MADISON, Wis. — "Coraline" and "Stardust" author Neil Gaiman is owed royalties for three more characters that appeared in artist Todd McFarlane's classic Spawn comic book series, a federal court judge has ruled.
U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Crabb ruled last week that the demon Dark Ages Spawn and two scantily clad female angels, Domina and Tiffany, were derived from characters Gaiman created. Spawn tells the story of a murdered CIA agent who becomes a demon and is hunted by angels.
A jury found eight years ago that Gaiman was due money for being a co-copyright holder for three other characters that appeared in the comic series – Medieval Spawn and Angela as well as a character named Cogliostro, a one-time Spawn ally. Neither side has agreed to how much is owed.
Gaiman testified in June that he believed Dark Ages Spawn was essentially a copy of Medieval Spawn, a character he created in the ninth issue of the Spawn series in 1993. He had been invited by McFarlane to do an issue. Gaiman also said the angels known as Domina and Tiffany were copies of the red-haired Angela, a character who also debuted in Spawn No. 9.
Crabb agreed, saying all three characters were substantially similar to the ones Gaiman created.
"Certainly they are similar enough to be infringing if they had been produced and sold by someone other than the copyright owners," she wrote. Crabb ordered McFarlane to tell Gaiman by Sept. 1 how much money had been earned through the use of the characters in posters, trading cards, clothing, action figures, comic books and anything else where they appeared.
Gaiman's attorney Allen Arntsen said he hoped that a final accounting of how much Gaiman is owed will be done by the end of the year.
"This has been drawn out," Arntsen said. "We're looking forward to bringing it to a resolution."
McFarlane's attorney Alex Grimsley did not immediately return a message seeking comment Monday.
Gaiman commented on the ruling in a Friday blog entry, saying he wants to "forget this forever."
"I wish I took some kind of joy in this, but I don't," Gaiman wrote. "At this point all I hope is that Todd can do an accounting for all the comics I wrote for which he paid no royalties, and the rest of it; and that he'll settle up and I will make some comics charities very happy."
McFarlane created Spawn in 1992 for a startup comic book company, Image Comics. Although it isn't as popular as Batman or Spider-Man, the series has been fairly successful with action figures, an Emmy-winning HBO series and a 1997 movie that grossed $87 million worldwide.
Crabb noted in her ruling that in the Spawn universe, there is only one Spawn that comes to earth every 400 years and McFarlane never explained why he introduced two knights from the same century.
If McFarlane really wanted to create a new Spawn, Crabb wondered why he didn't make him a Portuguese explorer from the 16th century, an officer in the Royal Navy in the 18th century, a Roman gladiator, an American Indian warrior or a member of the court of Queen Elizabeth.
McFarlane argued that the internal rules of the Spawn universe were constantly changing and that while both characters existed in the same time period, they were distinct and different.
Crabb didn't buy it.
"It seems far more than coincidence that Dark Ages Spawn is a knight from the same century as Medieval Spawn," the judge wrote.
In addition to Spawn, McFarlane illustrated a number of big-time superheroes, including Batman and Spider-Man, before co-founding Image Comics. He also manufactures action figures and made headlines in 1999 when he paid $3 million for the baseball Mark McGwire hit for his then-record 70th home run in a season.
Gaiman, who lives in northwestern Wisconsin near the Twin Cities, wrote the "Sandman" comic book series. His novels include "American Gods," "Coraline" and "The Graveyard Book," which won the John Newbery Medal.
Gaiman's blog: http://journal.neilgaiman.com/