Tag: Fanboys

The Return of MST3K -- Part 4: The Old Cast

A lot of the discussion about the MST3K reboot has centered around fans who want to see the old cast come back. Joel has said he'd like to bring them on as writers, and to appear in cameos. But the thing is, most of them don't seem to want to do it.

Here's what Mike, Bill, and Kevin said when Chris Ford asked them about it in a Diffuser interview last year:

Speaking to Wired, Joel Hodgson mentioned that he’d consider revisiting ‘MST3K.’ Is that something you’d consider?

Nelson: I probably wouldn’t. It’s just sort of a personal preference. I mean, I already have RiffTrax going, and that’s taken my last seven years, and I’m fond of how that’s working. So there’s just no need, I feel. And I wonder about revisiting something like that. But who’s to say that it couldn’t be. You know, it survived a lot of changes, so it could start again. Who knows?

Corbett: It would depend completely on the arrangement. I loved doing ‘MST3K,’ was honored to be part of such a great show and had a wonderful time during my years there. But the owners of the show cut me off as soon as it was over. Haven’t made a cent from it since I filmed my last show in 1999, and all attempts to change that arrangement have been rejected. A few attempts to revive ‘MST3K’ have already failed because of such issues. So I’d be skeptical.

Murphy: You know, I’m really not interested. As I said, where I am right now, I’m really loving what I do. We’re having great fun with RiffTrax, and to go back and do that again would … it has this ‘Return to Gilligan’s Island’ feel to it. You know, they did that again, and it just looked sad and lame because it was the same characters, except they’d gotten old. Or they’d substituted in new characters, and it didn’t really feel right. I think they had a fake Ginger in there. I don’t remember, but it just never felt right. It never felt like the real thing. We made that real thing for 10 years, so I’m really not interested in going back. It’s like going back down to your basement from when you were a kid when you’re an adult and making the same kind of car models that you did when you were a kid. It just doesn’t ring true to me anymore. What I’m doing right now with Mike and Bill at RiffTrax is a blast. We’re having a great time doing it, and people seem to like it. So I’m happy to do that. And if Joel wants to do the show again, God bless him, and I hope he has a lot of fun doing it. But I think I’m happy where I am.

Since the announcement of the Kickstarter, Mike and Bill have both reiterated their non-involvement, as have Mary Jo and Josh. Trace has ruled out even showing up in a cameo.

Joel addressed this in a Kickstarter update:

What about everyone else? Are the other MST3K writers and actors coming back?

This is the hardest question to answer, because there are several moving pieces involved.

Right now, I don't know who will agree to come back and work on the next season of MST3K… but if the Kickstarter is successful, everyone will be invited to take part.

Until yesterday, I wasn't even sure this whole Kickstarter idea would work. I've reached out and spoken with some of the old cast and writers, but until I knew how much money we'd have to work with – and when we'd start writing and shooting – there was just no way to make the specific offers that I hope will bring many of them back.

Plus – as many of you know – so far, the old cast haven't been compensated as well as they (or I) might have liked. I wish I could go back and fix that, but if I'm going to ask them to participate in the next season, I want to be certain we can pay them what they deserve this time. As soon as we pass our initial goal of $2,000,000, I'm hoping to start making the invitations official, and I hope some of them will be able to join us before we start working in January.

And guys, as much as I'd like to see the old cast and crew back, given their responses so far I really don't think it's going to happen.

I think it's great that Joel is talking about royalties. I believe that Shout! Factory should pay royalties to all the former writers and cast members, not as leverage to get them to participate in the new show but because it's the right thing to do.

But while royalties have certainly been a sticking point for some of the former cast members, I don't think they're the only reason people are holding out on participating in the new show. Look at what Mike and Kevin said in the Diffuser interview I quoted above -- it doesn't sound to me like they're holding out for a better deal; it sounds like they just plain don't want to do it. And Josh has said he's working on two documentary films, so it sure sounds like his non-participation is because he's too busy with other projects.

Aside from what they've said in public, I can't speak for individual cast members' motivations. Mary Jo has complained about the lack of profit participation in the past, while Frank has said it doesn't bother him. I've seen a lot of fans assume that the reason the old cast members aren't interested in being part of the new show is because of their lack of profit participation, and that if Joel gives them a good offer they'll be onboard after all -- but I think that's fans' wishful thinking. I've seen no hard evidence to back it up; the only thing I've seen that even looks like a "maybe" is Bill's "It would depend completely on the arrangement" in that Diffuser interview.

There are other reasons why people might not want to participate -- Mike and Kevin have suggested that they're just plain not interested. As for other former cast members, the geographical issues that brought an end to Cinematic Titanic are still present; the simple fact is that many of them don't live in the place where the new show is going to be produced. Even if, say, Mary Jo gets a profit-sharing offer that she's agreeable to, she still lives in Austin.

In short, I think that while fans are absolutely right to call for a new royalty agreement for every former cast member and writer on MST3K, they should also tamp down their expectations that this will lead to the old team returning for the new show. I just don't think that's gonna happen. Look forward to the new show for what it is, not for what you wish it was going to be.


I think that's it for now on the subject of the upcoming MST3K relaunch. The Kickstarter page, one more time, is bringbackmst3k.com; I haven't pledged yet but I plan on throwing in at the $35 level. That'll get you the first episode of the new series, plus three classic episodes as DRM-free downloads. (The three classic episodes are not currently listed in the Rewards section, but Joel said in an update that they're being added to the $35 tier as a bonus. He has not yet specified which three episodes they will be.)

And on the subject of compensation for the cast and crew of the old series: Rifftrax has just started selling MST3K episodes; as of this writing they have Mitchell, Pumaman, Final Sacrifice, and Future War, each priced at $10, with another episode going up for sale every Monday. And here's the most important part:

A significant share of the profits of all MST episodes sold on RiffTrax will be paid out directly to ALL the principal cast members of MST – Mike, Joel, Kevin, Bill, Mary Jo, Trace, Frank, Josh and Bridget. We feel it’s important that the original artists benefit directly from their awesome work. So if you want to support them, buy your MST here on RiffTrax!

There's no mention of Paul Chaplin; I wonder if that's an oversight, or if they don't know how to get in touch with Paul these days or what. I hope he gets a cut too.

At any rate, much as I love the DVD sets, I have to recommend from here on in that if you want to buy old episodes of MST3K, you buy them through Rifftrax, because right now that's the only way the cast and writers get a percentage of your purchase dollars. Again, I'm hoping that changes and the series' new owners at Shout! reach a deal to give them a piece of all purchases and streaming revenue. But for now, they only get paid if you buy them through Rifftrax. So do that.

The Return of MST3K -- Part 2: New Cast

Before I say anything else, let's get the obvious out of the way: nobody is obligated to contribute to any Kickstarter, ever. If you don't like Jonah Ray, if you're disappointed that the old cast isn't onboard, if you're strapped for cash or saving for Christmas or more interested in that Maya Angelou documentary or just plain don't feel like it, that's your prerogative. It's your money, and it's up to you how you want to spend it. And it's your time, and it's up to you whether you want to commit to a show that runs over 90 minutes an episode. I would like to make it clear that, while I'm about to make some criticisms of online negativity and some fans' tendency to prejudge, I'm not for one moment saying that you're obligated to feel excited about the new series, let alone to contribute money to it sight unseen.

That said, if you do watch the new MST3K, you should pay for it. Pirating MST3K would be a dick move.

Jonah Ray

Joel's announcement that Jonah Ray would be the new host sounded downright defensive:

Since this is the internet, I guess some people will hear this news and rush to declare – for better and for worse – "what this means for the future of MST3K." (In fact, since a lot of people guessed that it was Jonah's voice in our first video, that's already happening!)

I can't really tell you what kind of host Jonah is going to be, but I hope you'll give him a chance to show you. And even if you're familiar with Jonah's career, remember: that doesn't mean he'll bring the same exact approach to MST3K. I think a lot of you may be surprised. Plus, like the previous members of our cast, I think Jonah has great instincts and a lot of range. He's funny, he's wicked smart, and like I said, his heart's in the right place. He loves MST3K, he seems to understand what makes it so special, and most important, I know he takes the role seriously.

And man, a lot of people seem angry about Jonah Ray. I mean, it's the Internet, and everybody's always angry about something, and the people who really really hate something are almost never a representative sample. The Kickstarter's raised another half-a-million or so since the announcement, so it sure doesn't look like most people are too bothered by it.

I don't know much about Jonah Ray. I don't listen to the Nerdist podcast and I haven't seen his standup. Maybe I'd like it and maybe I wouldn't.

But I think Joel's right here: neither of those things is likely to be a good indicator of what he'll be like as host. And while it's true that each host is different and does the show his own way, it's also true that it's still the same show under Mike that it was under Joel. (Well, I think so, anyway; there are folks who disagree.)

There is a general feeling that the Mike era was meaner than the Joel era, that under Mike there was more of a tendency to outright insult the films, where Joel's era felt more like good-natured ribbing. (And in the host segments, Joel was certainly more friendly and deferential to the Mads than Mike was -- "What do you think, Sirs?")

(I've even seen folks in the Info Club comments section complain that there was too much sexual innuendo in the Sci-Fi Channel era, and...well, Jesus, apparently MST3K fans are a sheltered bunch.)

And I think it's easy to see Jonah Ray take Mike's tack a bit more than Joel's.

But, y'know, he's still a fan.

Being a fan doesn't automatically mean he'll be good in the role. But I think it does mean he'll show deference to the original show.

I mentioned in the previous post that Joel's got to thread the needle and make a show that's fresh and new and still noticeably MST3K. That might be true even moreso for Jonah as the new host.

and Friends

We don't know who else is going to be on the show yet. I've seen several people refer to an alleged Entertainment Weekly article that calims Felicia Day is playing the new Mad and Baron Vaughn and Hampton Yount are playing Servo and Crow (not sure which is which, but since I don't know who Vaughn or Yount are that's kind of a moot point). I have never seen a link to the alleged EW article in question, nor been able to find it on ew.com, so I am skeptical.

For the record I think Day would be a great choice, not just because I've wanted to see her play a villain since Dr. Horrible but because there's simply nobody with more experience at making a cult TV show on the Internet without studio backing.

As for Servo and Crow, well. It's definitely going to take some adjustment. On Servo in particular.

I'm of two minds on this. On the one hand, it's actually a refreshing change of pace seeing an angry fandom express the importance of the creative folks. If you're a regular reader of this blog, you've seen posts where I've excoriated fanboys who think characters are more important than their creators. People who think Scourge is more important than Ken Penders, that Thanos is more important than Jim Starlin, that Iron Man is more important than Jack Kirby.

It is, at least, really refreshing to see fans who think that MST3K is more than just a couple of puppets named Tom Servo and Crow, and that it matters who's operating those puppets, dammit.

And it does! It definitely does!

But we've been through this before. There's a well-known story in the fandom that when Josh Weinstein left the show and Kevin Murphy took over as Tom Servo, a fan mailed him a six-foot-long banner saying "I hate Tom Servo's new voice."

Well, 25 years later, you'd be hard-pressed to find anybody who thinks Josh was a better Servo than Kevin. (Sorry, Josh.)

And while there are people who don't like Bill Corbett as Crow, I think he was great. I still have a "You know you want me, baby!" T-shirt around here somewhere.

I think the fans need to thread the needle too, in our own way: while it's totally commendable (and encouraged!) to acknowledge that just because a show's got Servo and Crow and a guy in a jumpsuit on the Satellite of Love riffing on cheesy movies doesn't mean it's going to be the same MST3K we know and love, that it's the people who made the show great.

But we should also acknowledge that just because there are new people in those roles doesn't mean it's going to be a bad show, either. Yes, it's going to be different. But different doesn't always mean bad. You don't have to be optimistic about the new show, but y'know, you don't have to be pessimistic about it either.

Of course, the show's not just about the people in front of the camera, either. And in my next post I plan on talking about the writers, the importance of the ensemble, and how continuity in the writers' room was one of the main reasons the old show stayed consistent even when the cast changed. That's one more challenge the new show's going to have.

The Return of MST3K -- Part 1: Our Story Thus Far

It's a great time to be a Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan -- though there are those who disagree.

MST3K is coming back. Shout! Factory bought the rights to the series, and creator Joel Hodgson is running a Kickstarter to fund new episodes. He's passed his goal of $2 million, which will be enough to set up the infrastructure and shoot three episodes; he hopes to raise at least $5.5 million, make a full season of 12 episodes, and convince TV executives that there's enough of a fanbase to pick up the series.

Joel has announced that the new host will be Jonah Ray. I'm not familiar with Mr. Ray or his work, but a lot of people on the Internet seem very angry about this. Some people are angry about the selection of Jonah Ray in particular; some are more generally uneasy that it just won't be the same show.

And it won't. And that's tricky. Joel has to thread the needle here: the reason he's bringing back the MST3K name, brand, and characters is because there's nostalgia and goodwill attached to them (both on his part and the fans'), but, at the same time, this will by its nature be a different show. I'm looking forward to it (and I haven't pledged yet but I plan to), but it is an unknown quantity.

Joel notes, rightly, that every cast member on MST3K got swapped out at one time or another. Nervous fans note, rightly, that it never happened with the entire cast at once, let alone the entire staff. So far, only one person from the old show is involved with the new one, and that's Joel himself -- and he won't be hosting it. So we're not just looking at an entirely new cast, we're also looking at an almost-entirely-new writing team.

Will it feel more like the old MST3K than Cinematic Titanic did? More than Rifftrax does?

Well, obviously that question is something we won't know until we actually see the show. It's also entirely subjective.

Over the next couple of posts, I intend to go into my subjective opinions about those topics and others. Sodium, won't you?

Fanboy Rationalizations

There's one more thing I want to get to before I close out my run of Ken Penders posts, and that's fanboy rationalization.

There's a meme that I've seen infect the anti-Penders fanboys, since the suit was settled: "If only Ken had been nice when he asserted his copyrights, the fans wouldn't be so angry at him."

Here's somebody named Strike Carson making that argument to me in a 2013 comments thread at TSSZ News (via archive.org since TSSZ News appears to have nuked its comments section in a software upgrade):

Penders did something behind the backs of Sega and Archie that strained the relationship and almost got the comic cancelled. Maybe I’m mixing the two stories up… But still, Archie may have ignored him for the royalties, but it was Penders decision not to let Archie know what he was going to do if he wasn’t given the compensation he deserves as stated by law. You know, that whole threatening legal action thing if he’s not paid for what’s legally his? Had he done that in the first place, perhaps he would have had much more sympathy from us.

And here's the same argument, as put forward by Tylinos on the Ken Penders messageboard:

While it'd be silly to deny that The Spice Must Flow is a significant factor in it, it should be pointed out that the most commonly cited reason here was the attitude of the whole thing, and how absurd it all looked. (Even outsiders who don't read or even dislike the comic have been among those against how Ken went about it.)

Ken could've even underminded The Spice Must Flow mentality a bit by easing into the situation with some psychology, starting out slow with a "Well, I did make these characters" and nothing more and slowly building support up to saying "I should get payment for their use," instead of immediately starting out with that.

Heck, odd as it is, even among people against how he's acted, there's been near-unanimous agreement toward him getting reprint compensation for the stories he wrote. (Which, I know, isn't in the way of the spice anyway.)

The Spice Must Flow definitely factored in, but it's fairly clear that going about the whole thing a different way would've changed fan reaction immensely, and could've bitten past it.

And jameygamer in the same thread:

If he had been a lot less uptight when this whole mess started, he would be better off in terms of reputation.

These are people who, during the years Archie was suing Penders, said they were mad at Penders because his claims were frivolous and false. Since it turned out his claims weren't actually frivolous or false, they've changed their rationalization; now they say they would totally have been on Penders's side if only he hadn't been so rude about the whole thing. We have always been at war with Eurasia.

Of course, that's nonsense; it's rationalization. They're not arriving at their conclusion based on facts; they're starting with their conclusion (Rrrr, Penders bad!) and then cherry-picking facts to support it.

A rational person changes his opinion when confronted with new facts. When I first heard about Penders asserting his copyrights, I reacted with disbelief; I thought it was unfathomable that Archie would have neglected to make him sign a contract.

As it became clear that I was wrong and that was exactly what had happened, I changed my opinion. (Not for nothin', I also admitted I was wrong and apologized for being kind of a dick about it.)

These fanboys, of course, are not rational; they haven't changed their opinions, only their justifications for those opinions.

And, needless to say, I don't believe for a second that there is anything Ken Penders could have done differently that would have prevented fanboys from howling for his blood. If he'd done exactly what Strike Carson, Tylinos, and jameygamer said he should have done, then Strike Carson, Tylinos, and jameygamer would be up there saying that they would have taken his side if only he'd done something else instead.

Well, maybe not Tylinos. He seems like a pretty reasonable guy, at least.

And I'm not just saying that because he was (at least partially) agreeing with something I'd said earlier. When he said "The spice must flow," he was referring to a phrase I'd used in a post about Jim Starlin back in 2012:

Guys like that? It's not about the law and it's not about the ethics. It's The Spice Must Flow. It doesn't matter how Marvel treats creators, as long as it keeps putting out product to consume.

There's always a fresh rationalization on the horizon. "He signed a contract." No he didn't. "Well, he's dead now." Okay, but this guy's alive. "The character we know is the work of dozens of creators over a period of decades, so no one person can really claim credit to him." Even if that were true in some cases, Thanos is unmistakably Jim Starlin's character. "Well, it was only a tiny cameo, so he's not entitled to anything." And once Thanos has more than a cameo, it's going to be "Well okay, that's terrible, but the industry's not like that anymore; it's all better now." (A point Scott Kurtz raised recently, right about two weeks before Static co-creator Robert Washington III died of multiple heart attacks at the age of 47 and his family had to turn to charity to get him buried.)

There is and will continue to be a vocal minority of comic book fans who will side with the publishers no matter what. (Oh God how I hope it's a minority -- but I think it is. You can find a vocal population of people on the Internet who will angrily, zealously defend absolutely any dumbass position you can possibly think of.)

And here's what I said to Strike Carson:

Every single comic book copyright dispute in history says the fanboys would have been just as enraged no matter what he did.

Siegel and Shuster sell Superman for $130? Tough titty; they signed a contract.

Jack Kirby gets no royalties for any of the work he did at Marvel? Tough titty; he signed a contract.

Point out that Jack Kirby didn’t actually sign a contract? Well, that’s just how things were done back then, man!

DC continues to exploit Watchmen against Alan Moore’s wishes, even though in 1985 they made a big thing of how it was a creator-owned book? Tough titty, man, he signed a contract!

Marvel demands $17,000 from broke Gary Friedrich and demands he stop referring to himself as the creator of Ghost Rider? They’re just protecting their interests!

Archie screws creators out of royalties for decades, grinds anyone who legally challenges them into paste, actually removes Dan DeCarlo’s name from reprints, then a creator comes along asking for what Archie legally owes him, Archie doesn’t respond, he provides sufficient evidence to back them into a corner and get them to agree to a settlement — and you’re complaining that he didn’t issue enough legal threats beforehand? Seriously, dude?

Yeah. I’m sure if Penders had threatened to sue Archie in 2010, all the people in this thread who are crying for Penders’s head for the crime of, um, asking for the rights he is entitled to by law, would have totally been on his side.

To the anti-creator fanboys, the facts don't matter, the law doesn't matter, the ethics don't matter, and actual human beings do not matter. All that matters is that they get the comics they want.

They'll tell you differently, and they probably believe it -- after all, most people don't realize when they're rationalizing, and most of these are individual people opining on individual cases. By and large, the guy dumping on Penders is probably not the same guy dumping on the Kirbys is not the same guy dumping on the Siegels is not the same guy dumping on the Shusters is not the same guy dumping on Wolfman is not the same guy dumping on Friedrich is not the same guy dumping on Starlin (or Ditko or Gaiman or Moore or DeCarlo or whoever). If you're not the sort of person who follows these stories, who's seen this conversation play out dozens of times in different permutations, you don't see the pattern.

But there is a pattern. And the pattern is, there are always fanboys who care more about the product than about the human beings who created it. That's the long and short of it. The justifications may change from case to case, but the attitude is always the same: "Fuck that guy, I just want my comics."

That's it for my Penders coverage. But I'm sure we'll be right back here talking about exactly the same things the next time a comics creator has a dispute with a publisher.

Fanboys Miss the Point

The plan was that this would be my last Ken Penders post for awhile, because this is not the All Ken Penders All the Time blog. Sometimes it is the Long Rambling Post About the Past 20 Years of Web Design blog.

However, the post wound up running long, and had a nice natural break in the middle, so now it's going to be two posts. There will be at least one more Penders post after this one.

But while Ken Penders is the focus, these posts aren't just going to be about Ken Penders. I intend to make a few unflattering generalizations about anti-creator fanboys in a minute here, and you may be interested to read them even if you don't care about Penders, Archie, Sega, or Sonic. If you like my posts about creators' rights, this is one of them, and the next one will be too.

So what brought me back to Ken Penders, anyway?

Well, awhile back I was looking at my site stats, and found a referral from a DeviantArt post titled A Summary of ACP Vs. Ken Penders, posted in a group called Save Archie Sonic, which is dedicated to petitioning Archie Comics to bring back all the Penders-created characters that it wrote out of the series. It was a pretty old post by the time I saw it, but at any rate it flatteringly linked to my previous Penders coverage.

And the second comment down, by a guy named CMAugust, had this to say:

The rest of this guy's articles on the subject are great too, well worth reading. On another cool note, this is the same fan who got the first online letter printed in the comic, way back in issue 40.

Holy God, what a thing for somebody to remember after all these years.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there you have it: the most obscure and inconsequential piece of Sonic the Hedgehog trivia ever. And it's me.

CMAugust went on to say:

Oh yeah, and if you check out his stories about other comic book people tagged under "creators rights," you'll find that whenever there's a creator vs publisher court case, the fanboys will dump on the creator every time. Sad but true, most fans only care about whether their favorite characters are featured month after month and attack anyone who rocks the boat. No matter who it is.

This is a depressing but entirely accurate observation. I will be coming back to it in my next post.

The third reply down took rather a different and less coherent tack. Somebody posting as THEATOMBOMB035 wrote:

where do we stand? same as last time
Penders is a greedy prick who doesn't deserve the right to even be remembered in the Sonic world after what he is done
he is now a living reason why we exist and why we must stand as are own group of Freedom Fighters
Penders, you are a shame to Sonic fans everywhere

It's the third line that really got me. The part where he compared the fanboys -- the people calling the guy who created or co-created a raft of their favorite characters "a greedy prick" -- to the Freedom Fighters.

And this got me thinking about something I've thought of often before.

The fanboys in these stories -- the ones who insult Jack Kirby's family, or Jerry Siegel's family, or Joe Shuster's family, or Marv Wolfman, or Gary Friedrich, or Jim Starlin, or whoever -- are, invariably, fans of a certain type of fiction. Specifically, these are fans who are extremely passionate about stories where a ragtag band of underdogs strives against impossible odds to defeat an evil empire that is far bigger and more powerful than they are.

And they sure like those stories, but they really don't seem to understand them.

Here is a guy, right here, who looked at Sonic the Hedgehog -- the story of a scrappy band of Freedom Fighters squaring off against an evil empire to regain control of their homeland -- and then looked at Archie v Penders -- the story of a lone cartoonist squaring off against a multi-million-dollar corporation to regain control of his own work -- and thought that in this analogy, the people siding with Archie were the Freedom Fighters.

I just don't get it, man. I don't get how you can be so passionate about a work of fiction while simultaneously failing so utterly to understand its message even a little bit.

Speaking of utterly failing to understand a message, I also found my Penders coverage linked from a comments thread under a piece of fan art called Bunnie's Choice. A user named AlcyoneSong said,

yeah its just sad, because the whole comic has had a reboot due to Penders lawsuit.

And then he linked to my Ken Penders coverage.

My Ken Penders coverage which contains the following passages:

And it is important to remember, throughout this discussion, that while fanboys continue to misstate the basic facts of the case, Archie sued Ken Penders, not the other way around.

and

If Archie does permanently drop Penders's characters and cease reprinting his comics, make no mistake: that's out of spite, not legal obligation. That's not Archie being forced to stop using those works, it's Archie choosing not to use them so it doesn't have to pay Penders for them.

Emphasis in originals.

I mean, for fuck's sake, maybe actually read the thing you're linking to before you describe it.

There was a time in my life where I would probably have gone to the trouble of signing up for a DeviantArt account just so I could argue with year-old posts misstating the basic facts of the case and the content of my posts. Fortunately, I'm past that now, and content to merely criticize them in really long blog posts.

Final Fantasy Prequels I'd Actually Like to See

R^2's excellent Let's Play Final Fantasy 4 Advance thread over at Brontoforumus has veered onto the topic of The After Years and its general wretchedness. I've never played it -- but yeah, it sure seems like a terrible idea, on principle.

And I get to thinking, what Final Fantasy same-world sequels are any good?

For my money, FF12 and Revenant Wings don't count -- that's a case of an established setting being worked into a numbered FF game, not a numbered FF game's setting being reused per se.

FF10-2 was pretty neat, partially because it was the first and partially because it was so utterly different from FF10 proper, in tone, plot, and gameplay.

And the only FF7 sequel worth a damn is Crisis Core.

I think a lot of that is because it has the good sense not to take itself as goddamn seriously as most everything in the FF7 universe -- but I think it's also because it's a prequel. FF7 has an ending. An ending whose appeal comes from its ambiguity. Setting games (or movies) after the ending misses the point. Badly.

So with FF4. FF4 puts a fucking bow on things. Everybody gets to be a king or queen. Even Yang, for no reason whatsoever.

How the fuck do you top that? You don't.

Most Final Fantasys have an ending that's pretty, well, final. (There's an ongoing fanboy talking point that that's why they're called "Final" and that's why you should stop making jokes about "Dur hur how can they be final if there's thirteen of 'em?" That's stupid fanboy talk. But you really should stop making that joke.)

But you know what? Plenty of them come with perfectly good backstories to play with, and ripe ground for prequels.

Let's start with FF5 and the Warriors of Dawn. You could play as a young Galuf, and Butz's dad, and...look, I forget the other two guys' names. The point of FF5 isn't really its plot, it's the jobs system. I'd be happy to play a game with an earlier war with Exdeath, revisiting some familiar locations and characters a la Dragon Quest 3.

And then there's FF6 and the War of the Magi. The backstory's dashed off in a few lines of exposition in-game, but it's got loads of potential -- three gods begin fighting, they mutate humans into magic users, other humans hunt the magic users to take their powers, and it leads to an all-out apocalyptic battle that rends the world asunder and ultimately wipes magic off the map and sends technology back to the Stone Age.

Given the timeline and the established power of the Warring Triad, the world wouldn't need to bear any kind of resemblance to FF6. (Though, hm -- maybe the map could start out looking one way and, after being torn asunder by the Triad, look like the World of Balance. Dramatic irony!)

And the final candidate I'd like to share is Final Fantasy 3. 3 has an even more barebones story than 5 (and isn't as good a game), but it has one idea in its backstory that could make for a wonderfully warped take on the traditional story.

3 relies on the D&D trope of Good and Evil existing in balance to one another, and the idea that if one becomes too strong, the other will rise to defeat it. Final Fantasy 3 has a world subject to the influence of a creeping evil -- and so the Crystals create four Warriors of Light.

But, it's clearly established in the backstory that the reverse happened a few hundred years before: Good got too strong, and the Crystals created four Warriors of Dark to restore the balance.

I'd love to play a game that does the Final Fantasy formula in reverse: burn villages, breed monsters, awaken ancient evils, start an evil empire and slowly take over the world.

I guess it would be kinda like the first half-hour of Final Fantasy 4, if Cecil had a much higher degree of job satisfaction.

Go, Ken, Go! -- Part 4: Bibliography

I think this'll round off my Ken Penders coverage for now -- maybe I'll post more when there's news; maybe I'll write a post about why I care enough about the rights to silly mid-1990's Sonic the Hedgehog comics to spend so much time and so many words on the subject, just as soon as I figure that out myself.

Anyway, here's a list of articles about Archie v Penders and the related legal disputes. I posted comments in many of these threads myself, and it's interesting (to me at least) to watch as I go from initial skepticism -- "Penders signed a contract, he had to have" -- to eventually realizing that the root of Penders's claim is that no, he didn't sign a contract, and then slowly come to believe that he's right and Archie really did forget to make him sign one.

Far and away the most legwork on this story has been done by Tristan Oliver of TSSZ News. TSSZ's coverage has been extensive, and I intend to link a few highlights here; please understand that this is by no means an exhaustive sample of everything Oliver and his associates have written on the subject. For a more thorough list, check their Penders+Copyright tag.

By the way, though: I would advise not reading the comments section on any TSSZ News story about the Penders case. The comments section is a wretched hive of scum and villainy.

(Also: My sister-in-law owns cats named "Tristan" and "Oliver". That's kinda weird.)


Ken Penders Presents... by Ken Penders, kenpenders.com, 2010-07-07. Ken's opening salvo, where he first claims that he owns or co-owns the copyrights to everything he ever wrote or drew for Archie's Sonic the Hedgehog, Knuckles the Echidna, and assorted related specials.

Has Archie Lost Rights to Sonic Reprints? by Johanna Draper Carlson, at her blog Comics Worth Reading, 2010-07-11, mirrored on archive.org. This is the first I heard of the story; Ken's name was a bit of a blast from the past and I was surprised to hear it in the comics news.

Ken Penders Claims Sonic The Hedgehog Rights by Rich Johnston, Bleeding Cool, 2010-07-10. The first of Bleeding Cool's long-running coverage of the case.

Archie v Penders thread at Brontoforumus, 2010-07-12 to present -- this thread is assembled from all the posts I (and others, but mostly I) have written on the subject for the past several years across multiple threads. It makes for a good quick run-down to read it all end-to-end.

Archie Comics Files Federal Lawsuit Against Ken Penders, by Tristan Oliver, TSSZ News, 2010-12-01. While there had been legal wrangling prior to this, this is where the lawsuits actually started. And it is important to remember, throughout this discussion, that while fanboys continue to misstate the basic facts of the case, Archie sued Ken Penders, not the other way around. (Penders has sued Sega and EA -- we'll get to that in a bit -- but he has not sued Archie. Archie sued him.)

Penders Affidavit Offers Intimate Look At His Sonic Comics Tenure by Tristan Oliver, TSSZ News, 2011-03-03. Oliver looks over the affidavit. This is where the meat of the dispute starts to become clear: Penders is claiming he never signed a work-for-hire agreement; Archie has submitted documentation to the contrary but Penders is disputing its authenticity; Penders has other creators from the same period who back up his story. Money quote: "First, the signatures are not believed by me to be authentic."

Inside Ken Penders's Alleged Work for Hire Agreements with Archie by Tristan Oliver, TSSZ News, 2011-03-07. Oliver highlights the contracts Archie has submitted as evidence, and notices a number of discrepancies in them.

Ken Penders Files Lawsuit Against Sega, Electronic Arts by Tristan Oliver, TSSZ News, 2011-06-01. As the name implies, this is the filing of Penders v Sega and EA, over the game Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood, which features characters who resemble the Dark Legion from Ken's Knuckles comics.

Inside Ken Penders’s Copyright Lawsuit Against Sega, EA by Tristan Oliver, TSSZ News, 2011-06-03. More detail on the suit, notably including Penders's allegations that BioWare approached him about helping develop Sonic Chronicles, which would certainly imply they were familiar with his work and the Dark Brotherhood's resemblance to the Dark Legion is not coincidental.

The Ken Penders/Archie Comics Lawsuit Continues by Rich Johnston, Bleeding Cool, 2011-06-24. More coverage of the contracts Archie submitted as an exhibit in the case, and Penders's claim -- with support from Scott Shaw and Elliot S Maggin -- that the contracts are illegitimate.

Coming Soon in 2012, by Ken Penders, kenpenders.com, 2011-12-01; Ken's statement of intent to publish his characters in his own comics, without Archie or Sega (or Sega's trademarks). At the time of this writing the thread has posts in it on up through last October; a lot of it is just Ken going in circles patiently trying to explain copyright and trademark law to his forum trolls, but if you can get through it there's a lot of edifying information on the claims he's making in the case and the legal tack he's taking with them.

Ken Penders To Publish Sonic The Hedgehog Characters On His Own by Rich Johnston, Bleeding Cool, 2011-12-04; a response to the above post. The comments thread has some interesting discussion and links related to how Archie handled the TMNT license; the TMNT Adventures comic ended around the same time the Sonic comic started.

Inside the Archie v. Penders Pre-Trial Report by Tristan Oliver, TSSZ News, 2012-02-13. Notes some of the names on the witness list; a number of former Archie editors and freelancers were slated to testify and corroborate Ken's claim that Archie did not make him or other Sonic freelancers sign work-for-hire agreements.

Penders Case: Scott Shaw Claims Copyright to his Archie Sonic Work by Tristan Oliver, TSSZ News, 2012-03-20. Includes an affidavit from Shaw, as well as one from Maggin saying he never signed a work-for-hire agreement for an issue he did of Archie's Super Teens around the same time.

Ken Penders Stops Diamond From Distributing Sonic Collections by Rich Johnston, Bleeding Cool, 2012-09-14. This was an early sign that Penders's claims were causing trouble for Archie; in the months since Archie has continued to put out reprints of Penders's Sonic work through Diamond, but among other measures it's altered covers so that his characters don't appear on them.

Settlement Terms Reached in Archie v. Penders Copyright Case by Tristan Oliver, TSSZ News, 2012-12-04. For a minute there, it really looked like it was almost over.

Flynn Addresses Altered Sonic #244; Fans Look To Penders Settlement by Tristan Oliver, 2012-12-27. A recent issue of Sonic the Hedgehog has most of the Knuckles the Echidna supporting cast sent through a Warp Ring and effectively written out of the series indefinitely. Notably, the characters in question are among those Penders created and is seeking to claim copyright on.

Archie Fighting Proposed Dismissal of Penders Copyright Case by Tristan Oliver, TSSZ News, 2013-03-27. And then the talks broke down and Penders moved for dismissal. In one of my favorite legal filings ever, Archie's lawyer argues against dismissing the case with prejudice because this would be, and I quote, "greatly prejudicial".

Penders Counsel Asks Court to Ban Knuckles Archives #4 Sale, Related Material in Dispute by Tristan Oliver, 2013-04-19. Ken's tightening the screws and pushing for an injunction; the judge has not made a decision yet.

Archie Desperate To Settle, But Can’t Without Sega – The Latest In The Ken Penders Sonic Comics Case by Rich Johnston, Bleeding Cool, 2013-05-09. A fantastic transcript of a May 2 court session; the judge quotes Laurel and Hardy but the transcript reads more like an Abbott and Costello routine. Counsel for both Archie and Penders state that they want to settle but that they haven't been able to get Sega to sign off on their terms.

And here we stand -- there's been no news since. The judge granted both parties more time to bring Sega to the table to approve their settlement, and that's the last we heard; neither Bleeding Cool nor TSSZ News has posted any updates on the case since.

I suspect all sides are hoping to settle rather than go to trial. If they settle, most of the terms will be private. But if talks break down, the case will go to trial. And from there, probably an appeal by whichever side loses. This could stretch on for years more. But like I said yesterday, I hope it doesn't -- I hope it gets settled on terms that are favorable to Ken.

Of course, while that would close the book on Penders's case, it wouldn't preclude all the other Sonic freelancers from that era from coming forward with claims of their own. As we've seen, there are lots of creators making the same claims Ken has -- and if he gets a settlement, they'll be angling for settlements of their own.

Stay tuned...


Update 2013-07-09: Archie v Penders has been settled. Two more related links:

It's Over. by Ken Penders, kenpenders.com, 2013-07-01. Ken announces that he is moving forward with The Lara-Su Chronicles.

Judge Officially Dismisses Archie v. Penders Case by Tristan Oliver, 2013-07-02. TSSZ News confirms that the case has been settled and the suit dismissed.


Update 2015-09-24: I'm late on this, but I recently found out that Penders v Sega et al was dismissed (due to a mistake in how the paperwork was filed, not due to any decision on the merits of the case itself).

TheAmazingSallyHogan has the most thorough summary of both cases that I have seen to date; it is well worth reading in its entirety.

Go, Ken, Go! -- Part 3: The Stakes

My Penders coverage continues. See previous installments under the Ken Penders tag.

So what's actually at stake in Archie v Penders?

What does Ken want?

Penders wants a court to rule, decisively, that he never entered into any contractual agreement with Archie Comics beyond first print rights, and to grant him sole ownership of every story that he both wrote and drew, and co-ownership of every story where he did one or the other but not both.

This includes various Sonic stories from issue #11 all the way up to #140, some specials, and the entire Knuckles series, and any original characters and locations introduced therein.

Contrary to how the enraged fanboys would have it, this does not mean that Archie would not be allowed to reprint those stories or reuse those characters -- it just means that Archie would have to compensate him for that use.

First of all, in many cases, Ken wouldn't have full ownership over those stories, characters, and locations -- as mentioned, he would only gain full ownership over stories that he wrote and drew; he would only gain co-ownership of stories where he worked with other writers or artists. (Usually half-ownership, because a comic typically has two creators, writer and artist -- but some of the stories had multiple writers and/or artists.) Sega would retain the remaining share of the rights -- at least, until and unless Ken's partner(s) on a story came forward making similar legal claims and asserting their co-ownership -- and retain the right to do whatever it wanted with them, so long as it compensated Ken for his portion of ownership.

And secondly, it wouldn't be in Ken's interest to halt the reprinting of any of those stories or the reuse of any of those characters. He wants Archie and Sega to continue using them -- so that he gets paid for their use.

Ken also wants to continue the stories he began in Knuckles the Echidna. He wants to be able to use the original characters he created and continue to build that world, through a publisher of his choosing, without oversight or approval from Archie or Sega.

The rub is, even if Ken gets all the copyrights he's seeking, he won't get the trademarks. Even if he can use Rob o' the Hedge, he's going to have to make him look a lot less like Sonic the Hedgehog. Likewise, his echidna characters are going to have to look significantly different from Knuckles.

Also for trademark reasons, while Ken will have the reprint rights to everything he wrote or drew for Archie, in the vast majority of those cases he won't actually be able to exercise those rights without permission from Sega. He'll be allowed to reprint any story that doesn't have any of Sega's characters or anyone who looks like Sega's characters in it, but nothing with Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Sally, et al, and if he wants to reprint stories with Locke, Rob o' the Hedge, or other trademark-derivative characters, he's going to have to redraw them first.

A decisive victory for Penders would include damages and back pay for all the years Archie has continued to exploit his copyrights, and would lead to a ruling in his suit against Sega and EA that those companies had likewise violated his copyrights and owed him back pay and damages for Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood.

What does Archie want?

Archie wants a decisive declaration that Ken signed a work-for-hire agreement and that all his work was produced under for-hire conditions, that he agreed to a flat page rate, and that it was paid. Archie wants the court to rule that it doesn't owe Ken anything more than what it's already paid him, and is free to continue reprinting his back issues and using his characters without any additional compensation.

Short of that, Archie wants to minimize any potential payout it may have to make. It's already gone to some efforts to remove the disputed characters from the covers of reprints and to write them out of its universe. If Archie has to pay Ken, it will want to pay as little as possible, and have as little obligation to him going forward as it can get away with.

How big could this be?

The smallest impact this litigation could possibly have is, well, the impact it's already had: Ken's characters get benched awhile until this gets sorted out, and Archie eventually brings them back. A ruling that's favorable to Archie would pretty much ensure this happens.

Even in the case of a ruling favorable to Penders, Archie could still bring the characters back and continue to issue reprints of Penders-era stories; all it would have to do is compensate him for their use. I have to stress, here, that Penders is not seeking to halt Archie and Sega from profiting from his work -- he just wants a cut. If Archie does permanently drop Penders's characters and cease reprinting his comics, make no mistake: that's out of spite, not legal obligation. That's not Archie being forced to stop using those works, it's Archie choosing not to use them so it doesn't have to pay Penders for them.

As for the biggest potential impact? Well, it involves the character Robo-Robotnik.

Robo-Robotnik is a character who first appeared in Sonic the Hedgehog #19, by Penders, Mike Kanterovich, Dave Manak, and Art Mawhinney. He's a parallel-universe version of Robotnik.

Now, the "original" Robotnik -- the one who resembles the version from the Saturday morning cartoon -- dies in issue #50.

In #75, a new Robotnik steps in; as you'd expect, he more closely resembles the Robotnik from the games (and as the games gave up the "Robotnik" name for the original Japanese "Eggman", the comics followed suit).

But here's the rub: the new Robotnik in #75 is Robo-Robotnik, hopping from his parallel universe to Mobius Prime and creating a new body for himself.

So the ramifications of this are potentially huge: technically speaking, the Eggman who has been the main antagonist in the Sonic the Hedgehog comic from issue #75 to present was co-created by Ken Penders. Best case for Ken and worst for Archie, a court agrees that Ken co-owns the rights to this version of Eggman.

Now, Archie could still kill him off and have yet another parallel universe Eggman take his place; that'd be trivial enough and would keep them from having to compensate Penders for Eggman's future appearances.

But that would still leave the entire run of the Sonic comic from #75 to today -- approaching issue #250 -- featuring a Penders-derived character in a primary role.

Now, Archie is big on reprints. Huge on reprints. And they can choose not to reprint any stories containing, say, Julie-Su the Echidna -- but they can't refuse to reprint any issue containing Robo-Robotnik; that would gut their back catalog. They would have to play ball and offer Penders compensation for reprints.

What would a settlement entail?

Of course, the thing about out-of-court settlements is that they're typically not disclosed to the public. If Penders and Archie do settle, we'll never know most of the details.

But what we do know, because it's been mentioned in the public record, is that both sides are seeking an agreement where Penders is allowed to publish his own comics featuring his original characters, provided he alters their appearances to avoid infringing on Sega's trademarks.

Other than that, all I can offer is conjecture.

At a guess, Penders will allow Archie to continue to use his characters, and probably allow Sega co-ownership rights. (This will be useful to Sega and Archie in case their other co-creators come forward seeking the copyrights.) Archie will want to offer him a one-time payment for these rights; Penders will be seeking co-ownership and a guarantee of royalties or at least some form of profit-sharing agreement. It's unclear which of those will happen.

Given the leverage Penders has with Robo-Robotnik, I think Archie will push for him to sign away the rights to that character in particular, guarantee that he will never try to claim an ownership stake in him, and that he is indeed the same character as Sega's Dr. Eggman and not an original character at all. I think Penders is likely to agree to this -- while co-ownership of Robo-Robotnik could be one of the strongest victories he could make, it's also going to be one of the trickier ones in court. My guess is Penders will give up his claim to Robo-Robotnik in exchange for something else he wants -- either a reasonably-sized one-time payout, or a stronger position with the rights to the other characters who he can actually use in his own comics. (Robo-Robotnik is, of course, a complete non-starter for use in Ken's own comics; he's so fundamentally tied to the character of Eggman that Ken would have to change him so substantially that he might as well just create a new character anyway. The only reason Penders would want Robo-Robotnik would be for reprint royalties.)

What does Sega want?

To crush freelancers, see them driven before them, and to hear the lamentation of their women.

Sega doesn't want to give Penders anything. It wants him to lose, decisively, and serve as a lesson to any other freelancers with any bright ideas.

Archie might convince Sega to agree to a settlement -- but there's no way Sega will do that unless Penders agrees to drop his litigation against Sega and EA. And there's no way Penders will do that without some sort of payout. While I believe he's totally sincere in wanting to keep his original characters and continue Mobius: 20 Years Later on his own terms, Sega and EA are the biggest fish here and he's not going to drop his case over Dark Brotherhood without receiving some form of compensation.

Realistically, I think if a settlement is reached, it will involve Sega (and possibly EA) giving Penders a one-time payout with no admission of wrongdoing, and Penders signing documents to the effect that he recognizes the Dark Brotherhood as distinct from the Dark Legion and will never claim otherwise again.

I think this would probably work out all right for all parties -- Dark Brotherhood was years ago and no sequel appears to be forthcoming. Penders might be better off taking a one-time sum than gambling on future royalties that may or may not materialize; Sega, on the other hand, will want to keep the option of using the Dark Brotherhood again even if that never actually happens.

But again -- all of this is conjecture on my part. I don't know what Sega's, Archie's, EA's, or Penders's lawyers are thinking on this. If there is a successful settlement, we'll know a few of the terms -- like copyright assignments, whether Ken ends up making his own comics with Knuckles-derivative characters, whether Archie brings back Ken's characters in its comics universe -- but we won't know any financial agreements, or specific restrictions on the use of the copyrights.

Still, I'm hoping for a settlement that treats Ken decently and allows him to make a living. He's really put a lot on the line in bringing his case this far; if it goes to jury I hope he wins, but I hope he doesn't have to go through that ordeal (and the appeals that would inevitably follow). Here's hoping for a resolution that works out well for him.

Go, Ken, Go! -- Part 2: The Curious Case of the Contracts

Archie is the most anti-creator publisher in the comics industry.

DC's bad. Marvel's worse. But Archie is the worst.

To this day, Archie's official company line is that Archie (the character) was created by company founder John Goldwater, while Bob Montana merely created "the original characters' likenesses". And it took an out-of-court settlement for Bob Montana to get even that half-assed credit.

And talking of court cases, what happened when Dan DeCarlo tried to get a piece of the Josie and the Pussycats movie? He was fired. After freelancing for the company for forty years and becoming the definitive Archie artist (and indeed the definitive "good girl" artist). And firing him apparently wasn't enough -- Archie actually started removing his name from reprints.

Archie has the gall to continue to claim that Dan DeCarlo didn't actually create Josie -- a character who is named after his wife.

Archie creators don't even get royalties or any form of profit sharing -- you get a page rate and that's all.

So it was against this historical backdrop that I heard Ken Penders claim that his Sonic comics had not been work-for-hire, and I was skeptical. Well, "skeptical" is one of the politer words I used at the time -- I also said his claims "strike me as some legitimately crazy shit".

(I suspected for awhile that this was why I was never approved to post on Ken's messageboard; now I'm more inclined to believe it's just an automated system that filters out four-letter names as probable spambots. At any rate, it was still a rude thing to say and I now believe it was factually inaccurate besides.)

That was my read on the case for the first couple years it ran, but not long after that, the other shoe dropped and the scope of what Penders was really claiming became clear: Archie never made him sign a contract. If you look through my posts from around that time (and I'll have a bibliography post in the next couple days), you can watch the scope of the claim begin to dawn on me and my view of the case start to shift to Penders's favor.

Hard as it was to believe, it was starting to look like Archie, the company that had been so iron-fisted in its treatment of its own creators over the past 70 years, really had dropped the ball. Ken wasn't the only creator making these claims. Scott Shaw, Elliot Maggin, and a laundry list of others were too.

Here's the thing about work-for-hire: under the Copyright Act of 1976, work-for-hire agreements must be made in advance, in writing. If Ken did not sign a contract before producing his work, then it was not work-for-hire.

Which still doesn't necessarily mean, in and of itself, that he didn't transfer the rights to Sega by way of Archie -- he could have sold the rights, even if the work wasn't produced for-hire.

But that doesn't seem to have happened.

Archie has produced some contracts which appear to have Penders's signature on them -- but they're sloppy, incomplete photocopies, and they're dated years after Ken first started writing and drawing Sonic comics. Ken has implied, though he's been very careful not to say it outright, that his signature may even be forged on them.

And personally -- and please note that this is pure unsubstantiated conjecture on my part -- I think he's got proof. Because by the end of last year, Archie was talking settlement.

Indeed, Archie's lawyer recently said the company was "desperate" to settle. But it hasn't.

And that's because this isn't just about Ken Penders and Archie. Sonic is a licensed comic; Sega owns the rights. Not just to the original characters, but to all the comics and everything in them. If Archie lost the license, Sega would retain the rights to reprint everything through another publisher (like how Dark Horse can reprint Marvel-era Conan and Star Wars).

At least, that's how it's supposed to work. But, if Ken is right and Archie never made him sign a contract, that means he owns, or at least co-owns, all the material he wrote or drew.

The way the contracts were supposed to work is that the writers and artists sign them and immediately give up the rights to Sega. According to Penders, Shaw, Maggin, et al, that didn't happen.

So Sega is denied the ownership it expected, because Archie screwed up the paperwork.

And, not to put too fine a point on it, Sega's been sued over it. And might be again.

Because I've been talking about Archie v Penders here, but there's another suit out there: Penders v Sega and EA.

The Sega/BioWare game Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood included villains who resembled Penders's Dark Legion characters. I will grant that I've never played Dark Brotherhood -- but I'll also say that the very first thing I thought when I saw the advertising materials was "Oh, it's the Dark Legion."

So Archie v Penders has a direct bearing on Penders v Sega and EA -- because the outcome of Archie v Penders will determine whether Penders owns the Dark Legion and has grounds to sue for their appropriation in the first place.

If I were representing Sega, I'd be pretty angry at Archie for fouling up the paperwork and putting my company into this position. And I'm willing to bet that Sega is a lot less interested in settling than Archie is. Because even if it reaches an arrangement where it pays out a small, one-time settlement fee and doesn't have to worry about paying Penders for reprints or for any future games or reissues, a settlement opens the door for more writers and artists to assert their copyrights and pursue compensation.

So that's where things stand as of last week. Archie wants to settle but Sega hasn't granted approval for a settlement.

The judge is pushing to bring Sega in on the negotiations ASAP, and that should determine whether the suits are settled or go to trial. There should be more news any day now.


Update 2013-07-08: Archie v Penders has been settled; see Part 5 for my thoughts.

Go, Ken, Go! -- Part 1: Sonic Fandom ca. 1996

I'd like to talk about Archie v Penders, because it fascinates the hell out of me. In fact, I've got enough to say about it that I'll be on the subject for most of the week, if not longer.

But I should probably get some disclosure out of the way first.

First of all, my feelings on creators' rights are pretty well known.

And second, I corresponded with Ken Penders for years in the mid-1990's and he was pretty cool to me.

It may be hard to remember in these days where I can just get into a political debate with Ethan van Sciver or ask Kurt Busiek about his unpublished Final Fantasy comics, but it wasn't so long ago that most people didn't have the Internet and it wasn't common for fans to connect directly, personally, and regularly with comics creators.

The first cartoonist who I ever knew to directly engage his fans online was Ken Penders. (Not the first person, and not even the first person who worked on Sonic the Hedgehog at Archie -- that honor goes to editor Paul Castiglia, who likewise was a class act -- but the first person who was actually writing, drawing, and inking the things.)

In those days, the main place where I participated in Sonic fandom was on a mailing list run by Ron Bauerle. And when I say "mailing list" I mean something less sophisticated than an automated majordomo system; I mean people E-Mailed Ron and he forwarded those E-Mails to a list of addresses, manually, with some edits and comments of his own.

Ken was kind, engaged, patient, and forthcoming. He took the credit or blame for ideas that were his, and he was entirely candid about decisions that were forced on him by Archie or Sega.

I always liked the guy, though I grant I often had a funny way of showing it. I was thirteen, fourteen years old, and behaved about like you expect an angry, entitled, teenage member of comic book fandom to behave. And Ken was always patient and polite with me (and others), even when I didn't earn it.

In my defense, there were times when he actively and transparently trolled the fans. The biggest thing that ever happened on Ron's mailing list was when one day Ken posted -- in a fake casual, "oh by the way" manner -- that he'd just written a script where he killed off Princess Sally.

He may not have deserved all the vitriol he got for that -- but he did very clearly and deliberately invite it.

(And while I remember being nastier than I should have been, I won't recant the substance of my criticism of the story -- if possible, my disdain for the "women in refrigerators" and "revolving door of death" tropes has only deepened in the intervening years. It was a terrible idea, a terrible execution, and, all right, at least the "Director's Cut" reissue of #50 shows that editorial meddling made the comic even worse than if Ken had done it the way he wanted to.)

But again, I always liked Ken -- he was a nice, friendly, forthright guy, who made time for his fans. Even when I didn't like the comics he was writing or drawing, I still liked him.

And, nontrivially, I also think he's a big part of why Archie's Sonic comic is still out there.

The mid-1990's were a weird time for Sonic fandom. The cartoon had ended, and the games were going through what would become the longest dry spell in their history.

Nobody expected, fifteen and twenty years ago, that Sonic the Hedgehog would still be running in 2013, zooming toward issue #250. (And that fact is essential to understanding the current legal disputes. It looks to me like Archie got sloppy with its paperwork, precisely because this was a licensed comic that they didn't think would last. But more on that tomorrow.)

Indeed, Ken didn't tell us at the time, but there was every possibility that the book was going to end with #50. I mean, given that the story arc was called Endgame, that should have been obvious, in hindsight.

But Ken, more than anybody else, is the guy who kept the book afloat. He's the one who took the wheel in the teens (#16?) and decided the book should depart from the slapstick roots of the Scott Shaw/Mike Gallagher/Dave Manak era and generally start to look more like the Saturday morning cartoon. He wrote more complex, character-based stories. That's how the comic attracted an audience outside its 8-to-12-year-old target, how it managed to keep its 8-to-12-year-old target, and generally the reason there's still a Sonic comic at all. Ken believed in the book, he took it seriously, he made it the best he could. It wasn't always great -- in fact, there were times it was downright lousy. But a Ken Penders story was still usually better than anything printed in the first 15 issues.

And look, I quit reading Sonic comics ages ago. People say Ian Flynn is great and I take them at their word. I definitely acknowledge the possibility that he's writing better comics than Ken ever was. I don't know.

But I am pretty confident that Ian Potto would never have gotten a job writing Sonic the Hedgehog if not for Ken Penders. Firstly, because there wouldn't have been a Sonic comic if Ken hadn't shepherded it through some of its most turbulent years, and secondly, because it was guys like Ken, Paul, and Karl Bollers who interacted directly with the fandom and created an environment where fans like Flynn and Dawn Best could actually make the step to pro.

So anyhow, that's my bias in all this. I like Ken Penders as a dude. I like a lot of what he did when he wrote and drew Sonic and Knuckles. I don't like a lot of what he did, too -- and while a lot of that's down to editorial meddling by Archie and Sega, some of it is indeed down to decisions made by Ken himself.

But that's not why I think he's right and should win the case against Archie -- indeed, when he first announced he was pursuing legal remedies I thought he must be crazy, and said so, rather rudely.

But as the facts have come out, I've found myself believing Ken isn't just morally in the right, he's legally in the right.

And that doesn't have anything to do with whether I, or anyone else, actually like him, as a person or as a writer or as an artist.

That's a point Sonic fanboys just can't seem to grasp in this case: whether or not you personally like Ken Penders's Sonic and Knuckles comics is completely irrelevant to the merits of his legal case.