The news came out at WizardWorld: Chicago that Dynamite Entertainment had acquired the rights to The Phantom, and was planning a reboot of the character, with designs by Alex Ross. This new version would put the classic Lee Falk character back into the city with a refreshed story and look.
But then, the story got complicated. Moonstone’s Joe Gentile told Newsarama that his company still held the rights to produce comics based on The Phantom, and discussed his company’s future plans for the coming year.
So who has what, and how does it all work out?
We went back to Dynamite’s Nick Barrucci for his take on Gentile’s claims and what he’s since learned from discussions with King Features about the comic book rights to the character, and what’s going to be done.
Newsarama: Nick - there seems to be some confusion over who has what rights to the Phantom. You claimed that "the other publisher" (by which we assume you meant Moonstone) no longer held the rights to produce The Phantom comics, but then, Moonstone's Joe Gentile claimed that Moonstone did, in fact, still held the license. Can you clear up a little bit in regards to who holds what rights to the character?
Nick Barrucci: It’s an unusual situation, we did obtain the rights to the Phantom and, at the time Joe had not re-upped for the Phantom, and my understanding when Joe made his announcement he had jumped the gun, as he had not signed the renewal form. I don’t know why he would do that, but he did. From what I understand, he had asked for changes in his contract that he did not previously have, and it’s not my place to state whether King Features granted them to Joe, but it seems Joe has jumped the gun on many of his claims. Joe made a situation, which could have been resolved amicably a bit uncomfortable for all parties. Though, I dare say, to King Features and Dynamite’s credit, it’s still being resolved amicably. He was emotional, unfair to King Features and to Dynamite, as I do believe there could have been a more professional way to handle it. Joe's a good guy, I like him. I wish it would have been handled differently. At this point it is what it is.
NRAMA: There was talk about King granting non-exclusive rights to the character to both you and Moonstone. Was that ever what happened, or would you enter into an agreement under such terms?
NB: We would not have entered into a non-exclusive rights agreement for the goals we have. Definitely not in the way that Joe has stated. All of our agreements protect us as the publisher of any license.
NRAMA: So what options are open to you and Moonstone here? For example, could you both publish Phantom comics at the same time?
NB: I don't feel comfortable publishing the Phantom while someone else is publishing the Phantom as a comic book. Joe is definitely marked his ability to do novels with spot illustrations, and I could forsee an option where he would do this similarly to where he is doing with Zorro. Although quite charmingly, Joe has been promoting Zorro as if he has the comic rights by not stating what he is publishing in his generic ads when he has no comic rights. He's a showman and I can respect the showman in him.
NRAMA: What's your relationship with Moonstone and Joe, if any?
NB: My relationship with Joe in my mind is fine. If Joe feels differently, he can let you know so. I met him for the first time last year at the Chicago Comic-Con, and we had lunch. I actually gave him the heads up that King Features was shopping around the Phantom license and Joe said to “leave it with him” as he wasn't even sure he was interested in re-upping. Which to me meant that when King Features did come around again that he had no interest. While we are not interested in stepping on anyone’s toes, if he passed on the license as I understood it, I didn't see it being a big deal. Unfortunately, I guess it’s the age old adage, you don't want something until you see someone else wants it. Life does happen like that sometimes.
NRAMA: So who's to blame for how things ended up this way? Just looking at this from the outside, it seems to be something where no one is going to come out as a winner...
NB: First off, there’s no one to blame, not in the way I’m understanding the question. I also don't think that is necessarily the case, in that there are no winners. Things happen, and in the hundreds of deals that go down in a day - something like this to happen, as it’s an oversight (a huge one, but an oversight still) and I think the way King Features is willing to handle it is very gracious on their part. They are definitely taking the high road. We are taking the high road and are working with them on taking the high road. How did things end up this way? I don't know for sure. We got the license, we were told Moonstone wasn't renewing their license/weren’t getting it renewed. There were things that they didn't have and which Moonstone may have announced even though they don't have it. Who knows? We are working hard to make sure everyone is as much a winner as possible (or at least there are no losers). We announced it, Joe got defensive, decided to go off on a soapbox without knowing all the particulars or stating all the facts accurately. He made the situation worse, King Features and I wanted to make the situation better. I think you are going to be impressed with what we are going to do.
NRAMA: So how do you proceed from here?
NB: We proceed like this: I've already spoken to King Features, our license has been expanded for two years. We can start now or we can start when Moonstone's license is over in two years. More likely than not, we are going to wait for Moonstone’s license to expire and spend the extra time to research and develop and have more issues in the can before we ship our first issue. We'll more likely than not start our license when Moonstone's is over. Joe will get to have an additional two years of fun putting out the comic and we have two more years to plan to do an even better job than we've already done. Everybody wins! Again, King Features took the high road, we encouraged them to take the high road as that’s the road we prefer and we are joining them. While we don’t come out ahead today, at the very least, we still feel good about the karma of having done the right thing.
NRAMA: By "back-burnering" the character for a little while...isn't that a risk, given that you have a revamp planned out, and, presumably, character designs from Alex Ross ready to go?
NB: Honestly, we’re just being really nice about the whole situation. We have a signed contract, and Joe did not when he made his announcement. We’ll look on the bright side and know that we have more time to put together a much better comic. I hate to say this and sound so self-serving, but we are just being nice guys about the situation. Our story is going to be timeless and it is going to be a re-invigoration of the character which will grow a greater audience. The audience that is there today will get to enjoy Moonstone's books for two more years; Joe is in a unique position where he can actually continue where he is at without skipping a beat. We are in a position to have more breathing room to develop our character. There’s nothing else we could do unless we forced King Features to not sign the renewal when Joe does sign it and send it in. Whatever we give up is worth it to do the right thing.
NRAMA: What do you do until it's your turn at bat?
NB: We continue publishing some of our favorite books to the best of our ability, we develop this as much as possible. We “hone” our game.
NRAMA: You've made no secret that you like to refresh classic characters such as Red Sonja, the Lone Ranger, Zorro and others with one eye on making them attractive to creators in other media. Is that something you're looking at with The Phantom? If so, how does two years away from the table affect your plans?
NB: The two years away may affect our media plans with the Phantom, but that is ok. Red Sonja is the first project announced with Robert Rodriguez and Rose McGowan involved. We have other projects in various stages of development in Hollywood, some pretty close to being announced and others that will take a year before we can announce. We’re very patient. We choose not to announce projects in Hollywood until they are far enough along that they feel real. We don't want to be the ones that cry wolf. If anything, we prefer to be the wolf.
NRAMA: Besides Alex Ross, can you say who else you have signed up to work on the Phantom?
NB: We can’t and won’t announce who the creative team would have been. They’re very understanding of the process and we’re moving them to other cool projects. When the time is right, and they can still be convinced to come back to the series, the world will know who the team was. And honestly, if they move on to other projects, what good would it do to announce them now. Some fans might get mad at Moonstone for having missed out on the potential creative team, and I would not want that to happen.
In the end, you have to live with it. I’ve explained it to my guys, and didn’t want to talk about it till I had a chance to speak everyone who was creatively involved. Everyone is disappointed, but again, what can you do? I’m not going to enforce King Features to go after Moonstone just because they’re a smaller company. Hopefully the creators we want involved will still be able to work on this in the next two years, but again, what can you do? It’s the best thing we can do. We’re going to grit our teeth and bear it.