Indie comic Hack/Slash is about to become a lot more independent, after a legal battle over the ownership of cult zombie movie Re-Animator spilled over from the courtroom into the comic book world and forced them to choose between pulling the series or getting dumped by their distributor. But can the tentacles of attorneys stop us from seeing any more Herbert West, and how did things get to this point, anyway?After Diamond Distributors were sent a Cease and Desist order for distribution of the 15th, 16th and 17th issues of Devil Due's Hack/Slash series - Issues in which creator Tim Seeley's heroine Cassie Hack run into Stuart Gordon's version of Lovecraft's Herbert West as part of a storyline subtly titled "Cassie & Vlad Meet the Re-Animator" - publisher Devil's Due were informed that Diamond wouldn't be offering the issues to comic stores... which, due to the distributors' virtual monopoly on the market, meant that those issues wouldn't make it to comic stores at all (Diamond's Bill Schanes, Vice President of Purchasing, makes it clear that the decision was purely legal: "[W]e have been advised by Diamond's attorney's to not distribute issues #16 and #17 of the series Hack/Slash, plus process any additional reorders for #15 as well," he says in a press release on the subject).
The problem is apparently the question of who owns the right to offer merchandise on the Re-Animator movies. Brian Yuzna, producer of the movies, is somewhat surprised that it's not him:
Devil's Due have done a fantastic job of keeping the spirit of the Re-Animator films alive in the Hack/Slash cross-over... It has been a pleasure to collaborate with such a talented crew. And I am proud to be working with them after the admirable stand they have taken in the face of economic coercion. This company exemplifies the independent spirit of the genre film and comics community. It may seem crazy to Re-Animator fans to think that a company that had nothing to do with the classic films could actually claim ownership of the "Re-Animator" brand and threaten to stop anyone else from creating comics, films or merchandise with the word 'reanimator' or 're-animator' in it- even the actual producer of the films that created the brand—but in this wacky world that is exactly what has happened.So who is this company that "had nothing to do with the classic films" that's causing the problem? That would be Re-Animator LLC, a company that filed for trademark on "Re-Animator" on April 20th, 2005 courtesy of lawyer Michael Lovitz - a man who's previously written a book about comic book trademark and copyright law and hosted a series of workshops at the San Diego Comic-Con called Comic Book Law School for years. While the identity of those behind Re-Animator LLC remains unconfirmed, Lovitz has also filed for many other trademarks over the years that have been related to comics published by Dynamite Entertainment (amongst them Jungle Girl, Savage Tales and characters from the Project Superpowers series) - a company that has published its own Re-Animator comics. No matter whoever is behind the C&D order, Devil's Due isn't backing down. Company president Josh Blaylock:
We deliberated internally long and hard, but this was in good conscience not something I felt we could roll over and just accept. I've reviewed the facts, spoken to copyright, corporate and entertainment attorneys, and resolved that this, in my own personal opinion, is a ridiculous bully tactic that only hurts Tim [Seeley, Hack/Slash creator] and all of the creators who work so hard to make Hack/Slash the great book that it is and abuses the Diamond policy of staying out of legal issues.The result? Devil's Due will be distributing the issues themselves directly to retailers, offering discounts of between 50 - 60% off cover price to those who choose to order from their website; post #17, the series will return to Diamond Distribution. But as for any future appearances of Herbert West...? Well, I'm sure the lawyers will do Lovecraft proud in terms of creative tortures necessary to make that happen. [Devil's Due Publishing]