Egret and crab

Friday, January 5, 2024

The Air Pirates shall rise again!

The news this week is that Walt Disney's Steamboat Willie Mickey Mouse image is no longer protected by copy write. 

Plumb out of date.

This means that twisted people can do all sorts of things with the poor mouse. Some good, some not so good.

I guess that it is open season right now.

This immediately made me think of Dan O'Neill. 

I wondered if he was still alive (he is, now 81) and what he thought of the whole deal.

You see, Dan O'Neill was a great underground cartoonist in the sixties. 

A lot of people didn't read the undergrounds but I sure did. Still have a whole bunch.

Dan did the cool cartoon on the back of the Jefferson Airplane Volunteers album if you remember that one?

He was one of the first cartoonists to take on Vietnam and was always a very straight shooter with a unique perspective. 

He had an influential strip called Odd Bodkins.

I think Comics Journal had some good interviews with him.

Dan and a few of his cohorts came up with a Disney parody in the early seventies called Air Pirates Funnies

The group also included Bobby London, Shary Flenniken, Gary Hallgren, and Ted Richards. They all lived together in San Francisco, at least for a while.

I loved all of them and collected their stuff for years. Richards drew E.Z. Wolf, a favorite of mine, London, known for Dirty Duck, would sometimes have his characters hanging out at Grateful Dead concerts.

Anyhow, Walt got sore at their artistic liberties with his pet cartoon rodent and took O'Neill and Last Gasp's Ron Turner to court. You can read all about it here

The initial decision by Judge Albert Charles Wollenberg in the U.S. District Court, delivered on July 7, 1972, went against the Air Pirates, and O'Neill's lawyers appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. O'Neill suggested the other Pirates settle, and leave him to defend the case alone. Hallgren and Turner settled with Disney, but London and Richards decided to continue fighting. To raise money for the Air Pirates Defense Fund, O'Neill and other underground cartoonists sold original artwork – predominantly of Disney characters – at comic book conventions.

During the legal proceedings and in violation of the temporary restraining order, the Air Pirates published some of the material intended for the third issue of Air Pirates Funnies in the comic The Tortoise and the Hare (Last Gasp, 1971), of which nearly 10,000 issues were soon confiscated under a court order. In 1975, Disney won a $200,000 preliminary judgement and another restraining order, which O'Neill defied by continuing to draw Disney parodies.[1]

The case dragged on for several years. Finally, in 1978, the Ninth Circuit ruled against the Air Pirates 3-0 for copyright infringement, although they dismissed the trademark infringement claims.[1] In 1979 the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal. O'Neill later claimed that his plan in the Disney lawsuit was to lose, appeal, lose again, continue drawing his parodies, and eventually to force the courts to either allow him to continue or send him to jail.

I met most of these people at the early San Diego Comic Con, back at the El Cortez. They were wonderful people.

I hope that the Air Pirates can now fly again!

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