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Comic creator Robert Kirkman is being sued by an artist who says he was tricked into abandoning his copyright in Invincible and lost out on profits from the superhero franchise, which is now an Amazon Studios animated series.
William Crabtree says he co-created Invincible (as its colorist for the first 50 issues) and Kirkman in 2005 convinced him to surrender his ownership stake in under the guise of making it easier to sell to studios, according to a lawsuit filed Sunday in California federal court. The Invincible series, which includes a voice cast of Steven Yeun, J.K. Simmons and Sandra Oh, premiered in March and was renewed in August for two more seasons.
“Fraud and deceit has become a standard business practice for Kirkman and is apparently where his true creative aptitude lies,” claims attorney Devin McRae in the complaint, which is embedded below. McRae previously represented artist Tony Moore in a 2012 suit alleging Kirkman tricked him out of his interest in The Walking Dead, which amicably settled on undisclosed terms in less than two months.
Crabtree says he and Kirkman had an oral agreement that granted him 20 percent of single sale proceeds of Invincible and 10 percent of any revenue generated from “other film or television commercial exploitation of the Work together with any derivative projects based on the Work and any allied or ancillary rights in the Work.”
But, when it came to memorializing the deal in writing, Crabtree alleges a scheme by Kirkman and his agents to fraudulently induce him to assign his copyright interest over to Kirkman’s company. He says Kirkman approached him at the 2005 San Diego Comic-Con and presented him with a “Certificate of Authorship,” which purported to characterize all of his contributions as a “work-for-hire.” He said that he was in the final stages of licensing Invincible for television production and that having it represented by a single creator would increase its commercial viability.
“Kirkman falsely told Crabtree that Crabtree’s rights and financial interest in the Work would remain unchanged if he signed the Certificate of Authorship and that the document would simply allow Kirkman to market the licensure of the Work more easily, resulting in greater profits for both of them,” the lawsuit reads.
After the document was signed, the suit says, Kirkman continued to pay Crabtree for comic sales and in connection with licensure of the series by MTV for a television-based motion comic and by Paramount Pictures for a television and film option. But when Crabtree learned in 2020 that Amazon Studios was proceeding on a plan to launch a show, Kirkman informed him that he was not entitled to any monetary proceeds because he had no ownership interest in the series.
“When Crabtree questioned Kirkman about why Kirkman continued to pay Crabtree royalties on the Work for years after the Certificate of Authorship, Kirkman stated that those royalty payments were actually just ‘bonuses,’ that he paid at his discretion,” McRae writes.
Crabtree says he’s been denied access to profit statements in connection to the series, according to the complaint, which alleges fraud and breach of contract, among other claims. It seeks a judgment that Crabtree is a joint author of Invincible, an accounting of what he’s owed and punitive damages.
Representatives for Kirkman have not yet responded to requests for comment.
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