John Nee, Dan Slott, Rob Liefeld And Artists Alley

John Nee, who used to be a DC Comics Vice President after the Wildstorm buyout posted on Facebook, regarding the concern over the Gary Friedrich court decision.

This saw the destitute co-creator of Ghost Rider, Gary Friedrich agree to pay $17,ooo to Marvel for the sale of signed Ghost Rider prints over several years. But it also has implications for Artists Alley, where creators often sell sketches and prints of company characters, something that despite technically being against a law or two, has been allowed, occasionally endorsed, over the last few decade, for very pragmatic reasons. Creators supplement their income, providing a talent pool for publishers, who also get publicity and encourage fan involvement, it’s a very mutually beneficial system. Nee writes;

“Dear Friends in the comics community,

I usually do not weigh in publicly on topics such as this but given the very active dialog and the impact it would have on the freelance community, I feel I must say something.

I am not speaking on behalf of Marvel or DC. I have great respect for Jean-Marc and Richard Johnston, and I understand the sensitivity of this topic and their point of view. Moreover, I am not offering any commentary whatsoever regarding the Judgement on the Ghost Rider matter.

But…..DON’T PANIC.

Marvel and DC or any other publisher cannot and will never provide an official waiver or permission for any freelancer to do convention sketches. This does not mean that they will come after you. (It also doesn’t mean that they won’t, but so far, no one has) Marvel is not putting the entire freelance community on notice with this action. (even though it might be interpreted that way)

No doubt it’s a very unfortunate set of circumstances, and I will donate to Gary’s fund raising efforts started by Steve Niles, but the rest of you should go about your lives as before.

I’ve only been pointing out the possible consequences of a legal decision, and one that had been noted by a number of creators, from Steve Bissette to Rob Liefeld to Sean Gordon Murphy. Murphy writes;

Regarding the debate of whether comic artists should continue selling unauthorized prints/sketches of characters they don’t own, I think Bissette and his legal advisor are 100% correct.  So from now on, I won’t be doing any sketches or commissions at shows of any character that I don’t own.  Am I rolling over in fear of Marvel?  Maybe, but as it states below, they’re in their legal right to come after me if there’s ever a dispute.  I love to complain about the Big Two, but I can’t (in good conscience) get upset at them if I’m breaking the rules myself.  Being DC exclusive, maybe I can get a waiver that allows me to sketch DC characters, so I’ll keep you updated.

Dan Slott didn’t see it that way, tweeting;

Congrats, Industry Gossip Columnist. Already thought you outdid yourself this week. I was wrong. *slow clap* Anything you won’t do for hits?

Common sense: Marvel puts out BLANK covers for SKETCH variants. Think about that for a sec. Let it sink in. And then ask yourself– if some people aren’t blowing some things out of proportion (and CONTEXT) and creating an unnecessary air of hysteria.

Some have already called the sketch variants entrapment. Others as official license. But they certainly indicate that the publisher wants them to be sketched upon, indeed, with Marvel characters.

Marvel representatives have told me that comic creators needn’t worry and I expect senior Marvel executives to be making statements about this issue shortly. As for prints, currently exclusive Marvel creators have a deal to sell prints featuring Marvel characters at shows. But no one has yet gone after anyone who doesn’t have that deal.

But there is no one who can guarantee, however, that in fifteen years a Disney lawyer won’t choose to use sketches being sold today as part of a case against a creator. And while this has always been the case, it’s taken Ghost Rider co-creator Gary Friedrich selling Ghost Rider prints to bring this to the fore. Is he an unrepeatable expection, given his unique circumstances? And will Marvel’s upcoming statements make a cast iron  defence for any creator?

A few years ago, a number of comic creators found their sketches of DC comic characters seized by a zealous Warners employee – only for someone in editorial to flip their lid and see the sketches returned.  Certain artists that publishers believe have gone too far is selling off work, they have had a quiet word with and an accord has been reached. But there’s no guarantee that this considered balance will always be maintained.

And that’s the thing. The intentions of comic book executives right now may not be the intentions of comic book executives in the future, or lawyers for their parent company. The sketches being drawn right now, may be actionable in the future.

Dan Slott sees even me mentioning this as fear mongering, rather than sharing the very real concerns of his fellow creators who have seen this kind of thing coming. Liefeld tweeted “when Marvel started co-opting the convention prints from their exclusive talents a few years back, it put it on the map… can the litigious Disney practices be far behind? Again, better safe than sorry.”

I don’t have a dog in this. This kind of reportage is not some kind of hit-monster as Slott believes. But the minute that Friedrich decision came down, a number of involved people understood the implications. And Bleeding Cool – as well as Comic Book Resources – have been willing to share them.

Many I’m sure will be satisfied with Marvel’s assurances when they come. But I don’t think it’s unreasonable, or encouraging fear mongering, for certain people to decide to play as safe as possible.

It could be, after all, against the law.