Archie Comics Does Video Games… and IP Theft?
Archie Comics, let me just apologize to you for the flat out accusatory title above. That’s just how journalism works, you know? But, you have to admit, its kind of a weird situation you’ve got going on with your Mega Man comics.
For those not in the know, Archie comics produces a pretty wonderful monthly Mega Man comic book, with slick anime styling, inspired by the original Japanese designs of the titular robotic hero and his expansive rogues gallery of bosses.
*Edit: The community rather aggressively pointed out that Time Man was from a PSP Mega Man game, and not an Archie Comics creation. Thanks to our well-informed, though ever impolite, audience.
Recently, they introduced a character from the PSP remake, ‘Powered Up’ to the Mega Man comics world, the robot boss Time Man. Here he is, taken from a swatch on the cover of his debut issue, in all of his 8-bit glory:
And here, just above the jump, is a pic of fan-art for Time Man, posted publicly on Deviant Art by the user Phen01, sometime before that… wait, what? … and that’s just the beginning of their recent Intellectual Property issues…
It was back in May, when the Time Man issue was first solicited, that the internet took notice of the rather striking similarities between this bit of fan art, and the final product produced by Archie comics. I wouldn’t have thought much of it again, were it not for that outcry from the fan community, who point out that Time Man never existed in 8-bit form. Being from the PSP version of the title, his blocky little body didn’t exist in that mode until the introduction of this cover, and the Deviant Art files that preceded it.
Since then, Archie comics has yet to, to my knowledge, address the issue of what seems to be a pretty blatant art swipe. While Archie, the publisher, likely didn’t perpetrate the swipe, one of their artists on staff must have, and they would generally be held responsible for the actions of their employee, and then retroactively punish him in kind. At least, that would be the normal proceedings, but it seems as though nothing is going to come of the issue.
When Phen01 had the art swipe pointed out to him on his Deviant Art page, his literal response was “Holy Fuck”, a comment that then got him banned from the site. Any further reaction, aside from an apparent feeling of flattery, is unknown. It is interesting, though, that the image WAS posted along with a very public copyright notice, so this guy would be able to seek damages, if he had the gumption. (Not that it would amount to much. The profits off of one comic, and attributed to one cover swatch, aren’t likely going to be terribly high. Mega Man is a top-selling Indy book, but that doesn’t even garner it 20,000 copies sold per month).
While nothing beyond some internet rumblings may ever come of the Mega Man issue, Archie is pressed with some genuine litigation coming from their Sonic the Hedgehog comics.
Ken Penders is the author who, for a long time now, has penned the Sonic the Hedgehog comics, including Knuckles and various other spin-offs. He’s no longer with the company, and with that departure comes some rather interesting debates to the ownership of the characters he’s been writing with. Ken does not debate that Sonic, Knuckles, and Robotnic are properties of Sega, but the supporting cast he created may belong to either himself or to Archie, and that matter is still in court.
Penders claims that Archie never had him sign a work-for-hire agreement when he began penning their comics for them, a serious oversight for any corporate publisher. Between that and the fact that he submitted all of his comics scripts to the US Copyright office before turning them in to Archie’s office means that, depending on the wording of the contract, he may own all of the supporting cast, and most of the Sonic-world they in habit, in those comics.
The immediate impact of this is that if its found in court that Penders DOES own the right to the Sonic-verse, all publishing of Sonic books archives, physical or online, would essentially cease until an agreement could be reached where Archie would essentially be licensing the material out from the writer. If they were particularly petulant, they could just say that none of their writers could be allowed to use the characters in question in future stories, and cease publication indefinitely.
On the video game front, Sega themselves are subject to a suit from Penders over the Sonic game, Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood, which incorporated the Archie Comics canon into its lore. Sega may end up owing Penders royalties if he is indeed found to be the owner of the characters used in the game, a result Sega would be none too happy with Archie for.
Penders, in the meantime, is going ahead with writing further stories based on his supporting characters, excluding Sonic and Knuckles, until the day a court tells him otherwise. I’ve also read that because of this, Archie has preemptively filed suit against Penders over this publication, waiting hopefully that they’ll be found as the owners of the Sonic characters, and can launch a counter suit. Details via his bloggings, here.
So, we have a three way circle-jerk of a lawsuit going around, with Penders suing Archie and Sega, Archie counter suing Penders, and Sega probably pissed with Archie. And what does all this mean, really? It means that Archie Comics, one of the longest running and most prolific comics publishers in the world, had really better be working with their legal department to get all their paperwork straightened out. Rookie mistakes, Archie.