Gaiman v. McFarlane 2010: Stock Characteristics

Sunday, July 4, 2010

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

Part Thirteen Todd McFarlane's attorney Alex Grimsley said, "You admitted that Medieval Spawn is derived from the character Spawn?" Neil Gaiman responded, "I don't admit it. I avow it. It's a derivative character. ... That's the point." Grimsley spoke of Medieval Spawn toys and comic-book images as having spikes, an "M" on the chest, green eyes, and the Spawn logo on the shield. He asked Gaiman whether there were aspects of Medieval Spawn that Gaiman had drawn on from other works. "Things that I drew on to create the Medieval Spawn would include Barbara Tuchman's book A Distant Mirror; many visits as an English child to museums, to Hever Castle [Anne Boleyn's childhood home, parts dating from 1270, others dating to the 1500s], which, although it's actually very, very late medieval, early Renaissance, has lots of great armor and things like that; going to the Tower of London; reading Thomas Malory [author of Le Morte d'Arthur]; and so on and so forth." "You have a general understanding of what a knight in armor should be and what he should do, correct, from your background in life?" "From reasonably extensive reading, and, yes, being a human being on this planet." "For instance, a knight in armor will typically ride a horse because that was the means of transportation 800 years ago, right?" "The horse and also the cart were definitely means of transportation 800 years ago." "Right. The cart being pulled by a horse or donkey or oxen or some other beast?" "Goat." "I mean so some of that is just based on the time period?" "Sure. He's not in a car."

Grimsley tried to introduce a connection between Gaiman's Timothy Hunter character in Books of Magic (December 1990-March 1991) and J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter character (1997-2007), but objections on grounds of relevance were sustained. Grimsley continued, "In creating characters there are certain stock characteristics that you might apply to the endeavor, depending on the nature of the character. ... Let's take a knight in armor. You might have armor, right?" Gaiman replied, "If he's a knight in armor, he would definitely have armor. If he didn't have armor, he would be a knight not in armor." Grimsley asked, "If you were creating a mobster, he might have an Italian or Sicilian accent?" "Probably not. ... I don't think I've ever created any Sicilian or Italian mobsters. I've written a lot of criminals." Grimsley said, "I'm trying to take a hypothetical. Let's say you were creating a character as a judge. They might wear a black robe." Gaiman responded, "Well, if they were in an American courtroom, of course, they wear a black robe. But that's not a stock character. That's part of what they wear." Grimsley said, "Well, I know judges who wear other colors, but you might -" Gaiman said, "I don't. I only remember Judge Shabaz. [See my postings from June 27.] They are very different. I can't see that I could create a stock judge from Judge Shabaz and Judge Crabb." Judge Crabb responded, "Thank you. Appreciate my individuality."

Returning to the question of whether there were any stock characteristics of a knight in armor, Gaiman answered, "No, because you'd have - It depends who's in the armor, what they're doing. ... I mean, I could sit here and come up with a dozen different kinds of knight-in-armor characteristics. ... You know, even in the Arthurian legends, there are hundreds of knights at the round table and they're all very different. You can't point to Gawain and say he's like Galahad or Lancelot going mad. They're very different people. You have an impulse for good for most of them, but, then, you have knights in armor who were evil or bad or whose motives are mixed up and conflicted."

Grimsley went on to focus on details of the life of Medieval Spawn, bringing up story elements that had not been part of Gaiman's original script for Spawn #9. "I always hoped," Gaiman said, "that they'd come up with something good after I left, that Todd would go in and make up a good backstory for him. ... I mean, if you're writing a comic, you create characters. You don't always create their entire life story. Bruce Wayne as Batman wasn't all there in Detective Comics #27. It comes in a bit at a time, but it's still the Batman created [in Detective #27]."

Grimsley asked whether Gaiman had written Medieval Spawn's dialogue. "Oh, yes." "So you wrote the way he speaks." "Yes." "And he speaks in a fairly stilted, maybe old-fashioned manner?" "He speaks in a sort of slightly old-fashioned manner, yes." [For a look at all of Medieval Spawn's dialogue, see my posting of Part Twelve from July 3.] "His speech is consistent in that manner through all of his appearances [in that comic]?" "Yes. He doesn't suddenly start talking like a Todd or something." "Or you." "Or me."



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