Monday, January 25, 2010

Do the big publishers use Public Domain characters?

Last weeks posting of Morlock 2001 prompted several comments on the ownership of the character, which got me thinking about what do comics companies think about using public domain characters.

Today, Dynamite seems to be having a good bit of success with their Project Superpowers, but what was the attitude of comics companies 40 years ago? How much consideration was copyright and trademark given back in the 50's and 60's? Is the answer in DC's introduction of their version of Cat-Man?

The DC version first appeared in Detective Comics 311, published in 1963.

Holyoke Publishing, the creators of the original Cat-Man stopped publishing in 1950.

So, really only 13 years had passed before DC felt it was safe to use the name and the character, in a limited fashion, which could be argued as parody.

Today, the DC Cat-Man has gone through a reintroduction into the DC universe courtesy of Brad Meltzer's Green Arrow story and a revitalization under the pen of Gail Simone in Villain's United and Secret Six.

So with that as an example, DC is having some luck reusing Public Domain heroes too, albeit in a round about fashion. ;)

Here are two more issues of the Holyoke version of Cat-Man.

[ Cat-Man 18 ]

[ Cat-Man 25 ]


cash_gorman said...

More recently, Marvel has been using Amazing Man in their Iron Fist series (going by a different name, but the same character). The story connection being that Iron Fist was just a retooling of Amazing Man anyway. As was Charlton's Peter Cannon. Thomas turned various pd GA superheroes into villains in his Invaders mini several years back. Of them, Dr Nemesis who was the mastermind and killed at the end has reformed and returned in the pages of the X-Men and has been referenced in his civilian id in Brubaker's Marvels Project

What I find really fascinating was that in the 1940's, in one story the Whizzer brings the safecracker Raffles out of retirement (really amazing since he was supposed to be dead) and at the end of the story, it looked as if Raffles was going to stay his sidekick!

Sean Kleefeld said...

It might also be worth noting that characters that didn't originate in comics made some early comic book appearances. Sherlock Holmes, for example, appeared in Kid Eternity #10 from Quality before showing up in two Classics Illustrated in the 1940s. DC didn't (so far as I can tell) get around to using him until Action Comics #283 in 1961.

Dick Briefer had his famous run with Frankenstein's monster in the 1940s as well. Although, admittedly, it's a little harder to say that was coming from a "major" publisher.

Of course, Santa Claus makes numerous appearances in Dell's Four Color Funnies throughout the 1940s and appears regularly opposite Bugs Bunny (also courtesy of Dell) in the 1950s. All of which, obviously, is after Windsor McCay used the character in "Little Nemo" a couple decades earlier.

I think that suggests that comic publishers have never had qualms picking up and using PD characters. But it's only comparatively recently that characters created FOR comics began falling into public domain, and were thus able to be used by other comic companies.

JimShelley said...

@cash_gorman - You know, I bought that Invaders mini-series, but at the time the art, which had a real 90's Image feel to it really put me off, so much that I only vaguely remember it. I need to dig up the issues and see which characters he used. I wasn't as into the Golden Age characters as I am now, so I completely missed all that.

On the flipside - I LOVED the original Thomas run on Invaders. He had a couple of analogues for GA characters in that run if I recall (the Scarlet Scarab for Blue Beetle is one that springs to mind.)

That's crazy about the use of Raffles - I'll have to go track that issue down.

JimShelley said...

@Sean Kleefeld - Thanks for the tip to the Kid Eternity issue - I might pair it with another GA comic and sort of have a Other Public Domain characters in GA comics day.

I think you are right about why we are seeing more public domain heroes in comics today, though I think a few publishers have tried it in the past - I know that Bill Black of AC Comics has had a nice history working with the characters in previous years, but up until Project Superpowers, I don't think anyone's really struck gold with them.


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