Wednesday, May 06, 2015

The End of a Beautiful Friendship: Creators' Rights [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

The fight over creators' rights seems like ancient lore these days, but for those of us who remember Destroyer Duck and all the fuss that spawned the Gerber vs Marvel fight, it lingers. The movie Howard the Duck tanked, but his cameo at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy reminded me of those old battlegrounds. But not all the battles were fought with Marvel and DC.

Wally Wood, despite being famous from as early as EC Comics, fought his own battles. He was one of the people who created witzend (issue #1 in 1966), the first pro fanzine in which all material was owned by its creators. Commercially a disaster, it did spark the first discussions around "Who owns this idea, anyway?" Other prozines would follow like Phase 1, Hot Stuf' and Star*Reach. The seeds planted in the 1960s would bloom in the 1970s and 1980s, first as "underground comics," but eventually as creator-owned and published works like The First Kingdom, Cerebus the Aardvark, and Elf Quest.

Unhappy with the big companies, Wally drew for James Warren's horror magazines Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella. With more leeway than the superhero books, Wally could create his own stories and retain certain rights he would not at Marvel or DC. His first appearance was supposed to be the very first issue of Creepy, an EC All-Star reunion (January 1965), but mistakenly his story was sent to Gray Morrow instead. He did appear by issue #9 (June 1966) with "Overworked!" written by Archie Goodwin and inked by pal Dan Atkins. This was the first of a dozen appearances at Warren. Wood would draw some of the first sword and sorcery tales for them in "War of the Wizards" (Vampirella #10, March 1971), "To Kill a God" (Vampirella #12, July 1971), and "Prelude to Armageddon" (Creepy #41, July 1971).

So in June of 1978, when Warren began their version of Heavy Metal - first called 1984, then later changed to 1994 - it made sense to include some sword and sorcery from Wally Wood. Who better? Wally had been into heroic fantasy since the 1960s, as well as inking Kull the Conqueror #1 (1971) for Marvel, then the short-lived Stalker for DC in 1975 and Hercules Unbound (1975-76). He also did a wonderful Lord of the Rings parody for DC's Plop #23 (September-October 1976) called "The King of the Ring." These jobs were nothing though compared to his fantasy masterwork, The King of the World, an adult Fantasy he had been working on since the witzend days.

What he sent to Bill DuBay at 1984 was a 12-pager entitled "The End," set in a world of elves and ogres similar to The King of the World. What DuBay did with this sterling black-and-white piece was turn it into two, unconnected 6-pagers, "Quick Cut" (1984 #1, June 1978) and "One Night Down on the Funny Farm" (1984 #2, August 1978), neither of which make much sense. Since he cut and pasted, then rewrote the story, these two stories have anomalies in their pictures and make very little sense. For the first one he gave Wood full credit, but on the second he took the blame as the writer. Wally was outraged. He had not been consulted. A master of the comic form, a champion of creators' rights, his work had been mangled and trivialized. After thirteen years, he walked away. He never worked for Warren again.

Ironically, in 1983, Bill DuBay would be one of fifty-eight former Warren writers and artists to appear before the judge in the Warren bankruptcy case, protesting that Harris, who bought out the folding Warren empire, did not have the rights to such characters as Vampirella and decades of stories. Creators' rights? What's that?

So what we are left with since has been a lot of questions as to why Bill DuBay treated Wally Wood's work in this fashion. The answer lies perhaps in a larger question: why was 1984 the worst magazine Warren put out? In trying to out-Heavy Metal the competition, the writing of the magazine was slanted heavily toward sleaze. The work Wally Wood (and others) turned in simply wasn't sleazy enough. DuBay, as editor, was the chief sleaze provider. He knew better than to ask Wood to redo the story in an adolescent way, so he cut and pasted and lost the work of a great artist in the process. DuBay had bigger worries on his hands, including a lawsuit with Harlan Ellison and possibly a copyright haggle with the heirs of George Orwell over the title. Is it any wonder he went by the name Will Richardson for a few years after all this?

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.
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