. Isnt that the case with all British comics work? remember Marvel had to get Moore's agreement before they could republish his
Captain Britain work.

Grant, the Hipster Dad said:
"Dez Skinn most certainly owns the rights to the character of Big Ben"

Yes and theres also the potentially more problematic issue of the Warpsmiths who arguably make a more important contribution to the series.

Clearly there are a lot of legal issues yet to sort out.

28 July, 2009 09:38  
Blogger Ken Dynamo said...

i love the cynical approach but this is also ignoring all the good marvel and dc have done for creators throughout history. it cuts both ways. also your definition of "fair compensation" doesnt exist. alan moore didnt like the deals is was getting with dc and marvel, so he stopped doing them and found deals he prefered. each one he made was "fair". the fact that dc keeps printing more editions of watchmen also helps keep moore popular enough so he can go out and essentially self publish stuff like Lost Girls.

marvel and dc should get called out when they start pulling bs, but lets not over romanticize the plight of the creator either.

29 July, 2009 10:55  
Blogger Vinnie Bartilucci said...

I've said it on a lot of other places, including my own blog; Marvel DESPERATELY wanted to make this announcement at SanDiego, and they went with what they had. They might well be able to get what people really want, they might well be able to make enough money at it that ALL the people who worked on it will get a nice payday (Steve Bissette reports that John Totelben sorely needs it) and the fans will get a nice product. Just not any time soon.

I forsee a LOOOOnnnng waiting period, and I'm all but positive Todd will poke his nose in.

Right now, Marvel appears to have the rights to something few people care about, and don't have the rights to the thing people DO care about.

29 July, 2009 14:30  

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