In the first of a series of articles, publisher, comics creator and historian of Tamil comics King Viswa reveals some disturbing and bizarre instances of comics copyright theft by a Tamil comics publisher…
Research and documents prove that the first ever Tamil children’s magazine was published in India way back in 1839. It was a quarterly magazine published by Nagercoil Prachara Sabhai and was titled as Baala Theebikai. This particular magazine had a lengthy run of 13 years and there is no dispute in its claim of being the first ever children’s magazine in the Tamil language.
However, the first ever authentic Tamil comics’ origin is still not clear. Many legends claim that they are the ones who’ve launched the first ever Tamil comics’ story. The list is endless, starting with the redoubtable Bujjai to the legendary Vandumama and even the versatile Maya (of Maya wedding and greeting cards – note this web site “checks your browser” before opening). However, one thing is certain: the Tamil comics’ field as such, was alive and kicking in the 1950s and 60s, with many original characters and storylines. That was the time when legends such as Mullai Thangarasan and Chellam were churning out one story after another with standards and quality matching the best in the field.
Later on, the introduction of Indrajal comics and Amar Chithra Katha changed the equation and almost everyone bought the concept of buying rights for the foreign comics and translating it into regional languages. This was not only cost-effective, but also an easier way reducing the burden of creating and editing something new.
In the above paragraph, one word is very, very important. Buying rights. Proper licensing of copyrights, that is. You see, just like the movies, there were many stories which were ‘inspired’ by foreign (read, English) comics. And considering the time period and the situation, we may even let go the idea of getting inspired by an English comics and regionalising it to the requirements of the culture and habits prevailing at that time.
The long and healthy tradition of Tamil children’s magazine and comics’ field was not known for copyright violations. However, things changed in the mid 1980’s with the arrival of one individual – and the trend of stealing someone’s work and manipulating it as an authentic comic’s story continues today.
Here, in this series of articles, we are going to witness some of the biggest ever crimes related to copyright violation. And when we say big, none is bigger than Batman. So, we’ll start with DC Comics Caped Crusader. Isn’t it ironic that a crime was committed against a crime fighter?
We all know about Batman, right? He was created by Bob Kane (and Bill Finger) in the summer of 1939 and even after so many years, he still commands the top place in the comic world. And thanks to director Chris Nolan, we have some of the best superhero films based on a comics character as well. Almost everyone heard a little bit about Batman, right? Now, what you are going to read next may knock you off from your chair. So, get a stronger hold.
Before getting into his knock-off, we must also introduce to a British comic character The Spider, who’s not to be confused with Marvel’s Spider-Man, or the pulp character of the same name. First published in Lion in 1965, he was created by writer Ted Cowan and artist Reg Bunn, Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel took over the writing of the character with his third adventure. He was hugely popular in the UK in the 1960s, also featuring in Super Stupendous Library, and some of his adventures reprinted in Vulcan in the 1970s, and were translated and published in Tamil from the mid 1980s onwards.
There was never an origin story for The Spider. We were just introduced to the supreme criminal mastermind with his array of weapons and gadgets rivalling that of even Batman. However, after a while, he got bored of being a criminal and, believe it or faint, he tried his hand at crime fighting and found his mojo in that. From that time on he turned from anti hero to crime fighter par excellence and a scourge to criminals world wide – and in some cases, from outer space as well. In a nutshell, the Super-Villain turned Super-Hero, that is The Spider for you.
The Spider was a popular hero not only in the UK, but also in other parts of the world. Italy, Germany, Spain, France, Turkey and Yugoslavia are some of the countries were he enjoyed a huge fan following. In India, for reasons unknown, The Spider was a phenomenal success in the Tamil comics world and he was even voted as the hero of the millennium by fans in a poll. The mere sight of The Spider on the cover of a comic magazine resulted in quick and high sales volume. Because of that, there were many such comics where The Spider would appear on the cover but, inside, the story would be a short one and the main story will be of a different hero. Such was the pull of The Spider in Tamil comics, that his story would be published or serialised in a comics magazine with declining sales, the appearance of the King of Crooks resurrecting the fortunes of the title.
As many downthetubes readers know, aside from his ill-one-off resurrection as a cannibal in the one-shot Action Special in 1992, written by Mark Millar, and Paul Grist’s older, retired, more benevolent version known as Alfred Chinard in Jack Staff, there haven’t been any new Spider stories since 1976.
With all the available stories printed, one Tamil publisher, S Vijayan, publisher of Lion and Muthu Comics, felt the pinch – and the fact that he had to shut down couple of his comics magazines didn’t help either. So, he took a decision that resulted in this article.
In February 1979, DC Comics Detective Comics #308, featuring a story titled “There’ll be a Cold Time in the Old Town tonight”, penned by Len Wein with the legendary Dick Giordano supporting him with his masterful artwork.
Our publisher friend from Sivakasi got hold of this comic and as you’ll see below, with the help of his layout artist, he very carefully removed Batman from all the panels from the entire book and replaced him with The Spider – and made it look like an absolute original story of Spider, published in the Lion Comics Issue No 100 Century Special as “Spider Vs Pani Prabhu”.
Tamil comic collectors and historians soon had some doubts about this “new” Spider story. For a start, The Spider’s henchmen, Roy Ordini and Professor Pelham, were nowhere to be seen. The Spider’s flying vehicle, the distinctive Heli-Car, was entirely absent, too. His regular gadgets such as the jet pack, the web gun etc were never used in this story. For a long time, it was a story often debated among “ComiRades”.
Eventually, the cheat was exposed – and consternation set in and the sparks started to fly. While copyright law is not that strong in India, the Copyright Act 1957 & The Copyright (Amendment) Act 2012 is very clear on ownership and what and owner’s copyright rights are. Batman is a copyright protected work and ownership lies with Warner Bros. Indeed, The Spider who was created by IPC Media (now TimeUK) is also currently owned by the Time Warner group like many other pre-January 1970 British comic characters. Hence, technically both Batman and The Spider can be considered DC Comics characters. Technically, our friend used two of DC Comics’ characters to create a new story which is not known to them.
In 2016, 2000AD publishers Rebellion acquired ownership for many comic characters created from January 1970 onwards, and, as downthetubes has frequently reported, begun to reprint some of the best ever British comics under its Treasury Editions imprint, starting with stories form the later Eagle title, Battle, Misty and Buster. We suspect this news that an overseas publisher replaced Batman with The Spider and printed it as an authentic story may cause concern given the huge range of comics IP rights they now own.
Sadly, they are right to be concerned. If you think that this is a one-off incidence in Tamil comics world, you are grossly under-estimating the prowess of the above mentioned publisher. Some of the biggest ever names ranging from Hollywood super stars to the greatest ever comic characters across the world were “handled” by S Vijayan – and we’ll reveal more about his publication house Sunshine Publications in upcoming articles…
King Viswa is a publisher, comics creator and historian of Tamil Comics | TCU Syndicate | Contact: TamilComicsUlagam@gmail.com
Batman © DC Comics | The Spider © TimeUK
Pages from Detective Comics #308
Lion Comics Issue No 100 Century Special – Spider Vs Pani Prabhu
Side by Side: Detective Comics #308 and Lion Comics Issue No 100 Century Special – Spider Vs Pani Prabhu