The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 190 | Ghost Writer, Redux: On the overturning of Gary Friedrich Enterprises v. Marvel Characters, Inc.

Leaving Proof 190 | Ghost Writer, Redux: On the overturning of Gary Friedrich Enterprises v. Marvel Characters, Inc.
Published on Wednesday, June 12, 2013 by
We speculate on the implications of the latest twist in the legal battle over Ghost Rider’s ownership, talk about surveillance and Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin’s The Private Eye, celebrate the history of Filipino comics creators, and more in today’s Leaving Proof.

Spotlight_5_coverYesterday, Judge Denny Chin overturned a decision rendered by Judge Katherine Forrest in February 2012 awarding Marvel Characters, Inc. (MCI) ownership of the Ghost Rider property in a countersuit that was Marvel’s response to a suit filed by Ghost Rider co-creator Gary Friedrich to lay claim to the character. Forrest’s 2012 decision was based primarily on an interpretation of the facts presented that can be summarized thus:

Whether or not Gary Friedrich co-created the Ghost Rider character is irrelevant to his claims of ownership of the character, since it is a matter of record that Friedrich signed over any and all rights to the character in 1971 and again in 1978.

(To read a detailed synopsis of the trial and Judge Forrest’s ruling, as well as a summary of the competing claims about who actually created Ghost Rider, click here)

To most external observers, it seemed like an open-and-shut case, a rarity in the messy, messy disputes of ownership of characters created under the old work-for-hire system. There was no need, in Forrest’s estimation, for the court to disentangle the already convoluted web that is the question of “Who actually created Ghost Rider”—whether it was writer Gary Friedrich, artist Mike Ploog, editor Roy Thomas, or any combination of the three.Similarly, it wasn’t necessary to get into a deliberation over whether Ghost Rider was indeed created as a work-for-hire project because there was, in black & white print, proof that Friedrich had exchanged current and future claims to the character in exchange for payment for work already done and a promise of future freelance work.

spotlight_6Judge Chin of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals didn’t see things as that cut-and-dried, however. In his 48-page decision, Chin noted that the language of the contracts was “ungrammatical” and “awkwardly phrased,” ambiguous on its face as to whether or not it applied retroactively to Friedrich’s work on Ghost Rider’s first comics appearance and similarly ambiguous on the matter of conveying the character’s future renewal rights to Marvel.

The implications of Chin’s finding are huge. Obviously, Friedrich wasn’t the only writer or artist who signed one of those “ungrammatical” and “awkwardly phrased” one-page contracts in the 1970s and maybe into the 1980s—who knows how long Marvel had been using them—and if Friedrich achieves any measure of success in the new trial remanded by Chin’s decision, we could see the legal floodgates burst with a wave of new lawsuits.

With Paul Jenkins’ recent revelations revivifying community discussions about the merits of creator-owned comics and independent comics publishing in recent days, it does seem that there’s a fair bit of synchronicity going on with the Friedrich v. Marvel case. I don’t know if we’ll remember the past couple of weeks in comics as being more notable than any of the ones before and after them, but it almost feels like we’re at something of a tipping point in terms of the creator-editor-publisher discourse, especially if the new trial ends up setting some sort of landmark legal precedent as far as the ownership of characters created under those poorly-worded work-for-hire contracts go.

Ahead of the Curve

tpeye_cover

When Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin’s The Private Eye—a self-published, creator-owned future noir comic set in the Los Angeles of 2076, a place and time where digital surveillance and coerced personal information “sharing” have become inescapable facts of life—launched in March, it seemed like Vaughan and Martin were two comics creators who had found a clever way to address the important issue of privacy in the Social Media Age whilst utilizing a somewhat revolutionary method to fund their comics endeavor. Now, two weeks into a far-reaching surveillance and wiretapping scandal that has rocked not just the United States, but the rest of the Internet-connected world, Vaughan and Martin don’t just look like they’re clever, they’re looking like prescient geniuses compared to the Marvel and DC creative braintrust, who seem content at this point to build one overhyped tentpole event on top of another, ape the newest trends in popular literature and film, and simultaneously publish as many Avengers, X-Men, and Batman-related titles that they can, creating a grotesque virtual monument to marketing-driven storytelling.

tpeye_02_big

I’ve no doubt that themes and threads from the real-world controversy of surveillance and wiretapping will find their way into Marvel and DC’s superhero comics down the line—they’ll likely put a supervillain’s face on the issue, maybe somebody like the Red Skull or Ra’s al Ghul will be revealed to be at the heart of some surveillance conspiracy—but what will it mean, then? It will have neither the immediacy nor the social embeddedness of The Private Eye, and it will be just another example of how, these days, the Big Two seem to be playing a never-ending game of catch-up in terms of creativity, instead of acting like the bold trendsetters that they were in years and decades past.

Pinoy art in American comics

Two-page spread from Rima the Jungle Girl #1 (May, 1974), art by Nestor Redondo

Two-page spread from DC’s Rima the Jungle Girl #1 (May, 1974), art by Nestor Redondo

June 12 is celebrated in the Philippines as Araw ng Kalayaan (“Day of Independence”), marking the day in 1898 when Filipino revolutionaries declared the Southeast Asian territory’s sovereignty from Spanish colonial rule (only to almost immediately fall under American colonial rule, but I digress). All around the world, June 12 is marked by “Pinoys” (persons of Filipino descent) as a day to renew and strengthen the bonds of a shared culture. In the spirit of that celebration, allow me to share the following links to previous Leaving Proof articles spotlighting the work of Filipino artists as well as the Filipino influence in American comics:

XBoned

The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) is in full swing and much of the discussion in video gaming circles seems to be how much Microsoft has bungled the announcement of Xbox One, the successor to the Xbox 360. Prior to E3, there were all sorts of questions that were raised with last month’s rather disappointing Xbox One reveal:

The promised answers to those questions aren’t exactly satisfying.

Click on the image to read the full webcomic by Andrew Bridgman on Dorkly.com

Click on the image to read the full webcomic by Andrew Bridgman on Dorkly.com

For one thing, Microsoft could not have picked a worse time to trumpet the capabilities of the newest iteration of its Kinect device, which tracks user movement and voice, and is now built into the system instead of serving as an optional, add-on peripheral (Microsoft representatives are also on record as saying that game developers will be required to incorporate some Kinect functionality in any and all games sold for the system). Microsoft has spent much of the past three weeks allaying consumer fears that the Kinect will be used as a surveillance device by the company, game publishers, government agencies, or even hackers. Those fears have grown even more now that it’s been revealed that Microsoft is a leading participant in the PRISM surveillance program that has been dominating the headlines of late.

The Gameological Society’s John Teti has an excellent account of Microsoft’s XBox One presentation at E3 and elaborates on the reasons why the gaming community seems to be hating on the device so, months before its retail debut. (The two biggest reasons apart from the whole Kinect thing: a confusing, consumer-unfriendly approach to sharing legally purchased, disc-based games, and the Xbox One’s need to “phone home” once every 24 hours in order for games to keep running on it.)

On R.O.D. the TV

read_or_die01I’ve been watching the first season of R.O.D. the TV on Crackle.com the past couple of weeks. It’s an interesting show based on the R.O.D. light novels by Hideyuki Kurata, featuring a trio of “Paper Masters,” people who can turn ordinary paper into weapons or even animal-like familiars, hired to serve as bodyguards for a Japanese author (the R.O.D. in the title stands for “Read or Die”). Like a lot of the best episodic anime, what sounds like a crazy-for-crazy’s sake premise hides multiple layers of intrigue and metaphor. The production and technical animation by the J.C. Staff studio are top-notch, and the score by Taku Iwasaki is somewhat reminiscent of Yoko Kanno’s work on Cowboy Bebop (this is a good thing). The original 26-episode run of the who is available for free viewing on the Crackle website and the Crackle app, and a DVD collection of the series is also available.

Oh, Canada!

Let’s cap off today’s column with this .gif of Haitian-born Canadian boxer Adonis “Superman” Stevenson flattening lineal light heavyweight champion “Bad” Chad Dawson 76 seconds into the first round of what Dawson derisively called a “tune-up fight” in the pressers leading to the bout.

stevenson_dawson_KO

You really have to see it with the sound, though (if you’re lucky, some enterprising user will have uploaded a video of it somewhere where you can see it, or you can just wait for the HBO replay). The meaty crack Stevenson’s punch made when it connected with Dawson’s head told me the fight was over even before the referee waved it off. (To his credit, Dawson made it up at the count of six, but he was absolutely out on his feet and would have likely suffered catastrophic head trauma had the fight been allowed to continue.)

Stevenson is the latest “Rocky story” in a sport full of Rocky stories: The 35 year-old (which is ancient in boxing years) didn’t begin boxing professionally until 2006, and had spent time in prison for a pandering (“pimping”) conviction. By all accounts, Stevenson turned his life around after picking up boxing and studying the sweet science under the tutelage of the late Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward. I haven’t seen enough of Stevenson to say if he’s the goods or not, but that is one hell of a left cross he has on him and he now holds the recognized light heavyweight title because of it. Here’s hoping for a Montreal showdown with living legend Bernard Hopkins in the near future.

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