Two titans of the comics industry are locked in a mortal struggle in a Wisconsin courtroom. Hanging in the balance: control of a popular character and lucrative royalties.
The case pits Todd McFarlane–who was at one time the No. 1 artist in the business–against Neil Gaiman, a writer who has won numerous literary awards and was recently lambasted by the Star Tribune for having the temerity to charge for a speaking engagement at a local library (a fee he donated to charity).
Back in the early 1990s, McFarlane’s hyper-detailed, anatomy-defying renderings of Spider-Man made him a fan favorite and the first of a new breed of rock star artists, a group that also included Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee. Recognizing their market value, the trio decided to break away from Marvel and start their own company, Image Comics.
McFarlane’s contribution to the imprint was Spawn, a supernatural superhero who visually combined the best elements of Spider-Man and Batman–two books on which he had previously worked.
Within months of launching the book, McFarlane decided to bring in some other notable comic creators as guest writers on several issues. Gaiman, the creator of DC’s popular Sandman, was tapped to write Issue #9. Gaiman’s story introduced a version of the titular character from the age of knights, called “Medieval Spawn,” as well as”Angela,” a scantily-clad woman who hunted Spawn.
These turned out to be great ideas and important contributions to the Spawn mythos.
There was just one problem: McFarlane didn’t own them.