Neil and Todd… Still At It

I was just going to write about the fact that Neal Gaiman is bringing Todd McFarlane back to court over the rights to Dark Ages Spawn and quote "two avenging angels in thong bikinis," when I once again became incensed at the way the reporter wrote the story.

Before I get to that, here are the facts.  A federal judge in Madison, Wisconsin is set to hear arguments regarding Gaiman's claims of ownership.  Should Gaiman win, and McFarlane pays him whatever settlement, Gaiman would give that money to charity.  This has been going on for about 8 years now, and yada yada yada, we can't read Alan Moore's Miracleman. You all know that.

But, here's the headline: "Biff! Pow! Comic artists clash over copyrights"

And the killer intro:

Bam! Zap! Whammo! It's a battle royale between two of the toughest heavyweights in the superhero business. The fate of the world doesn't hang in the balance, but a lot of money probably does.

So in case you're wondering why your grandfather and co-workers still don't understand why you read those books for kids, you can heap some of the blame on people like Todd Richmond of the Associated Press, who surely has some "comics aren't for kids anymore" lines under his belt as well.

People are still doing this? I mean, what's a brother gotta do to get some respect in the mainstream media?

Where was I?  Sorry, that gets to me.

I find myself wondering if there's any of that Spawn money left.  I mean, the heady days of McGwire baseball purchases are well behind us, so while I believe that if Gaiman is truly the creator of these characters, then he should be entitled to compensation and royalties, it's fascinating that we're still mired in a conflict about profits that came about in the time when the comics boom was still happening. That's like ancient history at this point.  I mean, if iFanboy were around during the early 90's, we'd have all had Porsches by now.  Chances are we'd still have those same Porsches, and a lot of depression prescriptions, but the point remains.  This lawsuit is like this vestigal outcropping of a bygone era, and it just won't go away.  Fascinating.


  1. What was the difference between that and Medieval Spawn? Was that Gaiman too?

  2. So glad someone else noticed this. Great post. I hate being pandered to by these schmucks.

  3. The news wire services are increasingly using sources like Associated Content, which relies on freelancers who are paid $5-10 a story. Not that Todd Richmond is one of those people, but… that business model does not exactly raise the bar.

  4. He didn’t do his research well enough because Bam, Zap and Whammo is the name of the law firm representing Gaiman.

  5. Todd Richmond’s twitter handle is trichmond1 if you’d like to @ him about his quality reporting. 

  6. So what does Gaiman gain from this if he does win?  Todd just wont use the character again, thus no money for anyone.  If DC hires me and I create The Scarlet Pimper-Batman, its still Batman.  DC owns Batman thus any costume change variation of Batman is also the property of DC.  McFarlane owns Spawn, thus Adjective + Spawn is also Todd’s property.  Right?

  7. Via Twitter:

    Clackity clack clack ding! Extry Extry! Dateline Madison, WI- reporter @trichmond1 hacks clichés into an article about a comic book lawsuit. 

  8. @KevinHellions Gaiman gains the money that McFarlane would rightly owe him for using his creations and generating a profit on the use of those characters over the years.

    For all of McFarlane’s talk about how doing work-for-hire for Marvel & DC was like "working on a plantation" (perhaps a really poorly worded analogy), he turned around and built the same sort of empire. 

  9. The win for comics won’t be when they stop using hackneyed headlines in the articles about them, it’ll be when we stop caring that they do. News headlines use puns and catchy phrases for all sorts of topics, sometimes cleverly but often not. It would be nice if they could update the puns and phrases so that they were actually clever or at least not so outdated. But the point of headlines is to draw in as broad a group as possible (as an internet website host I would think you’re savvy to that) so they’re going for the low bar. Also, headlines are rarely written by the author of a piece, so lay off of poor Todd Richmond, alright?

  10. @patio: Did Todd Richmond not write the first line in the article? I assume he did which is why he receives our scorn.

  11. @conor: ok, I agree it’s bad writing. But that just brings me back to my first point which is why do we feel the need to be defensive about how comics are perceived by the general public? If it was a story about sports and the article was "Nets Lawsuit a Slam Dunk!" would anyone care that it’s an overused phrase? Again, poor writing, but it wouldn’t be seen as an affront to the sports community.

  12. Keep championing repect for the industry Josh,  it is appreciated.

  13. @patio: If a slam dunk was only something that happened in the 1960s and it was outdated and no longer reflected basketball as it is now, then yes it would be.

  14. @conor: it’s impossible for you to lose an argument, isn’t it?

  15. @patio: It’s hard when you’ve got facts on your side.

  16. It’s important to make sure perception of comics is as modern as can be, because if the public at large perceives comics to be for children, the growth of the audience, and thereby the success of the creators is limited, because of something that’s outright long. Comics have an image problem, and it’s perpetrated, in large part, by mainstream media.  So yes, it’s the reporters and his editors fault. And mostly it’s just lame.

  17. BLAMO! ZIP! KRANG! Co-Founder of geek site faces off aginst nerd community member!  This @conor fella seams like one tough customer, so lets hope @patio is sturdily built and to code.  HEY-OH!

  18. Although @patio is right that the headline wouldn’t be written by the reporter, the fact that the first line of the article goes there first – Bif!, etc. – the blame can be squarely placed on the reporter. 

    Comics enthusiasts shouldn’t feel too bad about being disrespected by an AP reporter. I once did a gig covering a high-profile prolonged federal trial for a competing wire service. The AP reporters would roam the halls with this lifeless, depressive, glazed-eyed look. They reminded me of the crowd you’d find at weekday afternoon at a horse track betting on all the satellite-tv races. They wore despair like it was a wrinkled old sports-jacket. No wonder they write hack opening lines.

    @pixelgun – that was hilarious.  


  19. It’s really ironic to hear you guys complain about a mainstream superhero-y headline when 90% of the comics you promote here are the most mainstream of straight-up superhero comics.

    "If a slam dunk was only something that happened in the 1960s and it was outdated and no longer reflected basketball as it is now, then yes it would be."

    Your analogy makes no sense because superhero comics actually still use "POW!" and other sorts of onomatopoeia. To a great extent I think you’re just PROJECTING our OWN stereotype of the mainstream media as thinking "comics = ’60s Batman show". Does the mainstream stereotype comics? Sure, but the little catchy touches here don’t exactly mischaracterize the medium any more than "slam dunk" does for basketball.

    Josh: "It’s important to make sure perception of comics is as modern as can be, because if the public at large perceives comics to be for children…"

    Ah, but "Pow!" does not equate to being "for children". Are Iron Man II, or the Kick-Ass movie, or The Losers for little kids? There were lots of "Pow!"s and "Zap!"s and "Boom!"s in those movies. Again, you’re just getting defensive and conflating things. And, honestly, at this point the general public does not really have the image of comics in the hands of little kids. It has the image of cloistered middle-aged men reading them–thank the Simpsons for that, and thank the fact that the comics were taken out of convenience stores.

    I think your criticisms are a little off-base here, guys. It would make just as much sense for someone to call out iFanboy as irresponsible for spotlighting 95% superhero comics as Pick of the Weeks, and for taking every opportunity to talk about Avengers and Green Lantern books (the most white bread of white bread in the industry–not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, just not a diverse one) and hawking previews of so many mainstream superhero books.

    "…the growth of the audience, and thereby the success of the creators is limited, because of something that’s outright long."

    Sorry, but I think you’re perception of what’s actually gone on to steer mainstream readers AWAY from comics is completely misguided. If the mainstream media actually acted like it was normal for younger people to read comics, then maybe the industry would have actually attracted a sizable new generation of readers, which it hasn’t done in twenty years. Instead HARDLY ANY KIDS have picked up a comic in like a decade and a half, yet you apparently would be upset for one mainstream article to KINDA intimate that MAYBE kids would like comics? smh

    Of course, comics are a diverse medium that tells lots of different stories. But there’s a difference between attracting older readers and being completely self-important and derivisive about the idea of a "Pow!" in a mainstream article. Especially when mainstream superhero comics make up 95% of your PoTWs. (Is your logic that an article about a silly LAWSUIT would make older readers want to buy comics…but they won’t because they see a "Pow!"? I can’t believe that’s your logic, so really the "Pow!" stuff doesn’t have any bearing.)

    Sometimes I think we’re doomed because of petty, snarky fighting like this. So many people around the industry just take every tiny opportunity to lambaste some outside article just because a tiny little way something was worded rubs them the wrong way. The perspectives in such criticisms are so limited and ahistoric. You know twenty years ago it would be a MIRACLE for a mainstream paper to even COVER a comic lawsuit of this (relatively) minor scale. In very little niche, the fanboys are so snarky and so impatient with how everyone else lives and thinks. I remember when you guys were mad at Marvel for not having an iPad Ap…before the iPad even came out!

    But as far as you analysis of the actual content of the article, tho, about Neil vs. Todd, you guys are spot-on. 😉

  20. @froggulper: Sorry, but you’re wrong. The WHAM POW BIFF way of describing comics by reporters and writers who don’t know any better is a direct result of BATMAN and has been used to label comic books as campy fluff for 50 years. Are sound effects still used? Of course. But that’s not the issue. It’s how comic books are perceived by lazy writers who are still using a 50 year old crutch to convey a specific image – that of Adam West’s ill-fitting costume and silly dialogue.

  21. Kids love AP articles about copyright lawsuits. It’s like crack to them.

  22. So if the writer had used some of JRJR’s made up onomatopoeia, or Quitely’s stylized ‘whshhhh’ or ‘kabloom’, or even Simonson’s ‘THOOM’ the article would be okay??

    Yeah, I’m not gonna take issue with that.  I will take issue with people spending a good amount of cash to recoup an IP with little to no value or recognition.

  23. @MisterJ: You’re taking the sound effect thing too literally. It’s not about the sound effects themselves.

  24. @froggulper – the perceived condescension of the article is compounded because it violates AP’s own guidelines. That’s a straight news report. Such editorializing is supposed to be nixed by the editors. Maybe comic folk are a bit hypersensitive but with good reason. In journalism 101, AP guidelines are ground into you: if it isn’t an objective verifiable fact or statement, don’t put it in the story. This example is exactly why AP has such guidelines in the first place. Maybe the writer was just looking for some colorful language to spice up the piece and merely failed with some hackery. Or, he was making a value judgement on the medium itself. He’s supposed to do neither. 

  25. I can’t believe people are OK with that Biff Pow stuff. It’s a giant pet peeve of mine. But hey, whatever works for you.

  26. Kind of a different topic, but for those in NYC, Neil Gaiman is doing a live read tomorrow in NYC for his new book Stories.

  27. The mainstream media will never accept comic books, it just wont happen. Am I annoyed that there are people who think all comics are like Adam West Batman of course, but sadly there is nothing we can do about it

  28. That’s a defeatest attitude that goes directly against the work I do every day, and I don’t buy it for a second.

  29. I still think that the Biff! Bam! Pow! is just a shorthand for the general public, most of whom aren’t comics readers but whom the writer and editor want to read this article. I guess the question here is what kind of tag line could a writer use to convey the message "hey look this is about comic books" without resorting to something that’s hackneyed and diminishing to its subject matter. Maybe "Comics Creators Trade Blows Over Copyright Lawsuit!" or "Copyright Issue Spawns Continued Dispute." The first might work, the second is probably too inside. I agree that it could be better, but I just don’t put that much stock in silly headlines.

    Comics have been disrespected as a medium since they started existing. Lumped in with the pulps, they weren’t seen as a respectable form of print media. Stanley Leiber was embarrassed to put his real name on the byline because he hoped to write legitimate literary work later on. When I was a kid comics were just dipping their toe into the waters of respectable literature, and tried to cement this position with terms like "graphic novel," "For Mature Readers," and "Adult Content." But this is a two-edged sword, because the more comics try to show that they are a serious medium, the more certain people will point to the most adolescent aspects of the industry to discredit the industry as a whole (never mind that other print and broadcast media also have examples that range from the erudite to the downright infantile).  I think we actually are in a moment right now where comics get a good deal of respect. But I think most of the general public still thinks they’re just for kids. 

    I get that this is a pet peeve, Josh. And I know where you’re coming from. But I think that in some cases an overreaction undermines our own intent. It may occasionally be better to swallow our pride and accept that "They call it Venti, which I love!"

  30. at first i thought you guys were overreacting but now i’m totally on your side. And yes its bad journalism at the least to insert condescending editorialism into a piece of reporting. Nothing but the facts please. Its not even well done or amusing.

    Mainstream media totally accepts comics for what they are and give them respect where its due. TIME Magazine has very good things to say about the Watchmen and other important works of comic art. You’ll see comics written about in high end design magazines with great frequency. As long as we are real with what comics are and don’t try to put up the average weekly superhero comic as more important piece of literature than say Twain or Steinbeck or Camus you’ll be taken seriously. Its absurd to disregard comics’ place in pop culture and literature or to say its not accepted by the media. 

  31. Okay, riddle me this though: I thought Marvel was going to reprint the Miracleman stories as Marvelman, including Alan Moore’s stuff as well as Neil Gaiman’s?  Or was that just the silver age stuff?  They’re owned by Disney now, which really can just come down on a real life SHIELD Helicarrier and settle this once and for all.

    That said, onamonopea such as "WHAM! POW! ZAP!" and my favorite from 90’s Rob Liefeld comics, "CHOOM!  CHOOM!" are just as much a part of the American Comic Book as any of the art from Kirby, Ditko, or Buscema.  It’s a tool and not everyone uses it ("Watchmen" is way more powerful because it’s "silent"), but it’s definitely still there and should be because if used properly it can add another dimension to the comic reading experience

    Also, there is still a condescending attitude towards comics in the media, but it’s been significantly dampened by the success of various recent comic book film adaptations to such an extent that’s it makes any journalist with a condescending attitude seem out of touch.

  32. @icn1983: They haven’t really said what they were going to do with the Miracleman rights they acquired. There hasn’t been much talk since last summer when they first made the announcement.

  33. It’s articles like this that pretty much state how little the writer knows about the materials he’s writing about. I’d like to quote something from Jonathon Hickman but knowing him he’d prefer if I didn’t.

    At the end of the day don’t reporters always hock-up the topic they themselves are not well inversed in?

  34. @icn1983
    The collection with the Quesada cover shown when the announcement was made collects the early stuff (from the ’50s, I think), so it’s possible that they don’t actually have the rights to Moore’s or Gaiman’s.

  35. I still do not see what is so objectionable about the article.  Some people do not like the headline or the intro sentence.  Okay, I do not share the same perspective, but I can see the issue.  But it is just a headline.  The sheer volume of stupid headlines attached to articles is enormous. (so much so that a bad comic has been trading in on them for like 20 years)  The rest of the article was pretty benign and objective.  I have seen far, far worse in GN reviews from people who just didn’t understand the medium, and even worse in film reviews.  I think that people need to choose their battles.

    The author underscores the issue (creator rights) and gives the reader decent statistics that demonstrate the value that can be attached to these IP’s.  I just do not see how the article is condescending.

  36. I help run a spoken word event in Boston, one that has been around for nineteen years now.  And every year some reporter comes in and interviews people, talks about how much (s)he loves what (s)he saw, and they write almost word for word the same crappy article that was written the previous year.  I’ve started giving the same quotes, and then e-mailing the more recent articles to the previous "reporters".  Thus far it has only resulted in my amusement.

    It seems to me that it’s just the case of a lazy, uninspired reporter assigned to an article they have absolutely no emotional connection to, so they just recycle cliches and wrap them in a bow around the basic facts of the article.  Lazy, terrible writing, yes.  But it’s mostly bad editorial for not assigning someone familiar with the subject matter.  Frankly, I’m shocked the print media isn’t dying….oh…ohhhhhhhhh.

  37. just my luck… i finally get to see a news piece regarding the comics world that is taking place on my home turf and it’s gotta be written like this.  *shakes head shamefully*  

    on behalf of all of madison, i formally apologize to the ifanboy nation and comic-loving community as a whole.