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Friday, November 17, 2006

Marvelman in the news

The long-running problems over Marvelman/Miracleman have resurfaced with this report on Heidi MacDonald's The Beat. Heidi cites an interview with Alan Moore on Fanboy Radio in which Moore raises questions about whether Warrior had the rights to revive Marvelman in 1982. About 40 minutes 15 second in, Moore states:
A couple of days ago I went down to a local recording studio where they were going to be filming an interview with me relating to Mr. Mick Anglo, who was the original creator of Marvelman. I created my revival of Marvelman in the early '80s on the understanding that this character had lapsed into receivership with the bankruptcy of the company thathad published his adventures. And that was the entire basis upon which I wrote all of my Marvelman stories and, when I handed over the character to Neil Gaiman, on which Neil wrote all of his. We've since found out that apparently this was all a pack of lies from the beginning, that Mick Anglo had always owned Marvelman, that the company that published him had not gone bankrupt, that the rights to Marvelman had always, or should always, have been with Mick Anglo. Mick Anglo's now 90, he's looking after his equally aged wife and he could do with a bit of support. And there are some people helping him try to win back the rights that were taken away from him.

Now, if that gets resolved, then I suppose, in the future, there would be some possibility, with Mick Anglo's approval, of then putting Marvelman material into some available form. At the moment, with all the various people claiming ownership of something which was apparently Mick Anglo's all the time, this is probably not the time to actually talk about any possibilities or details but, yes, it's a work that I remain very proud of and which I was pleased to learn that Mick Anglo himself had also enjoyed a great deal. That meant a lot to me. So if all of this ungodly mess gets sorted out and if it ends up as it should do with Mick Anglo having the rights to Marvelman returned to him free and clear, then who knows what the possibilities might be in the future. If the book ever does come out, it would be free of any of these rather shady complications that have hung over the character for the past twenty years.

It's something that I would like to see. Whether it will ever happen, that depends on a lot of things that are well out of my control, but who knows. Keep your fingers crossed and maybe one day.
Since lawyers and money are involved trying to revolve the mess I'm not going to comment except to say that I don't think everything is as clear cut as Alan believes. Mick Anglo and his artists were working under the standard conditions that all artists worked under which means the publisher bought all rights outright. This was accepted practise in those days and it was only many years later that creator rights became an issue. I'm not saying that it was right, I'm just saying that's the way it was.

Alan is perfectly correct in saying that the publisher -- Len Miller & Co. (Hackney) Ltd. -- didn't go bankrupt. However, it did go into voluntary liquidation. The decision was made at a meeting of directors on 21 June 1972 and the company was officially wound up on 24 September 1974. From my non-lawyerly perspective, that means that any copyrights held by the company did not go into the hands of a liquidator or trustee in bankruptcy to be sold off as an asset of the company. It was a decision made by the directors (Florrie Miller, Arnold Miller and Doreen Lewis), debts and wages were paid off and the company was shut down. The contents of a warehouse full of old unsold copies of magazines was sold off; a British dealer by the name of Brian Jepson bought a lot of it and others may have tapped into the same source. That's why you can occasionally find mint condition Miller comics, although that's increasingly rare these days.

So where did that leave the copyright of Marvelman? The question that needs answering is: when a company shuts down voluntarily, do the copyrights held by that company remain with that company despite the fact that it no longer exists, or do the rights revert to the original creators, or do they become public domain?

I'll leave the lawyers to answer that one. Personally, I suspect I'm like most comic fans who just want to see Marvelman/Miracleman back in print. It would be great to see Mick Anglo get some reward for his past efforts (I've interviewed Mick and he was very chatty, despite that fact that he claimed he didn't do interviews) but, at the same time, I don't think there was any attempt at malicious copyright theft when the idea of reviving Marvelman was floated. Plenty of dodgy practices happened afterwards if rumours are to be believed, but that's an entirely separate issue and not what we're talking about here.

So, here I am, fingers crossed, hoping that the whole thing can be resolved.

(* The illustration is My Gun Speaks For Me and Muscles For Hire by Johnny Dekker (London, Martin & Reid, 1951). It seemed appropriate as 'Johnny Dekker' was none other than Mick Anglo. Mick wrote quite a few books back in the late 1940s and early 1950s including crime -- very much in the style of Peter Cheyney's Lemmy Caution -- romances and at least one western. He's also written quite a few other books over the years, mostly nostalgia, and was working on a biography of Custer and a book of anecdotes about his time in the Far East during the war when he was working for SEAC and drawing cartoons for military papers.)

2 comments:

Richard said...

Thanks for the news Steve.
I am another of those desperately wishing they could just iron all the issues out so I could finally finish reading the series.

Fictions

Wolfman Al said...

That was a fascinating piece Steve and probably needs saying however it might be useful to see what the law says on this ourselves. But where to look?