Bill Willingham, the creator of the comic book series Fables, says you now own his work, fully and for all time. Willingham has released his work, which served as the basis for Telltale Games’ The Wolf Among Us, to public domain — mostly because he can’t afford to sue DC Comics. In a lengthy post on his Substack page, the artist went pretty in depth in explaining his beef with the publisher. He said the people he negotiated with 20 years ago had already been replaced by people “of no measurable integrity, who now choose to interpret every facet of [their] contract in ways that only benefit DC Comics and its owner companies.”
Based on Willingham’s account of what happened, DC would routinely overlook his input on things like artists for covers or formatting for new collections. That’s pretty innocuous compared to his other allegations, though, including getting royalties late or DC under-reporting royalties so as not to pay him what he’s owed. But the artist said that the company recently went beyond these “mere annoyances” and tried to forcibly take Fables’ ownership from him.
He mentioned Telltale Games in particular, when he talked about how DC execs allegedly admitted that they believe they could do anything with the property. That’s including not protecting the integrity of its stories and characters from third parties — Telltale Games, in other words — that want to radically alter them. Further, he apparently gets no money from DC licensing his work to third parties.
While Willingham knows that he’s still bound by his contract with DC and cannot release anything Fables related without the company’s consent, he argued in his post that you’re not. “[Y]ou have the rights to make your Fables movies, and cartoons, and publish your Fables books, and manufacture your Fables toys, and do anything you want with your property, because it’s your property,” he said.
DC, however, has disagreed with Willingham and his interpretation of their contract and copyright law. “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 told CBR in a statement. “DC reserves all rights and will take such action as DC deems necessary or appropriate to protect its intellectual property rights.”
It’s unclear if this development will have any effect on Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us 2, which is scheduled for release in 2024. The game was supposed to be available this year, but the developer chose to push back its launch, because it needed time to switch from using Unreal Engine 4 to 5 and that involved changes to personnel and the development process.