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Open Source Comic Book Characters

Tom Coates
17:40 / 25.07.01
Ok - here's an idea. Developing characters for use in comic book narratives that are 'Open Source' or 'Copyrightless' - that we declare can be used by anyone at any time in any format without there being anyone to give money to. I can't decide whether or not as part of this process credit should be required or not, or whether it works better as a completely anonymous artefact.

I'd just be interested in people being able to use a relatively established character in whatever way they wanted - write stories for publication in any medium from any company, without having to worry about copyright restrictions.

18:08 / 25.07.01
Someone on the previous thread about Public Domain Superheroes (since deleted, sorry) mentioned that there was a Communist copyright-free character. But I can't remember the name.

As I mentioned on that thread, you can take a character who is in the public domain and do what you want with it. And so can anyone else. But if anyone makes changes to the character, then copyrights it, then they have the rights to those changes. All further uses of the character have to originate from the source.
Jack Fear
18:22 / 25.07.01
Tom Coates
21:52 / 25.07.01
So how does the 'rights to changes' thing work? Seems to me that's missing the point completely. Couldn't you just have the rights to the specific comic book you wrote / pencilled? Like a performance fee, but nothing for the character? Creator names would become much more important than character names, clearly, but I don't see that being a particular problem.
22:06 / 25.07.01
I'm not a lawyer, I've just seen and contributed to this same topic on different comic book message boards that do have people who claim to have some knowledge of the law.

Let's use Thor as an example.

Anyone can use Thor. Thor is obviously public domain. As is Odin, Asgard, Heimdall, etc. Can you have Thor with a red cape? Maybe. Can you have Thor with blond hair? Possibly. Can you have Thor with a red cape, blond hair and talking in Olde English? Absolutely not. These are modifications created by Stan Lee for Marvel comics. They are not present in the source material. Thor's hammer is present in the source material, but not in the way it looks in the Marvel comics version. Therefore your Thor's Hammer must look different from theirs.

In addition, and this part I am fairly unsure of, Marvel may have Thor's name trademarked. In which case you can't use the name Thor in the title of your comic.

Or, to cite an actual example, the recent Jerry Ordway comic The Power of Shazam was not named Captain Marvel because Marvel comics holds the trademark to Captain Marvel.

This is to prevent consumer confusion, and to stop one property from destroying the integrity of another.

All that said, I'm not sure if you can willfully prevent someone from getting the trademark of a character you have created for public use. If they do trademark the name, it couldn't be used as a title. If you trademarked it and allowed others to use that trademark, you may end up losing it because you did not choose to protect it.

I'd look into this whole Octobriana thing, and see if they figured out a way around these problems.
23:04 / 25.07.01
There's a Flash Superhero generator somewhere on the Net that's quite fun, but I forget where.
01:15 / 26.07.01
It makes perfect sense to me. Artists can take public domain songs and interpret them anyway they want. Why not characters.

There are also the folk heros. You could do guys like John Henry and Johnny Appleseed in the modern world or even in the future.
Tom Coates
01:32 / 26.07.01
Isn't the point that copyright defaults to the original creator anyway? And that you waive your rights to it means that it becomes 'rightless'. People trying to use a trademark from it would have to, I think, prove that it wasn't in common use beforehand.
04:35 / 26.07.01
quote: ...can be used by anyone at any time in any format without there being anyone to give money to.

That sounds like what Moorcock had envisioned for his character Jerry Cornelius. He allowed other writers to use Cornelius as they wished (though i suppose there were restrictions on what they could and couldn't do... but then again, it'd be easy enough for MM to undo what was done, considering the fluidity of the characters in those novels...). I think there was even a Jerry Cornelius comic at one stage.

Someone else around here probably knows more about this... Jack?

That said, it'd be interesting to come up with an open source comic action hero/heroine for the zine, I think. Who'd like to have a go? I'll start the ball rolling if that's okay... all suggestions to be rejected as appropriate.

Bearded Stone, mysterious figure of anarchist proportions. One day he's fighting the Indonesian army in East Java, the next he's carving his name on the moon. Carries no weapon but his mind and his body, and some would say that was excessive.
Photographic memory, bald head (but of course!) and goatee, without looking like Anton La Vey, a weakness for a nice piece of arse and a well-mixed Cape Cod.

well, it's a start...


[ 26-07-2001: Message edited by: matsya ]
04:46 / 26.07.01
I walked to work after making my last post, and I realized I may have been coming off as very cynical about the idea. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Everything I said was in Worst Case Scenario Mode. Devil's Advocate. It seems to me that nobody would really find the effort (and bad PR) of trying to wrestle a superhero from the public's hands worth the trouble.

If you're thinking of doing this, I'll be first in line to take a crack at the character.

Did you have something in mind for a character? Will it be spandex? Some other genre? How general are you going to make the costume/origin/setting? Any powers? Etc.

(Well, Matsya, looks like we were posting at the same time. Paper, rock, scissors on who goes first)
The Return Of Rothkoid
11:01 / 26.07.01
The superhero generator is found here. It includes this little bit of boilerplate down the bottom, though: quote:All images on this and all subsequent pages are copyright 2001 Jeff Hebert. version 1.0.1. Permission to reproduce these images for personal use is granted; all other rights are reserved.
rizla mission
18:19 / 26.07.01
I like the BEARDED STONE... and Octobriana's cool too. I'd assumed she was the creation of Bryan Talbot..

About the Moorcock thing - I can't quite understand how one minute he's encouraging everyone to write Jerry Cornelius stories and the next minute he's getting upset because Grant Morrison uses a character who's a bit like Jerry Cornelius.
But then I don't know ins and outs of the situation..
01:26 / 27.07.01
MM did exercise control of Jerry Cornelius to the extent of telling Moebius that in subsequent editions of his "Airtight Garage" story that he should change the name of the character... you know, the guy in the pith helmet. (to what, I don't remember.) though Moebius' character bore little similarity to MM's apart from the name.

I think that the strength of a character maybe comes from individual obsessions. working on the character and then turning it loose into the public domain could work. the way Lovecraft did with his mythology which no one at this point owns though legally some people have the rights to his individual works. so anyone can make a movie set in Arkham but not just anyone can make a movie based on "Dreams in the Witch House", say.
Graeme McMillan
11:29 / 27.07.01
quote:Originally posted by matsya:
Bearded Stone, mysterious figure of anarchist proportions... Photographic memory, bald head (but of course!) and goatee, without looking like Anton La Vey, a weakness for a nice piece of arse and a well-mixed Cape Cod.

But... that's King Mob with a goatee, isn't it? Or is that the point?
Tom Coates
14:02 / 27.07.01
okay - so how about this:

1) You create a character.
2) you make it 'Open Source' in the sense that you produce enough information to form the basis of a successful comic book character. This entails a certain amount of back story, character traits, a hint of how the character might develop and a couple of sketches. That's the 'source'. Then the copyright stuff comes in. For CREATING the character, you declare that you wish to be credited whenever it's used. However you do not wish to be PAID whenever it's used. For each individual comic book that you write and sell with this character in it, you get paid. And if another writer / artist team decide to use that character in a different story, then THEY get paid for writing and doing the art.

With that in mind, I suppose the first thing to do is to create some Open Source characters - based around the interests of the underground or your personal interests. Remember, we're talking CHARACTER / NAME / BACKGROUND (if appropriate) / SKETCH / BELIEFS / LARGE MAIN STORYLINE. If it's a superhero, you MAY want an ORIGIN.

Now this is EXACTLY like when you were a kid and made up super-heroes for fun. Except that this time, ANOTHER member of our establishment might decide to make them into a comic book. And sell it. And credit you...
rizla mission
20:14 / 27.07.01
Hey, I'll put any old bastard in one of my comics.
Tom Coates
13:01 / 01.08.01
I think I killed this thread.
20:02 / 01.08.01
To cover the full legal stuff, I'd check out the open source software movement and see how they've handled things. I beleave it's basically like what was mentioned above. You copyright it, then allow free use to other people, but I'm not positive.

As for charecters, I've acctually been thinking recently about revamping an old charecter I came up with back when I was in highschool. Basically, with in a certain distance around the charecter, cartoon logic substitutes for traditional logic. So, he can do things like walking off a cliff and not falling (untill he looks down), walking into painted murals, all the kind of shit Bugs and the gang used to do. Oh, and of course he's completly nuts, but in a cartoony kind of way. I'll see if I can flesh him out a bit, but if anyone feels inspired, feel free to go for it.
22:05 / 01.08.01
I didn't think of this before but I know of a character called Shamrock Squid used by Dan Clowes (writer/artist) and Adrian Tomine (artist) and Peter Bagge (writer) and I don't know who else.

I feel dopey typing the words "Shamrock Squid".
Tom Coates
23:27 / 12.08.01
I was just thinking - in light of the debate over fanfiction, that maybe this thread ought to be resusitated. If only because it might suggest a different model for authorship and intellectual property that might form an alternative to the way in which things currently work...
06:02 / 13.08.01
OK, I'll bite.

You asked questions concerning the possibility of an open source comic charater and its legal implications. Odds are no one here is a lawyer, so we'd all just talk theory without cooking up anything practical. Here's some unvarnished theory.

If you started this up, with any kind of legal protection or lack thereof, I don't think it would matter much. As I've stated before, there are a large number of public domain superheroes out there anyone can use, so why wouldn't the Big Companies snag them? I imagine it is because even if they could trademark the name of the hero, they couldn't exactly copyright it. The same thing would apply to any Open Source Hero of your devising. The character would be beneath their radar, and if they did notice it, it would be based on the strength of wildly divergent work by a number of different authors who don't know each other. Why bother trying to deal with that mess? We're thinking of a worse case scenerio that in all likelihood would never happen. So let's stop worrying about it, and get it on!
09:38 / 13.08.01
Ok, I had to relax after a real rough fucking day, so I figured I'd do some doodling while half asleep. Let the gauntlet now be thrown.

Last year my friends tried to convince me to do this superhero comic they were thinking of. I refused, like I usually do when someone offers to "think up the ideas" while I write, pencil, ink, and letter the fucker. But I played along, offered some suggestions for character changes, and even tried to round the group off with some feminine touches.

This is the Shifter. She has dimensional powers. To her associates, this means she can traverse say 4 or 5 dimensions, whatever taht means. The truth is, she can access all dimensions. Again, not sure exactly what that means (and now you can see why it was abandoned). The part I really liked about her was that she inhabited all dimensions at the same time. Or, to be more accurate, parallel universes. And yes, I was thinking Crisis on Infinite Earths. Basically, she's having an infinite number of adventures on an infinite number of planets. Our story involved her staying on one Earth, but that needn't be the case in this exercise.

Her past isn't necessarily what you'd call mysterious. She doesn't gripe about it, and so no one pries. Essentially, she's your angst-free, fun-loving, adventurer-explorer. No vigilantism here. If I had to compare her to anything, it would be like if Tintin listened to Le Tigre and joined the Fantastic Four. She's excitable, passionate, attentive, curious, and caring. Like Captain Marvel, she's just a really powerful kid.

One thing I wanted to do, but would've got shot down by my friends if we pursued this, is that she prefers not to use her powers incredibly often. Part the appeal for her of this ongoing, infinite adventuring is the thrill of the challenge. When she uses her powers, in any capacity, be it big or small, it shouldn't be used often. She'd rather duke it out. Of course, there's no saying what or who she might "borrow" from another dimension, or what knowledge another one of her selves has gained which may come in handy.

I realize her powers might seem a little unlikely. For instance, if she was on an infinte number of universes, wouldn't she ahve dies innumerable times by now? Or be bored stiff because she's done it all already? Maybe there's a mystery there, or she actually only exists in many, many universes, not an infinite amount.

Regardless, her powers would at least allow the different creators to throw her in any situation they wanted.

The sketches in the link are unfinished. Sorry, It's 4:30 here and I can't ink worth shit when I'm tired. I also realize that she isn't what you'd call your iconic superhero type. Them uber-heroes are hard to come by. Hopefully someone else will think of something better suited for an Open Source Hero. Until then...Excelsior!

[ 13-08-2001: Message edited by: moriarty ]
17:09 / 13.08.01
Weird. She looks just like a friend of mine.

So -- she can shift between dimensions. Is that right?

What else?

Or is it more like she always comes through in the nick of time with some weird-ass version of the cavalry... like Felix the Cat's Bag of Tricks, only not exactly a bag.

zat it?
18:44 / 13.08.01
It was all left kind of vague. My friends had some clue, but I decided to pursue other things. If anyone here knows anything about muli-dimensional physics, please let us know.

I envisioned her as the sort of person who wouldn't use a cheat code while playing a video game. So, anything from her bag of tricks (borrowed from herself from another dimension) would be on her person already, before the shit hit the fan. She wouldn't use it as an instant cop-out, thus enabling her to get in trouble with no seemingly way out but wht she has on hand. Therefore, her powers, vast as they are, are constrained by her personality, which doesn't allow her to "cheat."

Basically, she'll use her powers only against threats of an equal or greater force. She wouldn't use them against common thugs, but might use them against Satan, or Galactus, or someonw equally powerful.

In the original story we were working on, at one point she turns zero dimensional, allowing her to escape a reality affecting device because she therefore wouldn't exist. At the end of the planned series, she was going to die. And with her death, her other selves would all die, too. Thus causing widespread mourning by an infinite amount of friends, all of whom come to pay their respects. It would've been a bitch to draw.

Basically, she's continually multi-dimensional, as all her dimensional selves aren't separate beings, but really the same person existing in separate places. And of course, none of this makes any sense.

I really only posted this to get other suggestions for different, better characters out of the woodworks. So, bring it on, you creative motherfuckers!
Perfect Tommy
10:50 / 14.08.01
I had this idea for a Man with No Name superhero-like character. He's very slightly unstuck in time, so he can move back and forth over, say, a 30-second period -- if he gets shot, he rewinds enough to duck. He appears to be preternaturally skilled at all sorts of physical tricks because he gets to practice the death-defying leaps a few times before getting them right.

The downside is that his memory is limited to a few years into the past, beyond which point it fades, as though he drags an eraser behind him on a cord five years long. He could be immortal, or he could be a mature six-year-old; he doesn't realize that not everyone's memory clouds like his does.

I dunno, I guess he could have a Batcave too.
17:06 / 14.08.01
I have a concept I actually wrote the first issue and a half of == lost the scripts in a recent hard drive crash, and haven't gone through the floppies to find if I backed it up. Hadn't done anything with it in years.

The Dark.

That was the name of the "hero."
It was actually twins, Dustin and Duncan Weir. College-aged. American father, Taiwanese mother. Dustin wears glasses, doesn't get enough sleep, and aces all his classes. Duncan knows a little in the way of martial arts, but is pretty average otherwise.
Their father dies mysteriously moments after mailing them a package. The parcel contains a headset (wires and a pair of circular lenses) and a disk with a few operating instructions.
What the headset does is envelop the wearer in a "negative energy field". In other words, you become a jet-black silhouette (except for your white, circular eyes). You absorb all energy. Bullets can't harm you. You're icy cold to the touch. You can extend the field and knock people out with it.

And the evil corporation who paid for the technology wants it back.

So the basic idea was to have Dustin slowly figure out the weird science behind the device while he and his brother evade the corporate agents in pursuit -- starting with a toad-like biology professor named Doctor Marinus who keeps cages of monkeys with electrodes in their brains in his lab (a project sponsored by the same corporation - their logo is a big eye).

The character design was half-stolen from Nine-Jack-Nine, the time traveling robot assassin in Zot. Only while he was a featureless silhouette under clothes from the gay 90s, this one is just a featureless silhouette.

Oh, and I was writing intentionally so the twins could occasionally stand in for one another, confusing their enemies.

If anyone wants to use the idea, go for it. let me know what else the field can do.
Tiki's Sifting Jewel Mansion
19:43 / 16.08.01
quote:Originally posted by moriarty:
Shifter. She has dimensional powers.
[ 13-08-2001: Message edited by: moriarty ]

This character sounds a lot like Those Annoying Post Bros, by Matt Howarth.Matt Howarth.

But not brothers. Or psychotic. Possibly.

17:36 / 24.01.02
Bumping this back up to the top because of the related thread Collective Comics Project down in Creation. Please use this thread for the practical side of the project, and the thread linked above for the artistic.

Since we're going through with this, I thought it might be a good idea to clarify the legal end of an open source character. For example, does everyone feel comfortable giving up the rights to any and every character they create within the confines of the project, or should the only public domain character be the initial one?
18:08 / 24.01.02
I think it would be wisest for authors to retain their rights to their own characters, even if they feel comfortable with giving up those rights to another writer. Only to circumvent further headaches if those authors wish to use their characters in a later stories of their own creation. That's what makes Julia Everywhere ( Julie Ubiquitous? The Choragus?) such a good pull-through for each story because her mere appearance, background or foreground, can link each story together. Keep your rights to your own stuff, folks. You might want it for later.
09:58 / 03.04.02

    it seems to me that if people are going to insist on doing
    independent superheroes and trying to compete on some level on
    the DC-Marvel playing field, Open Source may provide a useful
    model. I suggest independents "source" their characters so other
    people can use them.

in the last
Permanent damage at CBR

There is this quite odd thing too:
    "The aim is to keep passing this lot [of comics] around people who may not have the cash up front to go buy the titles to see if they like them (can't blame them with the rising prices). All anyone ever pays is postage passing it on to the next person. Anyone interested should email me.
13:32 / 03.04.02
From the same article.

The creator maintains property rights, preventing the property from becoming public domain, but allows free usage. I imagine a comics parallel would need some hard and fast rules, like characters may be used so long as they aren't altered from the creator's original version, not killed or humiliated, arenlt used in more than a maximum of two issues running, etc.

Solitaire Rose as Tom Servo
17:52 / 07.04.02
I have a different read on it...

There already ARE open source characters.

Just look at The League of Extraordianry Gentlemen. Or any of the Sherlock Holmes comics. Or even how Planetary uses older characters by not making it overt who they are. Marvel and DC did it all the time in the late 60's and early 70's, to the point of Marvel's "Squadron Supreme" and whatever the Shi'ar Legion of Superheroes is called.

Everything is open source eventually. I personally can't wait until Mickey Mouse is unprotected and we can get our hands on him like the Air Pirates tried to do in the 70's.
18:10 / 07.04.02
From my understanding of it a copyright holder can apply to extend their copyright indefinitely... on a practical level I see Disney using their well paid lawyers to keep hold of Mickey et al. indefinitely.
07:54 / 08.04.02
As made evident by I use characters as I please!
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