While Ghost Rider creator Gary Friedrich may have lost his litigation against Marvel over the latest Ghost Rider film, he succeeded in creating a major stir in the comics community. It was only a matter of time before Marvel responded, and finally publisher Dan Buckley and Marvel's CCO Joe Quesada are speaking up.
Ever since Friedrich got slapped with a $17K countersuit, fans and creators alike have been nervous about the precedent such a result sets. Why would Marvel, for whom $17K is a drop in the bucket, demand so much from a man who is reported to be penniless? What of all the artists who are commissioned to draw Marvel characters when they go to conventions? Is Marvel saying that they'll smack down anyone who dares to try to make money off their properties regardless of who the artist is or how much or how little money they make?
Starting with the $17K, Quesada explained to CBR that this was not a number Marvel came up with on its own, nor is it set in stone:
"First and foremost, Marvel has not settled with Gary. What has been misinterpreted as a settlement is a court document that Gary's very own attorneys agreed to, along with Marvel's attorneys. That document basically ends his lawsuit against Marvel at the trial court level with Marvel having won and Gary's case dismissed. By agreeing on a number for the profits Gary made from selling unlicensed Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider merchandise after the court has decided that Marvel is the owner of that copyright, it allows Gary's attorneys to file his appeal now rather than have Gary litigate further. It is in no way a 'fine' or 'punishment' for Gary. It is something that the court asked both parties to do and agree upon. This is one more step in an expensive and time-consuming legal process initiated way back in 2007."
This is not to say that Friedrich won't end up forking over considerable cash to Marvel by the time this litigation is complete. It's a good thing there's the Hero Initiative, a non-profit that raises money to help comic creators in need of financial assistance. Quesada, who is a board member of the nonprofit, spoke out in favor of the organization:
"...when all of this Ghost Rider stuff broke, I immediately checked with Hero's President, Jim McLauchlin, to see if Gary was in need of assistance, and Jim informed me that up until that point Gary had not applied for any. My understanding is that Hero has since been in touch."
With regard to setting precedent for commissions at cons and artist's rights, Dan Buckley did his best to make it clear that artists should feel safe to keep doing what they're doing:
"We in no way want to interfere with creators at conventions who are providing a positive Marvel experience for our fans. We want fans to speak and interact with the creators who wrote, penciled, inked, lettered, colored or edited their favorite stories. Part of that positive interaction is that a fan can walk away with a signed memento or personalized sketch from an artist."
That should come as a relief to many comic artists and creators, but perhaps more telling than anything was the question Marvel declined to answer: "Does Marvel feel a responsibility now to help support the writers and artists who helped build the Marvel Universe, and in particular the artists who had a direct hand in creating the kind of franchise characters that can support multimillion-dollar movie and licensing endeavors?"
Good question. Until a satisfactory answer is given, we suspect a growing number of comic creators will begin favoring companies like Dark Horse and Image when they want to share their ideas for their own characters and stories.