DeCarlo's Just Desserts? (6/28)
DeCarlo's Just Desserts? On May 26, 2000, the Wall Street
Journal carried an article about cartoonist Dan DeCarlo's being fired
by Archie Comics. This is a particularly odious blot on the
publisher's escutcheon because DeCarlo is not just any hack
cartoonist doing work-for-hire. DeCarlo's way of drawing set the
style for Archie comic books-and it did so for over 40 years.
DeCarlo did his first work for Archie
in 1952 in Betty and Veronica
No. 6 (in which Betty first appeared with the ponytail that became
her trademark). DeCarlo became a full-time Archie staffer in 1957. By
1969, V&B was Archie's best-selling title, even outselling Marvel's
Fantastic Four. And DeCarlo's artwork was undoubtedly a big factor.
DeCarlo's style, a streamlined adaptation
of Bob Montana's manner in
creating the Archie gang, became the house style, one of the most
readily recognizable cartooning styles in the world.
"At one point," DeCarlo recalled recently,
"they even made me
produce a seminar, once a week. They would videotape me drawing and
explaining how I do this, how I do that."
DeCarlo was fired because he filed a breech-of-contract
against Archie. He is seeking $250,000 damages because a forthcoming
film from Universal Pictures, "Josie and the Pussycats," is based
upon characters he created. Filming on the motion picture (planned
for summer 2001 release) is scheduled to begin this summer, starring
starring Rachel Leigh Cook and Parker Posey.
The suit also demands that DeCarlo be
given creator credit and 50
percent of the profits on all Josie and the Pussycats merchandise.
DeCarlo created Josie (named after his
wife) in about 1957 as a
newspaper comic strip, aiming at national syndication. He offered the
strip to Publishers Syndicate, but the syndicate wasn't interested.
Later, DeCarlo showed the strip to Archie's
Richard Goldwater, and
the two tried to sell the strip to King Features. Again,
unsuccessfully. Subsequently, Richard and his father, John,
that Josie would make a good comic book, and they asked if DeCarlo
would convert the feature to a comic book. Josie was added
Archie line-up in 1963. When Josie then formed an all-girl rock band
(the Pussycats), the feature quickly spun off an animated tv version
DeCarlo has never realized any real income
from such ventures. (He
also co-created Sabrina the Teenage Witch, which has spawned a hit
live-action tv show.) In his suit, he says there was an oral
agreement that he would get 5% royalty on all Josie ventures. And he
received various payments between 1966 and 1969-payments that serve
to establish the existence of the oral royalty agreement.
There was no written agreement between
DeCarlo and Archie until
1988, when a contract was executed that gave Archie the rights to all
comic book properties that DeCarlo produced for Archie. Another
agreement in 1996 defined "properties" as all of the characters,
artwork, stories, plots, trademarks, logos and other creative
expressions that appear in Archie Comics' comic strips and comic
books. "Works" was also defined-as all past, pending, and future uses
of these properties "including uses by Archie's licensees."
Archie contends that these agreements
cover their use of
DeCarlo-created characters in television and motion picture ventures.
DeCarlo contends that the agreement covers only comic book
strip productions, not television or motion pictures (since neither
of those outlets are mentioned in either of the agreements).
DeCarlo's lawsuit alleges that Archie
is now using the characters
DeCarlo created "for purposes other than newsstand comic books and
comic strips," and now DeCarlo wants in on the action.
Said DeCarlo: "This is a case about fairness,
really. Archie refused
to honor my rights as the creator of Josie and the Pussycats and was
trying to negotiate a deal to stop me attempting to sue and settle.
And if you stop to think about it, you're talking about my life's
Clearly, it created no little awkwardness
around the office to have
the cartoonist showing up periodically to turn in work and to pick up
new assignments. According to the publisher's lawyer, Charles Grimes,
Archie will be happy "to embrace" DeCarlo once the lawsuit is
settled. Until then, he explained, "It was hard on a day-to-day basis
to interact with him when he was allowing his attorney to pursue such
an aggressive posture."
DeCarlo said he was bringing in pencils
for a Betty and Veronica
story, "and I was trying to sneak out," when publisher Michael
Silberkleit handed him a letter. "It said 'you are no
longer needed here. We're terminating your services.'"
In a statement larded with craven attorneyese
designed to buttress
the Archie case rather than to shed light upon the circumstance,
Silberkleit maintains that Josie was co-created by Richard Goldwater
(a dubious assertion) and that DeCarlo has received "voluntary bonus
payments in recognition of his contribution to the creation of the
original Josie property," tossing in lawyerly lingo all along the way
("unfounded lawsuit," "unwarranted monetary relief"-c'mon,
Silberkleit: no one actually talks like this without some purely
Paul Dini, producer of the acclaimed animated
Superman, Batman and
Batman Beyond cartoons and award-winning comic book writer, says he
knows exactly why DeCarlo is digging in his heels about Josie.
"Every kid grew up with [the cartoon],"
he said."They all know the
Josie and the Pussycats song. There's a built-in audience, the movie
looks to reap millions. And they're going to have recording artists
do a hot soundtrack. To me, it's unconscionable that a company can't
share something with the man who created it."
"I'm sorry to see the end of this long
relationship," DeCarlo said.
"On behalf of all the other working cartoonists, I intend
to keep on
fighting for what's right."
"I think anyone who's worked for this
medium can relate to his
situation," Dini said. "We've seen it with [Superman creators] Siegel
and Schuster and we've seen it with [Marvel Comics creator] Jack
Kirby. Over the years, it's been 'shut up and do your work,' and now
it's 'shut up and get out.' A man doesn't need to hear that when he's
80 years old and has created two of the franchises that have kept
"In his own way," Dini went on, "He's
had a tremendous influence on
popular culture. Not every child embraces superhero comics. But every
kid has read an Archie comic at some point. You could argue that he
and [Disney comics artist] Carl Barks are the most widely seen comic
While he's doing some work for Bongo Comics,
DeCarlo isn't looking
to immediately fill the gap left by his Archie work.
"I'm enjoying this semi-retirement,"
he laughed. "I used to work six
days a week. I was a true workaholic."
"At some point," Dini said, "You've got
to say, this guy did right
by us for 45 years, it's time to do right by him."
Possibly the national attention given
to Archie's infamous action by
the Wall Street Journal will persuade the comic book publisher to do
the right thing. Here in this corner, we heartily hope so.
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