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Judge Rules for Neil Gaiman Against Todd MacFarlane in Medieval Spawn Case

As reported by CBR (and relayed by Tom Spurgeon), U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled on Friday in favor of Neil Gaiman in the long-running legal struggle between Gaiman and Todd McFarlane over the ownership of several characters in McFarlane’s “Spawn” universe.

A previous lawsuit between Gaiman and McFarlane, which Gaiman won, concerned Medieval Spawn, Angela, and Cogliostro, characters created directly by Gaiman in Spawn #9 in 1993. The latest conflict is over characters McFarlane has introduced since the previous lawsuit, which Gaiman considers to be “knock-offs” of those he created. In this latest development, Crabb writes definitively in her opinion “that the newer characters are derivative and that [Gaiman] is entitled to his share of the profits realized by these characters.”

On the left, Medieval Spawn. On the right, Dark Ages Spawn. No similarities here, nosiree.

Anyone looking at the situation with eyes half-open could probably have predicted Gaiman’s victory, but Judge Crabb took far more than a cursory look before writing her decision (available as PDF here), which contains intricate discussion of “the rules of the ‘Spawn’ universe,” not to mention the phrase “kick-ass warrior angels.”

Much as defendant tries to distinguish the two knight Hellspawn, he never explains why, of all the universe of possible Hellspawn incarnations, he introduced two knights from the same century. Not only does this break the Hellspawn “rule” that Malebolgia never returns a Hellspawns to Earth more than once every 400 years (or possibly every 100 years, as suggested in Spawn, No. 9, exh. #1, at 4), it suggests that what defendant really wanted to do was exploit the possibilities of the knight introduced in issue no. 9.

She also shows an affinity for the imaginative, expounding on the possibilities of historical Spawn characters:


If [McFarlane] really wanted to differentiate the new Hellspawn, why not make him a Portuguese explorer in the 16th century; an officer of the Royal Navy in the 18th century, an idealistic recruit of Simon Bolivar in the 19th century, a companion of Odysseus on his voyages, a Roman gladiator, a younger brother of Emperor Nakamikado in the early 18th century, a Spanish conquistador, an aristocrat in the Qing dynasty, an American Indian warrior or a member of the court of Queen Elizabeth I?

Any comics companies in a position to offer Judge Crabb a mini-series to write might want to do so while the publicity’s still hot. “From the mind that brought you Gaiman v. McFarlane II, comes…” The copy just writes itself, I swear.

McFarlane was one of the founders of Image Comics, which was formed by a group of superstar Marvel artists in the ’90s as a creator-owned publishing company. Image was lauded at the time as a corrective to mainstream comics’ entrenched attitude towards corporate ownership of creative properties, with McFarlane himself attracting such creators-rights stalwarts as Alan Moore, Dave Sim, and, of course, Neil Gaiman to write for “Spawn.” While Image Central remains a strong staging ground for creator-owned work, McFarlane’s side of the house has become dedicated to work-for-hire writers and artists furthering the “Spawn” property. The irony, as ever, is palpable.



McFarlane (right) and “Spawn” writer Brian Holguin (left), outside the courthouse, after giving their testimony. Posted by Gaiman at his blog, where he also gives his comments on the case.

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