Hockey player loses fight with comic book
By The Associated Press
ST. LOUIS Former NHL player Tony Twist's rights were not violated when his name was borrowed for a violent mob enforcer in the popular "Spawn" comic book series, a state appeals court ruled on July 23.
The Missouri Court of Appeals' Eastern District said comic book creator Todd McFarlane was free to use Twist's name in his work of fiction partly because the only resemblance between the player and the character was a reputation for violence.
"We conclude that a reader could not reasonably believe that the Twist comic book character is meant to portray, in actual fact, Twist the hockey player," the three-judge panel said in an opinion written by Judge James R. Dowd. The ruling upheld a St. Louis circuit judge's November 2000 dismissal of a $24.5 million jury award for Twist.
Twist said McFarlane violated his rights by using his name without authorization. He also argued that McFarlane cost him endorsements and other business by associating his name with a character who is a brutal Mafia killer.
"This was a First Amendment case, pure and simple," McFarlane said in a statement issued from the Tempe, Ariz., headquarters of Todd McFarlane Productions. "This ruling reaffirms that comic books are an important story-telling medium entitled to the full protections of the First Amendment; something we in the comic book community have always known to be true."
Michael Kahn, an attorney for McFarlane, agreed. "As far as we're concerned, the court of appeals got it right."
Twist's lawyer, John Bardgett Sr., said the appeals court would be asked to reconsider its ruling.
Twist, 32, formerly among hockey's most feared brawlers, has been out of the game since June 1999, when his St. Louis Blues contract expired.
On the subject of hockey fights, he once told Sports Illustrated, "I want to hurt them. I want to end the fight as soon as possible and I want them to remember it." He since has tried to soften his image and has been involved in local charity work.
McFarlane, an avid hockey fan, has admitted that he named his Tony Twist mob killer after the player, who then was with the Quebec Nordiques (which later moved to Colorado and became the Avalanche).
But the artist said the resemblance stopped there, arguing in court documents that "Spawn" characters "are purely fictional fantasies and no reasonable person could confuse the plaintiff with the fictional fantasies and characters portrayed therein."
"Spawn" has been popular enough to spawn a movie, cartoon series, toys and other enterprises. It is the dark tale of a CIA assassin killed through the betrayal of his colleagues, then resurrected in a deal with the Devil. He returns to Earth as a creature with supernatural powers, struggling to break out of his deal with demons.
One of Spawn's antagonists was Antonio Twistelli, a.k.a. Tony Twist, a Mafioso who ordered murders and child abductions among other evil deeds.
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Los Angeles artist was seeking First Amendment protection for photographers, artists who specialize in celebrity images.