By Todd Allen
Jim Shooter is a pretty polarizing figure. Love him or hate him, he was a long-serving Editor-in-Chief at Marvel and he’s one of the few people not currently working at Marvel that’s really qualified to way in on what Marvel’s attitude’s towards artist selling sketches might be.
The whole piece is well worth reading, but Shooter offers two especially interesting nuggets.
First, a tale of how licensing violations were handled when he was at Marvel:
While I was at Marvel, several times when someone violated our trademarks, I convinced the upstairs bosses to give the infringer, if he or she wasn’t truly evil, a retroactive license for a dollar. Our marks were protected, they weren’t hurt, all was well.
The best known of those instances was when Dave Sim did a parody of Wolverine in an issue of Cerebus—which sold so well that he did it for another three issues. Parody is protected. Once is okay. Four times constitutes infringement. But Sim wasn’t an evil guy. We liked him. We intended to do business with him. So we handled it reasonably, I think.
The difference here, it seems to me, is this: When litigation is going on everything done or said by either side may and likely will be forged into a weapon for the other side. Being generous might be seen as a tacit admission that the other side has a point.
Then a little bit of what to expect, based on his recollections of Disney:
Selling sketches of trademarked characters at conventions and elsewhere…now there’s an interesting situation. Collectively, a vast amount of money must be made that way. To my knowledge, the publishers haven’t ever taken notice. But, I guarantee, it’s on the radar now.
One person said that as long as it’s a private transaction between an artist and a collector, no harm no foul. To that person, I’d suggest setting up a booth at the San Diego Comic Con and selling sketches of Mickey, Donald and Goofy. See what happens. Disney once succeeded in preventing Carl Barks from selling paintings of Uncle Scrooge and fellow Ducks, though later, I think, they worked out a license deal. And Disney owns Marvel now. Hmm….
I think the business of selling sketches is just about to blow up like Krakatoa.
Which is also to say, the lawyers have probably taken notice of this and Disney is well known for very aggressively defending its trademarks (which you have to do if you want to keep your trademarks). Quesada and Buckley have said they’re not looking to have a new policy, but I can sure see where Shooter’s coming from on this one.
Todd Allen wears a lot of hats. At various times he’s been (alphabetically), a bouncer, college professor, humor columnist, Internet producer and an NBA/WNBA Beat Writer, among other things. He’s the author of Economics of Digital Comics. You should probably read it.