The Dark Horse Legal Team

By | Tuesday, March 19, 2013 Leave a Comment
Tarzan comics have been around almost as long as the character has, with many famous artists tackling the character. Hal Foster, Burne Hogarth and Joe Kubert being some of the most well-remembered. The rights have been licensed to a variety of publishers over the years, and many of the big names have had a crack at a Tarzan-related title. Marvel had one simply titled Tarzan, DC ran Korak, Son of Tarzan, Dark Horse called theirs Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan... In 1964, Charlton ran a series called Jungle Tales of Tarzan. The problem was, though, that they hadn't actually obtained the rights to use the character, thinking (incorrectly) that he had fallen into the public domain. It should come as no surprise that the book was cancelled after a few months, and many of the comics that did get printed were, if you'll excuse the pun, pulped.

Apparently, though, Dark Horse is now collecting that series and reprinting it in a hardcover form. The Unauthorized Tarzan.

You know, I've talked before about how some books seem unlikely to be reprinted because of rights issues. Micronauts and 2001 being a couple of obvious examples. The original intellectual properties are owned by parties that don't publish comics, and don't have any real incentive to see the old comics reprinted. I'm sure they'd be happy to take an easy licensing fee, but what's the incentive for the original publisher -- in these cases, Marvel -- to spend money on licensing when they've got their own huge cache of back issue stories to draw upon?

I have been surprised to see some previously licensed work get reprinted by other publishers, the old Conan and Star Wars stories being the most notable. But this new book of originally unlicensed Tarzan stories seems like totally new legal territory for comics. The character in question is owned by the ERB estate. The original publisher of the material was effectively bought and is now owned by DC. But that particular material wasn't legally owned by Charlton in the first place, though the actual artifacts that made them (the art boards, etc.) were.

You know, I still tend to think of Dark Horse as a relatively small company. It's entirely owned and directed by one guy, after all. But he's clearly got some real lawyerly talent at his disposal to work through the legal issues that must have necessary to get this published. Maybe this was actually a fairly straight-forward legal matter with some easy-to-find precedents, but it's making my head hurt trying to think about the hurdles here.
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