William Crabtree’s lawsuit against Robert Kirkman regarding Crabtree’s work on the insanely popular Invincible comics is cleared to go to trial, which is scheduled to begin on February 20, 2024, unless the parties involved decide to settle things first. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Crabtree accused Kirkman of scamming him into signing a contract that characterized his contributions as “work-for-hire.”
US District Court Judge Maame Ewusi-Mensah Frimpong ruled that the statute of limitations on copyright disputes and fraud has expired, thus preventing Crabtree from seeking co-ownership rights and reparations for the Invincible as well as pursuing fraud claims.
However, the Judge permitted Crabtree’s claims regarding the validity—or lack thereof—of the aforementioned contract and Kirkman’s alleged breach of an oral contract between him and Crabtree to go forward, setting the trial date for February 2024.
For those who aren’t acquainted with the whole situation regarding Invincible, the Amazon animated series began as a comic in 2003 before it became a worldwide entertainment piece following Amazon’s adaptation. William Crabtree was a colorist for the first 50 issues of the comic, and he now claims that he co-created the series with Robert Kirkman, while Kirkman maintains that Crabtree’s work was for hire and that he’s the sole author of the intellectual property that took over the world.
Kirkman and Crabtree both agreed that Crabtree was entitled to royalties, which had granted him 20 percent of single sale proceeds, with a minimum of $40 per page. However, the dispute is in regard to other claims. Last year, Crabtree sued Kirkman for allegedly scamming him into surrendering his ownership stake via a Certificate of Authorship, which states that Kirkman was the sole author of the Invincible IP, thus assigning all rights of every kind and nature to Kirkman. Crabtree now says that there was an oral agreement between the two that Kirkman breached.
Crabtree claims that the original agreement was comprised of 20 percent royalties for comic book sales, as well as 10 percent royalties for any media deal on Invincible. He also claims that Kirkman told him that the Certificate was needed to negotiate a deal with movie studios and that their initial agreement, including the 10 percent on media deals, would remain unchanged. Interestingly enough, Kirkman was in talks about a possible deal with MTV, for which he actually paid Crabtree an undisclosed sum.
Later on, when Amazon picked up the comic book and made a now-popular animated adaptation, Kirkman didn’t pay Crabtree any royalties and further disputed the possible MTV deal payment as a mere bonus for Crabtree’s work instead of a payment per their alleged oral agreement. Since the limitations on copyright disputes and fraud had expired, Crabtree couldn’t seek co-ownership rights or sue Kirkman for fraud. However, the claims that the Certificate was invalid and that Kirkman didn’t honor an original oral contract between the two are now going to trial.
We can be quick to characterize Crabtree as a charlatan looking for recognition and benefits at Kirkman’s expense, especially now after Invincible has gained worldwide recognition. But it’s also worth mentioning that Kirkman and longtime collaborator Tony Moore settled several lawsuits regarding the rights to The Walking Dead in 2012.