GHOST RIDER movie review, crazy Nic Cage, Gary Friedrich creator/artist controversy and Marvel Nazis February 20, 2012 – Posted in: A Picture's Worth, Blog, Featured Columns – Tags: ,

Contents ©2012 Mike Pascale. Pictures copyright their respective owners.

I know I teased last week the second part of my Trip To Hollywood with the Warner Brothers Studio tour, but I gotta be timely with these things and Ghost Rider is all the rage. (Literally, as in causing lots of rage in and out of the comics industry.)

So let’s go over several things as briefly as possible so I can get back to the fun of organizing my WB photos for the follow up!

–THE MOVIE:
Yes, I saw it. I didn’t boycott it. Why not? First, I used a gift card and didn’t pay full price. Second, I donated TEN TIMES what we paid for tickets to Steve Niles’s fundraiser for Gary. Third, I can’t give you fine folks a review if I don’t see it, right? And fourth, my wife is a massive Nic Cage fan, and my marriage contract says I keep her happy no matter what. So gimme a break.

 

Badass movie version.

 

How was it? I read that it was directed by the same two guys who did CRANK, and I believe it. This has the same over-the-top craziness, wild behavior, extreme camera angles and lensing, and almost cartoonish characterization. If you liked that approach, you’ll dig this. There’s also similarities between this and Cage’s DRIVE ANGRY–this had better visuals but the former had a more cohesive plot and story.

If you’re familiar with Conan O’Brien’s famous “Nic Cage Terror Alert System”, this movie can add one of the craziest! There’s a part in the middle of the film where Cage just wigs out, and it’s hilarious. I hope intentionally so.

The special effects seemed good enough. Nothing as eye-popping as the camera work and editing, but nothing horrible either. But you wouldn’t see it just for the effects.

The cast is okay. The “chosen child” Danny was not likable to me. The female lead was no Eva Mendes (neither in acting chops nor looks). Villains? There’s a guy who causes everything he touches to decay–but of course he has no problem driving a car. (I guess steering wheels and ignition keys don’t decay?) There’s a cute gag with a Twinkie. Only actor I really liked was Idris Elba, an alcoholic, religious French badass. (Nice combo.) And look for a bald, heavily tatted Christopher (Highlander) Lambert. So take it for what it’s worth. If you’re young and drunk you’d probably enjoy it more than if you’re mature and sober. Either way it’s worth a rental for curiosity’s sake.

 

Nic took a salary cut to make the movie. He has to pay the IRS, lawyers and realtors, so don’t expect any help for Gary. And don’t expect him to pay back your ticket money, either!

 

–THE LEGAL CONTROVERSY:
Good grief, what a firestorm (pun intended). You probably know the story by now–Gary Friedrich, first writer and co-creator, sued Marvel in 2007 for a return of rights to the character. After five years of litigation, he lost. As part of the loss, he’s supposed to pay Marvel $17,000 in damages (allegedly the money he made selling “unauthorized Ghost Rider merchandise” at conventions to help support himself and his wife). He can’t pay it, he’s sick, and may lose his home. Hence the Steve Niles donation site, and Neal Adams and others putting together auctions of art and other fundraising efforts.

(Note that Gary considers himself sole creator. Artist Mike Ploog and editor Roy Thomas are not mentioned. However, Gary sold reproductions of artwork drawn by Mike Ploog as well as Herb Trimpe, allegedly without their permission and without giving them a dime from sales.)

Because of this, alarmists both professional and amateur have been screaming “Chicken Little” about the sky falling on selling convention sketches of Marvel characters. Some think Disney will be hiring copyright patrols to squash artists everywhere from daring to promote their precious properties acquired from Marvel.

 

Mike Ploog head sketch. Thanks to “Penny”/“Asiriel”. Fodder for lawyers now?

 

Ton of points here:

1. Gary should have asked permission from Ploog and Trimpe to use their art for sale, if he didn’t already. Not for legal reasons (because Marvel owned the images if done for them) but as a matter of professional courtesy. And he should have at least shared a percentage of the money made with them.

2. Gary made $17,000 over a multi-year period? That’s not a livable income. And that was probably the craft services bill for the movie. Gimme a break. Marvel should waive it. (Friedrich is appealing the ruling, so I understand Marvel cannot waive the fine at this time. We’ll see if they do the right thing.) Sure, Marvel has to protect their trademark legally or else they lose it. Personally, I think if Gary hadn’t sued he could have continued selling that stuff without incident. But now Marvel must do the full legal dance. That sucks for everyone.

3. Co-creator or creator? The original credits of MARVEL SPOTLIGHT #5, the Johnny Blaze character’s first appearance, read thusly:
Edited by: Stan Lee, 
Conceived and Written by: Gary Friedrich, 
Drawn by: Mike Ploog, 
Lettered by: Jon Costa, 
Aid and Abetment: Roy Thomas

A. A lawyer could easily argue that “conceived by” is not clarified to apply to the character and not just the story. Characters can be conceived, but not “written”. Stories, however, can be both. We’ve seen plenty of credits separating “story” and “script”, “plot” and “story”, as well as “from an idea by” and “written by.” This is just vague enough to cast a doubt on what exactly is meant by “conceived and written by”.

 

B. I have heard Roy in at least two comics panels take some credit for the character’s creation. Remember, Marvel had a western Ghost Rider years before the motorcycle version, taken from the Magazine Enterprises version of 1950. So even Gary would have to admit he didn’t come up with the name. (And really, how is that not a significant part of creation? Would he be as popular if he were called “Flaming Head Rider”? We’ll never know.) According to Roy, he was the one responsible for bringing him to the modern day.

Gorgeous Frank Frazetta version of the Western Hero. (Future Marvel journeyman Dick Ayers also ably drew many interior stories of the western version for Marvel.)

 

Mike Ploog drew the cover and first issue. As far as I know, he designed the costume and look as well. (I’ve asked on numerous forums to see Gary’s sketches and designs but no one’s yet responded.) That makes him CO-creator. Comics are a visual (as well as literary) medium, yes? There’s a big difference between a written description of, “a guy with a flaming skull for a head in a leather jacket riding a flaming bike”–assuming that’s what the writer actually wrote–and these pics:

 

Published and unpublished Ploog magic. (Thanks to Leonard Chuah for the “tryout” page art.) Before you ask, I don’t know where GR’s left leg is in the first panel either.

 

Now,, I have asked in several forums for what Mike’s reaction to all this is, and I’ve yet to receive an answer. I’d also love to see the very first drawings and descriptions of the character. If you know of any interviews or have links or other insights, please feel free to share in the “comments” section below!

4. As to the fear-mongering for artists, FORGET IT. Artists have been drawing and selling sketches of copyrighted characters for at least 40 years now. No one has ever been sued for it (not including pornography of course). Wouldn’t that set a legal precedent? Getting that horse back in the barn will be like pushing a Volvo with a straw. Sketches and commissions are still a ton of free advertising for the characters and goodwill for fans and pros alike. Every IP attorney in the industry will tell you it’s an “unwritten code” among us, uncommon in other entertainment fields.

The only time the lawyers come after you is when you sell reproductions or distasteful representations. (Terms which are rightfully defined solely by their legal department.) Case in point, last year in San Diego a former trade magazine cover artist who prominently displays hand-colored prints was politely asked by DC to remove those with their characters and only display genuine original artwork. It was very congenial and he talked with both their publisher and legal representative. No threats, no nasty letters. Marvel, interestingly enough, did not have a problem with his hand-colored prints of their characters. Of course, that may change now, but the point is that at no time has anyone said anything about forbidding the selling of original sketches or commissions. And frankly, if Marvel or DC or anyone wants us to fork over a percentage of the selling price for using those characters, like Marvel tried in the ’90s, I’m FOR it. It’s fair to me. But I’m not screaming my head off in alarm, nor am I stopping offering commissions…which, by the way, you can order with impunity and ease from our man Craig HERE. (See how I worked that plug in seamlessly? It’s a gift.)

So in conclusion: Support Gary, ask him to credit his artists, ask Marvel to waive the damages, ask me and other artists for sketches of your favorite characters, and rent the movie for some empty calories of mind candy.

And by all means, join me here next week for the second part of the Hollywood trip, the WB Stuidos tour, and some *juicy* star secrets!

 

Bru-Hed Closeup

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks,
Mike

 

P.S.: Have a great Presidents Day! Celebrate by spending a few dead ones on a commission…

 

 

 

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BEER ABBY #25: “What Do Whitney Houston, Bobby Brown, Kate Upton, Ghost Rider, Nic Cage, Gary Friedrich and Kevin Smith Have In Common?” »