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Saturday, 24 June 2017

Reviving Odham's Fantastic Comic. Great Idea...Or it seemed like one!

One other early idea from the 1999-2005 period was to revive the old Odhams title Fantastic but there was a snag.

It seems that, as was common practice back then, IPC/Fleetway (it is not as clear as some claim) purchased material from Odhams, however, it did not purchase copyright nor did it copyright the characters or the title -that would have cost a lot of money for each individual character but the title was safe-ish.

So, at a meeting, someone very senior in the company tapped the dummy copy and said: "Can't do it!" My obvious question was, after all the time of putting things together, were they only telling me now? I was told that no one was aware of how complicated it could get.  Creators (who ever decided to claim they created a character -for some there were several) could ask for payments or rights back or even take the matter to court.   Company after company had sold and resold material (including overseas) and never paid creators.  Well, it was "work for hire", even most artists thought that at one point.

However, I finally understood how big a scare the Don Lawrence and Leo Baxendale cases had given Thomsopn and IPC/Fleetway.  Here is a post from 2011

In an interview with Paul Gravett, Leo Baxendale stated:

Nothing at all from Thomsons or IPC. When they buy artwork from you, they still claim total ownership. You get nothing from reprints or sales abroad. But I was too busy back then doing next week’s work to think about the previous originals. As a young professional, that incessant pressure doesn’t half hone you up. But there’s no finite limit where people say you’re doing too much. It goes on piling on and when you go beyond a certain point, it becomes destructive.


In my case against D.C. Thomson over the copyrights to my creations - Little Plum, Minnie the Minx, The Bash Street Kids, The Three Bears, The Banana Bunch (above) - I was heading from a three-week trial in the High Court from June 27th 1987. There were always several possible endings - like those role-playing books! But in the end we came to a mutually acceptable settlement in late May. I was fighting with Legal Aid and if anybody on that system is made a serious offer, it must be considered, because of the enormous costs to public money to go on fighting. The terms are confidential but I now have an amicable association with Thomson’s.

The full interview can be found here

What I had never been aware of was the fact that a few creators had also come to "confidential deals" which Fleetway/IPC.  I was told who two of them were but it appeared "about six" had reached these deals.

"Jerry Siegel created The Spider for the company and the last thing anyone wants is a high profile comic person with big lawyer moving in!"   (in The Hooper Interviews I talked to then Managing Editor, Gil Page who started at Amalgamated Press as a youngster and he recalled the excitement in the company that "the creator of Superman" had produced this new character for them -his name on the scripts Page had held).

So I tried to talk around this but the "Senior" man produced a copy of a paper I had written on UK Comics Copyright.  Let's be honest, I had personally pulled the pin from the hand grenade and thrown it while still holding firmly on to the grenade.  But no one had thought to tell me of these problems up until that final approval meeting (no contracts of course).

In all honesty, "buyer beware".  You 'purchase' old strips you are not purchasing ownership nor copyright.  The original creator or his heirs could make a claim.  But here is a mock up first issue cover from when the idea of "redoing it all cropped up" -using newer characters and material.  There was a shrug but no one really knew what to do.  I did but I was not the one paying!

We'll never know if Titanus carried out his Earthy Death Sentence!

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