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Thursday, March 01, 2012

Afronerd Welcomes A New Writer To The Fold! Introducing Ms. Melanie Yorke-The Topic?...Spawn vs Sandman: The Legal Edition!

Spawn & Sandman Smackdown Ceases

It looks as though the long running legal battle between Todd McFarlane and Neil Gaiman over copyright issues has finally come to an end. For over a decade, the two have been arguing in court over the precise level of ownership of several characters in the Spawn comics. For those who don’t remember, Spawn, or to use his real name, Al Simmons is one of the world’s true African-American anti-heroes and went on to further ‘spawn’ the movie version of the comic in 1997, where prominent actor Michael Jai White played his character. There are currently rumors that McFarlane is considering a remake of the original Spawn movie, but only if he can maintain full control in terms of writing, editing and production. Whether it comes to fruition is another story.


The Spawn comic was so popular on first release it could be found on coffee tables everywhere and in 1993 Spawn had been running for several months and was gaining even more popularity with its readers. In a bid to boost the comic’s profile – and to counter some criticisms of bad writing – McFarlane brought on several high-profile writers to write a single issue for the series. As well as Gaiman, who at the time was riding high on the success of Sandman, Alan Moore, Frank Miller and Dave Sim each contributed an issue to the series. In Gaiman’s issue, #9 of the series, he introduced three characters in order to expand the world McFarlane had created.
Angela was an angel introduced to act as a moral mirror to Spawn; where he was a soldier working for Hell, she was a bounty hunter under the command of God and Heaven.

Cogliostro was introduced as a kind of mentor, providing Spawn with information and guidance regarding his newfound abilities, principally informing him that the necroplasm – the source of his power and extended life – is finite and once it is expended his soul becomes forfeit to Hell. Medieval Spawn (later named Sir John of York) was introduced to provide a counterpoint to how Spawn was expected to serve Hell, as instead of murdering to swell Hell’s army, he had attempted to attain redemption through good deeds before he was killed by Angela.


It was always intended that the characters would continue to be used within the series, but the issue of character ownership and subsequent royalty payments was never clearly established in writing at the outset, only that McFarlane promised to treat Gaiman “better than the big guys” did. The initial agreement was for Gaiman’s rights to the characters to be relinquished in return for being granted the rights to Miracleman, which Gaiman wrote until the title’s publisher Eclipse went bankrupt. McFarlane had bought the assets of Eclipse in the bankruptcy and Gaiman was eager to continue the series.

However, a couple of months after the transfer took place July 1997; McFarlane filed trademark and intent to use applications for Miracleman. After a lengthy series of back-and-forth faxes heatedly arguing the issue, Gaiman sued McFarlane for fraud and breach of contract. Additionally, since the characters were subsequently used without Gaiman’s permission or any royalty payments, he also sued McFarlane for damages.
When the case came to court in 2002, McFarlane claimed that Gaiman’s writing had been work for hire and as such he was not entitled to royalty payments or rights to created characters. The judge ruled the argument invalid as there was never any contract of employment drawn up between McFarlane and Gaiman. The ruling was upheld by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in February 2004.

Further Developments

In addition to the three characters introduced in issue #9, in May 2010 Gaiman claimed partial ownership of Dark Ages Spawn (later named Lord Covenant), as he was derived from Medieval Spawn, as well as the angels Tiffany and Domina, both derived from Angela. The presiding judge Barbara Crabbe considered Dark Ages Spawn to be at best a derivation, and at worst a renaming of the same character in an attempt to circumvent copyright issues. Highlighting the transparency, she eloquently pointed out that “If defendant really wanted to differentiate the new Hellspawn, why not make him a Portuguese explorer in the 16th century, an officer of the Royal Navy in the 18th century, an idealistic recruit of Simon Bolivar in the 19th century, a companion of Odysseus on his voyages, a Roman gladiator, a younger brother of Emperor Nakamikado in the early 18th century, a Spanish conquistador, an aristocrat in the Qing dynasty, an American Indian warrior, or a member of the court of Queen Elizabeth I?”

Final Resolutions

Any further possible appeals by McFarlane have been rendered ineligible now that a settlement has finally been agreed. Its precise details have not been disclosed, but it upholds the ruling that Gaiman is now 50% owner of Spawn issues #9 and #26, the latter linking the story to a spinoff series starring Angela, the first three issues Gaiman now also has equal ownership of. That this case even came to exist in the first place is somewhat ironic in that McFarlane’s Image Comics was originally founded as a way of maintaining creator-owned works, acting against the standard work for hire contracts of DC and Marvel that meant writers and artists had no rights to any of the work they did. Gaiman stated that the final ruling was “huge in terms of what the nature of dual copyright in comics is. What is copyrightable in comics is now something that there is a definite legal precedent for.”

Melanie Yorke

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