African-American Female Joker

I’ve never been a big comic book fan and rarely read them.

With that said, I stumbled across this (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/hihosilverworks/birth-of-a-joker-a-dc-fancomic/description) and really like the idea. I hope she’s successful with it.

I hope she isn’t.

First off, this is straight-up intellectual property theft. She calls it a “fan comic”, but she’s charging money. She also calls it a “non-profit”, but what makes it a non-profit? She’s getting money for it. It’s a commercial product. For which she’s stealing someone else’s creative work.

I also don’t think it’s quite as original as she seems to think it is. African-American Joker, gender-bender Joker, Joker as a sympathetic anti-hero, psychosocial examination of henchmen and their milieu - it’s all be done, and in official DC Batman projects, no less. To be fair, her particular approach does seem original, and it may well be a story worth telling. But she’s using someone else’s creative work to do it.

Which is also just unnecessary. Comic books have a decades-long history of wink-wink, nudge-nudge totally-not-Batman characters. Both DC and Marvel do this all the time, with each other’s characters and with their own. So do indy comics creators. Maybe when she gets a Cease & Desist letter from Warner, she and her artist will be able to revamp their characters and allude to the Batman mythos instead of just stealing it.

Finally, as a Kickstarter project, it’s just not good. Caveat: I am extremely familiar with the Tabletop Games category on Kickstarter, but have only a passing familiarity with the Comic Books category, so maybe this sort of project presentation is the norm. But…there’s just some vague story notes and a handful of character concept sketches. No indication that she’s done even cursory research into printing and distribution - who is going to print this? How is she going to handle fulfillment and delivery? And $50 for a physical copy of a 22-24 page comic? That’s just ridiculous. And other common markers of a first-time creator who doesn’t understand Kickstarter, like a reward level for extraneous rewards like stickers and scripts.

She has raised over $2000, which is much more successful than I would have expected (but, again, I’m not very familiar with the Comic Book Kickstarter category), but Kicktraq has it projected to only reach about $3800, far short of the $6000 goal. It’s highly unlikely to succeed.

The same way all other fan projects work. Just because something costs money to produce doesn’t mean it’s for-profit. The money involved is to fund the project, not to purchase the items–that’s how crowdfunding works.

I would presume this comic will be available online for free, same as most other fan comics. It’s just that those who back the project get, as a bonus, a printed copy. You don’t “pay” for items in crowdfunding situations: you donate money to the project to help it be completed. The rewards are always bonuses, not the thing you actually paid for.

Sure, DC would be within their rights to shut this down, but it would be far from the first higher budget fan project I’ve seen, and all of those had to raise money in some way. Plus I’m not sure that, in 2020, they’d actually want to draw attention to shutting down a comic that’s going to be about fighting racial injustice.

And, sure, she could turn it into a non-DC property, but then it wouldn’t be what she said in the video that started all of it. It wouldn’t be the fan design she came up with. It wouldn’t be her dream.

As a moral concept, I fail to see how this is stealing. It may be intellectual property infringement, but stealing means that you’ve deprived someone else of something that is theirs. I find it really hard to argue that her little fan project would actually harm DC in any way, let alone the actual people who created Batman and the Joker in 1939. Heck, that’s why fan works tend to be left alone—they actually help the property. You have fans who are so engaged they want to do all this stuff.

Morality is all about harm and fairness, and it’s hard to argue that this is harmful or unfair to DC Comics. And that’s without getting into copyright, since Batman and the Joker are so old now that the original creators would expect them to have been public domain for 25 years now. (Copyright at the time was for 28 years with a 28 year extension.)

I hope it succeeds. I hope DC is nice about it, and realizes they won’t in any way be harmed, and that their brand might actually suffer more harm for making a big deal about going against a fanwork about racial injustice in 2020. If I were them, I’d explicitly grant permission.

That is not what “non-profit” means. Where are the assurances that all moneys collected after the project is funded will be plowed back into project itself instead of distributed to the creators?
Also, intellectual property theft is still intellectual property theft, especially when send stolen property is sold and not given away. If/when this project is paid for by the crowdfunding, who gets the money from the sale of the books?

She hasn’t formed a non-profit corporation. Which is granted a bit much to ask for a small project like this. But her budget is also completely opaque. Other than a bald assertion that this is a “non-profit” project, there’s absolutely nothing to go by to indicate that. The costs for a project like this are largely fixed. What is she going to do with the excess funds? Is the artist being paid? Unless he’s donating his time and just charging for materials, someone’s making money. The area with variable costs depending on response level is the physical rewards, for which she’s charging $50 plus at least $4 shipping for a 24-page comic. If this project actually funds, she’s going to have a lot of money over costs to produce the product. Where is it going?

And, again, I’m not very familiar with indie comics on Kickstarter, but in the other areas I’m familiar with, that is absolutely not how crowdfunding works. I put up money to help get a specific product manufactured because I want that specific product, not out of a general desire to do good and donate money to a worthy cause.

She never indicates that will be the case. If she does want to do that, it seems like Patreon would be a better route, but that’s admittedly a technical dispute over the pros and cons of specific crowd-funding models and platforms.

Again, I’m not that familiar with indie comic projects on Kickstarter, but, again, in the other Kickstarter categories I am familiar with, that is absolutely not how that works. Projects, at the least the ones that actually fund, give you the rewards at or below retail. Kickstarter loves to repeat that it is not a store-front or pre-order system, but in practical terms, it more or less is.

As I’ve said, I’m not very familiar with crowdfunding for indie comics. Are there really other “fan comics” that use existing IP to raise thousands of dollars?

Whether DC/Warner actually decides to issue a C&D is, of course, up to them.

If her dream is to use someone else’s intellectual property, then maybe she won’t get her dream. Life is sometimes unfair like that. And again, using a wink-wink, nudge-nudge Totally-Not-Batman costumed crimefighter in a Totally-Not-Gotham dystopian gothic-noir city is something that is done all the time. If her story really needs to specifically be about the actual Batman in the actual Gotham City, then she just might not be able to tell her story, at least not if she wants to charge money for it.

Will this particular project directly harm DC Comics or Warner Media? Almost certainly not. But if anyone can just call something a fan project and then use DC Comics IP however they want and charge money for it, that absolutely does harm DC. It’s a dilution of their brand, if nothing else. It also leverages the intellectual capital DC and Warner have created over decades without compensating DC/Warner for it. That’s theft. It’s not “I stole your car” theft, it’s intellectual property rights theft, which I agree is in a different moral category, but it’s still wrong.

Maybe it’s not how copyright law used to work. Maybe it’s not how copyright law should work. But it’s how copyright law works now. It’s also how the law on Registered Trademarks work, which she’s also violating. I’ll let you argue with DC/Warner about whether Batman should be in the public domain, and with Bill Finger’s estate about who should be able to profit from his creative work. The brute fact remains that Batman, under current U.S. and international intellectual property law, is not in the public domain.

Well, that’s nice of you to volunteer someone else’s intellectual property. To be clear, I have absolutely nothing against this project as such. I really do hope the creator is successful in telling the stories she wants to tell. But this is absolutely the wrong way to go about doing it.

Also, if DC does decide this is a worthy project and gives it an official approval, or just decides it’s not worth worrying about and ignores it, that’s their look-out. If they’re ok with the project on IP grounds, then I absolutely withdraw my objection on those grounds.

It’s still just a bad Kickstarter project, though. No information on fulfillment. Is she going through itch.io? DriveThruComics? Is she handling everything personally, and just emailing PDFs and personally packing and mailing physical rewards? For small project like this, that’s doable, but it really should be something she at least mentions.

And then there’s that Risk and Challenges section. If a Kickstarter creator claims that there are no risks or challenges, that’s a HUGE red flag that they don’t really know what they’re doing. Just off the top of my head, she has a single artist attached to this project. What if he gets sick? Or gets a better paying gig and puts this one on the back burner? Or just flakes out? Or the thousand and one other things that have derailed the art work on a thousand and one other Kickstarter projects? And back to fulfillment, she’s creating physical rewards and shipping them worldwide(!). Does she have a printing contract? Has she even made preliminary contacts? Who is the contract with? If she does, what happens if a bigger order bumps hers? What happens if the printer suffers shutdowns or delays due to, I dunno, a global pandemic? There’s just no sign of awareness of any of this.

And 1C0B (first created, zero backed) is another HUGE red flag. She seems to be using her personal Kickstarter account for this. 1C0B means that she has no experience with Kickstarter, as a creator or a backer. That’s kind of important. It also means she also hasn’t bothered to back any other indie creators before asking for thousands of dollars for her own work, which is a bit of a violation of the informal social contract on Kickstarter.

Unless there’s something I’m missing about this situation, I will be very surprised if she does not get a cease and desist letter from Warner. I myself received one from them for publishing an app which played Grateful Dead songs which are hosted on archive.org. My app merely simplified something you can do in any browser, but Warner Music claimed my app infringed on their copyright and they would demand royalties from me if I didn’t take the app down. They seem to be pretty hard-nosed about their intellectual property.

Yeah, most of my Facebook feed is black indie comic creators. This isn’t well thought out or fleshed out in comparison. And it’d be wise of them to change this to Clownface vs. Night Knight or whatever.

If her dream is to write stories about DC Comics characters, wouldn’t the way to achieve that dream be to get a job at DC?

Oh, yeah? Well I am going to make an African American female Joker with a wooden leg and a lisp who is also a devout Muslim!

You’ll need an Audra McDonald or Patina Miller to pull that one off. What am I saying? Just make a Serena Williams biopic.

UPDATE: The project failed to meet its $6000 goal by the deadline, December 15. It did manage to raise a little more than $3000, which honestly surprises me.

How about an lesbian, emo, overweight, goth rebel? https://www.msn.com/en-us/movies/news/first-look-at-i-am-not-starfire-introduces-starfires-goth-teen-daughter/ar-BB1bK9t3?ocid=uxbndlbing

What about it? This isn’t a revamped version of an existing character, it’s an original character that happens to be related to a version of an existing character. She’s also not really “ticking boxes” - she’s just the inverse of the chirpy version of Starfire from the Cartoon Network Teen Titans.