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February 16, 2012

A Bunch Of Updates Regarding The Gary Friedrich Situation

I'm not really a post-other-people's-material-in-full-and-riff-on-it kind of blogger, so I'm going to suggest some linked-to reading for a reasonably full update on the situation regarding writer Gary Friedrich and the Ghost Rider character he co-created. Then I'll riff on it a bit. I hope you'll pursue some of these posts.

* Heidi MacDonald does a good job here of walking her readers through the various permutations of the Gary Friedrich situation, whereby a legal development in his legal quest to be recognized as sole creator of Marvel's Ghost Rider character has put a price tag on the amount of money Friedrich has made at various conventions by selling items related to that character.

* Daniel Best has a fine article here on the case itself and some misperceptions regarding the legal side of things.

* Steve Bissette has an excellent post here about how one may certainly argue the judge could have made a completely different decision giving Friedrich consideration for the multi-media rights sales on the character and how the conception of putting a price tag on someone making money on a character outside of Marvel's licensing program is something to which creators should pay close attention above and beyond any assurance this won't be used as a lever against creators.

* Dan Buckley and Joe Quesada talk to Comic Book Resources about Marvel's basic stances on various issues raised in what is pretty much a classic spin-and-soothe interview.

A lot of things come to mind in response. Here are three.

A first is that my personal, primary area of concern right now isn't nailing down what's just or not, or what's legally allowable or not, and I certainly don't give a rat's ass about the shape of Marvel's general PR profile. I'm worried that Gary Friedrich for whatever reason has ended up on the far end of a long career in comics without a lot of resources and is apparently sick, besides. That was enough for me to make a small donation to the account Steve Niles set up on the writer's behalf, and I hope it's enough for you to consider one. I know that there's a possibility that this will be read as a specific endorsement of Friedrich's case, maybe even by Friedrich and his lawyers themselves; I'm willing to take that risk, even as I continue to sort out what I think about the merits of the case and the specific situation that's developed since.

A second is that I think it's very important for most people to see this as an incident of specific injustice, an injustice to a specific degree that is suitable to their having a response, and that as a result there probably are some misconceptions driving what people are saying and what people are thinking here. There's all the stuff Daniel Best writes, there's a point or two in the Quesada/Buckley thing worth their making (only a couple, I'm afraid; for instance, the idea that this is a necessary step clearing the way for more litigation is more compelling, say, than the assertion that policy changes are impossible while litigation remains active) and there are broader issues that no one's really discussed in thorough fashion yet. For instance, part of the passion formulated on Friedrich's behalf seems to come from a place that sees Marvel sitting on immense, "solid-gold-shoes"-level profits from these Nic Cage movies that is probably not truly representative of what the company is making on one of these apparently not-great, non-Marvel Studios movie deals.

Don't get me wrong: I think there's more than enough money to go around and for a fair adjudication in all of these matters. But I think that also means we can be more stringently honest about what's actually at stake and we don't need to finesse reality to add a moral compulsion aspect based on something that's not quite true. If nothing else, it opens the argument to being explained away or mitigated, weakening what I feel should be a slam dunk position out of rhetorical greediness. Pointing out, say, that the caterer on the Ghost Rider set profited more explicitly from the movie than one of its creators has is a tool through which we understand the need for a better, more just system; it's not a crucial argument one way or the other to be picked at or pored over.

In this case the pursuit for some sort of magic formula by which the issue can be cast into black and white has benefited things I like: aid for a creator's plight, skepticism regarding a corporation's motives, criticism of a system by which so much profit is generated but seemingly little for creators. If I'm being honest, though, I'm going to have be really wary of these kinds of constructions when they go the way I like them just as I am when they go the way I don't. So for me the system is broken because many creators come out on the other end not having been rewarded in reasonable fashion. I'd like to work on that systemic problem case by case and more generally, no matter if the specific constructions make Marvel look as bad as the timing and elements of the latest decision as this one does, or if another specific set of constructions doesn't.

A third is that I agree with Steve Bissette that the raised hand that is Marvel's implied threat to take into account these kinds of non-licensed activities is more important than however it's explained as necessary in this case or not really leading into a new policy (Rodney Dangerfield-style collar adjustment optional). You can't really walk that threat back, and I would urge a thorough re-thinking of that entire element of the comics business in terms of what's fair and fruitful for everyone involved, including creators protecting themselves and industry advocates chasing the best outcome.

There will likely be more to come, and I'm thrilled the general issues involved are on everyone's mind.
posted 5:00 am PST | Permalink

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