A federal court judge has added a medieval demon and two “kick-ass warrior angels” to the list of “Spawn” comic book characters partly owned by writer Neil Gaiman, the Associated Press reported Monday.
In a ruling filed Friday in Madison, Wis., U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb found the accursed warriors to be spin-offs of three characters already found to be partly owned by Gaiman, who once collaborated with “Spawn” creator Todd McFarlane. (The cult series chronicles the adventures of a murdered CIA agent who makes a pact with the devil to return to Earth as a demon.) [Download Crabb's Decision.]
Foley & Lardner partner Allen Arntsen led the charge for Gaiman, who was first awarded partial ownership of his “Spawn” creations following a 2002 jury trial. Lawyers for Gaiman and McFarlane had been negotiating since then over how much Gaiman was owned in royalties. The talks were delayed while the case was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which ultimately affirmed the jury verdict, as well as by a bankruptcy filing by one of McFarlane’s publishing companies.
Amid those negotiations, Gaiman’s lawyers asked McFarlane and two of his publishing firms to produce profit data related to the three characters that were the subject of Crabb’s Friday ruling — two scantily clad female warriors and a medieval-era Hellspawn — and that Gaiman’s team believed were derivative of the three characters to which Gaiman was awarded part-owernship in 2002. McFarlane refused.
Plaintiffs then filed a motion asking the court to consider the matter. Arguments were held in June over whether the prior jury awards should cover the three additional characters.
In her opinion, Crabb awarded Gaiman a share of the profits attributable to the new characters, which could extend beyond comics to cover posters, trading cards and an animated HBO series.
“It was a good ruling,” Arntsen says of Friday’s decision. “It was consistent with the other rulings in the case so far.”
Arntsen says he does not know the projected value of Gaiman’s claim, and does not know whether McFarlane will seek to appeal the decision.
“I think any likelihood of success in any appeal would be small,” he says.
The royalty figure is expected to be revealed in early September. That’s when Crabb has ordered defendants McFarlane, Todd McFarlane Productions Inc., and TMP International Inc. to produce accounts of the money earned from the newly decided derivative characters Domina, Tiffany and Dark Ages Spawn.
The defendants had argued that the three characters were distinct from those co-owned by Gaiman. Bryan Cave partner J. Alex Grimsley represented the defendants. He did not return a message seeking comment.
Gaiman first joined McFarlane in 1992 under a contract that called for him to write a script for an issue of Spawn. That issue wound up including three new officers in a devil-controlled “army of the damned,” hell-bent on waging war against Heaven.
A jury found those characters — Medieval Spawn, Angela and Count Cogliostro – to be partly owned by Gaiman. In her Friday ruling, Crabb said Dark Ages Spawn was effectively a Medieval Spawn offshoot, and that Domina and Tiffany were “mere variations” on the Angela character. In reaching her conclusion, Crabb showed that she had fully immersed herself in the Spawn saga.
“Much as defendant tried to distinguish two knight Hellspawn,” the judge wrote, “he never explains why, of all the universe of possible Hellspawn incarnations, he introduced two knights from the same century.”