This is the one-hundred and ninety-second in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous one-hundred and ninety-one.
A bit of a theme this week (well, two out of three ain’t bad!) – the theme of litigiousness!
COMIC LEGEND: Archie Comics forced a satirical play about the Archie Characters to cease using the actual names of the characters.
The case of “Archie’s Weird Fantasy” is an interesting exercise on what is a protected parody. Most folks are familiar with the famous court decision where 2 Live Crew was allowed to use a substantial amount of Roy Orbison’s song “Oh, Pretty Woman” in doing their commercial parody song, “Pretty Woman.”
However, in the case of “Archie’s Weird Fantasy,” a play that was to premiere at Dad’s Garage Theatre in Atlanta in April of 2003, the production company were a bit unclear about whether their work would qualify for parody fair use protection.
The play was about Archie and the rest of his gang growing up and dealing with their sexual identities, particularly Archie dealing with coming out as gay, and the appeal of going back to Riverdale, which in the play would be synonymous with going into the closet.
Along the way, Archie gets involved with Leopold and Loeb, Jimmy Olsen and EC Comics in comedic (and some not so comedic) ways. The EC Comics section of the play allows for an examination of the anti-comic book hysteria of the 1950s.
In an amusing riff on the timelessness of Archie Comics, the entirety of the play takes place in “the present,” even though historical figures such as Leopold and Loeb are worked into the plot. This, I’m sure, is a commentary on how Archie Comics are ALWAYS set in “the present,” whatever year it might be!
The night before the show was to premiere, Archie Comics delivered a cease and desist letter, threatening legal action and pointing out copyright violations that would cost in the six figures for each violation.
Ultimately, Dad’s Garage Theatre artistic director, Sam Daniels, felt that there probably was too much non-parody material within the play to keep it protected as a parody, so they quickly changed the name of the play to Weird Comic Book Fantasy, and Archie Andrews became Buddy Baxter, Riverdale became Rockville, etc. etc.
Almost exactly two years later, the playwright adapted the play into a new play called The Golden Age, using much of the same material, but this time in his control (as opposed to one night before a show’s debut having to re-name all the characters). The New York Times reviewed The Golden Age very favorably here.
I’m, of course, dancing around the playwright’s name a bit, and that’s because it is interesting to note that his interest in comic books in his plays drew attention from Marvel Comics, and they hired him to do a new Fantastic Four series back in 2004, and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has been one of the best writers working at Marvel ever since!
So I guess the whole thing had a happy ending!
Thanks to Curt Holman for the information behind this piece! Check out his entertainment articles here!
COMIC LEGEND: Mike Zeck and Rick Leonardi co-designed Spider-Man’s black costume.
STATUS: I’m Going with False
Awhile back, T asked (and I believe others have asked this over the years) about who did what with the design of Spider-Man’s black costume – the costume is often credited as designed by Mike Zeck and Rick Leonardi and sometimes it is credited as designed by Mike Zeck alone.
I am going to come down on the side of saying it was designed by Mike Zeck, but I’ll lay out the entire sequence and let you folks decide for yourselves, really.
Okay, so first off, Zeck was asked to design a new black costume for Spider-Man to be introduced in Secret Wars (which Zeck was drawing).
He sketched out the costume for his later use (the same design he used for Spider-Woman’s costume).
However, since the costume was going to be appearing in the Spider-Man books BEFORE Zeck actually got around to introducing the costume IN Secret Wars, Marvel needed a traditional turnaround view drawing of the design.
A turnaround view is just what it sounds like, a view of the character from the front, the back and the side.
This is so that other artists can use the model sheet for when they draw the character.
Now Zeck was drawing Secret Wars at the time, and as you may or may not recall, he was way behind schedule, even before the book was released he was running behind schedule (they ended up having a fill-in artist for a couple of issues of the series to allow him to catch up, and even then, we had the last issue be filled with a multitude of inkers). So Jim Shooter was not going to give him anything extra to do while he was working on the series.
So in enters Rick Leonardi.
Leonardi then does the model sheet for the new black costume, and Marvel later publishes said model sheet in Marvel Age, which forever solidifies Leonardi’s name in fan’s minds as “that dude who designed Spider-Man’s costume.”
Thanks to Will Shyne, who posted a copy of the drawings (courtesy of a Wizard Spider-Man book) on his blog, here are the Leonardi turnaround drawings (click to enlarge)
So does the translation of a sketch into a model sheet count as co-designing? Obviously, Zeck’s sketch was just preliminary, but the design is not exactly an intricate one. It is a simple design, so would a preliminary sketch count as the design?
I say yes.
Leonardi may have been the first one to flesh out the original design, but the original design was Zeck’s and I feel it remains Zeck’s.
I would imagine that Rick Leonardi feels that his development of Zeck’s original sketch may count as co-designing the costume (and I have seen him give interviews to that affect, although he notably never actually says he co-designed it), but I don’t think it really diminishes Leonardi’s contributions to say that the design is Zeck’s.
Thanks to T for the question! Thanks to Mike Zeck and Rick Leonardi (the latter from interviews) for their takes on the situation! Thanks to Will Shyne for the Leonardi drawings!
COMIC LEGEND: DC Comics filed suit against a band using the name “Riddle Me This.”
In 1995, the Denton, Texas band Riddle Me This attempted to file for trademark protection for their name, which they had been using since 1991. They were quite a bit surprised in 1996 when they received a notice of opposition from Warner Bros. stating that Warner Bros. owns the rights to the phrase “Riddle Me This” due to its connection with their character, the Riddler.
1995 also saw the release of the film Batman Forever, prominently featuring Jim Carrey as the Batman villain, the Riddler, and that phrase was used a lot during the commercials leading up to the film’s release.
Riddle Me This actually did a trademark search in 1991 when they came up with the name (paying $300 for it) and they did not come up with anything that would seem to keep them from the name (Band leader Eric Keyes noted “all we found was a race horse and some record store in Canada”).
The suit continued into 1997, and to be honest, I do not know how it was ultimately resolved, except to note that the band continued using the name well into the new millennium, but they notably used the abbreviation RmT on their album covers, so perhaps some sort of arrangement was struck between Warner Bros. and the band?
By the by, their 1998 release was humorously titled “Trademark.”
Thanks to Paul Blanshard for the suggestion! And thanks to Matt Weitz and the Associated Press for additional information!
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Thanks to the Grand Comic Book Database for this week’s covers!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is email@example.com.
See you next week!