Comics, FYI

By Graeme McMillan

Schrödinger's Warhammer



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Comics, FYI
Schrödinger's Warhammer
By Graeme McMillan • Issue #41 • View online
Is Marvel really cutting back on external licenses? Plus: Gender Queer vs. Virginia, and an update on the United Workers of Seven Seas.

The combination of external deadlines, early closures for holiday weekends meaning that I’m almost certainly not going to get responses to outstanding emails before next week, and sheer exhaustion mean that it’s another grab bag of topics this time out. I apologize in advance…?
Those who read last week’s newsletter about the Conan comic book rights may remember that Fredrik Malmberg, the president of Heroic Signatures – the company that controls the Conan property – said that it was Marvel’s decision not to renew the license beyond the end of 2022. Specifically, Malmberg told me, “​​The message we got was that they decided to not pursue licensed characters.”
That’s the kind of thing that catches the attention, especially when it’s followed by someone pointing out that Marvel hasn’t been soliciting any Warhammer 40,000 comics past January’s Warhammer 40,000: Sisters of Battle #5. My curiosity was piqued: could it actually be the case that Marvel was dropping licensed properties beyond those already owned by Disney*? Really?
My first stop in looking into this was checking in with Games Workshop, which owns Warhammer 40,000, and this is where things begin to get strange. I asked, pretty clearly, does Marvel still have a license for comics based on Warhammer 40,000? A few days later, I get the following in response via email: “We do indeed hold the license.” 
To be honest, this confused me: I hadn’t asked if Games Workshop held the license, but if Marvel did. I replied, asking for clarification and confirmation that this meant that Marvel didn’t have the license, but the response was equally vague. “All I’m able to confirm is that Games Workshop holds the license.” 
So… Games Workshop appears to be saying that it has the license, and… maybe that Marvel doesn’t, anymore…? I had asked, twice, if Marvel still had a license to publish Warhammer 40,000 comics, and had been told, twice, that Games Workshop did. It’s not a definitive answer, not least because more than one company can hold the license for a particular property – see also Star Wars and Conan, the rights to both of which are split across at least two companies** – but, by being unable or unwilling to say yes when asked on two different occasions, it certainly felt as if Games Workshop was implying that Marvel doesn’t have the license anymore.
I’ll cut to the chase: That’s not what Marvel believes.
Even as I was going back and forth with Games Workshop, I was also talking to people at Marvel, asking directly if it was cutting back on licensed properties. The response from those in the know was, to paraphrase, “Maybe you didn’t notice that we’ve just announced a new Ultraman miniseries, or that we’re about to launch a new adaptation of the Wild Cards prose series, and there’s also that Fortnite crossover we’re launching in a couple of weeks, so, no, we’re definitely still pursuing licensed characters.” 
I asked specifically about Warhammer, only to be told, no, after looking specifically into the matter, Marvel still has that license too. 
So, the primary takeaway from this exercise is that, despite what Heroic Signatures suggested last week, Marvel isn’t moving away from licensing out other people’s properties at any point in the near future. The secondary takeaway is that I’m not entirely sure what Games Workshop thought I was asking, or whether there’s genuinely some confusion over just who gets to publish Warhammer 40,000 comics.
Either way, my dream of Marvel managing to publish collected editions of the Bill Mantlo Micronauts run without Disney having to buy Hasbro first*** is not dead yet.
* Let’s remember that, even if it’s only leaving Disney-owned licenses on the table, that still means that Marvel can publish Star Wars, Alien, and Predator comic books of the titles it’s currently putting out there; that’s not only “not nothing,” that’s arguably the spine of Dark Horse’s output for much of the 1990s in those three properties alone. (That list is pretty much guaranteed to grow when promotion for the new Avatar movies means that Marvel will almost certainly be announced as the new license holder for the James Cameron property; it’s owned by 20th Century movies, which is to say, Disney.)
** Star Wars, technically, is licensed out to three different publishers when it comes to comics: Marvel has the rights for spin-offs and adaptations, but Disney Publishing also has the rights to publish English language editions of adaptations originally published outside of the U.S. Meanwhile, Dark Horse currently has the rights for original all-ages material based on Star Wars. It’s far from straightforward. 
*** I write that as if Disney wouldn’t buy Hasbro in a second if the price was right and the opportunity arose.
A subject that I suspect I’ll be returning to in upcoming weeks is the legal battle in Virginia over whether or not Maia Kobabe’s Oni Press book Gender Queer: A Memoir is obscene, following a retired judge finding “probable cause” for that to be the case. 
Gender Queer is many things – most notably, a well-done exploration into gender identity that manages to be both educational and profoundly moving – but, according to Republican delegate and attorney Timothy Anderson, it is also “hypersexual” and “extremely vulgar,” and therefore needs to be removed from the reach of minors for fear of… reflecting their lived existences, I guess…? The tentative opinion that the book might be obscene offered by retired judge Pamela Baskervill* has allowed Anderson and Republican congressional candidate Tommy Altman to seek temporary restraining orders against the sale of the book, as well as a fantasy novel called A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas, with a view to outright banning the sale or loan of the book throughout the entire state of Virginia**.
This week, the American Booksellers for Free Expression condemned Baskervill’s opinion, pointing out that the last time a book was actually banned for being obscene was more than 50 years ago and suggesting that the opinion threatens First Amendment rights based on the opinion of a small number of people, one of whom happens to be currently running for public office***.
As things stand, Oni and Bloomsbury, the publisher of A Court of Mist and Fury, have a brief period to supply counterarguments against the obscene definition, after which, a final decision will be made. Like I said; expect this to be something that I come back to sooner rather than later.
* The reason a retired judge is ruling on this case is, apparently, that all sitting judges have recused themselves from the case, something that raises all kinds of flags about just how reasonable this whole thing is in the first place.
** I’ve seen smarter people than me imply that, should the book be officially classified as obscene, simply owning a copy might open yourself up to potential action. Which, if true, is very much a holy shit moment.
*** If you’re curious, Altman’s campaign website rails against the “cult of Woke,” and decries government overreach that ruins “​​family life, religious life, business activity, and community,” because of course it does. Banning books, though, is apparently completely fine and not overreaching anything in any way.
An update on Wednesday’s newsletter arrived via the Twitter account of United Workers of Seven Seas yesterday, when it shared the following: “Seven Seas Entertainment (@gomanga) has informed us that it will not voluntarily recognize United Workers of Seven Seas.”
Today, the group added more information (starting with this tweet): “Because Seven Seas Entertainment (@gomanga) refuses to voluntarily recognize our union, we will be proceeding to election with the NLRB. Seven Seas Entertainment has a deadline with the NLRB to provide their statement of position. They can employ delay tactics but they cannot stop the NLRB election process from moving forward. Our election could be any where from 4 to 12 weeks from now (or longer) depending on how hard they fight us. Time and money wasted by @gomanga delaying the NLRB election could be better spent working TOGETHER with our union to improve working conditions, benefits, and company infrastructure for all staff and freelancers. Again, it’s not too late for Seven Seas Entertainment to recognize us voluntarily. We ask that you continue emailing, writing, and tweeting at @gomanga to request the company voluntarily recognize @_UW7S. #SevenSeizeTheMeansOfProduction”
This is literally the most minor part of the whole thing, but between #OurFlagMeansUnion and #SevenSeizeTheMeansOfProduction, my hat is off to whoever’s behind the hashtags at UW7S.
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Graeme McMillan

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