PR: What Not to Do: Non-Exclusive Licenses

I know few people in comics pay attention to Moonstone, but they publish some neat pulp-influenced titles, including a comic book version of the long-running action hero the Phantom. They’ve been putting out the series in various formats since 2002.

Phantom panel

So they were somewhat surprised when, at the Chicago convention last month, Dynamite Entertainment announced that they’d be putting out a Phantom comic in 2009. When asked, Moonstone responded that they still had the license and were going to keep putting theirs out.

Moonstone contacted King Features and discovered that neither Moonstone or Dynamite had an exclusive license, so Moonstone could continue with its publishing program.

Dynamite responded by saying “we’ll wait until you’re finished, then,” announcing a two-year delay. But that wasn’t all! Dynamite’s Nick Barrucci gave a Newsarama interview where he made all kinds of insinuations about the competition:

it seems Joe [Gentile, of Moonstone] has jumped the gun on many of his claims. Joe made a situation, which could have been resolved amicably a bit uncomfortable for all parties. …

He was emotional, unfair to King Features and to Dynamite, as I do believe there could have been a more professional way to handle it. …

Although quite charmingly, Joe has been promoting Zorro as if he has the comic rights by not stating what he is publishing in his generic ads when he has no comic rights. …

We announced it, Joe got defensive, decided to go off on a soapbox without knowing all the particulars or stating all the facts accurately. He made the situation worse, King Features and I wanted to make the situation better.

Phantom image

Yeah, way to set a good example of professionalism there, Nick. And all while constantly claiming how his company is taking the high road and patting himself on the back for being a nice guy. You can’t prove it by this. And fans are noticing, with some going so far as to drop Dynamite publications after reading his comments.

So who screwed up? Who knows? It’s tempting, to conclude after Nick’s tirade, that Moonstone must be the nice guys, but we’ll likely never know the details. The lesson to take from this is threefold:

  1. If you’re going to pay for a license, make sure you’re the only one who can exploit it in your field.
  2. Ensure all the Ts are crossed before you go making public announcements.
  3. Be aware that sounding like a jerk when trying to give your version of the truth may backfire on you.

Update: Moonstone’s Joe Gentile responded to Nick’s comments in a statement that takes the high road.

9 Responses to “PR: What Not to Do: Non-Exclusive Licenses”

  1. Nat Gertler Says:

    And there’s really no problem with a non-exclusive license. At the moment, both IDW and Tokyopop have classic Star Trek license. In the past, we’ve seen things like Blackthorne and Marvel having simultaneous Star Wars licenses, or Blackthorne and Comico on Gumby (Blackthorne tended to reach out for the 3-D licenses, which weren’t covered within the exclusivity definition of the other publisher.) Scholastic is selling a lot of Bone, even though Cartoon Books still puts out their own edition. And there have frequently been multiple publishers putting out new collections of Peanuts strips.
    You should just be aware of that going in.

  2. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » July 15, 2008: A cute talking penis Says:

    […] Johanna Draper Carlson thinks that Dynamite Entertainment’s Nick Barrucci made a complete ass of himself over the […]

  3. Paul O'Brien Says:

    Hold on… “Moonstone contacted King Features and discovered that neither Moonstone or Dynamite had an exclusive license”?

    Do they really mean that? Because it’s the sort of thing I’d rather expect them to clarify when they agreed the licence fee.

  4. John Platt Says:

    Moonstone puts out a damn good product. They deserve more attention, but not for oddities like this.

  5. John DiBello Says:

    Nat hits it on the head as usual: non-exclusive licenses for popular properties are pretty common. In addition to the examples he states above, consider the fact that DC publishes authorized Batman books. And Del Rey. And Quirk. And DK. And Universe. And Berkley. And Prima. And HarperCollins. Etc.

  6. Johanna Says:

    When I was part of DC’s licensed pub department, there were several companies licensed to do (for example) Batman & Robin tie-ins… but they either did different products (coloring books vs. novels) or they had very different audiences (adult novels vs. kids’ chapter books). Nobody wants as much overlap as appears to have happened in this case.

  7. Tommy Raiko Says:

    Despite Moonstone and Dynamite’s back-and-forth, I’d be more interested to hear a statement from the licensor on this situation. To clarify their thinking on the situation, if nothing else…

  8. Nat Gertler Says:

    No one may want much overlap, but to be honest, I doubt Dynamite publishing The Phantom would hurt Moonstone much at all. The Phantom hardcore are going to buy the books anyway, and Moonstone has built apparently sufficient audience for their version of the character. If there is some audience who needs x amount of The Phantom per month and will simply choose whichever publisher would best suit their tastes, that would likely be balanced out by the greater additional publicity that Dynamite’s efforts would bring to the character.

  9. Carol Shepherd Says:

    Copyright law is a marvelous work of fiction which allows publishers and writers to serve the cake around before dividing it up, just as at the Mad Hatter’s tea party.

    Publishers write exclusive licenses all the time which so narrowly restrict the licensee’s uses, that many other ‘exclusive’ licenses can also be written. Everyone has an exclusive.

    No idea here what the actual language of the publisher’s contract is, that’s where the stupid publisher tricks will be found….

    Carol Shepherd, Attorney
    Arborlaw PLC




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