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DC Comics fires back after 'Fables' creator says series now public domain

The cover for the first trade paperback volume of "Fables", reworked from the cover of the series' first issue. Fairy tale characters are crowded onto a subway train, many of them looking at the reader.
Posted at 11:45 AM, Sep 16, 2023

DC Comics vowed to "protect its intellectual property rights" Friday after 'Fables' creator Bill Willingham announced he was placing the series in the public domain.

In a statement sent to CBR, the comics publisher asserted it still had the rights to the comic series and related properties despite Willngham's statement.

“The ‘Fables’ comic books and graphic novels published by DC, and the storylines, characters, and elements therein, are owned by DC and protected under the copyright laws of the United States and throughout the world in accordance with applicable law and are not in the public domain,” the company said. “DC reserves all rights and will take such action as DC deems necessary or appropriate to protect its intellectual property rights.”

The statement was prompted by a press release posted to Willingham's personal website "These Foolish Games," where he cited numerous negative dealings with DC Comics, which first published the series under its Vertigo imprint starting in 2002.

"DC has always been in violation of their agreements with me," Willingham writes. "They are often late reporting royalties, and often under-report said royalties, forcing me to go after them to pay the rest of what’s owed."

Promotional banner for the video game 'The Wolf Among Us,' developed and published by Telltale Games, based on the 'Fables' comic series.

He goes on to outline later interactions with DC, including negotiations surrounding the series' 20th anniversary, as well as money Willingham states DC owes him for licensing the series to other companies, specifically mentioning Telltale Games, which produced the critically-acclaimed 2013 episodic adventure game 'The Wolf Among Us,' set in the 'Fables' universe.

The 'Fables' series follows various characters from fairy tales and folklore who have been exiled to the "real world" after their world is conquered by a mysterious enemy known as The Adversary. The series ran for 159 issues, originally ending in 2015 before being revived for another 12 issues in May 2022.

The series also spawned a number of spin-offs, including the aforementioned Telltale video game, which has a sequel slated for release in 2024.

Whether Willingham's declaration is legally binding remains to be seen, given that his contract with DC has not been made public. Most 'Fables' media currently on the market list both the writer and the company as the copyright holders.

Furthermore, even if the declaration does stand up to legal scrutiny, that doesn't necessarily give the public domain carte-blanche to the comics as published by DC.

"No, this doesn’t include the right to reprint previously published Fables books and stories," Willingham says in a clarifying tweet released after the initial press release."And if you come out with your own Fables books, others couldn’t decide to reprint them. 'Create your own' is the new order of things."