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Robert Kirkman Settles Lawsuit With Invincible Colorist Bill Crabtree

Colourist Bill Crabtree sued Robert Kirkman over ownership and rights to Invincible, in a legal case from 2022 that was settled last week.

Article Summary

  • Bill Crabtree and Robert Kirkman settle lawsuit over Invincible rights
  • Crabtree claimed co-authorship and says he was deceived by Kirkman into signing away rights
  • Kirkman denies allegations, disputes Crabtree's declared status as co-author
  • Settlement reached, with the detailed outcome pending official confirmation

The prominence and appreciation of comic book colourists have increased in recent years, with some sought after and headhunted, making a name for themselves, including the likes of Laura Martin, Tomeu Morey, and Tamra Bonvillain, with cover credit now standard, as well as some getting co-ownership deals on specific properties. But one recent legal case between Bill Crabtree and Robert Kirkman may bring the issue of the value of the colourist to the fore again.

In 2022, Bill Crabtree sued Robert Kirkman over rights regarding Invincible, published by Image Comics. The filing described Kirkman as a "comic book author cum television and film producer who has notoriously boasted in public interviews of swindling artists with whom he has collaborated out of their rights in their jointly created works". It gave examples of what might have been seen as jokey interview extracts.  The lawsuit also made comparison to the case of Tony Moore, who sued Robert Kirkman over rights to The Walking Dead and settled. However, in that case, Moore was the principal artist on the series rather than the colourist, making this a unique case.

Robert Kirkman Settles Lawsuit With Invincible Colorist Bill Crabtree
From Invincible #1 editorial page

Invincible became a successful comic at Image, turned into a motion comic from MTV and a successful animated TV series on Amazon, which has seen sales of the books rocket. The lawsuit states that the original contract ensured Crabtree would get 20% of sales of the comic, a minimum of $40 per page and 10% of revenues generated film or TV based on the comic. But that at San Diego Comic-Con in 2005,  Kirkman approached Crabtree with a Certificate of Authorship to transfer all rights and reframe Crabtree's work on the series as "work for hire", stating this was necessary when dealing with Hollywood studios to identify a single creator, but that "Our deal stays the same. This is just for the Hollywood people, so we can get paid."

Robert Kirkman Settles Lawsuit With Invincible Colorist Bill Crabtree
Filed lawsuit

Crabtree signed it, the lawsuit stated that he continued to get paid as agreed, as well as for the MTV webcomic, and for a Paramount option, but not for the Amazon series. He was told that Kirkman owned the work entirely, Crabtree was not entitled to anything, and any extra payments he had previously received were not royalties but bonuses.

Robert Kirkman filed a response repeatedly denying the substance of the case, that the interview snippets were out of context, and that Crabtree was not a co-author of Invincible "because he did not make a copyrightable contribution". Bill Crabtree called witnesses, including Invincible co-creator Cory Walker, Invincible artist Ryan Ottley, Tony Moore, and comics lawyer Harris M. Miller. Robert Kirkman also called Cory Walker and former DC Comics publisher Dan DiDio, who would have provided "expert testimony regarding customs and practices in the comic book industry for compensating colorists." A subpoena was also issued to Eric Stephenson, publisher of Image Comics, which a different court quashed. But before the trial could begin, on the 25th of January, it was announced that the lawsuit had been settled.

Robert Kirkman Settles Lawsuit With Invincible Colorist Bill Crabtree
Settled lawsuit

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Rich JohnstonAbout Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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