Friday, May 26, 2023

Rebellion's "I Am The Law" By Michael Molcher


History isn't as much of a cycle as people would like to think. It is a staccato drumbeat, pounding at its points until people have to listen. I think that I Am The Law is the first ever piece of non-fiction published by Rebellion, and it is an historic look at the development of British comics powerhouses Judge Dredd and the 2000AD magazine.

The 2000AD magazine owes a debt to earlier comics magazines like Action and Battle. Where Action magazine crawled, and ultimately stumbled before being taken down by political forces in the UK, Judge Dredd would eventually stand up and walk.

Like a lot of satire, problems always arise when the satirical elements are taken at face value, and this happened with Judge Dredd pretty early out of the gate. Where the writers and artists of the early Judge Dredd stories like John Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra, and Pat Mills, looked out at the world in which they lived and channeled that into the creation of the character. Wagner looked at the rioting and police corruption in England at the time, and used it to create a world where the police were the ultimate arbitrators of right and wrong, who were judge and jury, as well as executioner.

The earlier comic magazine Action featured prototypes to the ideas that would find a home in Judge Dredd stories and its setting of Mega-City One. The Kids Rule, OK stories in Action showed a lurid and hellish cityscape where gangs of teenagers run amok, and not even the police could stop them. The One Eyed Jack stories took the essence of movies like Dirty Harry and Death Wish and make them bleaker. However the magazine ran afoul of crusading "law and order" politicians who didn't like how they and the police forces were portrayed in these stories. So they cracked down on the comics and saw to it they were censored. Does this sound familiar? That drum beat is pounding away again today, as politicians seek to censor anyone who looks or thinks differently than they do.

This isn't a reflection on I Am The Law but I would really like to see Rebellion do an anthology of some of the early Action and Battle stories, particularly the Kids Rule, OK stuff. We've seen a reprint of One Eyed Jacks, but as far as I know the only Kids Rule, OK material currently available are the updated stories, including the Vigilant related one.

I Am The Law is a warning. It shows the rise of authoritarian police powers, a surveillance state that not only has cameras pointed everywhere but also keeps track of the bands you listen to, and corrupt politicians who want to rewrite history and hide what they've done in the past. This is a powerful book, and it leaps with both feet into the turbulence of the UK in the 70s and 80s that brought us punk rock, and Judge Dredd. Not everyone is going to like this book, and a lot of people will have problem with some of the brutality and utterly heinous acts that are recorded in the book. History is a staccato drumbeat, and with I Am The Law Michael Molcher plays that beat in as masterful of a way as Gene Krupa. This is a must read book, not only for fans of the history of comics around the world, but also for those wanting to know about about the rise of authoritarians powers and the dark mirror that fiction can hold up to them. Read this book.

Tuesday, April 04, 2023

H.P. Lovecraft vs. The Public Domain

The other day I had a conversation via text with my friend Ben about the legal status of the Lovecraft copyrights. As one does. That caused me to go down a rabbit hole that led to this article, and made a couple of other forks.

1) The "estate" of Lovecraft, Lovecraft Properties LLC, who tried to get publishers and authors to acknowledge them as rights holders to Lovecraft's works had been dissolved by the state of Rhode Island in 2007. A collection of Lovecraft's works I have from 2009, and published by Barnes & Noble, acknowledged the estate, as did a few other works around the same time.

And internet search found the registration with Rhode Island, and that the registration was ended by the state for not following the rules (without stating what rules were violated). The best I can ascertain is that they didn't do a required annual filing with the state of Rhode Island. This could be because I don't think they were ever very successful at getting anyone to pay them for the rights to Lovecraft's works.

2) In a lawsuit filed by Donald Wandrei in 1973, contesting the will of August Derleth and the ownership of the rights held by Arkham House because they hadn't been paying Wandrei royalties on the various Lovecraft books they had published, the lawyer for Arkham House and Derleth took a unique approach to why they didn't pay any royalties to Wandrei: no one had ever actually renewed the copyrights to Lovecraft's works, so that meant it had all lapsed into the public domain. Because of this, Wandrei had no rights that required the payment of royalties from Arkham House.

The fact that a lawyer said this in a courtroom is pretty amazing:

Insofar as the copyrights are concerned, I can testify that there are no renewal copyrights for any of the H.P. Lovecraft stories that were signed on October 9, 1947 to August Derleth and Donald Wandrei.


Moreover, Lovecraft died in 1937 and while he left a will, the evidence will show that none of Lovecraft's copyrights were renewed. The forty-six (46) Lovecraft stories contained in Exhibit "B" were not renewed by the assignees nor could they do so under the copyright law. Thus all of the stories are now in the public domain with the result that there are no rights contained or effective under the agreement between Donald Wandrei and August Derleth, dated November 8, 1955.

So, from 1973 until 1986 (when Wandrei finally won his lawsuit against Arkham House) the lawyer for Arkham House argued that Lovecraft's works had in fact lapsed into the public domain. Despite this, Arkham House publicly claimed ownership of the rights to Lovecraft's works during this time, to get fees and licensing money.

For nearly the entire part of the second half of the 20th century, people argued about the copyright status of Lovecraft's work, while no one knew that the lawyers for Arkham House/Derleth's estate made these arguments in a courtroom. The judge declaring Lovecraft's works in the public domain would have been outside of the scope of the trail, so I am not surprised that there was no ruling on that. But, considering how intellectual property rights have to be fairly rigorously defended most of the time, I am really surprised that the legal representative of a company that otherwise vigorously defended these rights would say something like this in a public record. It doesn't really make any sense, but I am not a lawyer.

I had read up on all of this over the years, and never once before now had I seen a reference to Wandrei's suit, or Arkham House's defense that the rights had lapsed. Even Joshi's writing on the subject of the copyright status of Lovecraft's works didn't mention this, and I find it hard to believe that he wouldn't have known.

Originally I wrote this up as a post on my Facebook page, but I figured it deserved a more public sharing so I rewrote it a bit for this blog post. Nothing is this post should be considered to be legal advice, but it does contain links that you likely could run past an actual lawyer for actual legal advice.

In case you're wondering, this link is what my friend sent me that started my tumble down the rabbit hole of H.P. Lovecraft vs. The Public Domain.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Release The SRDs!

With everything going on in open gaming in tabletop RPGs right now, I have decided that I am going to release SRDs (system reference documents) for a couple of systems based on the Fudge role-playing game, to which I have the rights. I will be calling these the Crasher and Quest SRDs/systems. They will be derived from two game systems to which I own the rights. More details will be forthcoming, but the plan is to release each of these SRDs first under a Creative Commons license, and then probably eventually under the new ORC gaming license that is being developed. More to come!

Saturday, January 07, 2023

Action-Heroes Is Coming!

After years of development and writing, along with more than a couple of pandemic-related delays, my Action-Heroes role-playing game is finally coming to Kickstarter next week. You can click here to sign up to receive a notification when the project launches next Tuesday.

I am really happy to have the game so close to the finish line, because I have put a lot of work into this system over the years, and I am really proud of the end result. Please sign up for your notification, and also please support the game's Kickstarter project. There are only supposed to be a couple of stretch goals, but they are going to provide some nice upgrades to the game if we hit all of them. 

Thank you all in advance.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Reading Grant Morrison's The Invisibles In 2023

Please note: This series is currently on hold. Over on the Facebook page for the blog I wrote this: "I know that one of the things I promised for the blog in the new year was an ongoing series talking about Grant Morrison's The Invisibles. I started a re-read with that intent, and as I read I realized that there have really been a lot of people who have covered this ground, and I am not overly sure that I have enough that is new or interesting to contribute to make the work worth the effort."

This upcoming Fall will be the 20th anniversary of my blog. I've tried to get more active in posting here over the last couple of years, but it has been difficult. The stress from online harassment really curtailed my desire to comment on things, but I really need to not let the harassers wins. So, I think the answer to getting more serious about writing here at the blog is to get more regimented about my posting.

One of my "projects" for the new year is going to be a re-read of Grant Morrison's comic The Invisibles, originally published through the Vertigo imprint at DC Comics. I don't know if the book is still in print physically or not (I have digital copies of the collections that I picked up on Comixology along with the original floppies) or what arm of DC Comics is handling it currently.

This post is going to set the tone for what I hope to do with this series of articles.

Kind of like with Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, I was not a big fan of The Invisibles at first, but for entirely different reasons. With The Sandman, I didn't really get into the book until it found its vibe around the time of the "Sound of Her Wings" story. I think that moving away from a direct involvement with the general DC Universe was a good idea for The Sandman. With The Invisibles the book just didn't grab me like other works of Morrison's had. The first arc of The Invisibles, dealing with the initiation of Dane McGowan into the group, had a "been there, done that" feel to me. I dove back into the book with the controversy over the second story arc, and found that the story clicked with me, and I ran with it until the end.

Probably one of the most difficult things to do in a new comic, with a new universe, is to create the feeling of an established universe right out of the box. This is something that comics have struggled with since there were comics. In regards to what a lot of comics readers consider to be an "established universe," it is really a build up of plot points that have more or less accidentally accrued around comic characters. A comic universe is like a build up of barnacles, or a growth of coral, where little bits build upon other little bits until a structure comes out of it.

I think that is why neither of these books clicked with me. For The Sandman that introduction leaned heavily into the DC Universe to provide the structure that Gaiman probably thought that his new universe needed, when really all that he needed was to push through far enough to get the growth of coral that eventually brought the Sandman Universe into existence. With The Invisibles, Morrison wasn't using an existing universe as a support structure, in the way that Gaiman did, but instead they leaned into the time honored "world outside your windows" approach that Marvel popularized in the 1960s, but they made their universe, the universe of The Invisibles as a group, much, much weirder than even much of the Marvel Universe was. 

The problem for me was that this weirdness really wasn't enough. Things like magic, "magick," conspiracies and UFOs have been an interest of mine for a long time. I blame 1970s TV as a kid for putting all of that weirdness into my head. This might upset some more diehard fans of Morrison's work, but like I said above it made me feel like that first arc was something I had seen before. Now, I am intrigued to be looking at the book from the perspective of a world where a lot of weirdness and conspiracies have become weaponized in our worlds (both online and off).

My approach for these posts will be to break things down by story arc. I haven't decided if the various one shot stories that appeared during the run of The Invisibles that Morrison wrote for various anthology books will be tacked onto a story arc that feels appropriate, or if I will write about them on their own. I don't know yet how in-depth I will go into things on these posts. Some will probably be explored more deeply than others.

What these posts won't be is a series of annotations and explanations about what happened in the various stories. Annotation posts have their place, and I've enjoyed them for a number of properties that also have a number of concepts that could need explaining to readers, but I don't really have the temperament to do those kinds of posts. This series of articles will be mostly my commentary and criticism. What I think works, and what I think doesn't work. There will probably be some explanations of material, but that won't be the focus of the series.

Will I get through the entire series with these articles? I hope so, but I can't make any promises. I don't know how frequently I will be making these posts, because they will depend upon my reading and working out concepts as I go along. Some arcs will probably take longer to write about than others.

Here is looking forward to the new year. It is probably appropriate, or at least a serious synchronicity, that I announce this on a Winter Solstice.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Where To Find Me

With the birdsite circling the drain, I am not posting there, accepting new followers or any active use of the site. If you want to follow me on social media, you can try the following sites.




Discord  Christopher Helton#1676


I am not currently as active on all of these sites, mostly because I am trying to figure out how to use them. Mastodon has pretty much replaced my Twitter usage, and I am currently mostly Tumblr for looking at art people are sharing. But these are the places where I will publicly interact with others.

Monday, October 31, 2022

Some Action-Heroes FAQs


With the release of the ashcan edition of Action-Heroes by Outland Entertainment over at DriveThruRPG there have been a few questions that have floated around the internet and come to my attention, so I thought I would make a post of some of these questions to point people towards. I don't know how frequent these questions have been, but they have been asked about the game.

The ashcan is no longer available for sale now that the Kickstarter has launched.. The ashcan has everything that you need to play a game of Action-Heroes, but it isn't the complete game that will eventually be available on Kickstarter and retail. The final version of the game will also have a series of appendices that outline an alternate magic system for the game, go over some collaborative setting-building rules for groups that want to create their own worlds from scratch, and a series of examples that take you through the process of building powers and special abilities for your characters in the game.

Action-Heroes is something that I have been working on for a long time, and has its origins in a system that I was asked to build for a licensed tabletop RPG that didn't come to fruition, so the rights to the system stayed with me. It is a simplified and streamlined version of one of my earliest professional game designs, and I think it is a design that represents where I am today as both a designer and game player/GM. It uses a simplified ruleset that is augmented by the ruling of the GM, and the needs of the players, that come up during play.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

The Shape Of The DCU To Come

Over at Newsarama, one of their writers talked about how many of the story seeds dropped by Scott Snyder at the end of his run of events at stories over at DC Comics didn't all pan out as expected. All of this is completely speculative on my part, as I have no idea where things are going to land.

This is what happens when 1) publishers rely too much on a treadmill of events to sustain interest, and 2) the architects of the big events don't stick around to sprout the seeds lain by their events. As Scott Snyder lead the DCU through Dark Nights, the No Justice Era and then into Death Metal, successive stories picked up what was being laid down because the writing architect was there threading the needle through the events and story arc. Then with Death Metal, Snyder laid out the after effects of his massive run...and then went off to do creator-owned books.

Wednesday, September 07, 2022

Chaos World Explainer


Cover mockup featuring stockart by Claudio Casini
Chaos World is my Fate-based fantasy role-playing game, currently in development. You can find drafts of Chaos World by backing my Patreon.

I have always said that I am not a big fan of fantasy fiction. That doesn't mean that I don't like it, but that my tastes in it are fairly limited. I am a big fan of the fantasy, and science fantasy, of British author Michael Moorcock, and to a lesser degree the works of Robert E. Howard (particularly Conan). 

Most of my interest in Howard came from the Marvel Comics adaptations of his works and characters when I was a kid. I love a good fantasy comic, and books like DC's Warlord also inspired me.

All of these inspirations flowed into my writing and developing Chaos World. The game itself has gone through a number of incarnations and systems over the years. Some people who have followed my blog or social media throughout the years may remember my early playtests of a game I called Demon Codex back in the G+ days. That was an earlier version of the game that I wanted to make. There have been a lot of inspiration from an old school Swords & Sorcery RPG that I am a fan of threading through the various incarnations of the game as well.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Safety And Tabletop RPGs


Photo by Serge van Neck on Unsplash

I have been gaming for a long time. I first started playing D&D back in 1979, when I was still in elementary school. I would have been a couple of years older than the characters in Stranger Things (I grew up in a small town in Indiana, too). When I was a kid in the 70s and 80s things were different. The general idea of dealing with things that were uncomfortable or dangerous was that you "sucked it up" and dealt with it.

Honestly? That's not a very good way to deal with things that can be potentially traumatic. So I think that one of the better advances that has come along in tabletop RPGs has been the development and increasing popularity of using safety tools in gaming. 

I haven't always been a fan of using safety tools while gaming, but I have seen the light. At this point I think that safety tools should be a part of your RPG's text, if you're a game designer. My Action-Heroes game (currently out in an ashcan edition PDF from Outland Entertainment) uses safety tools. My upcoming paranormal romance RPG, called Paranormal Friction, will have safety tools. Both games start at the same basic point with them, and Paranormal Friction puts on another couple of layers of tools.

So, what are safety tools?