The Book That Saved a Movement?

How an unassuming art book saved the ComicsGate name

We recently learned that Cyberfrog creator and Youtube personality Ethan Van Sciver won the battle for the ComicGate trademark on January 6, 2023. This has been a years-long battle that started way back in 2018. What people may not know is the story of the book that saved the name, and in a way, saved the independent comics movement known as ComicsGate, as well.

I recently sat down with Anthony Romano of Dark Gift Comics – or should I say Comicsgate Comics LLC dba Dark Gift Comics? I learned a lot of interesting history that many affiliated with the CG movement today may not be aware of.

Before moving on, it’s important to define what ComicsGate is, or at least attempt to do so. In 2017, ComicsGate became the unofficial name of a loose network of comic book creators and consumers disillusioned with plummeting comics shop sales and concerns of political/ideological encroachment into the professional practices of the mainstream comics industry. As a result, several comic book professionals including both freshman creators and seasoned veterans have turned to crowdfunding to market directly to their audience, and many of whom have been very successful in doing so.

Predictably, both mainstream comic book creators and websites have pushed back against these ComicsGate upstarts, with their responses ranging anywhere from labeling CG a hate group to refusing to cover it altogether. 

Moving on – or rather back to the year 2018 – independent author and cultural commentator Vox Day first attempted to lay claim to the ComicsGate name when he placed it on a published collection titled Gun Ghoul. Even back then, the greater CG movement wanted to protect what ComicsGate was intended to be, and Vox was considered to be too polarizing a figure for the movement and threatened to harm the message. Unfortunately, Vox has not been the only flashpoint that CG detractors have used to sling mud at the overall movement, and in spite of the best efforts by others who fly the CG flag, detractors and bad players alike have contributed to tarnishing the public image of the ComicsGate crowd. However, the original adopters of the moniker didn’t want to be associated with the more extreme personalities such as Vox Day, and felt that the movement shouldn’t be “owned” by anyone.

From Gun Ghoul

In an attempt to stop Vox Day’s unsanctioned “Comicsgate Comics”, Ethan Van Sciver reluctantly claimed ownership of the name because he had been using the name for “ComicsGate Live” as a title for his livestream video series that he hosted on his Comic Artist Pro Secrets YouTube channel, which had already been running for a year or so at that point. This was enough to convince Vox to back down, but it still upset some of the original personalities in the CG movement who still didn’t want the name to be associated with a single person, much less a creator. 

Recognizing that something needed be done to protect the name legally, Antonio Malpica (aka “Cridious”) would file for a trademark. Malpica registered a trademark for “Comics Gate” with two words, and he promised to guard it but leave it open license for members of the CG movement to use. His first book, Detective Dead, would be the first book to legally bear the name “Comics Gate”. 

The ill-fated Detective Dead

Fast forward to 2020, and Malpica had yet to complete Detective Dead and fulfill his campaign, giving the detractors fuel for their negative spin machines directed at the CG movement. Early that year, a particularly motivated critic of Van Sciver and the CG movement named Preston Poulter attempted to buy Detective Dead from Malpica, which would also have given Poulter rights to the “Comics Gate” name. Malpica refused, and instead chose to take details of this interaction public. Poulter proceeded to attempt a trademark of “Comicsgate” as one word. However, in June of 2020, Malpica’s “Comics Gate” was published in the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) Journal which pretty much settled any ownership uncertainty between Malpica’s and Poulter’s claims. 

It was common knowledge that Poulter wanted to end the ComicsGate movement by obtaining rights to the trademark and “deplatforming” anyone on YouTube or social media who tried to use the name “ComicsGate”, essentially destroying the livelihood of anyone who financially benefited from the name. After some unflattering videos of Poulter surfaced online, he leveled a couple of lawsuits against ComicsGate personalities. One of these suits targeted Antonio Malpica himself for abandonment of the trademark and the lack of its use in commerce. Given that Malpica already struggled with funding and had valid reasons for the delay on his Detective Dead project, this created a bit of a frenzy. If Poulter pushed back with the full weight of his resources, there was real concern with how things would resolve. 

Enter Anthony Romano, who was working on his own portfolio book titled Dark of Midnight: The Art of Anthony Romano (which is available here). Concerned with the CG fight himself, Romano took steps to register his company as “ComicsGate Comics LLC” doing business as “Dark Gift Comics” (in which he was successful), and then attempted to trademark the logo (in which he was unsuccessful). Little did Romano know at the time that if a logo includes words, you must also trademark the words. However, Malpica already had legal possession of the words “Comics Gate” regardless of whether they were one or two words. Romano contacted Malpica, who verbally agreed to allow Romano use the name and place it on his book, which he began selling. The mark was also placed on The Sunday Follies, which was a joint publication ashcan that went out to several backers with the Mandy Summers’ Wart the Wizard campaign.

In 2021, things continued to go poorly for Malpica. Poulter was putting pressure on Robert Romano, another member of the CG movement but no relation to Anthony Romano, who owned the registration rights to two websites, ComicsGate.org and ComicsGate.com. Robert Romano reached out to a lawyer by the name of Scott Houtterman, who got a crash course in all things ComicsGate, including the history and the storm of drama that surrounded it. Houtterman determined that the first person to have claim of the ComicsGate name for commerce purposes was indeed Ethan Van Sciver, who had used it for his YouTube show. After Houtterman contacted Malpica and explained the situation, Malpica chose to legally transfer the trademark to Van Sciver. 

At this point they learn of Anthony Romano’s use of the name on his art book. Houtterman and Anthony speak, and from that interview it is learned that the verbal agreement Malpica and Romano made is legally binding. At this point, Anthony transferred his claim also over to Van Sciver with certain conditions that would protect him in his use of the LLC. This gave Van Sciver the “first use” of the name for commerce through with his “ComicsGate Live” YouTube show, the legal documentation, and the two ComicsGate publications from Dark Gift Comics. While the commerce claim surrounding ComicsGate Live could possibly have been disputed, the recorded sales of Dark of Midnight and the affidavits from backers who received the ashcan gave indisputable proof that the name had not been abandoned and indeed had been used for commerce.

Now that the USPTO has ruled against Poulter’s claim of abandonment and lack of commercial use, we can expect that his third claim for counterfeit use will similarly be thrown out. Over this time, Poulter was publishing books bearing the “ComicsGate” name in order to tarnish the movement’s reputation. Van Sciver now has the option to sue for counterfeit use of the trademark for each publication. 

This huge win for those in the CG movement who wanted to protect – or even redeem, in some cases – the reputation of the ComicsGate name. While these developments signal hope for a more organized and reputable use of the CG name,  others within the movement – particularly those who are not as endeared towards Van Sciver – worry that their association with ComicsGate will require some kind of allegiance that they are not prepared to give. No matter where you sit on this question, at least we can all appreciate how a single book accidentally resolved a brutal trademark battle.

Thanks for reading!

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