Ashcan Copy

A cheaply and quickly produced work, not intended to be shown to the masses and disseminated only to the extent required to fulfill some non-artistic obligation like claiming a trademark.

The term originated in The Golden Age of Comic Books, when there was a big rush to copyright as many characters and titles as possible, but the actual production time of a comic book made it a bit problematic when days or even hours mattered. The solution? Create a simple mock comic, often just a cover and some unrelated filler made up of garbage sheets, and submit it to the copyright office. The term itself comes from the fact that these comics often weren't actually distributed to newsstands, just going straight to the ashcan (period vernacular for trashcan) once they did their job.

Starting in The Dark Age of Comic Books, an "ashcan" copy of a comic, often black and white and limited in distribution, would sometimes be distributed as a promotional item. These comics were called "ashcans" for marketing reasons (i.e. to imply rarity and value like the Golden Age versions) but really had little to do with Golden Age ashcans.

If, by chance, these works ever actually do see distribution, expect They Just Didn't Care to be taken to new levels. See also Franchise Zombie for other cases of exploiting a trademark.


Comic Books
  • The most widely-known example is Flash Comics, which was actually the title of two different ashcans from different companies seeking claim to the title. DC Comics' Flash Comics combined cover art from Adventure Comics #41 with pages from All-American Comics #8; Fawcett's Flash Comics (also printed under the title Thrill Comics) featured the origin of Captain Thunder, who made his first regular appearance as Captain Marvel in Whiz Comics #2 (there was no Whiz Comics #1).
  • DC Comics' Action Funnies ashcan contained pages from Detective Comics #10 and cover art that would later appear in color on Action Comics #3.
  • Fawcett's 5-Cent Comics and Nickel Comics ashcans (black-and-white, no cover art) marked the respective debuts of Dan Dare and Scoop Smith, both of whom subsequently appeared in Whiz Comics. Nickel Comics became a regular series, but without Scoop Smith.
  • Eerie #1 was a hastily assembled digest of horror comic stories with a print run of a few hundred copies, created by publisher James Warren to deny the title to rival publishers Myron Fass and Robert W. Farrell, whose company was named Eerie Publications.
  • Following the DC Implosion (where DC Comics cancelled a whole bunch of titles all at once) they "published" Cancelled Comic Cavalcade, two 250 page editions of the comics which had been cancelled just to ensure copyright on the stories which had already been written & drawn. Only 35 copies were made, though black-and-white photocopies of the originals exist. The reprint was notable for being the first "appearance" of JLA member Vixen.
  • DC Comics, owner of Wonder Woman, made a huge mistake back then: they never thought about making a "Wonder Man". Marvel Comics played a prank to them by doing so first. They were not serious about it: it was a one time villain, who dies at the end of his single adventure. But, when the rights to this minor character were about to expire (and DC would be able to use them), Marvel Comics resurrected the character and turned it into a steady character for the Avengers, retaining the rights.
    • Marvel has another case: while DC was suing Fawcett regarding how close was Captain Marvel to their own Superman, Marvel created Captain Mar-Vell (given the company name, they couldn't be blamed). Then DC bought Fawcett and incorporated the now rebranded Shazam into their universe. In turn, Marvel has had to publish a Captain Marvel title every year or two since, leading to a number of ongoing series, limited series and one-shots featuring a range of characters using the Captain Marvel alias (the original Mar-Vell, many of his sons and clones, and the current one that used to go by Ms. Marvel).

  • While most prevalent in comics, other entertainment fields have done similar things, including the 1994 The Fantastic Four movie. The flick was made on the cheap, and never intended for wide-release. The studio was given a certain number of years to make the film, and would lose the rights if no film was produced. By the term of the contract, they had to make a film. No one specified it had to be a good one. It only exists in bootleg copies - including online ones.
    • This was parodied in Arrested Development, where it's stated to be one of several movies made by Imagine Entertainment (the studio that makes the show) for just such a reason: Ron Howard was told by a drunk lawyer at the company Christmas party that Imagine's license on the Fantastic Four would expire if it remained unused for 6 more days. They made a film where the people working the bar were hired to be the actors, then hired them to work at the film's wrap party 5 days later.
    • Subverted with the farmed-out Marvel properties, Spider-Man, X-Men and (appropriately) Fantastic Four. Since they are done on a large scale and intended to be seen by large audiences to make a profit, it's not quite this trope, though an argument can be made that the movies are simply being made to so they don't lose the license to Marvel Studios itself. Your mileage may very how true this may be, since they are still made to make a profit, and are not done on the cheap. To the point once The Amazing Spider-Man 2 did not do enough for Sony, they decided to back off their franchise plans and join up with Marvel for future Spidey movies.
  • The 1966 adaptation of The Hobbit was this. Producer Bill Snyder bought the rights to make a film from J.R.R. Tolkien's estate on the cheap, and just before it was set to expire the popularity of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books skyrocketed. Realizing he could make serious cash selling the rights, he decided to get it extended. However, a film had to be made and released in order for that to happen. With the contract set to expire in one month, he got Gene Deitch to hastily produce a 12 minute film using still drawings and got it finished in 30 days, which was then screened in a Manhattan theater on the day the contract expired. The deal being fulfilled, the contract was extended and Snyder sold the rights for $100,000 (in 1960s money). In 2012 the film finally resurfaced when Snyder's son uploaded it on YouTube.
  • Hellraiser: Revelations was made in a few weeks so that The Weinstein Company could hold onto the rights to the Hellraiser franchise long enough to get a planned remake off the ground. The result is widely regarded as the worst film in a franchise that has seen its fair share of bad sequels, to the point where Clive Barker (who wrote and directed the original film) publicly disowned it.

Live-Action TV

  • Bob Dylan's The Copyright Extension Collection was an official 4-CDR release by Sony of many unreleased sessions and alternate takes from the early 60s. Much of this music was not considered commercially viable, so had not been released. However, the rules at the time the music was made was that it would go into the Public Domain after 50 years unless it was released officially. As the title suggests, it was released as a way of renewing the copyright. They did not want to draw much attention to it, so released it as a limited edition of 100 copies in Germany and some other parts of Europe, and did not promote it. The set became immensely popular and copies sell for high prices - the music has not been released again. Ironically, its limited availability and official status has encouraged far more downloading than it would have done if they had let it pass into the public domain.

Video Games
  • Japan had a law prohibiting arcade cabinets from being distributed without games. Manufacturers obliged by providing very simple games good for little else but testing the monitors and controls. Sega's Dottori-kun and Taito's Minivader are typical examples, featuring primitive black-and-white graphics and no sound.
  • In 2007, Atari commissioned a simple flash game produced in just four days in order to maintain trademark on Star Control.