(UPDATE) The Gary Friedrich Situation & What That Has to Do with Sean Murphy and Commissions

I assume you are aware of the Gary Friedrich Situation. The basic gist is that Gary Friedrich sued Marvel claiming copyright of Ghost Rider, a character he might have co-created. He lost the lawsuit, and the judge ordered Friedrich to pay $17,000 in damages, and he’s not allowed to sell Ghost Rider themed anything anymore. He’s also a bit older, and if the stories are true, not in the best financial situation.

Some see this as a corporation stomping on the little guy. Others see it as a baseless lawsuit. Me? I don’t know. I think it’s not as clear cut as any of those simple answers.

Cartoonist Ty Templeton put it this way:

It’s a tough call, honestly, and there is no shortage of people sharing their minds on the subject.

One way it’s affecting artists is in the area of selling sketches and sketchbooks featuring copyrighted characters, and whether the publishers can come down on you for that. I’ve thought about it for years as I wander through comic conventions. There is unlicensed merchandise everywhere. I always figured there was so much that the IP holders didn’t have the resources to do anything about it. But in the case with Friedrich, it was used as a stick

In response, artist Sean Murphy (Joe the Barbarian, American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest) has decreed that he’ll no longer do commissions of unauthorized characters.

Regarding the debate of whether comic artists should continue selling unauthorized prints/sketches of characters they don’t own, I think Bissette and his legal advisor are 100% correct.  So from now on, I won’t be doing any sketches or commissions at shows of any character that I don’t own.  Am I rolling over in fear of Marvel?  Maybe, but as it states below, they’re in their legal right to come after me if there’s ever a dispute.  I love to complain about the Big Two, but I can’t (in good conscience) get upset at them if I’m breaking the rules myself.  Being DC exclusive, maybe I can get a waiver that allows me to sketch DC characters, so I’ll keep you updated.

He goes on to cite comments made by Stephen Bissette’s legal advisor, who claims of the above cartoon that Templeton “is talking (drawing?) out of his ass.”

As will happen, the online comics community has been talking about this all day. If lots of artists took this road, the gray market of convention sketches and copyright would change completely. Is that a bad thing? It depends on your point of view. Artists who make this pledge are certain to lose at least some money, and it might be a little harder to fill out your X-Men themed sketchbook, but it’s also a sensible course. But is it undue caution? Time will tell.

In the meantime, whether he’s in the right or not, Steve Niles has set up a place where people can donate to Gary Friedrich to help him with his legal expenses, and whatever else he might need.

If we’ve learned nothing else over the past month, read your contracts, and be well aware of what you’re signing, and who owns what. Use the lessons of yesterday to make better decisions today, and as readers, keep yourself informed so that you’re giving your money to the people you want to support.

UPDATE: Comic Book Resources spoke with Marvel Publisher Dan Buckley and Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada about this situation in general and in the below quotes they spoke to the concerns of this lawsuit infringing on the activities in artist’s alley at conventions.

Joe Quesada:

Let me put this as simply as I can: Marvel is not looking to make any new policy announcements through this lawsuit — a lawsuit that began five years ago.

As a case in point, the Internet and the creative community became incredibly concerned when Disney acquired Marvel in 2009, thinking that Marvel now wouldn’t return original art to its artists, even despite my publicly stating the contrary. As you can see, that was unfounded.

Dan Buckley:

We in no way want to interfere with creators at conventions who are providing a positive Marvel experience for our fans. We want fans to speak and interact with the creators who wrote, penciled, inked, lettered, colored or edited their favorite stories. Part of that positive interaction is that a fan can walk away with a signed memento or personalized sketch from an artist.


  1. It’s sad state of affairs. I honestly can’t think of a good remedy that might make both parties happy. Either way, some one is going to get screwed. Badly.

  2. its a weird state thats for sure. If you look around not only artists alley but all over the internet there are thousand of designers and artists selling unauthorized works for every pop culture brand imaginable including comics. I’ve always been under the assumption that they turn the other way as its a form of guerilla marketing that builds the brand….the corporations gain MORE from the unauthorized works being out there, than if they spend legal money and time on fighting it…or hiring an agency to create and market that same content. Crazy Precedent being set.

    Templeton’s cartoon is an interesting counter point…but i have to ask, does he have insider info about the whole situation? Its a bit odd seeing a creator defend a billion dollar media empire like Disney to the point where he’s basically crucifying a fellow creator.

  3. Why isn’t Ploog suing Friedrich for his designs being sold. Oh wait … cause Marvel owns them…

  4. Was it wrong for Friedrich to sell Ploog’s artwork? (Which kinda contradicts his views in some ways if you think about it) Yes.

    But the whole story no matter who is right or wrong just feels really sick. I have more of a problem, again whether the man is right or not, that they are forcing to pay $17,000 on a guy who is essentially dirt poor.

    • i don’t know what was signed but i do have a problem with a Multi Billion Dollar media conglomerate using legal technicalities to squeeze a former contract employee out of $17k for spite and to prove a point to every creator who ever has or will work for them (which i think this whole thing was actually about)

      “if you make waves, the mouse will destroy you”

    • I’ve read posts from Neal Adams who basically states that Friedrich is close to destitute. I would hope that’s not true. And Templeton’s depiction of those who would side with an artist, wow! Thanks for that, asshole!
      Marvel winning the case, barring Friedrich from profiting on drawing sketches of Marvel characters, will set a precedent. I don’t see how it would not.

    • I would think that $17k is a lot less than a normal Trademark or IP lawsuit settlement. If you think about it this way, to prove that Marvel owed Friedrich no money then he must not hold the copyright and therefore was in the wrong. I am not taking sides but it seems to me that Friedrich put Marvel in a corner by suing them. As far as convention sketches go, I would consider them homages done as one offs. As long as there isn’t mass amounts of money trading hands and large printing runs being done the copyright holders most likely consider this a cost of doing business. In other words it’s not wise to go after each artist who in all probability has worked on the character because they charged you $20 for doing a sketch. It is quite possible that they understand that this allows them to stay in the industry and too continue doing work for them, so it makes business sense to turn a blind eye. Now how they do that for original pages still makes no sense to me…..

    • I wonder how much Friedrich was originally paid, in total, for his work on Ghost Rider? Wouldn’t it be ironic if it came up to $17,000…

  5. I’d love to side with Friedrich,on this one, but it seems he was waaay off.

    And the contracts freelancers/staffers signed were pretty explicit, even back in the day.

    • I guess the difference is that DC (while not perfect) has gone back and given back to the creators in the past. Marvel just has a history of pooping on it’s creators, starting with Stan “The Man” Lee pulling his pants down and squatting first …

    • I’ve seen an interview with Stan Lee where he explains how he didn’t think Ditko should be called a co-creator on Spider-man. He finally agreed to make Steve [“happy”]. But even to this day, it irks him that he had to do that.

      But I want to admit at the end of the day, everyone is trying to do their best, most people who work at Marvel are good people and want to do the right thing (including the lawyers, afterall its their job). It’s just a sickening situation …

      Everyone should just do creator owned comics! The great thing about the big comic companies is that they don’t create new characters anymore so you if you get a freelance, you just have to write their characters.

    • Totally agree. There is a huge disparity in wealth and power between Friedrich and Marvel but no one forced him to sign a contract assigning all ownership rights to any characters he may have created. It was completely voluntary. He knew he was an employee for Marvel and was paid for his work. End of story.

  6. I’m gonna miss the “Weekly Sketch-Up” on iFanboy. That is all I’m gonna say.

  7. Explicit copyright infringement for personal gain really isn’t a legal technicality, it’s just theft–at least if you think copyright is valid. The message Marvel is sending with this case–and I agree they are sending a message–is that you better damn sure have a strong case if you’re going to bring one against them.

  8. I hope someone reported Ty Templeton’s unauthorized commercial use of Forbush Man to Marvel.

  9. I don’t see this leading to companies suing every artist who does a sketch at a convention. Besides the cost it would take in legal fees, and lack of gaining any thing (since the companies aren’t selling sketches themselves so it is not competition to them but aides there marketing as some one said). It would alienate there artists, who now pad there checks making money sketching, and must imagine them selves someday retired and sketching as a main source of income as many older artists do now. Also it would piss off there fans who like getting sketches. So they have little to gain and a lot to lose if they tried to strictly enforce the copy rights.

    • I agree that I don’t see companies suing artists for doing the sketches. I am concerned, however, that some artists I love will decide to follow Sean Murphy’s route and decline to do sketches of certain characters in order to protect themselves from possible legal action. (I realized after I wrote this that it sounds like I’m opposed to what Murphy has decided to do, and I don’t mean that at all. I think he’s made a pretty reasonable decision about copyright law and his own legal status, I just wish he, and other creators should they choose to, didn’t have to make that decision).

    • I think it would be great if the Big Two would release some official statement about whether or not this ruling means that artists can’t sell art featuring their characters. A number of artists really depend on that extra income and while I’m sure they don’t mind drawing your favorite made up superhero (The Silver Ocelot shall rise!), I would say a large percentage if not a majority want to see them tackle more recognizable characters or the characters they helped define in the course of their careers.

    • I think that would be wonderful too, but I dont’ see them opening that legal door. I wonder if, as Murphy stated he might try, exclusive artists could work sketches into their contracts (while you’re a DC exclusive you can do sketches of DC characters). It wouldn’t really hep non-exclusive artists, but it would be something. This is all very worrisome for me because sketches are my favorite part of the con experience. I don’t cosplay and I don’t buy too many books. I mainly go to get sketches. It’s also too bad for the artists because, as you said, that extra income is really important to a lot of people. I wonder how many artists would cut down on con attendance because it wouldn’t be worth it financially.

      It also makes me wonder if they are going to continue to print the comics with blank variant covers meant specifically for sketching.

    • I could totally see this leading to some lawsuits based on copyright infringement. Technically, most of the sketches we see at cons and stores are unauthorized use of IP. In the case of commissioned work, there is definite monetary gain beyond the usual “tips” that are customary for simple sketches.

      DC and Marvel are part of HUGE conglomerates, which have entire legal departments of people to do this type of thing. That is a budget line-item, a cost of doing business. I would not take much for them to fire off a few lawsuits to scare people – in fact, it would be cheap and easy. Plus, these are ALL over the internet these days – all you need is a few people running google searches and making screen captures.

      Also, just remember that entertainment lawyers (some of whom might have worked for Disney or Warner or do now) sued a number of people for downloading music. Many of them weren’t even the ones who made the files available in the first place, but they were sued for thousands of dollars. So there’s a notion that small individuals can be individually sued over IP.

      We all know that a sketch is not the same as a perfect digital copy of a Metallica song. But if these types smell blood (or money), don’t be surprised when the fangs come out.

  10. Thank you for a balanced and fair article. It certainly revealed a few things i was not aware of before. certainly a sticky wicket.

  11. So my walls are now covered with potentially actionable trademark violations. That’s nice to know.

    Seriously, though, the precedent this case could set regarding sketches, commissions, sketchbooks, and prints at conventions is scary (to me, at least). A lot of artists pretty much rely on these sales to be able to cover the cost of attending the cons. If an artist knows they won’t be able to cover his/her expenses, I just can’t see them attending the con at all.

    Now, Sean Murphy mentioned one (hopefully) feasible solution: a waiver. He’s exclusive to DC, so it wouldn’t seem too unlikely for him to be able to get some sort of waiver or limited license from DC to be able to draw and sell sketches of DC characters. One would hope the publishers would grant this to their respective artists.

    So, that leaves artists who may be recognized only for having drawn a trademarked character in the past, but no longer have a connection to the trademark-holding publisher. You know that anyone who drew Batman at one point will be asked to draw Batman at a con. And that artist probably relies on that fact in order to justify going to a show. Does this mean they’ll just stop going? I guess we’ll see.

    As for indie artists, if you’re going to a con and asking them to draw something from the big two, you’re doing it wrong as a fan. Let them draw what they love, which, more often than not, will be their own creation. I met Kevin Mellon and Kody Chamberlain at NYCC in 2012, and when they each asked what I wanted them to draw for me, my response was “what do you WANT to draw?” And their faces just lit up. Mellon drew Shelby from Gearhead and Chamberlain drew a zombie (which I didn’t see coming at all since my only exposure to his work was Sweets). Not only does this avoid any trademark violation, but it also let them know that I appreciate THEIR work, THEIR creations.

    Alternatively, maybe this year I’ll just go to Artist Alley with my own pad of bristol board and tell artists I’ll pay them money to sign a page of my sketchpad, and wouldn’t terribly mind if they happened to use the rest of the page for…whatever.

    • Edit to the above: it should read “NYCC in 2011” not “2012.”

    • Interestingly, this case is nothing new. It’s the same precedent regarding IP law as has been in effect for decades. The only new portion of it is that the artist was counter-sued for thousands of dollars. I think any lawyer worth his salt would tell any artist that this practice has long been risky, at best.

    • Sorry JFernandes, but I disagree with your comment about asking indie artists to draw something from the big 2. It may be your opinion that I’m doing it wrong as a fan, but I’ve seen plenty of indie artists very happy to take my money for drawing a Marvel or a DC property. Dave Wachter can draw the hell out of a Western comic, in fact he does with Guns of Shadow Valley. I’m not a fan of Western comics, but I love the way the guy draws Captain America, and I’ll be happy to pay him what he asks for a Cap sketch.

      I’m just not seeing how I’m wrong as a comics fan here…

  12. Ive actually got one of these ploog prints signed by gary.. He does describe himself as the ghost rider creator. I think he charges like 10 dollars.. Gary did seem close to destitute just based on what he was wearing. He looked like someone that was living out of his car.. with wrinkled… faded old cloths. I was thinking man… this guy created ghost rider.. and hes reduced to this?? I love the character so i gladly paid the man.

  13. Jim Shooter has a pretty cogent blog post on this whole issue:


    • yeah, its a pretty interesting article. I think if Marvel really goes the way of Disney (which from first hand experience i know how aggressive their lawyers are) then its going to change comics convention culture for the worse. I still maintain that these publishers earn A LOT in terms of guerilla marketing and brand building with the fanbase and i hope they see it that way.

  14. Parts of that comic are debatable, but Freidrich sued Marvel. The dogs hunted him down because he threw rocks at them first.

  15. I always wondered how artists got away with selling sketches of Marvel/DC characters, I guess it’s really cuz the big two don’t really care as it does enhance the brand.

    If someone were to sell unauthorized NFL dvd’s of the NY Giants super bowl run, NFL would definitely come down on them, can’t see how this is different from the big two

    • Selling unauthorized NFL DVDs is nothing like selling comic sketches. If you were reproducing a comic itself, either electronically or on paper, it would be more akin to selling unauthorized NFL DVDs. A sketch is not a comic book, even though it may be a representation of elements of the book.

    • so if i changed my analogy to creating an animated short starring your favorite new york giants players or perhaps using nfl team mascots would that be the same?

    • I think so. You’re not reproducing the broadcast of the game (which they CLEARLY state is a violation in the closing credits of every NFL game). But you are using trademarked and copyrighted designs and mascots, I would think that if they wanted to pursue that as a violation, they could.

      But what if you did it for free? Is there still harm? What if I make a comic of the Superbowl and make it free to read online?????

    • But that’s usually not what goes on in cons, the sketches are sold for money. If you made sketches then gave em away for free, then there’s no problem

    • Well, some sketches are done for tips – I suppose that way they can claim that you’re paying for the effort, not the actual sketch (hey, it’s work for hire, just like the olden days!). Some are straight up sold. Still not the same thing as copying a comic and selling it, but it may use copyrighted characters, so it gets into that IP area.

      What do they do about celebrity likenesses? I’m sure there have been lawsuits about that. Let’s say I’m a talented artist (I’m not) and I am drawing and selling sketches of Liberace (who was a real person, that I would never draw). Can his estate tell me to stop using his likeness? I’m thinking they can at least threaten to take action. Sometimes a cease and desist letter is enough to get someone to stop. What if I’m selling (I’m not BTW) Kim Kardashian t-shirts (just her pic, no name). Can she take action to stop me?

      Worse, what if someone were selling t-shirts with MY ugly mug on them? I wish they would stop!

      Something more akin to your NFL video example are the people at cons and such selling DVD copies of all kinds of movies and shows. Sure, some of it may not be available in the US or not be “in print,” and it may be mastered from 20-year-old VHS tapes they found in the garage, but it’s still technically a copyright violation for them to author a crappy DVD set, package it up, and sell it for $20 a pop.

  16. @josh Gary Friedrich was Ghost Rider’s writer, not an artist. http://marvel.wikia.com/Marvel_Spotlight_Vol_1_5

  17. Also interesting: “Gary Friedrich & Marvel: Fact vs Rumour”. http://ohdannyboy.blogspot.com/2012/02/gary-friedrich-marvel-fact-vs-rumour.html

  18. Glad to see that statement from Marvel and I think it’s pretty sincere. The problem is that the precedent has been set that if a creator goes after Marvel first, they have this method of firing back if necessary. And I think it’s perfectly logical for creators to feel uneasy about sketching licensed characters at conventions because of this one incident, despite the statement.

  19. I wonder if Sean Murphy will change his stance now.

  20. I don’t understand why everyone wants to make the big two out to be the bad guys in these sort of situations. Sure there have been examples of creators being screwed by the big two but this is not one of them, and for those of you complaining that they sued $17,000 I have to wonder why you would expect the corporation to foot the entirety of the bill in an otherwise frivolous lawsuit. By all rights marvel could have sued for the whole $100,000 in court costs plus damages. Do you think Friedrich was just suing for $17,000?
    Everyone seems concerned this takes away from the creator’s ability to publicize their work and interact with their fans. Take a look at the statements from marvel, they give the artist back their original artwork knowing full well the artists generally sell it for a profit. They expect creators to sketch their characters at public appearances. On paper they have the right to stop this, however if they are publicly endorsing it it (such as with a statement from company reps or sponsoring the creators participation in a convention) legally they forfeit their right to fight against it. Regardless, this case is a whole different issue, marvel wasn’t the one doing the suing.
    It’s easy to make the one with the most money look like the bad guy, that doesn’t mean they are.

  21. I’m not sure how I feel about all this, but I do really like what Dan Buckley said above.

  22. templeton really put it into perspective for me.

    • I would take Templeton’s words with a grain of salt. The panel about Friedrich creating Ghost Rider and Thomas and Ploog disagreeing is inaccurate. They all agree that Friedrich came up with the name and the supernatural origin component but that Thomas came up with the motorcycle riding component. The argument comes from who came up with the flaming skull part. Thomas says it was he and Ploog. Friedrich says he mainly did, and Ploog says he doesn’t remember either way. These things are not the same as “completely disagree.”

      As for the $17,00 counter-suit, he reduces Friedrich to a random “freelancer” rather than a co-creator of a character that Marvel is making movie money off of. Marvel is a corporation, owned by Disney, a larger corporation. Friedrich is a dude. To claim that he “owes them money” for their need to fight the lawsuit is ridiculous. I think Marvel and Disney will be okay without his money. They are simply punishing him for attempting to fight the horrible contracts the comic industry used during the time period he was working, and those contracts were horrible.

    • I can’t imagine that Marvel is ever, ever going to make Friedrich pay that money.

      This move is likely leverage for them to prevent further action on his part, rather than just punishing him vindictively. Companies don’t do that. Not because they are kind, caring entities, but because it isn’t cost effective. Imagine how much it must cost for Marvel to pay their legion of lawyers just to draw up the papers to counter-sue Friedrich, not to mention how much it would cost to enforce the payment. More than 17K, I’d wager.

      I feel for Friedrich, honest, but I’m really not sure that I blame Marvel for their actions. Obviously I don’t have anything resembling all of the information, but from what I’ve read it seems that Marvel are protecting their interests and navigating a potentially destructive precedent being set. Whether it was fair or not, they had a contract with Friedrich which he signed of his own free will. Whether it’s a shitty contract or not is not the point.

      Ethically, are they doing the right thing? Again, I don’t know. I wasn’t there. I don’t know who created the goddamned Ghost Rider.

      One thing I am curious about, though, is who is paying Friedrich’s legal fees. It can’t be cheap to put together a lawsuit against a fucking Disney company, but Friedrich is bankrupt, selling art at cons to get by. Not a conspiracy theory or anything, I’m legitimately curious.

  23. The more these situations happen at Marvel and the more statements they have to make leaves me thinking:

    Dan Didio must be somewhere right now, smiling and rubbing his hands and laughing. Cause for once everything is looking up roses for him.

  24. What did Gary do exactly? Did he really sell someone else’ art?
    Even so… Why isnt the art with that person? Did the person give it to him? Was it a photocopied art.
    If so what is the difference between selling 2nd hand books?

    • *Obligatory “I am not a lawyer” qualifier*

      As I understand it, Gary was selling drawings of Ghost Rider drawn by creator Mike Ploog without Ploog’s permission. Additionally, Marvel had a problem with Gary doing so under the claim that he was the creator of Ghost Rider, a claim that (evidently) was and continues to be disputed legally.

      I think it’s less like selling second hand books than it is like printing a Travel Foreman sketch off the internet, signing it and selling it. Regardless of whether or not you created Animal Man, you’re selling someone else’s artwork without their permission.

      Again, of course, this is just my understanding.

    • My understanding, based on fairly limited reading*, is that Friedrich has been selling prints of art, at least some of which he commissioned. That is, he’s not selling the original art, just making potentially infinite copies to sell.

      Honestly, I’d sort of expect this to happen. Maybe you can argue Friedrich should get some leeway because he (co-) created the character, but he does seem to be pretty clearly legally in the wrong, absent that one caveat. Take that away and you can end up with a situation like this: I commission Adam Hughes to sketch Power Girl for me. I then take that sketch, reproduce it, and sell the prints. If I were doing that, I’d be sued by DC and crushed by the fan community. The only reason Friedrich isn’t being crushed by fans is that he did have a hand in creating the character. A hand which he used to sign away rights.

      If you sell a second-hand book, you no longer have it and can’t keep re-selling it. If you make copies of the book and keep selling them, well, you’re pirating the book.

      * I just recently heard about all of this, when Phil Noto tweeted about it. Incidentally, this doesn’t seem to have stopped him from posting sketches of Marvel characters on his Tumblr. He put up a Hulk/Iron Man yesterday and a Black Widow today.

    • This is my understanding: Gary Friedrich can still purchase Marvel merchandise (e.g. Marvel licensed prints of Ghost Rider), sign them and resell them for a premium. This would be the same as selling 2nd hand signed books and he is allowed to do that (it would be really crazy if he weren’t). What he can’t do is to produce his own Ghost Rider merchandise (e.g. unlicensed prints commissioned and produced by him) which is a direct effect of the lawsuit’s outcome.

  25. You know what’s great about this? This will not effect the box office for Ghost Rider 2 at all.

    That isn’t sarcasm. I doubt most people were going to watch it anyways but this story will not hurt/help ticket sales at all tomorrow.

  26. You know what this is going to do in the long term? Nothing. I work for the government at a local lake as a Park Ranger and about 3 years ago it was discovered that a very prolific invasive species had been introduced into local lakes. These little pest (quagga mussels to be precise) can totally destroy the plumbing and Eco structure of a given lake. It is a multi million dollar problem up in the great lakes area. Anyways, people were freaking out and they were talking about shutting lakes down and the boaters were up in arms and we spent tens of thousands of dollars running around trying to ‘fix’ the problem. Now it’s 3 years later and nothing has really changed at all. The mussels are still there and we hired a couple of people to ‘inspect’ boats before they go into the water and after they come out. It was a whole lot of freaking out over nothing.

    That’s what this is.

    The industry is going to freak out and maybe this years cons will be a little different then previous years but by next year it’ll roll back to something akin to normal. If we take to heart what was said by Joe and friends at marvel they’re not looking to pursue anyone for doing sketches. It’s easy to hate The Man (or Big 2) but in this case I think it’s all a bit misplaced. Things will be fine and artists will go back to sketching as soon as the artists start to communicate with each other and Marvel execs start to communicate behind the scenes….and I don’t mean a public apology or on Twitter but in that back of the house network that exists within any profession.

    Relax guys we’ll get our sketches back. 😉

  27. All I know is Marvel is really F*cked up for suing a guy that is dirt poor. The argument that they spent so much on defending themselves is lame, seems like pocket change to a company that huge. I probably won’t buy any Marvel books anymore, and I know that sounds silly but damn I really don’t see why they would do a thing like that. Sounds like something Wal-Mart would do.

    • Marvel didn’t sue Friedrich. He sued them.

    • You have every right to choose how you spend your money, but if you are basing it on this particular incident, I would make sure to have the facts straight. Gary sued them, then they counter-sued him to demerit his original claim and only for the exact amount of money that he sold a licensed character drawn by another artist for. Anyway, spend your money on good comics from another publisher!