Howard the Duck
Released in 1986, the movie Howard the Duck bombed at the box office and received equally scathing reviews from critics. Yet the character Howard the Duck first appeared in writer Stephen Gerber’s Adventure into Fear: Man-Thing (#19) comic book series published by Marvel comics in December 1973 as an ancillary figure to the featured Man-Thing. In 1975, Gerber further developed the character of Howard the Duck into a “cigarsmoking, Kirkegaard-quoting duck who fights evil in fantasy worlds” for a comic book of the same name which ran from 1976 through 1979. Throughout the years, Howard fought villains ranging from the Savage Dragon to the Kidney Lady and even ran for president as part of the fictitious All-Night Party in 1976.
In 1978, Marvel removed Gerber from the series citing creative differences. Two years later, Gerber responded by suing the Marvel Corporation and its parent company Cadence Industries, Stan Lee and the writers associated with the series for copyright infringement in civil case 80-3840 tried in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California (Los Angeles). On November 5, 1982, Judge David V. Kenyon ruled in favor of the defendant stating that Gerber created Howard the Duck as part of “work for hire” agreement with Cadence Industries and as such, “Cadence owns all right, title and interest in and to the Character and the Works, including copyrights, trademarks, goodwill and the property rights pertaining thereto.” The two parties later reached a confidential settlement outside of court wherein Marvel retained its ownership of the character.
Today, the lawsuit serves as one of the first publicized legal battles over creator ownership. It helped spur the creation of the Creator’s Bill of Rights aimed at guarding creators against large corporations’ exploitative “work for hire” practices. The Bill of Rights and its stress on creator ownership in the 1980s influenced comic book creators such as Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman, creators of the widely-successful Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise, to self-publish comics rather than share their works with companies like Marvel.
The National Archives at Riverside holds this case among thousands of civil and criminal case files from southern California, Arizona, and Clark County, Nevada. We welcome you to explore these records and the many other series and subjects within our holdings.
From the holdings of the National Archives at Riverside, Records of the U.S. District Courts (RG 21)