Back in the 1970s, I was shopping at a Meijers grocery store near MSU, when I saw a new innovation.  It was a bulk foods section, where you could select, scoop and weigh your own foods, nuts, candies, etc in bulk from large bulk containers. They are quite common now, but this was a first.

Hanging from the ceiling was a large yellow banner, with an obvious over-muscled body drawn in thick, Chic Stone inking style...but instead of the head of the Hulk, there was a yellow smiley face that had become so popular earlier in the decade. 

Below this obvious rip-off of the Hulk character (image) was the slogan "The Incredible BULK".

I was both amused and annoyed to see such a blatant play on words, and noted there was absolutely no copyright or trademark symbol on the banner that hung in multiple places from the rafters (the building was much like our Wal-Marts of today).

**See Note below.

Returning home with one of their fliers, a tri-folded yellow sheet of paper with the same black pen image of the smile-faced hulk body, I pulled out a sheet of lined notebook paper and a #10 envelope and addressed it to the Marvel Bullpen-- Legal Affairs Dept.  I got the address out of the letters page in the back of a Marvel comic book that I had found at a used book & comic shop. (Remember, this is during my college years, and I had forsworn comics in favor of my education, so I was buying and reading no comics. The shop, if you must know, was Ray Walsh's Curious Bookstore in East Lansing... has been imortalized in Rob Maise's "Confessions of a Cereal Eater" in the story about "Klingon Battle Helmet".)

I simply noted that I had seen this usage of the image of the Hulk to promote a non-comic related business and wondered if this was a violation of their trademark or copyright? I never heard back from Marvel, despite listing the store, address, city, and my return address.

Within two weeks, I had returned to the store twice and then noticed that all the banners were down and every scrap of "the Incredible Bulk" image was gone. The bulk food section was still there, and has become somewhat of a fixture in our society now... but all the pricing placards, the signs, the banners, the fliers...everything that had sported that image had vanished.

Carsten Meißner's photo.
 (**This isn't exactly the image of the drawing, but it give you the general idea of what they had used. It was not colored nor shaded green at all.)

What other examples of unlicensed usage of comic images have you seen?

2nd Topic:  While laying over in Seattle six years ago, a traveling companion picked up a copy of their alternative/counter-cultural newspaper "The Stranger" and handed it to me saying "Here, I thought you might like this." I put it in my bag and didn't read it until we were on the plane going home.

Several features caught my attention, and I joined their website called "Questionland". I needed an avitar, and after some thought, chose the name "O My Captain" and 'borrowed' a fanzine's obvious tribute to comic shops ("We've Got Issues") and Captain Amercia by doing a very good comic bookish parody of a comic shop owner wearing a captain america cowl. I used that for my avitar for a couple of months.  Some users caught the pairing of the name and the image and when I changed it, I got complaints!

However, last week, I went through Seattle again and picked up a copy of that Stranger newspaper's July 4th edition and found it larger and more colorful. Unfortunately Questionland has been discontinued three years earlier, but I spotted a column that is simply titled "One Hulk's Opinion".

Now, I'm more relaxed about borrowing an image in these days of the internet, but I wonder if Marvel is aware that this blogger is sporting an obvious image of the Hulk. I was drawn to the broken English speaking style that this guy uses. Though it took me a while, I realized that he really isn't really speaking in the dumb Hulk (from Tales to Astonish) speech pattern... but it's actually more of the Bizarro Superman from the mid-60s!   Take a look and tell me what you think!  Hulk or Bizarro?

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I figure they would see it as free publicity or as a pleasant reminder that their work is now in the public consciousness rather than getting all disgruntled about it. At the very least, in the 1970's.

Nowadays, however, being owned by Disney, I'd expect for Marvel to sue them for everything they own and that their children will ever own until there is nothing left but their very basest souls and nothing more.

In the world of education, one thing you're warned about early on is to never ever replicate anything Disney related on a bulletin board or in a newsletter EVER.

Then again they seem to be leaving fanfic and fan art alone, or fanfic.com and deviantart.com would have vanished by now.

I doubt Marvel was that benevolent even back in the 1970s, it was more likely they just didn’t have the capability or desire to go after them. Unless it was the entire chain or the local city manager’s idea. And I’d think they’d be high enough up to know they couldn’t get away with that. Maybe a higher-up visited the store and got a case of the vapors.

Fan fiction is probably a different case. Some authors and copyright owners like it, because of the attention it stirs up, and some don't because of the infringement and the way the characters get used. But it's hard to police the Interwebs, as shutting one down just means it starts up somewhere else, if they can even get to the person who can shut down the first one.

Disney no doubt would go after misuse of Marvel characters today, if they knew about it. They'd at least send a cease and desist letter, which would no doubt get attention, because Disney is so well known for cracking down on that stuff.  But the goal usually is less to stop the dilution of their product or try to collect fees as to show they are protecting their mark.

If they don’t contest any infringements that they know of, they could lose the property because they didn’t protect it. Writers’ magazines used to be full of ads from companies reminding writers not to use their trademarks as generic descriptions, as it could prove the mark was too generic to copyright. Band-Aid, Xerox, Roller Blades and Kleenex were big on that. They didn’t want to go the way of Zipper metal fastening system, Escalator movable stairs or Aspirin headache medicine!

As I understand it, when DuPont invented spandex, they knew they'd never be able to keep it from becoming a generic name, so they invented Spandex and then named theirs Lycra. So lots of people today make spandex, but only DuPont makes Lycra spandex.

I wrote about the biggest Disney infringement for CBG a few years ago, the Air Pirates vs. Disney in 1971. Some underground cartoonists did a series of comics parodying Disney characters in x-rated situations and dared Disney to sue them. They did, and they won and the Pirates kept making it worse, setting back parody a long way.

You can read my article on the joys of 1971 here: http://www.cbgxtra.com/columnists/craig-shutt-ask-mr-silver-age/197... and about the Air Pirates specifically here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_Pirates

A one-shot Hulk column like that wouldn’t be a problem, but an on-going one in a citywide newspaper should have gotten Marvel/Disney’s attention by now. They should at least make it “The Bulk” and color him blue or something. Parody can’t be on-going.

There was a car wash near me awhile back that had big signs painted on the brick walls of buildings near it calling it the Super Car Wash, with Superman’s emblem as the S. There also is a pumpkin farm near me to this day that has all kinds of attractions and gimmicks for kids, including big wooden signs and cutouts you can stick your head into that feature the Flintstones, Spongebob, Bart Simpson and others. I doubt they’re paying royalties.

There are probably lots of little infringements like that around in towns. They’re probably mostly beneath the companies’ notice. OTOH, that’s why they have lots of lawyers sitting around ready to print out cease and desist letters.

-- MSA

Not sure why the guy (Paul?) might have chosen to write in the style of the dumb Hulk, but it seems to be an editorial column  that regularly or occasionally appears.  Maybe he's a weightlifter or incredibly ripped? There must be a reason for the name... but I either haven't caught on, or it's buried so far in the past that it's not important any more.

The term "dumpster" is commonly used for a large trash container designed to be picked up by a truck equipped with fork lifts. When I was back east in the Army there was a company called Dempster, which labeled their containers "Dempster Dumpster". I assume that's where to common term came from.

I think companies go after small targets who are using their copyrighted and trademarked properties because if they let everybody do it they can't suddenly decide to go after a bigger company that is a real threat to their ownership. There is a real danger that they would be ruled to have let their property go into the public domain, and they would lose millions.


...I have noticed that there appear to be some commercial enterprises that use the " Godzilla " name - or even the pretty distinct in its own right , I would think , " ...-zilla " suffix , even commecial enterprises , I think , although all I can think of now are press useages , " Bridezilla " and such .

  Howeverer , if you will look , you will find that out here in the Bay Area there not only is a " Godzilla Sushi " in San Francisco but that there is a " Godzilla Express " food place - I guess non-related to the SF one - too !!!!!!!!!!!

  That whole template of naming things seems very 70s to me .

  I do assume that there two " God- "s are non-authorized by Toho - Perhaps in the past , anyway Toho may have been lax/let-or involuntarily lost some of their rights to the Godzilla name , but that , from the more " revved-up " Eighties on , they became more active in protecting them ?

  Neither of these two Bay-Zillas I cite appear to have stand-alone web sites but they are shown in resteraunt (sic) review/listings sites .

I think if someone was releasing an unauthorized movie or a book/comic book with the Godzilla name they would be on them like a ton of bricks.

...An artistic/story product , yeah , especially now but maybe something happened/folks didn't pay attention at the switch at a point in the past and there existing joky uses of the " God-Zilla : name on stores may yet stand ?????????

It may be that the owners of Godzilla see this as keeping the name in the public eye. It's not really competition for any future projects they might have.

Richard Willis said:

I think companies go after small targets who are using their copyrighted and trademarked properties because if they let everybody do it they can't suddenly decide to go after a bigger company that is a real threat to their ownership. There is a real danger that they would be ruled to have let their property go into the public domain, and they would lose millions.

Correct. In legal parlance, they must "vigorously defend" their tradmarks.

 

 

Jeff of Earth-J said:

Richard Willis said:

I think companies go after small targets who are using their copyrighted and trademarked properties because if they let everybody do it they can't suddenly decide to go after a bigger company that is a real threat to their ownership. There is a real danger that they would be ruled to have let their property go into the public domain, and they would lose millions.

Correct. In legal parlance, they must "vigorously defend" their tradmarks.

 

Exactly. That's why the face of Alfred E. Neuman belongs to MAD; because it wasn't being used by the entity that created it, to offer just one example.

A used car dealer up the road from lifted some Superman art for their newspaper ads to underscore their "Super Deals!" Whoever put the ad together thought they had their tracks covered by including a copyright notice crediting the comic book company. Unfortunately the notice read 'Copyright Marvel Comics.'
During the brief time I wrote some Superman stories for DC, I was told to be judicious in my use of the term 'Super.' Having a character say "Well I'll be superamalgamated!," for instance, was not done. I think metioning a supermarket was OK. There was an approved list of 'super' uses, though I was never shown the list; just told to avoid the issue. I assumed that straying outside of the list would risk muddying some legal waters for DC.

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