The Shadow Knows

04.10.06 | 2 Comments

thumbnail from The Shadow magazineA few of you know that I’m actually a big fan of pulps and The Shadow in particular. Unfortunately, Shadow stories are hard to come by. I have a few paperback book reprints from the 60s, and I’ve considered shelling out the $40+ dollars to buy an original magazine on E-bay (but never did). When I was at AggieCon recently I discovered a copy of a Shadow story reprinted in what was clearly POD (print on demand, for those not in the know). The publisher was listed on the back as Blackmask, which I mentally filed away for future information. [I didn’t buy it because 1) if I could tell at a glance that it was POD then the production values weren’t up to my standards, and 2) I had my sights set on Steven Brust hardbacks, which ate every cent of my self-allocated book money.]

Now I see that Blackmask has been doing their thing for a while, but now they may be running into a wall. It seems that Conde Nast feels like they own the copyright to The Shadow and have decided to protect it. In short, Blackmask has been taken the stance that most Shadow stories have fallen into the public domain and thus are fair game. I don’t know the particulars beyond what I’ve read on the site and by following links from his article, but it seems like he’s fighting a losing battle just from a financial standpoint. Conde Nast can out-spend him on lawyering before ever getting to the courtroom.

Now I am curious as to why Conde Nast feels like they have a case. I mean, they must think they have a legitmate claim to the character for some reason. If anyone can point me to such information, I’d be appreciative. I do understand why they would take these steps, however. If they don’t protect those rights, there’s a chance they could lose them by what’s essentially “squatters rights”. Or maybe I’m thinking of trademark law. Hmmm. Does the same concept apply to copyright? I think so.

Anyway, there are bigger things at stake. According to one site linked by Blackmask (The Shadow Fan), Conde Nast has inked a deal for a new movie. If the site is to believed, Sony Pictures also wants to expand the franchise in other ways. Possibly a tv series and/or video game.

Part of me thinks that’s a rockin’ idea. I’d love to see a new Shadow movie (done right, of course), or other ways of getting my Shadow fix. On the other hand, I could see Conde Nast putting the original Shadow stories under lock and key in favor of pushing new merchandise. I’ve also always had a secret dream of reviving the franchise myself with a series of brand new Shadow novels. With my pseudo-publishing background there was a tiny chance that might have happened one day–as long as the character was public domain. If a megacorp is going to lay claim to the character, then my chances of getting in on that fall to zero.

At the same time, I’m not sure if Sony would be willing to take a chance on making a movie (and building a franchise) based on a public domain figure. Lucas taught us all that licensing can be a BIG component of movie-making, so wha thappens if you don’t own the license? You can sell tie-ins directly related to the movie, but beyond that it’s a free-for-all. (The Shadow bondage equipment, anyone?)

Anyway, if you love the pulps like I do, you might want to visit Blackmask before they’re shut down. You can buy PODs of The Shadow, Doc Savage, or hundreds of other titles…OR, you can download e-book versions for free!

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Comment by Dirty Unicorn
2006-04-11 15:07:14

Well there was that terrible movie with Alec Baldwin and the invisible building ;)

I remember many moons ago running a pulp fiction adventure called The Adventure of the Jade Dragon that I loosely based off a Shadow story of the same name. Carved Jade Dragon statuette, curio shop in China, ninjas breaking down the doors and somersaulting throough the plate glass windows… ahh good times ;)
Too bad the players never made it to the haunted mansion with a Pagoda style roof guarded by 2 stone foo creatures outside :/

Not huge of the pulp stuff (more of an ERB & Howards type fan), but I did enjoy gaming in that era… actually I really enjoyed League of Extraordinary Gentlemen so maybe I *do* like pulp after all hehe.

I do have to admit that the Shadow was a pretty cool cat.

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Comment by Neal5x5
2006-04-11 16:32:39

My folks purchased copies of The Shadow radio show when I was a kid and I enjoyed listening to them as we drove all over creation. Ever since then, I have fond memories of the radio plays of The Shadow, Fibber McGee & Molly, and Amos & Andy. I can’t count the number of times I fell asleep to “The weed of crime bears bitter fruit!” and “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!”

My favorite Shadow was the creepy millionaire who purchased a submarine just so he could pursue his homocidal tendancies on innocent merchent marine sailors. The part where the Shadow faces off in the locked submarine with the killer was great (it also introduced me to the concept of ricocheting bullets).

As for the copyright, that’s a Gordian Knot if there ever was one. It depends on the actions of the creator, his family, the original publisher, etc. Conde Nast may be protecting what it thinks is its rights, but I do know they’ve been looking to find new avenues of income since their magazine and publishing arms hit the skids a while back. They could resell Shadow rights to film and TV for a pretty penny, especially if they packaged it with other rights they may own.

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