Who Created Ghost Rider? The Not-So Secret Origin Story Of Zarathos!

One of the least watched court cases doing the rounds of late involves Gary Friedrich and his quest for the rights to his creation, Ghost Rider.  Friedrich initiated the case in March 2007, and it continues to run to this day.  It’s been a fairly long haul, with changes of courts, depositions, discovery and the like taking its toll on the wait for a verdict, but now things are really starting to heat up.  As I look at the documents I can’t help but wonder about the physical, emotional and mental toll this must surely be taking on Friedrich himself – the sheer amount of time wasted by Marvel’s lawyers on trivial things is incredible, but they have to do their thing I guess.  I also can’t help but wonder, a lot of these cases could surely be settled with a simple deal.  I know Marvel don’t want to hand over the rights to their established characters, but surely they could cut a deal whereby they pay a creator off and let it go at that?  With the millions they must be spending on court cases, each and every year, it’d have to be cheaper in the long run and better for their overall P.R. purposes.  Still, I’m not in charge and there’s possibly a good reason for that.

Unlike the recent high profile Jack Kirby case, all of the main cast in the Ghost Rider saga are still alive to give evidence; Friedrich, artist Mike Ploog, editor Roy Thomas, Stan Lee and Friedrich’s friend and former editor of Men’s Only Magazine, David George, all of whom have now done their bit.  Again, also unlike Kirby, Friedrich has been able to establish that he brought the concept to Marvel and fleshed it out after it’d been vetted and approved by Thomas and Lee, which leaves him in a far stronger position than Kirby – in a lot of ways this case leans more towards that of Jerry Sigel and Joe Shuster than Jack Kirby, although non-artist Friedrich falls down by not having any pre-existing character designs, nor a pre-Marvel synopsis that he can produce to bolster his claims, although he does have the oral testimony of others.  The question now is if the work was done as work-for-hire and if Friedrich assigned his rights over to Marvel upon publication, but that’ll be for the judge to decide, each side will have its own view on that.  One of the trump cards that Friedrich holds is a prior creation, Hell-Rider.  Hell-Rider was created by Friedrich, with assistance from Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, and appeared in its own book at Skywald.  While the concept wasn’t Ghost Rider, there are striking similarities between the two characters.  Hell-Rider was a human, a Vietnam veteran who had been subject to experiments and as such developed super-powers that worked mostly at nights.  He then donned a disguise of leathers and a helmet and rode a motorcycle that had been modified with weapons and shot flames out of the front headlight region.  On the other side of the coin, Ghost Rider was a super-powered demon who rode a motorcycle made of flames, wore a costume of leathers and shot fire from his hands.  Clearly there’s enough there in the basic premise of Hell-Rider to bolster Friedrich’s claims.

In the first issue of Hell-Rider Friedrich contributed an essay that detailed the creation of that character. 
Our featured character would be a superhero, but not in the typical comic book sense of the word.  True, he would somehow be endowed with superhuman abilities—but he also had to be a normal human being in all other aspects, a product of today's world filled with the same doubts and fears and possessed by the same burning zest for a swinging "with-it" life as you and I.

In other words, he had to be a person readers could easily identify with rather than a God-like character who could exist only in fantasy. With this in mind, we soon decided he would ride a motorcycle, be a Vietnam veteran although not necessarily a supporter of the conflict and come from an upper-middle class Eastern background to which he has become totally alienated. His power would be physical strength to go along with his superior cycling skills, but he wouldn't be so strong that there wouldn't always be someone stronger, sort of a fastest gun in the West bit, if you can dig what I mean. And we also determined that he must have a basic weakness—that from time to time his strength fails him, a problem he is unable to do anything about.[i]

Friedrich was remarkably frank in his deposition and his memory of conversations and meetings appears to hold up with other people’s recollections, although it does fall down slightly when it comes to just how, where, when and if Friedrich spoke to Ploog about the Ghost Rider concept.  What is sad is that Friedrich, a talented writer, is now undertaking menial duties and appears to be finished in the comic book world, another example of the industry discarding its own veterans in favour of the Next Hot Thing.  Say what you will about Friedrich, but he was a solid storyteller who could spin a decent yarn, even if he was slightly erratic at times.  Trust me, there’s far worse than him out there, still.

This following comments have all been taken from depositions given this year as part of the Friedrich vs Marvel case.  Gary Friedrich was deposed on the 1st of April, Roy Thomas on the 12th of April, Stan Lee on the 4th of May, Mike Ploog on the 29th of April and David George was deposed on the 14th of April.  Some additional comments have also been taken from Gary Friedrich’s original declaration of facts.  


GARY FRIEDRICH:  After graduating high school, I worked for a local record store for approximately three years, and then became managing editor of the Jackson Pioneer Newspaper where I was influenced to write from my mentor, Tom Stites.  After the record store I got some freelance work from Charlton Comics.  My friend, Roy Thomas, with whom I was a roommate in New York, knew the editor at Charlton, Dick Giordano, and he arranged an interview for me with Dick Giordano and I went to Derby, Connecticut, to the Charlton offices and talked to Dick and he gave me a chance to write a script for him.  The first thing I did for Dick was an eight-page romance story. Charlton published a lot of romance books and they needed scripts.  Dick said if he liked that, he would give me more work. So I did the first script and he liked it and he gave me more scripts.  I also did some superhero work for Charlton. I Did the Blue Beetle with Steve Ditko and maybe a couple other things I don't remember the titles on.  I also managed to obtain a part time job working with Topps Chewing Gum, where I wrote a series of Superman bubble gum cards and handled proofreading/editorial type tasks.

At Charlton you wrote a complete script and turned it into the editor and then the artist would take your script and draw from your script.  The process at Charlton is what's known as a complete script in which the writer tells the artist what to draw. At Marvel the writer would do a plot synopsis, just a brief outline of the story, and then the synopsis would be given to the artist. The artist would then draw the story off of the plot synopsis. The writer would then take the artwork and put in the dialogue and sound effects and that sort of thing.  I did freelance work for Charlton until probably August or September of 1966 and then I got a job at Marvel. 

ROY THOMAS:  It would have been sometime in the latter half of 1966, I believe, after he'd been there several months.  I don't recall except that he was - on staff, he was sort of like an editorial assistant.  Mostly it would be back-up proofreading of the comics or the letters pages we that we had, maybe writing a bit of copy for house ads or something that -- whatever was – was deemed to be, you know, that -- where they could use writing or proofreading on, that was – that was his job, as it was sort of mine too.  I don't know what writing he did first.    

GARY FRIEDRICH:  At Marvel I was either assistant or associate editor. I never can remember which.  Primarily I did proofreading, some preliminary editing work on some of the scripts.  I would meet and greet fans that came out to the -- that came to visit Marvel and waited for us out in the reception area, I would go down and talk to them for a little while.  From time to time I was also asked by Stan Lee or Roy Thomas who was either an assistant or associate editor, if I would write an issue of a comic book for an existing Marvel title on a separate free lance, independent contractor basis, which I did on a comic by comic basis. My first writing for them was almost certainly Millie the Model.  I wrote Sergeant Fury and his Howling Commandos.  What else did I write? I wrote the X-Men. I wrote a character called the Black Widow. I wrote a western called the Ghost Rider. I wrote some other western titles, Rawhide Kid, Two-Gun Kid, Kid Colt, probably end of '68, that was about it.  It got to the point as time went on they trusted me more and more and my instincts to write stories and we didn't always have those meetings. Sometimes I would just go to Roy and give him a brief idea of what I was going to do and Roy would okay it.  Stan was involved -- again, early on he was teaching Roy and I how to write in the Stan Lee style as it were. But as he began to trust us more, then Roy would do more of the actual editing.

STAN LEE:   He (Gary) did some writing for us so I had met him but, I mean, there was nothing special about my meetings with him that I would remember. We had so many freelance writers.  I don't remember when I first met him. He was one of the freelance writers, I know that.

ROY THOMAS:   Any freelance writing that he (Gary) did was paid for by a page rate, the same sort of weekly or biweekly, whatever it was, voucher system that the other writers and artists were paid under.  I would have definitely known if it was anything else, I would have been aware if anybody was paid in a different manner, I would have known; and, secondly, because, off and on, Gary and I were roommates or apartment mates off and on for at least a couple of years. So we had a lot of conversations about everything, various things.

GARY FRIEDRICH:  During the late 1960s, Evel Knievel, a real life motorcycle daredevil who would use his motorcycle to jump cars, canyons and other obstacles, began to rise to popularity.  The influence of Evel Knievel and other cycle stunt riders made me begin to evolve my contemplated character from a mere motorcyclist into a motorcycle stuntman, similar to Knievel.  Over these years, although far from an everyday project, I would continue to periodically think about my evolving character, including his physical attributes.

In the early summer of 1968 I left to go to California for the summer with a friend of mine, Paul Schade. We didn't really have a plan. I had always wanted to go to California and Paul called me up and said, "I think I'm going to go to California and spend the summer. Would you like to come along?"  And I said, "Yes."  And we decided we would go out there and just see what was in California.  We went to San Francisco, and we stayed for the summer in Los Angeles. We had another friend and his wife from Missouri who came out later, CL Slinkard.  Mr. Slinkard was about 5'10". He was very thin and wiry. He had a very -- guess you call it a bony face. Cheeks were somewhat sucked in and high. Had a long part of the nose and he had long red hair.   We had seen Mr. Slinkard coming up the street on his motorcycle with his red hair flying back behind his head and bony face and looked for all the world like a skeleton with his skull on fire, it instantly clicked to me that my character would have a skull for a head with flames around and coming out of it and I said, "That's what I want this character to look like."  The addition of the flaming skull idea lead me to imagine my hero being a motor cycle stuntman by day in normal human form, but as being somehow connected to the devil at night when he would transform into the flaming skulled version of himself.

PAUL SCHADE:  We went out to California the summer of 1968 roughly. We got to Los Angeles maybe last week in June, left maybe the first or second week in August, something like that.  On his arrival Gary Friedrich and I were walking down the street in the evening and we had already been there and Slinkard showed up on his motorcycle and it was a very unusual sight to see.  He had his pregnant girlfriend on the back, he drove her out from Missouri, and he had a Triumph Bonneville 650 motorcycle with huge ape hangers on them.  I guess he had been on the road three or four days. And he had this flaming red hair, long, sticking out like this, and I'm pretty sure it was in the evening, and he had wrap around sunglasses on and he pulled up – you had to see it. You just had to see it. I mean, it was something else.

After Gary and I got ourselves under control from laughing seeing this scene, he said, "I'm going to do something with that."  I said, "Hell, you can write a book if you want, but," I said, "nobody will believe it."  He said, "I don't know. You know, something's got to be done, I'm going to do something with that."  I remember being with Slinkard when a policeman pulled him over and he didn't have a motorcycle helmet, so therefore he wasn't wearing one that night or I wouldn't have seen his hair. He got a ticket for that I think.

Not only did I see it and remember it, but it was reinforced almost daily when you looked at him.  And Gary just pretty much said, "I got to do something with that." I didn't discuss a lot of detailed comic book stuff with him and things like that. It just wasn't anything that we talked about.   

ROY THOMAS:  CL Slinkard was actually shorter than me, and I'm pretty short. So he was five two, something like that. When he would be driving a car, you'd be behind him, you could barely tell there was a driver, and people were always saying things like that.  He was very light, maybe not thin as a rail but thin, with kind of a tousledy, I guess it was, maybe it was stringy, it was red hair, just full head of red hair and some freckles.  And, as far as looks, he always looked like kind of a scarecrow kind of character to me. Nothing terribly remarkable, had a kind of a high, reedy voice. And that's what I basically remember.

DAVID GEORGE:  I probably met Gary around ’66, ’67, somewhere around there.  I do remember in the late ‘60s drinking with Gary, whom I eventually did hire to work as my associate editor. There is a three-month lead time between the time you work on the magazine and the time it's actually reached publication. I know he didn't work with the December issue which was three months prior to that, that we worked on it. So sometime in the early '70s, in the early 1970s.

GARY FRIEDRICH:  At the end of the summer of 1968, I returned to New York and approached Magazine Management, which was then owned by someone else, to get my staff position with the comic book people back but it had been filled. I did not rejoin the staff, but 1 did continue to write freelance comics from time to time on the same free lance, comic-by-comic basis.  (While in California) I did freelance work for Marvel, I would either call the artist and then discuss a plot idea with him over the phone or I would send him a written synopsis. He would draw the work and mail it to me in California, and then I would write the script and mail it back to New York.  I recall in California in '69 I worked for a temporary agency for a while.  I worked for a company that did publicity for a TV series that was coming out starring Glen Campbell and I don't remember who else it was. It wasn't a series. It was a big special and they were doing a big promotion and I worked in the office with some other people doing mailers and stuff like that.  I also worked for a bank for a while. 

In the fall of 1970, I had a disagreement with an individual in upper management at Magazine Management, and as a result of writing certain memos to Magazine Managements then-—publisher, I was let go from my position with the Men’s Magazines. I was also told I could not continue freelancing for the comics division.   While I was out of work, Sol Brodsky, an old friend with whom I had discussed my evolving motorcycle hero character, asked me if I would write some comics on a free lance basis for Skywald Publications, which Brodsky co-owned.  I did some freelance work for Skywald Publishing.   Skywald was forming a line of adult comic books and Brodsky told me he remembered I had a motorcycle character.  I held back the complete concept of the superhero character, but in light of Brodsky’s enthusiasm for a motorcycle character, did discuss a different type of motor cycle character with him, along the lines of a human vigilante character on a motorcycle.  I held back my evolving character because I was concerned about the publishing set up at Skywald and the quality of the artwork done in the Skywald publications, and so I did not want to risk my superhero and story on the Skywald venture.  I joined with Brodsky, Herschel Waldman, Ross Andru, and Mike Esposito in jointly creating a purely human motorcycle vigilante comic book character called "Hell-Rider” and retained my idea for the supernatural, stunt jumping, demon  character for use at another time.

I wrote some books for Tower Books. I did a book for Midwood Books. I did some writing for Atlas Comics. That's all I remember off the top of my head. There may have been others.  I then moved back to Missouri in 1971 and stayed in Missouri for a long time.  

In early 1971, I learned that the comic book people at Magazine Management Co Inc. needed a mail clerk, and after apologizing to the company’s publisher for my prior actions, I was hired for that position.  I worked for Marvel handling their mail.  That entailed going through all the fan mail and I would open the mail, read the letters, sort them out -- Iron Man went in this stack, Sergeant Fury went in this stack, and so forth. Then I would go back to the mail again and pick out which letters might have been suitable for printing in the letter pages in the comics.  I would send out little thank-you cards to all the people that didn't make the comics mail pages. And if I found out that the editor was going to use the mail or the letter in the letters page, then I would send out a card to the writer notifying them that their letter would appear in such and such an issue, such and such a book. 

What I would do, I would come back and forth from Missouri to New York. I had a house in Missouri. But freelance work would dry up whenever I left New York, so I would have to fly back to New York and talk to Stan, Roy, whoever was in charge at the time, about getting some more work, so I would go to New York and stay with John Verpooten for a while, you know, two weeks, four weeks, whatever, get some work lined up, then I would go back to Missouri and live.  That lasted until 1978.  In 1978 my alcoholism got completely out of control, my wife left me and took my child with her, left me with no furniture or anything, just left me an empty house, so I moved out of the empty house and stayed with a friend in Missouri for a while and then I wound up running around the country with another friend of mine who was a truck driver, CL Slinkard who we mentioned before, and I spent most of 1978 riding around the country in a truck with him.  I got sober January 1st, 1979, and I briefly held a job at a check -- running a check sorter for a bank in Sikeston, Missouri, just a few weeks, then I got a job managing a theater for Kerasotes Theaters in Illinois. Went to Paris, Illinois, and worked there for about a year for Kerasotes. 

A friend of mine, David George, was the editor of For Men Only magazine and I got a job there. I met Mr. George in the office initially, Marvel and Magazine Management, men's magazine's offices were in the same building -  Marvel later moved -- but I know him from being around work and talking, it was in 1970.  David was kind of my sounding board. We would meet for drinks after work or at lunch and talk about this, that, and the other. One of the things we talked about was I used him as my sounding board was the character I was working on.  I don't remember that I remember the time specifically. It was just something that came up in conversation once that I was working on a new character. I don't know what triggered me to start talking about that but I was excited about it and David was my friend and I thought I could trust him. I wasn't talking to anybody else about it, so I thought I would talk to him. 

DAVID GEORGE:  We used to drink together sometimes at lunch, sometimes, most of the time after work, around the corner to a place called the Coral Bar. And you could eat lunch there and drink. It was a favorite watering hole of people like Peter O'Toole and Darren McGavin and a few others. It was quite notorious at the time. And it was a dump. But it was convenient and it was around the corner, 58th Street off Madison, between Madison and Park. I'm sure it’s not there anymore.  Gary would tell me about his troubles or what he was working on or what he wanted to do.  I know he was fascinated with the idea of a motorcycle riding hero. And at that time in that period, motorcycles, gang stories were very, very hot.  I had an interest in them, too, because that was what we were doing at the time. Every month we would have a motorcycle, and we used to call them Hell’s Angel stories until one day we got a Hell’s Angel spokesman came up and told us to cease and desist because they had the name.

I remember him talking about this idea he had for putting a character called Ghost Rider on a motorcycle, and half of what he would tell me would go in one ear and out the other.  When you are sitting there drinking, you don‘t hear everything. But it did jump out at me about this character that would sell his soul to the devil but for a good reason, a noble reason, and that's about it.  I remember the flaming skull that he talked about. But he talked about it on more than one occasion. And his biggest thing was trying to get his ideas to be accepted.  He would talk about comics a lot and about what he was working on and what he wanted to do. Ideas, or how he got shot down on an idea, or whatever. Most of it didn‘t really, I mean, at the time, I tried to listen to him.  I do remember a number of other things. I remember he came to me with an idea for an article For Men Only, an apocalyptic story.  I kind of liked it but the consultant shot it down. 

GARY FRIEDRICH:  I learned that the Comics Code Authority (CCA) was beginning to lighten up its standards for certain areas of comics, which I recognized would now allow me to go forward with my character and story when I decided it was ready. With the CCA changes, the code began to allow more adult oriented content to be included in comic books including demons and supernatural elements that had been previously been restricted.  As a result of the change in the comic’s code, I determined that it was time to try to launch my character and its origin story. I began to focus on the characters and story for the first time with a serious thought that I could publish and sell an actual comic book telling the story

My initial inspiration for the story was the motion picture The Wild One with Marlon Brando which came out in the early '50s. Other inspirations were American International Motorcycle films that came out, I believe, in the late '50s, early '60s; series of films with Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson, people like that. I told Roy Thomas I had the idea, which I had briefly mentioned to him in the past, about a motorcycle riding superhero, we were friends and reading comic books when I had the idea, so probably back when we were in high school I mentioned to him I had an idea for a superhero on a motorcycle.  I had added things to it, made it supernatural type of hero, and I had a synopsis if he would like to see it and he said he would like to see it, and he gave it to Mr. Lee and then we had the meeting.   In the meeting I described my motorcycle riding Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider human/supernatural character and the characters of Roxanne Simpson, Crash Simpson, and Barton Blaze and the origin story and plot, and my background on what the characters would look like, including Ghost Rider’s flaming skull and black leather suit.

ROY THOMAS:  We may have discussed more, I do not know. I have no memory of a second discussion with Gary before we went in to see Stan.  I believe it was the same day. I could be wrong, maybe it was like the next day, but I believe it was the next day. It was as soon as we possibly could. We couldn't just walk in to Stan; he might have been doing something else. My feeling is that he wanted to see him right away, and I believe it was the same day.  I don't think it was too long. It might have been 10 minutes, 15 minutes, something like that. You know, we weren't going to take up a lot of time with this, but we got into a discussion so it could have taken a little time, but certainly under a half hour.  We were aware he had to get a formal thing from the publisher, but he had a lot of power to do that. If he liked something, by that stage, it generally could be made into a book. And he liked the idea right away.

At this time, because this would have been in the late spring of '72.  Stan was called editorial and art director.  Basically he was the editor, but I think officially he was the art director as well.  But even given that, by that time, Stan, as the editor had a little more power, it was very informal, but just a little more power.  It was still subject to Martin Goodman, but, at the same time, since Goodman didn't own the company, there were other factors involved, which I wasn't involved with. So we just never discussed at what point Martin Goodman would have to approve.  Stan just assumed that, if he liked it, Martin Goodman would or the parent company would approve it. I believe it never really came up in conversation at that stage.

GARY FRIEDRICH:  When I first talked to Stan Lee about Marvel publishing the character I made the agreement to the effect that I would grant them the right to use the character -- the characters I created in comic books.  My major concern was getting the character published.  Roy and I talked about, after the deal with Marvel was cooked that, you know, what might happen with the character down the road if it were successful, there might be -- at that time we thought it might be made into a TV series.  (The synopsis) would have gone to Mike Ploog after the deal was sealed so that he could draw the story.  It said that Johnny Blaze would be a guy about 6' tall -- I don't remember if I told them that I had James Dean in mind whenever I thought about the character but that's who I had in mind, a well-built, blond-haired guy, typical superhero build. He would wear a black leather costume. And when he turned into the Ghost Rider, his head would become a flaming skull.  Roxanne Simpson would be a buxom blonde about 18, 19 years old.  Crash Simpson would have long hair and a handlebar moustache. Those are the major characters, the ones I recall.

ROY THOMAS:  I know Gary wrote several issues and he was at least briefly considered the regular writer of Daredevil, but that may not have been for a very long period of time. He was intended to take it over when I left it.  My recollection is that Ghost Rider was going to be a potential villain in Daredevil.  He wasn't really plotting it yet, he was just thinking about plotting it. He couldn't really plot it until he had -- until he knew the -- the name of the – or until he knew the villain. So, without that approval, he couldn't really start plotting it yet.  I remember what I said, that it had to do with Daredevil, Ghost Rider, and then the idea of taking it to Stan to see if he liked the idea of making it its own series.  That would, to some extent, depend upon the both the particular issue, the writer, the series, and so many things.

It was assumed that the writer would tell the editor, whether it be Stan or myself, or me telling Stan, what the story was. In practical fact, if the writer was basically trusted after a certain stage and if he wasn't doing something new and radical, perhaps introducing a new villain that we'd have to see, would this be a cover-worthy title character or making some radical change in the story line or something like that, we often trusted the writers enough that they basically were able to almost -- to go ahead under their own recognizance in some cases, or, at the very least, they would mention in passing, you know, I want to use this villain or do this or that.

So it would depend upon some of the circumstances. Most of the time it would be a very minimal conversation and usually didn't involve paper at all, after a while.   We may have discussed more, I do not know. I have no memory of a second discussion with Gary before we went in to see Stan.  I have no memory of seeing any written materials at that time on Ghost Rider.

At that stage, late '71 and for much of '72, Stan Lee was the editor. As associate editor I had some duties, but it was basically Stan's decision on all these things.  Marvel Spotlight was what I thought of, at least, as a showcase kind of book after a title that DC had once had in which every month or every two or three months a new hero or concept would be tried out to see if it caught the attention of the readers, and then we would decide if we would spin it off into its own title or let it drop.  It was a bimonthly comic; it came out every two months.  Any new concept that someone came up with would have to be approved by Stan before it could go to the stage of being written and drawn, and, of course, formally approved by the publisher.

There was a deadline because it was a bi-monthly book and it already had a deadline set that had nothing to do with Ghost Rider, just as a book called Marvel Spotlight Number 5.  To the best of my knowledge, the inker for Marvel Spotlight Number 5 was Mike Ploog. So, when he was engaged as penciller, it was basically understood that he was going to be inking it as well, because up to that point, I believe he had inked all of his work or virtually all of his work that he had penciled for Marvel. 

STAN LEE:  The company had a contract with the printer; the books had to be delivered to the printer at a certain date on a certain schedule.  Let's say they were monthly books. So some title would have to be delivered to the printer on the fifth of every month. If the book wasn't ready at that time, the publisher would still have to pay the printer because he had been holding the presses open so the publisher would be losing all that money he is paying the printer who is not printing the book.  So my biggest responsibility next to making the books good was making sure those books were delivered to the printer on time every month.

ROY THOMAS:  If it was an ongoing assignment that the artist was drawing from month to month, he would basically be assured that he was going to continue it unless they informed him otherwise, so he'd have a reasonable expectation of that.  Otherwise, an artist would be notified that he was being asked to take the assignment of doing a particular issue at the earliest stage that we knew we wanted him to do it so at least by the time the writer was done getting the story together so there wouldn't be a delay.

The plotting evolved, to some extent, over a period of time and would depend upon the relationship between the individual writer and artist.  It generally was a page, more likely two or three pages, of typed copy that told the basic story. It didn't break it down into panels or pages, didn't include much, if any, of the actual dialogue, but it told the basic story, which the artist was then supposed to translate into pictures.  Of course, as I said, this was often done, increasingly and in various situations, it was also done verbally without something being written down. It depended on the relationship between the artist and the writer. If the artist really wanted a written plot, he would get one; some would just as soon not have one.

It could have even been that the plot was mailed from the office if the person was in there and turned it in. But, especially by the time the artist had drawn the pencil drawings, they had to either mail them or physically bring them by the office, which meant that the production manager and a couple of people working under him would take care of it so that it went to the next person, which was generally the letterer unless Stan or I or someone said that they needed to see the script or the artwork before it went to the letterer.  Again, that depended on the trust in the artist and various other factors as to how closely and at what stage something was looked at.

Sometimes was just verbal directions and that the artist might be told, to save time, and some of them just hand-delivered it because they were neighbors or whatever, to give the art directly to -- the art and the script directly to the letterer.   First we had to have the art come back to the office for the writer to do the dialogue, and that went to the letterer. In each step it was trafficked by the office either physically or by phone.

The art was then either directly mailed by the letterer or maybe delivered to him or picked up by him or trafficked through the office.  Then it either went to the artist or it went to the offices and then went to the inking artist.  The letterer would send in the artwork. I don't believe that there was generally a policy in place that the letterer was supposed to return the writer's script necessarily to the office.  There may have been a case when we wanted to, but generally the writers had carbon copies, so there was no reason to waste the time and trouble to get the copies of the script back into the office as a general rule. Usually it got tossed.  The person who would handle the editing depended upon the book and the time during that several-year period. Stan Lee would proofread the books that he had written, and he would generally, even through the end of the period, he would proofread a lot of the main super hero work.  Over time, he gradually relinquished some of that so that it became my responsibility to be the ultimate proof-reader. I think I was proofreading virtually everything up until '72, either the primary proofreading or at least backdrop proofreading.

Ideally, after it had come to the office, after it had been proofread and any changes made to it; but, often, to save time, and since there weren't usually as many changes made in art, sometimes as soon as it came into the office, copies of it would be sent to the colorist or given to the colorist.

The cover would often be done when the pencils were in.  Stan or, in some cases books that he didn't care to check himself, myself, would decide on what the cover scene would be, Stan would always approve those, and then they would be assigned to an artist.  Occasionally it might be earlier or later. We might be in a hurry, so we might have the artist send in a cover while he's still working on the pages, just because he'd sort of know what the theme would be.  Occasionally, it would be later, and, of course, often the artist who did the cover was not the artist who was penciling the comic anyway, but it could be done at almost any time.

STAN LEE:  By the Marvel method we mean that the writer usually didn't write a complete script. He would tell the artist what he had in mind for the story and he might give the artist a very detailed outline but it wasn't written, Panel 1 you draw this, Panel 2 you draw this, he would just say the story begins with this happening and then the character gets attacked by the villain, blah, blah, blah and it was up to the artist to take the story that the writer suggested and draw it in his own way in his own, lay out the page his own way, and then the writer would go over it and put in the dialogue balloons.  The previous method, not the Marvel method, the writer with write a full script with all the dialogue and the artist would just draw it according to the way it was written, so the Marvel method gave the artist more scope and more chance to do it his own way.

When I was editing they would come to me first as the editor if it wasn't my story and I would just check and make sure I liked the way the story was drawn and then it would go to the artist, to the writer, to put in the dialogue.  If I were the writer, of course then it would come right back to me and I would put in the dialogue.  Sometimes the artist didn't put any lettering at all, he would just put in the drawings and the writer would fill in the lettering in the balloons, that's usually the way it was done.  After either the writer or editor or both decided what lettering should go into the balloons and they would usually do it in pencil to let the letterer know what it should be, then the letterer would very carefully letter it in India ink so it would reproduce well and it would look good, it would look right.

The original artist inevitably drew the drawings in pencil and then after it was approved and after the lettering was put in, then it would go to somebody called an inker who would, you might say, trace the drawings with black India ink so they were nice and sharp and clear and the engraver could photograph them well on the way to the printer.  It is different now with computers, but in those days the pages when they were finished were sent to somebody, I don't know who, and they came back. They were called silver prints. And they looked like regular sheets of paper but they were made out of a different material and the artist would use aniline dye, dip a paintbrush in different colors of aniline dye and paint the colors on these silver print pages and that was a guide for the printer when the book went to the printer to let the printer know what colors to use. So we also had a colorist who after the book was all drawn would color the silver prints for the printer as color guides.

MIKE PLOOG:  It altered through time, quote the Marvel Method and it depended on who was actually running the production in the Art Department at the time and the editor, whether it was John Verpoorten or whoever. And the Marvel method was more or less established to just get books done.  If you could do three books a month they would give them to you. It meant that they just needed to get books on the shelf, so that method meant there were a lot of short cuts being taken. 

Sometimes it would be just like on Planet of the Apes, it would just be a telephone conversation. Because it was like, you know, villain of the month type thing, and how do we start it and what is the middle and how do we get to the end of it. It was often left up to the artist to just sit down and fill in all the blanks.  First you would pencil them and I would write in the borders sometimes. If there was something pertinent that I needed to have in that panel to carry me into the next because they might not visually work together, I would put notes on the side and sometimes they read the notes, sometimes they didn't. So you just got what you got. Then they put the balloons in and you got it back and you inked it and then that was the finished art and you sent that in.

The writer would sit down and he would type it up on his typewriter and with Panel 1, Caption One, Balloon 1, Balloon 2 and then that would go off to the letterer and the letterer, he would do the balloons from the typewritten word and then once the balloons were on there, then it was all sent back to me to finish inking, or on to whoever, or whatever inker I had arranged to do work on it.  Once in a while depending on if it was a character that Marvel had established and they were a bit batty about what it looked like, they would have somebody in there that would change the head, or on several occasions I would have them totally change my cover, and I did all the cover art, like they would cut out a figure and paste in another figure over the top of it trying to make it look like the same artist did it, but because they didn't like the size of the figure, but very seldom did that happen. But I do recall things like that happening.

STAN LEE:  When they handed in the work we had things called vouchers. They would fill out a voucher saying what they did and what the price per page was and what the total was and they would hand in the voucher and then whenever, a week later, two weeks, whatever the company's rule was, they would get the check.   Sometimes the assignment was based on how fast the artist or writer was because we knew that the book had to be delivered quickly.

The legend on the back of a Dick Ayers cheque, 1974
MIKE PLOOG:  In substance it said, "If you cash this check you relinquish all your rights". Obviously you were going to cash the check. You know, your kids were starving and the rent was due.  It irritated most writers and artists because it was an assumption on their part that they had got you and they are binding you.

GARY FRIEDRICH:  The basic story line of Marvel Spotlight Number 5 started out with an action sequence of Johnny Blaze running through the rain-soaked streets of New York, sees some guys committing a crime. He realizes that he doesn't feel he can afford for the public to see him looking like he did as Ghost Rider, and he has a chase and action sequence fight with these bad guys, then he gets away and he goes back his dressing room was at Madison Square Garden and he begins to think about how he got in the shape. He really goes over his life story how his father, Barton Blaze, a stunt rider, was killed in an accident, and he was taken in by Crash Simpson and his wife to raise, how he was raised with them and grew up to love their daughter Roxanne, and how his adopted father, Crash Simpson, found out he has cancer and a month to live.  The name of Johnny Blaze was inspired by his alter ego's flaming skull and Roxanne was named after a lead guitarist in a band I had played in the 60's.

So Johnny Blaze had been interested in Satanism over the years, had some books, got out some books, and found an incantation he could do that would put him in touch with the devil.  Did the incantation, the devil comes and makes a deal with Johnny Blaze that he will not allow Crash Simpson to die of cancer if Johnny Blaze would later do something for the devil and Blaze agrees to do that without knowing what the devil wants.

Crash Simpson then thinks he's dying, decides to go for a record jump over 22 cars, he attempts to jump and misses and is killed. Johnny realizes the devil double-crossed him, and no matter what you do when the devil double-crosses you, it's the devil.  The devil tells Johnny Blaze that he is going to put a curse on him. I don't think they went into it specifically, but eventually the curse became that he would become this flaming skulled wraith if you will, for lack of a better word, not every day, but walk the earth as the devil's emissary.  Johnny Blaze, again, realizes he's being double-crossed but nothing he can do about it.  At that point Roxanne Simpson walks in and tells the devil that he can't do anything to Johnny because her purity of heart protects Johnny. She has been studying Johnny's books on the devil and discovered that the love of one pure in heart will protect someone from the devil.

So the devil says, "All right, but the curse stays on you, you continue to turn into this character every night at dark, and I will be back to get you," and let it go at that. That's the essence of the initial issue.

Mike Ploog was suggested in the original meeting between Stan and Roy I believe as the artist for Ghost Rider.  Roy probably would have called him about it.  I just recall a brief rundown from Roy. Roy was mainly mad at me because I didn't show up that day, and I got dressed down for that. He said, "Mike and I talked about what the character is going to look like, and Mike is going do some sketches."  He was doing another book for us, and he was probably there at least once a week. 

ROY THOMAS:  Well, it (the decision to hire Mike Ploog) was made after the first meeting.  We wanted to really get moving on it, so we wouldn't have waited too long, but I don't remember exactly how soon.  Again, I said we might have had more than one in a very short period of time, and I don't know exactly at what stage except that it was very early, may have been at the very first time or certainly within a few days that Mike was decided on as the artist.  I don't know who first brought up his name; it may have been Stan, it may have been me.  He worked together with Gary on the Frankenstein book for several issues, but I'm not sure of the date of that.  I'm thinking it came later, but I don’t have a clear picture of that in my mind. There's a title called Frankenstein, on the cover it said The Monster of Frankenstein, but I don't recall if that was after or before. I was thinking it was after.  When he was engaged as penciller, it was basically understood that he was going to be inking it as well, because up to that point, I believe he had inked all of his work or virtually all of his work that he had penciled for Marvel.

I believe it (the meeting with Mike) was basically at my desk with Mike having a chair sort of pulled up so he could draw. We just took over a little space and faced each other and talked.  Gary didn't come in work that day. He said he was sick or indisposed or something, but he called in and didn't come in.  I was annoyed because after all this was the character that he had conceived and that we were working on, and I wanted him to be there for the design.

It wasn't a really long meeting, maybe 15 to 20 minutes and then, of course, there were periods of little small talk besides the thing. The basic gist of it was pretty brief.  Mike had come in under the impression that he was going to be working on the Western character (the original Ghost Rider). For some reason he had thought he was going to re-design the Western character since we already had a design on it, and I informed him, no, this was a new character, a modern-day character, super-natural with a motorcycle.   I mentioned the way I saw it in my mind, however it got there, which is that he has a skull for a head and he's wearing a black leather jumpsuit, which I specifically mentioned.  I had reason to believe Mike understood what I meant, was based on the one that Elvis Presley had worn in the 1968 come-back special, which, at that time, was just a couple of years ago in the past and had been repeated a couple times on TV and so forth.

And that was basically it. Mike began to draw across the desk from me, and, of course, it looked good. And I suddenly noticed that he was drawing flames around the Ghost Rider's head.  It amused me because I knew Marvel had had a character back in the '40s very briefly called Blazing Skull, but I hadn't mentioned it to Mike, no reason why, most people hadn't seen that old character.  So I asked him, what's that? He said, well, I just thought it looked better this way or it looked better if his head was on fire, words to that effect. And I agreed to the statement and so forth.  I said, yeah, so leave that in, and that was pretty much it.

MIKE PLOOG:  I would love to take credit for it, but I can't recall.  But just by the fact of the development of the character there had to be dialogue between Gary and I. 

ROY THOMAS:  I only recall discussing the design with Mike PloogWe didn't worry about the motorcycle; Mike would design some appropriate motorcycle for the character. It was the character, the design of the character, not the design of the motorcycle that was important to us.  Then, within a relatively short period of time, he left, leaving that drawing or copy of it, I don't remember if we had a Xerox there at the office. I don't remember how he made a copy of it or if he drew another picture, I just don't have any memory of that.

We had had the comic book a few years earlier called Ghost Rider, so I don't know to what extent they owned the name Ghost Rider or still had a trademark on it, or whatever several years after that book had been cancelled.

MIKE PLOOG:  I visited the Marvel offices as little as possible because I found it as inhibiting as hell.  I would go in periodically and see people and if I wanted more money I would go in and talk to Stan Lee, and he always had a story or two to tell you about how poor he was and then point out his Rolls Royce’s.  Actually we got to know one another very well.  Actually I ended up marrying his secretary or assistant, so I spent a lot of time in his office.  It's far more interesting than this; I tell you that for a fact.  You know, it was 40 years ago. To be honest I don't recall any long discussions at all. It would all have been over the telephone anyway so I don't remember any long discussions about design work with Roy.  I had to have gotten a brief on it but I can't recall having this discussion in New York. It just seems to me it was more or less over the phone. If I had been in New York on a different occasion to bring in art work or something like that because I definitely would not have made a trip into New York just to talk about, you know.  I am sure they, because of the nature of Marvel, a lot of dialogue was going on up there but it never got as far as me. So the answer is it's possible.  There might have been a telephone call from Roy saying, you know; Geez, we had this great brainstorm up here and we would like you to do this, do that. Again, this was all dialogue, and when you sat down at the drawing board there was an interpretation that went on.  They would say she's such and such an age and he is such and such. His personality is such and such, but it was more or less up to you to come up with who is going to fit. Just make sure it fits.  I know Roy had some contributions to it because of the fact that I was always under the assumption that because Gary and Roy were old friends, they went to school together or something I think, in fact Roy was always looking how he was going to be able to help Gary out, but other than that I don't know what was going on verbally between them prior to them contacting me to illustrate.

GARY FRIEDRICH:  I told Mike that I had this new character, the Ghost Rider, that we wanted him to draw. And he said, "Tell me about it." So I sat down, may have been in the office, could have been in the Coral Bar; I don't remember for sure, and told him about the character, what the character would look like, what the basic story line was, basically an oral plot outline.  I told him precisely what I had in mind for what the character would look like, that the character would have a flaming skull for a head, he would wear a black motorcycle suit and ride a motorcycle.  I told him what Johnny Blaze would look like, as we discussed before, young, James Dean -type, muscular, maybe 6' or so tall, blonde hair.  I probably told him Roxanne would be a good-looking blonde.  I don't recall precisely what I told him (about the cover). We discussed it, decided basically what it would look like, he did a sketch and I approved a sketch.  I was familiar with Mike's style, and I assumed that he would do this book in the same style, have the same look as his other stuff. 

MIKE PLOOG:  I would have had to have spoken to Roy or Gary or both before I sat down and drew the design because you want his input. You want as much information about his performance and what he is expected to do before you sit down and draw him, so that he is working within the perimeter of what he needs to be.  They would say she's such and such an age and he is such and such. His personality is such and such, but it was more or less up to you to come up with who is going to fit. Just make sure it fits.  I need a fairly detailed picture of what that first issue is going to be about.  It had to have come from somebody else because the character was always drawn under instruction. It probably didn't elaborate in the instructions, but it was enough to where I could stop whatever conversation and say; okay, I think I know what you want. Let me sit down at the drawing board. 

On this very first Ghost Rider story I am almost convinced by looking at it that I had a full detailed script. I didn't necessarily have the dialogue, but I mean it would have been a detailed script.   I can only look at it now and say would I have done it like this if there wasn't a detailed script, and in a lot of areas I question whether I would have approached it like that. Once I received the script Roy's pretty well out of the picture.  I would have just received a script and got on with it because it is not like a big production.  Once you know what you are doing you just get on with it.   To me it was a job; it was a job I enjoyed doing and other people enjoyed my work, but to me it was just a job.  If I was working on a bridge I wouldn't assume that part of that bridge was going to be mine. I would get the job done and move on to the next job.

Actually I think it was after I quit Ghost Rider that I started hanging out with Gary and the boys at the Coral Bar in the evening, later on when we were doing Frankenstein, because prior to that I don't think I ever met Gary.   

GARY FRIEDRICH:  I had the artwork beside me and I'm writing the story and it comes to the place I have to put credits in, so I would take the artwork, rough in in pencil the box, and then I would rough in "edited by Stan Lee, conceived and written by Gary Friedrich," so on and so forth.  By that time Roy did most of the actual editing and Stan took the credit for it.  I would show the letterer where and how to draw the box.  I added the "credit box" to the splash page in which I noted that Spotlight 5 had been "conceived and written by" me.  Roy saw that credit for me and never took issue with it. He merely added a credit for himself, indicating he had aided and abetted me. My own personal feeling was it first ticked me off because I thought he was claiming editorial credit, which I didn't think he deserved. I initially contemplated removing the credit that he had added but then I got to thinking about it and I decided that he had taken the idea to Stan and helped me sell the idea to Stan, and so I assume that was the aid and abetment he was talking about and I let it go at that.  I believe that Stan Lee also saw the credit given to me, and he also never took issue with it. 

ROY THOMAS:  I heard a report that he had said some things about it, but I don't recall our ever discussing it.   I don't recall ever hearing one way or the other that he decided it was appropriate or inappropriate or whatever because we never discussed it that I can recall. 

Of course the word is "conceived" rather than "created." That was sort of a weaker word that sometimes was put in so that it wouldn't have to be "created," but it sort of had similar connotations.  I'm unaware of who wrote that credit, I assume Gary did but I do not remember. There seems to be some sort of lettering mistake on there.   I don't remember whether I proofread it or not. Gary, it would be certain, did, but that doesn't mean that I didn't; wouldn't mean I did. I do not recall.

MIKE PLOOG:  That was just put on there to kind of embellish, you know, it is all for fans. They would do that to almost every issue, there would be some kind of a goofy way of, you know, putting somebody's name in there like "the wonderful" or "the marvellous Marvel" or "Sneaky Sam" or some damned thing. Aid and abetted doesn’t mean anything.  I mean, the elevator operator could have contributed something to it, you know what I mean?  Roy is in there and it is his job, so I can only say obviously he had something to do with it.  I know he had some contributions to it but other than that I don't know what was going on verbally between them prior to them contacting me to illustrate.  You know, that is just like edited by Stan Lee. Stan Lee wasn't editing books when they got around to putting "Stan Lee presents" across the top, but he was always saying that he edited the books. He probably did look at them but I don't think he had it in him.

GARY FRIEDRICH:  At the time that I created the characters and Spotlight 5, it was not within the scope of any employment with any company including Magazine Management, and nothing in my employment with Magazine Management required me to provide it with an opportunity to publish comic books featuring original characters or stories created by me on my own time and without any request from Magazine Management.  I did not have comic book writing responsibilities as part of my staff position as a mail clerk at the time of Spotlight 5 or as part of any staff position with Magazine Management or any Marvel company at any time.

While working with Magazine Management or any other Marvel company, I was not required to accept any assignment to write any comic books and I was never by Magazine Management or any other Marvel Company to create a new central character for a comic book to revolve around.  The Spotlight 5 project and the conversion of the Ghost Rider Characters and story into a comic book was not undertaken as part of any request from Magazine Management, was not specially ordered or commissioned by Magazine Management, and rather was solely commissioned and initiated by me.

MIKE PLOOG:   Work for hire sounds like something that somebody made up in an office somewhere, because if you are hired to do something you work and you get paid to do it.  It doesn't make any sense to call it work for hire. It was almost an insult to anyone's creativity for it to be called work for hire, in my humble opinion.


The onus is now on Marvel to reply to Friedrich’s claims.  As with the Jack Kirby situation, it can’t really be disputed that Friedrich, along with Ploog and Thomas, created the character Ghost Rider.  Marvel has, and will continue to, counter-claim that Friedrich was engaged under a ‘work-for-hire’ agreement, as is their standard defence when anyone makes a claim for ownership.  Part of the Marvel response to the depositions is that;
None of the creative contributors to the Work were entitled to payment based on the financial success of the Work or any characters created in the Work and neither Friedrich, Ploog nor any of the other creative contributors to the Work ever received compensation resulting from Marvel's exploitation of the Work in merchandise, video games, or movies.[ii]

Friedrich's 1978 Marvel contract
It comes as no surprise that Marvel are sticking to the line that, “Ghost Rider was created as work for hire under the copyright laws and that Marvel is the owner of all right, title and interest in the copyright and trademark.[iii]”  Where the claim can come undone is the absence of the cheques used as payment for Friedrich with the contentious disclaimers.  Indeed Friedrich himself recognised the fact that, in the absence of a cheque signed by him from the relevant time period, Marvel is facing a battle[iv].  Friedrich’s claims are strengthened by the fact that he didn’t sign a work-for-hire agreement until 1978, at the same time as other Marvel staff members and freelancers did, but as Ghost Rider debuted in 1972 the 1978 agreement is fairly irrelevant, although Marvel continue to argue that a certain phrase on the contract, that, “…any and all work, writing, art work material or services (the ‘Work’) which have been or in the future created,” covers any time period.  One area where the work-for-hire claim falls down is that nobody asked Friedrich to come up with Ghost Rider; the concept was created independent of any request from Marvel.  Indeed according to his recollections, and that of Roy Thomas, Friedrich was never asked to create any characters, let alone a central character that a book would revolve around.  This is the opposite from the Jack Kirby case where the judge found that Lee and Kirby were asked by Martin Goodman, either directly or indirectly, to create characters for publication.   If we believe Friedrich then the idea that became Ghost Rider first took seed in 1953 when he saw The Wild One and had the idea, or he created the character in 1968 when he first began to talk about the concept to others. 

The definition of work-for-hire is as such: 1] A work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment or 2] A work specially ordered or commissioned for use as a contribution to a collective work as part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, as a translation, as a supplementary work, as a compilation, as an instructional text, as a test, as answer material for a test, or as an atlas, if the parties expressly agree in a written instrument signed by them that the work shall be considered a work for hire.  Friedrich’s creation of Ghost Rider does not appear to fall under either category, and indeed, although an employee at Marvel at the time, such was the nature of his employment that he could have easily taken Ghost Rider to DC, Charlton or any other comic book company that existed at the time, before he pitched it to Marvel.  It’s also worth remembering that the work-for-hire rule also entails the company proving that the work was created at both the company’s instance and expense, and that both elements have to be established.  Thus if Marvel cannot prove that Friedrich did the work at their instance, and at their expense, then the work-for-hire rule should fail.  Where it might get messy though is that Marvel can, and have, argued that Friedrich did not create Ghost Rider alone, that it was a co-creation with Mike Ploog, and that Ploog was acting under Marvel’s instance and expense, thus Ploog was working for hire.  At worst this would mean that the copyright to the character would be split between Friedrich and Marvel

Marvel are also firmly arguing that the only reason Friedrich is making his claim is because of the Ghost Rider movie, with its resulting sequel, and the money that such a claim now carries.  That has yet to be proven, but it is not disputed that the claim was lodged after the movie was completed.  Marvel appear to be red hot on this aspect of the claim, asserting that Friedrich has waited far too long to lodge his claims and as such should not be allowed to proceed.

Another area where Marvel might fall down comes in the form of copyright renewal.  According to a 2002 report prepared by Sony Pictures, Marvel failed to either register or renew the copyright for Marvel Spotlight #5, instead relying on a clause enacted in 1992 which proves that works published between January 1st, 1974 and December 31st, 1977, are automatically covered by a 75 year copyright term and that renewal can happen at any point during that time, regardless of if a copyright was lodged at the time.  This would cover the origin story, as it has been reprinted several times (1974, 1992, 2001, 2005), but Marvel Spotlight #5 appears to have fallen between the cracks, leading the way for Friedrich to apply for the copyright.  Resulting issues of Marvel Spotlight that featured Ghost Rider, issues #6 to #11, were subject to copyright registrations.  Faced with this information Sony duly advised Marvel to file the relevant paperwork and register the work published in Marvel Spotlight #5.  This didn’t stop Friedrich from filing his own claim to Marvel Spotlight #5 in 2007 though.

Marvel are also arguing along the lines of character evolution, that is that the character that appeared in the Nicholas Cage Ghost Rider film is not the character that Friedrich created.  Again, according to Marvel’s response;
From in or about 1990 through 1998, Marvel published another series of comic books, Ghost Rider, Vol. 2, Nos. 1-93, featuring an incarnation of the Ghost Rider character with an alter ego (Danny Ketch) and ancillary characters different than the version appearing in the Work.  In 2001 Marvel began publishing Ghost Rider, Vol. 3, which featured the incarnation of Ghost Rider (and his Johnny Blaze alter ego) embodied in the Work. Ghost Rider, Vol. 3 comprised six issues, Nos. 1-6, with cover dates from August 2001 through January 2002[v].

Friedrich's 2007 copyright filing
This comes across as somewhat of a weak argument when you study it.  There are those who have stated that, for example, as Jack Kirby was the artist who re-introduced the Sub-Mariner and Human Torch into Marvel comics in the 1960s, then he can now, rightly, be considered to have created the characters as he altered them from their original concepts.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The original creator is the creator, pure and simple.  As DC Comics are finding with Superman, no matter what they (DC) do to the character, reboot it, revamp it, have other creators put their stamp on it, give the character new powers and a new costume, the core character, Superman, belongs to Siegel and Shuster.  Thus the concept of Ghost Rider will always be with Friedrich, Ploog and Thomas if the court decides as much, no matter what Marvel do.  That the character has altered since Marvel Spotlight #5 is irrelevant, the name is still the same, and the concept is basically the same; Johnny Blaze, a stunt cyclist, sells his soul to the devil, is cursed with being the Ghost Rider, transforms into a demon with a flaming skull for a head and rides a motorcycle.  It is the same with the recent movie.

The 1990 incarnation of the character, with an alter-ego named Danny Ketch, was the most radical departure, with an all new origin and character, but once the transformation was complete the Ghost Rider was there –flaming skull, leathers, motorcycle, super-natural powers.  The concept had changed, but the basic premise was left intact.  The creative team on volume 2 of Ghost Rider, writer Howard Mackie and artists Javier Saltares and Mark Texeira, would have as much claim to the core character and name, Ghost Rider, as John Byrne would for the Fantastic Four or Superman, both of which he retooled considerably.  The trio could make a claim for the creation of the new alter-ego, Danny Ketch, but the credit for end result, that being Ghost Rider, would still lay with Friedrich, Ploog and Thomas. 

In the early 1980s Roger Stern and Bob Budiansky, and later J.M. DeMatties revamped the title and introduced new elements, including giving the demon a name, Zarathos, and an origin of its own which was separate to that of Johnny Blaze.  As a result the character became even more layered and complex, and certainly the Ghost Rider that featured towards the end of the original run bore little in common with the Ghost Rider that debuted in 1972 other than the look, name and alter-ego.  The powers had changed considerably, and with the explanation of the demon itself, the overall feel of the book had also altered.  Where Blaze had total control over the demon in the beginning, towards the end he had begun to fight, mentally for control over the host body.  Although the character had been re-invented by Stern, Budiansky and DeMatties, the core character, overall look and concept still lay with Friedrich, Ploog and Thomas.

What this does add up to is one of the stronger cases against Marvel in recent times.  There is evidence that Friedrich had the concept for Ghost Rider before presenting it to Marvel, although he was on staff at the time his employment was not that of a writer and Marvel failed to register the copyright to Marvel Spotlight #5.  Notwithstanding that won’t deter Marvel from throwing a lot of time, resources and money at this case as there is quite a bit at stake.  However if Gary Friedrich can stand his ground he might well upset the apple-cart and gain a victory.  As it now stands the case is well into the discovery phase with at least two trials set for the future, the first will be to decide if Friedrich created Ghost Rider separate from Marvel, the second will be to decide any accounting, if required.  Watch this space for future developments.


[i] How Why Hell-Rider by Gary Friedrich.  Hell-Rider, Vol 1, No.1, August 1971, Skywald
[ii] Declaration of Walter Eliot Bard, October 17, 2011
[iii] Letter from Walter Eliot Bard to Arthur Aaronson, April 14, 2004
[iv] An email from Friedrich to Roy Thomas, dated June 14, 2006, contains the line, “…they don't have any of the signed checks any more, which may help.”
[v] Declaration of Walter Eliot Bard, October 17, 2011


Mikeyboy said…
I'm going t need to sit back and read this...Ghost Rider ( The Flame skulled Biker ) is one of my favorite characters.
the research you put into these articles is amazing and more than credible and plausible.
I don't take this with a grain of salt but rather a tablespoon.
Mikeyboy said…
Now I gotta go read my Ghost rider comics. Thank you... :)
Mikeyboy said…
Alas..the case is over Friedrich lost. The Judge cited that Friedrich accepted the terms and conditions regarding intellectual properties when he signed and cashed the first check he received from Marvel for this particular work.
This news was just released to the press this morning around 8 am

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