On Business: Spawn #10

By | Monday, November 20, 2017 Leave a Comment
Corey Blake recently noted over on Mastodon that Spawn #10 from 1993 is curiously absent from most of the reprint collections featuring issues on either side of that one. The 2005 trade paperback collection, for example, reprints Spawn #1-8 and #11-12, and the original trade collection from 1996 reprints Spawn #6-9 and #11. But the book is available on comiXology and the 2010 Origins collection. So what's the deal?

The issue, as you can see by the cover, features a crossover with Dave Sim's character Cerebus. The issue was, in fact, written by Sim. Sim had, even by then, been a long proponent of owning all of the intellectual property he created. I'm sure he saw a lot of potential in Todd McFarlane's still new venture, and didn't want to become shafted later on if the character took off and McFarlane was able to make money hand over fist on Sim's work, while he got paid a simple page rate. McFarlane no doubt was cognizant of that, as well, having co-founded Image one year earlier specifically because he saw Marvel make gobs of money off his Spider-Man work without compensating him (in his mind) fairly. So Sim almost undoubtedly had a stipulation in his contract with McFarlane that the work he did on Spawn #10 precluded any reprint rights.

My first thought -- and this is what I told Blake yesterday -- was that the original contract would have been written in 1993, well before digital comics were a going concern. They were barely even a thing at all back then! So it's entirely possible that the contract was written in such a way that digital reproductions would be permissible basically via a loophole in the language. One of the smartest things McFarlane ever did was hire some amazing lawyers when he started Image; much of his financial success comes from contracts that are incredibly favorable to him, much moreso than most other creators. While Spawn was no doubt a creative success, it was various licensing deals both in comics and in toys that allowed him to become a millionaire. So finding and exploiting a loophole such as one that I described would certainly be within the realm of possibility.

But I also did some additional research that leads me to think maybe this wasn't so shady a deal after all. The book on comiXology wasn't available until 2015. However, Spawn #10 had already been reprinted on paper in the hardcover Spawn: Origins book from 2010, the most recent Spawn reprint book to cover that period. More notably, the paperback versions that came out in 2009 did NOT have the critical issue included. Which leads me to think that McFarlane and Sim came to agree on a new contract sometime in late 2009, after the paperback collection had gone to press.

I suspect that McFarlane had been working on the Origins book for some time, and had contacted Sim about renegotiating their contract. I expect it irked McFarlane that an early issue had been effectively inaccessible to fans for over a decade when everything else was available. And I'm sure he got repeated complaints from fans as well. So he tried working with Sim, and the two ended up going back and forth longer than he anticipated and was forced to go to press without that one issue at first. But they had sorted things out by the time the hardcover version was ready to go to press.

All that said, in a letter Sim wrote to Erik Larsen, he noted, "I tend to be the same way about contributing wherever I can see a need and where I have an interest. I certainly didn’t make sure that I had a rock-solid contract with Howard Shum before volunteering to jam on an issue of Gun Fu and I never asked Todd if I was going to get paid for the issue of Spawn, let alone what I was going to get paid." That doesn't mean a contract wasn't in place -- in fact, I suspect McFarlane's lawyers would have insisted -- but it does call into question even the theory that Sim would hold up reprint rights for almost twenty years over a contract issue if he didn't have much interest in the contract in the first place!

So while I initially responded to Blake pretty confidently about that loophole thing, I've got more questions now than when I started thinking about this!
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