Coffin Comics Issues Cease and Desist on Wheeler’s Parody

Coffin Comics, an authoritative figure in the indie comics sphere who has grossed over 10 million dollars on Kickstarter since 2014 serves Mike and Mindy Wheeler (that’s me) a cease and desist for our Kickstarter campaign of Star Whores, a Star Wars Parody. Coffin threatens copyright infringement of $150,000 per infringement, even though parody is covered under fair use. Demands to remove our parody character Lady Darth (a female parody of Lord Darth Vader) must be satisfied by June 3rd, 2024.

Since the release of the Lady Darth cover, Coffin fans have ridiculed us, claiming her look is a “blatant rip off” of Lady Death, ignoring the resemblance of Lady Death to Taarna from Heavy Metal and the carte blanche use of parody and homage by Coffin Comics and associates. This constitutes a look of hypocrisy, especially when flaunting several Darth Vader parodies themselves. Right before serving us a cease and desist, Coffin was parodying off of Mad Max’s Furiosa with “Lady Deathiosa” and My Little Pony, advertising those covers as Phoenix Fan Fusion Exclusives.

Coffin Comics and their associates have significant influence over the market, creating fear in smaller creators over backlash and legal costs if targeted by a cease and desist. Marvel and DC also have similar white-skinned, white-haired ladies in dark clothing but are no doubt, harder to intimidate (see “The Black Swans” from Marvel Comics, La Lunatica from Boom! Studios, Hepzibah from Marvel Comics, H’Lana from Maximum Press, Argent from DC Comics, Ezra from Arcana Studio, Nekra from Marvel Comics, and many more.

This flex of control hurts smaller creators, possibly preventing them from ever reaching the caliber of success Coffin and associates get to enjoy by profiting off of Star Wars and other parodies and homages themselves. This raises serious questions of Market Manipulation, Abuse of Process, and Anti-trust violations, as they maintain their authoritative social influence by being the biggest earners, but they can remain the biggest earners by bullying and snuffing out competition. Our Star Whores parody book is expected to raise only 8.2% of what Coffin’s most recent closed campaign did.

Brian started his career as a writer at Eternity Comics who was known for silly parodies such as Gonad the Barbarian. Coffin isn’t afraid to source other IPs for inspiration, describing “Coffinverse” as heavy metal inspired supernatural comic books… ” and features a Heavy Metal homage on the cover of their Lady Death Hardcover Homage Art Book.

SWORN Nation fans take it even further, defending there are plenty of differences between Taarna and Lady Death, in personality. Yet, since the release of our Lady Darth cover, outraged SWORN fans have painted us as “Rip-Off artists” and “obviously bad people”.

Coffin’s high-earning colleagues, who have nearly monopolized the market and profit predominantly from parody books, do not face the same criticism. In fact, their fan bases frequently overlap with Coffin’s, which grants them a free pass to succeed. Such associates include Shawn Hudachko from Comics Elite who boasts over 22 million dollars of sales (1 million on Kickstarter), Jamie Tyndal from Merc, and Marat Mychaels with Counterpoint, all of whom coined the term “cosplay cover” in crowdfunding.

Not even in the face of serious legal trouble did SWORN Nation or Coffin Comics bat an eye at Shawn Hudachko, who was recently served a hefty cease and desist over a Margot Robbie Barbie Cover which he had to destroy in compliance.

“They knew they had me dead to rights….” “My lawyer basically said ‘You’re stupid, why did you do this?’ Says Shawn. Yet, the Coffin internet mob nor Shawn’s associates did not condemn him for his actions like they did on Coffin’s behalf last year when they attacked Melinda’s Comics who apologized and complied with a Coffin Comic’s cease and desist. In fact, Shawn made it a point to publicly attack us Wheelers over my assessment of his Margot Robbie cover, smearing us as liars that we should apologize, even though I was correct in my assessment. Shawn further called us “unhinged scammers”.

Crowdfunding Kingpins

Turns out, many similarities actually exist between the Comicsgate market and the Kickstarter market. Critics of Comicsgate (myself included) point out the “in-crowd” effect where associations with high-earning publishers and creators like Coffin and EVS lead to greater financial success.

Kickstarter is where all the industry legends go that still have connections, and therefore, influence in the comics industry at large. CG regards Ethan Van Sciver as a high-dollar earner but Pulido has out-sold Ethan almost 5 times over. At one point when Brian Pulido ran Chaos! Comics (which filed bankruptcy and went out of business years ago), it was the fourth largest publisher in North America.

While most fans argue Pulido doesn’t engage in controversy, that bubble was popped last year with the cancelation of Melinda’s Comics.

Melinda’s Comics

Last year, a retailer going by Melinda’s Comics, known in part for publishing controversial AI covers, created a “Cosplay” cover of Lady Death. She was quickly burned at the stake by Coffin fans. Melinda’s Comics stated she was only doing what she saw other retailers do. She primarily sells on WhatNot where Comics Elite has a large presence selling cosplay covers.

She apologized and diligently followed the instructions of the Cease & Desist, yet she was still relentlessly attacked for days. Coffin’s associates and artists emerged to support Brian. Despite her apology and efforts to remedy the situation, Brian Pulido continued to repost these attack messages on Facebook, amplifying calls to “boycott her business” as loudly as possible. Shawn Hudachko also joined in, reassuring everyone that his own use of parody “stays well within parody and fair use laws.”

A Seat at the Table

We see an interesting situation with a Marat Mychaels Do You Pooh homage to Lady Death. Curiously, it’s being sold on the Coffin Comics website which means not only does Coffin directly profit off of it, but they have control over its distribution. Even though it is obviously transformative and parody laws would allow it to stand on its own merit, Marat did not go this route. Coffin Comics chose to make this parody socially acceptable, propping up some creators’ endeavors over others. Questions arise over possible “Horizontal Agreements”, which is an agreement between competitive companies in the same market.

Recently, Coffin Comics spotlighted Rob Liefeld, a comic book veteran who is currently a decade late on delivering a crowdfunded book. Multiple Facebook groups, formed by disgruntled backers, aim to inform the public about Liefeld’s treatment of consumers who feel scammed. Despite this controversy, Coffin Comics promoted Liefeld’s Lady Death cover in January as a key collectible. Our critique of the anatomy in Liefeld’s Lady Death cover was not well received by either Coffin or Rob.

The History (Wheelers VS. The “Upper Echelon”)

This isn’t the first time we’ve brushed shoulders negatively with that crowd. Looming threats of us being sued by the “Upper Echelon” have circled online since last December when we wrote an article about Tyndall possibly tracing this Brett Booth piece, aggravating several creators.

Smaller indie guys refer to this powerful group of high-earning Kickstarter creators as “The Upper Echelon of Comics” and we have been fighting against the grain in the face of slanderous reputational damage after being painted to be scammers by Rob Liefeld in 2016. The damage was exaggerated in 2018 by Comicsgate and then again in 2020 when a few people with bad intentions trashed a free speech platform we were trying to build. Since then, many have realized the truth and apologized. We’ve made many amends and individuals have remedied their stance against us Wheelers.

We have an overall positive track record of comic book business going back to 2014. Our positive track record was especially strengthened in the last year as we came into our own as Creators, publishing our social commentary satire book Boobs. This move simultaneously made us a threatening competitor coming into the Kickstarter market, seeing lots of success for a first campaign raising $27,929. We have fulfilled 12 books promptly on top of over 75 original sketches.

In 2016, Liefeld wrongfully broadcasted to his Facebook audience that Mike was deceptively using the influence of Rob’s friend and showrunner, Jimmy Jay, to get guests to come to a convention we were trying to start yet hadn’t yet publicly announced. This doesn’t make sense because most of the people coming to our show were people we knew personally who we considered friends (yes, that included Neal Adams).

I have openly shown proof that we did not do what Liefeld accused us of. Immediately after I saw Rob’s post, I reached out to remedy the situation with Rob, but he laughed and blocked me. Bleeding Cool made no effort to reach out and hear our side of the story and published an article which made the controversy even louder, setting off a chain reaction.

Liefeld was never invited to the show, making his involvement confusing. Here’s my guess: Jesse James, a local AZ retailer who organized afterparties for Jimmy Jay’s shows and hosted Pulido’s first Kickstarter event with the original SWORN Nation fans, was partying with Rob and Jimmy Jay after a show in Vegas. This likely happened within 48-72 hours before Rob’s Facebook post. There may have been a verbal agreement that, in the absence of Amazing Arizona, Jesse and Pulido were to “take the reins” and dominate that market space—information we were unaware of, leading to the cancellation of our show to make way for SwornFest. Perhaps they offered Rob some inducement, and once he got home and sobered up, he sent his aggressive fan base after us. This is just speculation.

The article snowballed. Employees of Phoenix Comic Con joined in, using it as the perfect scapegoat for their own legal issues as they faced possible tax evasion charges from the city of Phoenix and were under fire (they have since rebranded as Phoenix Fan Fusion). Being a very politically charged election year, BLM, Trans Rights activists, and many random biased online bloggers came to troll our business into the ground, which they did.

Jesse James, a reporter for Bleeding Cool and owner of the largest comic book shopping network on Facebook, directly benefited from our downfall by gaining a competitive advantage in the convention space market. Pulido also benefited, partnering with Jesse James to buy out Tucson Comic-Con and eventually launching SWORN Fest around the same dates as our planned show, and only about 18 miles from our original location.

Defeated, severely damaged, and physically hurting from serious harassment, we did our best to pick up the pieces of our lives and left the comics industry for years. We were completely traumatized by the event and deeply confused as to why we became such a high-profile target. When Liefeld admitted his coke habit, his behavior made more sense to me. Online nerd bloggers who never spoke to us ensured our reputation was tarnished, branding us as failures. The supposed maliciousness was never proven, yet the same people who wish to see Lady Darth removed continue to echo these accusations today.

The Aftermath

Since our Arizona departure, Pulido seems to have adopted the term of an indie comics “outlaw”, which was the name of our old business. Fast forward to today, Liefeld is still sitting on 50k of consumer money. Nobody seems to know Pulido’s business partner Jesse James owes roughly 1.53 million dollars in garnished wages between 2012 and 2023, Shawn admits guilt and destroys all his Margot Robbie “cosplay” covers, all the while Coffin is promoting Liefeld as revered and influential creator.

Stifling Free Speech

This is the picture Coffin Comics sent, claiming copyright infringement of Lady Death, even though it contains obvious elements of a Star Wars parody such as a voice box, lightsaber, and a giant Death Star.

A complete gender swap of Lord Vador is absolutely transformative and could not be accurately pictured in any other way. Lord Darth Vader has white skin, white hair, and a black costume. Lady Darth has the same. The historical opposite of “Lord” is the word “Lady.” Any adjustments to Lady Darth would force us to change the character to be inaccurate in her parody portrayal of Lord Darth Vader, stifling our innovation and creative expression.

Transformative Factor

A common basis that lawyers use in defense of parody is this Mona Lisa mustache. If the use of the mustache and the text was enough to pass as Fair Use, there’s no reason our lightsaber and text on this cover shouldn’t be enough, either, on top of Lady Darth already being a transformative gender swap of Lord Darth Vader.

Free Speech for All, or Free Speech for None

We’re pretty well known for our social commentary and adding value to discussions regarding the indie comics community (whether people like it or not). We’re not flawless, but we’re no scammers. It’s been an extremely difficult road in this industry, but the way we have been able to overcome adversity is by using the negativity and turning it into creative inspiration. That won’t stop anytime soon.

You can read our response to the C&D in the gallery below.

In the case something happens to our Kickstarter, we are taking measures to ensure a crowdfunding option will still be available, thanks to the free-speech supporting platform fundmycomic.com. You can enter your email at the bottom of www.divinitycomics.com to get notified when Star Whores goes live, whichever platform it’s on. Here’s the Kickstarter link.

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Mindy Wheeler

ByMindy Wheeler

Comic creator, artist, publisher, and journalist.

3 thoughts on “Coffin Comics Issues Cease and Desist on Wheeler’s Parody”
  1. Thanks for that bit of the behind the comics issue with Coffin & Bryan
    in regards to your Star Wars parody “ STAR WHORES “ .
    I’ve pre-signed up for the KS campaign when it’s launched

  2. Would it help to add a helmet, or maybe a tiara with curves suggesting the outline of a vader helmet? Maybe one more nod towards Star Wars would be enough.

  3. Odd because her hair and eyes don’t look like Lady Death to me as i didn’t remember Lady Death having pupils. But either way its a SW parody… so i mean most courts count 25% change as enough .. so maybe maker her hair black.. and call her Lady Vader heh. But all in all if you decide to fight for the original version i respect it.

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