When Comicology, which the publisher describes as the “magazine that belongs on your bookshelf,” debuted in January with a massive “Kingdom Come Companion” issue, pretty much everyone loved it.
Don’t count DC Comics among the admirers.
The publishers of the 1996 “Kingdom Come” miniseries wrote “Comicology” publishers Harbor Press in early February, demanding that they “cease and desist from any further publication, distribution, promotion, or sale of” the first issue of Comicology, the only issue to date.
The $16.95 trade paperback book-sized magazine is bound in a squarebound format is 272 pages in length, 40 pages longer than the trade paperback edition of the “Kingdom Come” miniseries. Beyond extensive annotations on who all the characters artist Alex Ross packed into the comic, the magazine also features never before seen Ross sketches of the characters and interviews with both Ross and series writer Mark Waid.
Unsurprisingly, Harbor Press is going along with DC’s demands, Brian Saner Lamken, the editor and publisher of Comicology, told the Comic Wire this weekend.
“All individual orders, as well as bulk purchase orders from retailers and distributors, have gone unfilled since we received DC’s letter,” Lamken said. “I apologize sincerely to folks whose checks have yet to be returned, especially those who are reading this before I’ve had a chance to contact them directly, but it’s been rather necessary not to say anything while we’ve been in consultation with our lawyers and made up our minds about exactly what to do.”
And there are orders that will remain unfilled.
“A week before DC’s cease-and-desist letter, Diamond Comic Distributors placed a series of orders effectively cleaning Harbor Press out of any backstock of Comicology Volume One. Diamond itself was served a copy of the letter, however, and naturally notified Harbor Press of its desire to bow to DC’s will in this matter and return any copies for which payment had yet to be delivered. I don’t blame them, and neither we nor Diamond anticipate this situation having any ill effect on our future relations.
“What’s frustrating is that we went from being faced with the happy proposition of going back to press sooner than anticipated to dealing with the announced return, from Diamond, of about 10 percent of our total print run in fine physical condition but still unsalable pending extremely unlikely approval from DC.”
The problem, according to DC is that the issue “constitutes an unauthorized derivative work that infringes upon our copyrights, violates our trademark rights, and misappropriates our good will.”
Normally, journalism and parodies are covered under a United States legal standard called “fair use,” which allows for copyrighted material to be used for purposes of commentary or even parody. Thus, for instance, the Awesome Entertainment character Supreme can exist despite being a clear variant on DC Comics’ Superman. Although defining the line would be tricky, DC’s lawyers apparently feel the first issue of Comicology crossed the line and instead of being a commentary on the mini-series, is an attempt to cash in on it.
Such third-party publications aren’t unknown: In the 1980s, a series of guides and annotations to DC Comics’ “Crisis on Infinite Earths” series were published, without a cease and desist order from the comic book publisher.
“I don’t have much to say in response,” Lamken said, “Except that there’s a massive, 800-pound gorilla of misunderstanding lumbering around that’s left quite a mess. DC was aware of this project from its gestation over two years ago, and Harbor Press believed that it had gone through all the appropriate channels at DC while putting the thing together. Clearly, DC was not as conscious of the exact nature of the magazine as we had believed, and the blame belongs to both sides or neither one.
“Am I angry? Of course I am. Not a week goes by without unsolicited checks and fan letters arriving at our door, and we have to tell people looking for copies that we no longer have any available for purchase even though those big boxes in storage would seem to indicate otherwise. The most productive thing to do with that anger, however, is to channel it into Harbor Press’ subsequent projects, and hope that the few retailers left with any copies on the racks find homes for them among the literally hundreds of expectant readers.”
Fortunately for Lamken, the next issue of Comicology is unlikely to run into anything approaching a similar problem, as it will probably focus on the independent comics market.
While Lamken has previously said the subsequent issues would be in a more traditional magazine format, although there’s now the possibility that he’ll stick with the same format the first issue appeared in. But beyond that, the other particulars remain a large question mark.
“I don’t know whether we’ll continue as a periodical or sort-of rework Comicology as an umbrella title for a series of stand-alone books,” Lamken said, “But given the number of projects that both I and the business are juggling, and the other demands on my time, right now the latter looks more likely. We should be formally announcing the next release pretty soon.”