Yesterday, I had to take an unexpected trip to Binghamton, New York and back. After seven white-knuckle hours behind the wheel through a blinding, interminable downpour, I wasn’t at my energy-level best, and I had to put out the hottest deadline fires first.
P.S., the Susquehanna River overflowed its banks and Binghamton is largely inaccessible today. Got in and out just in time.
Back in the saddle again….
The technical illustrations in the Try-Out Book were done by Janet Jackson, an illustrator who showed me samples of tech-illos at a convention in Houston. It was her first work for Marvel Comics. I suggested many times that she might consider changing her name, for obvious reasons, to Sheena Easton or Celine Dion or something. She eventually began using the relatively pedestrian, unimaginative nom de guerre “JayJay.” Yes, our JayJay, the Blog Elf herself.
|One of JayJay’s technical illustrations, circa 1981.
I looked into it. I’m not a lawyer, but I’m fairly good at reading. A little research told me that our “exposure” was minimal. From what I could ascertain, Marvel didn’t really run much risk reviewing submissions sent in by people freely and of their own will. Especially those involving our own characters, as nearly all did.
My arguments were sufficiently persuasive that I managed to beat back the interference from legal types every time. And, I believe, my policy endured after I was gone.
Maybe I should have been a lawyer.
Times have changed. In recent years, the pendulum has swung more to the side of people who make claims that commercially successful properties were based upon, inspired by or outright ripped off from their submissions or suggestions. The courts have looked with increasing favor upon such claims and there is ample precedent to embolden claimants. Especially in the big-money media, like movies and music.
Not long ago, virtually every single movie made precipitated a gaggle of lawsuits, mostly by people with flimsy claims hoping that the studios would pay them some small amount—say $100,000—to go away, rather than defend themselves in court, which could cost more. The costs were getting out of hand. So, the studios have become increasingly risk-averse, and these days, studios are loathe to finance films that do not have a clean chain of title for the intellectual property involved.
Printed comics aren’t big-money, but movies based on comics are, so Marvel, DC, Dark Horse and others have become increasingly unwilling to so much as look at any samples or submissions. The fear of compromising the chain of title for anything is that great.
(ASIDE: In 1995, I think, I was asked to testify by Columbia Pictures in Federal Court. Someone was suing them over the Karate Kid movies, claiming that the idea was his, that, in fact, the story was based on his own experiences and that he created the name.
You’ll notice if you look closely, that at the end of each KK movie there is a TM and Copyright notice identifying “Karate Kid” as the property of DC Comics, used by Columbia under license.
The Plaintiff asserted that he had created the name “Karate Kid” in 1968. I testified that I had created it, work-for-hire, for DC Comics in 1965, and brought a copy of the first issue of Adventure Comics in which Karate Kid had appeared, published in 1966, which was entered into evidence.
The judge told the jury to ignore my testimony as “hearsay.” He said that for all he knew, I could have printed up that comic book in my basement the night before. I argued that the Statement of Ownership, which, coincidentally appeared in that issue, a Federal document (back then) was proof of authenticity—and that half a million copies had been sold, which with pass-along readership and subsequent appearances meant, undeniably, that the criteria for national exposure had been met. DC’s lawyers submitted case law demonstrating that printed magazines (the Judge didn’t consider a comic book a “magazine”) were acceptable as evidence.
Columbia prevailed. Their lawyers told me I was the best witness they’d ever had since Clint Eastwood.
They gave me this tee-shirt as a thank-you.
Jerry Bonner said… I suggested this story about the Try-Out book. Great to read it, Jim, and thanks for posting it!
I was only 12 or 13 when it came out and used my hard earned paper-route money to buy it. It really was awesome! I tried my hand at each section, although I never sent them in…because I fully realized I was only a kid and not ready for prime time….