The Washington Post

LONG ‘SPAWN’ DISPUTE SETTLED: Neil Gaiman says case is good for creators, ‘incredibly good’ for copyright

FOR THE BETTER PART of a decade, “Spawn” creator Todd McFarlane fought in court with fellow fantasy-publishing titan Neil Gaiman. Caught in the middle were their spawn: A handful of characters Gaiman worked on while teaming with McFarlane.

On Friday, lawyers for each side filed notice in federal court in Madison, Wisc., that the case had been settled.

“I’m delighted with the case,” Gaiman tells Comic Riffs on Monday. “I’m delighted with the decisions. ... And I’m delighted to put it behind me.”

Gaiman — widely known for such works as “Sandman,” “Coraline,” ”American Gods” and “The Graveyard Book” — hailed the case as a victory for not only creators, but also for the clarity of copyright law.

“The main thing is, I feel like an awful lot of good things have come out of it. ... ,” Gaiman tells ‘Riffs. “I think the various decisions, particularly the [Judge] Posner decision, were huge in terms of what the nature of dual copyright in comics is. What is copyrightable in comics is now something that there is a definite legal precedent for.

“There were a lot of things that were ... misty in copyright [law] that are now much clearer,” continued Gaiman, noting that the case is now taught in schools. “And it’s of benefit to the creator.”

In 1992, McFarlane created “Spawn” — about a slain CIA agent turned demon — for burgeoning Image Comics.

Gaiman sued in 2002, claiming that he created several of the series’ characters, including Medieval Spawn and Angela the bounty-hunting angel for “Spawn” No. 9. A jury later found that Gaiman was half owner of “Spawn” issues Nos. 9 and 26, as well as the first three issues of a spinoff.

Gaiman told Comic Riffs that the terms of agreement are confidential.

“Truthfully, I think all of the decisions were incredibly good for all kinds of copyright,” Gaiman said to ‘Riffs, citing the statute of limitations on a violation as an example.

“Now the statute of limitations — three years — begins with the discovery of the violation. ... ,” Gaiman says. “You can’t secretly file copyright on someone else’s things.”

McFarlane lawyer James Alex Grimsley reportedly wasn’t returning calls Monday seeking comment on the case.

As for the duration of the case, Gaiman tells us: “It took a ridiculous amount of time.”

Gaiman notes that he hasn’t seen McFarlane since the settlement.

“But every time I would run into Todd in a courtroom,” Gaiman says, ”he looked a little more sad.”

Writer/artist/visual storyteller Michael Cavna is creator of the "Comic Riffs" column and graphic-novel reviewer for The Post's Book World. He relishes sharp-eyed satire in most any form.

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