JOHN OSTRANDER: Ghost Rider – What Is Owed?

John Ostrander

John Ostrander started his career as a professional writer as a playwright. His best known effort, Bloody Bess, was directed by Stuart Gordon, and starred Dennis Franz, Joe Mantegna, William J. Norris, Meshach Taylor and Joe Mantegna. He has written some of the most important influential comic books of the past 25 years, including Batman, The Spectre, Manhunter, Firestorm, Hawkman, Suicide Squad, Wasteland, X-Men, and The Punisher, as well as Star Wars comics for Dark Horse. New episodes of his creator-owned series, GrimJack, which was first published by First Comics in the 1980s, appear every week on ComicMix.

You may also like...

14 Responses

  1. Russ Rogers says:

    Marvel is LOSING on this. They have LOST way more in public good will, especially with a Ghost Rider Movie coming out soon to have all this negative publicity. I LOVE the Hero Initiative. I think it’s a great cause. And I LOVE that Marvel has been so supportive of it, lending their talent and trademarks regularly to their fundraising efforts, as well as their money. I think Marvel needs to make a LARGE donation to the Hero Initiative in the name of “Ghost Writer.” And the Hero Initiative should make sure that Gary Friedrich has the money he needs to repay his debt to Marvel and more. Does the money do a may pole dance in a circle? Yes. Is that a bad thing? No. Marvel gets to act like Heroes, without admitting they were wrong. Gary Friedrich doesn’t get needless spanked with a $17,000 fine.

    Marvel’s good name is tarnished now. It’s not Gary Friedrich that has tarnished it. It’s their own bending to corporate policy over common sense.

    I remember the days when Clayton Moore wasn’t allowed to wear “The Mask” or claim that he was or had been The Lone Ranger. It was a silly and STUPID thing for the owners of “The Lone Ranger” franchise to do, to distance themselves from someone who had for DECADES only promoted goodwill for the character.

    Marvel needs to WAKE UP and realize that this $17,000 dollars will keep more than 17,000 people AWAY from seeing the new Ghost Rider Movie. And that will cost Marvel WAY more than $17,000 in the long run.

    • Mike Gold says:

      Oh, Marvel’s name has been well-tarnished over the years. Ask the Jack Kirby estate.

      As for this bullshit keeping 17,000 people from going to see GR2… do you really think 17,000 were going to see GR2? However, I think all this current publicity will help make it a well-bootlegged movie file.

  2. That this was announced at the end of the week is to Marvel’s benefit. It gives the news media two days to find something better to talk about, and gives the more image-aware portions of the company to sit the legal-aware portion down and explain that this needs fixing. There’s a fair to middling chance we’ll see a change come Monday. Note that there has been no statement from Marvel editorial

    More at my blog

  3. Monica Sharp says:

    I’ve read various fan and creator posts elsewhere and I agree with John. There is the law and then there’s right. Companies had creators over a barrel with WORK FOR HIRE, especially when they put the “give up all rights” on the back of checks and creators knew if they dare scratch that mumbo-jumbo legalese out and endorsed the check, they’ll never get work from that company again. I’m not only boycotting Ghost Rider, I’m boycotting all Marvel and Disney products. Their treatment of old creators is despicable. And fans and creators who rationalize it are no better.

  4. Zevad says:

    The original Ghost Rider was created for Magazine Enterpirses by Ray Krank and Dick Ayers. At Dick Ayers suggestion Marvel Comics bought the rights. Gary Friedich created a new origin and identity for the Ghost Rider *later the Phantom Rider* but kept the same look Dick Ayers designed.. The Johnny Blaze version was created in commitee by Roy Thomas, Gary Friedich, and Mike Ploog. And rumors have it Stan Lee came up with the name Johnny Blaze. Gary Friedich claimed he is the sole creator of Ghost Rider spitting on Krank and Ayers creating the concept, and Thomas and Ploog’s contributions. Also Ghost Rider is basically a modernization of the western concept and giving him the look of the Blazing Skull. Two characters already owned by Marvel.

  5. Zevad says:

    About the Lone Ranger comparison? Here’s a response to that by a bleeding cool poster named knut robert knutsen: The equivalent of the Clayton Moore/Adam West situation would be if Marvel told creators they couldn’t do sketches or commissions at shows. Which is not even remotely on the table.

    Conversely, the equivalent of the Friedrich situation would be if Adam West claimed to own all rights to the Batman-show, sued for profits from the 1989 movie and profitted thousands of dollars on selling illegal bootleg videotapes of the old Batman TV-show at conventions.

    It’s a false equivalency for me. There are plenty of legal cases involving creators rights that deserve our moral support, but the money at issue here is money Friedrich got by not respecting the IP rights of Marvel, and not even respecting the artists who drew the images that ended up on his illegal prints. These are not costs of litigation for his rights back (rights that he apparently never had.) It is him having to pay back money he gained wrongfully. And in asserting that he had full creators rights to Ghost Rider, he appears to have denied the creative contributions of the other two people involved, Thomas and Ploog. Are we supposed to support that?

    And we’re not even talking about a judgement. We’re talking about a settlement. Which in legal terms means that he admitted to doing something wrong and admitted that he owed that money, and that admission came in return for other, more serious, claims being dropped.

    I just cannot believe that people are so conditioned to seeing Marvel as the bad guy that this doesn’t sink in.

    I can understand friends, colleagues and fans of Gary Friedrich wanting to help him, as he seems not to be doing so well, but there has to be a realization here that this is not a fight for Friedrich (and presumably the other principal creative people who contributed to Ghost Rider) to get a little bit of the movie money.

    Friedrich sued to get full copyrights to a character that was unambiguously created work-for-hire. In order to assert such a claim, the involvement of Thomas and Ploog in that creative process would necessarily have to be denied. He exercised rights he did not have by making illegal copies of images created by somebody else and selling them to the tune of a (stipulated) 17K in profits. He violated federal copyright law, with a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison and 250 thousand dollars in fines.

    All Marvel gave him was a slap on the wrist, and suddenly they’re the bad guy? Is that what we’re supposed to support?

    In all of this, Marvel’s behaviour has been lenient and minimal. Yet they are portrayed as persecuting Friedrich with Draconian measures. And there’s this hysteria that this signals the start of a crackdown by Marvel on the sale of sketches and Commissions and other standard convention practices. If it did, Marvel would have dropped the entire courthouse on Friedrich, crushing him in every way imaginable. They didn’t. Far from it.

    The last thing the industry needs now is rash, hysteric action that would essentially be industry-wide support of the “right” of comics professionals to exercise Marvels copyrights without restraint or repercussions.

    Do you know what would really resolve this situation in about 10 seconds flat? Friedrich not pushing his case any further. There is no winnable case there. There is absolutely nothing to be gained from it.

    And a campaign smearing Marvel as the bad guys when they’re not (strange as that may seem) is not going to help. If anything it will just hurt any legitimate cases. The public relations campaign worked with Siegel and Shuster, but there was no ambiguity about them actually creating the character in a situation that wasn’t work-for-hire and if they hadn’t had really bad lawyers, they could have reclaimed Superman completely by 1966.

    A public relations campaign where the central figure is a guy who committed copyright piracy against his former employer? That’s not going to get much traction outside a comics press already primed to think of the publishers as the bad guy in such conflicts.

    • Mike Gold says:

      Hmmm… I don’t think the hubbub is really about Gary loosing the suit. He boldly went where Marv Wolfman and Steve Gerber went before, with the same result. The reaction seems to be over the $17,000 judgment.

      Now, I don’t disagree with you over the legal reasoning. However, as anybody who had been to an artists’ alley at any convention of any size knows all too well, creative talent have been selling such fare at shows for decades. DECADES. Nobody’s been nailed for this by Marvel, DC, Archie or anybody else (including the REAL First Comics; I won’t speak for this current rip-off) ever. In fact, the only company I’m aware of that has tried this is the old TSR.

      So this action against Gary is clearly venal and vindictive. It’s Disney’s attempt to go Air Pirates all over Gary’s ass. What’s Disney going to do? Hire private detectives to go to the San Diego Comic-Con and serve warrants on all the writers and artists who are selling this stuff? Are they going to sue the estates of, say, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby?

      Hey. It’s possible. It’s happened before, in more blatant cases of bootlegging. Warner Bros. hired P.I.s to shut down all the Batman movie merchandise bootleggers in Manhattan prior to the first movie’s release, and that was a lot harder to do — and easier to justify — than going after a couple hundred people who have done so much to help make Marvel what it is today.

      I’ll have more to say about this Wednesday. You bet I will.

  6. Scavenger says:

    re: Mike Gold – but unlike on artist alley, this isn’t an artist selling sketches or prints of his work. This is someone selling prints of other people’s work and pocketing the money. If this was just some guy off the street, the whole industry would be (and has) crying foul.

    re: John O: Does he deserve money from the movie? Morally I think yes…as does Ploog and Thomas, and as does Mackie and Texeira, who’s work is frankly far more represented by the films then the original, yet they’re names are never mentioned.

    • Mike Gold says:

      Scavenger, take a hard look. Or a hard think, assuming this ruling has a chilling effect on the community. Writers have been selling signed prints of their collaborations for a long time. If this was some guy off the street, nobody would buy the stuff — who cares about a piece signed by some uninvolved schmuck?

      Actually, I might try that…

      And from time to time, particularly on Marvel-produced movies, we see reference to post-creator collaborative talent. Surprises the hell out of me, but it happens and it happens more and more. And check out the credits on Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Creator credits for “lesser characters abound. Not quite your point, I appreciate, but it’s still presidential.

  7. dieter nagy says:

    John nailed it (well except for the characters creation, he got that wrong :-) )!
    There are a lot of people screaming that Friedrichs signed a contract when we all know he didn’t have much of a choice.

  8. Mindy Newell says:

    he other side of it, Marc, is that Marvel/Disney has gazillins of money and lawyers to keep a case going for years and to swamp a creator in bankruptcy hell–remember, since Gary lost his suit, he now has to pay his lawyer’s fees, too.
    I understand the “hey, you signed the contract” argument, of course. But of course there’s the “fairness doctrine,” too. Even if GHOST RIDER–and any other comic-related movie–is considered a bomb, “creative accounting” in Hollywood will see that the studios will make not just their money back, but a fair profit, too.
    A related story, courtesy of Wikepedia: Back in 1977, actor Cliff Robertson received a note from the Internal Revenue Service indicating he had received $10,000 from Columbia Pictures. He had never received the money, and discovered that his signature on the cashed paycheck had been forged. Robertson’s report started a criminal investigation. The LAPD and the FBI verified that the $10,000 check was a forgery, and it was tracked to Begelman. He was ultimately sentenced to community service for the forgeries.
    Columbia Pictures suspended Begelman on a paid vacation and announced its own investigation. It discovered Begelman had embezzled an additional $65,000 through other forged checks. But the board of directors wanted to keep the matter out of the press, and after a brief reinstatement, Begelman was quietly fired. The studio released a statement saying he had suffered emotional problems.
    Despite the pressure to remain quiet, Robertson and his wife Dina Merrill spoke to the press. David McClintick broke the story in The Wall Street Journal in 1978, later turning it into the best-selling 1982 book Indecent Exposure. Robertson later claimed he had been blacklisted during the 1980s for coming forward about the Begelman affair, and had few roles during this period.


  9. Mindy Newell says:

    By the way, read THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER & CLAY, by Michael Chabon. It covers this shit wonderfully. (And won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction, too.)

    Too bad it ain’t fiction, isn’t it? And that it still goes on.

  1. February 13, 2012

    […] he has to say, because it applies whether Friedrichs was the sole creator or just a co-creator. ComicMix – JOHN OSTRANDER: Ghost Rider The guy signed a contract, but it's not like he had much of a choice and I guess no one is arguing […]