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The Creator's Bill of Rights:
A Letter from Erik Larsen 2

Below is a letter from Erik Larsen where Erik addresses Dave Sim's letter concerning The Creator's Bill of Rights and the Neil Gaiman vs. Todd McFarlane feud. -Al Nickerson

August 31, 2005


The Creators’ Bill of Rights was always a puzzle to me. It seems as relevant to me as eight random human beings hanging out at a street corner getting together and making rules for mankind. It’s not as though anybody put them in charge of anything or have any reason to acknowledge or adhere to their rules. Those who drafted and signed it, talk about the Creators’ Bill of Rights as though it’s a document of some historic import, I’ll grant you, but outside of those who signed it—I’ve never had it brought up or even mentioned in passing to me by anybody in the industry. And really, I’m not sure why anybody should mention it. To call it a Creators Bill of Rights is a bit of a misnomer. It ISN'T a Creators Bill of Rights--it's the conditions under which these eight (or however many it was) individuals are willing to do business. Anything more is presumptuous at best and arrogant at worst. What makes these individuals feel as though it's their place to speak for the rest of us? It may be a good thing to keep in mind or be aware of when a creative person is negotiating a contract with a publishing company but I think its impact in the industry is, frankly, minimal at best. Heck, I’ve never read the darned thing. Like I said—it hasn’t come up. Which isn’t to say that the people involved aren’t all good guys—I just think that this isn’t really something that can be hammered out by eight random human beings hanging out at a street corner—it’s something that is to be decided in negotiation between a creator and a publisher. At the end of the day, the Creators’ Bill of Rights real value may come from simply spelling things out in a form people can understand and utilize in their negotiations with a potential client. I think it’s a little naïve to expect everybody in the industry to salute it like they would a flag and hang on its every word.

On the BWS/Hulk thing (which I neglected to mention)—that kind of thing will forever be a problem. I can’t tell you the number of times that readers have anticipated things, which were coming up in my book. Perhaps they felt as ripped off as Barry did when his Hulk idea showed up in print by another author or perhaps they simply patted themselves on the back for having been able to figure things out based on the clues I’d dropped—I dunno. It’s something you just have to expect. When hundreds of thousands of people are tossing out ideas, some are bound to coincide with each other. At one point I had a character-creating contest in Savage Dragon. It was the sort of idea, which I would have loved as a kid, where readers sent in characters and I’d pick my favorite and have them fight Savage Dragon in an upcoming issue. They would retain all ownership of their character—and I even agreed to give them the original art from the cover and a mess of copies of the book. A fun idea. But in the thousands of characters sent—several shared names with characters that I had, many shared names and attributes with each other and dozens had names or appearances similar to existing comic book characters. And, for years after, I got letters from people claiming that I ripped off their ideas or passed them off to other creators in the business who did. Heck, a good number of those complaints came from the numerous people that slapped a Happy Face (Have a Nice Day) on a dude and called him an original creation. When Jason Pearson introduced a character with a Happy Face mask over at Dark Horse, the accusations flew, I tell you. Sometimes these things really are coincidence. And there are those who routinely rip people off as well. It’s a shame that it seems to have happened to Barry. It’s hard to police ideas.

I like your "dinking around on someone else’s car" analogy. I’ve used someone else’s suggestion a time or two and it’s never worked out so well. Invariably, I’ve ended up regretting the decision. It wasn’t something I REALLY wanted to do and I’m simply not as enthusiastic about it as I’d like to be. Following my own muse is always the best choice—for me. Others—like Todd McFarlane welcome input—although I’m not sure he’d welcome it NOW...

The McFarlane/Gaiman thing still burns me up in the basic unfairness of it all. As you said, "Had the judge asked them, I’m sure the all-female jury would have been happy to give Neil the rights to Spawn, Todd’s house and cars, Madonna’s uniform from A League of Their Own and the Mark McGuire baseball and anything else Neil expressed an interest in" and that’s not right. (Insert blanket condemnation of the American Judicial System here). Giving Neil Medieval Spawn is unfair. Had a jury let Todd own Medieval Sandman, Neil’s fans would be screaming bloody murder. Medieval Spawn is Spawn on a horse (and it was Todd who named him "Medieval Spawn," incidentally, when he made a toy based on his own design—Neil referred to his throughout his script as "Spawn."). To me, Angela is very much a derivative character as well. She could not have been created in a vacuum. She’s the opposite of Spawn. He’s from Hell—she’s from Heaven. He’s male—she’s female. He’s black—she’s white. She hunts Spawns, for cryin’ out loud! She’s the Spawn equivalent of Spider-Man’s Spider-Slayers. Todd eventually DID write Angela out of the book.

Doling out dough to everybody who helped out along the way would be nice—I certainly see nothing wrong with acknowledging valuable contributions with a piece of the action but, it’s impractical in most cases and it’s certainly not something that can be instituted of enforced. Besides, a number of people who do creator-owned stuff make next to NO money and being forced to give MORE out cash to others might very well do them in. And, again, how do you judge what’s fair? A logo is worth WHAT? A suggestion is worth WHAT? How can you quantify it? A template contract may be a good idea but I fear that—like the Creator Bill of Rights it would largely be ignored or dismissed.

The Cerebus book is still very interesting to me. Bob Chapman has given us his blessings and I think it would be a quite cool project. Lemme know what we need to do to make this happen.

And sorry for taking so long getting back to you. Stuff comes up and if it’s something I can deal with—I deal with it. I spent way too much time on American Flagg and messing with Coyote. I learned a hell of a lot in the process—I really have no complaints—but it takes up a hell of a lot more time than I’d like.

Delegate. Must remember to delegate…


-Erik Larsen

Next: A Letter from Dave Sim 9 Dave Sim responds to this letter from Erik Larsen.