When it comes to Amazon Prime Video’s animated hit Invincible — based on the Image Comics series of the same name — the biggest battle might not be the one between the title character and his estranged father Omni-Man, but instead a real-life legal battle between the men responsible for the comic in the first place.
Last month, a federal judge ruled that a long-standing lawsuit brought by William Crabtree — who colored the first 50 issues of the comic book series — could move forward; at the core of the case is a simple question: did co-creator of Invincible, Robert Kirkman, swindle Crabtree out of royalties for his work, including monies potentially owed to him because of the show?
Crabtree initially filed suit against Kirkman in January 2022, alleging that the two had an oral agreement that Crabtree would receive 20% of profits from comic book sales, and 10% of any revenue from a potential adaptation of the work in other media — but that Crabtree had been fraudulently convinced to sign a contract naming Kirkman as sole author in 2005, in order to make any adaptation more likely to happen.
“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 January 2022 filing claimed.
Officially, both Kirkman and artist Cory Walker are named as co-creators of Invincible; Walker works as a lead designer on the animated series. Crabtree, whose credit as colorist was listed on covers for the series, is not named as a co-creator of the property by Skybound or Amazon Prime Video.
A ruling issued by U.S. District Judge Maame Ewusi-Mensah Frimpong on November 22 dismissed the idea that Crabtree had been defrauded, but allowed two important elements of Crabtree’s initial claims to proceed: that the initial oral contract had been breached, and that the 2005 agreement signed by Crabtree should be invalid due to a lack of payment. Both elements will head to a jury trial, set to begin February 20, 2024.
This isn't the first time that Kirkman has faced a similar lawsuit; the writer was sued for similar reasons by Tony Moore, the original artist on The Walking Dead comic book series, but that lawsuit was settled before it ever made it to trial.
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