One Fan's Opinion: Issue #71

Fri, January 19th, 2007 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Erik Larsen, Columnist

Send This to a Friend

Separate multiple email address with commas.

You must state your name.

You must enter your email address.

So, people ask me - where do you get your ideas?

And that presupposes the notion that there is a place where one can go to get ideas. There isn't such a place. The truth is ideas are not restricted to a certain newspaper or book or website - ideas are everywhere. Every conversation, every television commercial for cat food, every trip to the corner store, every waking moment and many sleeping ones are fodder for stories. The problem is not finding ideas, it's recognizing ideas when you see them and being able to put them to use. There's no shortage of ideas - only a shortage of those that recognize them and can figure out where to put 'em to good use.

And then they ask me where do you get your ideas for this column?

And that's a bit easier to answer - because often it comes from questions asked in e-mails or topics brought up on message boards or wacky hijinks around the Image office.

My last column on the ethics and pitfalls of purchasing original art, for example, prompted a number of folks to drop me a line. One person wrote and talked about an experience they had where they were at a local market and saw some printed T-shirts with art by some fantasy artists they were familiar with on sale there. This person inspected the shirts and the brand name was unfamiliar to them and they assumed that they were just generic shirts from a printing house and the art was stolen - and that very well may have been the case.

I can recall seeing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles T-shirt that featured my art for sale in a local big chain store that I don't usually frequent, but has had at least one scathing movie made about their seedy practices that allow them to offer their wares at such low prices (you figure it out). The art on the shirt was taken from an issue of "Savage Dragon" (that the Turtles had appeared in) and I know full well that there was no permission given to anybody by me for that art to be utilized in that way. A quick call to Eastman and Laird's attorney netted no information. Chances are this was a cheap knockoff sold at a cut-rate price similar to much of the other junk being sold in this establishment.

It brings to mind the many ads I've seen in newspapers and on billboards lifted from comic books. Artists and companies weren't contacted or compensated ninety-nine times out of a hundred, I'm sure. And chasing down all of the people perpetrating these crimes would keep a roomful of lawyers busy for decades and to what end?

In any case, this particular person (the one that wrote the e-mail, remember?) made the effort to try and do something by contacting the person whose work was on the T-shirt in question and questioning people in the market about the shirt in question. The end result was that the shirts (and the person selling them) pulled up stakes and vanished.

The event had a profound effect on this person and it saddened them to think a drawing or painting an artist spent ages working on could just be stolen and end up on a shirt, or on eBay.

The sad fact is that some people just assume that if it's on the Internet that it's up for grabs. They assume that putting somebody else's work on a shirt is an artistic expression of their own and that because nobody else is doing it that they're providing a service - much like those performed by the pirates selling DVDs of movies, cartoons and other TV shows at every comic book convention. Never mind that the real artists, performers or producers aren't seeing a nickel for their efforts.

I heard from numerous art dealers and people that have purchased art in regard to buying and selling original art that may have been stolen. I also heard from fans that didn't know how things worked and things can get really, really messy.

Some people questioned whether inkers had any right to sell pages and wondered how they got them. There are pencillers, I know, that question the practice of inkers getting any art. Some feel that the penciller is the real artist and that the inker is providing a service by making the lines darker.

I think that's a bit much.

Typically, inkers get a third of the inked pages returned to them. Pencillers get two-thirds. There have even been cases where letterers got pages back because they worked on the physical original art as well - and there have been instances when writers have gotten a small cut but neither of these practices is common (and these days most letterers work on computers and never even see the physical original art).

One fan reported that he bought a page of color guides and wondered, "whose art is it, anyway?" (In all cases - that I'm aware of - color guides do not get given to either the penciller or inker - they're typically returned to the colorist that colored them). Yes, the guy selling the guides is making money off of others' work - in a sense - but their work is there as well and that is what you're paying for.

It's often hard to tell where art came from. And it's not always easy to know who sells their art and who doesn't.

I know Walter Simonson does not sell his work, but I've owned a few pages that Walter worked on. One was a page from "X-Factor" that I bought from inker Bob Wiacek. Since Bob inked it, and it was returned to him, I can only assume it was his to sell.

That page went up in flames, unfortunately, as did the cover to "Amazing Spider-Man" #337, that Walter inked over my pencils, when my house burned down.

But I've since acquired a couple more - a few pages from an "X-Factor Annual" that Walter inker over John Byrne's pencils, a few pages he inked over my pencils from "Savage Dragon" #100 and a pinup that he graciously gave to me of the ever-Savage Dragon from that same issue.

Some fans admitted that, if presented with the opportunity, it would be next to impossible for them to pass up a favorite page even if they knew it must have been stolen (one fan confessed that the page of God using the f-word from "Savage Dragon" #31 would be one such page for them).

And that fan brought up the story I'd told about having acquired the original art from the first comic that I'd ever bought with my own money and he posed the question, But, "What would have happened if there would have been something shady going on, there? Would you have dug deeper to find out? Would you have contacted the artist (original owner) to tell them? Would you have given the art back, if necessary?"

I'd like to think that I would do the right thing, but honestly, I can't say. I do know that I got it from an art dealer that I've dealt with for years and that he's been a pretty straight guy in regards to me - but I dunno.

Interestingly enough, I heard from one fellow that had purchased a Ditko page. In his letter he said, "Thanks for writing that article about original artwork. In it you mention Steve Ditko's work, and what you would do if you ended up with one of his pages, which is contact him and ask him what he wanted."

That's what this fellow did.

He'd purchased a page of his work about 15 years ago, and when he heard about the art having been stolen he said that he felt "sick to his stomach."

Given that, didn't think he could keep it. Yeah, Ditko's art isn't cheap now and wasn't cheap then but, he felt, doing the wrong thing would cost him even more in the long run.

So, this fellow decided to do the right thing and he wrote Ditko a letter, care of his most recent active publisher at the time. In it, he told Ditko that out of respect for him and his work that he would do whatever he wanted him to - send it back to him, pay him what he had paid the dealer who sold it to him or...whatever.

Ditko wrote him back, saying that he lost a lot of his art and that he knew other artist's art had been stolen as well.

He went on to say that he couldn't tell other people what they should do and that he only had Power and control over his own life and actions.

Ditko said that there really is no answer because the issue of who owns the comic art pages has never been spelled out. Comic companies who have (or had) the art pages never presented a valid case of ownership and neither have the artists.

Ditko admitted that the art wasn't stolen from directly from his studio and that they were not in his possession. He went on to say that because of that, the company itself was the "victim."

Ditko admitted that since no ownership case has been made that he couldn't advise anyone because he doesn't know who morally or legally had the right of ownership.

The fan felt that Ditko really left it up to him as to what to do. And that since Ditko didn't ask for it back - that he didn't seem to care and that may very well be the case.

Several others reported similar experiences in regard to Ditko and it gladdens me to hear of folks making the effort to do the right thing. It speaks a lot.

Others brought up the fact that since so much time has passed and "nobody had filed a police report" (which I don't know to be fact but I'm willing to admit may very well be the case) that the statute of limitations has run out and that legally, the pages could be bought and sold since nobody's claimed otherwise.

That still seems pretty dicey to me - at least on a moral level.

Some brought up cases where paintings that Nazis confiscated from Jews during World War II weren't being given back to their rightful owners and what a tragedy that was. Now, this isn't exactly the same thing, granted, most artists I'd imagine, thought that they were selling their art to the company that employed them along with publication rights.

Maybe Ditko's good and sick of being pestered by now. Who knows? I've only met the gentleman once and the subject wasn't brought up.

Now, I don't want to debate the merits of buying and selling art is this column for the rest of my days, but I thought, given the response that touching on the subject again wouldn't be such a lousy idea.

Letters really do help give me an idea of what you'd like to hear about. Some first time convention goers would like to see me touch on proper convention etiquette (for example). I'm not sure there is any, really, as different folks have different ideas of what's proper. Some guys will limit a fan to one to three signatures - others will sign hundreds of comics. There are no hard and fast rules.

One guy told me a tale of being irked as he waited in line to meet George Prez as a man, his wife and two children (who he suspected were either shop owners or eBay sellers) had over 14 books each (the standard and variants of "Infinite Crisis") signed. He found it shady (and unfair to others waiting in line) that folks were possibly coming to get signatures purely for financial gain. He asked if I ran into this kind of thing often, and how do I deal with it?

The answer is - with a smile. Everybody that buys a book - whether it gets resold on eBay or treasured forever as a keepsake - has given me the same thing, after all. Filtered through the distribution system and payments from the company that employed me, they all paid the same price. And I owe each and every one of them the same courtesy and attention that I owe the others (and if you're a cute girl - even more so). Yeah, I'd like it to mean something to them, but there's no way to know if it does or will. I'm not going to be the guy who passes judgment on them. If somebody brings me a book that I had something to do with, I'll sign it.

I'm often asked what my column will be about next week - and I won't know the answer until Thursday night and panic sets in.

Tune in next Friday and you'll see for yourself.

One Fan's Opinion Home | One Fan's Opinion Archives

 
One Fan's Opinion