One Fan's Opinion: Issue #15

Thu, November 17th, 2005 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Erik Larsen, Columnist

"Action Comics" #1 "Amazing Spider-Man" #306
Debates rage about swiping.

There are artists who routinely draw with comics open on their tables and swipe poses out of them.

And I've got mixed feelings about this. I know, I know, it is cheating. There's no question about that. If you're swiping, you're taking the easy way out. It's a lot easier to trace than it is to compose your own drawings.

When I was a kid, the "Fantastic Four" was being drawn by Rich Buckler. Buckler's FF comics were packed-solid with Jack Kirby swipes. Nearly every single panel was lifted from a Kirby drawing! They weren't all "Fantastic Four" swipes either-- Buckler would find a cool pose from "Thor" or "Tales of Suspense" or numerous other places and use them as well and as a kid-I didn't care-- the book looked cool to me and the characters were certainly "on model," which is more than I can say about a lot of artists' versions of the FF. As I got older and was able to buy the real Kirby FF comics (or re-prints) it was kind of a kick to look through the Buckler issues and find those poses. It was like hunting for Easter Eggs. You knew they were out there-- you just had to find them.

It's gotten to a point where I've got a pretty decent eye for poses and panels and when one artist swipes from another, nine times out of ten I'll catch it.

Which makes reading comics from some artists a very bumpy ride. Swipes take me out of the story. I'm immediately thinking about where I saw that pose before instead of being caught up in whatever adventure I'm supposed to be caught up in.

On the other hand, there's something kind of cool about seeing how one artist adapts somebody else's poses to fit his style. There was a time when Gil Kane drew the Captain America half of "Tales Of Suspense" (this was all well before I was reading comics, mind you, but I bought the back issues). Gil followed a string of issues by Jack Kirby and he swiped a number of poses from comics that came out just a month or two before his issues and it was fascinating to see how Gil was able to take Kirby poses and turn them into Kane drawings. Some years later, Kane repeated the performance by taking poses from a "Fantastic Four" issue which featured the Inhumans and used them in an issue of the Inhumans and it was damned cool to look at.

The most jarring is when an artist can't or won't alter the drawing to fit their style. I was looking through an Alan Kupperberg issue of "Marvel Two-In-One" and there was one shot, which had been clearly copies from a Gil Kane drawing and it couldn't have been more obvious that he hadn't come up with it on his own (I'd say it stood out like a turd in a punchbowl, but it was pretty much the opposite of that and I'm not sure how much some punch in a turdbowl would stand out).

So, is it wrong? Is it unethical?

Well, sure! And it is stealing, but that doesn't mean it can't be fun to look at. How many times have we seen the cover of the "Fantastic Four" recycled by various artists or the cover to "Action Comics" #1 or various other comics?

"Fantastic Four" #1 "Fantastic Four" #126 "Fantastic Four" #264

A lot!

And it's kind of neat to be able to see how styles have changed and things have progressed (or regressed as the case may be).

When you're drawing Galactus' ship-- surrounded by the various planets that surrounded it-- it's damned tempting to draw it the way Kirby drew it way back in FF #49. Most artists do. Few even bother to shuffle the planets around in their orbit around that ship. If fact, Walter Simonson is the only artist I know of that chose to draw the ship from a different angle. Most others killed 2/3 of a page with a Kirby swipe.

And swipes can be fun and funny. When John Byrne drew himself in a palatial office which resembled the Sub-Mariner's office from FF #9, it was a cute sight gag. And when he swiped an establishing shot from FF #13 of the wreckage from the blue area on the moon in "Uncanny X-Men" #137, it immediately showed readers where the events were taking place (and just compare the Lee/Ditko FF art to the Byrne/Austin X-Men art for a real study in contrast).

Some artists have taken to putting little acknowledgements on pages or panels when they pinch a pose or panel. I find it more annoying and jarring than a swipe without such an acknowledgement. Again, it takes me out of the story. I'm supposed to be reading a story and these little captions aren't helping in that regard. And really, who are you kidding? An acknowledgement or no acknowledgement-- it's still not a drawing that you composed!

There was an issue of Namor that was littered with flashbacks to older stories and John Byrne painstakingly reproduced panels that were similar to those in the comics in which those events first took place and it was pretty cool. I think there's nothing wrong with that. I've done it myself on a few occasions. But, really, how is composing an issue in order to utilize a number of swipes any different for John Byrne than it was for Rich Buckler? They both used numerous panels and poses, which they didn't compose, after all.

There've been a number of more recent parties guilty of such crimes against humanity as well! And why is it different for them? Why single out any one guy and rip them a new hole?

I dunno if you saw the movie "Hellboy" or not, but in it there was a cool prop. It was a "Hellboy" comic book with a cover by Mike Mignola and it was ripped off directly from an issue of "Thor" and it was brilliantly executed. It really looked awesome.

Was that wrong?

Would you lay into Mike the way you might lay into some other artist that swiped a cover as well?

"Fantastic Four" #1 "Simpson's Comics" #1 "Danger Unlimited" #4

Over the years I've been asked to swipe covers from time to time. There was a Spider-Man cover where Spidey lost his powers, which was swiped from an issue of "Spectacular Spider-Man" where he got cosmic powers and it was kind of a cute way of referring to the previous event. My buddy Al Gordon was moaning low at one point because the editor of "Justice League" had pulled a cover from him and had given it to another inker. At that point, I was drawing the "Doom Patrol" and Al was inking covers on that from time to time and I swiped the "Justice League" cover that Al didn't get to ink as a "Doom Patrol" cover, which Al did get to ink.

I don't swipe much myself. Mostly because I find it so jarring when I see swipes in other books. I want you to be involved in the story. I'll swipe for flashbacks or if I want you to think about a certain thing (if, for example, a similar kind of scene is being played out, it helps to emphasize this by drawing a panel similar to one which you've seen before. In these cases-- I'm swiping from myself so-- no harm done, I suppose) but I can't remember the last time that I drew a panel from another artist just todraw a panel from another artist. I find swipes too jarring to do that.

Where am I going with this?

I dunno.

I just find it peculiar that fans will praise one creator for doing something while condemn another for doing precisely the same thing. If it's not okay to swipe-- if it's unethical to swipe-- it should be unethical and improper for everybody, not just for the creator that you don't like.

Which isn't to say you can't like somebody for sucking. Sucking is a perfectly valid excuse. But don't badmouth an artist that sucks for swiping if you're going to praise another artist who swipes-- badmouth him for sucking!

The hair-splitters will, no doubt, start offering their two-cents on the matter about whether a given drawing is a legitimate swipe or merely an "homage." An "homage" being an instance where we, the readers, are supposed to notice that drawing is similar to one which has gone before. An "homage" is (or so they say) a tribute of sorts. The aforementioned "Hellboy" prop was supposed to look like a Kirby comic and only enlightened viewers would be "in on the gag."

"Detective Comics" #27 "Lethargic Comics Monthly" #2
They'd argue, that a person doing an "homage" isn't trying to get away with anything-- that they're being upfront about it-- that they're not trying to hide the fact. They'd argue that it's valid to do an homage to the cover of "Amazing Fantasy" #15 and it's not valid to swipe a random panel from an obscure issue of "Iron Man."

And those hair-splitters may have a point.

But when you boil it all down-- it still boils down to this-- both artists are copying a drawing from another artist-- period. They're both doing the same thing! They're both taking the easy way out! They're both passing off another creator's compositions as their own (to a certain extent, of course). That's just one fan's opinion, of course. I'm willing to concede that I could be wrong.

Ethically-- it's all a bit iffy.

But it can still be pretty fun to look at and look for.

And if I ever had to draw Galactus' ship, I'd be sorely tempted.

But I'd swipe it from Walter-- just for shits and giggles.

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