Hey Internet, it’s Time to Riot For Howie Noel
03-28-2013


This is one of the stories that I file neatly into my “worst damn nightmare that could ever happen to me” pile. The reason for this blog post is to help generate a bit more attention, so hopefully someone far more powerful than myself will hear this story and be able to help out some. If you’re not familiar with Howie’s work, he’s the guy behind the very popular Tara Normal webcomic. Tara Normal’s been running for quite a while now (the site has the first strip posted as 2009, but I believe it’s been going longer than that.) During that time period Tara Normal has received a healthy bit of attention from Hollywood execs and book publishers alike. While it may not be the reason most of us do a webcomic, you can understand the excitement that would generate. I can tell you from my perspective if I got a call from Hollywood you’d need a sedative to remove me from the ceiling. So naturally, these were all signs of things moving in the right direction for Howie.

Now rather than tell his story step by step, I’m going to post a link to a TGT podcast where Howie himself explains his gut wrenching situation to Kurt Sasso at the end of this blog. What I do want to do however is provide the direct links that Howie himself can’t mention due to possible legal recourse. The short of it is this; while Tara Normal was shopped around a few times, it never actually got picked up. However mysteriously enough a new book series titled “SaraNormal” (yeah tell me THAT doesn’t make your heart sink) hit bookstores in 2012. Not only is the name a blatent rip-off of Howie’s Tara Normal, the comparisons don’t stop there. SaraNormal features a young woman with the same abilities as Tara, hits some of the EXACT SAME plot points and even includes some of the same cast members! If that isn’t bad enough, the fictional author Simon & Schuster created to huck this brand of copyright infringement has the SAME DAMN BIO THAT HOWIE USED. The bastards couldn’t even come up with an original background for their made up AUTHOR! SaraNormal is now a book series that has 9 different books, meanwhile Howie is left with the pieces of the baby he created.

It makes me pissed to even look at this cover...

It makes me pissed to even look at this cover…

Again, I don’t know just what we, the webcomic community can do to stand by Howie during his fight against this type of brazen theft, but it’s important we do something. This is hardly the first time this has happened to the webcomic community either. Some of you may remember the hell Lucas Turnbloom of “ImageThis” went through when “Ted” came out. Lucas decided it wasn’t worth the boat load of cash he’d need to fight Hollywood even though it was pretty obvious that “Ted” more than “sampled’ “ImagineThis.” The sad thing is, as bad as Lucas’s case was, Howie’s is WORSE.

If you are a creator that uses the web as your way to get your product to the world, then this should scare the hell out of you. It appears that the world of webcomics is becoming a breeding ground for Hollywood theft. You know that dream you secretly have where you decided who plays/voices your characters? Well at this rate you may actually see that become a reality, only it won’t be you that gets the profit. You should be even more scared if you’re a webcomic reader since this kind of threat may cause creators to think twice about posting on the net at all.

Here’s the link to Howie’s full talk on TGT that you really should listen to. Furthermore, I urge you to check out Tara Normal itself. Not just to support Howie, but because it’s a damn good comic and it’s well worth a read.

On a closing note, if any of you are friends with Matthew Inman, I’ve got an idea for his next kickstarter… Now if you’ll excuse me I need to find the Colgate, this left a hell of a taste in my mouth.

***Edit***
If you want to get the actual version of the Tara Normal book Howie was shopping around to publisher, click on the link below and support a great indie artist :)
http://www.lulu.com/us/en/shop/howie-noel/tara-normal/paperback/product-20726090.html

***Disclaimer*** Just a heads up, this blog post is solely an opinion piece based off of the podcast interview between Howie and Kurt Sasso and general public information. I do not have any additional information about this issue outside of what can easily be found in the public domain. I know a lot of you are asking questions, however they’re just not questions that I have the answers to. My goal in writing about this was to get the word out about what’s going on and encourage you to check out Kurt’s podcast for yourself. Everything I wrote about is easily available to the general public, so please draw your own conclusions and, if you feel so inclined, put your support behind a great independent creator. Thank you.

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30 Responses to “Hey Internet, it’s Time to Riot For Howie Noel”

  1. Shawn H Corey says:

    Perhaps a Kickstarter to get fund to litigate would be the answer.

  2. Ryan says:

    The problem with a Kickstarter is that it’s income that goes on your tax reports. There’s also no saying how much he would need to reasonably fight this. Since he runs Tara like a small business, throwing in that kind of cash could really screw with the business side of things.

    Not saying it’s not a good idea, but it’s one Howie himself would REALLY need to research first.

    • Rob says:

      Just realized there’s a simple answer to that: just give him a small amount as a “gift.” By acknowledging them as gifts, the person who gave the monetary amount is legally responsible for any tax issues instead of the recipient. I think I could easily slip him a small but meaningful amount and deal with the (less than) pennies that any tax might incur.

  3. Rob Barba says:

    Ryan, may I copy your text to put up on my website for this weekend? The more we get this information out to our readers, the better it will be for Howie. Obviously I’ll credit you (unlike some publishers.) Thanks!

  4. Ryan says:

    Hey Rob, go ahead and post it however you want. The only reason I wrote this was to try and help Howie out

  5. I’ll be sharing this info with as many people as I can. Like you, I hope that someone with the power to help runs across it. Best Wishes!

  6. Doug Kaye says:

    The problem is you cant copyright an idea only the execution of one. Its why in the same year two separate movie studios can release movies about an asteroid hitting earth.

    In SaraNormal vs TaraNormal there may not be a case for copyright infringement. Out of curiosity I bought SaraNormal about a month ago when I first heard about the situation and yes the premise to both are similar but at the execution is very different. Sarah the character is nothing like Tara and the tone and structure is drastically different.

    Does is suck for Howie? Yeah sure but at the same time you could accuse him of ripping off the old tv show “The Ghost Whisperer” because it has just as much in common with TaraNormal as SaraNormal does.

    • Shelley says:

      Doug, I think you’re missing the most obvious point of all. The title is soooooo similar, with only one letter different. That’s totally too close to the trademarked ‘Tara Normal’. Add to that the similarities in story and you have major brand confusion. So if Howie’s talking to media execs and shopping scripts around – then ‘Sara Normal’ comes along from a big company – you really think they’ll know the difference? Answer is NO.

  7. Ryan says:

    Doug have you listened to the podcast I mentioned above where Howie talks about it himself? There is more here then just the same idea being executed differently. I don’t know Howie personally (in fact before this post today I had only spoken to him a couple of times on twitter) but when you listen to him talk about it, it’s clear this is MUCH more than that.

    Also there’s some other details that really proves his point that he’s been advised not to share because of threat of lawsuit. The truth is, even though he’s in the right here, he couldn’t afford a lawsuit to prove it.

    While I get what you’re saying, and admittedly, I haven’t ready SaraNormal myself, I wouldn’t have gone to the effort to post this if I didn’t firmly believe Howie.

    As far as your comparison to The Ghost Whisperer goes, I’ve only seen maybe an episode or two and I honestly can’t remember enough to talk about that one way or another.

    • Doug Kaye says:

      It doesnt matter what Howie says in an interview. He could be lying. For example he says that TaraNormal is trademarked but thats not exactly true. I just ran a TESS search at:
      http://tess2.uspto.gov/bin/gate.exe?f=searchss&state=4006:hukr2v.1.1

      The link may not work here but if you go to the TESS site you can do your own search. The results are that “Tara Normal” was trademarked not “TaraNormal” and it was done AFTER SaraNormal was published. So he clearly did it after the fact and not before.

      • Rob says:

        Yes, and all that really means is that at most Howie can C&D the hell out of S&S. Registering only really allows you to sue for damages. But I think between getting ripped off and “merely” just putting a stop to the fraud, I think Howie would choose the latter.

        But IANAL and so I don’t have the full information. He may have more legal standing than I am aware of.

      • Shelley says:

        Wow Doug, what are you – an employee of S&S? You’re really nit picking for things to bring down a small, independent artist. And how exactly did Howie say “TaraNormal” as opposed to “Tara Normal”? So you’re claiming that he literally said “Tara Normal without the space” in his podcast – since it was a verbal interview and not written. BTW, trademarks are registered to support the artists title and/or design. You don’t need to copy it verbatim to be too close. He has every right to defend his trademark against a literary work that is off by one letter … oh and a space. Let’s not forget that!

        And I’d hate to break it to you but you must prove how long the property has been around in order to be approved for a trademark. If you’d read it, you’d have seen that the property is trademarked for use since 2007. Many properties are in use years before a trademark is actually attained. Maybe you should get your facts straight before calling other people liars.

  8. Trouble says:

    Has anyone checked to see if an organization like the comic book legal defense fund helps with this kind of thing?

    • Rob says:

      CLBDF I think only covers First Amendment issues, of which this is not (this is civil IP law). But you do raise an important point: maybe it’s time that comics needs an organization of its own.

  9. Gary says:

    Can you point out where the similar bios are?

  10. Ryan says:

    Gary, I made that point in reference to what Howie said in his podcast with Kurt Sasso. I know the fictional end of it is what appears on the author bio on Amazon and I would assume the same bio is what is in Howie’s books, but I don’t own one to confirm.

  11. Annoyed person says:

    The part that really pisses you off, is hollywood goes all in an uproar if someone looks at their precious products without paying.. throws a temper tantrum, and sues anybody they can. theives…

  12. [...] I WOULD LIKE TO BRING YOUR ATTENTION TO THIS ON GOOD FRIDAY [...]

  13. Chip Coffey is a buddy with this guy why did he not see it taking place and warn him

    feel sorry for him

  14. Santiago says:

    True about the CBLDF: this may no be their cup of tea, but may get a tip or two. Contact anyway. Does Howie has evidence of Hollywood´s interest in his work? Because if he does, then he could wait ´til the Tara thing is a suscesfull franchisce and the get the Siegel´s lawyer, even better, the lawyer of the old lady who acted against the Wachoisky for Matrix.

  15. Santiago says:

    And, act like them: Howie should go to some european countries and India, big box office countries, and register Sara Normal to his name on those.

  16. [...] First, there was the title – Sara Normal, just one letter off. Then, there was the plotline – it was about a girl who could communicate with ghosts, same as the webcomic. Supporting casts were similar as well. It was, quite literally, too close for comfort. [...]

  17. Dan Sharp says:

    I hope you don’t mind that I linked to your blog on reddit (http://redd.it/1bsjzl) and slashdot (http://slashdot.org/submission/2587421/webcomic-taranormal-plagiarized-by-big-publishing-company) to try to raise more widespread awareness.

    • Ryan says:

      I don’t mind at all Dan, that’s why I took the time to write it in the first place, I felt like Howie wasn’t getting the attention he deserved for what he’s going through. Thanks for sharing it!

  18. Rj says:

    You don’t need to raise money for a defense. I suggest contacting Law Firms on a pro-bono basis (it doesn’t cost to ask and they’ll probably just win this easy case and then keep a share of the winnings) or finding an organization like Lawyers for the Creative Arts that will contact these firms on the person’s behalf for free.

  19. Sean says:

    Wow, I had been using the net and blog to market my ideas but now I have second thoughts about how much I disclose.

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