Gaiman v. McFarlane 2010: What I Have Learned

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

[This is part of my running report on the 2010 hearing on the Neil Gaiman v. Todd McFarlane case. To see coverage from the beginning, click here.]

Part Twenty-Four Two dozen posts, and we're still waiting for the judge's decision. While we're waiting (and this will probably be my last post on the subject until Judge Barbara Crabb announces her decision; tomorrow, I'll talk about the upcoming Comic-Con or about some fun book I've read or this autumn's convention in Madison - which Harlan Ellison says will be his last convention - or some such), it might be a good time to reflect on what I have learned from attending both the 2002 trial and this 2010 hearing.

But first: a quote. Just 31 minutes into the 1965 Western comedy-musical Cat Ballou, Jane Fonda tells Michael Callan about the horrible things the railroad people have done to her father, whose property they've tried to get. "They've put manure in his well and they've made him talk to lawyers and now they've sent a gunman around to drive him off." That making him talk to lawyers is somehow equivalent to putting manure in his well and sending a gunman to drive him off struck me as a memorable and somehow hilarious concept. (Mind you, the lawyers to whom I've quoted the line have universally been unamused; maybe I'm just not up to Jane Fonda's delivery. Come to think of it, maybe that's another lesson learned: Don't quote Cat Ballou to lawyers.) In any case, that's the first lesson I've learned from all this: If you can, settle matters out of court. While reading legal repartee can be amusing for spectators, it's apparently not that much fun for the guy on the witness stand or the guy paying the attorneys.

Speaking of being a spectator, though, I must say attending a trial virtually from start to finish fascinated me. For example, there was an objection repeatedly used in the 2002 case that I'd never come across in any fictional account of a trial: It was something about (hey, it's been eight years) not having a witness repeat something that was in the documents the jury was given as evidence - because that would be redundant. Or something. Point is: If you can, attend a trial from start to finish. Even if your memories grow as foggy as mine, you'll learn something about the judicial process, and I saw it from jury selection to verdict. (That, by the way, is more than the jury does - since its members are occasionally sent out of the courtroom while lawyers argue something.)

Expand your circle of friends, if you get the chance. I'd never met writer Brian Holguin before June 14, but now we're Facebook Friends, and he was kind enough to provide some comments on what transpired that day. The world of comics is a world in which people read for pleasure (and, if you don't think that's an unusual trait, you're fortunate and living in a pretty exclusive environment). There are a lot of people you haven't met yet who can enrich your life.

Be civil. My impression was that neither Todd nor Neil was happy to be sitting in a courtroom. Their attorneys were pitted against each other, each determined to make the best case for their client. But everyone throughout the proceedings was polite, responsive, and helpful. People held doors for each other.

If you're going to be collaborating on a creative work, ask yourself whether you should have a contract. Should I have led with this? I've written and edited for more than 27 years almost exclusively on a work-for-hire basis. That's one way to make a living. I own most of what I wrote before that. That's another way to make a living. In either case, it's a good idea to agree on what you're getting into while you're getting into it.

Here's the thing: I've been a fan of Neil Gaiman's work since I read Ghastly beyond Belief, which he put together with Kim Newman for Arrow Books in 1985 (and which he tells me will probably never be reprinted). I've been a fan of Neil Gaiman himself since I first met him; he seems to be able unceasingly to make the world a better place. I think I came to fully appreciate Todd's professionalism when I interviewed him just before Spider-Man #1 came out - and his art when he discussed his approach to creation in an interview he did with Stan Lee. Todd is one of the few people who has ever changed one of my attitudes toward convention duties. (Long story. It was a great lecture at a long-ago convention.) I know there's a tendency to look on all this as some sort of entertainment for the rest of us - but it's not an entertainment for them. Just saying ...



Tasha Robinson,  July 13, 2010 at 9:18 PM  

I'd be quite interested in a follow-up post at some point with that long story about how Todd changed your mind about convention duties. Sounds fascinating!

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