Why you should never trust a comic-book publisher (unless his name is Frank Bieser)

17. September 2005

Some comics fans searching back-issue lists for their favorite Marvel Comics mutant, the cajun-talking, card-throwing Gambit, may stumble across copies of a somewhat older GAMBIT, which was written and drawn by yours truly, back in 1986 and 1987.

Back in 1985, actually, I conceived a superhero/space-opera concerning a scientist who is accidentally imbued with mind-over-matter powers (sort of like Gary Mitchell was in the second Star Trek pilot), and his friends who were a bunch of merry anarchists flying around the galaxy in this really enormous starship (sort of like Tom Paine Maru, but I didn’t read that book until 25 years later, I swear to Eris), battling an evil galactic empire (sort of like in Star Wars), which I called “The Autarky.”

During the first “black & white” boom I sought out and in 1985 found a publisher for the story, and two issues were published before that publisher went out of business. I never got the artwork back for the second issue (the printer held it because he didn’t get paid for the print job either).

I was induced by this publisher (some nimrod whose name escapes me now) to go and file a trademark on the name GAMBIT, which seemed silly at the time but had important implications later.

The following year I hooked up with Malibu Graphics, and after several months working on other projects I persuaded them to publish GAMBIT again under its “Eternity” imprint in 1987, and they agreed to alter the usual contract so that I could keep the trademark (usually Malibu filed and kept trademarks, creators filed and kept copyrights).

GAMBIT didn’t sell well enough for Malibu to keep publishing it after the first issue, but I did wind up with several dozen copies which I used to show editors and art directors my work.

In February 1988 I went to a comic-book convention in New Orleans, which was also attended by Tom DeFalco, then editor-in-chief at Marvel. We spoke briefly and I gave him copies of both the Eternity GAMBIT and the earlier versions.

Later that year I moved to southern California, and shortly afterward I got the job at game developer Interplay Productions, and I mostly forgot about GAMBIT. But in the spring of 1990 a friend of mine, it might have been Charles Weidman, told me that there was now a character named “Gambit” in the X-Men.

I went to our regular comic-book shop and searched the back-issues, and found in The Uncanny X-Men #266, that they did indeed introduce a mutant character named Gambit, under very suspicious circumstances: 1) The setting was in New Orleans, where I had met wtih DeFalco; 2) Ororo was the X-MEN member who met Gambit, and she had been altered to more closely resemble the female lead in my story (Gem Bel-Sonnec); 3) The “Gambit” character bore a fairly strong resemblance to my male lead character, Sean Jaxton — you don’t see this in the cover shot, but in several interior scenes Jaxton wears a calf-length coat very much like Marvel’s Gambit character.

First I called David Olbrich, publisher at Malibu, about the situation. He was very discouraging, telling me that Marvel’s lawyers were real bull-dogs, and as my book had not been published in three years, I would not get any satisfaction from them. So I found a lawyer anyway, and at first he seemed very optimistic about at least getting a settlement, but as weeks passed he seemed to lose interest. And when my first-born male child came along in October that year, I got way too busy to pursue the matter and let it drop.

A couple of years after that I learned that Malibu was being bought out by Marvel. I have always wondered whether Olbrich’s pessimistic remarks to me were perhaps tinged by consideration for early negotiations for that deal, but I haven’t had any contact with him since that time. Or with DeFalco, or with Chris Claremont, who is credited with writing that X-MEN issue.

I’d just say fuck ‘em all and forget about it, except that I do hope to bring that story back someday, and when I do I’ll have to come up with a new name!

Kategorie Posts | 8 Kommentare »

8 Kommentare zu diesem Beitrag

  John L Robinson schrieb @ September 18th, 2005 at 12:43 am

Love the blog, love the comics. I’m a fellow agorist from the left libertarian list. One question: Why would you need to do the comic under a new name. If you started it again, and still held the trademark, and nated the situation somewhere (like on the comic’s website, perhaps), wouldn’t the burden of proof be on Marvel to dispute it?

  Scott Bieser schrieb @ September 18th, 2005 at 1:21 am

Thanks for the kind words, John.

The reason I’d have to use a new name is, the way trademark law works, Marvel now owns the name “Gambit.” In order to keep a trademark you have to continually use it in trade, and defend it assiduously. I failed to do etiher.

If I revive the story, I could probably continue calling the starship “Gambit” but I’d have to use a different title for the book.

  Bill St. Clair schrieb @ September 18th, 2005 at 2:33 am


Nice new layout. One technical comment. It appears that your new layout puts the post date exactly one line below the article title. Hence, if the article title is long enough to wrap to a second line, that second line is overwritten by the post date, making the post date difficult to read. One fix: keep you titles short.

  odysseus schrieb @ September 18th, 2005 at 4:44 am

“I’d just say fuck ‘em all and forget about it, except that I do hope to bring that story back someday, and when I do I’ll have to come up with a new name!”

Why? You didn’t give up the trademark. You can still publish and if they give you grief, you have proof to the contrary.

  John Stone schrieb @ October 11th, 2005 at 10:49 pm

I’m a wannabe comic book writer….where’s a good place to start educating myself on copyright/trademark and other publishing need to knows? I appreciate any help I can get!

  Scott Bieser schrieb @ October 12th, 2005 at 12:14 am

Do you want to learn about writing, or publishing? For writing I’d recommend you check out DigitalWebbing.Com’s forums. They have a lot of information about how to get started writing.

The best place to learn every facet of publishing comics is David Law’s “Creating Comics” website, at http://www.members.shaw.ca/creatingcomics/publishing.html . It has a wealth of information on-site and lots of links to off-site sources.

  Adam Murray schrieb @ December 16th, 2006 at 8:19 am

if I was responsible for gambit, I wouldn’t be blogging about it, I’d be thankful my name was off the book and be whistling innocently, hands in my pockets. But to each their own, I guess

  Did Marvel Steal Gambit? — TaiNguyenMang.Com schrieb @ November 4th, 2010 at 3:48 am

[...] an intriguing story found online: Tom DeFalco, Marvel editor-in-chief, was given a published comic titled Gambit two years before [...]

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.