Over on eBay, a man is coordinating auctions to raise funds for Friedrich's penance. He got a Captain America sketch from Neal Adams, an actual cover for Hellboy from Mike Mignola, and Eric Powell, another longtime resident of the trenches who climbed out but hasn't forgotten where he came from, donated a cover from The Goon. These three pieces have raised $11,912. Bernie Wrightson has joined in, donating the original artwork he drew for a Ghost Rider movie promotion. If this does as well as the others, then it might be enough that the small contributions that the rest of us can afford will add up enough and put Friedrich in the clear.
Fans and pros alike, we should be proud of ourselves. One of our own was under attack, and the only way to save him was with blood money. Within a week or two, Friedrich should be safe again. We organized, we put aside our differences, and we did it for an honorable cause. We did good.
There is, however, the question of convention sketches. I honestly don't like saying "I told you so," because I recognize what an asshole thing that is to say, but, to all you people who told me I was nuts to approach doing fan projects with so much trepidation, who was saying all it takes is one publisher getting snippy and they pull the rug out...well, I told you so.
It's really disappointing to see everyone acting like this. Keep in mind that one of the landmark articles I wrote for Video Game Trader was about the legalities and dangers of making fan games, and EVERYTHING in there could apply to fanfics, fan comics, and even convention sketches. Because legally, it is still the publisher's property, and you are rolling dice. Some are fine as long as you don't get too obnoxious (Star Trek, etc.). But it does open you up to payback. Publishers who suddenly have an axe to grind with you will go back through your history looking for any dirt they can find. And selling sketches of characters they own is it.
Unfortunately, this hasn't stopped a bunch of stupid armchair lawyers from getting involved. I have nothing but love for Dan Slott, one of the nicest guys in the industry. But him saying no one should worry after the Friedrich Affair is misinformed at best. Slott points to the sketch covers of comic books the companies put out. Those are clearly intended to be drawn on, so the companies are giving their implicit permission to sketch. Otherwise, creators could scream, "Entrapment." Wrong bongos, Slott. That would actually be the sketch cover comics are intended to be drawn on, not convention sketches in general. And more to the point, the companies can still exercise their rights. If a guy gets, say, ten sketch covers for X-Men and draws Wolverine fucking Len Wein up the ass while decapitating Dan Didio, Marvel can get you in trouble. It is STILL THEIR PROPERTY. What part of this are you not getting?
Many pros like Rob Liefeld are responding to this by refusing to draw Marvel characters at conventions. Please note this doesn't address the real problem, as DC or Dark Horse or anyone with deep pockets can still come after them, they are just boycotting the one causing trouble. Marvel could easily defuse the situation. They said they were going to make an announcement about Friedrich and convention sketch legalities. But the announcement was simply there was no change in policy and they were glad people would still be able to get sketches of their favorite characters at conventions. They could have said, "No, we're not going after anyone doing convention sketches." Nope, they kept that nebulous threat out there. They still want that leverage. Thanks, guys.
There were rumors circulating that the companies have waivers at conventions that the artists in Artist Alley can sign and do convention sketches without legal hassle. This turned out to be wishful thinking. I could have told them that. What company in their right mind would do that? DC does have a more official policy of allowing such sketches to be made, but only for exclusive artists, and then it's in the exclusivity contract they sign, not a separate work.
In short, you have a bunch of people who don't want to admit they have been whistling past the graveyard all these years and don't want to stop.
And yet, they should have stopped a long time ago.
Sean Gordon Murphy is a pro who did a sketchbook called The Wolverine ABC's. This is from his deviantART page. You want to read this. I'll let him take it away....
Last year I drew the Wolverine ABCs. When it was done, I printed out around 200 sketchbooks of them to hand out to industry friends. I knew enough about copyright law to know that I was in the gray area, even though they were only meant to be given away as gifts. I also gave them to people and editors who worked at Marvel--clearly I wasn't trying to hide what I'd created. Because I was a pro and because I wasn't selling them, I figured I'd be fine. After three conventions of EVERYONE telling me I should sell them, I broke down and sold some. At the last show that season, I sold the remaining 40 copies or so.
Then Marvel called. I explained that I didn't have a warehouse of sketchbooks, I only made around 200 (or close to that) and mostly I gave them away. I explained how none of the Marvel editors complained when I handed them one, and my lack of hiding the ABCs should show the innocent nature of my endeavor. I even offered to sign a Cease and Desist, and pay them the money I made selling the last 40. But Marvel wanted the rights to the ABCs--they wanted to own them and pay me nothing. I wasn't willing to do that, so I got a lawyer. And we eventually came together and agreed to drop the subject if I simply removed them from my site and promised not to make any more sketchbooks.
I was in the wrong. I really can't be angry at Marvel for their actions. They were in the right, even though some things at conventions are tolerated, it's still technically wrong. My mistake was being a higher-profile artist and making a themed book out of Marvel characters. I was surprised that it led to the threat of legal action, but it's not my call to make. I apologized to Marvel up and down, and I still feel incredibly stupid for what I did.
To be clear, I support Marvel's decision and I'm happy we worked out an arrangement. I bear them no ill will, and am only telling this story to outline the rights of both the creator and the corporation. I'm not trying to be provocative, only trying to help illustrate what creators need to do to protect themselves. Because I honestly believe that corporations don't want to go after creators, because it makes them the bad guy. Which they're often not.
My mistake was thinking that it was no big deal ... because most people in comics don't think it's a big deal. But most people haven't dealt with Marvel like I have, and that's what fueled my involvement in this entire issue.
I know people think I'm overreacting--I don't care. And I don't care if the industry standard is to keep making sketches/prints/sketchbooks, and I don't care if people keep getting away with it. I don't follow the "wink-wink industry rules" that exist in artists alley. I follow my own rules, and in this case I'm siding with copyright law. I'm siding with Marvel, DC, or any corporation who was the right to protect its interests. Marvel and DC should love that someone is making this statement, and out of his own free will.
I'm changing my sketch policy because I'm imagining the worst-case scenario, I know. In my mind, even DC could trace my sketch history of Batman drawings (a lawyer taking a quick look at Comic Art Fans would reveal the evidence), figure out what I might have charged, and take me to court. Or simply show me the information, threaten a lawsuit, and then get me to agree to lessen my DC page rate in exchange for not getting into trouble. (Bold is mine. -- G) Silly, I know. Unlikely, I know. I make the joke because I know the people at DC who will be reading this, and I know they have senses of humor and would never do that. But what if in 10 years their replacements read this and say, "Murphy's onto something, we should TOTALLY do that!" Then I'll be more protected for only drawing my own characters.
There's an old Polish proverb that says, "It doesn't do to leave a live dragon out of your plans if you happen to live near one." You keep whistling, I'm taking another road away from this danger. And shame on you for not wanting clarity to protect those coming after you.