For a sci-fi writer, having ”X-Files” mastermind Chris Carter adapt your work would seem like the ultimate blast to the moon. But not for the creators of the original comic book ”Harsh Realm,” which inspired Carter’s new Fox show of the same name. Yesterday they filed suit against him, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, and Harris Publications (the original publisher of the comic) for at least $5 million for not giving them proper credit on the show. ”I really, really want to throw my television out the window every time I see the show on the air and it says, ‘Created by Chris Carter,”’ says Andrew Paquette, the 34-year-old artist behind the comic.
When publicizing ”Realm” — the first show in his $25-30 million production deal with Fox — Carter has gone to great trouble to say that he barely used any elements at all from the comic, which had a limited run of six issues back in 1993-94. He told the Toronto Sun, for example, that he ”used the comic book [only] as a jumping-off point.” True, the comic depicts a detective from the future who travels to a medieval alternate universe to track down a teen who has become a tyrannical leader, while the show has a present-day soldier transported to a virtual-reality world where an older ex-Army officer has become an evil despot. Yet the comic book’s writer, James Hudnall, 42, says that despite new names, ages, and settings, the characters’ functions remain essentially the same as he created them. (When contacted through Fox, Carter declined to comment; Fox has a policy of not commenting on litigation.) In fact, one interesting detail remains: ”There’s only one character that bears the same name as in the comic: [Carter] named his hero’s dog Dexter, which is the name of my hero,” says Hudnall. ”I don’t know if that’s an insult or an homage.”
While the show mentions its original source in the credits with ”Special Thanks to the ‘Harsh Realm’ comic book series published by Harris Publications Inc.,” Hudnall and Paquette’s names are nowhere to be found, which they think is not only insulting, but also detrimental to their careers. ”This [credit] would be instrumental in helping me get more deals,” says Hudnall, who has been shopping the rights to his other comic series, like ”The Age of Heroes,” to Hollywood producers. ”It would be a career boost, and it’s rightfully ours.”
Unfortunately, when these two signed their deal with Harris in 1991, they didn’t have a lawyer and didn’t think to ask for assurances that they would get a credit if the series was ever turned into a TV series or movie. Harris sold the rights to producer Dan Sackheim — who brought it to Carter — in 1996 without asking for their input. Even so, Hudnall and Paquette are sharing in the studio payments. The pair got half of a $10,000 signing fee and a $25,000 pilot fee that Fox paid Harris, and Harris receives a $2,800-per-episode payment that they are supposed to get 50 percent of, payments they claim are long overdue. (A Harris rep did not return repeated calls.)
While their issues with Harris are financial, Hudnall and Paquette’s anger at Carter is mostly one of pride. Regardless of any agreements made with Harris, they think Carter and Fox should have respected the comic team’s creativity enough just to give them their proper credit. ”For them to say ‘We don’t legally have to give it to you, therefore we’re not going to,’ that’s like saying ‘We don’t have to be nice to you, so we’re gonna be jerks,”’ says Hudnall. ”What kind of person says that?” Looks like somebody just realized that Hollywood is the original Harsh Realm.