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Fight! Don Murphy vs Kevin O’Neill


In the Kevin O’Neill interview we linked to earlier, he made reference to the troubles surrounding LOEG: Black Dossier, which nearly didn’t get published by DC and arrived without a planned flexidisk due to legal concerns. According to O’Neill, even after the book had been vetted by DC’s lawyers, second thoughts arose:

And then all the trouble with Scott Dunbier started, where suddenly the book wasn’t right, and — We’re on tricky ground here! A Hollywood film producer insisted on seeing the book, long before publication, in the early part of the year it was finally published. He was putting a lot of pressure on DC, and if I understand the story correctly — I’ll try to keep names out of this — someone important at DC flew out, showed the assembled book to the guy, who was flicking through the pages going, “Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck, you guys are going to be sued out of existence, oh my God, what are you doing, what are you thinking …” And the guy flew back to New York — we never knew any of this at the time, of course — and things settled down. But suddenly the book was delayed from being relatively quick, like the spring of that year, to being put off to that summer. And I thought oh, Jesus — the royalties from these books really support us, you know? The advance was so small and the exchange rate so poor that the greater the delay the more financially problematic it became.

In recounting the whole tale, Rich Johnston pegs the producer as Don Murphy, the colorful and controversial producer of such things as the League movie, and rather more successfully, the Transformers films. Murphy is pretty comfy on the internet, and he quickly responds to Johnston, fingering John Nee as the DC exec and painting a not very flattering picture of Alan Moore and O’Neill.

The fault is simply THEIRS. ªBecause they want to use people’s property for free anyway they want to. ªAnd the law says no to that. ªIt’s telling that Kevin states twice “You can do anything you want to” as if that meant they could rob and pillage at will.

The simple fact is Don Murphy is not that important to DC nor am I that powerful. ªThey didn’t owe me anything. ªWhat kind of pressure could I give them to force them to show me the comic? ªCut a fart at them in public? ªSeveral years ago their so called head of Entertainment kept me and my wife and Grant Morrison and his wife out of a DC party at Comicon because I showed the guy the lack of respect he thought he deserved. ª It is laughable that Kevin suggests I could pressure anyone at DC.

It should be pointed out that Murphy’s feuding with Moore is pretty well documented — the ultimately spurious trial over the LOEG movie was so annoying that it led Moore to walk away from Hollywood forever, and Murphy to denounce Moore for all time.

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  1. I’m sure Alan Moore has more interesting things to occupy his time (like hopefully finishing his novel Jerusalem this year) than to respond to any of this, but I’d like to read his thoughts on ownership of intellectual properties, especially regarding when another person can play with characters created by someone else.

    I would bet that Don Murphy still reads anything new that Alan Moore writes.

  2. Has anyone ever threatened to sue over League of Extraordinary Gentlemen? I always thought, given the amount and nature of the changes he did to the more modern characters in it, it was being protected as parody / transformative use…

  3. Kevin O’Neill: Amazingly talented artist whose work is inspirational, beautiful and visionary.

    Don Murphy: Produced “LXG”, refers to self in third person, takes cheap shots at actual creators while acting as a “producer” (whatever the hell that is)

    You really want to pick a side here?

  4. … Has anyone ever threatened to sue over League of Extraordinary Gentlemen?

    The producers of the first film changed characters that weren’t in the public domain enough to avoid lawsuits, apparently:

    At the same time, the film illustrates how modern copyrights restrict the use of established cultural texts that should be in the public domain. For American audiences, Tom Sawyer is added to the mix, but evidently Fox couldn’t clear his film rights, so he’s referred to only as “agent Sawyer.” A friend of mine walked out of the movie having no idea Mark Twain’s rambunctious kid was all grown up and inexplicably sneaking about London with a shotgun.

    Then there’s the film’s generic invisible man. Though H. G. Well’s lunatic scientist, Hawley Griffin, was available to Moore for the comic book, Universal made “The Invisible Man” in the ’30s and still owns film rights. So this is an invisible man named Rodney Skinner, and his awkward origin story, explained early in the movie, brings the momentum crashing to a halt. A better script could have fixed these flaws, but someone didn’t love the film enough to care.

  5. I can’t figure out what parties Moore and O’Neill are supposed to have robbed and pillaged, exactly.

    In the O’Neill interview O’Neill never says that he and Moore can do anything they want: Scott Dunbier says that, but in an obviously hyperbolic manner.

  6. I think Mr. Dunbier’s statement might refer to the carte blanche approach a publisher like DC or Top Shelf might have towards these creators as to what projects they work on; someone’s bound to publish their work because of the creators’ reputations and ability to sell books. I’m just guessing as I’m still tracking down all the links relating to this bit of news.

  7. How does this qualify as a fight, exactly? I mean, basically, you’ve got Kevin O’Neill saying Don Murphy said something that got the book delayed, and Don Murphy saying that he may have said something but he’s hardly in a position to delay the book. Which is absolutely true: he doesn’t work at DC, why would anyone think he has the authority to delay their books? If anyone has to shoulder the “blame” for the delay, it’s not Murphy, but whoever at DC (John Nee?) actually delayed the book.

    Before the Bleeding Cool posting, I had never even heard of Don Murphy before. And while he strikes me as kind of a jerk, and said plenty of incendiary things in his response to O’Neill, I don’t see how his basic point that he is “not that important at DC” and could not have single-handedly delayed “The Block Dossier” is even debatable. O’Neill’s version just doesn’t make sense to me as anything more than hyperbole.

  8. Jason,

    With Murphy, O’Neil, and Moore, it’s all personal pissing matches at this point.

    Anyway, maybe because I understand IP law better than a lot of people, but I’ve always thought Moore’s position was rather cut and dry. The only thing he’s ever objected to is having his IPs squatted on by a company. And who knows, maybe he’s wrong about DC and the books he created, but it’s always seemed to be his position. With public domain, it’s a different nut. *Anyone* can use public domain characters, he’s not depriving anyone else of using them by including them in a story.

    But it seems like people like to vilify Alan Moore because it’s fun, I guess.

  9. … Has anyone ever threatened to sue over League of Extraordinary Gentlemen?

    From the BBC News archive, 9/26/03:

    Martin Poll and Larry Cohen are seeking $100m (£60m) in damages, $35m (£21m) more than the film made in the US.

    The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, starring Sir Sean Connery, brought together a team of Victorian-era heroes including Captain Nemo and Dorian Gray.

    Fox has dismissed the lawsuit as “absurd nonsense”.

    The company said the film was based on a graphic novel created by comic book creator Alan Moore.

    But the lawsuit alleges that Mr Cohen and Mr Poll pitched the idea to Fox several times between 1993 and 1996, under the name the Cast of Characters.

    It goes on to allege that Fox commissioned Mr Moore to create the comic book as “smokescreen” for poaching the idea, and cutting the pair out of the production.

  10. @sroman: but that’s different.

    That lawsuit is about a similar idea of using Public Domain characters as a strikeforce team.
    There hasn’t been a lawsuit by creators of characters used in LoEG.

    Also as Garret poses: the guy who made LXG should be the last person to raise his head

  11. Murphy is a special kind of insane no doubt. I can well imagine a known producer, saying “you’ll get your asses sued etc” freaking out a DC suit or two, because those people are paid to do nothing but make work for themselves… hence the problem get’s bigger, all because some schlub mouths off in an animated fashion.

  12. Speaking of lawsuits over the Black Dossier, Am I the only one who’s surprised that the estate of Ian Flemming hasn’t gone after Moore/DC and company for the Black Dossier, (or the guys who own the copyrights to the Avengers for that matter, and I’m pretty sure Bulldog and Harry Lime aren’t in the public domain either).

  13. “With public domain, it’s a different nut. *Anyone* can use public domain characters, he’s not depriving anyone else of using them by including them in a story.”

    Moore lost all moral high ground on this when started using non public domain characters, (James Bond, Emma Peel, etc). You could argue that they were thinly disguised parody versions, but somehow I think if DC did a sequel to Watchman or V for Vendetta using similarly thinly disguised versions Moore would be the first one to complain about it.

  14. Don Murphy is a man who has exactly two talents, at which he has above-average skill: 1: getting movies – of whatever quality – made, and 2: going apeshit, stalking, verbally abusing, and lying about people who offend him in even the slightest way. He’s probably googling several people from this discussion right now.

  15. So in other words, O’Neill was more or less correct. Murphy did have an early look at the book, said DC would get sued, DC delayed the book as a result and a bunch of stuff was changed.

    And Murphy responds with bunch of name calling insults, and brings up private business stuff online as a way of attacking them.

    Man, no wonder O’Neill wants to kick his ass, assuming that part is true.

  16. Devil’s Advocate: Why do we treat public domain characters differently in a creative endeavor? They’re all borrowed.

    I say this as a guy who really enjoyed LOEG right up until BLACK DOSSIER (though the art’s still brilliant), mostly for story reasons, not just because the borrowing came from characters that were still privately held as opposed to public domain.

  17. >> Why do we treat public domain characters differently in a creative endeavor? They’re all borrowed.>>

    No, they’re not.

    What “public domain” means is that the public — everyone — owns them. If you or I or Alan or the guy down the block writes a story with Dracula in it, we’re not borrowing him from someone, because we own him. All of us.

    That’s the purpose of copyright, in fact — to add to the great library of creative works that enrich the world. Copyright encourages creators to create by giving them a temporary monopoly on the use of what they create, but “temporary” is the important part of that. By telling authors and artists that hey get to make money off of what they create for howevermany years, we’re encouraging them to create new Draculas, Frankensteins, Emma Woodhouses, Sherlock Holmeses and so on, which will eventually belong to the public.

    That’s why the push by Disney and other corporations to extend copyright interminably is troubling — it’s an attempt to violate the basic idea of copyright, which is that creative stuff gets to be “owned” for a while, so that people can make money from it and thus are encouraged to create things, so that in the long run everyone will own them. If you take away the “in the long run everyone will own them” part, you’re defeating the main point of the thing.

    But anyone is free to use any characters in the public domain, because they’re public property. It’s not borrowing, it’s making use of something that everyone owns and anyone can use.

    [This doesn’t apply to new versions of PD characters, though — Thor is in the public domain, for instance, but Marvel owns their version of him and DC owns their version of him, and so on. Anyone can write a story about their own version of Thor, but they can’t take someone else’s version that’s still under copyright.]


  18. Yes, LOEG was as much an intellectual exercise in dot-connecting (much, much moreso for BLACK DOSSIER, hence my lack of interest in it) as it was storytelling (and what story was there felt pretty lackluster compared to Mr. Moore’s previous work). So the borrowing (maybe stealing in some cases, in the Wildean sense) was intrinsic to the story. What bothered me was the intellectual hair-splitting upthread.

    The legal questions around public domain/copyright are something else altogether, one which I wasn’t meaning to address (apologies as I seem to have done just that). My personal view would probably ruffle a lot of feathers here, so I’ll just ask the question in a sideways kind of manner. Why would anyone be interested in a Philip Marlowe story that wasn’t written by Raymond Chandler? I realize that comics, particularly superhero serial comics have mutated into a completely different beast and they’re constantly (dangerously, I’d say) reinventing the work of others, and that’s been their lifeblood for forty years or more, so this sort of question gets people unnecessarily adversarial.

  19. >> My personal view would probably ruffle a lot of feathers here, so I’ll just ask the question in a sideways kind of manner. Why would anyone be interested in a Philip Marlowe story that wasn’t written by Raymond Chandler? I realize that comics, particularly superhero serial comics have mutated into a completely different beast and they’re constantly (dangerously, I’d say) reinventing the work of others, and that’s been their lifeblood for forty years or more, so this sort of question gets people unnecessarily adversarial.>>

    It’s a question I can easily understand, though. In comics terms, I don’t know why anyone would want to see Groo by someone who wasn’t Sergio.

    But some people clearly do want to see that sort of thing, both in comics (where it’s common) and in prose fiction (where we get new James Bond and Nero Wolfe and more). Still, I don’t think that’s what’s behind the appeal of the League of Ordinary Gentlemen — there’s something else at work there.

    League isn’t simply trying to tell new stories of Alan Quatermain or Mina Harker or Dr. Jekyll — it’s bringing them together, and that makes it into something different, a new flavor. There’s a fascination with “What if they could meet” that’s now so common to comics as to be standard, but clearly has an appeal for other readers as well. Someone who has no interest is seeing the Sherlock Holmes series continued under other pens might be interested in Sherlock Holmes versus Dracula, because that brings together two cool ideas in a way that offers something that neither did alone; it’s the chocolate-and-peanut-butter of the fiction world. If you like Holmes and Dracula, then the two together is a new game, a new recipe. They were cool on their own, and simply doing more might be treading the same path, but bringing them together strikes sparks. Philip Jose Farmer and the Wold Newton family tree took this concept even further, as he found or created connections tying together dozens of pulp and literary figures into something that’s fun not just because of the strengths of the characters themselves, but because of the contrasts, clashes and interactions of bringing them together. And it’s an idea that gets played with in smaller ways, too, like when Doug Moench established (while skirting trademark and copyright) that Clive Reston of MASTER OF KUNG FU was James Bond’s son and Sherlock Holmes’s great-nephew.

    Or to put it in terms of your question – a non-Chandler Marlowe appeals in one way, to one set of tastes, but Marlowe, Spade and Poirot together on a case appeals in a different way, to a different kind of interest.

    When I read LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN #1, my reaction was “This is the Avengers. You’ve got your monster-of-science and your being of magic and your inventive genius and so on, coming together to face a threat no one of them could face alone. Heck, the back cover to #1, with the hands overlapping, is straight from Fantastic Four #1.” It was simply the Avengers of Victorian Literature, and that’s a nice clean idea that combines the reasons Avengers is an appealing concept with the reasons that things like Sherlock versus Dracula are appealing, and does it in a way that feels exotic and fresh. It won’t appeal to everyone, but I can easily understand why it appeals strongly to the people it does appeal to. Just as FABLES proceeds from the notion that all fairy tales are part of the same world so you get cool connections you don’t have in the source material, LEAGUE does the same thing with Victorian pulp. Chelsea Cain’s CONFESSIONS OF A TEEN SLEUTH does it for Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys and the rest of the kids’ series novel characters of that ilk. DC’s currently building something like that with its First Wave line, though more conventionally-adventurous rather than playfully subversive.

    If you took the characters from Dickens, Austen, Hardy and Trollope, established the conceit that they were all in the same world and had the grandson of Elizabeth Darcy run afoul of Fagin while falling for one of the Palliser daughters and dealing with repercussions from The Mayor of Casterbridge, you could have a lot of fun and appeal to an audience who’d love to see that — and maybe say things about class and society and self-image along the way. And some people would think it was heresy, but some would be head over heels with anticipation.


  20. Don Murphy sure is an “internet tough guy” outside his forum. One of the hands that single handedly ruined Transfor…well actually Japan did that in 1987 with their post humours Generation 1 tv series Headmasters… well just adding flames to long burning fire.

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