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Yipes! Swipes!

27/09/2016

Artists and writers and musicians and all creative people have long had a love / hate / I-kill-you-filthy! relationship to homages.

“Homage” as you know is the French word for plagiarism blatant rip off swipe.

It’s all fun and games until somebody swipes your stuff, then it’s “Drag hang ‘em over a mile of broken coke bottles!”

It you want to waddle through an area full of moral / ethical complexity, this is the category to do it in.

(We’re gonna stick to art because it’s easier to show examples of what I’m talking about, but what I’m posting about applies to all creative forms.)

Some people & cultures take swiping very, very, VERY seriously.

The Japanese have been know to cancel best selling titles simply because the manga-ka relied a little too heavily on stock sports photos for reference.

On the other hand, the late great Wally Wood told more than one aspiring artist, “Why are you drawing everything originally? Get a reference file so you don’t have to!”

Wally Wood also put together the famous graphic 22 Panels That Always Work for hard working cartoonists who needed to meet a deadline and, stumped for inspiration, could use one of his examples to get them through a tough point in the story.

ys-wally-wood-22-panels

But the thing about Wally Wood’s swipe files was that he used them for feel or reference, he didn’t copy them line or line, detail for detail. Take a look below, comparing a panel from his famous sci-fi story “My World” and the original news photo from the 1930s.

ys-mw-4

This terrified baby was almost the only human being left alive in Shanghai's South Station after brutal Japanese bombing. China, August 28, 1937. H.S. Wong. (OWI)NARA FILE #: 208-AA-132N-2WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #: 1131

This terrified baby was almost the only human being left alive in Shanghai’s South Station after brutal Japanese bombing. China, August 28, 1937. H.S. Wong. (OWI)NARA FILE #: 208-AA-132N-2WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #: 1131

The same idea,
only different.

But at the other end of the extreme, one of Wood’s acolytes was an artist of extremely modest talent who could at least draw a straight line and ink it to satisfaction; while he often worked batting clean-up on other people’s work, this person also sold his “own” illustrations to sci-fi digests of the era: Typically panels from comic books copied pretty much directly with no effort to add any science fictional elements.

But then, that’s what “fine” artist[1] Roy Lichtenstein did, swiping panels from comic book cartoonists whom he bore grudges against, copying them as extra large canvases, and selling them for mucho dinero.

ys-oh-alright-thumb

One of the guys he ripped off was inspired by took him to court, but the judge ruled what Lichtenstein had done was to take an idea — in this case an artistic expression — and by copying it large enough to see the printing dots, turned it into a brand new work of art that wasn’t a direct swipe after all.

Then Lichtenstein tried the same stunt with a Disney character and Disney threatened to drag him through every court on the east coast regardless of what the first judge ruled[2], and Lichtenstein painted Disney no more.

Money, as the eminent philosopher
C. Lauper once observed, changes everything…

This orbits back to a recent series of complaints about convention artists selling work that is not wholly their own.

For decades the major comics and media companies have been looking the other way as artists sell prints and commissioned drawings of characters they do not own. The unspoken agreement is that what is being sold is not a picture of Daffy Duck or Batman or Harry Potter but rather a representation of that particular artist’s skill.

As these convention artists make no representation they own any rights to the characters, this legal fiction has been allowed to stand. It could be a big X, it could be super-detailed drawing of every blessed Avenger ever, but the thing actually being sold is not the art in and of itself but the art as a representation of the artist’s skill level.

Not all the major media companies are happy with this but as they say in The Sopranos, “’Ey, whaddya gonna do?” or (more to the point) as they say in the Army: “Never give an order you can’t enforce.”

The major media companies can not enforce every single solitary copyright violation so they let the little fish swim free, going after the big pirates of posters and T-shirts and media.

But recently an interesting new charge has been floating around.

Warner Brothers / DC Comics own Batman.

Artist Pat draws a picture of Batman based on a pose from a recent comic book or movie; the point being that it’s not Pat’s character nor is the pose original even though that particular execution is done by them.

Artist Pat then sees Artist Leslie selling prints that exactly copies Artist Pat’s work.

Artist Pat takes umbrage at Artist Leslie, yet Artist Leslie has done nothing that Artist Pat hasn’t already done!

It’s one thing when Artist Pat sees a T-shirt retailer selling dozens of shirts based on Artist Pat’s art without paying Artist Pat, yet if Artist Pat is using someone else’s character, Artist Pat is doing just as much “stealing”.

Every creative person starts out with some sort of imitation. Maybe not wholly conscious, maybe without intent to profit directly from it, but every creative person learns their craft by studying what those who came before them did and then learns to add their own stylistic interpretation.

And somewhere on a gamut from “not nice” to “outright criminal” there falls the issue of copying somebody else’s art and making a buck off it for yourself.

Is it always wrong? Is it never right?

Depends.

Re-create another artist’s work but acknowledge the source ala “reproduction of Fantastic Four #1 cover by Jack Kirby” and it’s hard to point fingers.

Take another artist’s idea but add your own twist to it — “See, it’s the dogs-playing-poker picture only this time they’re human!” — and it seems to fall into the category of “fair usage”.[3]

But it’s pretty unkosher to swipe another struggling artist’s idea even if that artist swiped it from somebody else.

Basically, don’t be a yutz about it. If you like what somebody else did, figure out what you liked about it then do that in your own way.

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[1]  As opposed to a “howard” artist?

[2]  Because nobody fncks with The Mouse!

[3]  And if it doesn’t, MAD magazine and about sixty million pornographers are in a world of hurt because of their parodies of famous movies and TV shows.

 

 

 

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Alex Toth Knows Where (And Where Not) To Draw The Line

8/09/2016

Alex Toth on too many lines

Alex Toth knows whereof he speaks.
(This applies to alla youse:
artists / writers / musicians)

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Cover Your Eyes And Ears For The Killer Joke!

19/08/2016

Okay, we’re going to follow the winding course of a joke, from its (possible) origin to its (possible) inspiration for “The Funniest Joke In The World”, a “killer joke” so lethally funny the listener / reader will literally die laughing.

Here are the strips (courtesy Steven Thompson’s Four-Color Shadows blogspot) for an eight week Li’l Abner continuity from Dec. 26, 1964 to February 12, 1965, officially credited to Al Capp but (possibly) ghosted by Bob Lubbers.

AAA

BBB

CCC

CCC1

DDD

EEE

FFF

HHH

Several variants of this basic idea exist, but the actual “killer joke” seems to have originated with Lord Dunsany’s “Three Infernal Jokes” in 1916.  Capp’s Li’l Abner used the idea in 1964; did he crib it from Lord Dunsany or was it an idea he originated on his own?  Monty Python’s version was first shown about 2 1/2 years later on Oct. 5, 1969, but while the Pythons were certainly aware of Li’l Abner did it serve as their inspiration or did they harken back to Lord Dunsany?

coda:  Hudson & Landry were a pair of Los Angeles DJs who had a string of novelty / comedy records between 1971 and 1974.  In their skit “The Prospectors” (a.k.a. “I Couldn’t Live Like That”) they appear to have appropriated Capp’s capper at the 3:24 mark…

thanx to Tom Spurgeon
The Comics Reporter
for the tip-off

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Review: MARY WEPT OVER THE FEET OF JESUS

22/04/2016

MW Cover

A graphic novel by Chester Brown
Subtitle: “Prostitution And Religious Obedience In The Bible”

I recommend this book with reservations.

Some of you who are Christians shouldn’t read it; not because it has naughty pictures in it, but because you aren’t spiritually capable of processing Brown’s interpretation of the Bible.

You will rant and rave and condemn his book
and his ideas but gain no benefit from them.

And by “benefit” I don’t mean you will change your mind and accept what he says, but that you won’t take his perspective to look at the source material with fresh eyes.

Because frankly, that’s the most important thing about this book: Its ability to get us to step out of our traditional mindsets and look at the text anew.

We may opt to say, “Hmm, interesting, but I’m not convinced” and return to our original point of view, but we will at least now have the ability to evaluate that belief in comparison with another, far more different interpretation.

And that can only strengthen our belief in the long run.

Conversely, some of you who are skeptics shouldn’t read it either because you lack the perspective and context to grasp the points Brown makes.

You’ll gleefully shout, “Aha! Mary was a hooker! I knew it!”
and decide there is no reason to look any further into
the teachings of Christ because it’s all bogus.

That’s not what Brown is saying.

So after the jump I’ll analyze what Brown’s point is.

I will say here that Brown’s style is aptly suited for this book, just cartoony enough to make the stories and characters accessible to all readers, realistic enough to forestall unintentional comedy. Brown has chosen to approach his versions of the stories mostly from a plain text reading (i.e., what does a story itself tell, not “Is this story factual?”) although he does look at some stories in the context of extra-Biblical knowledge of the cultures involved.

As Brown has chosen a plain text approach, I will offer my critique of his book based on a plain text reading as well. If you’re not capable of reading what follows with an open mind, here is a hopefully amusing post to keep you entertained.

Read the rest of this article »

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R. Crumb On How To Improve Your Drawing Ability

14/04/2016

R Crumb009

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Tony Millionaire Calls The Cops

11/04/2016

Tony Millionaire self portrait as Uncle Gabby

Police: Yes?

I just saw a guy touching my car door at midnight.

Did you chase him and/or shoot him, sir?

No, I yelled at him.

Good. What did he look like, sir?

It was in the shadows at midnight, so he was dark.
If it would have been noon he might have been light.

What direction was he going?

He was going down the street.
Can you catch him and arrest him?

No, sir.

Ok, thanks. Goodbye.

Thanx to Tony Millionaire granting
permission to post this.  Visit Tony on
Facebook and his website.

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Groucho Marx by Joost Swarte

28/03/2016

Groucho Marx by Joost Swarte

wot it sez

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Mr. Brunelle Has Jesus Explain It All

25/03/2016

Mr Brunelle has Jesus explain it all

from Robert Waldo Brunelle’s delightful webcomic

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The Continuing Collapse Of The Comic Strip

3/01/2016

a.k.a. “Another One Bites The Dust”, in this case being Terry & Patty Laban’s Edge City strip, which just finished a 15 year run in far too typical a manner:  A good strip, well drawn, well written, a core base of fans & readers, but never enough to break mainstream consciousness and, in the end, not nearly enough to justify the syndicator keeping them on.

Edge City - Terry and Patty Laban 1

Last November, as some of you may recall, Dinette Set went under without so much as an official nod from either artist or syndicator.

And Maria’s Day, a once delightful daily strip also found at GoComics.com has been reduced to Sunday-only single panel gags.

And several other strips are missing the occasional daily post; in a world where fewer and fewer newspapers carry fewer and fewer strips, these features are often found only online, and the blessing / curse of online media is that one doesn’t have to consume it on the creator/s schedule.

I mean, c’mon, folks, that’s what
binge watching on Hulu or Netflix
is all about, am I right?

The classic one-to-four panel daily comic strip is an artifact of the past, and even while new ones are being tried out, the sad truth is there is no real place for them.

Their offspring, the webcomic, may survive, but to do so it will probably have to evolve, both in terms of content and presentation.

While cartoons have been around since before Gutenberg, and had certainly been appearing in print as long as there were people making prints of anything, they certainly flowered during the heyday of printed media in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Comic strips were published (along with other regular features) with the intent of enticing casual readers back again and again to a daily newspaper.

While they certainly included younger kids in their audience, truth be told they had adult readers from the gitgo.

At their high water mark (roughly late 1920s to mid-1960s) they were essential cultural touchstones:  Regardless of who you were or where you lived, everybody was familiar with the comic strips that defined their culture (i.e., specific time and place in world history).

Foreign readers may have had an entirely different batch of strips[1] but nonetheless they had strips that defined their lives for them.

And regardless of whether the strips were gag-a-day, soap operas, adventures, or fantasy, something about them linked you to other people in your community / culture.

Even to this day, long after they have ceased to appear in print on a regular basis, certain comics strips still inform the national discourse:  “That crazy Buck Rogers stuff”, “Well, blow me down!”, “It was a dark and stormy night…”, etc., etc., and of course, etc.

They were an odd form of niche marketing:  There was seemingly a comic strip for every specific taste and interest and audience[2] and if one was willing to look, ample places for them to appear.

But nothing remains static and the days when the bulk of America gleaned its cultural clues through daily newspapers has long since passed.

And while many are fond of the format of the old comic strips, there’s really no compelling reason to stick with that format in today’s media world.[3]

Today’s webcomics don’t set the terms of the cultural debates, they only reinforce our pre-existing prejudices and biases, “prejudices and biases” here not necessarily referring to anything negative but rather the presumptions we live with in our daily lives.

We follow webcomics because they agree with our points of view, we do not turn to them to see what other people are thinking.

There’s no real innovation on the
remaining comics page anymore.

There are a large number of very well done strips, but there’s no real breakthrough the way Calvin And Hobbes broke through, or even the original run of Bloom County.[4]

I read Peanuts Begins and get more out of it than any contemporary strip (and I do enjoy a number of contemporary strips).

As the writer Jack Enyart once observed, the best work in any medium is done at the very start and the very end of that medium’s dominance; the former breaking boundaries with new ideas, the latter distilling those ideas down to their perfect core.

We are enjoying the long wake of the comic strip; we will not see its like again.

But nobody really wants to
close the bar and go home…

Edge City - Terry and Patty Laban 2

[1]  Tho not necessarily; a lot of American strips found loyal audiences in some truly oddball places, such as the Nordic countries really glomming onto The Phantom.

Edge City - Terry and Patty Laban 3

[2]  As a young boy, I followed Dondi religiously; the stories of a young Italian-American refugee trying to find his place in America resonated with me as my own mother was an Italian who met my American father during WWII.  Dondi is not held in very high esteem by most comic strip fans / historians, but it made a difference to me, dammit!

Edge City - Terry and Patty Laban 4

[3]  Indeed, a strong argument can and has been made for more experimentation, but we’ll leave that topic for another day.

Edge City - Terry and Patty Laban 5

[4]  Bloom County is back with new material online, and I read it, but it’s more for nostalgia than any real enjoyment. 

Edge City - Terry and Patty Laban 6

Edge City © Terry and Patty Laban

 

 

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The Funniest Comic Strip Dailies Of 2015

31/12/2015

My picks for the 10 funniest comic strips published/put on the Web in 2015.

Criteria:

#1– Must be funny. (There were a lot of touching / poignant / inspiring / awesome strips this year but only the funny ones made the cut.)

#2– Must be fresh. (Otherwise this list would consist of Peanuts re-runs.)

#3– Must be family friendly. (Anything over the edge got cut even if it made me laugh.)

#4– Must be fathomable. (i.e., punchlines that were the pay off of lengthy continuities, long-running gags, or required esoteric knowledge of the strip in question also got cut.)

tmrkt150921 Honorable Mention: Brewster Rockit

Tim Rickard’s supremely silly sci-fi comic strip ranges all over the map — literally and metaphorically!  Here he touches on a philosophical theme that all of this year’s honorable mentions will share.

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dt151209

Honorable Mention: Dilbert

Scott Adams wastes no time getting straight to the core problem.

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lio150115

Honorable Mention: Lio

Mark Tatulli’s wordless weird boy wonder wonders wordlessly.

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15 12 29 One Big Happy Honorable Mention: One Big Happy

There’s bleak, and there’s bleak, and there’s really bleak, and there’s cute, and there’s hilarious.  And then there’s this strip by Rick Detorie that manages to combine all five into one.

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wm150224Runner Up: WUMO

Mikael Wulff and Anders Morgenthaler repeatedly demonstrate innovative cartoon / gag chops with their self-named strip, and in this case bruise if not actually break the 4th wall…which will be our runner ups’ linking factor.

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pb150122

Runner Up: Pearls Before Swine

Stephen Pastis is never one to shy away from his own shortcomings be they personal, professional, or artistic.  Here he embraces the reality that there are certain things he just can’t draw…

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cw150413

Runner Up: 9 Chickweed Lane

It wouldn’t be unfair to say that over the last half decade, 9 Chickweed Lane has devolved from a wonderfully sassy / sexy strip into a meandering mixture of melodrama and non sequiturs.  Here Brooke McEldowney proves he still has some creative chops with his version of a rim-shot.

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15 02 01 Zits

Third Place: Zits

“The line it is drawn /  The curse it is cast.”  Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman call it as they see it.

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hev150615

Second Place: Phoebe And Her Unicorn

Despite the title Phoebe And Her Unicorn (nee Heavenly Nostrils, so named after the unicorn herself, Marigold Heavenly Nostrils), Dana Simpson never shies away from pointing out that humans are guests in the world of magical unicorns, not the other way around.  Here she shows that status all depends on one’s personal point of view.

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15 02 08 Retail

Grand Prize Winner: Retail

Norm Feuti’s workplace strip had an exceptionally fine run this year with many contenders for the top ten, but this Sunday confrontation between management and labor is simultaneously one of the simplest yet most complex gags ever pulled off on the funny pages.

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