The webcomics blog about webcomics

Let’s See If I Can Keep Up With This

So, Rich Burlew crossed the threshold for the #5 all-time Kickstarter fundraising total sometime overnight. Then somewhere around 9:30am (GMT-5) today, he lost it again, because coming out of nowhere is the campaign for Double Fine‘s next videogame, which set the record for 24 hours of fundraising and highest number of backers and is, as of this writing, literally adding backers and dollars faster than I can refresh the project page.

If you have to fall behind on a landmark achievement, at least there’s no shame when these guys are in the game; at present rates of growth, somewhat less than 48 hours will be necessary for Double Fine to become the all-time highest fundraising total on Kickstarter, and it keeps picking up steam0. As I write this sentence, they’re over US$868,000¹, having added at a rate of more than US$60,000 per hour since I started paying close attention a couple hours ago.

And, since as we all know Double Fine are slightly associated with Scott C, it’s all in the webcomics family.

Did I mention that Burlew’s campaign is (again, as I write this) over 1000% funding? Or that Rich Stevens had cleared 400% of goal in 24 hours? These are exciting times for creator-owned (in the case of Burlew and Stevens) and boutique/creator-driven (in the case of Double Fine) works; in case you were unconvinced on that point, allow me to direct your attention to this story.

Short form:

A guy named Gary Friedrich created the character of Ghost Rider for Marvel comics. You know, tortured motorcyclist, head on fire, spirit of divine retribution, all that. Couple zillion comics sold, big movie with Nicolas Cage, and a sequel about to hit theaters, all owned by the comics division of Disney, the multi-billion dollar company.

As with many creators, the gigs fell away and today Friedrich has no residuals, no pension, and no material benefit from having created such a lucrative property. He’s been selling prints of Ghost Rider to keep from being entirely destitute, and sued Marvel for a fraction of the worth that he created for them.

Clearly, this could not stand. Marvel countersued for the value of those prints, and as of today, have won a US$17,000 judgment against Friedrich². Also, he cannot ever say that he created Ghost Rider.

You can make all the arguments you want about Well, he didn’t have to sign a work-for-hire contract and Nobody forced him. Fine. Out of your system? Explain to me what benefit Marvel receives from enjoining Friedrich from stating a true fact. Explain to me how the Marvel/Disney corporate legal team could have possibly spent less than US$17K, and how spending more money than you receive can serve any purpose other than to punish Freidrich for having the temerity to say Hey, this deal is pretty lopsided, out of simple human decency and a sense of fairness would you re-negotiate?.

Where would Friedrich be if he owned Ghost Rider? What kind of hellish poverty will Burlew, Stevens, and the entire crew of Double Fine be much more likely to avoid simply because they’re not beholden to a publisher³ that demanded complete ownership of the things in their heads? How entirely malevolent does an entire segment of the publishing industry have to be that Rich Stevens has a brighter future by giving away4 something he owns than Friedrich and countless others have had by cashing checks for things they should have, but didn’t?

_______________
0 So to speak.

¹ Probably hit US$900,000 by the time I’m ready to post.

² Money he doesn’t have; cf: destitute.

³ Can publishers be useful? Absolutely — take a look at TopatoCo, which does not demand total ownership of properties it publishes, because Jeff and Holly realize that is entirely out of proportion to the risk they assume in capital and effort to bring things to print. This is because they are decent human beings.

4 From the second update to his Kickstarter:

I am definitely going to be able to do my collections and offer them as DRM-free, payment-optional downloads.

I offer Robert Fripp’s record label Discipline Global Mobile as another model of a non-exploitative publisher:

http://www.dgmlive.com/about.htm

I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching about this lately, because I can see both sides here. On the one side you have the world of real people. Creators who are facing real problems. Bankruptsy, medical bills, mortgages. And it’s just so crazy to think that a person experiencing those problems created something that’s earning millions in the box office and he receives none of it.

On the other side you have a world of corporations and properties. And the very real laws that are involved for a corporation to own and exploit those properties for profit.

Can a corporation feel sorry for a guy, and set a precedent of giving him some money without dismantling their entire business? Once they decide that one creator who worked under very bad practices in the 50s,60s,70s is due a percentage of profits because, shit, they created the character, won’t that set the precedent that all other creators who worked under such practices are also owed?

Another big question I have is…what was this guy doing since Ghost Rider? Did he just have one idea? That was it? Just the one? Could he not create anything else? Try something else? Retain ownership?

I think that speaks to a lot of it. How many people even know who created Ghost Rider before this article came out? How much of what Ghost Rider is at this point is because of that one creator and how much of it is because of years and years of development across 100 other creators?

If Marvel gives this guy a chunk, don’t they owe a chunk to every person who ever contributed to Ghost Rider?

The flip side to this story, of creators working under unfair practices and not ending up like the Seigels or the Kirbys or this guy, is Image. They said screw it and left and started their own companies and made their own creator-owned stuff.

I think this is a sad story. I think it’s tragic that there are artists struggling while they watch their creations dance across a now a corporate owned blockbuster movie, but I think it’s just more complicated than “he created it, so he gets a percentage.”

I’ve met Gary on several occasions, very nice guy, we even have a signed pint glass. He was just another reminder of the shady work for hire stuff back then. These guys NEVER signed contracts, they did sign checks. And apparently on the backs of those checks was a little agreement saying whatever work they did do was fully owned by marvel. That means no royalties. For Jack Kirby too.

Marvel is different now though. They DO offer royalties and licensing deals with some artists. I spoke with one well known Marvel artist on a plane once who told me he was shocked when he got a check in the mail for some one off licensing work he did for like a Hulk lunch bag. It wasn’t peanuts either.

Regardless of who owns the character, etc, it seems excessive for Marvel to say that Gary can’t claim he’s the creator when everybody in the industry knows he did.

You know, there really are NOT that many creators left to pay off or thank with $$$. Shit, marvel has been regurgitating the same stuff Jack created to save their asses. There’s a reason there’s nothing new there. (or dc for that matter)- they could solve this outcry by setting up some sort of ethical grant to old timers as a simple THANK YOU!

Toss out all the legal mumbo, and asses would be covered by simply saying:

“dear Gary Freidrich, even though legally we own your creation, we want to grant you this check for 1 million dollars as a token of gratitude to a comics legend who helped create something that has went on to become a successful franchise” or some such thing. Share the wealth, even just a little of it. Drop in the bucket to Disney/ marvel.

Instead the lawyers make Marvel look horrible by demanding 17,000 from Gary. Jesus. And regardless of who owns it, you can’t change who created it. Why take that one thing from the guy?

I think because they can’t.

The problem is opening doors. It’s why Disney goes after some local daycare for having a snow white logo. It’s not to protect themselves from the daycare. It’s to protect themselves from the big corp who will use them letting the daycare off as precedent.

Look at all these patent wars and such. It just had to work that way. It’s may not be possible for Marvel/Disney to give him what he asked for.

When we submitted the PvP animated series to Xbox live for streaming we had to take out an insurance policy to protect Microsoft from being sued inatead of us over an issue. Because people go after the deepest pockets.

Disney is not a person anymore. Marvel and WB are not people. They can not be expected to act like people.

What are you talking about?!? Mitt Romney said corporations are people!

I totally get the corporate law side. It would be nice if they could counter balance it with their own “Hero Iniative” to take care of these old timers. Even if they only saw it from a PR / marketing initiative. The “Hey, we aren’t 100% evil” plan

There might be more to this story than we’re getting. The ideal move for Marvel would have been to settle out of court with Gary, throwing in a non disclosure agreement. Get him a check, buy a little positive PR, have him available for interviews to help hype the movie.
There is an outside possibility that Gary is the problem in this case – maybe he wants the record to show that he’s the sole creator. Only problem is there’s other creators out there contradicting his story. Really, we don’t know on this part. But should Marvel be suing him? Hell no. It’s incredibly toxic PR.
Meanwhile, we do realize that he did this all in the ’70s? To say that Image is the answer is a heap of BS. There was no independent answer back then. And to say that he should have just kept creating? That’s a pretty crass thing to say, considering the guy’s life. He wasn’t a one-trick pony.

Darren, for Ghost Rider specifically, yes. You’re right. But what has Gary been doing SINCE the 70’s? Did he only have one idea? He created the Ghost Rider, which is now a movie that he is claiming could not have existed if not for him. So clearly he’s got the talent to come up with at least ONE OTHER idea in the last 40 years?

I think that Image comparison is valid in the sense that it shows a work-for-hire artist has the ability to leave that environment and create an almost exact analog of what he made at the work-for-hire company and do well for himself.

Venom with a cape is kinda spawn. WildC.A.T.S. were X-men analogs, etc. It’s not like Marvel prevented this guy from creating for the last 40 years.

All I’m saying is that Marvel might be prevented from acting “human” in this matter for a number of reasons that don’t include them being corporate, soul-less monsters who want to crush all creator’s rights.

It’s just more complicated that “It’s not fair.”

Scott, if you’re going to keep bashing on this guy, can you at least read his wiki? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gary_Friedrich
And if you need the Cliff Notes version of a Cliff Notes site, the answer to why he stopped creating after 1970 was: Alcoholism.
I was trying to politely be subtle about that, but that’s what knocked out most of his creative career after he was 35 years old.
Image is a valid option now, as are webcomics. But Image in the 1980s wasn’t going to bring in a 55-year-old utility writer.

Well, Gary wrote a lot of things for other companies back in the day. I feel like it was before the idea of “creator owned” anything. Not to mention, he’s a WRITER, so it’s not like the founders from Image who could run off and just draw up their own creations. Anyways, you can read all about Gary here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gary_Friedrich

If anyone wants to help… via Steve Niles http://www.steveniles.com/gary.html

the real world is horrible

[...] cbr and fleen Short [...]

[...] rights and are totally free to exploit their work according to their own path. Gary Tyrrell at Fleen has some thoughts on Friedrich&rsquos [...]

Darren,

I want to make it very VERY clear that I am not BASHING Gary. I find this story to be completely and utterly tragic. But that doesn’t mean that the situation is as simple as “Marvel is evil, Gary is a victim, Marvel and Nic Cage should give him a million each.”

Neal Adams spoke it best. And he acknowledged that Marvel probably wishes they could help Gary and would if they could. And that’s a very metered and realistic response to this.

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