Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. is suing Dynamite over the company’s Lord of the Jungle and Warlord of Mars comics. This is especially timely with the new John Carter movie coming up, but Tarzan’s also part of the deal.
Apparently Dynamite has been operating under what Tom Spurgeon calls ” the generally accepted notion in a lot of geek circles that someone can work with a trademarked property if they don’t exploit the trademark.” In other words, since the original stories are in the public domain (at least in the US where Dynamite’s comics are published), then – again, it’s “generally accepted” – you can make new stories about those characters as long as you don’t put Tarzan’s name in the title of the book.
That seems like a dangerous assumption to make, especially when a) companies like Dark Horse and Marvel are actually paying for the rights to adapt those stories, and b) – as Heidi MacDonald points out – Dynamite has already tried to obtain rights legally and been turned down. If you’re interested, you can read the entire suit at Heidi’s link.
A third danger to this assumption has to do with the way the characters are portrayed in the unlicensed comics, especially Warlord of Mars‘ Dejah Thoris. It was specifically mentioned in ERB, Inc’s legal complaint that the Burroughs family “takes specific issue with some of the covers and interior art for Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris, insisting they ‘border on (and in some cases are) pornographic.'” They mention the character’s appearing topless on certain variant covers, which sounded weird to me at first. After all, both Dejah Thoris and John Carter run around naked through most of A Princess of Mars. But, as Sleestak pointed out to me on Twitter, Dynamite’s covers have sometimes gone beyond simple nudity. That kind of takes “exploiting” these characters to another level and it’s not surprising that the Burroughs estate took notice. It’ll be interesting to watch this develop, especially – as Heidi in particular points out in her post – considering the larger conversation currently going on about creators’ rights.