You think you’re having a normal week and then all of a sudden, someone drops a bomb on the comics world. Who knew that the key to comics marketing was a public spat with your publisher and then sending your comic to the public domain? (I don’t recommend trying it) Let’s get to that and more in Comics Disassembled, a look at ten things I liked or didn’t like from the week of comics.
1. Fables, Going Public
When word of Bill Willingham sending his own DC Black Label comic Fables into the public domain hit, I didn’t even know what to do with that information. I was flummoxed. Shocked. Bewildered. Maybe even entertained. It was a lot to take in. Here’s the basics, directly from the Substack post of the writer himself.
“As of now, 15 September 2023, the comic book property called Fables, including all related Fables spin-offs and characters, is now in the public domain. What was once wholly owned by Bill Willingham is now owned by everyone, for all time. It’s done, and as most experts will tell you, once done it cannot be undone. Take-backs are neither contemplated nor possible.”
The reason for that move is fairly simple: he isn’t very happy with how DC has handled the latest 12 issue run of the series he’s doing with Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, and Lee Loughridge. Clearly. The gist is it sounds like he’s at odds with the publisher for why the comic isn’t coming out right now, he’s at odds with them over payments (particularly for a cut of the Telltale Games release, A Wolf Among Us), and he’s kind of just at odds with how trademark and copyright rules work. He gets into all that more in the write-up, particularly the DC part, So, as a result, he, uh, released that comic into the public domain.
I still don’t even know what to do with that information. Part of that is because of the general murkiness and interpretative nature of copyright law. Part of it is because…I didn’t know you could just declare something public domain at your leisure? And another part of it is because Fables is at least to some degree a rights-share, with Willingham telling Bleeding Cool that Fables is “fully creator owned, by me, but not creator controlled. DC has most publication and media rights locked up in contract.” Willingham says he will still only be able to make Fables comics or anything else with DC because of those contracts, but now that it’s in the public domain, that doesn’t stop you from making your own Fables stories, whether that you is Mark Buckingham, David Harper, Emily Blunt, Ralph Macchio (whether it’s the Marvel editor or The Karate Kid), or the person who makes your coffee in the morning.
I suspect – suspect! – DC will have something to say about that. Or, more specifically, their lawyers will. The writer admits in his post that he didn’t have enough money to sue DC for the rights. That might be a problem, because he’ll likely need a lawyer’s help because of this. Corporations are famously not fond of giving up intellectual property! This will almost assuredly be a battle, and an ugly one at that. But it’s also one that will likely further blacken the publisher’s eye in the creators’ rights arena, if only because of the public nature of these grievances (which, it’s worth noting, would be further revealed upon if and when this is taken to court).
Speaking of, I talked to a couple lawyer friends — neither of whom are copyright lawyers, but general enthusiasts of law — about this, and the response was largely big eyes followed by a laugh and a shrug. We’ll see what comes from it, but it is a) incredibly messy and b) possibly fairly consequential in the long run! I don’t think it’s as consequential as some people might think (I saw some saying things like, “Alan Moore should do this with Watchmen!” and…I don’t think it works like that), but it’s certainly going to be a show, and one where I suspect no one will win besides people eager to see either DC, Willingham, or both take the L.
Truthfully speaking, the whole thing is at least 75% hilarious to me for one main reason: Fables is a comic made from public domain characters and now they are being returned whence they came. In some ways, it’s a homecoming, as the place from which these characters were born from is where they’re being sent to once again. Just like the comic! There’s also a part of me that wonders whether DC will decide that the juice from a legal battle isn’t worth the squeeze — is anyone really jazzed about this new Fables run, let alone the prospect of more of it — but wars have been waged over less than how exactly an IP split works (especially with a sequel to the Telltale game allegedly coming). Which, I just have to note, is a phrase that feels icky to say, because like Ed Brubaker, I hate describing anything in comics as “IP” or “content” — even if the shoe legally fits.
Immediate post-publish update: DC responded with a public statement that effectively was, “LOL Nah” to Willingham’s move. Here’s what they said: “The Fables comic books and graphic novels published by DC, and the storylines, characters and elements therein, are owned by DC and protected under the copyright laws of the United States and throughout the world in accordance with applicable law, and are not in the public domain. DC reserves all rights and will take such action as DC deems necessary or appropriate to protect its intellectual property rights.”
2. Robert Wilson IV, Being a Good Egg
Let’s take a massive turn from a hot mess to a cool thing. It’s something artist Robert Wilson IV is cooking up for New York Comic Con, as he’s hosting a New Creator Breakfast in which new and young and aspiring creators can meet up for some food and meet peers, pros, editors, and more to pick up some tips on how to operate in this crazy world we call comics. Wilson has done these several times before, and it’s always something that people seem to get a lot out of — watch out for guest stars, as I know he’s done that in the past! — and Wilson himself enjoys.
As a big buyer of stock in all things Robert Wilson IV, I could not recommend attending this any more if you’ll be at the convention. He knows his stuff, plus you can get some necessary pre-convention breakfast. What’s not to like? Anyways, good job by you, Robert! I’m always happy to see him do these meet-ups. They’re totally rad.