Making a name stick in the comics business can be tough work, but sometimes forces other than marketing hold sway in how publishers brand their products.
Last week, BOOM! Studios announced that it would relaunch its BOOM! Kids like under the name kaboom! Comics and would bring on new properties including Charles Schulz’s “Peanuts” and new, creator-owned titles from the likes of Roger Langridge. However, once the initial announcement had hit the Net, CBR Pipeline Columnist Augie De Blieck noted a potential roadblock in the publisher’s plans:
Yesterday, BOOM! Studios announced the new name for their kids-friendly imprint. It’s no longer “BOOM! Kids.” Now, it’s “kaboom!” I’m assuming the all-lowercase part is intentional. Maybe it’s done that way and with the exclamation point to separate it out from Jeph Loeb and Jeff Matsuda’s comic book, published by Rob Liefeld’s Awesome, “Kaboom.” Matsuda last drew the character on his blog in 2007.
As it turns out, Liefeld was already looking into legal action due to the similarity of names in all ways but typographically. “And yes @augiedb,” the creator Tweeted. “My lawyers are drafting a complaint. Busy week. Shouldn’t be an issue since we released the KABOOM! HC and trade last year.”
BOOM! declined further comment, so we turned the question of legality over to Comics Should Be Good’s resident lawyer Brian Cronin for his expert advice. “Matters of trademark infringement, especially in modern trademark law, turn on customer confusion,” Cronin shared. “Perhaps the biggest development in the field of trademark protection has been the “dilution” concept, where famous trademarks have a case for infringement even if the trademark at issue is in an unrelated market (like, you probably couldn’t make a comic book about a Jewish superhero called Seinfeld). Here, though, Kaboom is certainly not a “famous” mark, so the owner of the mark must show that the use by alleged infringer (BOOM!) creates a likelihood of confusion over the source of the product being identified by the allegedly infringing use. That is very hard to do with non-famous marks, except when they are in the same market, which happens to be the case here.
“So while it certainly isn’t absolutely clear, I think it is fairly safe to say that a line of comic books sharing the same name as an in-print comic book is close enough to create a likelihood of confusion, particularly when both comics are aimed at the same specific subset of the comic book market (younger consumers).”
If Liefeld’s take on the situation does pan out, it wouldn’t be the first time in recent history a comic company has had to course correct a bit in terms of titling. Aside from more well known examples such as Marvel’s loss of the ability to name a comic series “Champions,” this year saw Image debut Kurtis J. Wiebe and Scott Kowalchuck’s comic as “The Intrepids” after their initial title of “Rat Bastards” was found to conflict with another comics publisher’s copyrighted “Rat Bastard” series.
From Boom!’s perspective, the publisher could claim “Kaboom” is too-descriptive to trademark at all, given it’s been a sound-blurb in the field since the invention of super hero comics. They could also make the case that the marks are different enough, based on the look of the work, capitalization, exclamation point, content and other branding.