The latest ruling in the legal struggle between Marvel and Ghost Rider creator Gary Friedrich took an even uglier turn this week, with Marvel stipulating that they will only drop their countersuit again Friedrich if he pays $17,000 for selling Ghost Rider merchandise at conventions. While $17,000 may not be a significant amount of money on a corporate scale, it does represent significant hardship for the 68-year-old Friedrich, who is reportedly suffering from both financial difficulties and health problems.

Response to the legal maneuver has been strong (and negative) within the comics community particularly from creator Steve Niles (30 Days of Night), who has launched a fundraising campaign for Friedrich through both Paypal donations and art auctions. Update: Artists Brandon Graham and James Stokoe are also selling benefit art, and supporters have launched a Facebook page. Niles spoke out strongly in Friedrich's defense on Twitter, noting that Friedrich and his wife may face the loss of their home as a result of the ruling:

"I am just raising funds to help Gary pay his rent and eat," Niles told ComicsAlliance. "Because of the judgment he is unable to do conventions anymore, so essentially his livelihood has been crushed. I am collecting money for a creator to eat... I'm staying out of the legal arguments. This is just about being there for someone who gave me something to read as a child."

Friedrich responded to his supporters in a note on his Facebook page, where he declared his intention to appeal the judgment:

Since the various news agencies and websites have reported the ruling against me on my claims against Marvel in the Ghost Rider lawsuit, and the assessment of a $17,000 judgment against me and my company instead, I have read an amazing amount of comments in my support on the internet, and have received many messages of support directly. Although the reports of my employment situation and financial difficulties as well as problems with my health are unfortunately true, I want to let everyone in the comic book world, especially my supporters and fans of the Ghost Rider character which I invented, created, and wrote, that I am going to appeal the Court's ruling and continue to fight this as long as I am able and that your support of me means more than you will ever know. I have heard your voices. I thank you with alll my heart, and I appreciate your thoughts and best wishes as I soldier on.

The decision could have implications for many other creators in the industry as well, and the common practice of artists selling prints or sketches related to their work-for-hire content at conventions, as noted by Tom Spurgeon at The Comics Reporter:

The disturbing element, which has certainly not been lost on dozens of initial commentators and tweeters, is that this could represent a broader move from companies like Marvel in terms of pursuing creators making material related to characters they do not own. This could conceivably include the convention sketches through which many artists supplement their incomes and which drives a huge segment of the convention-going economy.

The news also comes at the end of two weeks of bombshell announcements and controversies over creators rights, including DC's announcement of Before Watchmen, James Sturm's public boycott of The Avengers film, the resolution of the long-running rights dispute between Todd McFarlane and Neil Gaiman over several Spawn characters, and artist Tony Moore's Walking Dead lawsuit against Robert Kirkman.

Other creators, including Eric Powell, Jill Thompson, Ron Marz, and Joe Keatinge, added their voices in support of the fundraising efforts, as did Daredevil writer Mark Waid, although he indicated that the case might not be quite as simple behind the scenes as it seemed on the surface:

What is legal and what is fair or ethical can be two very different things, and it's worth noting that while Marvel may be entirely within their legal rights to penalize the creator of one of their most prominent superhero characters in disproportionately damaging ways for selling posters and t-shirts at conventions, that doesn't mean that it isn't an incredibly dick move. Whether or not you think Friedrich's suit had merit, it's terrible to see an creator facing dire circumstances in his later years. On a human level, and particularly in terms of his immediate financial need, this a situation where compassion and generosity seem significantly more important than the finer points of copyright law.

In series of tweets that echoed the recent sentiments of James Sturm, creator Evan Dorkin (Milk and Cheese) touched on the contrast between the superhero ethics promoted in the pages of comic books and the corporate realities of superhero publishers:

Marvel Comics declined to comment on the issue.

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