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This is the one-hundred and ninety-second in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous one-hundred and ninety-one.
A bit of a theme this week (well, two out of three ain’t bad!) – the theme of litigiousness!
COMIC LEGEND: Archie Comics forced a satirical play about the Archie Characters to cease using the actual names of the characters.
The case of “Archie’s Weird Fantasy” is an interesting exercise on what is a protected parody. Most folks are familiar with the famous court decision where 2 Live Crew was allowed to use a substantial amount of Roy Orbison’s song “Oh, Pretty Woman” in doing their commercial parody song, “Pretty Woman.”
However, in the case of “Archie’s Weird Fantasy,” a play that was to premiere at Dad’s Garage Theatre in Atlanta in April of 2003, the production company were a bit unclear about whether their work would qualify for parody fair use protection.
The play was about Archie and the rest of his gang growing up and dealing with their sexual identities, particularly Archie dealing with coming out as gay, and the appeal of going back to Riverdale, which in the play would be synonymous with going into the closet.
Along the way, Archie gets involved with Leopold and Loeb, Jimmy Olsen and EC Comics in comedic (and some not so comedic) ways. The EC Comics section of the play allows for an examination of the anti-comic book hysteria of the 1950s.
In an amusing riff on the timelessness of Archie Comics, the entirety of the play takes place in “the present,” even though historical figures such as Leopold and Loeb are worked into the plot. This, I’m sure, is a commentary on how Archie Comics are ALWAYS set in “the present,” whatever year it might be!
The night before the show was to premiere, Archie Comics delivered a cease and desist letter, threatening legal action and pointing out copyright violations that would cost in the six figures for each violation.
Ultimately, Dad’s Garage Theatre artistic director, Sam Daniels, felt that there probably was too much non-parody material within the play to keep it protected as a parody, so they quickly changed the name of the play to Weird Comic Book Fantasy, and Archie Andrews became Buddy Baxter, Riverdale became Rockville, etc. etc.
Almost exactly two years later, the playwright adapted the play into a new play called The Golden Age, using much of the same material, but this time in his control (as opposed to one night before a show’s debut having to re-name all the characters). The New York Times reviewed The Golden Age very favorably here.
I’m, of course, dancing around the playwright’s name a bit, and that’s because it is interesting to note that his interest in comic books in his plays drew attention from Marvel Comics, and they hired him to do a new Fantastic Four series back in 2004, and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has been one of the best writers working at Marvel ever since!
So I guess the whole thing had a happy ending!
Thanks to Curt Holman for the information behind this piece! Check out his entertainment articles here!
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