McFarlane vs. Gaiman: Todd's Thoughts on the Verdict


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Todd McFarlane discusses the recent judge ruling in his lawsuit vs Neil Gaiman, how it does or doesn't affect his comic output, and whether or not he may have to pay royalties to the judge at some point.

This edition of McFarlane’s Mark was produced by Sam Moyerman and Frederik Hautain.

BROKEN FRONTIER:  Since it just happened recently, I did want to touch upon the ruling in the Neil Gaiman suit that was just closed in court.  One of the things that was most interesting about the ruling, and I think James Robinson was the first to bring it to our attention on Twitter, was how the judge ruled against you because of the similarities within the characters in question compared to the ones that Gaiman had created for the Spawn Universe. 

The judge spoke about why you didn’t create characters in different times and locations, taking Spawn to feudal Japan or ancient China.  It was interesting to me because as someone who once (and sometimes still does) fancy himself a writer, when I looked into copyrights and trademarks, I was always curious to find out where ownership of an idea or property starts and ends.  What are your thoughts on that?

TODD MCFARLANE:  I think the question of where it starts and stops is built into each of the individual cases that can be brought up into court.  Although there may be some instances that may be derived from our case, when you’re in this situation you’ll find out that each case is its own unique baby and it can turn on a dime in a lot of different ways. 

If you were to go into court with a similar case but in a different state with a different judge your result could be better than mine, or it could be a lot worse.  I’ve found that trying to “read the tea leaves” of how the legal system moves is more akin to trying to predict the stock market than anything else.  There are plenty of theories, but at the end of the day none of it matters.  The only thing that really matters is the final verdict.  Anytime someone goes into court and the verdict is going to come down, one person will be walking out with a smile and one side won’t.  It’s the nature of the beast. 

Neil’s side has been able to make the more compelling argument and he and his lawyers have done a better job of making his case than me and my lawyers have done in making ours.

BF:  Will this case continue going now?  Do you intend to appeal the ruling?

  No.  I don’t think people fully understand that this case was just an add-on piece to the case that had gone on many years ago.  This isn’t “The Case.”  That one had already been done and decided.  That was the case where Neil had won some rights.  This one we were trying to do some accounting and the dispute was to what would be included in that.  There were some issues that needed clearing up there and the judge came in and gave us that clarity.

BF:  Because this one was just about the other female angel hunters and the Dark Ages Spawn, correct?


BF:  And these were characters that you had put together after Neil’s characters had already been created for the Spawn-verse?


BF:  Do you anticipate any more of these suits coming out?  Has anything been prepared in case there are?  You seem to be a guy who just keeps plugging away no matter what.

It’s interesting.  The verdict comes out and I have the least to say about it.  Once the ruling comes, you just have to accept it.  Or at least find a way to swallow it and move on.  No one likes to lose.  It isn’t fun.  But you can either lament about it or get on with your day.  We gave it our best shot.  In some cases, and I think in this Neil would even agree, it’s not whether you win or lose but just that you stood up for something you believed in.  And if you do that, there’s a partial victory either way.  Somebody will always come out on the short end.  In this case it was me.

BF:  Just out of curiosity, do you now have plans to bring in any of the characters the judge created for you?

[Laughs] I don’t know.  I guess she was trying to be an editor and help out… Ming Dynasty Spawn… that would be kind of cool.

BF:  I am half Chinese so I did really like that one!  But it has been a while since you’ve gone into the past to showcase a Hellspawn from a different era.

  I’ll have to take a look at it and review what the decision is, because you can really start to get into some grey areas here.  I do appreciate what the judge said and what she was trying to decide on.  The question is then; if I did want to do a Ming Dynasty Spawn and he had the armor on would we still be having the argument?  There were certain elements that were being discussed there and I’d have to tread pretty carefully if I wanted to go and do a character like that until I can get those answers.

BF:  Carrying those thoughts over to another long gestating legal issue, you’ve put out the complete Hellspawn Collection in hardcover.  Did you have to pull any references to Mickey Moran out of those books?

I haven’t.

BF:  I was just curious because that was a very cool idea when you started to bring him in and it just disappeared pretty quickly so I didn’t know if there were any legal ramifications in there.

I think everyone wants some clarity on that issue too.  In time hopefully it’ll get sorted out or everyone will just agree to let it come out, but I’ll leave that for others to decide where to start and stop.

BF:  Well, I do think that it was important to keep the character in there and I’m glad you didn’t remove him or change his name at all, but was that ever a thought for you, that you might have to make those changes?

  Not at all.  It’s a Hellspawn book, so we focused on what it was that sold it.  We weren’t selling the book because Mickey Moran was in it.  We tell people that Hellspawn is coming and that’s why they’re buying the book.  We aren’t marketing it in any other way.

I mean, everyone does want [Miracleman] back.  We all want to see those old books done by everybody over the years back out again.  It’d be really cool to get them back out with new coloring and collections to see what it looks like.  Maybe, even though it was not our intention, we can get people thinking just with the Hellspawn book.

BF:  And why now did you decide to put out the Hellspawn collection?  Was it to coincide with Spawn #200 or did you just feel it was a good time for it?

  No.  We’ve been collection all of our library lately and it sort of came up in the cue.  Beyond that we’ve done the Spawn stuff and some other collections, so we were looking around and saw some cool stuff there and we went with it.

The marketplace has been moving in the direction of more collected editions, so we’ve been trying to follow along with that.  It seems to be the preferred method for consumption so we want to give the people what they want.

BF:  That does lead into another topic that I think deserves much more time and I do want to bring it up again for a longer discussion but very quickly, are you going to be moving into more digital distribution?

  I’m still a little lukewarm on it.  Image is pressuring me to do more in that regard and I know the iPad is perfect for it, but I’m not quite sold on it yet.

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  • CA3

    CA3 Sep 28, 2010 at 7:51am

    I haven't picked up a copy of Spawn in a long, LONG time. It just fizzled and died with me.

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