Comic book journalist and historian Daniel Best is serialising certain chapters from his book The World Versus Todd McFarlane and I suddenly realise I need a copy. A detailed look at the legal battles Todd McFarlane has been involved with over the years, just these evtracts add much to recent direct market comic book history.
I’be just been reading up on some of the details I was previously unaware of regarding the battle between McFarlane and Neil Gaiman over a) the ownership of Angela, Coglistro and Medieval Spawn and b) the ownership of Miracleman. And what Neil Gaiman’s plans were back then. Wuth an agreement that stated;
That I have, exclusive of any other Angela projects I might do with the Todd McFarlane division of Image, the rights to do a one-off Angela comics project, and a one-off Medieval Spawn project, on each of which I would keep 100% of the revenue: that if these are team-up projects they could go to other comics companies, but if they exclusively feature the character in the title, I agree to do them with Image (although not necessarily with you). That you will make your best efforts to ensure that there is a “created by Neil & Todd” credit for Angela in her appearances in other comics, or other media.”
the clauses pertaining to Angela were important for Gaiman, as he’d already broached the possibility of Batman/Angela and Phoenix/Angela crossovers with DC Comics and Marvel respectively. As Gaiman would author them, both companies were very receptive.
“l started talking to DC Comics and to Marvel Comics,” Gaiman told the court. “To DC Comics I talked to a man named Denny O’Neil, who was the editor of Batman, about doing a Batman/Medieval Spawn book and talked to Mike Carlin, who was the editor of the Justice League titles, about doing an Angela crossover at DC and talked to a man called Chris Claremont, who was an editor at Marvel about doing an Angela/X-Men. Getting a feeling for what we could do.”
It’d be hard to find anyone interested in comic books and their history who hasn’t heard of Todd McFarlane’s legal woes, but very few outside of McFarlane’s immediate circle know just how many legal fights he was facing as the 1990s closed. Virtually all of McFarlane’s court cases came down to three decisions, made by him alone. The first was to name a mobster in his Spawn comic after a hockey player, Tony Twist. The second was to hire Neil Gaiman to write a single issue of Spawn and the third came when he decided to buy all the remaining assets from Eclipse Comics at their bankruptcy sale. The first decision led to the Tony Twist trial, last two choices lead to Neil Gaiman filing suit and, ultimately, winning a portion of the Spawn universe and the hotly sought after, by some, character Miracleman.
The Tony Twist trial was the beginning of a long, long period of uncertainty for Todd McFarlane and very nearly brought down the empire that he’d worked so hard to build. At its worst point, McFarlane was fighting to save his companies, to keep his characters and simply to survive. He was facing battles from several fronts, from people he did not previously personally know in the form of Tony Twist, to those whom he’d collaborated with, in the form of Neil Gaiman and also in bankruptcy courts. Clearly the fight that cost him the most, in pure financial terms, was that brought against him by Tony Twist. It would take years, and millions of dollars, to finally resolve. But the fight that potentially hurt him the most, both personally and professionally, was the one brought by Gaiman, as it gave the impression that McFarlane had appropriated characters created by Gaiman (albeit within the confines of the Spawn universe, along with Miracleman – but that’s a book in itself) without proper accounting, permission or payments. This, to the comic book industry at large, showed McFarlane to be no better than the corporations that he’d spent years rallying against – Marvel and DC Comics.
It would take the better part of two decades before McFarlane would emerge free and clear from these fights. He came out of it battered, bruised, facing charges of hypocrisy and with a serious hit to his reputation, but he wasn’t totally beaten. Despite those who wished to see McFarlane fall completely from grace, he emerged relatively intact.