[Previous chapters: 1 to 8 – 1953 – 1985 Roundup, 9 – The Dawn of Eclipse, 10 – Alan Moore at Eclipse, 11 – The Twilight of Eclipse, 12 – All About Angela, 13 – More Angela, More Courtrooms, and Much More Todd, 14 – Back to Marvelman, 14.1 – Updates and Clarifications on Marvelman, 15 – Who Owns Marvelman? Part I]
At this point I want to re-examine Mick Anglo’s part in the creation of Marvelman. To quite an extent Anglo’s involvement in this has become mythologised, and I want to try to find a more balanced version of events. Much of what I’m going to quote are his own words, from various interviews quoted earlier in this book. As I’ve mentioned a few times previously, however, his recollection is sometimes vague, particularly in relation to dates, and he does appear to have the perfectly forgivable habit of making himself the hero of his own stories.
Mick Anglo’s set up was as a comics packager, producing a finished periodical to specifications from a publisher. All of his work for those publishers appears to have been what we would now call work-made-for-hire. This work was generally produced by a large number of different people under his supervision at his Gower Street Studios, and it seems likely that the vast majority of the actual writing of individual stories was left in the hands of the artists, with some tweaking done by Anglo later on, at the lettering stage, which he usually insisted on doing himself. Don Lawrence said,
I went to see a man called Ted Holmes at Amalgamated Press who gave me a tryout, which I failed!! […] Anyway he paid me for the art and he said, ‘Well look, why don’t you try Mick Anglo,’ who was the bottom of the bottom, you know, you can’t get any lower than Mick Anglo. So I did and he paid me a pound a page for black-and-white and he gave me a tryout and he said okay, and that’s how I started.
He just sort of said ‘off you go’ and he gave me a few scripts to start with, but after a while they dried up and I started writing my own stories. […] I did everything except the lettering. I mean I pencilled in the word balloons and the lettering, but Mick would ink the lettering. We would agree on the story and I would write it out, then Mick would rub out my lettering and put something totally different in his own language when he got it back.
Anglo was more interested in turning out work in quantity to the publishers’ specifications that in anything like the rights to what he was producing, as far as I can make out. In any case, concepts like creators’ rights were still a long way in the future, back in the early years of the nineteen fifties. In Kimota! he says,
I employed a pretty large staff of freelancers: script writers and artists. […] All I was interested in was producing the stuff and getting paid on the nail, and that’s how it worked out.
Although Anglo was probably the only person in Britain running that kind of American-style comics’ art studio, he was more in the style of studios like Harry Chesler’s than Will Eisner’s. Like Chesler, Anglo got the credit, but in general the work was produced by other – probably more talented – artists for small amounts of money.
Among Len Miller’s most successful series were the Captain Marvel titles, reprints of Fawcett’s of New York. One day Len phoned and said he wanted to see me urgently. Fawcett’s were involved in some legal trouble with Superman over Captain Marvel; an injunction had been slapped on them, and Len said it looked as if his supply of American material for Captain Marvel would be cut off. Had I any ideas? I had, and for my trouble received a regular supply of work for the next six years.
In Alter Ego #87 he says,
One day in late 1953, I think, the Millers rang me to say, ‘Come over, Mick – urgent – very urgent!’ I went to the warehouse premises, and much consternation! Len was in a right old mood. It seemed that in the USA Fawcett had lost a court fight with Superman comics, etc, and could no longer market their Captain Marvel character; thus Miller, in turn, wouldn’t receive further supplies of the comic plates to print Captain Marvel. They held the license to reprint the comics in Britain, and he was one of their very lucrative lines. This created big problems! […] So boss Len needed a substitute real fast and could I come up with something?
I went back to Gower and […] I gave it considerable thought and eventually came up with the idea of a Brit clone. I worked out a storyline, and so it was that Micky Moran, a teenage copy boy at The Daily Bugle, becomes Marvelman by shouting the all-power-producing word KIMOTA which of course is ATOMIC spelt backwards, using K for a stronger sound.
In Kimota! he says,
Miller was left with no material to publish Captain Marvel. So what happened is that he created his own character through me and it was very successful. It wasn’t exactly the same thing, but similar, so one could take over from the other easily.
And later on he says,
I was courted to do something to resuscitate that material. We did it for seven or eight years.
He also says, when asked about the ownership of the character,
I don’t know; that was Miller’s sort of thing. I knew nothing about those sorts of things.
Arnold Miller denies that the dramatic meeting between Miller and Anglo ever actually took place. He says,
It seems as though Mick Anglo has a vivid imagination that extends far and above drawing. His meetings with Len Miller my father did not occur.
The real story as I remember is this, Mick Anglo was employed by L Miller and Son Ltd to write and draw story lines for Marvelman and the Marvelman Family comics, the rights to use the titles were given to L Miller and Son Ltd by Fawcett Publications. Mick Anglo has no copyright on the title Marvelman or Marvelman Family.
Fawcett were aware of L Miller and Son Ltd publishing and using the name Marvelman, Marvelman Family, etc.
Although, of course, there must have been some sort of meeting between Anglo and Miller to sort out the details of how to create a character to step into Captain Marvel’s shoes, just not quite as melodramatic as Anglo’s version would have us believe, I imagine.
The thing is, nowhere in any of the interviews Mick Anglo gave does he ever say, ‘I own Marvelman.’ Rather, he says, in different places,
Miller was left with no material to publish Captain Marvel. … I was courted to do something to resuscitate that material. … Miller … created his own character through me … I went back to Gower … and eventually came up with the idea of a Brit clone. … It wasn’t exactly the same thing, but similar, so one could take over from the other easily.
And on the subject of ownership he says,
I don’t know; that was Miller’s sort of thing. I knew nothing about those sorts of things … All I was interested in was producing the stuff and getting paid on the nail.
Everything he ever says about the character tells the same story, in the same chronological order: He spoke to Miller about a replacement for Captain Marvel, then gave it some thought, then came up with essentially a more or less direct copy of the character, with enough details changed to give it the appearance of being a different character, which character was created specifically for and subsequently wholly owned by L Miller and Son Ltd. Mick Anglo wasn’t some sort of comics visionary, he was just a man trying to make a living in the best way he knew how. There’s no reason why he would have somehow owned the rights for one comic he produced for a client, out of all his output. That’s not how it worked at the time, on either side of the Atlantic.
So, Mick Anglo seems to have felt that it was OK for him to do what were apparently direct copies of Marvelman, at least three times in the dozen years after the Millers first published the character. Although, of course, if they were copies of Marvelman, they were also copies of Captain Marvel, and he was really only doing what the Millers had done before him. None the less, and for whatever reason, Anglo did this three times, and only seems to have been pulled up short once, in 1954, when the Captain Universe comic only ran to one issue. It is a shame none of his interviewers asked him why he did this, and it is too late now, as he died on the 31st of October, 2011. Like a lot of things, it seems to be tantalizingly close to pointing to something, but the last fact that will join it all up just isn’t there.
None the less, Mick Anglo never claimed ownership of Marvelman, anywhere I have ever seen, then or now. Yet we are now given to understand that the ownership of Marvelman was apparently always his, according to both Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore, but are never told how this came about, just that it turns out that the rights were Anglo’s all along. So I’m now going to try to present a series of circumstances where at least some of this might be possible.
Before I move on to that, though, I want to briefly address Don Lawrence’s relationship with Marvelman, which appears to have been considerable. In Nostalgia, Mick Anglo refers to him as, ‘Don Lawrence, the first of the Marvelman artists.’ On the Don Lawrence website, there was an admittedly somewhat jumbled entry, now changed, that said,
Don started his career with drawing superheroes. In his case it was Marvelman, a comic based on Captain Martin [sic] and originally was called Captain Universe. But after the threat of a lawsuit, the editor changed the name in Marvelman.
Don Lawrence was one of the first artists working on Marvelman. Together with Norman Light and Denis Gifford he was involved with the creation of Britain’s first superhero. The comic was produced by the Gower Street Studio owned by the legendary Mick Anglo. The company L Miller and Son were the clients for whom comics like Daniel Boone and Davy Crocket were also produced.
And another that said,
Don is the creator of the spin-off Marvelman Family, which he had made up all by himself.
It certainly seems as if Lawrence was substantially more involved in the creation and ongoing story of Marvelman than most of the other artists who worked on it, and may indeed have been directly responsible for creating the character, under Mick Anglo’s direction. One of the people who saw the page of artwork that is allegedly being offered as proof that Anglo created Marvelman before he talked to the Millers has expressed the opinion that, to their eye, the art style looked a lot more like Lawrence’s than Anglo’s. Of course, without actually seeing the alleged page publically displayed for people to make up their own minds, this is no more than one person’s opinion, and by no means conclusive in any way. It is, however, an intriguing possibility, and one that makes an interesting conjecture if you add to it the fact that, as well as completely omitting to mention Alan Moore at any point, the Marvelman Classic Primer published by Marvel Comics in 2010 also never once mentions Don Lawrence in relation to Marvelman, either, despite his extensive connections to it.
As I said before the brief digression above, the rights to Marvelman seem to have been left up in the air after L Miller and Co Ltd was wound up in 1974. However, just three years after that, in 1977, Mick Anglo produced Nostalgia: Spotlight on the Fifties, where there is a page of Young Marvelman art reproduced, along with a copyright notice saying Mick Anglo Ltd – © down the side of one of the panels, a copyright notice that wasn’t there in the original publication of the comic in which the page appeared in 1954. Could that notice have been all it took to claim copyright on an abandoned property? If something has no owner, no copyright holder, is publication of a page that was previously published by its original copyright holder, but with a new copyright notice on it, all it takes to successfully claim that copyright? It doesn’t seem likely to me, but one thing I have learnt while writing this book is that, with copyright law, absolutely anything is possible. After all, Dez Skinn said he hoped to claim the copyright on Marvelman by publication, so perhaps that was all there was to it, and Mick Anglo Ltd became the new copyright owner of Marvelman. (Although, of course, Skinn was publishing new material which he was claiming copyright on, which Anglo had not done.)
None of this explains how the character was Anglo’s from the beginning, as is now being claimed, but it is at least one possible route for the rights to have ended up belonging to Mick Anglo Ltd. And I think there is an important distinction in the rights being owned by the company, rather than by Mick Anglo himself, which I’ll get to a bit later on. So, after L Miller and Co wound up, Marvelman may have become ownerless, and may subsequently have become the property of Mick Anglo Ltd. However, what happened next would seem to contradict any deliberate and conscious attempt at claiming the character on Anglo’s part.
I got in touch with Mick Anglo. I met with Mick and I said, ‘Look, I know you don’t own it but if we bring the character back and it’s popular… You have thousands of pages of material’ […] because it would be nice for an old guy like Mick Anglo if we could reprint stuff that he was involved in and pay him.
And Mick Anglo says,
[Dez Skinn] contacted me and he wanted to revive [Marvelman] and I said, ‘Go ahead and do what you like,’ as far as I was concerned.
When Roger Dicken interviewed Mick Anglo for Alter Ego in 2009, and mentioned that there had been a new incarnation of Marvelman in Warrior, the only thing Anglo said was,
That’s correct, and I have to say that some of that new stuff was very well-drawn.
Perhaps more than any other person in the story of Marvelman, Dez Skinn is the one who has had the largest amount of plain and simple falsehood written about him. It is by no means uncommon to see online articles that state that Skinn somehow stole or otherwise misappropriated Marvelman from Anglo. There simply is no truth of any kind in this, as far as my considerable research shows. At the time that Skinn was putting Warrior together it appeared that the copyright to Marvelman, which had belonged to the Millers, was no longer the property of anyone. He went to talk to Britain’s preeminent comics historian at that time, Denis Gifford, just to be sure about the current situation with the rights to Marvelman, who told him to check with Anglo. It certainly appears, from both of their reports, that there was no perceived reason to believe that the rights were owned by Anglo, or indeed that any of them believed that the rights were owned by anyone at all. And, in all the three years that Warrior was in existence, the only legal correspondence that they got was from Marvel Comics UK – rather than from any aggrieved potential rights holder, complaining about their property being used.
The plain truth, as I see it, appears to be that Dez Skinn decided he was interested in the possibility of reviving the old Marvelman comic character in his forthcoming comics magazine, Warrior. He knew that the previous rights holders, L Miller and Co Ltd, had gone out of business, so he went to talk to the most knowledgeable person in British comics at the time, Denis Gifford, who perhaps reassured him about what he believed, but suggested he go talk to Mick Anglo about what he wished to do, which Skinn then did. Anglo had no objection to Skinn reviving the character – ‘I said go ahead and do what you like, as far as I was concerned,’ a statement that could be considered to be effectively a verbal contract, if Anglo actually had rights to the character at the time – so he went ahead with his plan. Just to be sure, Skinn talked to a few legal people who specialised in copyright. At the same time a young, still unknown writer called Alan Moore got wind of the fact that Marvelman was going to be revived, and, after being recommended to Skinn by Steve Moore, was given a chance to submit a story plan on spec, which was accepted. The rest, as they say, is history.
The other persistent story from this period of time is that Skinn told Moore that the Millers had gone bankrupt, and that he’d bought the rights to Marvelman from the Official Receiver. Again, I don’t think this is true, or at least not completely true. It’s easy to forget, at this far remove, that at the time we’re talking about Alan Moore was a young neophyte comics writer, still very much at the beginning of his career, and that Dez Skinn was the big name British comics editor, with an illustrious career path behind him, heading for what would be perhaps his most famous and enduring contribution to UK comics. How much would Skinn have felt he needed to explain to his new young writer? We do know that he mentioned getting the rights to Marvelman in his internal newsletters, though, so it was certainly something that was being talked about at that time. I think this is another case where something that was probably seen as reasonably trivial at the time has assumed greater importance as time has passed, and that both sides are giving their own version of what may have been a passing conversation at the time. I’m not saying anything either of them said is wrong, just that, thirty years later, it is possible that one or both may misremember the finer details of what was said. I think that, at the time, both Moore and Skinn believed they were free to go ahead with their plan to revive Marvelman, and it certainly seems that everything they knew at the time affirmed this. Even Moore hints at this, in another interview I did with him in May 2009, where he said,
All of the things that we were told when we were doing Warrior turned out to have been fabrications, you know, unwitting fabrications, but fabrications none the less.
There certainly seems to have been no objection from anyone, neither the Millers nor Mick Anglo, nor any other potentially interested party, to Marvelman being published in Warrior. It is my own opinion that Dez Skinn acted honourably, did everything he could to clarify the legal status of the character to his own satisfaction and, having ascertained that there was no copyright holder at the time, went ahead to publish it himself. He did not set out to deceive anyone, and he certainly didn’t set out to somehow deceive Mick Anglo, or to steal his putative rights to Marvelman – on the contrary, he seemed to want to put money Anglo’s way, and to keep him informed of what was being done with the character. Dez Skinn has been judged harshly by history about this, and I really hope that I can help to set the record straight here.
Did Skinn, Moore and Leach actually own the copyright to Marvelman when they published it in Warrior in 1982, though, and if not, who did? Some of the possible alternatives are: the Millers inadvertently assigned the rights to someone else when they wound up the company, but that person didn’t know they had the rights. This really doesn’t seem likely, and certainly doesn’t get us any further as, if this really was the case, then it would appear that that person still doesn’t realise they own the rights. So, the Millers didn’t assign the rights, from everything we know. Did Mick Anglo own the rights? He certainly doesn’t seem to have acted as if he did, from everything he and others said at the time, and he has never explicitly stated that he owned it, anywhere that I can find. So, if it’s not the Millers’, or belonging to some heir or assignee of theirs, and not Mick Anglo’s, that really only leaves it as an abandoned property of one kind or another, unless by some really tortuous reasoning it somehow can be seen as being claimable by DC Comics or Fawcett or their heirs, a very remote possibility indeed. So, from my own – non-legal – reasoning, I can’t see how Skinn and Moore were in breach of anyone’s copyright at that time.
Did Skinn, Moore and Leach – and subsequently Alan Davis – own the copyright in 1982? A reasonable man, presented with the facts as they are currently known, might very well say ‘Yes.’ But, as I’ve said before, there are certainly things going on in the story of Marvelman that I don’t know about, and one of those things may well be some form of documentation that clarifies the ownership of Marvelman, and which claims that ownership was Mick Anglo’s, right from the get go. If this really exists, I imagine I’m not the only person who’d like to see it.
To Be Continued…