How has this show even been allowed to air, without a substantial royalty cheque being whisked to Alan Moore?

I'm no copyright lawyer, but its pretty obvious that Penny Dreadful is more than just a little derivative of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Whilst some of the literary characters are exempt from copyright law (Hence Moore's original appropriation), and Character-mashing has been done plenty of times before, this seems deliberately built on the back of League...

The analogues are far too similar; retired colonial African Hunter as leader (check!), supernatural female high class courtesan (check!), American gunslinger as support (check!), Dorian Grey (Check!!)....

Did Showtime originally attempt to get the rights for League, and fail (and if so, how have they avoided the litigious ramifications of derivative work), or have they tried to present the works as unconnected, and hope no one notices?

  • 2
    Isn't this similar to "Marvel and DC steal each other's character ideas"? May 16, 2014 at 15:18
  • If there was more than a casual similarity, there would already be lawyers at the door. They make no qualms about bleeding cash from things like this.
    – wbogacz
    May 16, 2014 at 15:30
  • youtube.com/watch?v=gGiOy4a57Eo
    – Valorum
    May 16, 2014 at 15:50
  • @Richard, I saw this too! It's the inclusion of a cowboy in Victorian London that seals it for me. There is just no plausibility in it, it's lifting straight out of League... I don't see Showtime Lawyers being able to say otherwise, if pressed.. May 16, 2014 at 15:57
  • 2
    I thought this same thing from the first commercial I saw for the show. I think, as you have said, the issue isn't the use of specific public domain character. But it isn't even just the bringing together of such characters in a team either, even that could be satisfactorily different. To me, the big thing is that it looks like almost the exact formula from LXG. It isn't just the bringing together of a bunch of famous heroes, it's pseudonymed versions of Quartermaine, Harker, Grey, etc in the exact same roles as LXG. Suspicious to be sure.
    – Dave
    May 16, 2014 at 19:04

3 Answers 3


The short answer is no. In this discussion of the genesis of "Penny Dreadful", Creator and Exec Producer John Logan makes repeated references to the fact that the authors and their stories are largely contemporaneous (e.g. within a sort of Victorian gothic-themed revival) which makes combining their characters a natural concept.

As far as the show being derivative of Moore's work, the reality is that mashing up victorian writers (and their respective monsters) is neither new, nor Moore's idea. He himself claimed to have been strongly influenced by Philip José Farmer's "The Other Log of Phileas Fogg" which includes Phileas Fogg, Jules Verne, Sherlock Holmes, Dorian Grey and James Moriarty

Moore was also accused of plagiarising the ideas of Anno Draculo, a book series that drew together multiple characters from Victorian gothic fiction. This book included appearances from Dracula, Frankenstein (and his monster), Allan Quartermain, Dorian Grey, Sherlock Holmes, Dr Jekyll (and Mr Hyde), etc etc.

  • 'Whilst some of the literary characters are exempt from copyright law (Hence Moore's original appropriation), and Character-mashing has been done plenty of times before'... thanks for expanding (helpful), but I've already addressed most of this in the question itself. As you've said, some of the Characters are mutually complimentary: the Cowboy in London is, for me, a step too far into Moore's distinct vision. I just don't see why they needed a cowboy, its almost like it's Mocking League directly... May 16, 2014 at 18:27
  • 1
    @JohnSmithOptional there are no cowboys in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics (and Alan Moore disowned the awful film adaptation, as he has done for most of the film adaptations of his comics).
    – evilsoup
    May 16, 2014 at 18:48
  • 5
    @evilsoup - It wouldn't be a moore film if he didn't decry it at every turn...
    – Valorum
    May 16, 2014 at 19:13
  • @evilsoup I'm not familiar with the comics: but I wonder if Victor Frankenstein shows up in them? that would be another nail in the proverbial coffin. May 16, 2014 at 21:25

No, and there's no reason for them to do so. Anyone can use the characters and stories, and they don't have to pay or attribute anything. That's how public domain works. For example, in 2011/2012, there were 3 Snow White adaptations released (2 films and a TV show), and none of them had to attribute credit to the original Snow White folk tales, much less each other.

All four of the elements of similarity you mention, are from the public domain source material, which means anyone can use those elements. Anyone can use them, and not need to ask other makers of modern adaptations if it's okay. What they can't do though, is use elements introduced in those other non-public domain adaptations.

For example, Once Upon a Time and Supernatural both used Wizard of Oz in the last year. Once made use of the magic shoes, which are famously ruby red in the Wizard of Oz film. However, the film isn't in the public domain, only the original book is. So the magic shoes in Once are silver, like they were in the book; were they red, they'd be sued by Warner Bros., who own the rights to the film. But they can use Dorothy, the Wicked Witch, etc. with no risk of being sued, as those come from the original books.

  • Correction, all three of the snow white adaptations claimed to be derivative of the folk tale. They all denied being based on the 'Disney' property...
    – Valorum
    May 16, 2014 at 16:15
  • @Richard Not all 3. One of them is made by Disney, via ABC.
    – user1027
    May 16, 2014 at 16:16
  • 1
    But they certainly didn't bill it as a live action remake though...
    – Valorum
    May 16, 2014 at 16:18
  • Unlike for example; imdb.com/title/tt1661199
    – Valorum
    May 16, 2014 at 16:19
  • Also, the SCOTUS says no attribution is needed for public domain works. Those movies probably did for the sake of marketing. fairuse.stanford.edu/overview/public-domain/trouble-spots
    – user1027
    May 16, 2014 at 16:38

The characters are public domain, and the character mashing trope was hardly new when League of Extraordinary Gentlemen began publication. I have to agree with the OP though, that the similarities between Dreadful characters and those of LoEG are more than superficial. It would make sense that the producers of the former would be acquainted with the latter – or at the very least its adaptation to film, which would explain the inclusion of Dorian Gray and Tom Sawyer an American gunslinger.

I have just started watching Dreadful without much knowledge about the concept, but as an early reader of the LoEG comics I noticed the parallels immediately and thought this might be a veiled debut of the rumoured LoEG TV show... The storylines differ very much however, the two concepts just share an initial framework. Dreadful's addition of Frankenstein and the Wolfman (as well as the Dracula subplot) lead the series down other paths, like the LoEG books spun away from the Victorian setting after the two first story arcs.

There are knowing nods and winks in Dreadful though: In an early scene Sir Murray tells Ms Hives that she might want to button the top of her blouse before seeing Chandler (but is quite content taking her to a soirée in a low cut evening dress later on), which could be a red herring reference to her LoEG counterpart who wears scarves and high collars to disguise the bitemarks on her neck.


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