A term that originated from The Golden Age of Comic Books. 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 weren't ever actually made to be distributed, often just going straight to the ashcan (period vernacular for trashcan) once they did their job.
Starting in the Dark Age of comics, 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.
- The most widely-known example is Flash Comics, the title that introduced Captain Marvel (then called Captain Thunder). Whiz Comics #2 was the first actual issue; #1 was an ashcan edition and was never publicly released.
- "Action Funnies"
- "5-Cent Comics"
- While most prevalent in comics, other entertainment fields have done similar things, including the infamous 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.
- The Evil Dead has the short film Within the Woods, a cut down prototype of The Evil Dead made to convince filmmakers to finance the project.
- 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.