McFarlane Vs. Gaiman – The Never-ending Legal Battle

In the ongoing soap opera of the legal battle between Todd McFarlane and Neil Gaiman, Gaiman provides an update on his blog reporting that he has won the latest round with a judge ruling that McFarlane owes Gaiman for the characters Dark Ages Spawn, Domina and Tiffany, stating that they are derivative of the characters that Gaiman created for MacFarlane in the pages of Spawn.  McFarlane has until September 1 to provide a detailed accounting of all the profits earned from those characters and Gaiman is entitled to half the profits.

Gaiman provided the complete ruling by US District Judge Barbara Crabb in a PDF on his website for all of us to read. I've got to admit, if you're halfway interested in legal cases and/or comics rights and ownership, this ruling is hysterical to read.  I can only picture what the courtroom must have looked like while Judge Crabb shared her ruling, thus showing that even US District Judges are creative and have an opinion on how comics should be made.  Judge Crabb provided this stunning commentary:

"Much as defendant tries to distinguish the two knight Hellspawn, he never explains why, of all the universe of possible Hellspawn incarnations, he introduced two knights from the same century. Not only does this break the Hellspawn “rule” that Malebolgia never returns a Hellspawns to Earth more than once every 400 years (or possibly every 100 years, as suggested in Spawn, No. 9, exh. #1, at 4), it suggests that what defendant really wanted to do was exploit the possibilities of the knight introduced in issue no. 9. (This possibility is supported by the odd timing of defendant’s letter to plaintiff on February 14, 1999, just before publication of the first issue of Spawn The Dark Ages, to the effect that defendant was rescinding their previous agreements and retaining all rights to Medieval (Gaiman) Spawn.)

If defendant really wanted to differentiate the new Hellspawn, why not make him a Portuguese explorer in the 16th century; an officer of the Royal Navy in the 18th century, an idealistic recruit of Simon Bolivar in the 19th century, a companion of Odysseus on his voyages, a Roman gladiator, a younger brother of Emperor Nakamikado in the early 18th century, a Spanish conquistador, an aristocrat in the Qing dynasty, an American Indian warrior or a member of the court of Queen Elizabeth I? It seems far more than coincidence that Dark Ages (McFarlane) Spawn is a knight from the same century as Medieval (Gaiman) Spawn."

I feel for the poor legal clerk who had to read all those issues of Spawn and explain to Judge Crabb what the "rules" of the Spawn universe are and just what the hell a "Malebolgia" is.

Now that Todd McFarlane's company has emerged out of bankruptcy that was filed in 2004, it appears the legal battles will start up again as Gaiman seeks to get what the court has decided he is owed.  Gaiman states on his blog that, "I wish I took some kind of joy in this, but I don't." And it's clear that he'd like to have this done and over with just as much as McFarlane does, I'm sure.

So now we wait and see if McFarlane comes up with the accounting and the money owed to Gaiman.  If I were Todd McFarlane, I would also, as soon as this case is over, offer Judge Crabb to write a Spawn mini-series, because it's clear that woman has got some great ideas.


  1. Can we get this woman a TV show, please?

    This week on JUDGE CRABB: DC vs. Fawcett, the real story.

    I can already see the Paul Montgomery column now, and it’s awesome.

  2. I really like that the judge essentially called McFarlane out on being a hack writer.

  3. That is, without doubt, the coolest commentary to a ruling in the history of the American legal system.

  4. How often does one see the words "thong bikini" and "armored bra" in a court document?!

  5. Pretty much a lame ruling – isn’t every version a derivative of Spawn? Therefore Gaiman’s oh so original idea is just a different version of Todd’s original concept?

    Just more petty fighting between two bloated egos

  6. Holy shit. Is it okay to find this hilarious?

  7. Does this have anything to do with marvelman?

  8. Judge Crabb is ready to post on comic book messageboards.

  9. How long til’ they settle the Mayracleman dispute. Wanna see more Gaiman issues come out.

  10. @Conor – being a judge and being a rabid comic book fan are not mutually exclusive.  (at least in the realm of the hypothetical)  I mean, maybe she’s here posting right NOW!  .. yeah, then again, maybe not.   

  11. You know, the more I think of it, the more I think there’s that 1 in a million chance that this judge is actually a total Spawn fangirl.  You know, probably had some ink done in the 90s.  All this time she’s just been waiting for her chance to fix this massive continuity problem that’s been plaguing her… hehe

  12. Judge Crabb is gonna join up with Continuity Associates

  13. That judge is rad. This could become a total precedent setting case law for all sorts of creatives. love it. 

  14. This just stinks of badly written contracts from the beginning.  I mean the 1992 beginning. now both parties are trying to exploit as much as they can from each other. 

    "derivative characters"  really in comics, nah never, isn’t miracleman a derivative character from Captain Marvel???  would the original medeval knight spawn be a derivative of the original spawn??  

    I’m a bit lost in all of this so I could be totally wrong about this.  well off to do some research on this. 

  15. Judge Crabb will be the judge’s name from now on in every courtroom comic book storyline.

  16. As a law student I’d just like to say this made my weekend. I will be printing this and sticking it on my fridge next to my election day copy of the times.

  17. Good news to hear.

    Anyone else find it ironic that Image started up with the concern of giving creators more rights, but at least in this early instance McFarlane thought to deny Gaiman credit? I can certainly see why this became such a big deal to McFarlane, though: back in ’95-’96, the character of Angela was begging to be turned into a very important, superstar character. McFarlane should have just cut a deal with Gaiman, instead of being so petty and stubborn about the whole thing.

    Unfortunately, at this point I don’t think the characters (Angela included) are really worth that much. If they WERE worth as much as they were fifteen years ago, then maybe McFarlane would consider trading his portion of the Miracleman rights for them. As it is, I think this ruling is just going to make Todd even MORE stubborn about NEVER giving up what he owns.

    P.S. For those who don’t know, McFarlane bought everything that Eclipse had. Certain "Marvelman" stories (the last of Moore’s run and all of Gaiman’s) were ONLY ever published by Eclipse as "Miracleman". Therefore, it really seems that Marvel doesn’t have the rights to them, since they only own "Marvelman". The writers and artists of those issues have some claim to their scripts and pencils, but the overall production package, published only as "Miracleman", remains unpublishable because McFarlane owns the masters. At least that’s how I understand it. It’s like telling a group of musicians: you may have written the songs and played all the instruments, but you don’t own the actual recording copy."

  18. When I first read the complaint for this current suit, I was in the camp of ‘well isn’t it all derivative?’  But after reading the judge’s decision, I think that she made a decent line in the sand.  The best part is that she hung the decision based upon the ‘rules’ of the universe that McFarlane himself created.  It was a creative way to circumvent a slipperly slope problem. 

    The biggest problem that I am having is that McFarlane was the artist who got me into comics in the first place, but as time has gone on, I find that I dislike a lot of what he has done.  Such is life…

  19. Makes me wanna dig out my dvd of "Todd Macfarlane: The Devil You Know." It shows TM in all his 1999 top-of-the-world-yet-pretty-much-an-ass glory. 

    But man, those Iron Maiden action figures his company did? Or the Movie Maniacs Jaws eating Quint? Awesome.

  20. This is the only time in my life I have ever been remotely interested in anything pertaining to Spawn. 

  21. The way gaiman is handling this shows why I love him so much, besides being a comic genius, to me, on the level of Moore and a BRILLIANT prose author and poet he really is a class act and so much less curmudgeony than moore

  22. @Camden whenever comics are juxtaposed with the “real world” it points out how ridiculous (read great) are

  23. @Peterparker18102

    I agree with everything you said. Neil Gaiman is like Alan Moore, but without the pretentious self-importance and titanic ego.  

  24. damn liberal judges legislating from the bench!!!

  25. Yes, Dark Ages Spawn is derivative of Medieval Spawn… but isn’t Medieval Spawn derivative of original recipe Spawn?  

  26. @JohnVFerrigno: Looks like you never seen his interview in the extras on the "Stardust" DVD

  27. just a thought, so Neil Gaiman, is fighting for the rights on Domina, Tiffany and Dark Ages Spawn right?  are those characters really worth anything besides monetarily, like are they any freaking good to Gaiman? and they can only exist in Todd McFarlane’s Spawn world for them to make any sense, like even if he wanted to write a story using those characters, how could he do it without violating some copyright law with a Todd McFarlane property? So this is about the money and creators rights to owning 50% of a character, so the original contract must not have stipulated what would happen if McFarlane who owns 50% of these characters wanted to use them in the future with or without Gaiman’s approval. so, an artist (McFarlane) screwed up a contract, whoda thought  but without seeing the contracts, this is all purely conjecture on my part, this is not to say that McFarlane shouldn’t pay Gaiman, but at what point does owning 50% of a character mean you can bully and limit the potential of the character to the other party that also owns 50% 


    yes that’s right, the lesson is, always own 51% of anything you partner with 😉