The whole thing started with an odd message that had been left on my answering machine a couple of weeks ago.
” Hello, Mr. Leonard, this is the law offices of Cheatham & Fleesum. We would like to speak with you at your earliest convience concerning a very urgent matter. ”
Now, when you’re a writer, getting a mysterious and unexpected call from a lawyer is usually not good news. I assumed the worst: I’d finally managed to tick someone off here at Public Domain, they’d tracked me down, and I’d be served for defamation of character and slander.
It was probably that Iron Man 3-related gag post I did, and Kim Kardashian didn’t find it nearly as amusing as I did.
Well, the joke was really on her, because if you’re going to sue someone, it should probably be someone who actually has money. The entire contents of my checking account wouldn’t even cover one of her manicures. Given the circles she runs in, it might be more like a tip, and a chintzy one at that.
I was mentally preparing my ‘it was a parody’ defense, cursing the day I’d ever set tender young eyes on Mad magazine, as I dialed the number back . . . only to find out it was something completely different, and much to my advantage.
It turned out that there was this ongoing litigation between a long-defunct comic book publisher called Titanic Comics with several artists and writers over ownership of intellectual property, in particular a character called Wolfman, whom, to the best of my knowledge, hasn’t even been mentioned since Titanic went out of business in the Silver Age.
Apparently, though, when the publisher went bankrupt, there was an ongoing claim by the creators of Wolfman, who first appeared during the initial comics boom of the late 1930s that they had been fleeced out of the ownership of the character unjustly.
Turns out those two men were a writer by the name of Allen Michael Leonard, and an artist named Jerome Elliott Lyleowicz, who, as it happens to turn out, is the ancestor of my creative partner and DoorMan co-creator, James E. ‘Doodle’ Lyle.
I immediately called my mother to get the scoop on this, because I thought the only other writer in the family besides me was my cousin Elmore. *
*(Just kidding, I’m not related to Elmore Leonard. That I know of, anyway, but I’m completely honored to share a surname with him, anyway, as he’s one of my favorites.)
Turns out there’s something of a family controversy over my Uncle Al, one of those ‘we don’t talk about that stuff’ sweep-it-under-the-rug things. Apparently, at some point, Uncle Al tried to prove he was an actual werewolf in order to give he and his friend Jerome a leg up in the constant lawsuits over the decades with publishers over the ownership of Wolfman . . . and he tried that stunt in a crowded courtroom in front of a judge.
Uncle Al went ‘away’ for a nice ‘rest’ for a long time. He was, according to the relatives that I’ve spoken to, always something of a ‘kook’. That just made it sorta official.
In any case, I guess in order to claim some of the other IP from Titanic’s stable, the new potential owners finally decided to settle the case over Wolfman, and there was a clause in late Uncle Al’s will that if the lawsuit ever got settled, anyone who was ‘a fool enough’ to get involved in comics in the family would end up with his half of the stake in the character.
Which would be me, because everyone else in my family is sane enough to actually have pursued actual, legitimate means of employment. I’m the only black sheep after Uncle Al that decided to go into the arts, comic or otherwise.
James and I are still sorting through boxes and boxes of legal documents detailing the whole sordid tale of Wolfman’s publishing history, which started when he was created by Al and Jerome to be a promotional comic to be inserted into boxes of raisins that were only dried out by the light of a full moon —
I’m not making this up, I swear. If I were, it wouldn’t be this outlandish. You know what they say about the truth and fiction, and it doesn’t get much stranger than this.
Anyway, while we’re still researching all this, James and I have decided to resurrect Wolfman — and his perky teen sidekick, Chickadee — in new comics that will embody the ‘Swingin’ Spirit of the Sensational Silver Age’, as my Uncle Al apparently put it in a deposition not long before his passing (and from the sounds of it, waaay under the Tumultuous Thrall of Thorazine).
Before we can get to the comics, though, we wanted to more immediately capitalize on Wolfman, so James drew up some fantastic pieces as full-color prints to sell at comic conventions this summer, starting this weekend, June 6-9th, at the historic Heroes Con in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Actually, Doodle and I have been having ongoing discussions for several months about finding new business opportunities, and the state of making a buck or two at conventions beyond just selling actual comics or books. I’m in the process of setting up Chimeraton as a publishing imprint to put out several projects of ours through, but we decided to team up to make prints, and eventually tees, keychains, and just about anything else we can think of that we can put nerd-appealing, comic book-styled imagery and characters on that are fun, and affordable — pricing is a huge deal. We know most people aren’t carrying around huge wads of cash in their pocket, so we’re not going to be greedy: we’re our own best customers, so we won’t gouge anyone for cool stuff any more than we’d want to be gouged ourselves.
We decided to call our new venture Vintage Robo Design Co. , and we’re hard at work finalizing a logo (we’ve even got a separate blog reserved, which won’t just be for promoting our stuff, but to celebrate classic sci-fi and comic artwork and imagery, and the artists who created them). James already came up with a fantastic retro robot mascot that we’ve taken to calling Rusty, and there will be several other characters in that 50s B-movie sci-fi vein to help pitch, and occasionally star, in our stuff. We’ll be selling Vintage Robo stuff both at cons, and online — probably starting with an Etsy store and if we can build up sales, move to an Amazon Webstore.
One of our core precepts with Vintage Robo is originality — selling tees and prints online and at cons can be a legal grey area for creators, who can get away with directly lifting other people’s IP and then hope they fly under the radar enough to not get nailed by the lawyers. James has actually signed agreements with Lucasfilm not to engage in this concerning Star Wars characters, because of work he did on Star Wars sketch trading cards, and has signed agreements with other comics publishers in the past (he details that a little more in a post on his personal blog, The Light of Day).
This was not an uncommon situation for artists at cons to find themselves in . . . except for that James, being a honest and upstanding guy, actually honored his end of the deal, and other artists just signed the agreement and kept doing whatever they pleased.
As a result of actually doing the right thing, James saw his con revenue drop.
Aside from the legality, I wholeheartedly agree that we didn’t need to do unauthorized stuff with Vintage Robo — parody or satire, like a couple of the images we’ve got here is one thing, but selling prints and tees and other ‘serious’ merch with Batman or Iron Man or Doctor Who, trying to pass it off as legitimate, doesn’t sit well with me on moral grounds, either. We’re both creative people, and we can come up with our own original characters and material. Part of the reason for doing this, other than to put a little money in our pockets, is to showcase our talents and maybe interst people in our books and comics, and we may even be able to debut new characters in a merchandise form and then create comics or prose around them later.
Originality does make it a much tougher sell, as our product isn’t as immediately recognizable, but it’s also more fun to have a venture like this, celebrate it, and not have to feel like we need to be looking over our shoulders for lawyers waiting to shove a cease and desist at us, either.
We’re also hoping that the fun, tongue-in-cheek tone of the marketing for Vintage Robo Design Co. will draw people in. Slogans like ‘always better back in the day’, ‘get retrofitted’, or ‘yesterday’s tomorrows . . . today!’.
With the prints, we’re also trying to get away from the more hoity-toity vibe of something that’s high-end and expensive, and trying to pitch them more as super-cool, high-quality posters with fantastic artwork. We were discussing the idea of marketing them as ‘prinsters’, but decided that might be too confusing.
James will be test marketing some of the prints — which you’ve seen scattered throughout this post, and James has even more of them on display on posts at his blog, The Light of Day, including a way-cool zombie horse pin-up he did for the upcoming Other Dead comic by Joshua Ortega — at Heroes Con in Charlotte, North Carolina this coming weekend, June 6-9. They’ll also be making their way to the San Diego Comic Con with James next month, and I should have some Vintage Robo stuff at the Pittsburgh Comic Con come September. We hope to have an online outlet set up shortly, and we’re looking into the possibility of doing a Wolfman t-shirt to go along with that.
If you happen to be going to Heroes Con, James will be at space AA-307, so stop by and say hello. The prototype prints will be going for $10 for an 11 X 17″, and $5 for 8.5 X 11″.
And while James is flogging the prints at Heroes, I’ll be hard at work putting in the last stretch to getting our DoorMan webcomic officially up with the first seven or so pages of the hundred-fifty-plus page saga, so we’ll have that ready for free public consumption in the next week or so.
All in all, a pretty happy ending to something that started out with a bit of a scare.
I personally can’t wait for people to see more of Wolfman, because James and I have some pretty crazy stuff dreamed up, and we’ve only been working on it for a couple weeks. If you like what Venture Bros. did with Johnny Quest as an inspiration, Wolfman does for the whole era of Silver Age comics. There’s parody and satire but more than that it’s a pretty great tribute to classic comics and masked men, and Vintage Robo is going to be a lot of fun and an interesting experiment to see if we can pull off.
P.S. The law offices of Cheatham & Fleesum would like to remind everyone that all artwork featured in this post is © James E. Lyle.
Ginormous gratitude and tremendous thanks for daring to drop by Public Domain! Will our amazing artist and winsome writer succeed at bringing back Wolfman from onerous obscurity and make Vintage Robo Design Co. victorious? Keep tuning into this corner of cyberspace to find out: same Wolf-time, same Wolf-URL . . .