Meta: Tuckerizations and Character Names

Tom Russell milos_parker at
Sun Oct 29 22:19:10 PST 2006

cabbagewielder at wrote:
>     I know most of you have at some point or another named characters
> after people on the newsgroup or people you know and what.  Some of you
> find it cute and funny.  I don't.  It is the second time a variation of
> my first initial and last name has been used in a RACC story
> intentionally without my permission.  The Cabbagewielder character I
> was okay with.  Tom asked me if he could-- and I said yes.   Aside from
> the killing people, he's a lot like I was at 17.  The LNH-Y story I
> will deal with in my own way soon.    However in reading Superfreaks
> #5, I found a character loosely named after me that I found to be
> patently offensive and even libelious. A situation that is virtually
> identical to the Tony Twist-Todd McFarlane case.

Okay.  While I have no idea what the Tony Twist-Todd McFarlane case is,
I _can_ provide some background as to everything else.

When Jesse Willey first started writing for RACC, he wrote his own
imprint-- CyberNet.  CyberNet wasn't as popular as some of the other
imprints, and, to be quite frank, it wasn't as well-written as some of
the other imprints.  I remember when I first found RACC in May of 1997.
 I tried to read one of Jesse's CyberNet stories, didn't care for it,
didn't give it a second look.

I guess Jesse was upset about the fact that CyberNet and Willey weren't
getting a whole lot of attention, especially when compared to perennial
favourite, the LNH, which had an added boost in popularity due to its
fifth anniversary.  Jesse thought at the time that the LNH was
preventing other imprints from garnering larger readerships, and called
for the end of the LNH.

This started a huge flame war, and it led to me creating an LNH
villain, the Cabbage-Wielding Angel of Death, named after Jesse's own
nom de plume.  And I had fun with it, and I think he had fun with it,
and then a couple of funny things happened:

First, Jesse Willey decided to write for the LNH.  Whether it was
because he was having fun or because he was, as he put it, determined
to destroy the LNH from within, only he knows.

Secondly, Jesse Willey and I became looped together, like we were one
being churning out incomprehensible text.  I didn't really care for
Jesse at the time, and I don't think he really cared for me.  But he
started asking to use my characters in his stories (and, sometimes, he
used my characters without asking), and pretty soon, we were
collaborating on things, to an extent, even cowriting a couple of
issues.  And so soon, the Russell-Willey Team that the sane members of
RACC had decried became a reality.

I don't mean to reflect on Jesse on a negative light here, because I
caused my fair share of problems.  Often, it was because I misread a
roster entry.  Now, I could have went back and double-checked the
roster instead of relying on my memory, but I was lazy: totally my own
fault.  And, when I used someone else's character without permission
and it was brought to my attention, I could have apologized or been
gracious about it: but I wasn't, I was a little shit, and it was
completely my fault.  Still, I caused my share of flame wars, as did
Jesse, and that's probably one reason why we were often conflated into
one being emblematic of all that was wrong with RACC-- and perhaps
USENET in general.

After all, once AOL came onto the scene in '97, USENET-- and the
internet-- traditionally the playgrounds of academics-- was flooded
with a whole generation of idiots and teenagers.  It's what has been
called Eternal September, and I was, unfortunately, a part of that

And though the LNH is still going strong today (hell! we have a new
author!!!), I'm not sure if I can say Jesse wasn't entirely successful
in his aim to destroy the LNH.  As Jesse and I (and perhaps Chris
Ireland, who was really more of a blip during this whole thing) started
flame wars and made sweeping changes to continuity and screamed like
children, mine mine mine!, other writers-- better writers, more mature
writers, funnier writers-- drifted away, losing interest in the LNH all
together, the same way people lost interest in PATROL.

And for that I'm sorry.  I think that's part of the reason why I'm such
a cheerleader for the LNH today-- I want to give back to something
that's given so much to me, sure, but more importantly, I want to make

And, for his part, I think Jesse's matured a lot, too.  I can't say I'm
exactly enamoured of everything he writes, and sometimes I wish his
personal style was less caustic, but, you know what?  He's come a long
way since the time he insisted that someone could copyright or
trademark the adjective "Divine".

> the portrayal had been a good one, I would have nixed it.  Think back
> to the now somewhat imfamous Willey/Willy mistake of a few years ago.
> I think I made my stance on tuckerized characters (without permission)
> quite clear: DON'T.

This was also my doing.

Way back in JOURNEY INTO IRRELEVANCY, I needed a villain.  Since my
second issue was to have a Mega Man theme, I figured that I'd parody
Dr. Wily, the Blue Bomber's main villain.  And so Dr. Willy was born.

Now, it just so happened that Dr. Willy had several attitudes in common
with Jesse Willey: both Willy (who was female) and Willey hated fourth
wall humour, hated silliness, and for the most part, hated what the LNH
basically *is*.  Which makes Willey a weird choice for an LNH author
and Willy a perfect choice for an LNH villain, especially in a series
whose entire point was to validate all that is silly and artistically
without merit.

It was a didactic series, and I'd like to say that Willy/Wiley was just
a coincidence, a mistake, as I said at the time.  At this point in
time?  I honestly can't remember if I was being honest with myself
about it being a mistake.  Looking at it now, from a distance of five
years, I'd have to say it's a mighty tall coincidence.

If I did intentionally usurp most of the letters of Jesse's last name
to have a straw-man for my didactic defense of old-fashioned LNH romps,
it was intended as parody.  Now, the question is, is it right to parody
a fellow RACC author or his characters?  I'm not asking if its legally
right, but whether or not it is morally right, and i think it's a
discussion that should come into play in any discussion of intellectual
property and tuckerizations.

And, in fact, it's a discussion we've had before.  Three years before
JOURNEY INTO IRRELEVANCY, in fact, which would make my parody (if
indeed intentional parody it is) somewhat unconscable.

Here's a link:

To summarize: Jesse suggested that, in lieau of an actual March issue
of RACC PRESENTS, that there be a parody issue called RACC DEMENTS, in
which different universes and stories were parodied.  Not actually a
bad idea, in theory; Mike Escutia does go on record saying that it's a
little too soon, as RACC PRESENTS was just getting started.

Mike says, "If it wasn't so soon after RP's beginning, I wouldn't have
problem with this.  IOW, wait a year and maybe I'll let you do
it. :) "

All well and good, but then things get sticky when Jesse replies to
Mike's statement with

"   I recently had a talk with Mark Evanier, famous comic writer over
email.   We talking about Mad magazine.  He said that at least while he

worked there, they DID NOT have to ask if they could parody something.

They aren't really using anyone else's intellectual property.  Weird Al

Yankovic on the other hand, does have to ask, because he is using the
tunes of the songs in his work."

Then Stephen Reid -- where do you go, Stephen Reid... waaaah :-( --
threw in his "two pence":

"In the real world, you're right. Mad magazine gets away with it. But
is a writing community, and none of us are getting rich off of it.
Parodying when people don't want to be parodied could be at best
insensitive, at worst, spiteful and / or disheartening. I'm sure people
have a lot invested in their universes/imprints wouldn't be too happy
see a parody of their work being put around RACC without their
permission -
it diminishes the original."

Jesse's response:

"  Can I help it if am a bit insensitive?  I can I help it, if I think
and thing, no matter how good it is, should be parody for just for the
sake of a few cheap jokes?  No I can't and I'll you why.  Over the FIVE

YEARS that I've been sporidically email Mark Evanier, he has been
molding me to be almost exactly like him.  (Except, I do about most
super heroes and I have TWO jokes, instead of just one.)  I thrash
everything, whenever and whereever I please.  It's in my

Now, the thread continues, and if you're interested, you should check
out the link-- I think just about everyone got involved, including
special guest star Mark Evanier, who really had no idea what Jesse was
talking about.

I'm not drugging this up for Fond Remembrances of Flame Wars Past-- but
it's because each of these last three responses expresses a different
point of view about this very issue.

(1) Parody is legally covered under U.S. Copyright Law.
(2) The Law doesn't matter, because RACC is a community and we should
be sensitive to others.
(3) Who cares if someone's feelings gets hurt, as long as its
funny/good art?

And this was replayed, more-or-less, during the entire "Omega Flame
Wars" flame war, and the consensus reached there was--

RACC is a community, and you shouldn't be writing things to hurt other

Now, personally?  I don't mind if you parody me or my stuff.  Martin
Phipps made ripping on SPEAK! and my writing style a running gag for a
few issues of DEJA DUDE/MASTER BLASTER.  And, y'know what, it was fine.
 I thought it was funny, and I'm perfectly okay with people parodying
my stuff or taking my name in vain.

But, you know what?  That's _me._  Other people are different, and
Jesse Willey is one of them.

Now, I'm not going to gloss over the fact that I think Jesse's _overly_
sensitive.  Remember, he got hot around the collar when someone
_mentioned_ that the city of Sig.ago was destroyed-- a reference that
_validated_ his story in a _shared universe_.  (That someone was me.)

And, in a shared universe, when you make sweeping changes?  You have to
expect people to refer to them.  If your characters exist, there's a
chance someone might mention them.  And I don't think that violates
your copyright.  Having the character appear without permission?  Bad!
But merely mentioning a character in passing?  I don't think anyone
working in a shared universe should quibble about it.

But not naming a character after him, it's a reasonable request.  And
if I made an honest mistake back in 2001 (again, not sure at this stage
in the game), I can't claim that for 2006.

>  The LNH-Y story I
> will deal with in my own way soon.

The story he refers to is penned by Martin, but is completely my own
fault.  My wife and I were asked by Martin to brainstorm six female
characters, one of whom would take a place with the LNHY Legion of
Net.Heroes.  After having come up with six codenames, personalities,
and powers, we still had to come up with names.  And so we thought it'd
be funny to give the characters female versions of the names of male
RACC writers.

And so was born Arthurina Spitzer, Martine Phipps, and Jessica Willey,
among others.

I mean, honestly, I forgot about Jesse's zero-tolerance stance on
Tuckerization.  After all, it's been five years.  But I still did it,
and I can't claim ignorance this time around.  And maybe I should have
asked permission of Arthur, Dvandom, and everyone else as well.

I don't think anyone else was offended, but, again, that's _them_.  As
a community, we have to be sensitive to the needs of others, and in the
case of Mr. Willey, I failed.  At the same time, as a member of a
community, you can't take umbrage at the drop of a hat-- there's give
and take involved, like in any relationship.

Jesse has every right to be offended-- but I think the level of offense
he takes should be in porportion to the nature of the offense.  Which
brings us, at last, to the topic at hand:

> will deal with in my own way soon.    However in reading Superfreaks
> #5, I found a character loosely named after me that I found to be
> patently offensive and even libelious.

The character Jesse's referring to, Jack Willey, is a rapist-murderer
who's pretty damn unrepentent about his actions.  And, I got to admit,
I thought it was pretty damn amusing in a meta-textual context.  That
is, the rape-murder was not in anyway amusing; but the fact that Willey
was the rapist-murderer?  I thought it was pretty damn funny, the same
way I was somewhat amused by a female character with the last name
Brenton being killed by super-ejaculate.  And, again, the humour didn't
come from the text, but from the name, from the Tuckerization.

Now, as can be expected, Jesse took offense to this.  Hell, I might
even take offense to being the namesake to a rapist-murderer.  And
here's what Jesse had to say:

>     This incident has made me uncomfortable on a newsgroup that has
> been a warm friendly place for me for a number of years.   I have a few
> more stories to post-- and I will try to find a proxy person to post
> them for me.   I may lurk via google and check for comments on my posts
> but do not think I shall be a really active part of this community for
> the forseeable future.

Which is a pretty extreme response.  The question is, is it merited by
Martin's actions?

And, you know, I don't really have an answer to that.

Personally?  I don't think Jesse should take it all that seriously--
it's just a story, it's just a name.  And, not to be trite here, but it
seems he has an awfully thick skin when it comes to someone else being
an object of ridicule, and an awfully thin one when it comes to
himself.  After all, isn't he the guy that said, who cares if it hurts
someone's feelings?

At the same time, he did say that eight years ago.  And people can
change their minds in eight years time.  So I'm willing to give him the
benefit of the doubt on this one.

But shouldn't he extend the benefit of the doubt to Martin?  After all,
while it may be true that

>   Think back
> to the now somewhat imfamous Willey/Willy mistake of a few years ago.
> I think I made my stance on tuckerized characters (without permission)
> quite clear: DON'T.

The hardly memorable, let alone infamous, Willey/Willy incident took
place five years ago.  Isn't it likely that in five years time, Martin
forgot your hardline stance on Tuckerization?

Then again, to be fair, Martin's been just as bad as I was when it
comes to starting flame wars over intellectual property issues.  So
maybe he should have been extra careful.

I really don't know.  I think this is an issue to work out between
yourselves, if you can.

But as long as Jesse's brought it out into the public sphere, I think
it's time we all had a discussion about tuckerizations and parodies.
Not only in general-- i.e., determining what is and is not bad form--
but also in specific-- for example, if you _personally_ have no problem
with a parody of your characters, writing, or person, tell us so.

Personally?  I'm fine with being ridiculed-- in good taste or bad.  As
far as my characters and stories go, I'm not going to allow any direct
parodies-- i.e., having the Green Knight and Gregory Dingham discuss
the finer points of surviving my prose-- but I'm fine with, say, the
Turquoise Squire and Buggery Bingham discussing how to survive my
prose.  Feel free to kill me (you won't have been the first on RACC to
do so), maim me, or make me into a character, in-continuity or

If we can all have an open discussion about this topic, there's less of
a chance it'll happen again-- at least for another few years, anyway.

And hopefully there's enough in my response to provoke Jesse to
participate in the community. :-)


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