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War for The Dead: Reflecting on The Kirkman/Moore Lawsuit

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Sometimes money can be a worse threat to our humanity than a full-scale zombie outbreak.

The Hollywood Reporter broke the news Thursday, February 9th, that artist Tony Moore is suing Robert Kirkman over copyright interests with regards to their Walking Dead franchise, which Moore had a hand in creating along with Kirkman. Since the days of their collaboration, The Walking Dead has not only reigned supreme on comic book shelves as a successful series, but has gone on to take on new life as a highly acclaimed TV show in its third season on AMC.

Moore claims that he signed over his rights to The Walking Dead so Kirkman could sign with AMC as the series’ sole creator and reap the profits, but as co-creator of the series, Moore believes he is due something other than the “very little compensation” he has thus far received.

The way I see it, comic books and graphic novels, by definition, are created using images and words, which means the making of an actual book is credited to both the writer and the artist; without the art, the content loses its “graphic” nature as a comic book, and without the writer’s words, there’s really no story for the artist to illustrate. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that both Kirkman and Moore should be receiving equal compensation for everything that is The Walking Dead.

But you don’t sign away your rights to a project, and that, it seems, was Moore’s biggest misstep. Perhaps Kirkman should have negotiated with AMC to include Moore, since he is co-creator of The Walking Dead and not simply a hired hand brought on board to do some penciling, inking and gray tones on the first six issues of the series. Perhaps Kirkman did in fact “dupe” Moore into signing over his rights to Kirkman’s company in a shady attempt to reap the bulk of the profits from AMC’s cash cow. Business is business, after all.

In recent years, Kirkman has proven to be a daring force in speaking out against the kind of manacles that Marvel, DC, and other companies keep clanked around the wrists of comic writers and artists, which do afford them a good living but little room for spreading their own wings as creators.  Kirkman’s ardent advocacy of creator-owned comics was brought to light in the eight-minute long “Mission Statement” of his Creator-Owned Manifesto.

But if it’s proven that Kirkman did, in some way, wrest control, and ultimately money, from the hands of his longtime friend and collaborator, his credibility may suffer, since one minute he’s preaching about how creator-owned comics are going to save the comics industry and the next he’s cheating his co-creator the way a car salesman might easily hoodwink an Oxford scholar.

More importantly than what this means for Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore, whose friendship and collaboration seem to have dwindled long before this impending lawsuit, is what this means for the future of creator-owned comics. It means creators need to get their acts together and keep the business of comics straight in their minds to avoid this kind of rigmarole a court case generates so they keep their focus on creating quality books. Most comic lovers aren’t interested in all the battlefields that get torn asunder behind the scenes of a solid series like The Walking Dead, Invincible or Thief of Thieves; we perhaps assume that those who are responsible for its creations are getting the kind of compensation they deserve out of the $2.99 we spend on the the titles we love to read.

As with any kind of war, there is always a lesson to be taken from the scattered bones and bombshells that litter the landscape, and here’s no different: Kirkman and Moore’s rivalry will hopefully inspire comic book creators to keep a stronghold over their rights to their creative projects; after all, the future of the comics industry depends on it.

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