Sunday, October 07, 2012

Todd McFarlane vs Spawn - A Lawyer's Dream (ca-CHING)

The cover of the Book You Cannot Buy
You could be forgiven for thinking that, after spending the best part of the last decade in law courts, fighting against allegations of intellectual theft and slander, and losing a good portion of his fortune, that Todd McFarlane would have had enough of lawyers and courts, but, no.  On the 26th of September, McFarlane took the plunge and sued one of his oldest friends, and the namesake of his most famous creation Spawn, Al Simmons and his wife, Melanie over the publication of Simmon's autobiography, "The Art Of Being Spawn".  As always, you can see the actual court filing in it's entirety below, but one aspect of the filing did leap out as a potential weak spot for McFarlane - his claims that Simmons, "was not the inspiration for “Spawn’s” central character and no one has ever confused that character with Defendant Al Simmons."  McFarlane is no stranger when it comes to using names of friends, such as Simmons and Terry Fitzgerald, his own wife, Wanda, and others such as Tony Twist for characters in Spawn.  This has seen him sued, successfully, by Twist, which was eventually settled for far less than the $15,000,000 that the court decided that McFarlane should pay Twist. 

While there is no doubt that McFarlane firmly believes that Simmons was not an inspiration for Spawn, nor was he ever associated with Spawn, and would like the court to believe this claim as well, it is at odds with McFarlane's own advertising over the years when it came to personal appearances and conventions.  Right from the early 1990s, Simmons was being promoted in convention advertisements in Spawn comics, and other titles published by Image Comics, as "Al Simmons A.K.A 'Spawn'".  This practice continued for many years, and part of Simmons duties was to dress up in a Spawn costume and parade about the place as best he can.  Naturally the character is a comic book character and it'd be hard to confuse a real life person with a fictional character, but certainly the intent was there, as Simmons was promoted as Spawn, and, on more than one occasion, McFarlane made mention of Simmons and the fact that his name, and skin colour was used, as both the real and fictional Al Simmons are black.

There's a certain amount of train wreck associated with McFarlane and legal battles these days, and, sadly, when McFarlane files suit it's greeted more with howls of derision than anything else.  More is the pity as McFarlane has made some serious allegations about Simmons revealing trade secrets and insider information in his book - which was published by Image Comics, a company that McFarlane is a shareholder in - and if these allegations are proved, it will make the book one of the most sought after books about a comic book creator in recent times.  As it stands the only snippets that are in general circulation reveal almost nothing - some words about Simmons early days, an introduction and a forward by artist Chance Wolf (who, you'd expect, won't be working for McFarlane anytime soon).  This may not be a case for the ages, but it should make for interesting watching and until McFarlane finally caves in and sues himself, it'll not only keep some people interested but it should more than assist a few lawyers build healthy retirement funds and pump their kids through college.



I wonder if Terry Fitzgerald is now beginning to sweat...


Kid said...
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Kid said...

Whether Al Simmons was the inspiration for Spawn or not, I don't think that dressing up and being billed on posters as the character necessarily disproves McFarlane's denial of such. Posters proclaiming that 'Sean Connery IS James Bond' never caused anyone to think that 007 was based on the actor, and any lawyer worth his salt will point out that being billed as a character you're portraying at a comics con doesn't prove you were the inspiration for him, should anyone make that claim.

Budd said...

Spawn was the first black super hero? What? Al Simmons just lost all credibility. Lucky for him McFarlane lost his a long time ago as well.