In 2001, writer Gary Friedrich said
Well, there’s some disagreement between Roy, Mike and I over that [the origin of Ghost Rider]. I threatened on more than one occasion that if Marvel gets in a position where they are gonna make a movie or make a lot of money off of it, I’m gonna sue them, and I probably will. … It was my idea. It was always my idea from the first time we talked about it; it turned out to be a guy with a flaming skull and [who] rode a motorcycle. Ploog seems to think the flaming skull was his idea. But, to tell you the truth, it was my idea.”
Now it is revealed that Friedrich is as good as his word, as he has sued Marvel, Columbia, Hasbro and a slew of smaller production companies. The heart of the suit is Friedrich’s claim that he created the character 3 years before it appeared in a Marvel comic, and when it was published with Stan Lee’s Magazine Management company (later to become Marvel Entertainment) they failed to register it with the copyright office, meaning Friedrich gained the rights to his creation again in 2001.
Friedrich alleges copyright infringement, and accuses Marvel of waste for failing “to properly utilize and capitalize” on the Ghost Rider character. Marvel’s attempts to do so, Friedrich claims, have only damaged the value of his work by failing to properly promote and protect the characters and by accepting inadequate royalties from co-defendants. Friedrich also claims that toymaker Hasbro and videogame firm Take-Two have improperly created merchandise based on the characters.
Friedrich created the character of Johnny Blaze and his alter ego Ghost Rider in 1968. Three years later, he agreed to publish the character in comic books through Stan Lee’s Magazine Management, which eventually became Marvel Entertainment.
Under the agreement, Magazine Management became holder of the copyright for the first issue, which explains the origin story of Ghost Rider. Lee’s company also held the copyrights to subsequent Ghost Rider works.
However, Magazine Management allegedly never registered the work with the Copyright Office and, pursuant to federal law, Friedrich regained the copyrights to Ghost Rider in 2001.
The case is similar to suits filed over the years by creators ranging from Joe Simon to Marv Wolfman. In Wolfman’s case, he sued for the ownership to Blade, claiming that various discrepancies over checks and the standard work-for-hire agreement meant that he had never surrendered the rights to the character that he had obviously created in TOMB OF DRACULA.
Without looking at the suit, or knowing anything else about it, the Friedrich case is interesting in that it claims Copyright had never been filed at the Copyright Office. Since Ghost Rider made his first appearance in a Marvel Comic in Marvel Spotlight #5, in 1972, whatever work-for-hire contracts were in effect then might have applied to Friedrich, or would certainly have been assumed to apply. Sometimes undotted I’s and uncrossed T’s can cause problems for such assumptions.
As for Thomas’s somewhat different account of Ghost Rider’s origin, it’s online at the Comic Book Artist Magazine site:
Roy: I had made up a character as a villain in Daredevil—a very lackluster character—called Stunt-Master. I took the name from Simon & Kirby’s Stuntman, but I made him a motorcyclist. Anyway, when Gary Friedrich started writing Daredevil, he said, “Instead of Stunt-Master, I’d like to make the villain a really weird motorcycle-riding character called Ghost Rider.” He didn’t describe him. I said, “Yeah, Gary, there’s only one thing wrong with it,” and he kind of looked at me weird, because we were old friends from Missouri, and I said, “That’s too good an idea to be just a villain in Daredevil. He should start out right away in his own book.” When Gary wasn’t there the day we were going to design it, Mike Ploog, who was going to be the artist, and I designed the character. I had this idea for the skull-head, something like Elvis’ 1968 Special jumpsuit, and so forth, and Ploog put the fire on the head, just because he thought it looked nice. Gary liked it, so they went off and did it. Then of course, you had to change the Western Ghost Rider into Night Rider, and Phantom Rider, [laughs] and Bill Black has the Haunted Horseman… Ghost Rider has had more names than Elizabeth Taylor’s spouses!
GHOST RIDER, the movie, has grossed over $200 million worldwide, and is coming out on DVD on June 12th.