10 Major Creator Disputes Throughout Comic Book History1 of 12It’s no secret that legendary writer Alan Moore has little but disdain for DC Comics’ use of his and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen story and the characters within, even turning away significant amounts of money to gain his involvement with sequels and adaptations of the story in other media. But this month, DC went to the Watchmen well again, using the character of Dr. Manhattan as a plot-device in its DC Universe: Rebirth one-shot.
Moore has not commented on the use of his character in this instance, but it’s safe to assume what his stance would be. But Moore isn’t the only high profile creator of a comic book to be at odds, or even to take legal action against a publisher. Here are ten major creative disputes from the history of comic books.
THE WALKING DEAD2 of 12When a comic-turned-TV show makes enough of a ratings impact that it even inspires a write-up in Forbes, you know that somebody's making money.
In the case of The Walking Dead, the question is, who?
Robert Kirkman made it pretty clear that he was the sole "creator" of TWD (and claims he has the legal documents to prove it). But the book's original artist and co-creator on the first six issues, Tony Moore, filed suit against him, claiming that he's owed as much as half of the proceeds related to the title.
The lawsuit garnered lots of mainstream press coverage for the comic-inspired TV show before settling in 2012, with Moore even returning to the book recently for a one-off variant cover.
Oddly, the TV show itself is not without its share of legal controversy, as former showrunner Frank Darabont is currently involved in a lawsuit against AMC, the show’s network, over misuse of the show’s funds.
GHOST RIDER/ BLADE / HOWARD THE DUCK3 of 12Three of Marvel's comic books-to-movies characters have been the subject of much-publicized lawsuits that made waves among the industry and fans.
Howard the Duck was a lawsuit that started in 1980, with Steve Gerber wanting creative control of the character. The agreement between Marvel and Gerber over the dispute was not made public.
Over a decade later, when Blade was set to hit movie theaters in 1998, creator Marv Wolfman filed suit, alleging that he had not been bound by any work-for-hire contract when he created the character in 1972. Although he later lost the suit, the case showed fans that successful superhero movies do not necessarily benefit the writers and artists who created the characters.
Chatter over the issue was renewed when writer Gary Friedrich's lawsuit over his rights to Ghost Rider got a strange legal ruling attached to it. According to a final judgment in the case, the creator actually owes Marvel $17,000 because he sold Ghost Rider memorabilia at conventions.
Many creators who work at conventions changed their policies on drawing or selling merchandise featuring characters owned by large publishers as a result, however Friedrich and Marvel later settled out of court in a decision both parties called “amicable."
VAMPIRELLA4 of 12More than one company has wanted to sink their teeth into Vampirella, and the disputes have kept lawyers busy over the years.
When the publishing company that originally owned Vampirella went bankrupt in 1983, Harris Publications acquired the company's assets, including Vampirella and other horror properties like Creepy and Eerie.
But over a decade later, in 1999, James Warren sued to get back the rights. A few legal battles later, Vampirella stayed with Harris, although Warren got Creepy and Eerie.
The lovely vamp's troubles didn't end there. At a 2007 convention, Fangoria Comics Executive Editor Scott Licina was instructed by one of the officers from the corporate parent company to announce that Fangoria had acquired Vampiella from Harris.
Unfortunately, while Fangoria was indeed trying to negotiate for the character, the deal wasn't done, and the premature announcement killed it. Vampirella eventually moved on to its present publisher, Dynamite, while Harris ultimately closed its doors earlier this year.
DC VS. BRUNS PUBLICATIONS5 of 12When DC started publishing Action Comics, with a new character named Superman, it didn't waste any time protecting the asset.
In 1939, DC sought an injunction to stop Bruns Publications from publishing its Wonder Man title, drawn by the legendary Will Eisner. While Bruns and even Eisner himself claimed in court that Wonder Man was invented before Superman, DC won the case, and Wonder Man was no more.
The result of the lawsuit was important not only for its protection of DC's property, but also because it likely encouraged DC to file its later lawsuit against Fawcett (more on that later).
ALAN MOORE6 of 12DC Comics may be integrating elements of Watchmen into its main universe with Rebirth, but Alan Moore, the writer who came up with the original story, still claims the company "swindled" him out of the publishing rights when he signed DC's "draconian" contracts for both Watchmen and V for Vendetta.
The writer's disdain for DC's treatment of his characters has been the focus of heated debates between comic book fans for years. But it reached a fever pitch when the prequel Before Watchmen was announced and ultimately published.
Moore told the New York Times that the prequel was "completely shameless." But unlike most of the disputes in this list, Moore's goal is not the riches behind the rights, but instead the integrity of his creation.
"I don't want money," Moore said of the Watchmen prequel. "What I want is for this not to happen." Neither Moore nor the Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons have offered specific comment on DC’s use of the Watchmen characters in Rebirth, beyond the artist saying the publisher didn't notify him about their plans prior to publication.
The altruistic approach isn't surprising, considering his role in the next dispute on our list.
MARVELMAN / SPAWN7 of 12Marvelman may have been created way back in 1954, but it's still confusing just who owns the rights to the character. Portions of the rights have been owned, at one time or another, by Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Todd McFarlane and - oddly enough - the guy who actually created Marvelman, Mick Anglo.
Eventually, Marvel purchased rights from Anglo for his percentage of the character, and some Marvelman stories have recently been reprinted.
But for years, the rest have been tied up in disputes with Todd McFarlane, who was also being sued by Gaiman over rights to various Spawn characters. According to Gaiman, he'd reached a verbal agreement with McFarlane over shared ownership. The legal dispute, which began in 2002, was settled in 2012.
Fast forward to the present day, and Marvel acquired Marvelman's rights from Mick Anglo's, while Gaiman passed rights for the former Spawn character Angela to Marvel.
STAN LEE VS. MARVEL8 of 12In 2002, Stan Lee filed a $10 million lawsuit alleging that Marvel Comics was cheating him out of millions of dollars in movie profits for the characters he created.
The dispute specifically stemmed from the huge success of Spider-Man, the film that broke box office records but didn't make Lee a dime. And because Lee knew there were upcoming film versions of other characters he'd created, including the X-Men, the Hulk and Daredevil, he asked for millions in compensation.
In 2005, Marvel announced it had settled all outstanding litigation with Lee, although the terms were not disclosed. In 2009, shareholders in Stan Lee Media Inc. filed suit, claiming Lee had promised them a share in profits from the characters he created. That lawsuit was dismissed by the court.
FAWCETT COMICS VS. NATIONAL PUBLICATIONS9 of 12This much publicized lawsuit was the first time fans saw Superman battle Captain Marvel, only it wasn't on the page.
The question was whether Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family were being published in violation of DC's Superman copyright, owing to the similarity in their powers and portrayal.
At first, DC lost the battle in 1950. But an appeal went the other way. Eventually, Fawcett had to stop publishing comics starring Captain Marvel and paid a settlement of $400,000 to DC. Although DC later acquired the Fawcett characters, the lawsuit resulted in the once hugely popular character being absent from comic books for decades -- a circumstance that still haunts his popularity today, although DC rebranded him as Shazam! in the "New 52," bringing him into the Justice League.
A film adaptation starring Dwayne Johnson as Black Adam is also in the works, and the character will continue to play a major role in Rebirth-DCU.
JACK KIRBY VS. MARVEL10 of 12The family of Jack Kirby, the man behind Thor, X-Men and other lucrative Marvel characters, tried to claim copyrights on his creations in a lawsuit that had some fans threatening boycott.
Kirby's estate tried to terminate copyright grants of more than 45 characters that the legendary artist created, and that Marvel constantly utilizes in comics and films. Marvel claimed the characters were created as "work for hire" and therefore are owned by Marvel.
After a series of back and forth rulings, the Kirby estate and Marvel settled out of court just as the dispute was set to head to the Supreme Court. The terms of the agreement have not been made public, but Marvel continues to utilize Kirby’s creations in comic books and other media.
SIEGEL/SHUSTER VS. DC11 of 12In 1948, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster started litigation against DC over the copyright to their creations, Superman and Superboy. While DC won the case for Superman, they lost the one for Superboy, and eventually they settled with the two creators.
In 1970, the initial copyright period expired, and they all returned to court, with DC winning that time. But in 1976, Congress passed the 1976 Copyright Act that allowed creators to take back certain copyrighted works, which opened the door for more disagreements over the characters.
At one point a few years ago, DC even avoided using the name "Superboy" in its comics because of the pending litigation. However, through a complicated legal decision, Warner Bros. (DC’s parent company) won the final round of litigation, seemingly closing the door on one of the oldest, most contentious creative disputes in comic book history.
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