In comics, defending a copyright can often be a stressful and downright strange necessity of doing business. Today, one of the stranger cases of comic book legal maneuvering rolled into federal court as “Spawn” creator Todd McFarlane sued former employee Al Simmons over the degree to which the latter impacted the character who became one of the best-selling heroes of the ’90s.
As the Hollywood Reporter’s Hollywood, Esq. blog reports, the lawsuit filed in McFarlane’s home state of Arizona centers on claims made by Simmons in the book “The Art of Being Spawn” – a biography he published earlier this year.
As longtime comic fans may recall, Simmons became a regular convention fixture during the heyday of the Image Comics explosion where McFarlane’s college friend would work the con booth and sign autographs promoted as giving fans a chance to “meet Spawn himself.” A cursory search on the internet shows that Simmons was making such appearances as part of the McFarlane toy empire as recently as 2006.
But while Simmons’ name was used as the alter-ego for the hell-fighting hero called Spawn, McFarlane claims that the similarities between the two end there and that the real-life Simmons’ book goes too far in describing himself as the inspiration for the character. “Al Simmons, who was flattered and eagerly gave his consent to McFarlane in 1993 for his name to be a part of ‘Spawn,’ was not the inspiration for ‘Spawn’s’ central character and no one has ever confused the character with Defendant Al Simmons,” the lawsuit reads. “Curiously, Defendant Al Simmons has, over the years, as ‘Spawn’ enjoyed popularity, remarked on how his association with Plaintiffs has provided him with some name recognition or notoriety, where he had none before ‘Spawn.'”
Though he was interviews for background for the biography (described as “a super-heroic tale about friendship and business”) last year, McFarlane claims that his reservations at the time about the book’s focus were proven right when it was published. The comic creator and company owner says that Simmons’ version of events not only constitutes libel but also breaks contractual obligations Simmons had signed on for as a McFarlane employee. The lawsuit claims breach of fiduciary duty, false endorsement, false advertising and trademark and copyright infringement, and it asks that McFarlane have access to Simmons’ computers and up to $75,000 in damages.
Or as McFarlane’s suit spells it out: “Defendant Simmons has, in effect, traded on Plaintiffs’ fame, brand and copyright protected creation, and now is deliberately using falsities in the Book to further attempt to improperly capitalize and infringe upon the McFarlane Companies’ property interests and McFarlane’s name, likeness and identity.”
For more on this story, check out the Hollywood Reporter, and stay tuned to CBR News.