Ghost Rider’s Creator is Back… and He’s Pissed!

This is absolutely fascinating. Gary Friedrich, the “creator” of Ghost Rider is suing everyone under the sun related to the recent success of the character given the hit movie, video games, not to mention comics.

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As with these cases, there is a lot of confusion around the origin of the character. Friedrich claims that he created the character back in 1968 and the copyright for Ghost Rider and his alter ego, Johnny Blaze, reverted back to him in 2001. He even went as far in 2001 to threaten a lawsuit if there was any success with the character:

“…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”

But of course, there is a dissenting opinion, in which Roy Thomas, long time editor and writer at Marvel in the late 1960’s and through the 1970s, claims that he and artist Mike Ploog designed and created the character.

Essentially the basis for Friedrich’s case is that he dreamed up the character and agreed to publish it in Marvel Comics, with the copyright going to Marvel after the first issue. But the fact that Stan Lee’s company at the time, Magazine Management, didn’t properly register that copyright allowed the copyright to revert back to Friedrich in 2001. Kind of a technicality if you ask me, but I’m no lawyer.

The issue of creator rights, especially in the 1960s and 1970s is always a hot issue. How much credit does the original character creator get, especially when its apparent that Thomas and Ploog brought aspects to the character that Friedrich simply approved of, as opposed to created. But then, the work Thomas and Ploog did was under hire for Marvel and not for Friedrich directly. It can get confusing quickly.

But of course Friedrich was fine not suing until there was any level of success with the character. I’m sure he was as surprised as we were that the movie did so well and then he got those dollar signs in his eyeballs, much like Scrooge McDuck, and sic’d his lawyers on the case.

A part of me doesn’t blame the guy, but another part of me really likes Roy Thomas, so I’m torn. The bigger question though is, didn’t Avi Arad and the greater Marvel machine know of this idle threat and the copyright issue? How does a movie and video game property get this far with this issue on the table?

You can read more about the dispute on Gary Friedrich’s entry in Wikipedia, where his quote was pulled from.


  1. Ghost Rider made $214.6 million? WTF.

  2. $214 million, and it’s not even out of theaters yet. We’re just getting warmed up.

    I saw this the other day and wondered why Marvel doesn’t start pushing for a lot more new characters created by employees with ironclad contracts. “Just sign your name right under the line that says, ‘I DO NOT OWN THE RUNAWAYS. MARVEL OWNS THE RUNAWAYS, AND ALSO GRAVITY.'”

    On the other hand, how much of the dearth of new characters do you think is caused by these ownership issues? Sure, part of the reason you tend to see the same heroes fight the same villains is because they’re popular and marketable, but I wonder if writers are holding back their best ideas because they have no stake in anything they create for Marvel.

  3. I’m fairly certain that these days, creators do have a stake. There are royalties for characters you create. So, Vaughan, for example, would benefit from a Runaways movie. Not as much as if he owned it outright, but definitely more than they used to.

    However, I don’t think that people are holding back creatively because of these issues. It’s a longshot that a new character will stick or catch on, but Marvel and DC are the place to be if you are talented and want to make a living making comics. If you want to go it on your own, there are lots of places to go for that. But you better be damned good.

  4. I’m fairly certain that these days, creators do have a stake. There are royalties for characters you create. So, Vaughan, for example, would benefit from a Runaways movie. Not as much as if he owned it outright, but definitely more than they used to.

    Yeah, Chuck Dixon apparently made a nice bit of money when Bane appeared in Batman & Robin.

  5. Wow! I hope you’re right. It would be really nice to know the big companies deserve more credit than I’ve been giving them. All you ever hear about are things like this Friedrich story, or creators in interviews before the big movie comes out saying, “Nobody called me. Nobody talked to me. Maybe they’ll interview me for the DVD. Sigh.” I have fallen into the trap of Big Two bashing!

  6. Neal Adams paved a whole lot of ground on this stuff, and things changed.

    Here’s a good example of both good and bad. This is from an interview from a few years back, but it’s worth reading. But this part struck me as germaine to the conversation:

    CASEY: Blunt question, but I

  7. Well, he’s obviously only interesting the the money, rather than protecting what he’s created. If he were interested in protecting his creation, then he could have filed suit to stop the production of the film long ago. If he had done that, instead of raising a fuss after the fact, then maybe I would have sympathy for his case.

  8. i think it’s really interesting given that there’s some dispute over whether or no the creation of this character was colloborative or not. I know there’s a similar dispute over the origin of Venom, another major Marvel property due to makes its bigscreen debut. Was it McFarlane and Micheleinie that created him because they were on the book when the character first appeared as Venom? Or was it Roger Stern or Tom DeFalco, the writers on Spider-man when the black costume first appeared and then was revealed to be a symbiote? Or was it Jim Shooter who in story chronology would have written the black costume in first? No The correct answer is John Byre, of course. 😉

    It does sound like this guy just wants a big paycheck, which doesn’t seem all that admirable. Then again, if it was me in that position, I’m not sure what i would do. It is interesting that Friedrich was also co-plotter on the old cowboy Ghost Rider character. I’m not sure if that helps or hurts his case.

  9. The reversion clause serves two purposes, the first of which is to ensure that materials cannot, in effect, be held hostage forever without appropriate exploitation.
    The second addresses the inevitable imbalance in power between the creator and the company, in which ‘fair’ deals are almost never struck, and allow for a creator to ultimately profit from his own work beyond the initial paramters of the contract.