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The Wake (Part Five)

Email tennis followed for the next week or so, Martin pressing Crawford for a straight answer to his request for dissolution, and Crawford refusing to even discuss it until he was in possession of all the unsold stock, unwilling to concede that they were separate issues – Martin hadn't even received Alasdair's shipment when they started arguing about it, and had already agreed in principle to hand it over; the rest was logistics, and in the meantime he wanted an answer.

Eventually, on Friday 4th June, Crawford came out and said a flat "No". The contract would stand.

Or would it? Independently of each other, Martin and I had been preparing for this eventuality by going back through our original contracts to check out exactly what the various reversion clauses did and didn't say. While there was nothing in principle that covered just the situation we were in, we did both notice an anomaly or two which meant that arguably the company had broken the terms months earlier and we'd been operating on goodwill ever since. Predictably, Crawford rubbished the point when it was brought to his attention – unpredictably, he accompanied his rebuttal with dark accusations of various kinds of misbehaviour on Martin's part, whereupon the whole thing went into the hands of his lawyers. My heart sank: however this panned out, there was no longer any prospect of it being resolved soon.

But something else was happening at the same time, the consequences of which were immediate.

Back when we were putting the book together in early 2009, we'd always intended to use a few pages at the back to acknowledge the contributions of the other artists who'd been attached to the project in its long journey to publication: chiefly Nulsh and Stuart Beel, who'd both been slated to draw it before me, but also Lynsey Hutchinson who'd been of great help to me in my research. Somewhere along the line, this idea mutated into a marketing opportunity, and since we were having a gallery section anyway it was proposed to try and fill it out with some big names who might add to the book's profile – none of your Jim Lees or Frank Millers, mind, but stalwarts of Scottish comics with whom we were on speaking terms anyway and who'd have enough empathy with us and with the material to knock out a sketch as a favour. Dave Alexander, Gary Erskine, people like that. In the end, eleven different artists contributed pages, and Alan Grant was persuaded to write an introduction on the same basis.

None of them were on contract.

If they had been, the terms under which Insomnia could use their work would have been clearly specified – whether for the first printing only, all editions for a period of five years, or whatever. In the absence of such agreements, a change of heart by any one of them could stop the book in its tracks at any time:
18 Infringement by issue of copies to the public

(1) The issue to the public of copies of the work is an act restricted by the copyright in every description of copyright work.

(2) References in this Part to the issue to the public of copies of a work are to the act of putting into circulation copies not previously put into circulation, in the United Kingdom or elsewhere, and not to—

(a) any subsequent distribution, sale, hiring or loan of those copies, or

(b) any subsequent importation of those copies into the United Kingdom;

except that in relation to sound recordings, films and computer programs the restricted act of issuing copies to the public includes any rental of copies to the public.

(Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988, Part I Chapter II)

I'm not sure who was the first of the gallery artists to come out in sympathy with Martin and withdraw permission for their page to be circulated, nor who did or didn't follow suit, but it doesn't matter. Once somebody had pulled out, Insomnia could no longer sell the first edition of Burke & Hare intact. To all intents and purposes, the book was out of print...


  1. If I buy a copy of this book will you get anything from it? Should I from your point of view wait until a new edition comes out?

  2. May as well buy it if you see one - the dispute's not really about money. I won't make any less off your purchase than I would have anyway, and you'll have a first edition of a rather good comic.

    Every fresh sale also benefits the publisher, of course, so if you want to make a point you could try and get it from somewhere that's bought their stock outright, rather than on sale or return. Traditionally that would mean a specialist comic shop rather than a mainstream bookstore, but the boundaries of practice are fuzzier now than they once were. I guess you'd have to ask, really.

  3. Dear Will Pickering:

    I am trying to get in touch with you, Martin Conaghan, and Gary Erskine, to request permission to use two images from Burke and Hare in my upcoming Oxford book. It's about retellings of Burke and Hare, and your work should be included. The book is The Doctor Dissected: Burke and Hare, Medicine and Murder, in Fact, Fiction, and Film (Oxford, 2011). Please get in touch with me by email. cmf@uwyo.edu
    Thank you
    Caroline McCracken-Flesher