Todd McFarlane Sues Ex-Employee Claiming to Be Inspiration of 'Spawn' Character (Exclusive)
A new lawsuit shows the bizarre things that can happen when the creator of a famous entertainment franchise employs someone who shares a character's name.
Here's proof that truth can imitate fiction.
In the 1990s, Todd McFarlane hit it big with a comic book character named Al Simmons, an intelligence officer and assassin for the U.S. government who is killed and then returns to Earth after making a pact with the Devil. Then, the character turns against Hell's army.
In real life, McFarlane is now suing a former employee who so happens to be also named Al Simmons. According to a lawsuit lodged in Arizona federal court, this Simmons came out with a book entitled, The Art of Being Spawn, where Simmons purportedly suggests that his own life was the inspiration for the popular Spawn character. As a result, McFarlane is now claiming that Simmons has violated the terms of his employment pact and breached his duty of loyalty.
In a coincidence on par with Stan Lee employing (and then suing) a guy named Tony Stark (for, say, being a renegade employee), Todd McFarlane Productions says it really had someone named Al Simmons employed at the company. The production company also employeed his wife, Melanie Simmons, working as an executive in its human resources department, who is also named as a defendant.
But McFarlane is adamant that Al Simmons is not the Al Simmons even if this kismet was enough to have necessitated a waiver when McFarlane's famous comic book first came out.
"Al Simmons, who was flattered and eagerly gave his consent to McFarlane in 1993 for his name to be a part of 'Spawn,' was not the inspiration for 'Spawn's' central character and no one has ever confused the character with Defendant Al Simmons," says the lawsuit. "Curiously, Defendant Al Simmons has, over the years, as 'Spawn' enjoyed popularity, remarked on how his association with Plaintiffs has provided him with some name recognition or notoriety, where he had none before 'Spawn.'"
McFarlane says that in early 2011, Simmons told him that he was going to write an autobiography. The comic book writer says he questioned the decision, but told his employee that he was ok with it so long as the book was accurate with regards to the company, Simmons' obligations were honored and it was written on Simmons' free time.
Later that year, Simmons requested and got McFarlane's cooperation for a background discussion for purposes of preparing the book. McFarlane was suspicious.
The book came out earlier this year, and now, McFarlane doesn't like what he sees.
"Defendant Simmons has, in effect, traded on Plaintiffs' fame, brand and copyright protected creation, and now is deliberately using falsities in the Book to further attempt to improperly capitalize and infringe upon the McFarlane Companies' property interests and McFarlane's name, likeness and identity."
McFarlane is now suing for libel because he alleges the book damages his reputation and goodwill. He's suing for misappropriation of trade secrets because Simmons allegedly violated contractual obligations by disclosing proprietary information about McFarlane's companies.
Simmons is also being sued for unfair competition for doing stuff like using the words "with contributions by Spawn Creator Todd McFarlane" on the cover and using McFarlane's name throughout the book.
The other causes of action are breach of fiduciary duty, false endorsement, false advertising and trademark and copyright infringement.
McFarlane is asking for an injunction, an order compelling the inspection of defendants' computers for company information and damages at least $75,000.
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @eriqgardner
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