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Prepare To Be Adapted: Raiders Of The Creators Rights

Life has been hectic the last few weeks, so this installment is going to be a shrunken down version. Please forgive me … no gypsy or Native American curses please. ACT I Creator ownership can be a tricky beast. In some media, the ownership of the intellectual property is pretty clear. Books? The standard is […]

Life has been hectic the last few weeks, so this installment is going to be a shrunken down version. Please forgive me … no gypsy or Native American curses please.

ACT I

Creator ownership can be a tricky beast. In some media, the ownership of the intellectual property is pretty clear.

Books? The standard is for the author to own the characters. Film and television? There are exceptions from time to time, but usually those who fund it own it. That is why it can be so hard to continue a canceled show. J. Michael Straczynski has been noted saying that he would love to have “Crusade” continue in some fashion, but the rights have been tied up.

But there is a four-color creative medium that isn’t so clear: comic books.

In the past, writers had to be creative mercenaries with the only choice as writing work for hire. In the ’70s that standard started to change as the creator-owned comic books trend started up. Now creator-owned comics is pretty much a given for any book that isn’t from the Big Two (Marvel and DC) or a licensed property (“Star Wars,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” etc). Even the Big Two have dabbled in the creator-owned rights waters.

Last month there was promising comic book sales news announced at New York Comic-Con. Graphic novel sales in the United States and Canada made $375 million in 2007, which is an increase of 12 percent over the previous year. Even better, single-issue sales hit $330 million last year, which is nearly a 10 percent jump from 2006. These numbers are great news.

No, this isn’t the “golden age” of comics, but it is an improvement over previous years. Not bad considering competition like DVDs and video games.

Combine the increase in sales with the increase in movies/TV properties based on comic books, and this is a great time to be a comic book creator. Too bad for those older creators who rarely see a cut in the profits, much less be credited as the creator of the character. But these creators aren’t going to give up without a fight.

There have been a number of legal battles in the last couple of decades. In 2002, McFarlane had a highly publicized legal battle with Neil Gaiman. Back in 1993, Gaiman was contracted to write “Spawn” No. 9 and introduced a number of characters in the book: Cogliostro, Angela, and Medieval Spawn. Originally McFarlane agreed that Gaiman was a co-creator and paid him royalties, but later changed his mind revoking those rights. Things came to head in a lawsuit not just over Gaiman’s rights over those characters, but also another character that McFarlane believed he owned after buying out Eclipse Comics. In the end Gaiman was granted 50 percent ownership of those Spawn characters with the rights on the other character ? Miracleman ? still in legal limbo.

But the big legal fight right now is the battle over Superman. In 1973, Superman creators Siegel and Shuster launched a lawsuit claiming ownership of Superman. I don’t have room in today’s column to go into detail, but fast-forward to March 26, 2008 (after Shuster’s death in 1992 and Siegel’s death in 1996) and the Californian federal court rule that Siegel’s estate is entitled to claim a share in the U.S. copyright. There was a similar lawsuit with Superboy, which was ruled in the favor of Siegel’s wife and daughter, but then later reversed.

What does this ruling mean? Will it just be reversed like the similar lawsuit with Superboy? Some have speculated that this means that Siegel’s wife and daughter could sell the version of Superman in “Action Comics” No. 1 to another publisher like Marvel Comics. Wouldn’t that be crazy?

But Superman ain’t the only legal fight going on. Writer Joe Simon has been having his own copyright dispute with Marvel Comics over Captain America. The Superman legal battle actually inspired him to declare his legal challenge in 1999.

Are these legal claims fair or just writers-for-hire that regret taking quick cash for properties that could have made them millionaires? What do you think?

ACT II

Now a quick peek at adaptation news …

Comic Book Movie reported that actor Gerald Okamura has been cast to play Hard Master, the ninja that taught both Storm Shadow and Snake-Eyes ninjitsu.

Rich Johnston claims that “Kick-Ass” Mark Millar’s creator-owned comic book is in preproduction for the big screen.

Not only is “Farscape” returning with Webisodes, but it also returning as a comic book at Boom! studios.

A “Black Panther” primetime animated series will be leaping onto BET next year.

J. Michael Straczynski told a crowd at the Emerald City Comicon that he is adapting the “Lensman” series of novels for the big screen. The “Lensman” science-fiction novels started in 1934 and were written by E.E. Smith. The book series was adapted into a tabletop roleplaying game for the GURPS rule system in 1993. JMS sees it as the first movie of three and that they envision it as an epic saga with elements of Star Wars and “Blade Runner.”

Variety is reporting that Platinum Studios, Top Cow Productions and Arclight Films are teaming up for a live-action feature adaptation of “Witchblade.”

FADE TO BLACK

It will be interesting to see where the legal battles take us. I feel strongly that writers should have ownership (or at least partial ownership) on the worlds that come from their minds, but I also understand and respect the business side of it. As someone who has been on both sides of the table, it can be tough to take a side. I wish creators the best of luck and hopefully the legal rulings will be fair.

OK, not adaptation news, but I have to mention the cancellation of “Moonlight” and “New Amsterdam.”

“New Amsterdam” was a good show, but I’m OK with it being canceled and hey, it was on Fox so it ain’t that big of a surprise. But “Moonlight” … why … oh gods of TV… whyyyyyyyyyy?!? Yeah, I’ll just leave it at that for now.

Until next time ? Marx out.

Marx Pyle is a staff writer for Airlock Alpha, writing out of Vancouver, B.C. He is not a shape shifting alien sleeper agent. He can be reached at mpyle@airlockalpha.com.

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